Friday, April 30, 2004

"Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die." - Anne Lamott

I love this quote. Mike Cope printed it recently in his blog. Anne Lamott wrote Traveling Mercies. If you haven't had a chance to read it, pick up a copy. It's a rather irreverent story of her coming to faith. She was completely lost and into drugs and you name it. She heard music coming from a small little church and wondered in and that's where she began to feel God chasing her. It's a wonderful book.

The quote speaks to many things happening in my world right now. I find myself often perplexed by an unwillingness I see in people to reconcile. I admit my own failures in this area. Sheryl and I sat with Stephen last night and talked about reconciliation. Here are some interesting definitions of "reconciliation" and "reconcile" I found:
1. Restoration to harmony
2. Removal of inconsistency, harmony
3. Synonym--atonement
4. To settle or resolve
5. To make compatible or consistent
6. To bring together, unite
7. To cause to be friendly again

It can be so tempting at times to halt reconciliation in our lives. Forgiveness (if there is such a thing apart from reconciliation) can even seem easier than reconciling at times. As we talked last night about church work and people who can sometimes get in our craw, (whatever that means--my aunt used to always say that. It scares me a little, frankly!!) I kept finding myself struggling with the flesh and the Spirit.

You know, every single message we get in the world today reaffirms our "rights". "You deserve a break today", "Have it your way", "You deserve the best", "Why settle for less?", Loreal's "I deserve it!", Bon Jovi's "It's My Life", Heart's "Even It Up" all speak to this (and this is only a very tiny example). We get into conflict and it's no wonder that we feel the temptation to defend our rights. There are cases where that's a healthy thing to do, but most often we resort to what we hear from the world to guide us in conflict resolution with each other.

We have been reconciled to God. What in the world??? That is truly the most unbelievable thought. So, how in the world could we ever, ever say we have the right to not reconcile with each other? I was convicted last night of a couple of situations where people have been ugly or adversarial over the long haul. There's that part of me that feels like I have the right to close the door of fellowship or refuse to continue down the road of reconciliation. Where have I gotten those ideas? Certainly not from scripture! In fact--let's think about Hosea and Gomer. Mercy! God loves us even though we continue to "whore" (excuse the reference--but it's in the Bible!). What about the parable Jesus told of the ungrateful servant who was forgiven all debts and then went and demanded that those who owed him "pay up"?

No, this is a Kingdom Upside-down. We gave up our rights to have it our way when we embraced the cross and agreed to die to ourselves. I kept trying to think of a situation when it seemed ok--even the most horrible. The more I thought, the more I realized there is nothing that can compare to what we did to the Ancient of Days. Our sins brought punishment and pain beyond our imagination. He DIED for us! We are RECONCILED to Him! How could we ever stand and say we have a right to not reconcile to our brother or sister? It's no wonder we need the cross. It's no wonder we need mercy and grace. We are so stubborn, so difficult. God, in His infinite mercy, gave up His only Son so that we might experience life. Why, then, would we choose death?

Lord, give us all the strength to be brought back into harmony today with each other. Give us a heart that transcends the messages we are bombarded with here. Show us what it means to truly die to ourselves and take up our cross and follow you. We are weak, Lord. We need Your help. We cry out for You to have patience with our learning curves. They are overwhelming at times. You are all powerful and all healing. Give us grace to be more like Jesus.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Enjoying a great day with my dear friend, Stephen. Not much time to write. We are about to head downtown to the label to look at the proofs from the photo shoot. Lunch, ZOE office, sharing music ideas and finishing up Pepperdine planning will take the afternoon.

I am leading this Sunday with Reco. Reco has one of the most amazing voices you've ever heard. He's like Pebo Bryson, but better. He's an amazing vocalist and artist who I met doing the Nashville Gathering at the arena last year. We were both singing. He was singing back ground for Nicole C Mullen. Reco is now at Otter Creek--such a blessing! He brings such a heart to the worship times. He and I will co-lead this weekend. I think it will be really fun.

May God bless all of us today as we continue to chase after His will and heart.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Last night we went to the Abigail Woodard's softball game. Maddie and Ella were so cute. Maddie had her little visor on and her purple and white pom-pom (go Cats!) and was such a little "Sportie Spice". Ella was having a blast just trying to eat rocks. It was so much better than my memories of playing little league. I didn't have a coach like Mike Cope. My coach was more like Bobby Knight. Lots of belittling and cursing. Nice for elementary aged kids, don't you think? Maybe that explains why I dropped baseball. Surely it's not because I lack athletic prowess. Surely.

I have referred to interpersonal turmoil in the office over the last few months. I am resolved not to write much about it because things like this are always better in retrospect. I know many of us who work with teams, whether it's in a church or not, go through seasons of difficulty and miscommunication. The human animal is a strange beast. God's patience with us astounds me.

We are preparing for our Saturday night service this week--asking the question, "what pleases God?" We've all heard a lot of answers to that question including being in the pew every time the doors are open, eating communion in exactly the right way, worshipping in exactly the right way, dressing the right way, going to the right church, etc. Interesting that Jesus responded by saying two things--love God and love others. Love God with all your being--heart, soul, mind, strength--offer Him more than lip service. Be transformed in the way we think and live and act. Love others. Who is my "neighbor"? Is it the religious guy--the faithful church goer--who was too busy with good things to be a neighbor? Who are the people we might have a prejudice against (like they had against the Samaritans) who are really acting like Jesus in our world today? Just a thought.

This afternoon I have a meeting in the village at Fido's with John Mays and Eric to talk through budgetary things regarding the next recording. I have written about my disdain for meetings. However, if there's gonna be a meeting--let's go someplace cool like Fido's! (It's this really weird, trendy coffee shop) Ahh--coffee!!

My brother, Stephen, comes in this afternoon. I am very excited about him being here. It's really the Lord's timing. Don't you love those friends who you've been through everything with and they still love you? That's grace in action right there. It will be great having him here.

Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine, Pepperdine! I can't sleep. Lots to do. Tues night at late night we'll be talking about peace, rest, etc--preparing our hearts for the week ahead. Thursday night at late night, we will concentrate on the wonder of Christ and the gift of redemption. Maybe this will help those of you who are coming know what to expect. I look forward to seeing people at Pepperdine. It's always a great week of fellowship and growth. Please pray for us as we prepare--for physical and spiritual strength. We are doing 2 late night programs, an early morning program, 3 classes and then 5 services at The Shepherd of the Hills Church over that weekend. Very slammed.

