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August 03, 2011

There are two albums that have been receiving a lot of my attention lately, both of which were released on August 2: Matt Papa’s This Changes Everything and Mat Kearney’s Young Love. Let me give you a brief overview of each of them.

This Changes Everything

This Changes EverythingThis Changes Everything is a full-on worship album and one that focuses on big themes of sin and sovereignty and salvation. It has as much theological depth as any album I’ve heard recently and combines this depth with calls to action and Christian living. Musically it ranges from rock to ballads with even a little bit of rap and a little bit of Piper added for good measure. Here are some sample lyrics:

From “Our Sovereign God:”

Our Sovereign God
The King of all
Clothed in Power
And crowned forevermore

Idols will fall
He stands alone
Reigning ever on His throne
Dwelling in Glory and Awe
Our Sovereign God

February 12, 2011

Gregory Wilbur says “One of my favorite missions hymns is ‘How Sweet and Awesome’ mostly because it marries good theology and evangelistic fervor so beautifully. This text by Joseph Cottle does the same thing. God’s sovereignty and Lordship is strongly proclaimed while entreating the spread of the Gospel for His glory’s sake.  It seemed most appropriate to set these lyrics to a strong and majestic melody.  Having this song sung by men’s chorus is a great reminder of the necessity of vigorous music in the life of the Church.”

You can buy the song or album at iTunes and Amazon.

Mighty Lord, extend Your kingdom, Be the truth with triumph crowned;
Let the lands that sit in darkness Hear the glorious Gospel sound,
From our borders, From our borders, To the world’s remotest bound.

By Your arm, eternal Father, Scatter far the shades of night;
Let the great Immanuel’s kingdom Open like the morning light;
Let all barriers,  Let all barriers, Yield before Your heavenly might.

Come in all Your Spirit’s power; Come, Your reign on earth restore;
In Your strength ride forth and conquer, Still advancing more and more,
Till all people, Till all people, Shall Your holy Name adore.

December 14, 2010

A few months ago I bought Pieces of a Real Heart the most recent album from the band Sanctus Real. I have listened to Sanctus Real since their debut album, but felt like there was a whole new depth of honesty and depth of theology in this new record. There were songs about failing as a leader in the home, about the meaning and beauty of forgiveness, about the questions that God seems unwilling to answer.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Matt Hammitt, who sings, plays guitars and writes most of the songs. I asked him him about life, family, music and ministry.

Q: Tell me a couple of the ways you and Sanctus Real have seen God’s grace evident in the past few months. How has he been blessing you and what has he been teaching you?

There are some things that I hadn’t expected to count as blessings this year that have taken me by surprise. My son, Bowen, was born last September with a rare heart defect, and has required a lot of special care. This experience has been our family’s greatest struggle, as well as the greatest blessing that God has delivered into our hands. “Grace” was once a word that could pass through my lips without much thought. I no longer use it lightly.

As for the band, four (out of five) of us have families that are growing. I believe we’d all consider our children to be our greatest blessings during this season of our lives. They’ve taught us innumerable lessons about grace, leadership, and tenderness, all of which have positively impacted our relationships with one another.

Matt Sarah Bowen


Q: In your song “Forgiven” you write “In this life, I know what I’ve been / But here in Your arms, I know what I am / I’m forgiven / And I don’t have to carry the weight of who I’ve been / ‘Cause I’m forgiven” Who and what have you been, Matt, what makes you cry and struggle and feel like you can’t fit in?

My struggles have never been as much with what I’ve considered to be the greater sins on the list, but with the very thing that causes me to make lists according to my own standards. Pride, disguising itself as insecurity, has been a major issue in my life. It has caused me to feel isolated and has hindered me from freely giving and receiving love. Thanks to the work of God in my life over the last year, justification by faith has become more than a good doctrine to me. It’s become my present reality. My life and ministry are much more fruitful these days.


Q: When the “Past is playing with my head” and “the Devil just won’t let me forget” how does the knowledge that I am “a treasure in the arms of Christ” make a difference?

I’m a people pleaser, so it’s a daily temptation to wrap my thoughts around getting others to think more of me. This goes hand in hand with the pride and insecurity I mentioned earlier. Over the past several months, I’ve been consumed with seeking the Lord, as well as studying the Bible and theology. Wrapping my heart and mind around the truth has been pure joy. I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but I’m finding a far greater sense of my freedom, worth, and identity in Christ.


Pieces of a Real HeartQ: In “These Things Take Time” you wrestle with the kinds of questions that most people, whether Christian or not, find themselves asking at one time or another—why do good people die? Why are we so drawn to sin and darkness? Why is it easier to doubt than to believe? In my experience such questions can drive people from God or closer to God. It seems that this song is a declaration of submission. How did you come to that place of letting God be God and realizing that “these things take time?”

