I remember the first time I prayed aloud in a group. Pious it was not. There was a girl in the youth group, I was in high school. Nothing is sexier to 16-year-olds than piety? Lucky for this poor girl I grew up in church so I knew exactly how to pray:
Dear God, Lord, I just, Lord, ummm… You are so awesome, Lord, I just ummm… not my will but, Lord, I just ummm… want to, Lord, bless us. Lord, we need your blessing, Lord. I just ummm… want to thank you, Lord. … Lord, I pray for all those who are hurting. Ummm… Help my mom pass law school. Thanks? In Jesus name we pray, (aggressively squeezed the hand of the student next to me because Thank-God-that’s-over-I-hope-she-noticed-and-it’s-your-turn).
Lord, the only honest prayer was for my mom. She graduated top of her class. Correlation does not imply causation but… The girl and I were never more than just umm friends.
There’s an awkwardness to prayer. To an outside observer I can imagine the whole thing is kind of crazy looking. Just some goofy goofs talking to their imaginary sky friend. Even to the initiated prayer is – to put it lightly – audacious. What do any of us have to say to the King of the Universe? Creator of Every Thing, Counter of Every Atom, Igniter of Every Star, Spinner of Every Galaxy – I have some thoughts. Here, I’ll just list them off for you. It’ll be easier that way. Oh, and bless me. Thanks in advance, bro.
What is man that God is mindful of us? Is it no wonder his followers ask Jesus how to pray? It’s not really the kind of thing you want to get wrong LEST YOU BE DESTROYED!
The ancient person, and any modern person who has ever asked a friend to pray for them, recognizes that we’re not really qualified to talk to divinity. We feel a certain priestly need. We sense that we need someone more qualified than ourselves to talk to God. Lest we be destroyed and all that.
So the agnostic asks her faithful friend to talk to the Big Guy Upstairs in their time of need and the temple priest sacrifices a virgin to the Volcano monster so it doesn’t spit its lava saliva on the village below.
Forgive me but I’ve watched the Pixar short film Lava with Atticus more than once, I know how this works. We need somebody more confident than we dare be. We need a priest.
A priest has two jobs. They talk to the gods for the people and in turn talks to the people for the gods. Lest they – you know – be destroyed! A holy buffer of sorts. Or, like the friend in middle school who passes back and forth notes with the person you’re to scared to ask to the Spring Formal. Future generations are going to have awful metaphors.
But the problem with most priests is that they’re only human. Regardless of their qualifications most priests are just as jacked up as the rest of us. And most of them eventually die.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Those who profess faith in Jesus have a better priest than the ones we resort to. Jesus is the great high priest we long for. Jesus isn’t only human. Jesus isn’t as jacked up as us but he totallygets it. He knows just how frail and dumb we are and loves us anyway. He is both like us in that he has been tempted in every way. And Jesus is nothing like us in that he’s not succumbed to the temptation. And like no other priest death couldn’t keep Jesus down.
Jesus sits right next to God and prays for us. We can approach the throne of God without being destroyed so let us approach with confidence that we may receive mercy in our times of need.
When we don’t know what to say let us approach the throne with confidence that we may receive mercy. When we ask for the wrong things let us approach the throne with confidence that we may receive mercy. When we’re not worthy let us approach the throne with confidence that we may receive mercy. When we stumble and fall let us approach the throne with confidence that we may receive mercy. When we don’t know how to pray let us approach the throne with confidence that we may receive mercy.
Every embarrassing and mumbled Lord just umm…, every selfish request, every loss of words is turned to grace in the prayers of Jesus. In Jesus name we pray means we pray with and through Jesus. Jesus says for us what we could never say, our best and worst words are heard by God in the voice of Jesus.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
This weekend we sang the following songs:
Manifesto by The City Harmonic
Good, Good Father by House Fires (arr. Zealand Worship)
Your Love is Strong by Jon Foreman
How Deep the Father’s Love For Us by Stuart Townend
Father, You Are All We Need by Citizens & Saints
Grace Alone by The Modern Post (arr. Kings Kaleidoscope)
There’s a story about Martin Luther that has meant much to me over the years. It may be apocryphal, I don’t know, but…
One day after a rousing Sunday sermon he was approached by the congregation and was asked, “Pastor, why is it that week after week after week you continue to preach the gospel? Can we please move on from the gospel? We get it, Broooooooo…”
Or, something like that.
