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

Thirty More Stuffs I’m Thankful For in 2015

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 the Pacific 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 HometownHere’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.

This is Atticus with his uncle Josh. I sometimes accidentally call them by each other’s name. Which is a high honor to both.

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.

Atticus meeting Pooh Bear!

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.

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.  

It’s not the whole team but here’s us rehearsing this past Sunday.

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?

Carne Asada Fries. The best meal ever created. Thai Yin. Some Rights Reserved.

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 Log is 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 EmailsThis 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.

Thirty More Stuffs I’m Thankful For in 2015

Worship Review 6.14.15 – Dragon Skin

An honest confession: I’m incredibly proud of yesterday’s service.

There were two moments where that made me proud as an artist and a pastor.

The first was the Oasis trailer. One of the goals for the Oasis Conference is that we’d all be refreshed by the end. So, I decided to play up the beach theme and there you have it…

As the video was drawing to a close I heard audible sighs of relief and then people giggling as they realized that multiple people sighed.

That was a nice, proud moment.

Oasis is going to be amazing. The conference is Thursday and Friday, August 6th and 7th from 3p-9p. The cost is $25 which covers dinner both nights, snacks, printed materials, liscencing and more…

Right now, while you’re thinking about it, register here: newsongchurch.com/oasis

This weekend we sang:

  • “Psalm 100” by Chris Tomlin
  • “Glory to God Forever” by Fee
  • “If You Wash Us (Psalm 51)” by Tommy Welty (New!)
  • “Forgiven Forever” by Glenn Packiam
  • “This is Amazing Grace” by Phil Wickham

Please consider purchasing these to support the artists. Well, except for one. If you’d like to listen to it this week email me at tommy@newsongchurch.com for a VERY rough demo.

There’s a line in “Glory to God Forever” that makes all the hands go up in the air: “Take my life and let it be all for you and for your glory!” Which is a great and dangerous prayer. But to be honest, it makes me uncomfortable.

There are times when I’m singing that line where I think to myself, “My life has a special purpose.” That’s right, as I’m worshipping God I’m tempted to think about my life and its great purpose. #ironic

But when I encounter the glory of God a spotlight shines deep into my heart and reveals all the uglies that I hide deep down there. God takes my life and I’m first undone, it is too unbearable to behold.

God’s glory shouldn’t first lead to mission, but to confession. Or, it should. It might not be God’s glory if it doesn’t. It might just be emotions.

I wrote “If You Wash Us (Psalm 51)” years ago and have been too nervous to introduce it for two reasons. First, I’m a coward.  Secondly, the lyrical content is a tough pill to swallow. Every week I try and add an element of confession or an acknowledgement of sin, but usually it’s couched in the lyrics or a prayer. And usually I try and soften the blow – also cowardly.

As we were singing I felt the weight of my sin pressing me down. There was no room to think, “Hey! This past week I did alright. I’m a pretty okay guy. Aren’t you impressed God?” No softening the blow.

But as the bridge (“For the sake of Your son, Jesus Christ, have mercy and forgive us…”) built to its climax and released into the Doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessing flow…”) I felt the catharsis of the Spirit revealing my sin and showing me the Cross that removed it from me.

I was reminded of a scene from CS Lewis’ “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:”

“Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.  You know — if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place.  It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . . .”


Bryan Chappel writes in his book, “Christ-Centered Worship:”

We run to his arms with our sin-sick hearts because we know that there is grace sufficient, boundless, and free already there. We repent because we are forgiven, not to gain forgiveness. In our confession we experience God’s love because we confront out sin with the greatness of mercy that is already ours through faith in Christ, but we do not earn, gain, or force God’s pity by the words or weight of our confession.

So we sang “Forgiven Forever” to remember there is nothing we do, or leave undone, that can separate us from the love found in Christ Jesus. No angel, no devil, nor my best effort could. Because of the blood of Christ shed on the cross we are forgiven forever.

