Rocks and Caves and the Arc of Everything

It was good to be back in the saddle again — this past Sunday I was afforded the opportunity to guest worship lead at a church Alyssa and I visited a few weeks back. When we visited we were both impressed by how enthusiastically the congregation sang. So I was quite excited to be invited to offer some songs for us to sing together.

By the time my tenure at New Song ended the Inland Hills band had grown to a huge number, larger than any other team I’ve led before, but this past Sunday it was just my keyboard and I and the congregation singing some of my favorite songs. I’m a bit allergic to putting on a show, it makes me break out in a particularly itchy rash of pride, so it was nice being so low-key.

We sang some hymns I’ve not sung in a long time and we sang “We Will Feast in the House of Zion”. It was particularly nice to sing “We Will Feast…” as it was a song that I sang to the NSIH band as a gift at our last rehearsal and then again sang it at my last communion service at New Song. Singing it with a new congregation reminded me of the beautiful promise that one day we in Christ will all feast together at the table prepared for us in the house of God. Time and space and distance cannot break the bind of Christ’s body and blood as we gather to eat the bread and drink the wine.

This weekend at Doxa Fellowship in Woodstock, Illinois we sang the following songs:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty – German Hymn
We Will Feast in the House of Zion – Sandra McCracken
Rock of Ages – Hymn, Augustus Toplady
How Great is Our God – Chris Tomlin
The Doxology – Hymn

Attached is a Spotify playlist with several different versions of these songs. Chance the Rapper included a version of “How Great” on his new mix-tape which I’ve added to this playlist and my arrangement of “Rock of Ages” favors the Brooks Ritter version included on the playlist.

If you enjoy any of these songs please support the artists and purchase the songs.

 

Both “Praise to the Lord,…” and “Rock of Ages” are favorite hymns and so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on both:

Rock of Ages

In Numbers 20 the Israelites, having no water because — you know — they’re taking a casual forty-year hike in the desert, bring their complaints to Moses and his brother, Aaron, “If only we had died! Why did you bring us out of Egypt where we were slaves?!?! It was so much better then!!!” And God in His lovingkindness heard their complaint and told Moses to take his staff from the presence of God and to “ask this rock to give water and it will.” But Moses in his frustration with the people and in his sin took the staff and instead of speaking to the rock, strikes it twice.

Water gushed.

The Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 10 says that rock struck was Christ:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

1st Corinthians 10.1-5 NIV

And David, as we read his story in the books of Samuel, was twice pursued by his enemies. First King Saul, fearing for his own power and wanting to maintain political prominence, chased David into the hills where he hid in the caves. And after his affair with Bathsheba, King David was again chased into the hills by his son Absalom who was attempting to usurp his father because of the damage wrought by David’s sin. David writes regularly in the psalms of God as a rock and his hiding place:

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;

my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.

I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”

And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Psalm 32.3-7 NIV

“Rock of Ages” is a harrowing tune, my arrangement has some well placed minor chords to accentuate the lyrics. In it we sing of our inability to rescue ourselves, our helplessness, our nakedness and frailty. In singing this classic hymn by Augusts Toplady we join our cries for help to David’s in the caves as we’re each pursued by our shared enemy of sin and we join our complaints to those of the impatient Israelites wandering in the desert.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed
be of sin, the double cure,
save from wrath and make me pure.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

The church has been singing this hymn for good portion of the last millennium, it was written about four hundred years ago in Germany and was translated into English about two hundred years after that. With the opening verse singing, “All who hear now to his temple draw near, gladly forever adore Him” this song serves as a classic call to worship though ironically is largely based on the final psalm, Psalm 150 (and 103 — but we’re gonna ignore that for the sake of the argument I’m about to make because I’m a real serious scholar).

I’ve spent that past few years majoring in the psalms, at one point reading the whole psalter every month, and as I’ve mentioned before there’s no experience or emotion left out of the Psalms. The Psalms give voice to every cry and bandages every wound.

