Aaron Keyes: A worship pastor who's written the "Not Guilty Anymore" classic

Thursday 29th May 2008

Tony Cummings threw a pile of questions at Atlanta-based singer/songwriter and worship pastor AARON KEYES

Continued from page 1

Aaron Keyes: A worship pastor who's written the "Not Guilty Anymore" classic

"Not only in reflecting on my own life though, a cursory reflection of God's greatness and his goodness led to the rest of the song. The simple fact that he's the Most High God (El Elyon), the Everlasting God (El Olam), exalted in majesty, and yet he deigns to come down to us, to wash our feet, and even to die in our stead. That's scandalous, and it continually leads me to wonder. This indescribable greatness on one hand, and an intimate nearness on the other; it's part of what makes our God holy: set apart, completely other, wholly distinct. There really is no other God like him, so the song is a hopeful invitation for joyous celebration of God's utter kindness and thoughtful consideration of his vast greatness."

It was an old friend of Aaron's, Gerrit Gustafson, who introduced Aaron to the executives at Eastbourne's international worship powerhouse Kingsway Music. Said Aaron, "I'd long been familiar with Kingsway Music; I'd been using old Paul Oakley and Stuart Townend songs for years and years at this point, and the chance to spend some time with guys like these was really appealing to me. So Gerrit introduced me to John Hartley, his son-in-law, and also a long-standing member of the Kingsway family. Gerrit felt that John and I would get along alright, even though he is a Manchester United fan, much to my loathing and chagrin. (How could anyone truly anointed of the Lord not support Chelsea? Well, his ways are mysterious.) I really enjoyed my time with John (don't tell him such), and he invited me to come over to the UK to spend a week getting to know some of the others. From there, it just felt really right. Getting to know everybody, and getting to write with several of my old worship leader heroes has been such a privilege, and I was even able to squeeze in an English Premier League match. Perfect fit!"

During his initial trip to Britain Aaron met up with Stuart Townend at Abbey Road studios and went on to spend a couple of days with the worship leader down in Brighton. Explained Aaron, "Stuart and I began a friendship for which I'm very thankful, and we set aside some time to write together. We worked for a few hours in his home, and then I came back to the US to finish the song via emails and phone calls. What eventually came out was a new hymn we wrote together, called 'Psalm 62'. Kingsway called me and told me Stuart was to be recording a new live album, and they'd like to put 'Psalm 62' on his new record, and they'd like for me to come and sing it! I gratefully obliged, and Stuart was gracious to allow me to share his stage. The concert was wonderful; nice and intimate, a beautiful little theatre and a perfect venue for a night of worship. I remember really feeling the presence of the Lord in that place, and my soul being stirred throughout the evening, by lyrics that only a writer like Stuart could produce. It was a blast, and a tremendous honor, from start to finish."

Aaron has an interesting perspective on those who consider the high profile marketing of worship songs as something akin to money changers in the temple. He commented, "I can actually see their point! The Lord is looking at our hearts, scouring the earth, even, for those whose hearts are fully his (2 Chronicles 16:9). If guys are writing worship songs, leading worship and touring the country for the purpose of accruing wealth, fans, or some fleeting sense of fame, the Lord knows that and in due time those guys will stand before God. Those moneychangers weren't trying to serve the worshippers who were coming into the temple; they were exploiting them. The moneychangers weren't offering this service ('Hey, don't bother with all the hassle of bringing your own lamb from home; you can just buy one from us!') out of hearts fully committed to God; they were simply turning a profit, commodifying worship, and Jesus saw right through it. No doubt, he sees right through our charades as well. Man looks at the outward, but the Lord sees our hearts.

"David is the other extreme. David never made a dime from CCLI royalties. David never won GMA awards. He didn't know that he was writing Scripture, or that his songs would be preserved and used for worship for thousands of years. He was simply pouring out his heart to the Lord in his songs. And the Lord saw his heart, even calling him a 'man after God's own heart.' This is striking! David was a hero, to be sure, but David also had his share of faults, not the least of which we're all aware of, and yet the Lord still calls David a man after his own heart. Deep down (as is evidence in his psalms) we see that David - despite appearances even sometimes - loved God with all of his heart."

Aaron continued, "Contrast this with Saul. Saul never really did anything that we would consider horribly awful. He made a couple mistakes, but never anything as grave as his successor; he actually managed to keep up appearances rather well. But the Lord isn't impressed by appearances. The Lord wants our very hearts. Guess how many Psalms we have on record that were written by Saul? Zero. There aren't any. Why do I make a deal of this? Because David's heart overflowed with a love for God, and even in the midst of horrific sin (look sometime at how his Psalms from those periods take on a much more desperate and broken tone) you still see him honestly bringing his heart, his hurt and his love to the Lord. He couldn't help it; he overflowed worship.

