The Wonderful Grace of Jesus

“Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness…” John 1:16

I loved going to church as a child and youth. At the time, I didn’t realize this “holy habit” of regular church attendance would serve me well since God placed a call on my life to vocational music ministry. Naturally, I was drawn to the music, but I’ll be the first to admit I loved learning about God’s word through the teaching and preaching of some very Godly men also. But the Word of God that was hidden in heart (other than the scripture I memorized) came through the content of the songs we sang. Now I enjoyed the music on Sunday mornings with the choir leading (of course), but I LOVED Sunday night musical worship. Maybe it was because it was more informal, or that we used a second hymnal that had songs that were more fun to sing, but regardless, much of the hymnody that has become a part of my personal musical DNA was wrought on Sunday evenings.

One of my all-time favorites to sing on Sunday nights was “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.” Perhaps it was the bouncy, catchiness of the tune or the fact that the men and the ladies got to do separate parts…nevertheless, I thought it was a lot of fun to sing. And I LOVED stretching my voice at the end of each chorus to sing the high G on “praise His name!”  While the song was fun to sing, it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I fully understood why we were singing about how wonderful GRACE was. I didn’t realize that the text of that song, which is now firmly implanted in my heart and mind, would be my theme of God’s redemptive work in my life. We all need grace. In Ephesians 1:7, Paul reminds us that “in Him we have redemption through His blood, according to the RICHES of His grace.” This means it COSTS something and I soon realized God’s grace is not only rich in abundance, but it was BOUGHT on Calvary. The first line says it all, “wonderful grace of Jesus, GREATER than ALL my sin.” His grace is greater than our need, our failures, and our sin.

So today, as we journey in our various places, may the riches of grace  overwhelm us and remind us that we have the victory through Jesus Christ! Sing with me…

 

  1. Wonderful grace of Jesus,
    Greater than all my sin;
    How shall my tongue describe it,
    Where shall its praise begin?
    Taking away my burden,
    Setting my spirit free;
    For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.

Refrain:
Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus,
Deeper than the mighty rolling sea;
Higher than the mountain, sparkling like a fountain,
All-sufficient grace for even me!
Broader than the scope of my transgressions,
Greater far than all my sin and shame;
Oh, magnify the precious Name of Jesus,
Praise His Name!

  1. Wonderful grace of Jesus,
    Reaching to all the lost,
    By it I have been pardoned,
    Saved to the uttermost;
    Chains have been torn asunder,
    Giving me liberty;
    For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.
  2. Wonderful grace of Jesus,
    Reaching the most defiled,
    By its transforming power,
    Making him God’s dear child,
    Purchasing peace and heaven
    For all eternity—
    And the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.

Friendship Banquet

The main reason intergenerational ministry happens at our church is all of our leadership is firmly committed that it’s the most biblical model for ongoing ministry. While I am certainly a champion for intergenerational ministry, especially worship of which I give primary leadership, I am one of many who make sure we intentionally look for ways to promote intergenerational relationships in our local church. It’s a joy to serve with like-minded servants.

Later this month our children’s ministry and our older adult ministry are teaming together to host a “Friendship Banquet” here at the church. When I spoke with our Children’s director about it, she said she learned about this idea for building intergenerational relationships from a children’s pastor in Oklahoma. I’m excited about this opportunity for children to have this opportunity. Here are some of the details should you want to design a similar event in your church:

Friendship Banquet

Our children will meet with our older adults (Golden Agers) in a few weeks. This event is a great way for our children to not only serve our Golden Agers, but also to get to know them in a fun context. This event is designed not only to build relationships, but also to help all ages realize they have far more in common than they think. Many of our children have grandparents already, but they may not know many other older adults. Research shows that children need many connections with older adults during their formative years. Likewise, older adults need to feel like they are still able to make an impact on children’s lives. It’s a win-win!  I’ll let you know how it turns out!

 

Investing in #nextgen

This past week was Georgia Baptist Music Camp (Surge 150) at the GA Baptist Conference Center in Toccoa. Students from all over Georgia had a blast this week singing, playing instruments, learning new technology, playing in the lake and ballfields, and learning more about Jesus. This year, I had ten of our students from Ivy Creek; there are some in each of the three diferent age camps. Many of these students have been coming to camp for several years and they love the time of musical training, fellowship, and spiritual growth over these 6 days of camp.