Father, I ask you for your eyes today. Help me see people like You do. Help me view conflict like You would. Help me see above the pressing needs of planning to the overall picture of what You want to accomplish. Please keep reminding me that You are in control--not me. Please bless Mike and John and others who are preparing to minister with us in California. Please, father, in the busyness of planning this week don't let me pass a beaten and bleeding person. Help me be a neighbor, a friend, a brother. Father--move in me. Breathe in me. Take the parts that aren't like You--so many--and transform them. You make me lie down in green pastures. You lead me beside still waters (whew! Conviction coming on!!!). You restore--You RESTORE my soul. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, You've told me not to be afraid. Where can I run from You, oh Lord? You go before me--You hem me in! Even the darkness is not dark to You! How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God--how vast the sum!! You are always with me. Praise Your most holy, holy name.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

(insert here music from Flight of the Bumblebee")

Meetings---I am convinced that those who go to the h-e-double hockey sticks place will have to endure meetings all day and all night long. Did I say this plainly enough? I confess my sin before all of you. I am horrible at being in endless meetings. So, having said that, I am off to my NEXT meeting.

It's a long day and a long week. There are many worship orders and logistics to be mapped out. The real challenge for me at this point is to rise above (Neo) and see the big picture. Sometimes it's really hard when you're drowning in logistics. I need to be as prepared as possible, while allowing the peace of Christ to guard my heart. Holy Spirit, rain down!

Monday, April 26, 2004

One addition today--
As a kid, my dad used to scratch my back. I became seriously addicted. I could sit for hours while he scratched and scratched and scratched. Later in high school and college (here comes oversharing) it was almost a requirement that any girlfriend have the spiritual gift of back scratch. HA! Just a funny, quirky, cool thing to me...Maddie is the EXACT same way. The girl wants me to scratch her constantly. You'd think she has a skin condition. She likes her back scratched before bed--then arms and legs. If I am not doing it just right, she'll correct me. (my mom is laughing here) It's times like that when I am convinced Sam Thomas is getting his paybacks. Love you, Dad! Thanks for all those great back scratches! I wish Maddie could see you. She calls you Poppie, since she calls Mom "Nonnie".

God is so good, He's so good to ME!

Life group went well last night. We really didn't do anything major--just worshipped a little and then I handed out the "Spiritual Trees" and talked about what we are going to be doing with them. Paul and Jill will share theirs next week.

It's GMA (Gospel Music Association) week so Jason and Alisha and Jody and Stephanie McBrayer were tied up at the Ryman last night. It will be a busy week for many of us. My best friend/brother/best man Stephen Bailey is coming in on Wednesday. He is doing more and more worship leading--something he is so gifted at--and is coming to look through some material and music. I am really looking forward to him being here. I wish our families lived closer.

This morning we drove out to Crockett Park and took the jogging stroller. After some serious--SERIOUS--swinging and sliding at the playground, we were ready for our walk/jog/run. (Did anyone else have that class at ACU? I always thought that was such a hilarious name for a PE class.) We stopped along the way and the girls got in the Little Harpeth River with their swim shoes on. The water was freezing, but it was an absolutely gorgeous day.

Looks like we are singing at all 5 services at The Shepherd of the Hills Church. Anyone who lives in the L.A. area, please come and spend that Saturday night or Sunday with us. We would love to see you. Check out their website at

Speaking of websites, our Otter Creek website has been up and running now for weeks and I keep forgetting to say something about it. Holly ROCKED in setting it up. Check it out too--

Here's a question. If the post modern movement is going to be characterized by cynicism, wouldn't it eventually collapse on itself? I mean--if deconstruction didn't actually lead to something except deconstruction, what does that really mean? I see there being such a HUGE benefit in deconstruction. We need to be asking why we're doing what we're doing. But, forgive me while I take that to the extreme. Here's a hypothetical example...if we say that the church as we know it doesn't work anymore so we decide to move to home churches. If a post modern is characterized by cynicism, wouldn't he or she come to decide in a matter of a short time that that didn't work either? Here's where I evoke my umbrella of grace. I wonder these things as I try and process and understand these new ideas. I haven't had time or maybe even the courage to share completely where I am with it all. I question constantly. I wonder if we're really making an impact for Jesus. I pray that the Lord will show me what a New Kind of Christian really is. I just pray for wisdom and discernment in these days.

It's funny--I consider myself a person who has always questioned authority including anyone who said things like, "We just do" when asked why we do something. I am always floored when people see me as a "company man". In my mind it's so far from where I feel my heart is. I think about Jesus saying to the Pharisees in the book of Matthew, "You come near to me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me." God has always wanted the core of us. Along the way His people asked for Kings, laws, and other things to help, but what God really wanted was US. To me, this defines my faith. No formula or system brings me to relationship with Jesus, only trying to really be in relationship with Him. And--to me-- that means trying to do the things I saw Him doing, trying to love people in a way I think He might, not being afraid to ask hard questions, and most importantly, trying to take up my cross and die to myself. I want more courage to spend time being intentional about relationships and being involved in the lives of people over worrying about where things are going. Ultimately, our lives and times are in the hand of Jehovah. That is one thing I do know.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

This morning, the "Starbucks lady" overslept. I went by at my usual time and they were just getting there and said, "No coffee for at least 20 minutes." Ug!!! I got to Otter Creek and made myself a very strong pot of Starbucks coffee. (why is that it seems to taste different when you go to the store and pay like $25 for a venti????)

I put on a new CD I got this week of Tommy Walker (he also wrote "He Knows My Name"). There are a couple of songs on there that I have been singing all week. I think the titles are "I Run To You" and "Dwelling Place". I turned it up super loud and sat at the piano and played along with the chord chart and sang with Tommy Walker. It was a great way to wake up my heart and voice.

