Christ's Ascension Matters

Scripture reports that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared several times in physical form to many people. Forty days later, the book of Acts tells that Jesus was again with his disciples:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power then the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. (Acts 1:6-11 ESV)

Last Friday I had the privilege to attend commencement ceremonies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. President R. Albert Mohler’s address to graduates was inspired by the account of Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr. His message was entitled, “As if It Had Been the Face of an Angel.” This title harkened to verse 15 of Acts chapter 6: And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:15)

Stephen’s vision and testimony were not only the deciding factor upon which the council stoned him, they also hold a key to every Christian’s faith and our hope for heaven: Christ’s ascension.

Dr. Mohler pointed out that the original text indicates Stephen’s face had the same other-worldly glow as did Moses’ face after spending time in God’s presence and receiving the Ten Commandments. Scripture gives even more explanation of Stephen’s angelic countenance: But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55-56)

Stephen’s vision and testimony were not only the deciding factor upon which the council stoned him, they also hold a key to every Christian’s faith and our hope for heaven: Christ’s ascension. Jesus Christ did ascend to heaven – not as a non-corporal spirit being, rather, in a new physical body given by God at his resurrection.

Why is this important? As Gerrit Scott Dawson writes, “Through the ascension we discover that the incarnation continues. Jesus remains united to our human nature ... If Jesus’ new life does not continue, then he could have died again ... The resurrection requires an ascension to be completed ... To put it bluntly, if Jesus did not go up as a man, he cannot come again as a man. The Judge would not be our Brother, not the one tempted in all ways as we are, not the man with the nail-scarred hands and the ‘rich wounds yet visible above.’ He might be God in that case, but he would not be human. And we would be lost."[1]

What God allowed Stephen to see gives a clear and true understanding of the role Christ now plays on our behalf.

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. (Hebrews 8:1-2)

Robert Webber put it this way, “Jesus Christ, this man who is God, participated in our humanity to die for us and to be resurrected for us, and he now has ascended to the very throne of God to continually represent us to the Father. For ‘he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence’(Hebrews 9:24 NIV). He who did everything that ever needed to be done to save us now continually stands before the Father interceding for us!"[2]

This year (2017), Ascension Day is Thursday, May 25th. If Jesus Christ is your Savior and the Lord of your life, take some time to reflect on how perfectly he loves us and how grateful we are for his continuing work on our behalf before the throne of God in heaven.

[1]. Dawson, Gerrit Scott. Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation. (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004), 3-5.

[2]. Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2004), 159.

Marc Brown serves as the Minister of Worship and the Arts at First Baptist Church Mount Washington, Kentucky, where he lives and serves with his wife Cyndi and their daughter, Miriam. Marc earned a B.A. in music from Western Kentucky University, a Masters of Church Music from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Worship Studies degree from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies.

New Doxology album released!

"The Wondrous Mystery" is now available!

The latest from Doxology is now available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Google Play Music, and other major music providers.

The album features four original arrangements created just for Doxology:

  • Cliff Duren arranged "Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery" and "Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor," two originals from Matt Boswell and friends
  • "Victory in Jesus" was also arranged by Cliff Duren
  • "And Can It Be" is arranged by Dan Forrest

Southern Productions will be releasing a new video soon featuring the group as well. We'll post that here when it's released, so check back soon. Grab your copy today and help spread the word! Be sure to tell us what you think of the album in the comments below.

Seven Essential Characteristics of an Effective Worship Leader

I have the privilege of training worship leaders. This means that I have the task of preparing musicians to lead their congregations in doing something that they will continue to do in eternity. Done well this act should help teach people how to live in faith and one day die with hope. Leading a task that engages a holy God with such eternal implications should not be handled tritely. It takes a substantive person to plan, prepare, and lead what should be a substantive act. Here is what I believe a worship leader must demonstrate in order to be effective for this significant task:

  1. Musical talent. This is the only characteristic on the list that must be present at birth. Some people have a gift for music and others do not. For those that do, that talent must be developed and refined. This takes time and work, but the combination of these two demonstrates the presence of talent. Effective worship leaders practice and get better.
    Psalm 33:3 (ESV) – “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully…”

  2. Teachability. Regardless of how talented a worship leader is, teachability is always required. Good worship leaders are continually learning and seeking instruction. A worship leader who resists instruction will be a poor teacher himself. Effective worship leaders strive to be teachable.
    Proverbs 13:18 – “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.”

