Format: Sound Plus Doctrine PodcastDownload Session
How should we think about planning and leading songs during the Advent/Christmas season and into the new year? What opportunities can we take advantage of as unbelievers visit our meetings? How can we help Christians understand that the Incarnation of Christ is greater than any songs we will ever sing about it? How do we keep from sentimentalizing, sanitizing, and spiritualizing Christmas? Those are just a few of the questions David and Bob discuss during this episode of Sound Plus Doctrine.
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Bob Kauflin: Hey, you’re listening to Sound Plus Doctrine, the podcast of Sovereign Grace Music. Sovereign Grace Music exists to produce Christ-exalting songs and training for local churches from local churches. For more information and free resources, you can check out sovereigngracemusic.org. Thanks for joining us.
David Zimmer: Hello, how are you? Buenos noches.
Bob Kauflin: That was an enthusiastic greeting, David.
DZ: Buenos dias.
BK: Oh my goodness.
DZ: I am David Zimmer.
BK: I’m Bob Kauflin.
DZ: And we are so happy that you would be joining us once again.
BK: We are.
DZ: Or for the first time.
BK: Yeah, amen, both.
DZ: Yeah, today we are going to be talking about the end of the year.
BK: It’s fast approaching.
DZ: Fast approaching, Christmas and New Years.
DZ: So Bob, starting with Christmas, how do you think through Christmas songs or Christmas program? Do you even have a Christmas program that you do at your church?
BK: I like this. We’re just diving right in.
DZ: Sorry, yeah, we’re just…
BK: No chatter or anything, we’re just diving right in. That’s great. I used to be part of a church that did a Christmas Eve service every year and it was big. Not as big a production as some churches I’m aware of. Currently, I’m a part of Sovereign Grace Church, Louisville, you are as well. And we actually don’t do anything big for Christmas Eve. [chuckle]
DZ: That’s why I asked, yeah.
BK: But even for Chris… The Sunday before Christmas, maybe two Sundays before Christmas, we might do a children’s choir and adult choir, just involve more people. I’ve been around all kinds of different ways of approaching Christmas. So that’s what I hope we can speak to.
BK: And of course, by this time, most people know what they’re doing.
BK: And this might be thoughts for next year.
BK: It’s funny, I’ve been in cities where big churches will do these massive productions and over three nights, six nights, whatever. I don’t know if anybody’s doing that this year, but it involves everybody’s time. People are just giving everything to it. But I wonder sometimes if you look at the fruit from those, apart from just the fellowship that comes from doing something like that, and the joy of doing things together, if the evangelistic fruit, which is the reason a lot of people do them, is really that great. Sometimes there’s a cultural impact in your city, yeah, this church is gonna do this thing. So I’ve always wondered about that. I’ve sought to kinda downplay what we do at Christmas for this reason, I think one of the best things we have to offer people, unbelievers or people who are thinking about going to church, and a lot of people will attend a Christmas service, the best thing we have to offer them is not like a great musical production, but the reality that the God who made us has sent his Son, Jesus, to take on our flesh and grow up as a child and become a man living perfectly so that he could hang on a cross and receive our punishment for all our sins and rise from the dead, and that’s changed our lives.
BK: And so when you sing, for instance, a carol, a meaningful carol, a gospel-filled carol, meaningfully and movingly, people, I think, might have a better opportunity to see what Christmas is about.
BK: So whether that’s a carol sing or some churches I know are doing… What’s it called? Something and carols, lessons and carols.
DZ: Oh, okay.
BK: Where you have scriptures and carols in between, which I think is brilliant in terms of, this is who we are, this is what we do, this is what has amazed us and changed our lives.
BK: So that’s how we’ve tended to think about it, but whatever you do, you wanna do in faith, you wanna do with intentionality and not just because we’ve had a Christmas cantata for the last 20 years or the singing Christmas tree. I don’t know if anybody’s still doing that, but I know that people have done that.
DZ: Okay, that’s a thing. [chuckle] Oh my goodness. If it is, I would love to see that.