The team showed up and we began to rehearse. (Great team today!) Clarissa, Justin and Jenna were running through "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" which we were preparing for the invitation (had Clarissa start and added tenor and then alto and then the rest of the team on the chorus). As they were singing, I realized I hadn't seen the sound guy yet. I went out to make sure things were getting going--it was about 20 minutes till service time at this point. The sanctuary was dark, they were just beginning to set up and I knew we were going to be pressed. (Those of you who are in worship and music ministry are feeling that deep sense of understanding.) Thankfully, the praise team was really good today, so at least that wasn't a concern. We got the team in there to help set up. We couldn't figure out monitors, were missing some mic cords, and things were just harried. Our staff technology guy is out of town this weekend and things were just sort of nuts. It is amazing how much that can impact. Our projectors are being cleaned so we have these dinky little ones that barely put out enough light to be seen. It was just one of THOSE days. I hope it's encouraging to know that we all have them. It was second service before I could really catch my breath. (Actually, I think it was first service during "Jesus, Love of my Soul"--GORGEOUS!)

After church we went to eat at Pargo's. Maddie filled up on bread and wouldn't eat anything else. Once everyone got their meals, she wanted to roam the restaurant. We convinced her to stay seated--she was not happy. Sometimes I marvel at how parents manage getting kids in the car, to church, back in the car, out to eat, etc without killing them or ourselves. (I won't even mention Wednesday nights which begin around bed time.)

The girls are in bed, I am in shorts and a T-shirt, and the world is as it should be. :)

Tonight we are having our life group here. My friend, Russ Debenport, in Phoenix showed me something they had worked on called a "tree of faith". It was a tree he had drawn and on the limbs were written the names of people who had impacted his faith walk. I thought it was such a cool idea. Sheryl drew a tree like it last night and we copied it this morning so our life group members can each have one. The limbs are large enough to write names in different places. Once we all get them completed, we'll take the next few weeks/months to share our stories. This is a great way to talk about our faith with each other and share our testimonies. I'll let you know how it goes. Thanks, Russ!

As I was looking for my link today to get to my blog, I stumbled across an old email from Joe Smith. It seems like he's still here. I keep expecting an email update from him. I know my mom always says Sundays are the hardest days to be without my dad. Guess there's something about the craziness of getting in the car, to church, back in the car, to eat and wherever--with your family-- that truly is beautiful. We all have a lot to be thankful for.

Lord, please be with those who feel a deep sense of loneliness today. Help us not take our families for granted. We experience so much love--we're simply spoiled. Thank you, Father. I miss Joe and my dad today. I'm so glad they're with You.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

We got up this morning and went to the Flea Market at the Nashville Fair Grounds. Lots of cool stuff. The best thing about going to a flea market is not having any money to spend. It's purely for sport. What money we had went to hot dogs, nachos, cheetos, and a slurpie. Clearly we have our priorities in balance.

I found out last night that we are booked to sing at The Shepherd of the Hills Church in Los Angeles in a couple of weeks. We were originally going to be doing the "Hour of Power" at the Crystal Cathedral, but since it was Mother's Day, it didn't work out. Shepherd of the Hills is a large Christian church--5-6000 people. It should be a really interesting experience. I have a lot to do still to be ready to leave for Malibu.

My mom took a few days to drive through the hill country in Texas. She spent the night in Fredericksburg, a small German community with lots of cool antique shops and amazing restaurants. Today she is in Groesbeck. That little town has a lot of history for our family. My great grandfather was a State Representative and powerful figure in his community back in his day. Most of my relatives on my father's side are all buried there--dating way back. My dad is also buried there. I think Mom is going to spend some time today at the cemetery and with my aging great aunt Ruby. I am so glad Mom takes time to go do things like that. She inspires me to enjoy every moment we're alive.

Thank you, Lord, for my family. Thank you for the way I can see my dad's goofy smile when Maddie smiles at me. Thank you for the way I see my grandmother at times in Ella's twinkling eyes. Thank you for giving me a wife who I enjoy doing things with. Thank you for the gift of marriage. Thank you for times when we can just enjoy being together and enjoy the warmth of the love You've given us for each other.

Friday, April 23, 2004

I started back to the YMCA this week after a physical vacation for almost 4 months. I am convinced I need the outlet and Sheryl has been gracious enough to allow the time. I am doing this "sculpting class" in the mornings at 7:30. Unfortunately, it's not the kind where you get to sit still and make something. This very fit, very mean Hispanic woman spends an hour making me feel like I joined the army. I am really feeling it today.

I received a letter from a woman in Abilene this morning. She was resonating with some of the thoughts about honesty and seeking. She attached a copy of the testimony she shared at the Highland Church and it brought me to tears. I told her this--but I really believe that the Kingdom of God is being furthered through these types of stories. Whew! What a great way to start my day! (much better than getting my booty kicked by Avelia at the YMCA!)

I got a funny email from my long time buddy, Jeff Nelson, yesterday. There aren't many people who make me laugh and cry all in a matter of moments like Jeff. He mentioned the times recorded on these blogs and asked if I was truly writing at 5am some days--or was I adjusting the time to appear extra Spiritual. I was rolling. Seriously, what's the deal with these blog times? Maybe there's like Blog Central somewhere in Indonesia and the times all reflect that location. Who knows?

I have a phone interview with a writer who was contracted through the record label to create a bio on me and ZOE for our press kit. It's a funny thought to me this morning for some reason. I imagine myself saying something like..."My life has been made up of a series of mistakes and stupidities--all in an effort to serve the Lord. For some reason, He keeps using me. I have no clue why." I really do feel that way. I am not lacking in self confidence--in some ways that's how my fallen nature is most obvious. However, I wake up every day realizing how lost I am without Jesus. There are hints all around me. It is a daily battle to keep my eyes on Him. If I don't, it's trouble!

Lord, allow me to see you today. Open my heart to more of You. Give me the heart of Jesus for people. Give me wisdom and discernment. Jesus, you told us that we would hear your voice and be able to discern it from the voice of the enemy (John 10). I am camping on those promises today. I am listening for you.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

An addition to my blog today--
I should have waited until the day was complete to write. Whatever sense of anticipation I felt this afternoon after writing must have been for a reason. The afternoon seemed ridden with misunderstanding and miscommunication. I had a conversation with someone about McLaren and post-modernity. I won't get into it fully. It wouldn't be helpful. The good news is--it ended well.