  3. Biblical Knowledge. This is a characteristic that everyone begins life with a total absence of. It is necessary to create a lifelong appetite for God’s word. Every week worship leaders point people to God while also representing the character and works of God in song and speech. Too many do so out of theological and biblical ignorance. Effective worship leaders develop a reservoir of Biblical truth within them so they can speak and lead intelligently.
    2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

  4. Character. The hypocrisy of a duplicitous life on any platform will eventually be revealed. Standing on a platform to lead worship is essentially saying “Follow me while I follow Christ.” Perfection is unattainable for anyone, but sanctification is honest about sin and progressive in growth because it comes from following Christ intentionally. Unfortunately, talent has a way of taking musicians farther than their character can sustain them. Effective worship leaders grow in godliness.
    1 Samuel 16:17b – “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

  5. Passion. Worship should have an appropriate and authentic emotional component. I am not referring to pep rally emotionalism, but neither should there be the appearance of apathy or disinterest. Worship should reflect deep-seated joy, true brokenness over sin, and authentic (even euphoric) gratefulness for the Savior. Effective worship leaders cultivate the capacity to be appropriately affected emotionally because worship is an unparalleled journey of enjoying ultimate fulfillment at Christ’s expense.
    Psalm 84:2b – “My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.”

  6. Humility. This may be the most elusive characteristic on the list. Performing music can tend to make musicians arrogant. A musical skill can become a motive for boasting in an otherwise reserved individual. The types of thoughts that can come to mind while leading worship can be startling if evaluated honestly. Effective worship leaders pursue God’s glory over their own glory.
    James 4:6 – “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

  7. Love for the Church. This can often be the most forgotten item on the list. If allowed, love for music can eclipse love for the people. The true allegiance of our affections will be on display in numerous decisions that we make every week. Effective worship leaders examine their motives and advance strategies that make music a servant, not a master.
    Romans 12:10 – “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

Being a worship leader is a journey. Proper orientation in these things reflects one’s capability and fitness for being used in a role that none of us truly deserves to hold. We serve at God’s pleasure. Enter humbly, grow intentionally!

Dr. Scott Connell is Assistant Professor of Music and Worship Leadership; Program Coordinator, Worship and Music Studies at Boyce College in Louisville, KY.

Provisions for Worship in the Desert

We’ve all been there. It’s the new year and our plan to read through the Scriptures is blowing full steam ahead. But suddenly, something happens: we reach Exodus 20 and the Law “proper,” full of seemingly obscure commands for cleansing fungal infections and slaughtering various animals, and our fervor for reading the Word often drains. To top it off, the Law begins with a lengthy description of the tabernacle, the ark, the altar, and other articles of worship – something for which many of us (including myself) are grateful for the helpful pictures found in study Bibles. Moses is given specific instructions on how to build God’s dwelling place on earth, where God and man may meet in holy communion. In Exodus 25:1-9, God tells Moses what building and crafting materials he is to collect from the people. The ark of the covenant is to be overlaid in pure gold, the high priest’s robes are to contain precious jewels representing the twelve tribes, the altar is to be coated in bronze, even the poles used for transportation are to be made of the finest wood. The tabernacle is to be a shining display of God’s glory among his people.

But weren’t the Israelites dwelling in the desert as nomads? Where would they have acquired all this wealth? The answer is found a few chapters back in Exodus 3.

Before the Lord hurled his many plagues against the Egyptians, he spoke to Moses in the burning bush, declaring freedom and redemption for Israel. Once he finishes giving his instructions to Moses, God gives a final promise: “And I will give these people such favor with the Egyptians that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. Each woman will ask her neighbor and any woman staying in her house for silver and gold jewelry, and clothing, and you will put them on your sons and daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians.” (Ex 3:21-22 CSB). And that brings us to this key point: God provides the means by which his people are to worship him. Pastor and theologian David Peterson is helpful here when he posits, “[T]he worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.” [1]

The Lord was always aware of the broken state of the Israelites, not just from the elements of the world, but also from their sin, and yet he always provided deliverance for those whom he called to worship him.

God’s desire in rescuing his people from slavery was for them to worship him in the land he promised to their forefather Abraham. For them to do so in the way he commanded, God had to provide the resources they needed to construct the tent and its furnishings. As Pharaoh begs the Israelites to leave after the death of the firstborn, they take with them the fortunes of Egypt. Those once in bondage now carry the wealth of nations, yet not for themselves, but for the glory of God.

Even then, God knew that as the Israelites camped around Sinai they would misuse the gold and make an idol, and still he allowed Moses to intercede on their behalf (Ex 32). He knew they would rebel against his chosen leader leading to punishment by the venom of asps, and still he provided deliverance through the bronze serpent (Num 21). He knew they would reject his commands to drive out the Canaanites, and still he gave them the land in the end (Num 13-14, Josh 13). He knew they would sojourn for 40 years in a barren land, and still he provided manna from heaven and water from rocks (Ex 16). He knew kings would swoop in to attack the weakened and helpless Israelites, and still he provided victory in battle (Ex 17). The Lord was always aware of the broken state of the Israelites, not just from the elements of the world, but also from their sin, and yet he always provided deliverance for those whom he called to worship him.