Beyond that though the Psalms reveal to us the arc of human experience with all of its achy joints and sleepy afternoons. If you take the thousand foot view of the book you’ll see that it is divided in to five difference books (significantly not unlike the Torah’s five books) and each of those books ends with exhortation to “Praise!” And the final book in the larger book of Psalms ends with, not insignificantly, five psalms of praise. Psalm 150 existing as the praise exclamation point.

By opening with “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” we begin with a call to praise and remember Psalm 150. The Psalms include of all our cave complaints, desert grumblings, our brokenness, our frailty, our nakedness, our helplessness and yet they end in praise. The Psalms teach us that the arc of humanity is not pain to pain but praise to praise.

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 150 NIV

16427957187_bc583c3c60_o.jpg
Zion National Park 017 Rock of Ages 2pan. June 8, 2007. Peter. Some Rights Reserved.
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Rocks and Caves and the Arc of Everything

Hallelujah! Oh What a Savior!

Walking off the platform after we were done singing in Sunday’s service my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. There was much joy in the room.

There was an attempt to write a nice devotional review with thoughts about theology and scripture and all that but it wasn’t any good. So instead I’d like to to confess some sin, no joke, and give you a sneak peek into what goes on in the heart of this worship pastor, particularly this past weekend. Don’t continue reading if you’d rather not see me at one of my many worsts. Remember this is basically my diary. Except manlier. Much manlier. I have a beard.

There’s been a lot on my mind lately and a frenetic sort of anxiety behind the scenes so coming to Sunday morning I was not totally spiritually or emotionally ready. The service felt prepared in haste and though Thursday’s rehearsal went well and the tunes that were picked were enjoyable I wasn’t expecting much of the service. It had fallen to the periphery.

So showing up to church to set up and rehearse Sunday morning I was unprepared for what would happen. I was a bit curmudgeonly as we practiced and we worked our way through the tunes quickly. “It’ll be a good service if not a bit forgettable,” I figured. When there are 52 services a year they can kind of blur together. The biggies stick out – Christmas Eve, Easter, Baptism Sundays, etc. – but typical weeks can be a bit rote. Not that there’s a problem with that, one can appreciate a good routine. But, God’s surprising grace – and isn’t grace always surprising? – took me this past week.

We read the first five verses of Psalm 105 to begin our time singing:

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
    tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always.

Remember the wonders he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,

Psalm 105.1-5

Let those who seek the Lord rejoice. In all the frenzy and worry I’ve not done well seeking the Lord. The work that needs to be done, the calls that need to be made, the plans that need to be executed, the meetings attended have crowded out what God has been doing in our midsts.

But, trusting the band this week eased some worry about how the team sounded. Usual worry quenches the Spirit’s work faster than a speeding bullet on Sunday mornings. Playing music and leading a band is an incredible task. If I can whine for a moment: At any given moment my hands are doing opposing tasks at the same time akin to rubbing you stomach and patting your head, my feet are as well – one is keeping me balanced so I don’t fall over and the other my pedal work – it’s a bit like hopping on one foot for 20 minutes; I’m reading music while reading lyrics while reading the crowd; I’m singing – which means not only am I thinking about what notes I’m playing and when I’m playing them I’m also thinking about what notes and words I’m singing and when I’m singing them and I’m thinking about what each band member and vocalist is doing and cuing them telepathically; all the while I’m supposed to be thinking about just how swell Jesus is.

Sorry for complaining, really sorry, all that is to say that a worship leader can be like a duck kicking my legs beneath the water. When I let my prideful heart take over – which is 99.99999999% of the time – I get consumed by the physical and mental task. And it is sinful love of Self doing that. I think the success of any given Sunday is dependant not on the finished work of the cross and the Spirit ministering to us through song, word, and deed but on mine and the band’s musical performance. And that our performance as a team is dependant on my musical and leadership skills. It’s not, but my heart is so addicted to the sin of Self that I think it is.

