10 Steps to having a Perfect Marriage (or, Whatever)

Per usual, any time after I preach I like to share ten things that helped to inspire, inform, or encourage further discussion on that morning’s topic/scripture. So look no further:

(or, whatever)


1. As I was preparing this sermon I listened to the following playlist. It’s full of some of my favorite love songs (“Your Song” by Elton John, “What is Life?” by George Harrison, “I’m In Love With a Girl” by Big Star), songs that are not technically love songs but have a lot of sentimental value, and every song from our wedding ceremony.

A few short anecdotes on some of the songs:

“Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol – Alyssa is a big fan of the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy” and now I am too. If you’ve ever seen the show you’re familiar with the song. While we were dating I told Alyssa I was going to make her a mix-tape with only “Chasing Cars” on it. It’s a running joke in our house.

“When I Fall In Love” by Sam Cooke – Before we told each other we loved one another but we both knew it privately we would drive around and listen to music. I’ve always enjoyed jazz aplenty so I used that as a cover to play just about every version of this tune I could find. Because I’m subtle.

“These Days” by Mates of State – After getting lunch one Sunday before we were dating Alyssa and I were driving to meet some friends at the beach. This song came on my playlist and it got us to talking about the films of Wes Anderson (the original version of this song was featured in The Royal Tenebaums) which led to her finding times to his most recent film and to me asking her out on first date.

The following songs are from our wedding:

  • “Messiah/You’re Beautiful” by Phil Wickham for when the bridesmaids entered
  • “Holy (Wedding Day)” by the City Harmonic for the processional
  • “He’s Always Been Faithful” by Sara Groves for communion
  • “We Are One” by Wilder Adkins for the recessional
  • “The Nearness of You” by Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong was our first dance

Anyways! I really love – pun absolutely, 100% intended – this playlist. Enjoy!

2. The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller

I’ve mentioned this book several times. It’s the book that convinced me to buy a ring and propose. Everybody, married or otherwise, must read this book. It is incredible. Tim and Kathy Keller are beyond wise. Some choice quotes:

That gospel message should both humble and lift the believer up at the same time. It teaches us that we are indeed self-centered sinners. It perforates our illusions about our goodness and superiority. But the gospel also fills us with more love and affirmation than we could ever imagine. It means we don’t need to earn our self-worth through incessant service and work. It means also that we don’t mind so much when we are deprived of some comfort, compliment, or reward. We don’t have to keep records and accounts anymore. We can feely give and freely receive.

“Fear” in the Bible means to be overwhelmed, to be controlled by something. To fear the Lord is to be overwhelmed with wonder before the greatness of God and his love. It means that, because of his bright holiness and magnificent love, you find him “fearfully beautiful.” That is why the more we experience God’s grace and forgiveness, the more we experience a trembling awe and wonder before the greatness of all that he is and has done for us. Fearing him means bowing before him out of amazement at this glory and beauty.

… when the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yoursef to someone. How much are you willing to lose for the sake of this person? How much freedom are you willing to forsake? How much of your precious time, emotion, and resources are you willing to invest in this person? And for that, the marriage vow is not just helpful but it is even a test.

…the Bible sees God as the supreme good – not the individual or the family – and that gives us a view of marriage that intimately unites feeling and duty, passion and promise.

3. In the sermon I said that: “Christ is the foundation on which God, the Father, is building His home and the Spirit is calling to us, ‘Come in! Come in! Come home!'” After saying this I toyed with the idea of reading the following poem. I had read this to Atticus before bed this past Saturday. Alyssa, in her great wisdom, advised against it because it disrupted the flow of the sermon and I agreed with her. But! It is a great poem. Perhaps the Spirit is nudging you now as I share it here:

Shel Silverstein

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

4. What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of MarriageNew York Magazine, Heather Havrilesky

There’s strong language if that kind of thing bothers you but I found this article just absolutely fantastic. Some more choice quotes:

But once you’ve been married for a long time (my tenth anniversary is in a few months!), a whole new kind of romance takes over. It’s not the romance of rom-coms, which are predicated on the question of “Will he/she really love me (which seems impossible), or does he/she actually hate me (which seems far more likely and even a little more sporting)?” Long-married romance is not the romance of watching someone’s every move like a stalker, and wanting to lick his face but trying to restrain yourself. It’s not even the romance of “Whoa, you bought me flowers, you must REALLY love me!” or “Wow, look at us here, as the sun sets, your lips on mine, we REALLY ARE DOING THIS LOVE THING, RIGHT HERE.” That’s dating romance, newlywed romance. You’re still pinching yourself. You’re still fixated on whether it’s really happening. You’re still kind of sort of looking for proof. The little bits of proof bring the romance. The question of whether you’ll get the proof you require brings the romance. (The looking for proof also brings lots of fights, but that’s a subject for another day.)