Luther answered, “Because week after week you forget it. Because week after week you walk in here looking like a people who look like they don’t believe the gospel.” Tonight before I fall asleep I too will have forgotten the liberating power of the gospel.
It is easy to use the gospel exclusively as the mechanism by which salvation is secured. The gospel saves us and we’ll take it from there. We treat the gospel like a tool to create converts: If you were to get hit by a bus – and I’m not saying that I’m going to run you over with a bus but who can really know for sure – would you know that you’d absoultely go to Heaven? No, okay, would you like to accept the gospel?
If you’re anything like me once you’ve raised your hand after the preacherman’s heartfelt plea and accepted “the gospel” you get on with your DIY self-improvement projects. I did ten sins last week, this week I’ll aim for just nine. Like the Wizard of Oz, we project a mighty image to onlookers: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. There’s those certain sins – gluttony, pride, irritability at pesky people – that are easy to confess so we admit those but keep the real ugly stuff hidden, guarding ourselves from any vulnerability and itimacy with God and neighbor.
And we belittle God. We think we’re fooling Him. And know that when I say “we” it’s self-protection, I’m not writing this for you. We try and fix ourselves. “It’s just a flesh wound,” we say and bandy about our swords.
But, the problem is deeper than we could ever imagine. Let me tell you a story.
Once, in the spring when Kings go to war, King David sat that one out. Not being where he was supposed to David spied with his little eye something he shouldn’t have. David slept with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his best friends, and she conceived a child. Trying his best to cover his tracks David brought his friend, Uriah, home from war to sleep with Bathsheba to throw supiscion off of himself. But Uriah was too noble to enjoy a night with his wife while his fellow soldiers were still at battle so King David had him sent back to the frontlines to be slaughtered. David. What a guy?
Though he tried to hide his sin and remain righteous in his own and in the kingdom’s eyes David was confronted by the prophet Nathan. And all his dirtly laundry was hung up on the line to dry. With his ugliest moment on display for all the world to see – the shame, the dastardliness, the complete destruction of his and Bathsheba’s character – David penned Psalm 51. In this confession he admits that the problem is worse than he could have ever imagine:
For I know my transgressions, my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;… Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Though I try and hide it something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Deep down in the dark recesses of me something’s decaying.
So today, even more than yesterday, I need the gospel. And tomorrow? All the more.
To clarify, the gospel is the grand mystery that God took on frail flesh and died. God was murdered on a tree for scoundrels like me. And, more so, was raised to life. Rising on the third day Christ defeated Death. As the poet, John Donne, wrote: “death shall be no more; Death thou shalt die.”
Good news! You and me? We’re off the hook. That thing we’re not telling anybody? That thing hidden in the caverns of our soul where nobody can find it? Jesus knows it already.
And He’s not surprised.
He loves us anyways.
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
All our self-improvement projects, resolutions, good behavior, hiding, believing in ourselves has left us bleeding out in the gutter but God has come searching for us to bind up our self-inflicted wounds. God sent his son, who knew no sin, to become sin so that we might become the rigtheousness of God. This is good news! No longer are we judged on our efforts but on the efforts of the One by which, and for which, through which the universe and everything was created.
His grace is sufficient. Full stop.
We’ve been forgiven. Let us go and sin no more.
In the new song that was introduced this weekend – Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher – we sang this: “Holiness is Christ in me” which says in five words what I tried to say in a thousand.
Attached is a playlist where you can preview the songs we sang this past Sunday before you buy them because you like supporting artists who bless the church. But of course, this is old hat by now:
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.
On one hand: New Year, New Me. Right? Me 2.0 – Just Like the Old Me but Better.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Did you watch it?
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.
Earlier this month I wrote a list of people, songs, and books I’m thankful for. I said at the end of that post that I wanted to include more books and articles, more songs and albums, some moments, some disciplines, other media that brought joy or encouragement or growth. So, I’d like to jump back on the Thanksgiving Train and share more stuffs I’m thankful for.