BK: Oh, I’ve seen them.
DZ: Yeah, I would love to see that live, send me the information.
DZ: So the reason I ask about a program is, and you hinted at it, it’s like so many churches are doing some sort of program, whether it’s with a choir or whether it’s…
DZ: Yeah. Or whether it’s a full-blown kind of dramatization, but a lot of people see it as an opportunity like, “Hey, we’re gonna bring in some non-believers that are gonna come to some sort of event that they’re going to hear good music or an evangelistic opportunity.” But I really like just even the approach of saying, “Even though you might be new to our church or new to this event, this is the same Gospel we have been rehearsing every week, week after week after week after week.” So how do you… Christmas is such a nostalgic time too, there’s so much sentimentality to Christmas that it’s like…
BK: Which is wonderful.
DZ: Which is wonderful. Absolutely. And so… But I love… My question is, how do you tie into, this is what we do week-to-week, during a Christmas event or concert. Even if you’re gonna do a concert, how can you tie it into, this is what we do in our weekly gatherings?
DZ: That’s what I’m trying to ask.
BK: That’s good. Well, I wanna back-pedal a little bit and say, God uses big productions. I just think as leaders, as churches, we don’t have to feel the pressure to put on a big production.
DZ: That’s good.
BK: There are large churches that can do these things very well, a lot of people come and people do get saved, people do come to know Christ or it forms a bridge, a relational bridge, where people can learn more about this church or this gospel and later on come to know Christ, the one we’re singing about. But we should never feel pressure to do that or never think that we’ve gotta pull up all the stops on Christmas because… Well, if we’re doing it on Christmas, why don’t we do it every Sunday? Of course, some churches think that way and every Sunday is a production, which is another podcast.
BK: ‘Cause it’s not meant to be production, but let me answer that by talking about three things that we tend to do, that churches tend to do at Christmas. They all begin with S. We tend to sentimentalize Christmas, which is what you said. When you meet as the church, we’re not sentimentalizing anything, we are talking about the God who has redeemed us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, nothing sentimental about it. Christmas is attached to a holiday season, so there’s a lot of elements that are sentimental and those are great.
BK: I have a big family and we love the traditions and all those things, but that’s not where the power of Christmas comes from. So in the church, we have a different message, so we wanna make sure that we’re not simply being sentimental, singing a carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” which has some elements to it that are gospel driven, but not a ton. It’s not real specific or whatever. Numerous carols that are “Angels we have heard on high, Sweetly sining o’er the plains.” That’s a fine carol and I love singing it, “Glory”, but it doesn’t tell people a lot about why Jesus came. So it can fall into that category more of sentimentalism, and then we tend to sanitize Christmas and this is… Yeah, it’s really easy to do this. Sanitize Christmas, meaning we make it all about this beautiful nativity scene where everything’s clean.
BK: Everything’s calm.
BK: Yeah, bright, silent. Is there a song about that? And it wasn’t.
BK: Each year, we try to think about… I try to remember… I try to think about what it was really like. I love Andrew Peterson song and it begins, “It was not a silent night, there was blood on the ground.” What? That’s a Christmas song? Well, yeah, because that’s what it was. It was a teenage girl giving birth to her baby with probably only her husband there in a filthy place, a stable, a room where there are animals. That’s just not very sanitary. No sanitizers around. But that’s what it was, that was God’s condescension to us.
DZ: Yeah, that’s it, that is…
BK: And it’s one of the songs on our Christmas Elmo, “O Come, All You Unfaithful.” That kind of ties into that. It’s like Christmas is not for the all put together, everybody has it all together, and you’re middle class, you’re doing great in your job, you have got… Given lots of gifts or getting lots of gifts. This is not for people who have it together, it’s for people who feel hopeless, it’s for people who feel like they’re isolated, separated. Yeah, they just don’t know where the next check’s coming from, paycheck’s coming from, that’s who Jesus came for. He came from all of us, ’cause we’re all needy, we’re all condemned forgone.