But like what was mentioned earlier I gave into trusting the band and not worrying so much this Sunday. It wasn’t a noble trust, more just a distracted giving up. So – still sinful. But in giving up my worry we played excellently. Not that the music ultimately matters. What matters is that in our singing we were able to remember God’s wonders, miracles, and judgements as Psalm 105.5 directs us to.

Before each service the band gathers on the stage to pray and because I like routine we pray some version of the following:

Father, thank you for the gifts you given this band. Let the work of our hands not be to our glory but to the glory of Your Son. Open our eyes and lift our heads to behold your glory.

Something like that.

And this past week – like He does every week, even though I may not be paying attention – He did just that.

The Holy Spirit took shocking advantage of my inattentivness to Self. He took what was unintentionally meant for ill and used it for His good. He answered that usual prayer loudly. He yelled in my ear – God is so good! God is so good! God is so good! Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always and He pried open my eyes that I would look on His wonderous deeds and rejoice.

And it was perplexing. Flummoxing. In light of who God is and what He’s done little is left to say. The songs we sang this weekend gave life to this flabbergasted amazement that is best expressed simply – Grace, what have you done? Too much to make sense of it all! ‘Man of Sorrows’ What a name! Hallelujah! What a savior! Hallelujah! What a Savior! Thank you, God, for saving me! THANK YOU GOD FOR SAVING ME! THANK YOU GOD! THANK YOU GOD!

There is great joy in Self-forgetfulness especially when the object that replaces Self is God. It’s too much to make sense of it all. It’s overwhelming. Like that first kiss at the altar it leaves you breathless. In His grace and kindness is inexplicable joy. There duty and work become play and dance. It makes you smile. So what left is there to say?

Hallelujah! Oh what a savior!

3858051663_d999d5ce1d_o.jpg
[073/365] Joy. August 25, 2009. Leland Francisco. Some Rights Reserved.
If you’d like to keep singing, and who could blame you, here’s the songs we sang this weekend: 

  • Say the Word by Hillsong
  • Scandal of Grace also by Hillsong
  • Man of Sorrows by David Potter
  • Thank You, God, For Saving Me by Chris Tomlin and Phil Wickham
  • Glory is Yours by Elevation Worship

Now go buy the songs and may God cause His face to shine upon you.

Hallelujah! Oh What a Savior!

A Cup of Kindness Yet

Last Thursday after putting Atticus down for the night Alyssa and I went out to celebrate the new year with some old friends. Save a couple, I’ve celebrated almost every New Year of my adult life with the same old acquaintances. One memorable party included a 45 minute jazz rendition of Auld Lang Syne. I enjoy the party aspect of New Years Eve but like most things it’s a mixed bag for me.

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Happy New Year. December 27, 2015. frankieleon. Some Rights Required.

On one hand: New Year, New Me. Right? Me 2.0 – Just Like the Old Me but Better. 

How exciting!

The lead up to a new year is loaded with so much potential. How exciting! We dream in iridescent technicolor of what will be. How exciting! Our imaginations play with plans for the coming year. How exciting! The least creative of us have no trouble making art of an unlived new year. How exciting!

This will be the year I loose that weight; or, that I finally start using a dayplanner; or, go to the gym; or, read more books; or, whatever. This year I will be kinder to myself, this year I will yell at my kids less, this year I will be betterstrongerfaster.

How exciting!

The guy who says, “Vanity of Vanities! All is Vainity! Eat! Drink! Be Merry! For Tomorrow We Die!” is a drag and drinks alone in the corner. He’s not helpful, we don’t need him. “Keep on Keeping On” isn’t good enough. Not growing is dying so lets get on with the living. On your marks, get set, GOALS!

New Year, New Me. Just Like the Old Me but Better. 

How exciting!

On the other hand though: Doesn’t that just sound exhausting? Resolutions by their nature suggest that something ain’t right.

To effectively set goals and resolutions for a new year one needs to first reflect on the previous year with its highs and lows. Bummer. The good we did wasn’t satisfactory – so we’ll do more, and the good didn’t outweigh the bad, mediocre, or forgettable – so we’ll do better. 