1) Recalling Psalm 42 Whilst Standing in the Pacific on a Wednesday in August. The most spiritual moment I had this year was in the midst of a particularly stressful and draining week. I had chosen to sing the song You Make Me Brave at New Song’s annual leadership conference and was thinking about the lyric “as wave after wave crashes over me” while I stood in thePacific feeling overwhelmed, depressed, and abandoned. Then I recalled Psalm 42 a cry for help when the Psalmist was feeling likewise and the Psalms’ description of God’s overwhelming and constant voice like “deep calling out deep as the waves and breaker crash over me” responding.
2) Alyssa’s and My Second Anniversary. Atticus was born a little over a week before our first anniversary so Alyssa and I didn’t celebrate our first anniversary too much. So this year was our first chance to celebrate. We got dressed to the nines, left Atticus with the grandparents, and went to a resteraunt we couldn’t afford.
3) Atticus’ Nighttime Routine. Sometime between 6pm-630pm we’ll walk into A’s bedroom, he’ll sit in my lap and we’ll read three books (I’m partial to Snuggle Puppy by Sandra Boynton), then we’ll say goodnight to the pictures hanging on the wall, he’ll give me a kiss on the cheek, and we’ll pray. When I lay him in his crib he smiles, waves, blows a kiss, and then I turn out the light and walk out of the room while he sings himself to sleep. I realize it’s not revolutionary and lots of toddlers go to sleep like this but it still feels like ours.
4) The First Time Atticus Said, “Ah!” Alyssa neccesarily teaches Atticus most of the things he knows but one evening he and I were at Chipotle and he wasn’t eating his cheese quesadilla so I absentmindedly said, “Say ‘Ah!'” and he did. When we got home and I showed his mom she said, “He’s never said that before!” Yep, I taught Atticus how to say “Ah!” and now I’m getting to teach him other vowel sounds like “Oh!” and “Eee!” and “Uh!”
5) Visiting Hampshire in the Spring. After church, while Alyssa was helping set up my brother’s graduation party I drove Atticus around town while he napped in the car. I had forgotten how lovely Hampshire is in the spring and I wrote a poem about it, To My Hometown. Here’s a snippet:
Once I dug for gold in the creek
winding and trickling through town
but the gold is in the green;
the dandelions and purple violets
lacing the ground like a veil.
6) 8/14/2015. For my birthday Alyssa, my mom, Atticus, and I went to Myrtle Creek Botanical Gardens, then to my favorite book store where I got quite the haul, and then to dinner at my favorite brewery with my mom, my mother-in-law, and my brother-in-law. Best birthday in ages.
7) Family Vacation to Florida. The last family vacation to Florida was just a few weeks after I moved to California so I wasn’t able to go. Everybody went without me. This time around we all got to go together, and it was an incredible week just hanging out at a resort drinking Mudslides and sitting by the pool reading The Fellowship Of The Ring.
8) 9/22/2015. So, I’m notoriously awful at getting gifts. I’m real bad at it. You can just assume I’m going to get you a book that I liked and you may only kind of like. But, this year, for the first time ever, I got Alyssa a gift she actually wanted. To celebrate Alysa we got dressed up to the nines again and went to San Diego and visited Balboa Park where we got engaged, there she participated in a street performers act. Afterwards we went to two different restaurants – one we greatly enjoyed where got drinks and appetizers, and the other we greatly enjoyed making fun of.
9) Atticus’ Two Yo Gabba Gabba First Birthday Parties. There was definitely a party in our tummys. So yummy.
10) Sam Jeet’s Photography. It’s official, Sam Jeet is our family’s historian. We’ve had two photo shoots with her this year and both had great results. Check out more of her work at SamanthaJeet.com
11) Palm Sunday. You can read about it here, but this past Palm Sunday was a hard but blest day.
12) My Team at NSIH. I have the great pleasure to play music, sing with, and serve along side a group of people who outclass me in so many ways. The band, vocalists, sound engineers, and media people are hardworking people of extraordinary character. So, thank you Steve, Jay, Jason, Brad, Frank, Candace, David, Max, Mackenzie, Lisa, Carole, Almena, Terry, Kenny, Jillian, and Elijah.