Jesus reminded his hearers that, “everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34). Just like the Israelites, and apart from Christ, we are bound by our depravity, held fast in the chains of evil and transgression. God provided the means for the Israelites to escape the bondage of their sin through the sacrificial system. But God also knew that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:4), and so he sent Jesus to die “once for all time when he offered up himself” (Heb 7:27). Through his death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ now mediates on behalf of his people, providing entrance into the most holy place before God (Heb 4:14-16). Just like the once enslaved Israelites who were freed, carrying with them the riches of the Egyptians, we today are freed from sin by the blood of Christ as he invites us into the presence of God and the riches of his glorious grace (Eph 1:7-8).

God does not need humanity to worship him, but he does desire a relationship with his creation, and so we have the privilege of witnessing the glory of the Lord through his Son, the God-man Jesus Christ. “But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him” (John 4:23). Even then, our direct access to God the Father is provided through the mediation of Christ. Though our pews are not made of bronze nor our PAR 58 light fixtures coated in gold, God has still given his church what she needs to glorify him: the provider in the sinful desert of the soul, Jesus Christ.

[1] . David Peterson, Engaging with God (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 20.

Austin Collins serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Liz currently lead worship at Harrison Hills Baptist Church in Lanesville, IN, while he pursues his Master of Divinity in Worship Leadership at Southern Seminary.

Putting Words in Your Mouth

Have you ever been locked in riveting discussion with someone, points and arguments flying back and forth, only to hear your case misrepresented by some crafty rephrasing from the other side? It’s a fact of life: no one enjoys having the wrong words put in their mouths. We get frustrated when people imply or state something that we never said or meant, and so we take special care to make sure the words we say are clear and direct. Putting words in someone else’s mouth is viewed with such stigma in today’s world of individuality and subjective perspective being the keys to self-expression. It’s taboo and wrong for you to speak for someone else. And yet, worship pastors are called to do just that.

Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Col 3:16 CSB)

Did you catch that? We teach one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Music is not just about the artistic expression of the worshiper as a response to God’s revelation, but it is also about spiritual formation. The word of Christ dwells richly among his people when they glorify God and edify one another through song. We disciple one another by singing the truth. “What more can He say than to you He hath said?” So, put the words of the Word in their mouths. Oftentimes, well-intentioned Christians who seek to apply biblical principles to their lives walk away from a worship service after hearing the Word preached and taught to them, only to forget the main points just hours after lunch. Yet, how often have you walked away from a worship service, still singing the same songs days later? Paul and other New Testament writers appeared to be aware of this phenomenon. Throughout their letters, we find fragments of early Christian hymns (Eph 5:14, Phil 2:5-11, Col 1:15-20, 1 Tim 3:16, Heb 1:1-3, 1 Pet 2:21-25). These writers understood the power of music: how it hangs in the mind, how it forms the poetic language we use to describe our circumstances and our lives.

Music plays a vital role in allowing us to recall the hope of glory in Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we need to make everything about the music itself. If we are to let the Word of Christ dwell richly among us, we need to make sure the words we sing are the Word itself. The trend is to focus on the music, providing an avenue for emotional response on the part of the worshiper, expecting to see hands raised and eyes closed as we give ‘em the beat, boys, and free their souls so they can get lost in the rock ‘n’ roll. But we must avoid the lie that music determines and causes our responses. 

No song is peppy enough to stir the emotions of the human heart unless the Word of God dwells richly within it. There is no BPM fast enough to lift the spirits of the mother who got a call on Saturday night that her 17-year-old son was killed by a drunk driver. No major key on its own will speak truth into the life of the 32-year-old single father of 3 young girls who just found out his cancer is terminal. Have you as a worship leader put the words in their mouths for them to be able to say in these times, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul,’” or in more modern terms “Christ the sure and steady anchor through the floods of unbelief; Hopeless somehow, O my soul, now, lift your eyes to Calvary”?

The Word of God alone provides the transformative power for Christlikeness in the lives of God’s people. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). So, worship pastors, sing the Word. Let it dwell richly among your people through song. Don’t just choose songs for their ambient textures or cool guitar riffs. Put the Word in people’s mouths. They’ll thank you for it.

May the words of my mouth
     and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
     Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
(Psalm 19:14 CSB)

Austin Collins serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Liz currently lead worship at Harrison Hills Baptist Church in Lanesville, IN, while he pursues his Master of Divinity in Worship Leadership at Southern Seminary.