This desire for change and improvement is a good and right desire. It’s what God does – what is last will be first, what is small will be great, what is old will be new, what is dark will be lit, what is dead will live. But on New Year’s Eve I forget that’s what God does. So, in a fit of retrospection and novelty I decide to rebuild the foundations of the House of Me with the original rotting lumber.

And everybody is in on the joke.

On the last day of 2015 my Twitter feed was flooded with variations on a theme, my favorite: “Try again in 2017. – Sincerely, 2016”. I chuckled as I ate a sleeve of Oreos while lounging on the couch scrolling through Twitter and thinking about how I’m going to lose all that weight.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
    and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
    for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Psalm 127.1-2

Jesus is calling, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” God gives rest to those of us who are weary and wearier from our DIY efforts. Thirsty from working in the sun? Here, he offers a cup of kindness yet. He’s got this one covered so why don’t you just go ahead and take a nap.

Eat! Drink! Be Merry! Happy New Year!

Seriously, if you skipped over watching that video stop reading. Go back. Watch that video. I’ll still be here when you’re done. Pinky promise.

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Did you watch it?

Good.

Now watch it again. There’s some interesting visual cues which I think really enrich the already diabetically rich new lyrics for that old familliar melody. Make it an anthem while the Year is still fresh.

In the first service I played a mash up of Auld Lang Syne/Amazing Grace during prayer partners as if to say there is grace in our striving. And in the second service we sang the new lyrics during communion – reminding us that the cup of kindness offered is the very blood of Jesus.

Blessed are the ones who were at both services, I guess.

The rest of the tunes we sang this past week were:

  • Unstoppable God by Elevation Worship
  • This Is Amazing Grace by Phil Wickham
  • God is Able by Hillsong
  • You Are My King by Billy J. Foote (Popular recordings by Chris Tomlin, Newsboys)
  • All Glory Be To Christ (Auld Lang Syne) lyrics by Dustin Kensrue, arrangement by Kings Kaleidoscope

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the tunes we sang. But, do yourself a favor and go buy all the music all these artists have recorded.

A Cup of Kindness Yet

When We See Ourselves As We Are

In the beginning God created everything, His Spirit hovered over the chaotic waters, He spoke and by His Word pulled the chaos together and created Something.

Where dark and chaotic Nothing existed His voice called into being light, the starry night and summer sun. His Word separated land from water, telling the mountains how high they would go and the seas where they would cease their raging. He dug the deep roots of the cypress tree, crushed stone into Sahara sands, formed the Cumulus clouds. He crafted the birds of the sky, beasts of the field, and every creeping thing. At the center of it all He planted a Garden full of trees with every kind of good fruit, all free for the taking save two trees He commanded to be left untouched. In the middle of that Garden He formed a man from the dirt and from the mudman’s rib he formed a woman of striking beauty, enough to turn him from dirt clod to poet. In the cool of the day God and His man and woman walked in the Garden.

But like toddlers told not to touch something the mudman and his bride ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their eyes were opened and they saw themselves as they were: naked.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Genesis 3.7

At the sound of His voice Adam and Eve hid amongs the weeds, ashamed of what they saw of themselves. As God called out in the cool of day, “Where are you?” the man responded, “I was afraid at the sound of Your voice and I hid because I was naked and didn’t want You to see me.”

God, grieved, explained to them what would become of them because of what they had done. To the lying, twisted serpent he would be cursed to crawl in the dust and one day he would bite the heel of a Son who, being bit, would crush the snake’s head. To the woman, as the Earth would groan for this coming Son, she would groan in the unbearable pain of childbirth. To the man, he would toil in futility, digging his hands among the thorns that would pierce the Son’s head, the noontime sun burning his back as he produced what little fruit the stony ground would yield. The Garden that had been theirs for the taking was now closed to them.