While you expect the camp to include musical training, it’s the relationships built through the week that also make a significant impact on the students. For instance, I was speaking with some of the other faculty and sponsors about the students in their “family groups.” These family groups meet at the end of the day for devotion, prayer, and just to talk. One group leader told me of a special time talking with a student who is struggling in many areas, especially their family situation. This student needed an adult to speak and pray with that wasn’t in their normal sphere of influence. The stories could go on and on. The neatest part? This leader is probably 60 years older than the student and yet the student wanted to seek wise counsel. The leader spoke of how encouraging it was to invest in our next generations…what an encouragement.

During the week, I caught up with one young man that was in my family group three years ago. He is a very soft spoken guy; it took several minutes of asking questions for me to get him to have a conversation with me. He spent most of his time looking down at his food. Finally, when I got him talking about music, and how he can use his gifts for the Lord, he lit up like a Christmas tree and I saw him come alive. He just needed someone to talk with and take some time to notice him.

Perhaps my favorite part of the week was having some conversations with students who sense the call the ministry. I am thankful these students are responding to the call to build the Kingdom of God. I remember my own call at the age of 13. I was sure God was calling me, but had so many questions. I know God placed strategic leaders in my life to affirm that call and spur me on. And now, what a humble privilege to be a small part in investing in this next generation. May we be faithful to invest in the coming days.

I challenge all music leaders to find ways to get your students to camps and events such as Surge 150, because there will be others in your ministries God is calling. How will you invest in those lives?

Normal is Different for Everyone

Normal is different for everyone. In the context of intergenerational worship, our normative worship practices look quite different from church to church, denomination to denomination, and even cultural contexts. But, if you think about it, everyone has a preconceived (or experienced) notion of corporate worship. In the last twenty years, the churches I’ve served have had different forms of normal worship practices…and that’s okay. I’ve also been overseas to several Baptist churches that are theologically similar to me, yet their worship expression vary!****Disclaimer- I am firmly theologically Southern Baptist and I am not espousing that anything goes in worship. I am merely suggesting that some of the elements of our worship experiences will differ globally, yet still retain the word-centric, theologically conservative foundation essentially of the evangelic church.

Within the last year, I’ve been reading a book by author Sandra Maria Van Opstal entitled, The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World. The emphasis of the book is on worship practices in multi-cultural settings, which has become a hot topic of discussion due to the ever-changing landscape of ethic diversity in our communities and churches. Because my mind is always seemingly “geared” towards intergenerational worship and how best to involve all ages in worship leadership, I couldn’t help but read this text and find similarities between the struggles of multi-cultural and intergenerational worship. Here are some points of salient points related to diversity in worship and how they might intersect with the conversation related to intergenerational worship:

  1. We are all ethnic. There is no “normal! Good doesn’t mean the same thing in all cultures. Outside of biblical mandates of worship and our denominational theology based on biblical truth, our normative practices of worship are no better than anyone else’s.
  2. Worship involving people from many nations and cultural contexts is as important/biblical as interrelating all generations. Both multi-cultural and IG worship are biblical in that God calls ALL to the table of grace from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It’s not our personal preferences or normative practices that make worship authentic, but our response to the One who has initiated the relationship.
  3. Worship must be intentional to be spiritual formative. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul instructs the church (the community of faith of all ages and races) to be shaped by worship as he writes, “but we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Yes, it is important that we worship authentically and with discipline. We must practice intentionality so our worship is organic and flows naturally. Without intentionality, we simply go through the motions. As I talk with other leaders, I find those that are disciplined in their approach to spiritual formation (especially in corporate worship) there is a FOCUS on biblical truth that cannot be swayed. I believe those churches (and leaders) who are pulled into the gimmicky trends of church movements and fads are often unintentional. This was especially true when I talked with leaders of intergenerational worship ministries. The more intentional they were, the greater the focus on the biblical merits of worshiping together. This includes cross/multi-cultural contexts for the same reasons…intentional inclusion of music from various global sources (and inclusion of folks in your ministry from various races) will help your congregation see that we are all part of larger body of connected believers.
  4. Worship has a communal focus. The aim for corporate worship is NOT individual expression, but communal formation of faith. I’ve already written about the need more community- based lyrics in the intergenerational church here:Building Community in the Intergenerational Church through Music- Selecting We-Centric Songs, but the same thing could be said for music from other cultural contexts and expressions. When we ONLY use expressions of worship that reflect our church’s “normal” or personal preference, then we alienate ourselves from being culturally and generationally diverse.