13) El Meson de Mi Tierra. This is the best Mexican food in Fallbrook, if not my favorite Mexican food in general. When we go the owner of the restaurant, Eli, will tell us stories of growing up in Mexico and coming to America and raising his family. He treats us like old friends and his family makes the best food in town.
14) Family Worship in June.You know those videos of Jimmy Fallon singing pop songs with classroom instruments? Well, the band got together and worked extra hard learning one of our tunes playing only classroom instruments. We also shot off confetti. So, who says church isn’t fun?
15)The NSIH Congregation.The Christian life is best lived out in community, I’d argue is only lived out in community. I love getting to serve the people of New Song Inland Hills. The community at Inland Hills is faithful to prayer, family to each other, welcoming to strangers, and devoted to what Christ is doing in Fallbrook. I love seeing God working in our midst.
16) The Pastors of New Song. I get to serve under three incredible men of God. Hal Seed, Ryan King, and Bryan Seed. I’m grateful for their collective vision for the church and individual vision for their ministries. Hal’s commitment to reaching North County with the Gospel, Ryan’s administration ability and patience with my “artistic” predispositions, and Bryan’s commitment to the honor of God and His praises sung at New Song.
17) Carne Asada Fries. Who wouldn’t be grateful?
18) Full Circle #ShadowFighting. This is the ongoing playlist my siblings and I have been curating.
19) Bulleit Bourbon. Ahem… Not that I drink whiskey or anything but this stuff is smooth.
20) Preaching at New Song. I hadn’t been behind the pulpit as it were in years but I’ve been afforded the great honor of preaching at New Song four times so far with another chance coming up in a few weeks. I’ve gotten to preach on some of my favorite subjects – forgiveness, I’ve gotten to work with the material of a man I highly respect – Hal, and I’ve gotten to share from my favorite of the Apostle Paul’s letters – Galatians. I look forward to sharing from God’s word again in December. If you’re interested in any listening to any of the sermons: Tommy Welty Sermon Archives.
21) My Small Group. I love our Tuesday night group, it’s super cool seeing such a diverse crowd come together and enjoy each other’s company while digging into scripture and prayer.
22) This American Life. I’ve yet to be disappointed by any episode of TAL but Episode 559: Captain’s Logis a particular favorite this year. The second act, “Cookies and Monsters,” was emotional and reveals the particular power of communal singing. The third act was Aniz Ansari’s standup routine that his new and incredible Netflix show, Masters of None, is based on.
23) The Withertongue Emails. This blog series at Christ Hold Fast is a play on CS Lewis’ The Screwtap Letters. It’s an ongoing series of “emails” written from a senior demon, Withertongue, to his deputy, Filthpit, who is tempting a young pastor. There’s a lot about the interior life of a young pastor and temptations (s)he may come under. It may sound derivitate, and I guess in some sense it is, but I’ve greatly enjoyed it on its own merits. There’s some great stuff there and I’ve been encouraged and rebuked by these fictional letters from a demon similarly to how I was years ago when I first read Lewis’ classic work.
24) Inside Out. Who would think that a Cotton Candy-Elephant-Cat-Dolphin hybrid in a porkpie hat would make a man with a beard like mine weep the way Bing Bong did? Pixar is back after a string of making just okay films like Brave, Cars 2, Cars…
25) The Liturgy Fellowship.This is a Facebook group for liturgy enthusiasts that’s moderated by some of the best contemporary worship theologians and worship artists around. I get to pick the brains of fellow worship leaders and some of the best thinkers in my field.
26) Josh Garrels’ Mother’s Day Show. I’ve seen Josh Garrels play many times but this show was special for me. Alyssa and I went with the DeGraff family who has long been a surrogate family for Alyssa and has, in some fashion, been the same for me since moving to California. Garrels had just released a new album of songs on the theme of “home” and the show was the night before Alyssa and I flew back to Illinois. It was like my two worlds had converged and for a moment I got to be the person I used to be and the man I am now. Here’s yet another link to something I wrote: Heaven’s Knife (Reflections on the Music of Josh Garrels)
27) Oasis. I’ve been awarded the privilege of program coordinating New Song’s annual leadership conference. There’s something special about seeing hard work pay off. We had record attendance, incredible musical moments, motivating teaching, and I believe that the church as whole caught a great wave before leading into what has been incredible season of growth for our church. I’m glad that I got to play some part in an incredible event.