When they saw themselves for what they were, two naked and shamed humans, they feebly stiched together outfits of brittle fig leaves. But God, looked on them in their mess, out in the open cold, and fashioned for them garments of warm skins, clothing them against the cruel elements.

wheatfields-under-thunderclouds-1890.jpg
Wheatfield under Thunderclouds1890, Vincent Van Gogh.

In the sermon Pastor Joe encouraged us to see ourselves as God sees us and not as we see ourselves. If we’re honest with ourselves it is easy to see us as we actually are: self-possessed, fickle, irresponsible, ashamed, lonely, hiding in prisons of our own making, afraid of what would be said of us if we were ever found out. In our navel-gazing we’re prone to worry, anxiety, and depression. Like Adam and Eve, when they looked at themselves with honest eyes, we too try and clothe ourselves with the feeble dried leaves of good works, fake smiles, can-do spirits, and believing in ourselves.

But God, and aren’t those the two sweetest words in the English language?, looks at us differently. Where we see only nakedness, God sees His creation, His sons and daughters freezing in the cold, hiding from the warmth of His presence. And He calls out, “Where are you?” then seeing our scantily clad nakedness with His eyes of ever lovingkindness He wraps us in warm robes of His righteousness:

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations. 

Isaiah 61.10-11


This weekend we sang the following songs:

  • Holy is the Lord by Chris Tomlin
  • Father, You are All We Need by Citizens & Saints
  • There is a Fountain by William Cowper, lyrics; Lowell Mason, music; Norton Hall Band, arrangement.
  • Say the Word by Hillsong United
  • God is Able by Hillsong Worship

Here’s a playlist with each of these songs. But, really, go buy them:

 

When We See Ourselves As We Are

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Tommy Welty!

I’m trying out a different format, the song titles and playlist are at the end. All the fun stuff first. It’s like dessert before dinner.

Next year Cubs fans! Amiright or amiright?!
Next year Cubs fans! Amiright or amiright?!

Dear Great Pumpkin,

I’m looking forward to your arrival on Halloween night. I hope you will bring me lots of presents. You must get discouraged because more people believe in Santa Claus than you. Well, let’s face it. Santa Claus has had more publicity. But being number two, perhaps you try harder. Everyone tells me you’re a fake, but I believe in you.

P.S. If you really are a fake, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

There I was Saturday night sitting in the most sincere pumpkin patch, not a single hypocritical pumpkin to be found, hoping that the Great Pumpkin would choose my patch – the sincerest pumpkin patch – to visit and give me lots of presents. But, to the shock of no one, I awoke Sunday morning without having seen the Great Pumpkin. Despite the ridicule of my friends and family I’m pretty hopeful that next year will be the year.

My favorite of the psalms is Psalm 126:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
We were like those who dream
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

Psalm 126, a psalm of ascent

A psalm of ascent is a song that worshippers would sing as they approached the temple. It’s a road song. A song on the way. This particular psalm was written to commemorate the Jew’s exile to Babylon, when they hung their harps on the willow branches. This song remembers when they had no song.

For an exile hope can seem of no use. What’s the use in trying? Things are as bad as they’ve ever been. For 70 years, a whole generation, the Jews were exiled from their promised land to Babylon. God, through his prophet Jeremiah, told the hopeless exiles to take up shop, that they were going to be there awhile and that they should “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29.5-8 NIV)

The exiles were comissioned to make the best of a bad situation. But, what about their promised land? What about home? Like Linus in the pumpkin patch waiting on that elusive Great Pumpkin, home was a dim dream for the exiles in Babylon. Maybe next year? For 70 years they waited, and planted gardens. They sowed their sorrowful seeds, their fading hope a harvest of joy.

But the promise of Psalm 126 is that what was planted would indeed become a bountiful feast. Because this is what God does. He brought the exiles home, and what a sweet homecoming: Those who wept, now laughed. Those who were filled with sorrow, now sang joy. Those who planted in sadness, reap with glad hearts in Isarel.