There is more that could be mentioned, but in closing, remember that worshiping outside your own “normal” and personal preference causes personal transformation and spiritual formation. When we experience worship expressions from other cultures or “generations,” we begin to see how our own worship experiences are part of the larger, global church. It’s in this process that we become more unified as the community of faith.

The Intergenerationality of VBS

VBS at our church is an “us” event. From the youngest kids to our senior saints, there are representatives from all generations on our campus each day to serve, worship, play, and learn about the saving power of Jesus Christ. It really is a family atmosphere. Older and younger working together to share the gospel with our youngest generations!

This year, and like most, I’m involved in worship and music with our students. Some of players from our orchestra and I make sure that our worship rally each day has live music so our students have a worship experience similar-ish to our Sunday mornings. We use the music from the curriculum in music time and our students learn it too. It’s a nice balance so the curriculum music is not all they sing all week.

My favorite part of VBS, however, is getting to intermingle with so many that I rarely get to know well outside of seeing them on Sundays. The way our Sunday mornings are with back to back services, I don’t get to visit with many people. I also get to know students and parents of folks not connected to our church during this week and it’s a joy to make connections and have the opportunity to invite families to be a part of our church. If history repeats itself, we will have the opportunity to touch new families with the gospel. It’s a great way to build community in our community!

I know the Holy Spirit is working in the lives of our students on campus. Many students have made decisions to follow Christ for the first time; others have re-affirmed their decision to walk with the Lord. We rejoice in all these decisions for they represent lives that have been changed by the investment of older generations who desire to give of their own time, talents, and resources to make sure the next generation will lead the church in the future. Soli Deo Gloria!

Saying YES to VBS!will vbs

 

The Importance of Quiet

Psalm 46: 10 (NASB) Cease striving and know that I am God…

Contrary to what some may think, I’m really an introvert. I discovered this shocking fact in my 20s when I took not one, but four different personality tests (I’m an overachiever extraordinaire!) to give insight into what makes me tick. In case you’re interested, I’m an ISTJ. I was worried that being labeled an introvert would make people think that I hate being around people, but that is not the case. After doing a little research (I do love to read since I’m an introvert, right?) I realized that the biggest difference between me and an extrovert is that I get my energy from being alone as opposed to the extrovert who is charged by being around people. Make no mistake, I love people…but I’m often exhausted after being around people for long stretches of time. I CRAVE time alone. My extroverted wife spent our first few years of marriage worried that I didn’t like spending time with her when I needed some space.

Thinking back to when I was a new Christian, I remember I would read my Bible in my closet at home; yes, my literal closet. I went to a conference once that talked about developing a prayer closet and I wanted to grow in my relationship with the Lord, so I got in my literal closet (again, an overachiever and a rule-follower-HA!) and studied the Word. Freeing myself of distractions was just what I needed. I’m a distractable person, frankly. I’m also quite task-oriented, but need quiet to keep focus. Sometimes I would study and pray for long periods of time. I WAITED (tarried) for the Lord to speak to me through the Word and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Those times shut away from the noise of life helped shape me into who I am today. It was also in those times that I heard God speaking to me to enter vocational ministry.