28) Love, Suffering, & Creativity: Creating in an Age of Spectacle. I spent an evening listening to David Zahl, Dustin Kensrue, and Brett McCracken talk about art. Here’s some of my favorite quotes:
Brett McCraken – To make better art we must gaze with love and have a posture of sacrifice.
Dustin Kensrue – God loves you and me in spite of our crappy art.
David Zahl – You can’t love people if you expect them to be good… You’ll want to change them to something they’re not.
29) The Flash.If a show about a guy who runs so fast he can travel through time and across the mutliverse while punching telepathic gorillas and villains with guns that make things cold is wrong I don’t want to be right.
30) Blogging. Writing this blog is an immense pleasure so thank you for taking the time to read. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.
Dear Refuge of My Wear Soul by Trinity Grace Church
Forgiven Forever by Glenn Packiam
You Make Me Brave by Bethel Music
Here’s a playlist of the tunes we sang. If you like ’em why don’t you go ahead and buy ’em? Yeah, let’s keep these incredibly talented artists and writers able to write and produce great music for the church to sing God’s praises.
Party In The Back
As it goes it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Wrong season, maybe? But the director of “Nightmare Before Christmas” finally admitted that it’s a Halloween movie and not a Christmas movie, and we can all eat as much processed sugar as cheaply as we want on November 1st! Pretty wonderful to me.
Anyways as we sang “It Is Finished” it got me thinking about the upcoming holiday.
I realize Christians are divided on Halloween but for me the holiday season starts on October 31st and goes through the end of Epiphany on January 26th. Though, before starting, I want to say that I’m not trying to muddle the occult with Christianity. I realize that the reality of God determines the reality of demons and Satan which are certainly to be feared, fought, and ultimately to be defeated by Christ – the Warrior of God. Bear all that in mind while reading.
Okay, let’s chat Halloween.
“It Is Finished” opens up with these words: “There’s no deed that can redeem us/there’s no rite nor magic word” and while were singing it got me thinking about how it’s easy to invoke the Power of God in the same attitude that magic would invoke another, more sinister power.
There’s a tendancy for the Hocus Pocus of Halloween to sneak it’s creepy little head into the life of the Christian. I find myself thinking that “if I pray X, then Y will happen.” If I say the Lord’s Prayer, while fasting, facing towards Jerusalem, and annoint my head with oil then I’ll be able to harness the power of the Spirit and create a change in the material world. Or, more subtly, if I commit to living my Christian Values then I’ll be blessed. Hocus Pocus religion is just another way of talking about the Law. But the Law is unable to produce what it demands; as we sang, “there’s no rite, nor magic word/ only by the works of Jesus can salvation be secured.”
But October 31st isn’t just Halloween it’s also the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. It’ll be 498 years this Saturday since the Reformation, in some sense, was kicked off.
Luther wrote his theses in response to the church selling indulgences, the idea that salvation can be secured by works of the Law over and above grace alone, and that continuing Christian maturity is a life of constant works to maintain eternal security. For the church of Luther’s day this manifested with the buying and selling of indulgences and other spiritual disciplines dictated by the church and in our day with behavior modification. But as the Apostle Paul says (here and just about everywhere else he writes):
“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2.19-20
Christianity is not a to-do list to accomplish, a supernatural experience that changes the natural material world, a transaction between buyer and seller. Christianity is a weary and dried out sinner sick of wandering in a spiritual desert jumping in the fountain of living water and drinking deeply. Christianity is a starving beggar putting down the empty calories of self and feasting at the table of a king. We sang: “There’s no sacrifice to offer/ there’s no penance to complete/ freely drink of living water/ without money come and feast.”