I admit my deep struggle in figuring out what we are to be in light of this new age of post-modernity. One thing I promised in beginning this blog was that I would be honest. Honesty includes stupidity since I don't claim to have it all figured out. I just wanted to say that again in case anyone out there joined in mid way! :) I could play this safe and write about things that are nice and neat and that I understand well. Boring! I have written about my own personal struggles at the risk of sounding ridiculous or even judgmental. I just want to reiterate that I believe--even though I am a "professional minister" that I am also a work in progress. I hope to never have the attitude that I have arrived. To me, that seems like certain death. What that means in practical terms is that sometimes there are things that I wrestle with that cause growth in me. The answer may seem obvious to others, but it's necessary for me to go through the wrestling in order to have clearer understanding. Some of those things are what I want to write about here. For instance, my curiosity about the way people respond to the message of resurrection might have seemed like I was saying that unless you turn cartwheels down the aisles, you weren't responding in a spiritual way. What I was actually trying to do was think through how we are conditioned by surroundings, our backgrounds, and personalities in the way we approach even the message of Christ. It's a curious thing to me--no positive or negative assigned there. But, I can imagine that my perplexing thoughts can often come off as judgmental. I really hate that. However, to spend any more time in explanation here would result in redundancy. I just wanted to say again that I write this blog as one who is a flawed individual who just happened to be called into ministry. I will probably say things along the way that don't make much sense. It's like all of us along the journey--sometimes we just have to take time to work things out.

Thank you for walking with me on this journey. I welcome your feedback and have been really encouraged by many of your letters. Please forgive me if I have come across in a judgmental way at any point. The truth is...and I did promise to try and be honest... there might be times when I am judgmental. There will be times when I am dead wrong. There will be times when I will feel faithless, cynical, and hopeless. There will be other times when I might seem a little too "susie sunshine". I just want to write about the journey I find myself on and hopefully, in some weird way, maybe it will be encouraging. (even if it's that you think--whew! At least I'm not that crazy!)

Very heavy day of thought. Not every day is like this, but I can't help but feel like these are important times, formative days. I don't want to miss anything the Lord has for me to learn--no matter how difficult it is to get my mind around. Tonight, I got to lay on the floor tickling and laughing with my girls. At one point we were all laughing so hard we had to catch our breath. Out of all the things I am involved in, sometimes it seems that in those moments I see Jesus the most clearly and feel His joy for me (us). I am so thankful to be His child!

I can't believe it's already after lunch. I don't know how to even capture what today has held so far--not to mention that it's barely half way over.

I had a great walk at Radnor Lake with Don Finto this morning. Don has been one of those Spiritual mentor/ heroes for me. I can't write all we talked about today--there isn't enough time, but as usual, I came out of there with some GOLDEN nuggets. Don was telling me some of the things he has discussed with Smitty about music and calling and asked me what thing causes me to feel like I am operating right in the center of my calling. I told him that when I am leading worship and involved in worship related pastoring and teaching I feel like I am doing what I was created to do. As we talked about busyness, he asked me what things in my life were utterly dependent on my doing them. It was a good question--one I've thought of before. However, a reality hit me as I thought about it. The first thing and maybe the only thing that is really true of is--being a dad and a husband. Beyond those things we discussed ministry related passions, but that definitely impacted me. Don also used an analogy that I want to share with you. (excuse the crass nature of this) In marriage, intimacy leads to sex and sex usually leads to babies. The irony is--a lot of times babies tend to dampen sex and intimacy. (You married folks relate) Don said that ministry can be that way too. Often times intimacy with the Lord leads to ministry and ministry can sometimes squash intimacy with the Lord. I may not be wording this clearly, but it resonated with me. Often times we busy ourselves with ministry to such a degree that we forget the object of our passions. Some of us know those who almost worship ministry over God. Some of us are those people. It's easy to get it all mixed up. I found that extremely convicting today.

I had lunch with a brother afterwards who has been reading McLarin and wanted to discuss. Coming off of meetings about our "post-modern" service, and wrestlings about how to do church better, I am in a place today of realizing that whether we meet in an ancient temple, a beautiful chapel, a warehouse, a cave, a dimly lit sanctuary with lots of candles or a shot-gun style Church of Christ with no windows, the church will always be comprised of fallen people. Our systems, in and of themselves, are fallen. God has chosen to glorify Himself through us--amazing! I don't think Jesus ever meant for all of our time and energies to be spent on how to "nail" worship or have the perfect church. It seems like He was more about relational things. He ate in the homes of tax collectors and "sinners". He touched people. He talked with people who were supposed to be off limits. He answered religious questions with relational and Spiritual stories or questions. How much are we doing that? Are we more concerned with finding new and innovative ways than we are with intimacy with the Lord? (Just questions here, don't freak on me) Or--will we allow the intimate times with the Lord to spill out in the ways we love people. Jesus said--LOVE GOD (all--heart, soul, mind, strength) and LOVE PEOPLE. Are we doing that? Scratch that--am I doing that??

Today has been such an incredible day of "chewing". I really feel the Lord working on my heart. It's one of those good kinds of growing pains. I am not what I will be--but, praise the Lord--I am not what I was. The sovereignty of the Lord--who can fathom? The beauty of His ways--who can comprehend it fully? The intricate workings of His will and His plan--who can predict? The power, the glory, the fullness, the holiness, the purity, the LOVE, the timelessness of the Lord--who can even begin to grapple with these things?

O, Lord, You are beautiful beyond description. There aren't human words to describe your matchless name. You not only give us love, You ARE love. You're not just love-ing--You ARE love. Unbelievable! Indescribable! The matchless name of Jesus! Hallelujah! Father bring glory to Yourself through these weak vessels. Use us, mold us, transform us, fill us. Help us truly embrace all that You are.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Long day yesterday! We got so much accomplished on the fall conference. It was great seeing Cope and Walling. The record label meeting and the photo shoot went well too. Actually, the photo shoot was a blast. I think we all needed that. We laughed really hard all night.

One funny thing I neglected to mention this week about our Belmont experience Saturday night--during communion, Maddie was sitting in my lap and I was crying because I was telling her what the bread and juice were about and she seemed so moved. All of a sudden, she looked at me and in her "outside voice" said, "Daddy, I go poopie in the potty, get panties!!!!" It was a meaningful Spiritual experience for everyone sitting near us.