Most anyone who knows me well knows that I love to run. Most weeks I log 35-40 miles. Sometimes more, but not usually less. I haven’t been a runner all of my life, though. I didn’t start running until my early twenties when I realized I was addicted to sugar and headed straight for type two diabetes. I got hooked very quickly and haven’t stopped since. It may seem counterintuitive to some that running recharges me. While physically I may be tired when I finish running, I’m mentally and spiritually full. I do not listen to music when I run, which surprises some because I am a musician, but I want to be quiet and hear what God might be saying to me. While running is not a substitute for personal Bible study, it is a great place to pray, think through problems and frustrations, and gain perspective. Sometimes, though, even this time to be quiet is not enough…

Being in ministry, a father, a husband, and a teacher to name a few, it’s incredibly difficult to find time just to sit and be quiet with the intention of hearing a Word from the Lord even though I read my Bible daily and pray. Going through the motions of these holy habits, I wouldn’t miss what God might be trying to say to me if I’d stop overthinking and allowing distractions to confuse me. The enemy would love nothing more than to distract and create NOISE and confusion in my life and yours. I struggle with the NOISE people, and I don’t mean obvious things not of God. I struggle at times discerning what I should spend my time doing. I’m a severe people-pleaser. I want to do ALL I can to build the Kingdom, but I can only give so much time, effort, and energy to a finite number of things. I am reminded of Psalm 46:10 that reminds me that I must CEASE STRIVING or BE STILL or as another interpretation says LET GO, RELAX and know that I am GOD. I must dedicate time (no matter how long) to be quiet and to listen to the Lord for clear direction to the things that the Lord wants me to pour my time and energy into. It seems counterintuitive, but necessary.

The key to cutting through the noise, my friends, is to dedicate time alone with God that is unhindered. Patiently wait for the Lord to speak. This noise is the enemy’s way of confusing the believer by making clarity impossible. Hear me: OUR GOD IS NOT A GOD OF CONFUSION. If you’re confused in decision-making or what to do or how to do it, don’t change anything unless sin is in the way of a reconciled relationship to God. Pray for forgiveness of sin then pray for clarity, listen for the voice of God to break through, and ask for wisdom.

We Must Reflect the Glory of God to the Next Generation

Religious people are a very noisy, wordy, and active people. But activity for activity’s sake is not of God. We might first clear away the idea that church is a social club…We are a holy people, a royal priesthood, a holy generation called out of darkness to show forth the glory of the One who called us out…a sanctified people that are mirrors of the Almighty to reflect the glory of the most high God…to do less than this is to fail utterly, to fail God and to fail our Lord Jesus Christ who redeemed us. It is to fail ourselves and it is to fail our children…if a local church in one generation fails of its high design of worship, the next generation in that church will depart from the faith altogether. As a result the present generation succumbs to liberalism and does not preach the Word of God at all.

selections from A.W. Tozer from The Purpose of Man

 

A few weeks ago, my two teenaged sons went to another church with a friend’s family. Like a good father, I asked them what the experience was like. Their comments, which were not coerced, were enlightening to me.  Here are some of the things they said:

  1. We went with our friend’s family but as soon as we entered the building, we all headed to various worship experiences. It concerned my boys that the family did not worship together (I’m glad they recognize that!)
  2. Once they got to their “youth worship experience,” they were not welcoming at check-in. The check in person simply wanted their information and offered no special word of greeting to them as first-time guests.
  3. The musical portion of their worship experience began with a secular song, which my kids found odd. They didn’t understand the purpose of doing a song that didn’t at least have a biblical theme.
  4. The band members were younger adults and not youth themselves. In their words, “there wasn’t any youth in the band.”
  5. The “lesson” portion of the experience only included one bible verse and was only loosely connected to the theme of the lesson.

After talking with them about it for awhile, numbers 1 and 5 seemed to bother them the most. They didn’t understand why the worship experiences couldn’t be combined, especially since they felt the music for all the services was similar in “style.” I tried to explain to them that the church they were attending believes the Sunday morning experiences is not the same as having a small group or Sunday School class…although they felt they were in a Sunday School class more than a worship service. I also mentioned that grouping in affinity/age stratified groups helped make the learning environments more “appropriate” for “educational” purposes. Still, they weren’t buying the idea of being apart (good boys!) Nevertheless, they had a blast. This church gets big points for making church fun!