DZ: Yeah, and those people will be coming to an event, or a night, or a concert, or a…
DZ: And that is… I mean, for those who are picking the songs for those events or pastors who are thinking through those nights, those are the people that you’re wanting to grab their soul that Christ came to bring hope, not just we can gather and sing and feel like, “Let’s turn down the lights and hold the candles” and it’s just…
BK: Although it’s fine to turn down the lights and hold the candles.
DZ: And I’m not at all… Yeah, I’m not at all against that.
BK: You against candles or what?
DZ: Not at all against that.
DZ: But to offer that hope, that light in a very dark scene, a very dark time, a lot of… For a lot of people, Christmas is a really, really hard time.
BK: Well, and I think 2020 is especially more so than ever, it’s like you have a whole another group of people who are thinking, “This was the worst year I’ve ever had in my life.”
DZ: Yeah, yeah. And they’re isolated from family. Yeah.
BK: Yes, yeah, yeah. So the other thing is we tend to sentimentalize, sanitize and we tend to spiritualize Christmas, which is just drawing out of it all the feel good things about it. Brotherhood.
DZ: The spirit of Christmas.
BK: Yes, yeah.
DZ: I see, yeah.
BK: Love, joy.
0:11:48.7 DZ: Peace.
BK: Peace. Yeah, all those things, which are great, but the good news or the bad news of Christmas is you cannot ultimately have those apart from the Son of God taking on our flesh and dying in our place to reconcile us to God so that we could be forgiven, so that we could find a way to God, those things don’t ultimately exist. We can have them temporarily, but there’s no sense singing about the peace we’re supposed to feel without having that main problem solved, which is we have no peace with God.
DZ: Yeah, that’s so good.
BK: So that’s the good news of Christmas. So the more you tie the reality of the incarnation into your Christmas meeting, the more it will seem like your regular meeting, assuming that that’s what we’re doing every Sunday, we’re singing songs, we’re preaching messages, praying prayers that enable the word of Christ to dwell in people richly. So it’s the same goal. You might have a special or you might do different things to get to that goal, but the goal is the same. The thing is people shouldn’t come like on a Sunday morning and go, “Wow, this is really different from what I saw, what I experienced last Sunday, or what I saw your Christmas thing”, it is like, what in the world, where are the bands, where are the choreography, where is the… Whatever.
DZ: Well, and it can feel… It is a very special time and we’re seeing…
BK: It’s an amazing time.
DZ: Very special things. But if it feels like it’s a separation from the reasons we’re gathering, like it’s just a special event or it’s such a special time… I love… Just even recently on Sunday, we sang joy to the world…
BK: Yeah. After CJ preached Psalm 98.
DZ: After CJ preached on Psalm 98. Yeah. And so it didn’t feel awkward. It didn’t feel like, “This doesn’t fit. I can sing this song, it’s weird. This is a Christmas song.”
BK: And why do you think that was?
DZ: Well, it was so clearly grounded in that Scripture.
BK: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
DZ: Yeah, it was such an extension of what we just heard.
BK: Yeah, ’cause joy to the world for those who don’t know, or may not know, was… Isaac Watts wrote it from Psalm 98 to talk about the second coming of Christ, not the first coming. Yeah, so we had just heard this message and everybody’s singing it with that… Those thoughts resonating in their mind.
DZ: Yeah, that’s…
BK: It was great.
DZ: Yeah, that’s so helpful to think through and hopefully encouraging for… I mean, when this podcast comes out, I’m sure this is sort of in the middle of your Christmas season where you’ve picked songs and thought about this months ago, but…
BK: Or at least hours.
DZ: Hours ago.
DZ: Yeah, hopefully.
BK: Months ago, oh my gosh.
DZ: Some people plan for their… Yeah.
BK: I know they do, I salute them. Yes.
DZ: But even just more of a focus for what these next couple of Sundays are gonna look like.
DZ: Or if you have a Christmas program coming up, how are you drawing this program back to the fact that we are hopeless without the coming of Christ and the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ. That is peace through his blood.