Had a great visit with Mike Cope yesterday. Mike is so pastoral. He always has been with me. I believe that is a definite Spiritual gift. You either have it or you don't. Some can grow in their abilities, but those who are truly gifted stand out head and shoulders above the rest. Mike is one of those truly gifted pastors. He shepherds with wisdom, Godly counsel, and sincerity that I haven't seen really anywhere else. I admit I am a huge Mike Cope fan, but I believe he's probably the best speaker/ pastor not only in our circles but probably anywhere. Certainly, that sounds like an overstatement. However, if you know Mike, if you've listened to him, or ever worked with him, you know it's not. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today if Cope hadn't pulled me aside and encouraged me to go this route. I resisted it for several years, but eventually, that counsel came to fruition in my life. He allows my mom to partner with him in prayer ministries at Highland. He performed our wedding ceremony. He constantly makes himself vulnerable to me and to those he works with and leads. He isn't afraid of uncovering his deepest hurts so that others can see and learn. I have learned so much from watching him. I am so blessed to have a Spiritual mentor like Mike. We all need people in our lives who push us and challenge us to never stop growing. Maybe his best attribute is that he is a humble man who never seems to take himself too seriously. Seeing that kind of character portrayed is challenging enough.

Scott Owings, another dear brother and mentor, let me borrow a book today by Francois Fenelon--or simply, Fenelon. He was born in 1651 and was an important Spiritual figure in France. Reading just today's thoughts, I can see why. Let me leave you today with these words from Fenelon. Have a blessed day!

"God prepares a cross for you that you must embrace without thought of self-preservation. The cross is painful. Accept the cross and you will find peace even in the middle of turmoil. Let me warn you that if you push the cross away, your circumstances will become twice as hard to bear. In the long run, the pain of resisting the cross is harder to live with than the cross itself."

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Not much time to write this morning. I have an all day ZOE planning meeting and then straight to the photo shoot until 10pm. MERCY!

Ella is walking everywhere! She just decided to go and boy, is she ever going! She is just becoming more and more beautiful every day. Maddie is losing her "babyness" and is just such a little girl. Precious! We are so blessed.

We had a blast at the zoo yesterday. The screaming monkeys are always fun to encounter. Last night Sheryl and I rented a movie--Duplex. It was hilarious. I love Ben Stiller.

Ok--yes, yes, yes--"UNDUE". Thank you everyone.

Turns out it won't work out for us to get some session work done this week on the recording. But--we're still on schedule and everything seems ok. Thank you for the song suggestions from those of you've written. I'm still open to more. Great ideas so far. The solid choices we are working on right now are:

Your Grace Still Amazes Me
For All You've Done (O, Cleanser of the mess I've made)
All Who Are Thirsty
Hear Our Praises
maybe Forever (thanks Ryan!)
and a couple of originals

The Lord is good to us. Maddie keeps reminding me that Jesus loves me. It's good to remember. Sunday night was so powerful as many people took leadership in sharing scripture and words of praise to the Lord at our Celebration service. I think it might be the closest we've come to the idea of all participating in a very long time.

Father, bless this meeting today. Fill us with wisdom and guide us as we plan and prepare for the 2004-5 conferences. I beg that You send Your Spirit to lead us. Help us know how to minister to people beneath the surface stuff. Only You can do that effectively. Show us, Lord. Father, continue to wrap Your arms around the Smiths. Thank you, Lord!

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Yesterday was so nice--being with family, playing at the park, having a nice picnic lunch! Last night we attended the Saturday night service at Belmont--something we used to do a lot. Saturday nights can be hard cause the girls need to get in bed by 7:30 or so to not be monsters on Sunday. So, we were able to stay for most of worship since it started at 6pm. Belmont was my church home before I began working at Otter Creek 8 1/2 years ago. It was such a joy to be there last night. As usual, it was rockin. My favorite Belmont worship leader, Travis Cottrell, led us and the girls had so much fun "dancing for Jesus". Maddie spotted one of the people waving a flag (some of you need resuscitation at this point) and was fascinated. She talked about it all the way home. She wants to wave a flag for Jesus. Maybe on a Celebration service night at Otter Creek? We don't want to cause any undo heart problems for anyone on Sunday mornings. :)

This morning was great. David England offered to lead worship for me since it had been a rough couple of weeks. I was able to help Sheryl get the girls ready and drive with my family to church. I can count on ONE hand the times I have been able to do that over the last 8 years. It was such a blessing! David and the team did a great job with worship. I love being able to experience OC from this perspective. I think it's always a healthy thing to do. At the end of services sweet Becky Foster came forward and shared that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She pulled out her Bible and began to boldly share her faith and belief in God. It was POWERFUL. At the end of it she invited all those walking through trials or just in need of a touch from the Father to come and stand with her--the aisles were full of people coming down to stand with her. I love those moments.

Tonight is our Celebration service. I plan to talk a little about our role in worship and invite the congregation to take a more participative role and even some leadership. We will have an open mic at several points and they will be charged with providing scripture as we share at the table of praise--scripture of high praise or deep worship. Later in the service we will invite people to share their stories. I pray that the Spirit will really move and bless this time.

As for ZOE--photo shoot Tuesday night and then the rest is unknown. We're not sure if we are or aren't starting in the studio next weekend. I pray that this next process will bring excitement and passion and not feel draining. I welcome your prayers in that too.

God, may Your name be praised in spite of our fumblings. May Your Kingdom be advanced and help us not to be afraid of anything that might feel uncomfortable to us that would help your cause. Forgive us for being so small minded and "boxed". I believe You are everywhere--You are well outside the boxes we try and put You in, but You're in there too. Crazy. You are amazing, Lord. You meet us where we are and You extend grace and patience to lead us to new pastures. Praise Your name!

Saturday, April 17, 2004

We had a blast last night on our road trip to Huntsville, AL. We all rode in Reco's Land Rover--Sheryl and I were crammed in the back--plenty to laugh about. Mark Schultz opened for Avalon. We didn't know we'd get to see Mark too. Mark is a great guy. He's performed at Otter several times and our youth love him. Avalon was amazing. Wow. Jana is 9 months pregnant and still singing her guts out. Jody was awesome. We were so proud of him. Stephanie (his wife) was there with her family. We hadn't gotten to see Stephanie in a while either. It was a great reunion. Jody has 6 more shows and then comes home for a while. I know he's ready. It will be great to have him back in town. He convinced us to sponsor a child through World Vision. We thought it would be cool for Maddie and Ella. Her name is Chantal. She's from the Dominican.

We are diving into our next recording project with ZOE. I can hardly believe it. The record is due in June so we have a lot of work to do. We already have a couple of great songs but right now, that's priority. FINDING SONGS! If any of you have any submissions or ideas, let me know.