After a decade of marriage, if things go well, you don’t need any more proof. What you have instead — and what I would argue is the most deeply romantic thing of all — is this palpable, reassuring sense that it’s okay to be a human being.

Now let’s tackle something even darker and more unpleasant, the seeming antithesis of our modern notion of romance: Someone is dying in their own bed, and someone’s spouse is sitting at the bedside, holding the dying person’s hand, and also handling all kinds of unspeakable things that people who aren’t drowning in gigantic piles of cash sometimes have to handle all by themselves. To me, that’s romance. Romance is surviving and then not surviving anymore, without being ashamed of any of it.

Because survival is ugly. Survival means sometimes smelling and sounding the wrong way. It’s one thing for a person to buy you flowers, to purchase a nice dinner, to PROVE that they truly, deeply want to have some good sweet-talky time and some touching time alone with you, and maybe they’d like to do that whole routine forever and ever and ever.

True romance, though, is … Two deluded, lazy people face a bewildering sea of filth and blood and gore together, but they make it through somehow, some way, without losing their minds completely.

You are not better than you are, though, and neither is your partner. That’s romance. Laughing at how beaten-down you sometimes are, in your tireless quest to survive, is romance. It’s sexy to feel less than totally sexy and still feel like you’re sexy to one person, no matter what.

5. When Almena was sharing how she and OJ met she had mentioned that he had been reading poetry in their school’s courtyard. Then she said it was the 70’s as if poetry stopped being hip post-’79 but I think poetry is still great. Here’s a famous love sonnet from a long time ago:

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways.
Elizabeth Barret Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

6. Every CS Lewis book is my favorite CS Lewis book. But for the sake of this post The Four Loves is my favorite CS Lewis book. Two more choice quotes:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

7.I’ve suggested it before, I’ll suggest it again: Go watch Parenthood. Netflix has every season now. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. Etc. Etc. Etc.

At one point when one of her daughter’s marriage is on the rocks something fierce the family matriarch, Camille Braverman, explains the essence of marriage: “You know what marriage is sweetie? You know what it’s about? Forgiveness.”

Yep. Go watch the show and cry your tears.

8. St. Paul says marriage is “…a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Throughout the scriptures God’s relationship to his people is often described amorously. You see it in Ephesians, Hosea, Revelation… But one book is especially rich (and uncomfortable): Song of Songs

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.

9. Twenty YearsThe Rabbit Room, Russ Ramesy 

There is only one human relationship we come know in this life that is meant by God to be intimate in affection, proximity, and purpose until death itself separates us—the marriage relationship. In marriage God gives a gift of incalculable worth—a sworn partner for life.

This is a short and lovely reflections on twenty years of marriage. Loaded into this piece is the idea I brought up about never ceasing getting to know your spouse. Which OJ so wonderfully illustrated when he told us that after 38 years of marriage he just recently learned Almena enjoys buying and using power tools.

10. With This Ring, I Am Dead. Mockingbird, Stephanie Phillips.

This sacred covenant we’ve entered appears constantly threatened by the desecrating forces of my own sin and inadequacies. But it’s not. The union holds; the institution remains; the vows are intact–and none of it is made less beautiful in the end, only more real. This is a battleground where the distinction between my efforts to obtain approval through the law (armed with a toothbrush and expectations) and the “it is finished already” truth of the Gospel are writ large and daily. There are failures; oh so many. There are wounds. At the end of every day, there are two people lying in a home that often doubles as a battlefield, casualties of our own characters.

But there’s also this: the waking to each other, still here. Nobody disappeared in the night. (Yet.) And, to be mildly spoilery, the awareness of the gift we give each other, echoed in that TV narrative:

You stayed?!

Which echoes the gift given to us on the cross, at Christmas, and throughout the history of grace: He stays.