When I wrote the lyrics that song (and others on our latest album) I was definitely beginning to submit to, and find great joy in, the sovereignty of God over all things. A month after the album released, when Bowen was diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart defect, I began to dig much deeper into the harder questions about life and faith than I ever had before. Writing the lyrics to Pieces of a Real Heart and the events surrounding its release mark the beginning of a personal, spiritual reformation.


Q: The song “Lead Me” seems to come from a very private place in your own life and in your family life. Why did you determine to write and record a song about this?

My wife, Sarah, and I once heard that the gap between reality and expectations is disappointment. There was a time when we were living in disappointment with our marriage. Now, we can see that our conflict was the result of our greatest expectations being placed on each other as opposed to God. I wasn’t investing enough emotionally or spiritually into my family because my own well was dry. I wasn’t walking as closely with the Lord as I believed I was at the time.

I wrote the majority of the song “Lead Me” on the day that Sarah appealed to me to be a better leader. The cry of her heart also became mine. Her courage to lovingly challenge me as her leader not only led to a song that is encouraging men and marriages around the world, but also has led to the most satisfying season of our nine year marriage to date.

(Keep Reading - there’s more after the jump)

November 22, 2010

There is a vast amount of Christian music targeted at children. The problem is that there is a lot of junk as well—stuff like this. My kids are not particularly drawn to music so we have probably overlooked a lot of the great resources out there. Nevertheless, there are a few that we’ve come across that they continue to enjoy. So here are some of our favorite kids’ albums. I’d love you to read through and add your own suggestions in the comments.

Seeds Family Worship

SeedsSeeds Family Worship sets Scripture to music. It’s that simple. They do it with fun, pop music. All of the lyrics are drawn straight from the Bible (NIV). If you are a Friend of the Blog, you’ll find one of their albums there as a free giveaway. This is music your kids will listen to, but they’ll also get up and jump around or dance to it. My kids love it.



Sovereign Grace Music

Walking with the WiseSovereign Grace Music (a ministry of Sovereign Grace Ministries) has recorded two albums for children: To Be Like Jesus and Walking with the Wise. To Be Like Jesus contains twelve worship songs that teach the fruit of the Spirit in a creative and memorable way while Walking with the Wise look to Proverbs to teach wisdom. At Grace Fellowship Church we sing several songs from these albums at our Wednesday evening services.



Getty Music

Songs that Jesus SaidKeith and Kristyn Getty have released one children’s album titled Songs that Jesus Said. As you can discern from the title, it focuses on the words and the teachings of Jesus. It has lots of fun, catchy tunes that the kids enjoy. If you’ve seen the Getty’s live, you may have seen them set some of these to actions.



October 25, 2010

One of the happier musical developments in the Christian world over the past few years has been the resurgence of hymns. Though there are many contemporary worship songs that have excellent content and are ideal for congregational worship, we just can’t afford to lose the hymn.

There are two different kinds of contemporary hymn. In the first place, we have artists writing new hymns that come complete with new tunes. Alongside that we have artists who are finding old hymns and setting them to new music—either completely new melodies or contemporary adaptations of the traditional ones. In the list I’ve offered below, the first two seem to specialize in new hymns and new music while the others focus on the new music.

(Yes, there are many, many other artists writing new hymns or adapting old ones. I am focusing here on artists whose albums are predominantly composed of contemporary hymns)

Getty Music

Awaken the DawnKeith Getty grew frustrated with the songs his church was singing. He met up with Stuart Townend and together they decided to try to write something better. They ended up with “In Christ Alone.” The rest, as they say, is history. Keith got married to Kristyn, moved to America (he’s Irish by birth), toured the world, wrote many more great hymns, and recorded a handful of albums, most of which have a distinctly Irish feel. And the Christian world has been so much better for it. The most recent collection of hymns is titled Awaken the Dawn. Many of these songs are perfectly suited to congregational worship (already at Grace Fellowship Church we sing “By Faith,” “Creation Sings the Father’s Song” and “Communion Hymn.”).

If you want to learn more, it may be worth beginning with their YouTube channel. There you’ll be able to hear some of their best songs and hear them at their best through videos of their live performances. And trust me when I say it’s absolutely worth trying to catch their shows—their band is amazingly talented and they put on a very enjoyable, worshipful show (though somehow show doesn’t seem like the proper descriptor). If you want to learn about their tour schedule (try to catch one of their Christmas shows!) or buy one of their albums, visit gettymusic.com. I suggest you begin with Awaken the Dawn if you like albums, and each of the songs I’ve already mentioned if you prefer individual tracks.


Stuart Townend

Creation SingsStuart Townend is the other half of the writing duo that has produced some of Keith Getty’s most popular hymns (including “In Christ Alone” and “The Power of the Cross”) but he has also written many without Keith’s help, including “How Deep the Father’s Love” and “Beautiful Savior.” Keith releases albums under his own name but also appears on other albums (such as Keswick Live, one I quite enjoy).

