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As a companion to Bruce Ware and Tom Schreiner’s tribute to Chip Stam, I’d like to share the single most important thing Chip taught me as his student, his friend, and eventually one of his pastors: Christian worship should be both serious and cheerful because the gospel message is both serious and cheerful. He taught this in the classroom, but he taught it even better by just being Chip.

Honestly, I never fully understood Chip Stam. He was a non-melancholic musician who loved college basketball and was picky about grammar. He was a noticeably good athlete who loved to watch birds and read the Puritans. He was highly artistic yet enjoyed being around other human beings. He wore Crocs, drove Volvos, and used a Mac (before these were cool) yet frequently voted Republican. And when he had most reason in life to be irritable and embittered, he was cheerful—puzzlingly cheerful.

I’ve often wondered if this cheerfulness was the bubbling up of his natural disposition. But if it were only that, it wouldn’t have had such a weightiness, a seasoned maturity about it. His cheerfulness was not the untested light-heartedness of a child. It was not the syrupy optimism of one who ignores reality. Instead, it was a rather serious cheerfulness.

I suspect that our rather artistic Lord anneals into his different servants the varying colors of Christ—like stained glass pieces that capture a particular shade of who Jesus is. The unique hue that Chip contributed was this cheerfulness I’ve been describing; it is one of the great lessons of his life. His cheerfulness had such quality to it because it shone from a heart of faith tempered by the disappointments and hardships of living in a fallen world as a fallen man. In other words, he lived with the happy awareness of his desperate need for both the provision of God and the forgiveness of Christ. And this is how he faced the very grim reality of his cancer. Only glass annealed by fire can reach such profoundly bright color.

And this is how Chip led all of us in worship. Whether in the dignified chapel of Southern Seminary or the modest auditorium of Clifton Baptist Church, he used his skill not to impress or to indulge but to engage his hearers with Christ and his gospel. Chip taught that the purpose of music is to serve the truth of Scripture as it compels the heart to worship. So in many a discussion about planning worship services, he would recite as if obvious to everyone this simple set of guidelines:

Read the Bible
Preach the Bible
Sing the Bible
Pray the Bible
See the Bible

Chip knew that the Word of God was the means of working the gospel deep within the heart to produce worship. He wanted everyone to participate and planned his services with such participation in mind. Music merely facilitated this; it was not meant to perform to the people, but rather to participate with them. Chip loved excellence in execution, of course, but this was not the main concern of the service. The gospel was.

And you could see the gospel’s priority in the very structure of the service. Every service included a consideration of the seriousness of our sin, not in a mopey way, but in a way that would compel us to think about why specifically we need Christ. And as our hearts sensed the weight of our sin, Chip would set before us those promises of God that lifted them to holy cheerfulness. We would sing those promises, read them aloud together, have them read to us—whatever the form, we were led to cast ourselves entirely on the great mercy of God in Christ.

As you left a worship service under Chip’s direction, you would have been impressed with the kind of cheerfulness exuded in his leadership. It was a cheerfulness that had passed through the complexities of sin and suffering to find the happy gift of forgiveness in Christ. It is a qualitatively better cheerfulness than the kind that lacks the serious parts of the gospel. Some worship services, for example, can be cheerful as they sing rather vaguely about God’s care and guidance, of his love and grace. But if a service does not address our utter inability to earn these amazing gifts, then our celebration of them will lack the heartiness it should have. If it does not address our dismal character, then God’s will not seem as dazzling. It’s sort of like a truly masterful dish requiring the complexity of contrasting flavors. Chip was trying to point out that celebrating the whole gospel message requires a consideration of both our sin and our salvation in Christ—serious and cheerful.

So maybe I do understand Chip Stam better than I claimed at the outset. I understand him because he taught me so much about worshiping the living God by loving the full breadth of his gospel. While I don’t plan to wear Crocs or to watch humming bird nests in Southern California live streamed on my Mac, Chip will remain to me the living model of what I want to be: a Christian man full of the rather serious cheerfulness of the gospel.