Worship Review 6.14.15 – Dragon Skin

Worship Review 5.31.15 – How To Pray

Well yesterday was fun. Goofy and fun. Which, I don’t know about you, was a welcome change of pace for me. I’m glad we have family worship every couple of months. The kids are great.

I’m tempted to write about the deep, heady, theological underpinnings for why we have family worship, and why arranged “Happy Day” the way we did. But, I’d be lying. We have family worship because children matter to God, because Jesus has some stuff to say about children and worship, because the Psalms say stuff about joyful noises, and because why the heck not? And the reason we arranged “Happy Day” the way we did was truly, truly I tell you inspired by none other than Jimmy Fallon. The Bible is quiet on the use of kazoos in worship.

I hope you had fun as well!


(Photo Credit: Jay Juan)

This weekend we sang:

  • “Manifesto” by The City Harmonic
  • “Happy Day” by Tim Hughes
  • “Father, You are All We Need” by Citizens & Saints (New!)
  • “Forever Reign” by one sonic society

I’ve attached a playlist from Spotify but if you enjoyed these songs please consider purchasing them and supporting the artists who wrote them and recorded them so they’ll continue blessing the Church

Eugene Peterson writes in his delightful book on pastoring, “The Contemplative Pastor,” that the:

… primary educational task of [as] a pastor is [was] to teach people to pray.

This weekend’s service was less than subtly working towards the end of prayer. You’ll notice that “Manifesto” has the Lord’s Prayer as its bridge, in the children’s devotion we read a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer, and the new tune (“Father, You are All We Need”) is a retuning of… you guessed it, the Lord’s Prayer. We spent a significant amount of time at the end of the sermon praying at the altar.

Here it is in The Lord’s Prayer from the King James (because, let us appreciate the classical poetry of it):

After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name
Thy will kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil: for thins is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Matthew 6.9-13 KJV

Vocationally, thinking about prayer is a concentration of mine. Every week, as the music pastor, I’m putting words in people’s mouths. These words have the potential and high probability (because of the nature of music) to become the language people pray in. So, the words better be good. Not cheap, easy, shallow words but scripturally rich, gut-wrenchingly honest.

Then I write actual prayers for service so that I don’t sound like a goof (although, I often do) from stage. I script what I hope are spiritually authentic, theologically sound words that I speak in to a microphone with the hopes that God can hear me and maybe like me better.

Reading the story to the kids I was rocked at my core:

When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray he gives them a simple formula that’s easy to understand:

Pray to God.
Give God glory.
Ask for what God wants.
Do what God wants.
Because God deserves it.

It’s first and foremost about and to God. And He alone deserves that honor. The prayer starts and ends with God’s glory. Everything else hinges on God, and our submission to His desires.

Because prayer isn’t about me. It’s not about how good I sound, if I say the right things, if I can get God’s attention. Prayer is about, to, and for God.

And when we forget that and get caught up in what we’re saying we can remember that the Apostle Paul says that the only person who mediates for us is Christ. It’s not on us to make God happy.

We don’t have to pray spectacularly because Jesus prays spectacularly for us.

So when Jesus shows us how to pray he does it because, as Sally Lloyd-Jones says:

…Jesus was showing people that God would always love them with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. So they didn’t need to hide anymore, or be afraid, or ashamed. They could stop running away from God, they could run to him instead. Like a little child runs to her daddy’s arms.

Prayer is not first and foremost a duty to perform is our never ending quest to please God. Because God is most pleased not with our performance but with Christ in us. Prayer is a pleasure predicated on the work of Christ not the work of Me.

God loves us better than we deserve or could imagine. We can confidently pray our mumbly words, our “umms…,” our “Lord just…’s,” our “Father God, we just want to Father God’s,” because God loves us so much he prays for us.

As we sang and read:

Let us have no fear and run to God knowing that as we stumble along the way he is picking us up.

Worship Review 5.31.15 – How To Pray

Worship Review – 5.3.15

This weekend we sang:

  • “Only King Forever” by Elevation Worship
  • “Center” by Charlie Hall
  • “Almighty” by Chris Tomlin
  • “How Great is Our God” by Chris Tomlin

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.

