Matt Boswell|1:12 pm CT

Hymn Wednesday: A Debtor to Mercy Alone


1 A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with thy righteousness on,
My person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Saviour’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.

2 The work which his goodness began,
The arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Nor all things below or above,
Can make him his purpose forgo,
Or sever my soul from his love.

3 My name from the palms of his hands
Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on his heart it remains,
In marks of indelible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is giv’n;
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heav’n.

- Augustus Toplady, 1771






Esther Crookshank|9:10 am CT

On Artistic Calling

Sandra Bowden: It is FinishedI spent time this evening on the CIVA website (Christians in the Visual Arts) and read Sandra Bowden’s fine article “The Call of the Artist” (April 10, 2014).[1]

She begins with some of the questions we’re that people often ask artists, including (my favorite): “Aren’t artists always on sabbatical?” Then she develops the concept of artistic vocation as both summons, which to me has connotations of a military command, and a strong inclination: “Ask yourself, is this something I can live without, that is essential within me?” Most evocative is her mandate drawn from Madeleine L’Engle and from Mary’s Magnificat to Christian disciple-artists to be “birth-givers.”

Madeleine L’Engle has said in Walking on Water that the creation of art. . . is an incarnational activity. The artist is a form-giver, one who gives birth to an idea. Giving birth involves conception (the  idea comes to the artist); gestation (the idea begins to take shape inside the mind of the artist); labor (the struggle of making it come together and the willingness to fail in that attempt); birth (the actual creation of the work and its completion) and care (rigors of framing, taking the photographs, writing about the piece, marketing, selling). Finally, Bowden challenges the artist to create art that not only illustrates but illuminates.

As a musician, I found it refreshing to think with a visual artist about art and consider my role as helping others to perceive what the physical eye [or ear?] without mediation could never discern. This perspective places a heavy spiritual responsibility on the artist as communicator or exegete of God’s character and biblical self-revelation.

“The artist’s mission is to help all of us see, in nature and human life, what the physical eye, unaided could never discern. The artist is an interpreter, and a teacher. Art is not mere illustration, but serves to illuminate.”  She concludes with six practical words of advice including: become a student of art history (to which as an historical musicologist, I add, “hear, hear”) and the obvious admonition to connect with groups of artists (“We were not meant to be ‘lone rangers.’”)

Finally she cautions artists against creating “a Christ like us, rather than letting Christ recreate through us,” and (using the poetic device of polyptoton) connects the theological concept of Christian transformation with the shaping of form in art: “As Christians and as artists we must let Christ be the ‘transforming’ and form-giving force in our lives, so that our art can be infused with spiritual insight. Our vocation is to translate a profound understanding of our faith and culture into works of integrity, quality and beauty.”

In the words of the Apostle Paul: “We are His poetry.” (Ephesians 2:10)  Bowden, a New-England based painter and printmaker, has works in collections including the Vatican Museum of Contemporary Religious Art and the Haifa Museum. She writes of her own artistic work and calling: “My Christian faith has been the driving force behind my art,” Bowden says. “I look at the making of a piece of art as a kind of doxology, a prayer or conversation with God. I don’t mean this in any mystical way, but my ideas come out of my theology and thoughts about God. I am somewhat of a theologian, but one who translates those interpretations into visual form.”

[1] http://civa.org/civablog/vocation-of-the-artist/. Accessed 4/12/2014, 2:38 a.m.






Matt Boswell|9:34 am CT

Let Us Love, and Sing, and Wonder: Hymn Wednesday

Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder
1 Let us love, and sing, and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior’s name!
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame.

2 Let us love the Lord, who bought us,
Pitied us when enemies;
Called us by his grace, and taught us,
Gave us ears, and gave us eyes.

3 Let us sing, though fierce temptations
Threaten hard to bear us down!
For the Lord, our strong salvation,
Holds in view the conqueror’s crown,

4 Let us wonder, grace and justice
Join and point to mercy’s store;
When we trust in Christ our fortress,
Justice smiles, and asks no more.

5 Let us praise and join the chorus
Of the saints enthroned on high;
Here they trusted him before us,
Now their praises fill the sky.