This is the way of God: the poor of spirit inherit the kingdom of Heaven, those who mourn are comforted, the meek inherit the earth, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are satisfied, those who are merciful are shown mercy, the pure in heart see God, peacemakers are called His children, those persecuted for His namesake will never be destroyed. The last are first, the humble are exalted, the exiles come home.

As we lead up to Thanksgiving later this month, and – at a distance – celebrate this year’s harvest we remember that “those who go out weeping, carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carring sheaves with them.” Psalm 126 reminds us of our former exiled state and points us forward to a future kingdom of dreaming and joy and laughter.

Photo Credit: Terri Van Grol.
Photo Credit: Terri Van Grol.

We sang a new song this Sunday based on Psalm 126, “We Will Feast In The House Of Zion” before and during communion and Terri Van Grol reminded us that: “The bounty on your [Thanksgiving] table will never compare to the bounty that was on the table during the last supper.”

We approached the communion table as exiles in our sin, wanderers on this earth. And at the table we remembered that Christ sojourns with us, that he has sown in sorrow on the cross and has harvested joy in resurrection. We remembered him as we ate the bread and drank the wine, waiting until he returns when we’ll “feast in the house of Zion, singing with our hearts restored.”

At the table, as exiles, we declared that the Lord has done great things for us and that we are glad.


The songs we sang this week were:

  • The Mighty Hand of God by Citizens & Saints
  • Open Up Our Eyes by Elevation Worship
  • We Will Feast In The House of Zion by Sandra McCraken
  • Thank You God For Saving Me by Chris Tomlin & Phil Wickham

Attached is a playlist of most of those tunes, except for the new one. Sandra McCracken has opted not to put this album on Spotify – maybe in the future, but not yet. For a limited time “We Will Feast In the House of Zion” and the album it came off, with bonus material, is available at Noisetrade where you can name your price – or download it for free. Seriously, this is one of the best albums of 2015 – easily the best worship album. It’ll make your heart happy. You’ll be angry if you don’t follow this link: Psalms, Sandra McCraken http://noisetrade.com/sandramccracken/psalms GO DOWNLOAD! FAST!

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Tommy Welty!

Worship Review 9.13.15 – Our Rock and Refuge

I was so encouraged yesterday, our last service before launching two services this coming week, to see God’s people gathered to celebrate what He’s done in our history and looking forward to what He’s planning on doing in the future amongst us. And the food was good, too.

This week we sang the following songs, if you enjoyed them please consider purchasing them to support the artists and ministries that our helping sing God’s praises!

  • “Rejoice” by Dustin Kensrue
  • “Dear Refuge” by Trinity Grace Church
  • “Thank You, God, For Saving Me” by Chris Tomlin and Phil Wickham
  • “The Mighty Hand of God” by Citizens & Saints

Here’s a playlist but, seriously, if you enjoyed the songs please consider purchasing them (directly from the artist if at all possible) because Spotify is a poor revenue stream for artists:


12416283244_2e7b56754a_k(‘Crashing Waves’ – Porth Swtan, Anglesey, by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes. Copyrighted. Some rights reserved under the Creative Commons.

One of my favorite things about New Song Community Church is that when we gather for an hour or so on a Sunday morning it is not in isolation, bound by time, space, and location. But when we gather we’re gathered together with five other campuses, three other venues, and a total of twelve – soon to be thirteen – congregations. Which serves to remind us that not only are we gathered into New Song Community Church, but that the Spirit of the Living God has been, is currently, and will be gathering people of every nation, tribe, and tongue into His unshakeable Kingdom. Our hour or so on Sunday morning is joined together with all the saints through past history and future history.

The worship leaders at each New Song campus are responsible for choosing songs for their congregation, we’re not beholden to what the other campuses and venues are doing. But, we do share with each other what songs we’re all doing on occasion. And a funny thing happened this past weekend. Unbeknownst to the other leaders Inland Hills, Central Campus, Parkside, and our Carlsbad campus all sang “Rejoice.”