10 Steps to having a Perfect Marriage (or, Whatever)

If You Don’t Keep Your Feet

There’s this fascinating story in Genesis where a man wrestles God to a standstill. Jacob, the night before he would be confronted by the brother he had constantly cheated, is left alone. While alone Jacob wrestles a stranger until dawn. This is conjecture but I think Jacob had this unmanagable anxiety about the looming confrontation with his brother and takes out his aggression on this man who just appears. The text doesn’t say how the match begins, one moment Jacob is alone with his thoughts the next he’s wrestling.

Just as startling, they wrestle until dawn. Seeing he would not prevail the stranger touches Jacob’s hipsocket, dislocating the joint, and demands he be let go. But Jacob wouldn’t relent. Jacob would be blessed. Only then would he let go.

The stranger asks for his adversary’s name, “Jacob.” And the man, this our first clue to who he may be, renames Jacob, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

Israel now asks the right question, “What is your name?” The stranger doesn’t answer but there blesses Israel who goes on to build an altar and name the place Peniel saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

Jacob, who’s name literally means “Cheater”, fights God to a stalemate and is not destroyed, though he does walk away limping. Jacob fights God and demands a blessing.

In his struggle Jacob is transformed and Israel is blessed.

When I got the call to move to California and join the New Song staff I was single, childless, and basically a Hobbit. I had travelled some but my preference was to stay put in my cozy apartment with its books and close proximity to the 24 Hour burrito joint – El Faro’s, my favorite watering hole – Elgin Public House, and my family who only a comfortable drive from my apartment lived in the farm town where I grew up -Hampshire. Affectionately: The Shire.

Thanks to an overdeveloped sense of metaphor and purpose as I weighed my decision to move to California, feeling like I’d rather stay in Illinois, the Spirit brought the story of Abraham to mind. Single and childless I thought, “How can I teach my children to trust God’s promises if I don’t go when Abram left the safety and comfort of his father’s home?”

So I left.

Sam: This is it.
Frodo: This is what?
Sam: If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.
Frodo: Come on, Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

I packed my car on Holy Saturday with my books, a box of clothes, a few dishes, and some food for the road. Sunday, after singing Jesus Christ is Risen Today, drove westward, quite literally into the sunset, not knowing where I might be swept off to. Again, an overdeveloped sense of metaphor. I arrived alone in San Diego smelling like I’d been driving for a week with only the direction to “Make Sundays AWESOME!

Like He is, God has been good to me. And it has been AWESOME! It took no time at all to meet the loveliest woman in heart, mind, soul, and spirit there is and fall in love with her. While engaged Alyssa and I dreamed, as those who are engaged are wont to do, of our future together. Within a year of meeting we were married. Planning that after five years or so of marriage we would begin the adoption process. Within a year of our wedding God gifted us a son, Atticus Mac.

I have known the great blessing: me became We. 

Photo Credit: Samantha Jeet

Our family has been fruitful at New Song beyond what we could have expected. We’ve been blessed to weather some storms with Inland Hills and still see God prosper our little community. We’ve been blessed to help build a culture of grace with the children and in our singing. We’ve seen lives changed through the ministry the Spirit has done through us.

We’ve been extraordinarily blessed by the community of Inland Hills. We’ve been bouyed by the prayers and kindness of God’s people in Bonsall and Fallbrook, California. Alyssa and I are well loved, Atticus all the more. We’ve been supported emotionally, spiritually, financially by Alyssa’s near-by parents and by Christ’s family at New Song. I’ve been awarded the grace to grow as a worship pastor, in preaching and teaching, leadership of events like Oasis. And Alyssa the grace to lead our children – particularly the pre-school students – to a better understanding of the always and forever love of Christ.

And so it’s been a long evening wrestling with God that has brought us to our decision to move back to Illinois with my parents.

When I was a young child at a church camp, maybe seven or nine, kneeling at an altar Pastor Bill prayed for me. He told my mom when we came home he sensed I was called to be a pastor. Since then I’ve participated in ministry in some age-appropriate fashion or other. Youth groups, multiple college groups, internships. Worship directing was something I stumbled into, almost always by necessity. When you’re the guy who sings you’re the guy who helps others sing, I guess.

Preaching and writing this past year has confirmed Pastor Bill’s sense of calling on me and my family. Though I enjoy musical leadership I’ve never felt comfortable in that position. I’ve always felt, and still do, that I’m in the role accidentally. Preaching, writing, counselling seem to be a more right fit but there are obvious gaps in my understanding of both theology and pastoral care. So, with confirmation from trusted counsel, we believe God is calling us to pastor.