- John Newton, 1774






Matt Boswell|10:09 pm CT

Corporate Worship: A Lifting of the Gaze

DG BackgroundI had preached the funeral of their baby just a few days before. Some of our best friends laid to rest their little girl, marking one of the most difficult days of my life. While preaching graveside, my eyes rested on my wife, dressed in black, who we knew was in the process of miscarrying a child.

Now, the Sunday after had come. I had chosen songs to remind them, to remind me, of God’s faithfulness and goodness in the midst of suffering. It is difficult to sing with sorrow in your throat.

What our friends did not need were three tips to overcome pain, or a weightless song that may pacify for a moment. What they needed, what I needed, was to behold the glory of God in the face of Christ. We needed a lifting of our gaze.

Lifted Gaze, Lifted Heart

In Psalm 121, the psalmist feels this tension as he ascends to the temple to worship. Along the journey, we find him in need of remembering where his help is found. He sings to his heart to remind it to hope in God.

In the opening line of his hymn, he asks his soul a question that demands a sure response. “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). When the gaze of the psalmist is low, he is filled with doubts and questions. When his gaze is lifted up, his heart is lifted up also.

Any Given Sunday

Corporate worship is a lifting of the gaze from created things to the uncreated one. On any given Sunday morning, as people walk into the room, questions come with them.

Is there grace enough for someone like me?

Will my marriage make it through this?

Has God forgotten me?

Amidst the singing, there are other songs being sung: songs of pain and suffering, songs of doubt and fear, songs of desperate need. These songs may not ring through the microphone, but they are there. The resounding theme of each of these songs is simple: we need to behold God.

Renew Your Hope

Corporate worship reminds us that our hope is not fixed on anything less than our sovereign God. There is a tendency in all of us to forget our neediness. Like the psalmist, we question where our help comes from and must be continually reminded of the source of our hope. We are easily distracted. We are lulled to sleep by the idols of comfort and self-sufficiency. We are prone to forget that Christ is the sure and steady anchor in the fury of every storm.

We gather together in worship to have our eyes set upon Christ. The hand of the gospel lifts our drooping head to remember that in Christ the acceptance of God has been fixed upon us. The weekly practice of hearing the gospel in song and in sermon clears the hazy effects of sin from our eyes and focuses our hearts on the glory of God. Lifting our gaze brings clarity to us of who God is and who we are as his people.

Allow corporate worship to help renew your hope in God. In the call to worship, call your heart to worship. In the confession of sin, lift your gaze to Christ whose blood has satisfied the wrath of God. In the preaching of God’s word, hear the gospel and allow it to echo through the chambers of your soul. In the benediction, be sent into the world to remember the glorious and steadfast hope that is ours in Christ.






Matt Boswell|7:10 am CT

Be Gone Unbelief, My Savior is Near

Be gone unbelief, my Savior is near,
And for my relief will surely appear:
By prayer let me wrestle, and He wilt perform,
With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm.

Though dark be my way, since He is my Guide,
‘Tis mine to obey, ’tis His to provide;
Though cisterns be broken, and creatures all fail,
The Word He has spoken shall surely prevail.

His love in time past forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last in trouble to sink;
Each sweet Ebenezer I have in review,
Confirms His good pleasure to help me quite through.

Determined to save, He watched o’er my path,
When Satan’s blind slave, I sported with death;
And can He have taught me to trust in His Name,
And thus far have brought me, to put me to shame?

Why should I complain of want or distress,
Temptation or pain? He told me no less:
The heirs of salvation, I know from His Word,
Through much tribulation must follow their Lord.

How bitter that cup, no heart can conceive,
Which He drank quite up, that sinners might live!
His way was much rougher, and darker than mine;
Did Jesus thus suffer, and shall I repine?

Since all that I meet shall work for my good,
The bitter is sweet, the medicine is food;
Though painful at present, wilt cease before long,
And then, O! how pleasant, the conqueror’s song!

- John Newton, 1803






Matt Boswell|12:01 am CT

Come, Weary Souls, With Sin Distressed: Hymn Wednesday

Come, weary souls, with sin distressed,
Come and accept the promised rest;
The gospel’s gracious call obey,
And cast your gloomy fears away.

Oppressed with guilt (a painful load),
O come and spread your woes abroad,
Divine compassion, mighty love,
Will all the painful load remove.

Here mercy’s boundless ocean flows,
To cleanse your guilt, and heal your woes;
Pardon, and life, and endless peace;
How rich the gift, how free the grace!