The Apostle Paul told the church in Philipi to:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4.4-7 NIV

The song is a great reminder that through our ups and downs we’re called to rejoice, again I say rejoice (as the KJV would read), because the Lord is with us and has gone before us.

As we rehearsed what God has done in Inland Hills’ history, celebrating how God has led us, and looked forward to what God will do we joined together, quite literally in song, with the other campuses. We sang alongside Carlsbad as they officially launched and had their grand opening, we sang along Parkside as they celebrated their one-year anniversary in a brand new location, we sang along Central Campus as they celebrated our being the 98th fastest growing church in America!

And though these are all celebrations we’re commended to rejoice in the Lord always. As we looked at our campus’ history a common theme arose: God’s faithfulness. Inland Hills has met in backyards, living rooms, movie theaters, community centers; we’ve had multiple pastors and worship leaders; plenty of transitions; and lots of barbeques. But through it all God has remained worthy of praise and faithful to His call and promise.

We opened our worship set, after reviewing our congregation’s history, with a song that has meant much to me in the past few years: “Dear Refuge.” It’s a retuned hymn from Indelible Grace Music based on the poetry of Anne Steele. The lyrics are not pat easy comfort. The song speaks of our sorrows and complaining and how God both allows, listens to, and attends to in His great mercy for us.

I find it important to be honest in our singing and address where our hearts may be at and though not everyone gathered has had a difficult week I’m guessing that someone has. Regardless of our emotional state walking into service I think it’s important to practice how we respond to God in difficult days so that we’re prepared when they come. And calling out to God is the best response because:

And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved;… Joel 2.32a

Joel is quoted in Acts 2.21 by Peter and in Romans 10.13 by Paul.

Our rescue is not predicated on good behavior. Rescue comes when we desperately call out to God when we’ve been backed into a corner by our great enemies, Sin and Self. Rescue comes with our last-ditch cries of “Come Quickly! Come Quickly!” when He hears us and sends His son, Jesus. Who defeated our enemies with death and was raised on the third day victoriously by the Holy Spirit who now dwells in us. After crying out “Come Quickly!” and being saved what else can we say but, “Thank you, God, for saving me”?

When all around us seems thrown to and fro by the storms He remains constant. He is our rock, our refuge. We can rejoice in the Lord always because His rescue is eternal. His mighty, terrible hand has defeated the Enemy and now holds us tenderly but firmly. He will never let us go. We can no more pry our way out of His fingers than we can save ourselves.  As we sang, “even though our hearts are prone to wander we can never run beyond his reach.”

God remains faithful to His call and His promise. He will be faithful to us as individuals and will be faithful to Us, His gathered church. He has led Inland Hills from His first call on the founding pastor, through our adoption by New Song, through moving to Bonsall from Oceanside and from Bonsall to Fallbrook, and He will remain faithful as we go forward by the Spirit’s leading.

Worship Review 9.13.15 – Our Rock and Refuge

Worship Review 8.23.15 – Takin’ Care of Business (Working Overtime)

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this but it is my great pleasure to be able to lead God’s people in song. So, thanks for singing with me.

Yesterday, we sang the following songs. Of course, I’ll also attach a playlist but please, please, please I’m not kidding, purchase these songs if you like them:

  • “Hosanna” by Paul Baloche
  • “The Wonderful Cross” by Isaac Watts; chorus by Chris Tomlin/Matt Redman
  • “Thank You, God, For Saving Me” by Chris Tomlin/Phil Wickham
  • “Christ is Risen” by Matt Maher
  • “God is Able” by Hillsong

I opened up our time of singing by quickly explaining what and why we were singing what we were singing. I’d like to further narrow in on the sequence of songs we sang yesterday.