If we were able to produce righteousness by obeying the Law then Christ would have died for nothing. But as he hung on the cross he cried out, “It is finished!” and completed the Law, having lived it perfectly. When we eat at his table and are baptized in his living water we, by faith, are joined into his life, death and ressurection. As we sang, we can “go bravely into battle, knowing he has won the war.” So we can live a life of obedience and righteousness in the confidence that Jesus is already victorious over sin and death, in the confidence that we no longer live but Christ lives in us.
(Did you notice the “Worship Leader, Piano Player Uniform”?)
I just realized something: These worship reviews are functionally digital mullets. Business in the front, party in the back?
The setlist from this weekend:
Unstoppable God by Elevation Worship
Dear Refuge by Trinity Grace Church
Open Up Our Eyes by Elevation Worship
Rejoice by Dustin Kensrue
God is Able by Hillsong
Here’s a Spotify playlist but do me a favor, please, please, please buy these tunes (if you haven’t already) to support the artists who have worked so hard crafting, recording, and producing songs suitable for the Church to sing.
I promise the work of a worship pastor is very spiritual and I spend most of my days praying, reading the Bible, communion with angels, my mind and heart in the Heavenlies, getting direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. But, last week when I was planning the service I most definitely Googled “Unfailing Love Bible.”
I found this picture and a bunch of Psalms with that particularly frutiful Google search.
God is good.
As I read through the Psalms I noticed a recurring theme with each instance of “unfailing love.” All the Psalms I was finding were wacky depressing. Each Psalm had a pattern of love being the climax or the culmination, but very rarely the motivator. The motion wasn’t from glory to glory, joy to joy, but rather crushing sorrow to unfailing love.
Psalm 13 landed particularly hard of my heart, and I don’t like to use the platform I’m responsible for to minister to myself, but I decided to give myself some grace and plan a personal setlist this weekend.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
As a person prone to naval-gazing introspection, and the occasional nostalgia induced melancholy I read this and was like: “Oh yeah! How long do I have to wrestly with my thoughts?!” It’s hard to admit this, since in some regard my spiritual life plays out on the stage – more on that in a future post, but I’ve been feeling dried up for awhile. Like God is far away, and if not distant, hiding.
We introduced a few weeks back a hymn by Anne Steele, “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul” (Music by Kevin Twitt, additional chorus/arrangement by Zac Williams), that has been my prayer in this dry season: “Dear Refuge of my weary soul/ On thee when sorrows rise/ On thee when troubles roll/ My faintinghope relies/ To Thee I tell each rising grief,/ For Thou alone canst heal/ Thy Word can bring a sweet relief,/ For every pain I feel”
Though my emotional reality has been dour “Thy Word has been a sweet relief.” Opening up the Scriptures to find God’s man David begging God the same as me has been a comfort. To be instructed in prayer: How long? How long? In God’s timing, but while wating beg and claw towards mercy and relief.
Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
I’m always strucked by the tenancity of David. It is preposterous of David to demand, “Look on me and answer, Lord my God.” But, the demand is awesome – “Give light to my eyes.” Look on me and give me light. David, me, you, we’re unable to look up of our own volition. We need God to remember us, to light up our eyes that we may see His love endures forever.
As we sang in “Open Up Our Eyes” we need God to open up our eyes and surround us with His light so that we can understand that His love never fails. Otherwise, without the hand of Divine Providence peeling back our eyelids it’ll seem that our enemies of self, emotion, and circumstance will surely defeat us and rejoice in doing so.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
I’m not saying that when all around looks gray that the antidote is to try harder, never that, never try harder but always persevere. When the enemy is prevailing, do not retreat but charge in. Trust in his unfailing love, rejoice in his salvation.
“Rejoice! Again I say rejoice!” Paul instructs the church in Phillipi. It’s not a slight “Cheer up, everything is gonna be a-ok” or “You should feel bad for feeling bad, so feel better”… It’s rejoice because “The Lord is near.” Rejoice in the good, rejoice in the bad, rejoice always because God has not forgotten you, he’s not hiding, he is near.
Though it may seem foolish, or impossible, when the enemy is pressing in on all sides trust in His unfailing love, rejoice in his salvation, sing the Lord’s praise, because “There is blessing in the battle,/ so take heart and stand amazed.”
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:
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
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.