Still chewing on so many thoughts birthed out of reading McLarin. ( I have typed 7 or 8 sentences to follow this one and decided to erase them all. Sometimes chewing isn't pretty to watch. And right now, I'm not sure I can "chew" with my mouth closed.)

Daren stopped by this morning. Again, I am reminded and blessed by the idea of brotherhood and friendship. God has been good to us. It's gorgeous outside. Time to go play!

Father, please bless Mary. Laney and Justin today. I pray that they would have continued confidence on your healing power. I pray that the loneliness would be overtaken by your presence. I pray that you would give them rest and the peace that goes beyond our comprehension.

Friday, April 16, 2004

I finished reading A New Kind of Christian finally! It has given me so much food for thought. Brian McLarin is going to be our guest resource speaker at the ZOE conference here this fall. That should be really interesting. If any of you have read this book, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Reco, Amanda, Kyle, Sheryl and I are going to Huntsville, AL tonight to support our fellow life group member--Jody McBrayer as he sings with Avalon in concert. Jody just ain't right. No one should be able to sing like that. (Jody is the high tenor in Avalon.) It should be a really fun road trip. We made big posters in support of him (just kidding, Jody).

I am looking for margin in my life right now. Going through these past few weeks with Joe and hearing about the last few years of his life has really convicted me. Also--as I read through the book I mentioned, it convicted me too. I think true ministry has to be about relationships. How can ministers be in relationship like Jesus was with people and still "get everything done". Sometimes in my head I hear Jesus saying, "Martha, Martha, Martha!!!" Obviously, "things" have to get done, but I am honestly searching for ways to be less busy with "things" and more into the lives of people. My friend, Russ, reminded me while I stayed with them in Phoenix that I was like that even in college. Actually, I have been like that most of my life. I find myself consumed in busyness--mostly justifying it by choosing good things. I just want to find a better balance. I realize God made me a certain part of the body. I told Russ that sometimes I long to be the radius or ulna bone in the arm--steady, non moving, a foundation. Instead I feel more like the arm itself--flapping most of the time. I recognize that the "body part" God made me to be causes certain problems--just like anyone else. I just want to be faithful in the way I was created and allow God to continue to mold me into maturity in Him. Have I lost everyone?

I pray that if you're reading this today that you will feel the presence of the Lord with you. Right now I may be uncertain of many things. However, one thing that I am dead certain of is the love of Christ. He has sent us His Spirit. Amazing. We are living in the presence of God daily. What a gift! Lord, help us not take Your gifts for granted today. Let us draw near to You and feel Your nearness. Let us come to You with certainty of Your promises and of Your character. You are our Shepherd. Help us lay down in green pastures today.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Whew. I feel like someone tied me behind a trailer in west Texas and drove all over Anson, Snyder, Hamlin and Sweetwater. It amazes me how emotion can drain me. It's been an emotional rollercoaster over the last few weeks. The trip to Phoenix was really good. I couldn't get my flights to work out with my miles and so I ended up having to use more miles and sit first class (poor me). Actually, poor man sitting next to me. The first leg of my flight I had to wake up this very sound sleeping man next to me so I could go to the restroom. As I crawled over him my booty knocked his drink (entirely full) into his seat. Nice move. When I returned, he was sitting in another first class seat. (Do I know how to get a row to myself or what?)

Hello?? Have you flown first class in a while? These people are holding out on us. I am talking wined and dined, baby. I felt like I was at Thanksgiving dinner. Puh-lease! From the hot towels to the warmed mixed nuts to the appetizer and main course to the wine with dinner--what in the world? Is it my imagination, or does everyone else get those nasty cheese trail mix things in the back of the plane? Unbelievable.

I got there and Aaron took me over to Joe and Mary's. It was amazingly quiet. Everyone had visited all night at the viewing and so they had retired home to get some rest. Russ, Rebecca, Aaron and I took Mary and Laney to this place that was sort of like Denny's. As Russ says--it was a real treat! Actually, Russ treated all of us. And, all kidding aside, it truly was a treat. The treat was to have such concentrated time with all of them outside the crowds and millions of people wanting to be with them. It just seemed so weird to be sitting there without Joe. Weird doesn't even begin to describe it.

Wednesday was a very full day. The funeral was overwhelming to say the least. I sobbed as Laney sang "Poor Wayfaring Stranger"...("I'm going there to meet my father, I'm going there no more to roam"... heartwrenching!). I sobbed as Russ and Justin went up on stage. Justin didn't think he could make it through the reading of a paper he'd written about his dad called "My Hero" so he had asked Russ to read it. Halfway through, Russ had to stop. With tears in his eyes, he looked at Justin and said, "I think I am gonna need some help here". Justin stepped up and finished the beautiful reading. It was truly amazing. The tributes to Joe were so full of life and joy and depth. He loved deeply. He was a true friend. There were those there who had walked with him daily and experienced his friendship in ways I never will know. Dean Selvey is one of those men. I thought about his loss and how his heart is aching. It made me think about the gift of so many friends in my own life. We really do set ourselves up for hurt, ya know? If we are to experience the depths of love and joy and friendship, there's no way around it. We are all terminal. One day I will have to say goodbye to Stephen Bailey and Scott Owings-- to Daren Stanley and Paul Young. What is the alternative?? Do we crawl in an emotional cave and never love deeply or give ourselves fully to our friends because we are afraid of the inevitable? I can say there are times when I have wanted to do this, but amazingly, after this week I only feel fueled to love even more deeply. I see what Joe did for me. I see how he impacted others--the GIFT of relationship! Truly Christ-like. Isn't that what Jesus did for us?

Last night at church (in Phoenix) we did a sort of post-modern night of worship and sharing about how our faith in Christ had been deepened through Joe's life. There were many--MANY--people who shared. Finally, two hours later, the service ended with someone being baptized. Now THAT is an ending. Afterwards, Mary (Joe's lovely wife) shared some things with me that I can't even write. She may never know how much her simple words impacted me. Mary may think that I had some impact on Joe--but, truth be known, he had a greater impact on me. For those who knew him, it's not hard to know that it was that way with most everyone Joe encountered.