FullSizeRender-2The Wonderful Cross

One of my favorite Christian thinkers and writers out there currently is the editor-in-chief of Mockingbird, David Zahl. A few weeks back I had the pleasure of going to an event called “Love, Suffering, and Creativity: Creating in an Age of Spectacle” where he was one of three key-note speakers. The other speakers included Dustin Kensrue, who happens to write a bunch of the songs we sing, and Brett McCraken who wrote a book called “Hipster Christianity” which seems appropriate considering… Ahem…

Zahl had this to say:

The real tie between humans is not charity but death and original sin.

It was a heavy evening considering the topics – love, suffering, and creativity. In my mind I agree with Zahl, the only guarantees in life being death and taxes, right? But, it’s unpleasant to consider death. Macabre, somber, so let’s think on higher things. Yeah? No. Let’s camp here for a moment. In my introduction to the songs I mentioned Romans 6.23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

All week long we’ve worked overtime for a wage of Soul Gangrene. Nobody walks into service without a week’s worth of Stuff. We show up vulnerable, laid low by guilt and shame, our Stuff pressing heavy on our backs and bending us low. But the foot of the cross is level ground. We may show up bent low but so does everybody else; nobody stands tall in front of the cross.

The Stuff that bows us low crushed the Son of God. Jesus died. Which is insane, right?! The cross is where God thoroughly meets us where we are: working overtime for a wage of death.

Thank You, God, For Saving Me

The new song we sang this weekend opened with the lyrics:

What can I give to you? What can I offer to the King? For all the love You’ve shown, for all Your mercy over me?

God asks the same question in Psalm 50:

I have no need of a bull from your stall
    or of goats from your pens,
for every animal of the forest is mine,
    and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
    and the insects in the fields are mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
    for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
“Sacrifice thank offerings to God,

    fulfill your vows to the Most High,
and call on me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

I hope you’ve heard this maxim: “I don’t have a religion, I have a relationship” because well… Yeah. It’s sort of true. But like most things on the internet it needs nuance.

No ritual (religion) can satisfy what God requires of us because what could we give to God that He doesn’t already have? But what ritual does is prepare our hearts for what God wants – relationship. He asks for thanksgiving.

Gratitude is at the heart of relationship, it puts each participant in their rightful place: We are the recipients, God is the giver. Ritual can lead us to assume that we give something to God – a bull sacrfice, a good song, etc. But, gratitude assumes that we’ve only recieved from God. There’s no thing that could repay the debt of love we owe. Our earnings, our eternal stipened is death but the gift of God is eternal life. 

So, what can we say but, “Thank you, God, for saving me.”

Christ is Risen

The opening lick of this song starts on a disonant note, a note that doesn’t belong where it is. It tugs at our ear. Like sin, it’s harsh, clashing against the way things should be. It doesn’t sound nice. But it leads up a scale, musically lifting us with it and we sing: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death.”

God is invisible, right? We cannot see Him, so we imagine what He must look like. The wandering Isarelites, newly freed from slavery, assumed He looked like a golden bull – a symbol of excess and strength, not unlike the gods of Egypt. The Renaissance artists assumed He was wise and enlightened like them. So they painted Him, seemingly in a cosmic brain, reaching down to give us wisdom and knowledge. And we imagine Him coming with strength and power, thunderously victorious over our enemies. Anne Lamott once remarked that “You can safely assume you’ve made God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

But!

Christ is the image of the invisible God. Jesus dismantles all of our assumptions of Glory and Victory. He shows up as a baby, probably lots of crying he makes, in a nowhere town, in a forgotten corner of the Roman Empire, works a blue collar vocation, wanders around with some scrappy ne’er-do-wells, and then dies a criminal’s death.

Death is not defeated gloriously. It is defeated quietly in obscurity. Jesus didn’t show up and crush death, death crushed him. Victory hangs on a tree bleeding where the nails and thorns pierced his skin, the coarse wood scratching against the swelling wounds of his scourging. Death is not defeated with strength and power but by death.

But defeated it is. O Death, where is your sting? Hell! Where is your victory?

We do not move from glory to glory, we move through death to ressurection.


Worship Review 8.23.15 – Takin’ Care of Business (Working Overtime)