BK: Our focus can’t just be on the good feelings of Christmas. We have to acknowledge that just as the Israelites were waiting for a Messiah to come, we are waiting for our Savior to return. And he is coming to bring to himself all those who have trusted in him and to right every wrong and to make just every injustice. And he is going to rule and reign forever and we will reign with him. And that’s not here yet. That day has not come yet. So there’s that aching, there’s that longing. And December is just such a sweet time to emphasize that.
BK: That, yeah, we’re not home yet. That’s why the advent season is so relevant to us because we’re not waiting for Jesus to come, he’s come, but we are waiting for Jesus to come because there’s a lot that’s still wrong with the world.
BK: And we live in that already not yet time where we know that Jesus has come, he’s ascended to his Father’s right hand, he’s poured out the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance. He is the seal that Jesus will fulfill all the promises that God has made. And so we live in faith, we live by faith.
BK: But we acknowledge, yeah, there’s a lot that’s wrong with the world and people in our services need to hear that. So yeah, we just make sure that’s a part of the songs we’re picking and what we’re singing.
DZ: Yeah, that’s really helpful, really great. How do you think through the coming year? How do you think through the new year? Do you plan for, “These are songs I want to introduce next year?” Do you do reflection of the previous year? I just wanted to get some insight in how you… Yeah. When you kinda come to the end of the year, how do you process next year?
BK: It’s always an interesting time, isn’t it?
DZ: It’s a weird in between. Yeah.
BK: Yeah. And I know for a lot of churches, just on a very practical note, a lot of people are gone, they’re on… They’re visiting family. So your resources are down. Your personnel are down, maybe… Everybody but you is gone.
BK: And I remember when we planted the church, the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s, it was like CJ’s family, my family, a few other families. It was so small! But we had a great time anyway.
BK: And you should too because again, the glory of our gatherings is not just large groups. It’s the fact that God is truly with us through His spirit, that we have a Savior who is present with us by His spirit and we have the Word of God being preached and proclaimed. And of course, it could be… It can feel different, but the most important realities haven’t changed.
BK: So that’d be one thing I’d say, don’t worry that you don’t have your bass player, or your drummer, or whatever that you normally have, it’s okay, do something different. That’s fine. Just again, what we want to encourage people with and what is going to encourage them is the truths that we’re singing, the truths that we’re proclaiming. But having said that, I think that there are people who plan for the year, we wanna teach these songs this year. Every time I’ve done that, it hasn’t gone very well. I’ll think six songs, we’re gonna teach these songs, then I end up teaching two of them because I’m always trying to fit the songs into the teachings. And how does this relate to what we heard last Sunday? How does this relate to what we’re hearing this Sunday? So it may be a great song, but just it doesn’t fit with the word that’s being preached, so…
DZ: So you could feel like a pressure of like, “Well, I introduced these six and I have to fit them in somewhere.”
BK: Yes. Yeah. But I don’t feel the pressure, I just don’t teach them.
DZ: Exactly. But I’m saying if someone’s listening, they can feel that I would really wanna bring these songs in…
BK: Yes, yeah.
DZ: But you’re saying, they should be… They should specifically be fitting into what you’re… What’s being preached, what’s being talked… Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I think everybody feels at the turn of the year, some kind… Most people feel at the turn of the year, some kind of, okay, this is turning over. Even though the calendar is a man-made thing, time isn’t, God made time. And so there are repetitions, there are rhythms in the Old Testament that God gave us, He gave us seven days, that’s what He presented to us, He said, “This is gonna be the rhythm that you should live by.” So there is this sense when we turn the calendar year of, okay, something’s, you know… I’m gonna do better, and then…
DZ: I gotta bring something in new.