To learn more about Townend, it’s probably best to visit his web site (stuarttownend.co.uk). The site remains just a little bit underdeveloped, but still has lots of useful information, including a tour schedule and a blog. I’d recommend buying Keswick Live (if you can find it and if you enjoy live worship music) or Creation Sings if you prefer a studio album. If you prefer to just buy songs, go with “In Christ Alone,” “How Deep the Father’s Love,” “Speak, O Lord” and “The Power of the Cross.”

September 21, 2010

Yesterday I wrote that Sex Isn’t Selling. I followed an article from Canadian Business magazine showing that the porn industry is falling upon hard times. It is easy to be glad that the industry is suffering, but it is suffering for all of the wrong reasons. One of the things that is destroying the porn economy is piracy. And as I thought about piracy, I had to admit that Christians are not a whole lot better here than unbelievers. The same piracy that threatens the porn industry is damaging Christian music labels and artists.

Some time ago Bob Kauflin posted some thoughts on MP3 downloads and copies (link). Bob serves as director of worship development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, and as a pastor and worship leader at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Having just finished reading The Future of Music by David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard, Bob decided to reflect a bit on the book. The authors “think that increased access to music and freedom to distribute it legally will benefit consumers, companies, and artists alike.”

He provided a brief summary of the current copyright laws governing music. “Copyright laws still exist. Basically, the Copyright Office says:”

Uploading or downloading works protected by copyright without the authority of the copyright owner is an infringement of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights of reproduction and/or distribution. Anyone found to have infringed a copyrighted work may be liable for statutory damages up to $30,000 for each work infringed and, if willful infringement is proven by the copyright owner, that amount may be increased up to $150,000 for each work infringed. In addition, an infringer of a work may also be liable for the attorney’s fees incurred by the copyright owner to enforce his or her rights.

… The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) site makes exceptions for personal copies:

Owning a CD means you own one copy of the music, and the U.S. record industry believes you should be able to make whatever personal use you choose. For example, you may make a compilation recording (on tape or on a CD) to use in the car or while exercising. But it’s a very different matter - and clearly neither legal nor fair - to make a copy of that CD or even one song available on the Internet for others to take.

Despite the clarity of the law, many people continue to ignore it. This is true both within the church and without. A Barna report (link) from 2004 showed that only 1 in 10 Christian teenagers believe that music piracy is morally wrong. This varied very little from the percentage of non-Christian teenagers who believe the same. I don’t think a lot has changed over the past 6 years except that more and more adults are now equally ambiguous about piracy. After all, everyone’s doing it, and when everyone does something, it is easy to think that we can do it too.

July 12, 2010

Today’s guest blog comes courtesy of Matthew Smith. Matthew is a singer-songwriter from Nashville who takes old hymn lyrics and sets them to new music. He is a founding member of the Indelible Grace community, and tours full time, playing concerts of hymns at churches. I blogged here last week about his new song “Goodnight,” from his forthcoming album Watch The Rising Day. For this article I simply asked Matthew to writes about how he came to find such joy in setting old hymns to new music.


When I was in high school, I loved to sing. I sang in the shower. I sang in my room. I sang while walking down the hallways at school. I sang until people told me to shut up. (They seemed rude at the time, but in retrospect, they had a point. It was pretty annoying.) By the time I was sixteen, I figured out a way to sing in a more socially acceptable way. I learned how to play guitar.

Like many high school kids before and since who’ve learned to string together three guitar chords, I was soon recruited to lead the worship singing for my youth group’s weekly meetings. (Or forced myself upon the position— my memory fails me at this point.) After leading the music, I would sit down and hear a message, whose point was often that I needed to try harder. Try harder to be a “good witness” at school. Try harder to avoid temptation. Try harder to obey God.

Somehow, the idea of trying harder carried over to worship. My repertoire consisted of praise and worship songs (none of which had an F chord— I didn’t know how to play that one), mainly ones that talked about how much I wanted to worship God. I thought that if I tried harder, was sincere enough, and really meant it enough, that I would enter into a state of capital-w Worship. The world around me would fade away, I would lose my inhibitions, and I would achieve a spiritual state of being lost in worship.

But this state of spiritual ecstasy never arrived. And, in my mind, there was only one person to blame–me. I was a failed worshiper.

May 11, 2010

A couple of years ago the duo Lashey & Joyner released an album titled simply Hymns. I was talking to Chris Joyner recently and he was kind enough to offer to the readers of this site a few of the tracks from that album. You can download them (for free, of course) below. Within the zip file you’ll find:

  • My Jesus I Love Thee
  • And Can It Be
  • Your Grace and Faithfulness

You can learn more about the album and Chris Joyner at chrisjoyner.com.