confession

Let's Sing the Beauty of Confession

When I sit down to write a song, it’s often a solitary exercise. I tend to write both music and lyrics at once, fitting them together closely. But I also enjoy shaping melodies around existing texts or poetry. It helps when the poem I’m working with already has a rhythm to it. I’ve practiced this over the years with 18th-century English hymn texts, especially the gems you can find in old poetry books or hymnals that just have the words in metered form. Occasionally, I’ll co-write with a friend in present-day collaboration where I just add music to a poem, or a story, or journal entry they’ve written.

Last year, Don Carson sent me a poem to see if it might be a good candidate for congregational singing. I sat down with the words at the piano and sent a voice memo version to get some feedback from Don. After a few small edits, I recorded a final version with a friend and producer, Lucas Morton, whom I met while working on an Indelible Grace project a few years ago.  

I was compelled by Don’s text because it’s a confessional and Psalm-like subject, and because confession isn’t en vogue in our contemporary church songs. I wonder if we often resist this subject in our corporate songs because, like our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we’re swamped with a low hum of guilt as we go about our everyday life. We hide out in fig leaves of blaming and resenting and counting up our losses. When we cover ourselves with anything but Jesus, we get stuck in the shadows of our own hearts and feel powerless in our broken relationships.

If you’re living in community, don’t be surprised when you experience these lurking shadows within your own heart and the hearts of those you love. When we hide out, we miss out. We miss out on the community of love we were made for. Rather than covering and shifting to nurture our bitterness and loss, the way to abundant life is to let God turn on the lights. He summons out of hiding. He calls things what they are.

Confession is even more challenging when we encounter unsafe people; especially those who’ve wounded and attacked us. But there’s good news! When we go deeper into honest confession, God himself proves to be our defender. He is our true safe place. We can trust him with all things. When we confess, the Spirit brings the gospel’s cleansing power to bear on our guilty souls. And when we confess, he both purifies and heals, shedding his resurrection light into every dark shadow.

The more deeply and specifically we confess, the more the gospel is specifically applied to bring forgiveness and wholeness to our hearts and minds and relationships. Confession is the threshold we cross to become unburdened from guilt. Forgiveness mends our relationships, seven times seventy-seven, or as long as it takes. And that’s something to sing about.  


‘I Am Ashamed’

Lyrics by Don Carson; music by Sandra McCracken

I used to nurture bitterness,
To count up every slight.
The world’s a moral wilderness,
And I have felt its blight.
     Self-pity ruled, resentment reigned;
     No one understood my pain.
I spiraled down in murky night,
Insisting that I had the right
To hate and hate again.

I am ashamed;
O, my Lord, forgive.

But then the gospel taught me how
To contemplate the cross.
For there Christ died for me—and now
I’ve glimpsed the bitter cost.
     He bore abuse, and blows, and hate;
     He did not retaliate.
Triumphant malice sneered and tossed
Blind rage at him—he never lost
The love that conquers hate.

I am ashamed;
O, my Lord, forgive.

To make no threat, to smile, forgive,
To love—and not because I must,
For Jesus showed me how to live
And trust the One who’s just;
     To suffer wrong and feel the pain,
     Certain that the loss is gain—
O God, I want so much to trust,
To follow Jesus on the cross,
To love and love again.


Originally on August 2, 2016. You can find the posting here.
Used with Permission.


Sandra McCracken is a gifted singer and songwriter who has contributed to the church's worship language by combining her soulful, folk-gospel sound with her stirring lyrics. Her music is regularly used by congregations in corporate worship. Learn out more about Sandra McCracken and buy her music on her website here.

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 (www.fallenpastor.com).  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).