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!

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[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.

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Hallelujah! Oh What a Savior!

Worship Review 8.16.15 – Galatians One and The Story of Everything

Sunday was quite the day! Alongside leading worship at Inland Hills I also had the pleasure of preaching at our College/Young Adult Ministry – Elevate. Normally after worship I like to write a review on a theme from the morning, and (this has happened only once, but will happen at least twice more this year – maybe more) after preaching I like to give a few extra resources that coincide with the message. This week I’ll do both, and it’ll be all over the map.

1. At NSIH we sang:

  • “Indescribable” by Chris Tomlin
  • “Man of Sorrows” by David Potter
  • “Forgiven Forever” by Glenn Packiam
  • “The Mighty Hand of God” by Citizens & Saints
  • …and we were going to sing but didn’t, “Glory is Yours” by Elevation Worship.

All but one of these tunes were written by artists that serve in the local church, and the one that wasn’t is writing songs that will be remembered in history alongside Charles Wesely, Isaac Watts, The Gaithers, and more. So, attached is a Spotify playlist but please, please, please purchase these songs and albums so they’ll all continue making great music.

2. After I finishing my study of a particular scripture for preaching I make a playlist that serves as background music and inspiration while I write out my manuscript. For this past Sunday I created a playlist with several songs based on Psalm 23 and a tune for every single pop culture reference I wrote into the manuscript and there were a lot considering that I was talking about everything. It is one of the most fun and the weirdest playlists I’ve ever made. Enjoy!

3. At NSIH we began our sermon series on the book of Galatians which just so happens to be one of my all time favorite books of the Bible. Or, at least it is this year. In the spring, when kings go to war, I had the serendipitous pleasure of studying Galatians (which is great because in a few weeks I’m preaching) and in my study I read Martin Luther’s Commentary on Glatatians. Which had a huge influence on me, check out my post “The Glorious “And Yet!” of God” to see how. Luther’s Commentary is surprisingly accessable considering it was written in 15th Century Germany by a theological titan. Anyways, I found an abridged version by a Lutheran Middle School ministry from Michigan named RJ Grunewald that is available as a free PDF, a $2.99 Kindle e-Book, or a print edition for $14.99.

4. Speaking of abridged versions, earlier this week I wrote an abridged version of my sermon and posted it to the blog. I think it is well worth the read if you’ve not already read it, “The Story of Everything.” Unfortunately, the full sermon was not recorded so I can’t share that. If your appetite is whetted or your curiosity piqued feel free to email me at: tommy.welty@gmail.com and I’ll happily email you the PDF of my manuscript and you can take the approximately 36 minutes it would take to read that. Or, you could read the abridged blog.

5. So, it probably comes as no surprise but I’m particularly interested in writing. My studying creative writing greatly influenced the sermon at Elevate and there’s a handful of books that have meant a lot to me at different times as a writer. None of these are Christian books, or, even remotely Christian, but each is worth reading if you’re curious about the process.

6. Towards the end of my sermon, about the last ten minutes or so, I attempted to teach the entirety of the Bible’s narrative. I did alright, but in that short of time it is really actually impossible to do – so it was mostly just super general themes and events. I missed a lot. I missed most things, but “A+” for effort. Anyways, I stumbled upon this great resource Monday morning after preaching, “The Bible Project.” After checking it out I could not more fully recommend it. They are creating animated videos as overviews to each book of the Bible and different systemic themes of the scriptures. Here’s their intro to “Leviticus” and to “Holiness.”

7. My birthday was this past weekend and my mom flew out to celebrate and to hear me preach, which was wonderful. I read a poem by poet Wendell Berry Sunday night. Here’s another of his from the Poetry Foundation, where you can read many other poems by Wendell Berry and a great magnitude of other poets.

This poem delightfully captures the maternal grace and love of God. I see Alyssa loving Atticus like this, and know that my mom has loved me like this, and all the more that Christ has loved us like this:

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8. Two summers ago I made the attempt to read the book of Psalms each month, I read the psalter three times totally that summer and a few times since. It’s an incredible emotional and spiritual experience. I would encourage everybody to take a few months to reading and rereading the Psalms. The best method in my opinion is in months that have 30 days read five psalms everyday, excluding Psalm 119 because of it’s length. And I’d suggest not reading them in order, though that works too, but rather reading them scattershot so that you can capture the breadth of the book and capture themes. The best way to do this would be on day one reading Psalm 1, Psalm 31, Psalm 61, Psalm 91, Psalm 121; and Day Two – Psalm 2, Psalm 32, Psalm 62, Psalm 92, Psalm 121; etc. So, whichever calendar day you’re on read that Psalm and then add 30 for the next, then 30 more… and so on. Then on the months with 31 days read only Psalm 119 on the 31st.

9. Really, everbody should read Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians:

The heart of man finds it difficult to believe that so great a treasure as the Holy Ghost is gotten by the mere hearing of faith. The hearer likes to reason like this: Forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death, the gift of the Holy Ghost, everlasting life are grand things. If you want to obtain these priceless benefits, you must engage in correspondingly great efforts. And the devil says, “Amen.”

I mean… Come on, what’s holding you back?