Secondly, the lack of biblical depth concerned them greatly. They wanted more meat; they wanted to be challenged and changed from the Word (good boys!). We are thankful to be in a church fellowship that values the exposition of the Word. The Word doesn’t have to be dressed up to be relevant!

My concerns, which I already knew existed in this church and others like it, is the lack of biblical discipleship in the worship experiences. This lack of biblical discipleship affects the lack of intergenerational ministry as mentioned in the first point. The surface level biblical teaching does not bode well for our rising generation of believers. Knowing only some biblical concepts creates confusion for the young believer who does not know the Truth in its fullness. Just as Tozer rightly states, without a strong biblical foundation, liberalism abounds. It’s time we reverse this trend and take the in-depth study of the Word seriously…for future generations.

Are Solo-Driven Choir Songs Anti-Intergenerational?

Have you thought about how many songs your choir sings that feature a solo that “drives” the song you are singing? I don’t mean a simple verse solo or a small section in the song, but a full-song solo where the choir essentially takes a “back-up” choir role. If you are in my choir, you’ll sing plenty of these types of tunes. There are a few reasons this is the case in my choir and possibly yours as well:

  1. Some of the most popular songs for choirs today have solos that drive the song. I’m not in a popularity contest, but there are some great church choral songs (new and not so new) that have solos in them. I want my choir to learn lots of great things that have great texts and are solid musically.
  2. I can because I have lots of soloists. Having lots of great soloists makes it easy to present these types of songs, especially when you have some that really communicate the message in a special way…like Spencer in the feature photo here.
  3. Sometimes they are easier or faster to learn because the soloist has the bulk of the song. Sometimes the hardest part of learning a choral song are verses because of the variances of texts and rhythmic structures that can be tricky. If the choir is learning choruses only, which often repeat, the process of learning the song is expedited.

While we enjoy the flexibility to do lots of solo-driven choral literature, I am often conflicted about over-using these types of songs because of my commitment to value the contributions of all the singers in my choir. It’s a constant battle; one I’ve been contending with for years. When I researched intergenerational choirs in Georgia in 2014, I asked the leaders of those choirs how much of their own choral literature was solo driven.  Here are some results:

  1. Over half of them indicated that they only used solo-driven choral literature in about 20 percent of their anthems.
  2. About another 25 percent of those interviewed said they used solo-driven literature up to 40 percent of the time. 
  3. Smaller church choirs sang fewer solo-driven anthems than the largest church choirs.

A couple of observations from this data…

  1. Solo-driven literature does not “generally” dominate the choral offerings of churches that are intergenerational.
  2. Small church choirs probably have fewer soloists than the largest church choirs. Therefore, it’s plausible that more soloists could possibly equated with more opportunities to sing solo-driven literature. 
  3. There were no indications that age of leader or choir members had any bearing on the percentage of solo-driven anthems used.

One area that seemed to have a bearing on how much solo-driven choral literature was sung was the publishers frequently used. Those leaders who frequently purchased from more traditional publishers rarely used solo-driven anthems. Conversely, those who used only one or two publishers from the evangelical side reported much higher use of solo-driven anthems.  My personal observations (a quick count at any current choral pack from any publisher will reveal) Prism, Word, and Brentwood-Benson publish more solo-driven literature than other evangelical publishers (Lifeway, Lillenas, Praisegathering). I love, and use music from, each of these publishers, so do not think I am speaking negatively about any one publisher. I am simply commenting on what I see when I open their choral club packets/boxes.

The long and short of it? Broaden the number of publishers you listen to as you search for choral music for your church choir so you may find all types of songs—especially if you find yourself leaning towards solo-driven literature all the time.  This it is often hard to achieve, but necessary for balance if your goal is to create an atmosphere where all members of the choir feel valued and important.

Personally, I am guilty of relying on solo-driven literature at least 40 percent of the time, sometimes more. We sing tunes from every one of the above publishers and I love the variety of music types that can be found, but often I find some of the best tunes I can find (in my opinion) are solo-driven. But, since I firmly believe that valuing all in my music ministry is important, I know I must be careful to look for balance, which includes purposely looking for choir only literature that fits our context.