To begin pursuing the pastorate we believe that we must first pay off what debt we have and have been unable to overcome these past few years. God willing, after paying down our debt we’ll be able to attend seminary and begin the adoption process.

Though we’re sad to leave Inland Hills and New Song, we’re excited for this next chapter in our story. We’re looking forward to the year and some change we’ll get to be with family who we’ve not been able to spend enough time with these past four years. When I was a child we lived with my grandma and grandpa for a season so I’m expectant and excited for Atticus to have a similar relationship with my parents that I have with my grandparents. We’re excited to find a church where we can volunteer with the same excellence we’ve been taught by the volunteers we’ve led these past few years at New Song. We’re excited to have something of a Sabbath year where we can rest, recharge, and refocus on God’s goodness, kindness, and direction. We’re excited to see which school God will bring us to and all that we’ll learn there of His blessing.

I moved to California confident that God would bless me. He has. We are moving to Illinois confident that God will bless us. He will.

Photo Credit: Ollis Mozon, Jr.
If You Don’t Keep Your Feet

Play Ball! (Three Reasons Not To Sing In Church)


Once my dad asked me, “Tommy, when are you gonna start a band and be a rockstar?” Which was weird for me because, confession time, I have no desire to be a rockstar. The full extent of my musical ambition is sitting around the piano with my closest loved ones singing carols and hymns, maybe some American Standard or a Beatles tunes. Ain’t I just so very humble and Norman Rockwell-y?


In high school I was in a music class and another student said to the teacher, “One of the things I really hate seeing is old guys playing songs at open mics. If you haven’t made it by the time you’re 30 you should quit and work in real estate.”

In contempoary society we’ve relegated music to the professionals, to the people who have made it. Music making is for the rock stars, the unprofessional’s job is to listen and purchase. Which is a pretty recent development in history with the advent of new recording and broadcasting technologies. Just a couple of generations ago – and still in many non-western cultures – it is an alien idea that music is for professional performance and communal consumption.

Unfortunately, the idea of making music together is becoming more and more foreign. The following statements are common when I talk about singing in groups to individuals:

  • “The music is too difficult/loud/unfamiliar to sing along, I just like to listen.”
  • “I don’t like those songs so I change the words/sing my own song.”
  • “I’m tone deaf, I can’t carry a tune, the person next to me wouldn’t want to sing.”

I am most grieved when I hear, “The music is too difficult/loud/unfamiliar to sing along.” I must confess, though I said earlier that I don’t want to be a rockstar I do have a performance impulse. I’m an artist and sometimes my personal preference gets in the way of my pastoral responsibility to help us sing the gospel together. Sometimes I’m more excited about the sweet jam the band came up with, or the new hip song I’ve been listening to, or the entertaining emotional experience we’re creating.

These things are not bad in and of themselves but the goal of every worship leader shouldn’t be these cool arrangements, or hip song choices, or entertaining shows. The goal of every worship leader must be all of us singing the gospel together. Let me explain what I mean when I say “all of us singing the gospel together.

In Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, the Apostle Paul details how the individual Christian life should look, and then he moves through the chapters to talk about how Christian community should look. In the middle of these almost identical chapters there is a shift from the individual to the community:

Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:18b-20

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:16-17

Paul’s foundation of how Christian community is supposed to begin is not listening to a good concert and lecture, but “one another” singing “among you” the gospel through all sorts of styles of songs. We don’t become better husbands, wives, parents, employees, or more Christlike by simply practicing 7 Easy Steps, we become better by starting with thankful singing.

Marketing agencies and the Bible agree that music is one of the best ways to teach people. Most if not all of the commercials we see are accompanied with music. This is because music goes deeper than any catchphrase ever could. We create mental, emotional, and spiritual bonds to the songs we hear – even more so to the songs we sing. The ad-men want you to be emotionally bonded to their product so that you’ll give them your money.

The Rugged Individualism that would change the words being sung by the congregation, or whole songs, to fit personal preferences is counterproductive to the New Testament goal of singing as an exercise in community buildling.

But far and above the first two comments the most common reason for not singing is also the most untrue. Because music making has been professionalized the myth of being unable to carry a tune or being tone deaf has gained prominence. But carrying a tune, like throwing a curveball, is a learnable skill not an inherrent talent given at birth to Music Geeks and Rock Stars.