Overall, it was a wonderful time of sharing. There were precious memories shared and there was lots of laughter. I feel full--full of emotion, full of thoughts, full of memories--FULL. I found myself thinking almost hourly over the last two days that we could not possibly all be here for this reason. It is so hard to believe our friend, Joe, is gone from this world. I will miss his hugs. I will miss his calming presence. I will miss his trust and honest sharing. I will miss having him ask me questions--LIKE I KNEW ANY ANSWERS! I will miss his passion for Jesus. I will miss hearing his soothing voice. One thing is certain, however, almost all of the things I loved about Joe were because they were a reflection of Jesus and we know that He is the Ancient of Days and walks hand in hand with all of us. What a blessing to have known Joe Smith, but what an even bigger blessing to intimately know the Jesus we both love.

Love you, Joe-

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I am preparing to leave for Phoenix. I am filled with to be with my friends there, and sadness at the reality I know will sink in while I am there. The sadness is purely selfish because we all know that Joe is MUCH better off. He's where he's always wanted to be. What a comfort to know he is in the arms of Jesus.

Funny story--Maddie woke up from her nap yesterday-- obviously still dreaming. As Sheryl leaned over her bed Maddie said, "Mommy, you wanna be like a broccoli and go like this?" (She lifted one arm up over her shoulder and made a claw with her fingers.) Nutty.

I won't blog again until Thursday. Today is my lovely wife's birthday. If anyone would like to send her birthday greetings, please do! She is so gracious to send me to Phoenix. Thankfully, she's in good hands with Amanda, Jill and Kim. Such sweet friends! What gifts we all have in relationships! We are rich beyond measure.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Yesterday was such a special Easter Sunday. The monologues were absolutely awesome. The music turned out great and Jack and Jill Maxwell's drawing was incredible! It looked like Jesus had his eyes closed until close to the end and when people raised their heads from the prayer, Jesus was looking at them. It was a neat effect. I felt really great about the whole day. I think God was glorified by our energies and I believe people were encouraged.

It is interesting, however, to sit in front of the congregation. If we all had a mirror in from of us, I wonder if our facial expressions would change. There were moments yesterday when my feelings about "church" and what we have done to it burdened my heart. Most people seemed genuinely engaged (I mean, how can you truly judge someone's heart as to what they are feeling on the inside?), but there were a good number of people who just had blank expressions. There were several times I thought--what are we doing here? What are THEY doing here? It needs to be said--these are not "seekers" or new Christians. These are people with outgoing, gregarious personalities who seemed to completely shut down during the celebration of the resurrection. It's a truly curious thing to me. As I said, only God knows hearts, but I wondered if there were those there who didn't know the Lord and saw them. I wondered what they must be thinking. ("Man--they don't even believe this stuff!")

Having said that, I think we all deal with resurrection in our own way. Clearly, we should fall to our knees in thanksgiving and awe. I just know that there have been different places and times on my journey when the joy came more naturally. Other times, it was a "sacrifice of praise". No matter what, whether we rejoice or sit stoically, Jesus did RISE! He is ALIVE! Not even death could keep Him down. If He can conquer death, surely He can change our hard hearts.

Please, O Lord, bring resurrection to Your Church. Please, O Father, reign down revival. Please, Holy Spirit, rekindle the flame that burns for You. Praise Your holy name!

Sunday, April 11, 2004

What a beautiful Easter morning! We have been telling Maddie all weekend that this morning we are having a party to celebrate Jesus. Isn't that more like what we should do? Sometimes I think we worship the form of "church" over the actual Being we've been called to give glory. I am so grateful for a love that refuses to let us go. I am thankful for His mercies--like a river without end.

We have two big services today and then I can turn my attention to heading to Phoenix on Tuesday. It will be a wonderful morning.

Thank you, Lord for all the hearts of those who love you who woke this morning with a sense of expectancy. Thank you for all the hearts who are longing for something, but who aren't sure what it is. Thank you for all those who seek You. Thank you for all those who are empty and needing a filling. Help us carry out Your great commission. Help us be your hands and feet to the lonely, the tired, the desperate, the searching. Thank you for being the Lover of our souls! Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Saturday, April 10, 2004

The Good Friday service went well last night. I must admit, it was extremely difficult to lead it. My mind was a million other places. I had moments of true regret yesterday. I think I did the right thing by staying, but just knowing Joe's gone made me very sad all day. I am thankful that he is out of pain. Cancer is such a cruel disease.

OC Easter egg hunt this morning. Maddie and Ella had a great time. These kids are all growing up so quickly.

My mom is here. (The girls call her Nonnie) It's really fun to watch them with her. I praise God that she survived her bout with cancer so that she could be with our kids.

Tomorrow we celebrate resurrection. It will be a welcomed celebration after the week we've had. Such hope! Although my heart feels the hope, I find that I am so exhausted emotionally that it's difficult to show it. I am truly pumped about Jack and Jill Maxwell being on stage tomorrow doing their drawing. I saw the print this afternoon of what they plan to draw. AMAZING!

Thank You for the cross, Lord!
Thank You for the price You paid--
Bearing all my sin and shame,
In love You came and gave amazing grace.
Thank You for this love, Lord!
Thank You for the nail pierced hands.
Washed me in Your cleansing flow,
Now all I know, Your forgiveness and embrace!

Worthy is the Lamb,
Seated on the throne!
Crown You now with many crowns,
You reign victorious!
High and lifted up,
Jesus, son of God!
The Darling of Heaven crucified,
Worthy is the Lamb!

Friday, April 09, 2004

About 10 minutes ago, Joe went Home. He took a few last breaths after a relatively comfortable night. Mary was with him when he passed. It was just as it should be. The family is in with him right now. Russ spent the night over there and said they are all doing as well as can be expected. They are going to let us know about arrangements this afternoon as soon as they know. Let’s remember to praise God today for the life that touched us and for Jesus who died so that we could experience hope in times like this.

Thank you, Father for giving us such joy filled days with our friend, Joe. I ask you, Abba, to surround Mary, Laney and Justin. Sustain them. Hold them. Comfort them. Sing Your love over them.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

No news yet this morning on Joe. Hospice came and helped him move home yesterday afternoon. I am so thankful that he is there now. I think it will be much more comfortable for everyone. Thank you, Lord!

Eric flew out last night to be with Joe. I am so jealous that he's there. I pray that he will be our hands and feet in encouraging all of them.