10. When a sheep had left the flock three times a shepherd would break its legs so that it couldn’t leave, and then carry the sheep the rest of the way. After being broken the location of the bone’s fracture would heal and never break again in the same spot. After a sheep had had its leg broken and been carried through the healing process with it’s ear so close to the shepherd’s mouth it would never leave the safe comfort of the shepherd’s voice.

Before the cross became the preeminate image of Christianity this image was, or a variation on it:

good-shepherd-2

Christ is carrying us in our brokeness, healing us and leaving the fracture stronger than it was before. As we read the Psalms, pray, study scripture like Galatians, worship in song, take communion, celebrate God’s Spirit is whispering in our ears, revealing Christ to us:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

Worship Review 8.16.15 – Galatians One and The Story of Everything

Worship Review 6.28.15 – Inside Out

After a Sunday off celebrating our anniversary and Father’s Day it was a blessing to be back in worship!

This past weekend we sang the following tunes, please consider purchasing them if you enjoyed them to support the artists who are blessing the church:

  • “O Praise Him” by David Crowder Band
  • “Indescribable” by Chris Tomlin
  • “If You Wash Us” by Tommy Welty
  • “Rejoice” by Dustin Kensrue
  • “Glory is Yours” by Elevation Worship

Pixar Post - Inside Out characters closeup

If you haven’t seen Pixar’s newest classic “Inside Out” you’re in sin. Also, beware potential spoilers for that movie and other Pixar films.

Like I wrote earlier I watch too many cartoons for being such a serious burly manly man but this next opinion is a fact: Pixar is just far and above the best company producing cartoons right now. Who can argue against a catalog that includes the Toy Story Trilogy, “Wall-E,” “Ratatouille,” “Finding Nemo,” and “The Incredibles.” The guy who directed “Inside Out”, Pete Docter, also directed “Up!” and who can forget the sob fest that was the first ten minutes of that movie? I mean what cartoon starts with a lifelong love story, that features either infertility or a miscarriage and then the death of a beloved spouse? Which cartoon includes those things at all?

There’s a prevailing idea in the world that children, and thus adults, need to be protected from harsh reality. Author of “Where the Wild Things Are” (a truly terrifying classic) Maurice Sendak writes:

Certainly we want to protect our children from new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and that intensify anxiety; and to a point we can prevent premature exposure to such experiences. That is obvious. But what is just as obvious — and what is too often overlooked — is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.

Pixar knows this when they make movies. Their films are honest. They approach the “Wild Things” of everyday life through the fantastic and the simple. While cartoons from lesser – my opinion (still fact) – production companies try to protect children, and us, from complex and difficult reality Pixar rushes in and grabs all our tears and yanks ’em out. And “Inside Out” is no different.

“Inside Out” maybe more than the others demands of us to deal with our inner life. Considering it’s outward narrative of a young girl moving to a new town is not all that profound though the movie is. The dual narrative, one which is common and the other profound, allows us to reach into our minds and hearts and examine our inner lives. The movie demands us to address all of our emotions, not just the ones we enjoy. With the final statement that sadness is valid, and important. We need sadness. Big spoilers: Joy needs sadness. We can’t hide our unpleasant and unwanted emotions in a chalk circle.

Pixar Post - Inside Out Joy Cheers Up Sadness

What all does this have to do with yesterday’s worship service?

Everything. I’m tempted most weeks, every week, to prepare happy set lists. Pick the top performing song on Air1 or K-Love (“Oceans” it is always “Oceans”) and play that as fast and as happy as possible with a big cheesy grin and a few catchphrases between verses: “Isn’t God just swell? Sing with me!”

I finished writing “If You Wash Us” over two years ago. When I write (a song, a poem, a short story) I go through a lot of revisions. A single poem or song can take me months to write until I’m comfortable enough to share it with Alyssa, let alone the rest of the world. “If You Wash Us”, a song meant for gathered worship, was at that point over two years ago.

But it’s not an easy song to sing. Its not a big radio hit, its not a happy melody, the harmonies are harsh, and lyrically it looks right into the depth of things and says: “You’re messed up.” And it never resolves. There is no happy ending. Just a cry for help and then the song ends.

For the past two years I’ve kept it in a chalk circle in the other room, hopefully shielding myself and New Song Inland Hills from having to look inward and examine what we find. It’s apparent that we’re comfortable with sin, like I joked in service, I’m on Facebook. We just wrongly assume that sin is a germ Out There and its trying to infect us. But the reality is that sin is a sickness in us infecting the rest of the world.

Like Pixar has been demanding us to do since Toy Story first came out twenty years ago – we need to look at the difficult things in us. We’ve all had hard weeks and it’s tempting to ask church to protect us from that reality. And what about the guests? We don’t want to bum them out! But I’m starting to think we all need catharsis.

Martin Luther writes in “The Bondage of the Will:”

There is no cure until the disease is diagnosed.

So we confess our sins in church. We let that bad feeling out of its circle. Because stories, fantasy, and play are “…the best means [we] have for taming Wild Things.” But our liturgies and ordinary means of grace – reading the word, our songs, our prayers, communion, baptism, etc – is where the Holy Spirit tames us Wild Things.

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Worship Review 6.28.15 – Inside Out