BK: “This is not gonna be 2020”, that’s what everybody’s gonna be saying. “I’m looking for something new.” But the thought that I have every year is I wanna root people in God’s grace again. Yeah, there are gonna be good things ahead, there are gonna be promises that God’s gonna fulfill, they are going to be joys, unexpected joys, because we serve a gracious God, we have a gracious, kind, merciful Father but you know what, there are gonna be suffering as well. Think back to the beginning of 2020, who could have predicted? [chuckle] No one, that 2020 was coming. But that’s…
BK: The year that God seemed fit to give us and I wanna prepare people for that, so I wanna root them in grace, the grace of the gospel that says, one, if you’ve trusted in Christ and His atoning work on the cross, you are justified before God, you are forgiven of all your sins, you’re adopted into His family, you are welcomed as a dearly loved child and you are protected by God your Father, you are preserved by Him, you are sustained by Him, and there was nothing that’s coming in this new year that is not from His fatherly, sovereign hand, so you don’t need to enter this year in anxiety, you don’t need to enter this year… In fact, let’s have less anxiety than we did last year. And how are we gonna do that? We’re gonna get to know our Father better. How’re we gonna do that? We’re gonna get to know His son better.
BK: And so there’s just so much encouragement to be had. And I don’t wanna lead people into songs of “Let’s go get them, let’s conquer the world!” There’s an aspect to, yeah, let’s do great things for God in the coming year, but if we’re not rooted in the grace and mercy that we’ve been shown in Jesus Christ, it’s just us, it is just us trying to do better than last year. Goals are good but goals that aren’t rooted in grace aren’t good ’cause they’ll either lead us to pride or despair and that’s our choice. So we wanna root people in grace and I am thankful there are a lot of songs that can do that, even a song like “In Christ Alone”: “No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand,” it’s just yeah, but why is that? Because on the cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied. And yeah, so I’m looking for those kind of songs that express that confidence in what God has done, confidence in what God is doing and confidence in what God is going to do.
DZ: That is so encouraging. I feel… I hope whoever’s listening is, or watching, is as encouraged as I am. Just to process what you said for just a second, that we looked back at 2020 at what God has done and you wouldn’t have changed anything in the approach to what we wanna give people on a Sunday morning in the beginning of 2020 as you would looking forward to 2021.
BK: Right, right.
DZ: Because we don’t have control of what God is gonna do.
BK: And if we haven’t figured that out yet, we’ll have a rude awakening.
DZ: Exactly. Well, we have had a rude awakening.
BK: Yeah, we have had a rude… [chuckle]
DZ: So, not only do we look back, and it bolsters our faith of what God has done in our midst, but it’s also that we can look forward and it doesn’t have to be encouraging those who are listening or watching, it doesn’t have to be that we’re gonna go charging in, we’re going to continue to rehearse the Gospel.
DZ: And remind ourselves again why we gather and why we sing and who we are singing to and who we are singing about.
BK: Yes, greatest news ever.
DZ: And I just hope you’re encouraged, I hope… I just love that. As you think through, okay, we’re processing next year, would you set any goals for yourself in the coming year of things that you would wanna personally grow out or change?
BK: Well, wow, that’s a great question. I am old and so these questions become increasingly meaningful to me. I really want to do some of the things that I’ve been doing, just do more of them. So, memorizing the Word of God would be one. This year due to the challenge of my son, maybe it was… It began last year, Devon had challenged me to memorize Psalms, and so I’ve been memorizing Psalms and…
DZ: The book or certain, specific Psalms? [laughter]
BK: Certain ones, certain ones, yeah, I haven’t gotten the whole book yet. But there’s evidence that the Psalms was structured the way it is. O. Palmer Robertson has a book called “The Flow of the Psalms”, which really was helpful to me in understanding…
DZ: Very cool.
BK: The structure of the Psalms and why it seems it was structured a certain way so that we might be able to memorize it.
DZ: Very cool, who’s the author again?
BK: So… O. Palmer Robertson, “The Flow of the Psalms.” And so, yeah, I just memorized Psalm 42 and 43, doing that with a friend and I would like to do more of that next year. I find that I don’t really know the Psalms or even the Bible as well as I need to or the way it’s gonna really benefit me until I have memorized it so that I can meditate on it so that it can become a part of my thinking.