Dear Saviour, let thy powerful love
Confirm our faith, our fears remove;
Forgiveness shed through every breast,
And guide us to eternal rest.

                                     - Anne Steele, 1760






Ronnie Martin|9:43 am CT

Fear and Loathing in Worship Leading

I’ll be honest, I was scared out of my wits when I first started leading worship. Although I had played rock and roll shows in clubs, festivals and venues around the world, Saturday night had me bound in fits of panic as I contemplated what was facing me the next morning. I knew what the issue was, and it wasn’t the music. I knew how to play my instrument, arrange a song, lead a band, and sing in-tune, sort of. The thing that had me nervously pacing the floors at midnight Saturday was what happened in between the songs. What we call transitions. Or what we might call the actual LEADING part of worship leading.

Like most things that have to be learned in front of a live “audience” (c’mon, you know what I mean by that), there were some awkward moments I’d be happy to forget. Of course, it was time spent in the saddle along with a healthy dose of prayer and wisdom from other WL’s that helped me survive some of my early woes. Along the way, I learned some good, general principles for transitions that I think can apply to WL’s in all seasons.

Be Prepared

I know there are different opinions on this, but I think it’s a good practice to write down what you’re going to say. If so many good preachers write out their sermons in manuscript form, why should WL’s be any less prepared than that? Obviously, reciting anything in written form can resemble a lecture, so the key is to write in the manner of which you speak. If you’re starting out, this can help calm the nerves before Sunday and give you a way to practice your speaking parts before you play.

Use Brevity

I was at a church once where the worship leader started with a story that lasted for a good 7 minutes. This was after announcements and a greeting that had gone on for 10 minutes. Transitions are not sermons, so whatever type of liturgy you have at your church, try to keep them concise and transitional.

But Say Something

I sat through a worship service a couple of years ago where the leader didn’t say a single word during the entire time of singing. I know, he was probably reacting to the silly, rock show vocalizing we’ve all been subjected to, but going too far the other way isn’t helpful, either. Like a good sermon, a good liturgy is leading people somewhere, so transitions are necessary when attempting to reach a destination.

Watch Your Tone

Your transitions can and should be theologically rich, but they don’t need to sound like a radio broadcaster from the 1940′s reciting a Luther treatise through justification. If you’re opening with a greeting, be conversational. If you’re reading scripture, let the tone of the passage your reading shape your vocal tone. Practice.

Be Who You Are

If you’ve been affirmed as a WL in your church, it probably means that you have some of the skills required to accomplish the role you’ve been called to. Work hard to be the best version of yourself you can be in those roles. Worship leading is the ultimate multi-task job in the church. It’s part preacher, player, singer, reciter, greeter, band leader, and sound engineer…all in the course of 30 minutes. Your job is to transition through these tasks naturally and personably, with your gaze ever fixed on the One who is equipping you to proclaim His great name.

Remember that last part.






Matt Boswell|8:36 am CT

Behold What Wondrous Grace: Hymn Wednesday

Behold what wondrous grace
The Father has bestowed
On sinners of a mortal race,
To call them sons of God!

‘Tis no surprising thing
That we should be unknown;
The Jewish world knew not their King,
God’s everlasting Son.

Nor doth it yet appear
How great we must be made;
But when we see our Savior here,
We shall be like our Head.

A hope so much divine
May trials well endure;
May purge our souls from sense and sin,
As Christ the Lord is pure.

If in my Father’s love
I share a filial part,
Send down Thy Spirit like a dove,
To rest upon my heart.

We would no longer lie
Like slaves beneath the throne;
My faith shall Abba, Father, cry,
And thou the kindred own.

Isaac Watts, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 1707







Jordan Stone|9:20 pm CT

A Singing Church


When I first began the journey of planting a church one common refrain of encouragement from seasoned planters was, “Identify your church’s core values. Communicate them clearly and often.”

Now, this isn’t the place to quibble with whether or not mission statements and core values ought to be a “first order of business” reality in planting a church. When used rightly, just like church confessions, core values function as faithful identifiers of what a local church understands and treasures about its faith and practice.

So we came up with what we call at Imago Dei Church, “Things We Want to Be True.” Things that we hope would permeate our church’s life together and witness to the world. One of those things is that we would be “A Singing Church.”


Why have a specific desire to be a singing church? Two things come immediately to mind.