I introduced this new tune this week and we sang the heck out of it. Let me draw back the curtain and show a little bit why I choose this song.

Our God, a firm foundation
Our rock, the only solid ground
As nations rise and fall
Kingdoms once strong now shaken
Be we trust forever in your name
The name of Jesus

The tricky thing about God is that He’s invisible. The Spirit moves through shrugs, whispers, impressions. Signs and wonders are not normative. So due to an assumed lack of objective proof we begin to trust in what can be engaged with our senses. We put all of our trust in the natural world’s obsession with power, position, self-defense, laws, institutions. We build our own kingdoms of work, money, relationships, food, comfort. But the thing about God is that He is above all of that. He transcends all of our imaginary play toys.

In CS Lewis’ “The Silver Chair” the protagonists of the story (Eustace, Jill, Puddlegum, and Prince Rilian) are trapped in a spell underneath the world, and the Lady of the Green Kirtle is trying to convince them that all they can experience with their senses is all that is real, that their story of the above world is a fairy tale. But in the midst of their arguing with the witch Puddlegum has a moment of philisophical clarity.

Suppose we have only dreamed all those things – trees, grass, sun, moon, stars, and Aslan himself. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. When you think of it, that’s a funny thing. We’re just babies making up a game. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world.

God is no slave to our senses and He is far better than the dark pits of the kingdoms we build. He is kind though. He could’ve deserved and demanded our worship on the sole basis of His transcendant character but He chose to reveal Himself:

The Son is the image of the invisble God, the firstborn over all creation. Colossians 1.15

We can objectively see, know, and identify the Son through the reading of scripture; as my favorite Bible paraphrase says: “Every story whispers his name…” In Jesus Christ we have a firm foundation on which to stand. We’re not stuck with abstract religious guesswork and new age spiritual anecdotes. When all around us shakes and falters we stand on the firm, objective name of Jesus.

Verse two of “Only King Forever” continues:

Unmatched in all your wisdom
In love and justice you will reign
Every knee will bow
We bring our expectations
Our hope is anchored in your name
The name of Jesus
We trust the name of Jesus

That’s a lot to unpack I want to hone in on one line: “We bring our expectations”

I have a temptation to judge God and His movement based primarily on my subjective emotional experience of Him. I have expectations that He will heal and provide, to affirm and build up, to strengthen and encourage when I show up and tell Him to. Every heard the phrase “pray expectantly?”

It’s tempting to show up in worship hoping to have our aesthetic desires met: the music moved me, the sermon uplifted me, I put a tenner in the offering so I’m going to get my $20 reward later this week. But, that’s just not God’s agenda. Church is not meant to be where we come to be entertained by Jesus, our trick pony.

Our expectations are crucified with Christ, they bleed out where the nails go in. We expect a conguering king and we get a baby; we expect a tenured professor and get a traveling, homeless rabbi; we expect him to overthrow our Rome and he turns over the tables in the temples of our hearts; we expect him to come over for dinner and he tells us the the bread’s his flesh, and the wine his blood.

The name of Jesus is enough. In the midst of the storms of this life we can anchor our hope, not in our emotional experience, but on the trusty and true name of Jesus Christ.

A benediction:


PS: Even if you’re not a kiddo this is a great primer on the Bible:

The Jesus Story Book Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name” by Sally Lloyd-Jones Unknown

Worship Review – 5.3.15

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 4.12.15

So we shook things up yesterday. We have a pretty set order for what we do at New Song Inland Hills and yesterday that was completely tossed out the window. So let’s chat about why did what we did. And here are the songs to listen to while we chat about it:

God is Great (Hillsong United) – This tune is a a nice bombastic opening to a service. It’s loud, fast, energetic. It lifts our eyes from our own glory to God’s glory and the glory of His name alone. By opening and closing the service we boldy declare that what matters is not our hard work and efforts but His and His alone.