BK: And as always, just on a personal goal, I always wanna be humbler next year than I was this year. You know, it’s just a constant pursuit to realize, and Romans 12 says, “Never be wise in your own sight” and Proverbs says, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” I’ve memorized those verses, but it doesn’t make me humble, and I just don’t wanna be wise in my own sight. I wanna be, have firm convictions about the right things, I know the hills to die on, but not try and die on hills that I’m not supposed to die on. And especially when it comes to personal things, when someone corrects me or challenges me, not to react instinctively, like, “What are you saying? Here’s my reason for that.” You know?
BK: That kind of thing. And I just, I wanna be more grateful. It’s amazing that we’re not more grateful. I was just reading a book by Tim Chester called Enjoying God. And he said something, I read something the other day that just so affected me, he said, “Don’t ever grumble about the rain, who of us would have created a world where water falls from the sky?” And I read that and I thought, “Wow, I have never had that thought in all the rain I’ve seen.”
DZ: Yeah. Wow.
BK: But today it was raining and I had that thought, “God, you made a world where water falls. What we need for life, it falls from the sky. How great is that?” So I just wanna be more grateful, I wanna love my wife more, I wanna love my kids, my grandkids more, those around me more. So those are… I don’t know if that’s what you’re looking for, but those are some of the goals I wanna continue to invest in those around me, give it away, give ministry away, find ways of helping others, help others see how glorious the gospel is, how glorious Jesus is. So those are my prayers.
BK: And see what the Lord does.
DZ: Yeah. Amen. Well, this is the last episode in season one.
DZ: Well, in season one.
BK: Okay. Just kidding.
DZ: And so obviously, we’re so grateful and thankful that we’ve been able to do this and Bekah has helped out immensely.
DZ: And Grace has helped out immensely.
BK: Yes. Bekah Heid, Grace Nixon.
DZ: Yeah. So we’re so thankful also for you that you would tune in and join us. And I pray, our prayer is that this is profitable and encouraging to you as much as it’s encouraging to us. I mean, me, I get to sit in the chair and be encouraged every week.
BK: And they say that people should subscribe to podcasts, I hardly ever subscribed to podcasts, but if you want to, you can.
DZ: But if it keeps you informed, then great, do that.
BK: Yeah. Yeah.
DZ: So, if you don’t subscribe, we will be picking up season two in January of 2021, Lord willing. So we would love to see you there and obviously, we hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Years, but Bob, would you like to kinda close our time with a thought or a passage or anything to send out season 1 of Sound Plus Doctrine.
BK: Oh, passage. Well, yeah, yeah, as David was talking, I thought, we do pray that this Christmas is better than the last Christmas only because each year we have this opportunity to think more clearly, more often, more deeply about the fact that the son of God would take on ours human skin, our flesh, that two natures would be combined in one person to save us. It’s just amazing. So may that reality, encourage you and strengthen you and console you and comfort you and empower you to live for the glory of God and your own joy.
BK: So I just, I wanted to close with Philippines two where it just says in verse 5, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. But He emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men and being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him, the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. To the glory of God the Father.” In the season, whether people are saying Happy holidays or whatever, Merry Christmas, whatever it is, one day, everybody will know that Jesus Christ has received the name above all names and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess. And we live in anticipation of that day and do everything we can now to make much of Him now.
BK: So Father, we ask that you would do that in our lives, through our lives, that people would see us and they would see grateful people, people who recognize that Jesus has come to save sinners, of whom we are the worst, and we ask that you would make Jesus glorious in our lives and through our lives from all those around us, for our family, for our friends, our co-workers, fellow students, Lord, whoever it is, we rub shoulders with. We pray that they would see Jesus in us and through us. And we ask this in His name. Amen.
BK: Thanks so much.
DZ: Thank you for listening to Sound Plus Doctrine, the podcast of Sovereign Grace Music. For more information, free sheet music, translations and training resources, you can visit us at SovereignGraceMusic.org.