"Jesus never reacted in anger to sinners who knew they were sinners. He confined his anger for sinners who thought they were somehow exempted from judgment because their particular vices were hidden in their religiosity. It's just not the case; neither is it for us. May we vigilantly guard our hearts! May we constantly come back to the Lord and ask him to wash us clean, make us pure, and make us wise. And may we never lose the simplicity of one heart pouring itself out in love onto its Beloved. This is what worship is about. It's nothing to do with empire building, vanity, awards and the like. We may fool everybody around us, but the Lord sees our heart and will hold us responsible for how we nurtured, cultivated and spent our hearts in our time here. In due course, he always lifts up those who are bowed down, and likewise he humbles those who themselves exalt." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.

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Reader Comments

Posted by Lucia Dagdagan in Morton Grove, Illinois @ 16:13 on Jun 26 2013

This is my first time to hear about Aaron Keyes and this song. Bertie Brits from Africa plays this particular music and my friend told me about it...so I google it and found it!!! Since this week I have shared it to all my friends and I will introduce to our church worship team. This is the message all of us should hear. Thanks, Aaron..you are God's favorite, you are highly favored, and God is setting you up for greatness!!!! Love you in Jesus!!!

Posted by Maria in Orlando florida @ 19:03 on Feb 19 2013

This Sunday 17 feb 2013 Aaron keyes was at fellowship
Church in Orlando it was the best concert with anointing
I've ever heard I could feel The Lord his presence was so
Real ,the way he said about a 100 words of the bible while singing is was remarkable. He is gifted.
God bless you wherever you go,bless you and your family

Posted by ramamoorthy in alpharetta @ 17:00 on Feb 1 2012

I was amazed by hearing the song 'You Restored the Wasted Years....what a fire in the song. By God's grace, we have enjoyed your music at our church last week. God bless you and continue to use your talent.

Posted by Rita Bailey in Austell, GA @ 17:29 on Jul 18 2010

One of my students, Gabe Ecklund, invited me to Grace. I eventually made it and was gobsmacked. Sermon was great and the music was awesome! I didn't know the worship leader was well-known for his music, but it touched me and spoke to my heart. It takes almost an hour to get there, but it's worth the drive. A lot of churches have "praise and worship" groups, but somehow leave out the worship part. Aaron's music is full of praise, but it allows time to really worship, mostly quietly. I feel a bit empty when I miss a week and can't experience Aaron's gift. May God continue to bless you. Through you I, as I'm sure thousands others, am blessed. And I am forgiven!

Posted by Anna williams in Georgia @ 21:31 on Jun 27 2010

I just recently got back form Super Wow with my church, and Aaron Keyes was the worship leader there. He is soo AMAZING! he truly knows the bible. I loved how he would play and sing a song, and then he would incorporate it to a little sermon. He is a truly gifted singer, and song writer. May God continue to bless him and his family!!!

Posted by jeanette torain in nashville, tn. @ 22:16 on Dec 31 2009

i just recently heard that beautiful song you're not guilty anymore, it really touched my heart,i jut wanted to get up and start praiseing GOD. i was watching weretched t.v. and they played the video. so i say to you aaron may GOD continue to Bless your Ministry and keep Praiseing GOD. and you are in my prayers.you see i love glorfying our HEAVENLY FATHER EVERY DAY IN THE NAME OF JESUS...

Posted by Gail Alexander in USA @ 08:43 on Feb 4 2009

The best! Aaron Keyes has it all - Talent, creativity, sincerity, catchy tunes...Most amazing is his ability through music to lead you directly to one of God's tracks, a welcome and inviting rhythmical place, where you'll feel filled with God's energy, love, acceptance, belonging, hope and grace, ending in a joyful peace.

Posted by Beth VanHoose in Paintsville, KY @ 23:29 on Jan 18 2009

I just returned today from a Discipe Now Youth Retreat. Aaron Keyes was worship leader, and he was the best I have heard. He is sincere, and I hope more people will be blessed by his music and his love for God's Word.

Posted by Shirley Meeks in Georgia @ 02:38 on Jun 4 2008

I am so impressed with Aaron's authentic Godly attitude about leading worship and writing songs. I have listened to his latest CD many times, and each time a new message fills my heart. My favorite is his title song, " Not Guilty Anymore." How precious that song is to me!

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