Confessions of a Fallen Worship Pastor

So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall (1 Corinthians 10:12, HCSB).

Three times each semester the Institute for Biblical Worship at Southern Seminary hosts a special speaker and lunch for the worship majors enrolled in the Boyce College and Seminary music and worship programs. In the past we've had a wide variety of guests including Matt Boswell, Keith Getty and Mike Harland. We try to expose our students to influential voices in the area of worship leadership and ministry beyond the classroom. You can hear recordings of past presentations here.

In his chapel message at Southern Seminary on February 21, 2017, Dr. Denny Burke spoke on 2 Timothy 2:22, where Paul reminded Timothy to “flee youthful passions.” It is not coincidental that Dr. Burke is sensing the same concern for students throughout the entire seminary that we have for our worship majors. Please listen to his message here.

Last week we had a speaker named Brandon Watkins. Brandon drives a Schwan's food truck. He gets up every morning at 2:30 am and delivers frozen food to the customers on his route in this region of Kentucky. He didn't always work for Schwan's. Several years ago he was a student at Southern in what was then the School of Church Music. Throughout his high school and college years, Brandon sang for a traveling evangelist in a ministry that took him all over the world. When Brandon speaks you can tell he can sing... he has that natural, resonant quality to his vocal tone you often hear from someone on a stage in Nashville.

Until about seven years ago, Brandon was a full-time worship pastor in a large, growing church in the south. He was married and had two little girls. But he lost them and everything else in life because of an addiction. While he was in high school he, like so many other young men, began looking at pornography. As a Christian and a traveling musician in an evangelistic ministry, he convinced himself that he could "manage" the sin. After all, good Christians (especially traveling evangelists) aren't supposed to struggle with bad things like porn, and he didn't want to admit he had a problem. Brandon said this to our students: "When sin isn't exposed to the light, it leads to a stronghold, and when a stronghold isn't dealt with, it leads to an addiction."

Brandon's story is heartbreaking. At the height of his deception, he still thought he could "manage" the double life of being a worship pastor and a daily customer at a strip club. He justified his actions by saying that God didn’t answer his prayers. Here was his prayer: “God, if You want me to quit going to the strip club, then take my voice away from me.” He told our students it was incredible the things he would come up with to justify his double life. His singing voice stayed strong, the ministry at his church flourished, and he kept right on living in the darkness of what he thought was a secret sin.

Finally, the stress and burden of lies and deceit became too much and he confessed to his wife, his pastor, and his church what he had been hiding. For the next six months, he lived the life of the prodigal son. There was no more hiding what he had become, and he stepped completely out of the light and into darkness. Five months later, on his 31st birthday, he was alone on the back porch of his empty house. The water and heat had been turned off, and other than a mattress and a table, there was not any furniture in the empty rooms of the home he once shared with his family. As he sat on his porch and looked down at the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels next to him, reality finally hit him – he had hit bottom.

Brandon Watkins' testimony opened the eyes and ears of several of our students last week. He told them his pride kept him from asking for help and his arrogance duped him into thinking at each stage of his growing addiction that he could "manage" his sin and deceive everyone around him. Through his tears, he looked at our students and said, "Each one of you is living in one of three categories right now: (1) You are actively and intentionally protecting yourself from a fall because you know you are vulnerable. (2) You are in the middle of a fall. Or, (3) you are arrogantly thinking you will never fall—and if that's the case—you'll be calling me within five years and asking for my help because you've lost everything."

I once heard a pastor say that among men who are no longer in ministry because of moral failure, the fall was never a moral blowout, but a slow leak. Those men let down their guard on the small things, like a second look at the tabloid in the grocery store check-out line, or a daydream that fueled lustful thoughts. For Brandon, and all of us, this is a battle that never ends. The measures of protection match the severity of the sin. Brandon and his new wife, Kala, do not have internet at their house.

Why should we take up blog space on the Institute for Biblical Worship website with a topic like this? Because so many worship leaders and pastors are struggling with the devastating sin of pornography. During the Q&A time with Brandon, one of the students asked, "Why aren't we talking about this more and being proactive in battling against it?” Brandon said that when he was younger he didn't want to share his battle because a worship leader wasn't supposed to be dealing with a sin like porn.

As he ended his testimony, Brandon introduced his mentor, Ray Carroll, who has a book and a ministry called Fallen Pastor (  In the last few years since he began this ministry, Ray has spoken with over 500 pastors who have fallen. Over and over throughout Brandon and Ray’s talk with our students, they encouraged the students to seek help, develop true accountability, and shed light on the sin.

So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).