When Alyssa and I found out that we were having an Atticus and not a girl* I was terrified that he might grow up and want to play ball. If that day comes I will be able to ask any number of ball throwing people in my life to show me how. I will be able to learn, despite my reservations and the embarrassment of learning a new skill. We’re not unable to carry a tune, we’re just out of practice.

“No, Tommy, I’m tone deaf!

To that I ask: “Are you able to distinquish melody, harmony, rhythm when listening to the radio or does music sound like static to you?” If music sounds like cacophonous nonsense when you listen you may be tone deaf but if you can distinguish music from noise then you’re unfortunately not tone deaf.

When we gather together on Sundays it is to proclaim the glory of God, to confess to one another, to be assured of God’s great grace for us in Jesus Christ, and to proclaim that message to those far from God. We sing together and the message of Christ burrows deep into our minds and hearts. On Monday when we’re prone to wander the Spirit sings those songs to our desperate hearts.

Psalm 98

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
    and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
    let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples with equity.


*Daughters are just as capable of wanting to go throw the ball around with Dad as sons.

Play Ball! (Three Reasons Not To Sing In Church)

Worship Review 4.26.15 – Lord of the Storm

This weekend we sang:

  • “Rejoice” by Dustin Kensure
  • “Behold Our God” by Sovereign Grace Music
  • “Man of Sorrows” by David Potter
  • “Grace Alone” by The Modern Post

Below is a playlist of the four songs we sang this week. Each song is written and produced by independant artists and guys who work for the local church. If these are songs you enjoy please consider purchasing them so that these artist will continue to write great songs for God’s children to sing.


Normally, I’d like to write something about how our songs fit together and how they played with the sermon in a harmonious way. But, not today.

Yesterday was a special service, due to circumstances beyond our control – ah, the life of the renter – we had a lovely outdoor service.

I never seriously considered rain (I’m certain Ryan did, he tends to thinks these things through) because we live in Southern California and we’re currently exeperiencing a severe drought. And when the sun shines constantly you begin to forget it. But, lo and behold, we had Weather this weekend.

In Southern California just the threat of rain feels apocalyptic. All weekend the clouds towered above the earth. As they grew larger and darker they loomed threateningly. They swelled beyond capacity with rain and burst. Some time on Saturday night I texted Ryan: “What’s our Plan B?”

On that day, when evening had come, he [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Mark 4.35-38 ESV

“Do you not care that we are perishing?” When I’m feeling bruised and tired, when the candle has been thoroughly burned through on both ends, when I feel like giving up it’s beyond tempting to demand of God, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

It’s not tempting, it’s reality. I assume a defiant posture shaking my fists at the heavens. I begin to believe God is up there without a care in the world and we’re down here stuggling to no end. “Why have you forgotten me?” I cry, joining the Psalmist:

Deep calls to deep
as the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
By day the LORD commands his
steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?”
Psalm 42.7-9a ESV

Is God sleeping below deck and the boat filling with water? Does He not realize? Is He not paying attention? Does God not care?

We’re drowning down here.

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4.39-41 ESV

The power and glory of God is a terrible and awful thing to behold and should cause us to tremble. AW Tozer writes in his book The Knowledge of the Holy that “…what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” The question that we all must answer: “Who is this man?”

Jesus Christ is the unchanging Lord of the Storm. He always has been, he is currently, and will always be. He is the Lord of the Storm when we the skies grow so dark we can no longer see and we forget. He commands the wind, he commands the rain, at his voice there is calm.

When I fell asleep Saturday night I fully expected to wake to dark skies, I fully believed that I would spend the majority of the morning scrambling to figure out how our church would gather to worship. I assumed that it would be my responsibility to manage the storm.

But I peered out the window when I woke and the sun was beginning to poke his head out over the hills in the east. The sky was painted with reds, yellows, and graciously with bright blues. A beautiful day was chasing me to church.

Before we gathered to remember the gospel and let the message of Christ dwell among us richly by the singing of songs the Holy Spirit was reminding me that it is Jesus, not me, who is Lord of the Storm. That it is Jesus who works all things together for the good of those who love God.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
Psalm 42.11 ESV
Worship Review 4.26.15 – Lord of the Storm

Worship Review 4.19.15

If you’re curious about the songs we sang this past weekend check out this playlist on Spotify, and if you enjoy any of the songs please consider supporting the artists and purchasing the music.