1. Singing mirrors the character of God.

Zephaniah’s only recorded sermon helped bring spiritual revival to God’s people after the long and disastrous reign of Manassah. For three chapters Zephaniah has detailed the “day of the Lord,” a day when he would, according to chapter 3, “Pour out upon them [His] indignation, all [His] burning anger . . . all the earth shall be consumed.” The picture is bleak. It’s as though God announces that His storm of judgment is coming and His people stare at a sky swelling with rolling and thunderous clouds. And just before judgment bursts forth in power, a single ray of sunshine breaks through and shines down. Zephaniah says sadness and depression isn’t the order of the day for everybody. The sun of salvation is going to burst upon the earth because “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zeph. 3:17) Our God is a singing God!

Faithful singing then is little more than a mirror of the great God who sings over His people. Our singing God creates and commands His people, which leads to the second point.

2. Singing is a mark of obedience.

God not only creates His people, but commands His people and one command is that we sing. As best I can tell, there are some four hundred references to singing in Scripture and over fifty commands to sing. God’s salvation compels the commands of Zephaniah 3:14, “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” Did you notice from where our singing is to come?  ”Rejoice and exult with all your heart.” What matters most in singing is the state of our hearts. God is honored when our hearts sings unto Him in joyful humility and honesty.

This is why we sing, because it mirrors God is and is a mark of obedience. Said another way, “We sing because He sang first over us.”


Another question worth pursuing on the topic is, “What singing does singing actually do?” If we long for a culture of singing in our churches, what kind of culture are we longing for? Among the myriad of things singing does, I believe there are four worth particular mention.

Singing glorifies God.

Spirit-filled churches, according to Ephesians 5:19, are those that sing and make melody to the Lord with all their heart. The first function of singing is vertical, a harmonious declaration of all His wonderful works (1 Chron. 16:9).

Singing teaches.

One way we teach one another is by “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16). Singing is biblical and systematic theology set to meter and melody. Want to help your church understand sin has the two-fold effect of curse and corruption, and that Christ justifies and sanctifies? Have them sing good Mr. Toplady’s “Rock of Ages”:

“Be of sin the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure”

Singing encourages.

The horizontal dimension of singing to “one another” (Eph. 5:19) means teaching and encouraging. They are closely related and functional synonyms, but it seems wise to distinguish them. Has a church member in your congregation recently lost a child through miscarriage? Help your church encourage them by singing “How Firm a Foundation”:

“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed

For I am thy God and will still give thee aid

I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand

Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand”

 Singing humbles.

I don’t have an explicit reference for this, but I am increasingly convinced few things fuel humility like faithful singing. It is so common, isn’t it, for Christians to think, “If the music is just right, or is to my particular stylistic liking, then I will be able to sing along.” But the vertical and horizontal dimensions of singing compel us to praise even when the music may not be to our personal preference. We see that glorifying God and encouraging one another is more important than my hope that the musical glory of “Enter Your Favorite Band Here” invades the congregation.

This is why, if our churches are ever to be singing churches, we pastors must give our people a grand view of our majestic God. God’s majesty, not man’s music, must ultimately compel our singing. What unites us together in life and worship is not stylistic preference, but God’s majesty as revealed in Christ. Personal preference in man’s music can never truly unite a church in the bonds of peace, but prioritization of God’s majesty will. Pursue the majesty of God more than the music of men and find your church become a singing church.


I hope then it is clear why we pray for God to form us into “A Singing Church.”

We want to mirror God’s character, so we sing.

We want to be obedient to His word, so we sing.

We want to glorify God, so we sing.

We want to teach one another in truth, so we sing.

We want to encourage one another in the Spirit, so we sing.

We want to humble our hearts before God, so we sing.

By His power and for His glory, may He form us all into singing churches.






Matt Boswell|9:19 am CT

Heart Issues for Worship Leaders

What kind of heart issues face worship leaders today?

In a new roundtable video, Paul Tripp, Mike Cosper, and I look at this important topic.

Tripp starts the conversation by saying, “A person’s ministry is never just shaped by knowledge, experience, and skill. It’s always also shaped by the condition of your own heart. In any ministry, you never leave your heart at the door.”

From there the dialogue begins.

Watch the full nine-minute video as we discuss idolatry, art, worship leadership, and the heart.