As a side note: thankfully, some solo-driven songs can be adapted to include more of the choir. For instance, verses that a solo would normally sing could be sung by the women or the men. I’ve done that on several songs and it has worked very well.

Birthdays and Mother’s Days

Today would’ve been my mother’s 69th birthday. It’s been just over 5 years since she passed away from a heart attack among some of her closest friends at a local restaurant in my hometown.  Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. Special days, like today, are even tougher. My mom’s birthday is very close to Mother’s Day. A double whammy! My birthday is tomorrow, the day after my mom’s birthday. A triple whammy! I miss celebrating our birthday’s together.

In full disclosure, I’ll admit that I was not always glad our birthdays were a day apart. What child doesn’t get excited about his birthday days before the actual day? Add a cool birthday party in there, and the celebration can go on for weeks! BUT, I was reminded (often) that my mom’s birthday was first and I needed to remember to celebrate her birthday without constantly talking about MY birthday. Point taken, but as a child it was hard nonetheless. My mom always made my birthday special, often using her own birthday preparing for my birthday. So today, I will not forget celebrate her birthday even though she is worshiping at the feet of Jesus today. Happy birthday, mama!mama

To celebrate her today, I wanted to write a post about my journey these last few years.  As I thought about it, I remembered that three years ago I wrote a “note” about Mother’s Day and the sadness I felt the first few years without my mom to “celebrate.” The Lord spoke to me clearly that He has provided surrogate mothers to fill the void in my life. I knew I needed to share this note again because there are many of us without earthly mothers that have special mother-figures God has used to encourage and love. I truly believe in each generation pouring wisdom and influence into another—a symbiotic relationship, if you will. These women have certainly encouraged and invested in me and I hope I have done likewise.

Here’s the note from May 2015:

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mother’s Day coming up next weekend. Many of you know I lost my Mom tragically two years ago. The anniversary of her death was just a few weeks ago and it was hard; it always is. While next weekend we will celebrate Mother’s Day, it also would have been her birthday next Saturday. To say I miss her is just inadequate.

You know, she was probably the biggest influence on my decision to enter vocational ministry. She would faithfully sit and listen to me practice piano scales, etudes, sonatas or some vocal solo because I preferred having an audience 😆. I’ll never forgot the times we’d be riding in the car and we’d be singing and she’d look over at me and say, “Will, I hope you know your talents are a gift from God. I pray you always use them for His glory.” My mom was my biggest fan and encourager.

In the midst of several pity parties over lost time with her, I have felt the Holy Spirit remind me that He has put strategic “mothers” in my life; a few just in the last few years. I think of three immediately:

First, if you are a part of our fellowship at Ivy Creek Baptist, you know Wylene. Wylene is our office admin. and a mother to all of her pastors (other sons as she calls us). She, too, has known the loss of a loved one fairly recently. She has the biggest heart and she loves just doing big and little things beyond her job description to demonstrate that love. Even though I haven’t know her long, you wouldn’t know it. Thank you, Wylene for loving me and taking care of me, even when I’m stubborn!

Second, Susan Rihner came into my life the summer after my mom died. I immediately liked her. She is fun, loyal, and has the most gregarious laugh, much like my mom did. She never hesitates to tell me how she feels, but tempers it with love. Sometimes I have to catch my breath when I’m with her, because she’ll say or do something exactly like mom. Susan, thank you for reminding me how full of life my mom was and how she told me what she thought, even when I didn’t want to hear it.

Third, how could I forget my precious mother in law, Margaret? I hit the mother load with her. In the twenty years I’ve know her, she has loved me like one of her own from day one. She, too, has had her share of heartache recently, but she remains a rock–unwavering in her faith and nurturing ways. Thank you, Margaret, for loving me as your own all these years.

Doubtless, some of you all are without biological mothers on this earth. It stinks; I get that. However, let the Spirit speak to you and reveal those precious ladies in your life that God puts there to fill that void and thank them royally this coming Mother’s Day.

I am blessed to have many, many “moms.” I appreciate all they have done for me. I want to challenge those reading to consider those who have invested in your own life. Have you thanked them? Likewise, if you are in a place of leadership, what are YOU doing to pour into the next generation?

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