Isaiah 6.1-8 is a touchstone in my life as a worship pastor and there’s a specific motion in the passage that I think is paramount to the motion of worship.

Isaiah sees the Lord in His glory. He hears the song of the angels – a song not about the angel’s worship, or Isaiah’s efforts, but about the character of God alone – “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord almighty!” Because of the Lord’s glory Isaiah trembles and is sorrowful due to his sin. Isaiah is no slouch, he’s good dude. Isaiah is awarded audience with the Lord, and not just anybody gets that honor. So what chance do we have? But we must remember that no one is righteous, no not one and in the midst of the Lord’s glory Isaiah trembles. But, God makes a way. An angel of the Lord takes away Isaiah’s guilt and sin. Only then is Isaiah freed from his fear and able to do the work of the Lord.

How about bullet points?

  • God’s Glory
  • Realization of Sin
  • Forgivness of Sin
  • Sending

Keep this in mind as you read:

Any time you see in scripture something repeated three times it’s to indicate great importance. Of God’s attributes the one that is most oft repeated in triplets is His holiness. God is first and foremost holy, and all His other qualities flow from that. His justice, His love, His wrath, His kindness, His mercy, His gospel are all rooted in His holiness. Every song we sang this weekend was chosen to paint an image of God’s holiness and see ourselves firmly rooted in that holiness.

God’s Glory

When we consider the heavenlies and angels there’s a temptation to imagine domesticated, pastel, kitschy naked babies with adorable dove wings. And, Oooo! Oooo! I just want to pinch it’s cheeks. But, the images of angelic beings given throughout scripture should terrify us.

Angels are weird.

18130(From “A Wind in the Door” by Madeleine L’Engle)

Their song in Isaiah doesn’t make just make the ground shake, their song makes the very frame of Heaven shake and fills the throneroom of God with smoke.

Our worship of God should not begin with how much we love to dance, or raise our hands, or how loud we sing, or how undignified we’re gonna be.* Our worship of God begins with a healthy dose of fear and trembling at His character.

Each of the songs this weekend had imagery that should cause us to stutter and pause. We sang that God has “eyes like fire, face like the sun, a voice like thunder” and that He is “clothed in rainbows of living color, flashes of lightning, and rolls of thunder.” WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?! Our imaginations should be enflamed with visions of grandeur and wonder when we consider The Lord.

Realization and Forgivness of Sin

The cornerstone of the Isaiah passage is when he says:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

and then an angel removes Isaiah’s sin and guilt.

The angel makes a one-time payment for Isaiah’s sin but we have it even better. God himself, Jesus Christ, makes a once-and-for-all payment for the sins of the world. Behold! The Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world!

We entered into the story of Isaiah with song and we sang: “Once we were lost and so far away, wandering in darkness, covered in shame with out you. But now we’ve been found by a love that is stronger!”

Because of Christ’s blood shed on the cross and his ressurrection we’re forgiven – not just for the forseeable future but forever. All our past, present, and future sins have been removed from us and we have no right of ownership to that sin. It has been purchased with a love greater than the universe’s weight in gold.


Unfortunately, beyond mine and Ryan’s control, we were unable to finish the story of Isaiah. We were going to finish the passage and pray for a couple that our campus is going to send to our new church plant. But because of a health issue the couple we would be praying for were unable to make it to church.

But, every service we plan ends with Ryan sends out the congregation with a benediction based on the sermon.

The template laid out here is how I try and plan each service and it was a pleasure to get to do that in an obvious manner this past Sunday. I enjoyed singing and living through the passage with all of you!

 *To be fair, I’m a David Crowder Band fanboy and have enjoyed many worship service that included this song. There is obvious room in a service to sing about our participation in the gospel.

Worship Review 4.19.15

Worship Review 4.5.15 – “Christ is Risen” edition

O death! Where is your victory?
O death! Where is your sting?
1 Corinthians 15.55

Yesterday’s service had zero flow to it, on purpose. The goal wasn’t to take us from point A to point B; the goal was to celebrate, rejoice, make a joyful noise because HE IS RISEN!

Cue: “He is risen indeed.”