Behold Our God (Sovereign Grace Music) – Last week I quoted 2 Corinthians 3.18 about how as we behold the Lord we’ll be transformed into His image. Last night I was in a Bible study with two of my favorite students at Inland Hills and we were having a great conversation on the John 1.1-34. I told them that the whole point of the Bible, that the center piece of scripture, all of what we believe and all that we should do is summed up in half of a one verse:

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1.29b ESV

Their translations each had that opening verb as “Look!” which feels lame and half-hearted compared to “Behold!” And I asked the students why I thought the “Look!” wasn’t a strong enough verb, even with the exclamation mark. And one of them said that the word “behold” communicates this:

Stop! Drop everything you’re doing and pay attention!

We don’t get better from our sin-sickness by managing ourselves well. The root of sin is self-thoughtfulness. St. Augustine and Martin Luther had this wonderful Latin phrase, Incurvatus in se, meaing that we are curved in on our selves. Sin is inherent naval gazing. But, when the Spirit lifts our heads and we behold the glory God the light of Christ washes out the darkness in our hearts.


Communion – Once a month we remember the mystery of Christ made man, dying our death, rising again, and coming back to reign by receiving communion. One of the mind blowing aspects of Christianity is it’s specificity. Jesus entered into our world at a specific moment, in a specific place. We can walk the same streets as Christ, and the same dust that coated his feet coat ours. Communion is a time when we remember that the omnipresent, omniscienct, immaterial, sovereign Lord of the universe became material. Bread and wine are very real. When we take communion all of our sesnses are engaged with the material reality of our God. He is a God intimately involved in our communal and personal history, our present tense, and in our future histories.

We’ve begun taking communinion differently at Inland Hills, instead of passively receiving communion and individually contemplating in our seats we stand and join together at the table. Psalm 23.5 say that the Lord prepares a table for us before our enemies. The communion table is where God has a set a table for His enemies, and we’re all invited to that banquet. At the table there is no difference between rich and poor, liberal and conservative, young and old, sick or well, male or female, sinner or saint. All of our dichtomities are false at the table. While we wait in line to receive the elements we stand together as one, and for at least a moment, it doesn’t matter who goes first.

There Is A Fountain (William Cowper; arranged by Norton Hall Band) – I love this hymn for so many reasons. But in our tradition it’s a bit macabre out of context, so I’m happy to have introduced it during communion as we begin to understand what is meant by blood.


(Except filled with blood)

This song takes us from the moment of salvation to when our feeble bodies fail and we breath our last. In our short time on planet Earth we have a great hope of life everlasting because of Christ’s blood shed on the cross. I love the fifth verse of this song, Cowper’s lyrics when sung sound like what they are. It’s hard to sing “lisping, stammering” without lisping and stammering.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave
Then in a nobler, sweeter song I’ll sing thy power to save

The song leaves us silent in the grave, which is the reality we all face. But again, we have a great hope…

Christ Is Risen (Matt Maher) – Christ is risen from the dead and death has been defeated. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the grave dwells in us.

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15.26

Our flesh will fail, but God will not. And He has proven Himself trustworthy by going before us in death and defeating it on the third day. How can we keep from worshipping:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the ressurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishablem, undefiled, and unfading, kept in Heaven for you. 1 Peter 1.3-4a

Cornerstone (Hillsong United) – When we behold the glory of God we realize our wretchedness and have cause to tremble. And this is a universal fear. But at the table God makes a way for all, there we are washed in the fountain of God’s love, and we have a great hope that we will rise with Christ. That hope is not built on how good we seem, how hard we try, how rich we are, who we voted for, what church we attended that hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. In our darkest moments of sin and heartbreak God is all the more trustworthy because we know He’s strong to save and never changes. Death was not the end of God and it’s not the end of us, it is only the beginning. And because of Christ’s blood and righteousness we can boldly go before the throne of God and be declared “faultless.”

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4.16 ESV

Worship Review 4.12.15