We started with a five minute drum solo for three reasons:

  1. The Matthew account of the ressurection has an earthquake, is a frightening scene, and I assume loud.
  2. All three of the exceptional drummers of New Song Inland Hills were on the platform and I wanted to highlight them.
  3. I’ve never heard a five minute drum solo in church. So, I figured, why not? Next week no singing or sermon, only drum solos. An hour and a half of drum solos.

The rest of the service we sang songs about the ressurection, but today I want to highlight the new one we sang because it’s got powerful lyrics and it’s a personal favorite. So let’s discuss the lyrics of “Christ Is Risen” by Matt Maher a bit further.

Verse One:

Let no one caught in sin remain/ inside the lie of inward shame.

Written out it’s a complete thought, but the way the melody is written it sings as a double entendre forming two distinct thoughts and then one complete thought.

“Let no one caught in sin remain.”

I love that verb “caught.” Christ told us that what is done in the dark will be brought to the light. People are led to repentance by getting caught. Whether that is getting “caught” by God and led to repentance by the Spirit. Or, a more material caught – maybe by a loved one, or a friend, or a coworker – that leads to repentance.

But when it happens spectators like me ask, “Do they feel bad only because they got caught?” And I hate that question.

If I didn’t like sin, I wouldn’t sin. I want to sin. I enjoy sin. In the midst of sinning do I feel bad? Maybe, a little. But, mostly no. When in the midst of sinning I’m in Wonderland, and I have no grasp on reality. This doesn’t make my sin any less wicked, this doesn’t mean I’m not culpable for my actions, this doesn’t make reality any less devastating.

It takes some kind of “getting caught” that leads to sorrowful repentance. When we’ve been dragged out of darkness and into light we mustn’t close our eyes and pretend we still dwell in shadows.

“Inside the lie of inward shame.”

Ask my wife –  I’m predisposed to a guilty conscience. Even the most harmless of offenses and I’ll apologize for a week. After I’ve recieved forgiveness I’ll continue begging for forgiveness. I’m prone to beating myself up. I apologize more than the 10th Doctor:


He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:9-12

 The song continues:

We fix our eyes upon the cross/ and run to him who showed great love /and bled for us/ freely you bled for us

We try and abolish sin in our lives with a can-do spirit and giving it the ole college try. In our minds Christ washes us of all our sin and we take it from there. But the solution to our on-going sin issue isn’t working real hard it’s looking to the cross. The only action we can take to stop sinning is fixing our eyes on the cross:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3.18 ESV 

We’re not mostly good and with a little effort able to be totally good. If that were the case God wouldn’t have had to send his Son. Because God didn’t send his Son to give decent people a push in the right direction; He didn’t sent his Son to make decent and kind people more decent and more kind. Jesus came to see out and save sin sick people like you and me.

We don’t work our way out of sin, we worship our way out of sin.** We don’t make ourselves right with God, Jesus’ death and ressurection does. We don’t cure ourselves of the sickness in our bodies, Jesus’ death and ressurection does.


Christ is risen from the dead/ trampling over death by death

Christ’s victory didn’t look like victory. It looked bloody. It looked tortured. It looked like a young man nailed to a tree. It looked like blasphemy. It took the death of God for Death to be defeated once and for all.

Every Easter I read John Donne’s sonnet, “Death be not proud.” This year I read it to the band before rehearsal. It ends like this:

One short sleepe past, we wake eternally
And death shall be nore more; death, thou shalt die.

Second Verse:

Let us not for a moment think that Christ was defeated on Friday and victorious only on Sunday. The cross was God’s victory; Jesus was a willing sacrifice for our sin. I love how Matt Maher puts it in the second verse:

Beneath the weight of all our sin/ You bow to none but heavens will/ No scheme of hell, no scoffer’s crown/ No burden great can hold you down/ In strength you reign/ Forever let your church proclaim:

*I recorded a demo of “Christ is Risen” with my good friends Mike Lang and Rebecca Brogan a few years back. Rebecca just released an EP of her own that is fantastic and you should go buy it now:
It is Written” by Rebecca Brogan.

**That link is a must-read so I’ll give you the link again:
Worshipping Our Way Out of Sin” by Zac Hicks.

Worship Review 4.5.15 – “Christ is Risen” edition

Worship Review 3.29.15 – Palm Sunday Edition!

If I can be honest I’m not always excited about Sunday. There are times when life is just… Last week was a trying week and I wasn’t emotionally or spiritually in a great place to lead. So, I prayed before our morning rehearsal something like, “Hey God! I don’t really want to be here but I also don’t want to shortchange the congregation so this is all on You.” I’m suprised I couldn’t hear Him laughing up in Heaven, “It’s always on me.”

There are great Sundays and then there was this past Sunday. Great doesn’t even begin to explain yesterday. From the first note we played as a band in rehearsal I knew it was going to be a special morning. We saw six baptisms – three of which were spontaneous, the highest non-major holiday attendance ever, and tons of first and second time guests. God shows up in a huge way, despite me.

Let’s talk about the service.

DSCF7593(Photo Credit: Terry DeGraff)

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, which is a curious holiday to me. It’s so very… human. It’s a straw man holiday. People hear conflated rumors and attach all of their hopes to it.

During the Triumphal Entry the crowds were shouting praise to Jesus: “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Here was a subjugated people hoping for someone to free them from their oppressors. The expectation was for a king who be a 100% quality guaranteed, new and improved, shiny and better Rome. They heard rumors of a king – like the old one but not the old one – and attached their hopes to him. Jesus doesn’t meet their expectations and he doesn’t meet ours. So on Palm Sunday we sing “Hosanna!” and come Friday, “Crucify him!”

We opened service singing Paul Baloche’s “Hosanna (Praise is Rising)”

It’s a great tune with some awesome lyrics. I’m very intentional about how I order a service and the placement of this tune was, for me at least, a bit out of order. When sung first it assumes victory and glory before struggle and cross. I’ll explain more. 

There’s a tricky lyric that I think is an awesome and difficult prayer:

Come have your way among us…

Maybe we think, like the people in Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, that finally we’ll be vindicated, “Jesus is going to take care of all of the bad stuff out there that’s happened to me! Hosannah!” We assume victory and glory before struggle and cross. We think he’ll be our new and better Rome. But, when Jesus comes to have his way among us he roots out the sin that we so desperatly cling to. He doesn’t come to fix the world, he comes to fix us. When asked what was wrong with the world G.K. Chesterton replied with this:

Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly.

My goal when planning a service is not that people will feel good when they leave (although if they do, all the better) but that they’ll know that God is good. We opened up our block of singing with a song that really doesn’t paint us in a good light. We announce in our singing that we are:

  • Weak
  • Despairing
  • Broken
  • Sinners
  • Ungodly
  • Rebels

Our salvation, our rescue relies not on our sin management or the defeat of our enemies but rather on our God who reached down to us in the pit. It relies on Jesus Christ who laid down his life for us while we were still weak, despairing, broken, sinners, ungodly rebels. Our hope is that God doesn’t give us our heart’s desire but a God who dies. God is so good, even better than we could ever imagine. When we were lost and so far from God, wandering in darkness and covered in shame God came and found us.

Because of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who poured out his blood for us we’re forgiven forever – God in His great forgetfulness no longer remembers our sin, as far as the east is from the west… Which is a nice thought but so hard to believe. In the midst of life and all of our junk we doubt that Christ has once and for all put to death all of our death. On the cross he cried out his last and declared: “It is finished!

But grace is terrifying. “Surely there’s something I can do to help you, God,” I say. We don’t want Jesus, we want Jesus and then some. Ryan’s sermon was about different sub-Christian religions that claim Jesus. These groups never claim too little of Jesus; it’s always Jesus and then some. It’s never JesusLite, always JesusPlus. It’s funny how these groups all found their origin in America. Because, that’s how we in the West do. We need to work for what we get. Grace feels like socialism gone bad, grace is the antithesis of The American DreamAmerica: Land of Opportunity! If you work hard you’ll get what you deserve! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! God helps those who help themselves! 

Except he doesn’t. The cross is for screw ups like me. Grace is cosmic welfare and we’re all standing in line.

The sermon was about how these groups add to the gospel, so we wrapped up our service singing Hillsong’s “This I Believe (The Creed)” declaring, boldly, that we believe in the “name of Jesus.” We sang:

Our judge and our defender, suffered and crucified

No name but Jesus can save us. Not Joseph Smith, not Bringham Young, not Tommy Welty, not the name of our own efforts. No name can save but Jesus, only Jesus. He is our prosecution and our defense, when he cries “It is finished!” on the cross he acquits us ungodly rebels of all charges and we’re forgiven forever.

Worship Review 3.29.15 – Palm Sunday Edition!