We got word that Sheryl's dad was in the hospital with what they think is congestive heart failure. Geez! When it rains, it pours! He is actually doing ok right now, but Bob has had so many heart problems that it's always serious and it's always scary for all of us.

With Bob being in the hospital, my mom coming today, and having to be here for all the Easter stuff over the next couple of days, I decided to wait to fly to Phoenix until next week. It was such a hard decision. I literally was vacillating back and forth every 30 minutes yesterday. Poor Aaron and Russ. I think I drove them crazy trying to get help deciding. I want to see Joe so badly, but my guess is with everything else happening here with Bob and stuff, he'd tell me to stay put. I think by going next week I might be in a better place to offer some ministry too. He knows I love him and I know he loves me. Being able to communicate to him by phone yesterday was very meaningful for me. That helped.

ZOE met last night with Tedd Kidd to work on a video for the Smiths. I think it will be a good thing. It was heart wrenching for everyone. Tedd and I had a great talk about the mysteries of life and why God allows certain things to happen. Tedd lost his wife suddenly a couple of years ago--she was in her 40's too.

Rehearsal went extremely well last night. The choir sounds amazing! The songs are working perfectly. Clarissa has outdone herself with these arrangements. I wrote about the song "For All You've Done" recently. (O, Cleanser of the mess I've made...) It sounds so great! What powerful lyrics!

This morning I have felt overwhelmed with blessings. My daughter was singing with the ZOE live CD on the way to school. I looked back at her and she had her eyes closed and was really "into" it. It was so cute. She had her head up sort of Stevie Wonder style and was just worshipping! What a blessing. Then, I sat at my computer this morning and read an email from a dear brother in Nashville and felt so thankful and blessed to have the gift of friendship in my life. God is good. He really is. Even in times of confusion and doubt, He gives us sign after sign--word after word--reminding us of His faithfulness in our lives.

Thank you, Father. Thank you for friendship. Thank you for Joe, thank you for Daren. Thank you for Aaron and Russ and all those who are hurting right now. Thank you for Mary, Laney and Justin and the faithfulness they are exhibiting as they deal with this difficult time. Thank you for Sheryl--her undying love and devotion to me and our girls. Thank you for Amanda and all those who minister to us so faithfully. You overwhelm me, Father. Thank you!

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Such a long day yesterday. It felt like I just watched my cell phone all day, waiting to hear word on Joe. I talked to Aaron probably 10 times yesterday. I told him I felt like I was stalking them! It's so hard to be far away.

This morning, Joe woke up about 5am and opened his eyes. He was alert enough to focus on things and follow people with his eyes, but still wasn't saying anything. Aaron called me about 9:00 and told me what was going on. He said the kids had been able to go in and spend time with him while he was more alert. I told him to tell Joe that I loved him and Aaron said, "tell him yourself!" He took the phone over to Joe and I got to talk to him for a few minutes. He wasn't able to say anything back, but I got to tell him how much I love him and how many prayers were being offered for him from Nashville. Aaron said he was responding with his eyes as I talked. That made my whole day! I was so grateful to get to talk to Joe.

Mary is moving Joe home, Lord willing, this afternoon. Hospice will come and assist them. I am so glad they are planning to do that. I think it will be much more comfortable for him there.

God, please cover Joe, Mary, Laney and Justin with Your loving hand today. Continue to fill Joe with peace and assurance. Please be with Aaron and Russ. Give them strength to get things done. Father, be with those who love Joe. Teach us how to give him back to You. Give us wisdom as we try to make decisions about travel and other things. Bless Laney and Justin in a very special way. Burn these memories deep into their hearts. Give them moments of laughter with Joe today. Father, protect them from the evil one. May this experience serve to deepen their faith in You. Speak to them, Lord. Speak clearly.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Last night I got in bed and couldn't go to sleep. I was thinking of our good friend, Joe Smith, who has come to mean a great deal to our family and the other ZOE members. I met Joe several years ago at the conference in Nashville. He was a kindred spirit. Later he was diagnosed with cancer and when we went to Tucson in 2000 we prayed over his family. I remember that night. We sang "A Shield About Me" and "Had It Not Been the Lord". There was such a feeling of family and of healing. Joe became an important part of the ZOE experience for me. Over the last few years it didn't seem like a conference was right unless Joe was there. In Nashville, He and I would steal away and laugh and talk together. We would hide out in the ZOE office to eat or find a place to go and talk. In the tornado-like atmosphere of busyness that weekend, he was usually a respite for me.

A couple of years ago in Malibu, Joe and Mary kidnapped me and we went and had tacos and talked about the challenges of raising kids. Laney was going through some stuff and they were concerned--sick over it. (Laney is now a senior in high school and on fire for the Lord!)

This year in Fresno, I was walking down the hall and saw Joe and immediately started crying. It was ridiculous. I was mad at myself. I just saw that "look" in his eyes that I recognized from my own dad who had cancer. He wasn't looking good. I tried to pull myself together and enjoy being with him. We laughed a lot and Joe even got to be a part of the conference--sharing a testimony about his pocket watch and the gift of more time. Saturday night after the conference was over I told him that I was having difficulty dealing with some anger I was feeling. (I was mainly feeling anger at myself that I didn't have more faith because I could not shake the feeling that this was our last time together.) I told him that I was just mad that he was having to go through this. He just smiled an hugged me.

I didn't have to lead worship that Sunday morning so I got to sit with him and listen to him sing. What a gift that was--worshipping with my brother. After worship he turned to me and said, "I know what you were trying to say last night but couldn't. I know what you're feeling and it's ok. I feel it too and it's ok to be mad." Of course, I lost it and thanked him. Sometimes God gives us understanding that words can't describe. It's a gift. We decided that we could hang out some in the airport after church. We had separate flights but I waited with him after the group had gone to our gate. We talked about the mundane. I promised to call more. We exchanged a look that spoke things we were too afraid to say outloud. I think we both knew.

So--last night I lay there thinking about Joe. I kept saying to myself--GET UP! I wanted to go get the phone and call him. I reached over for my watch to look at the time and saw that it was 11pm our time--that meant 10pm his time. I had called recently around 10pm his time and was afraid I had woken them up. I decided I would call today. This morning I got a call from Aaron (one of our mutual friends in Phoenix). Aaron told me that Joe was not good. It should be only hours at this point. He stopped responding last night around 10pm their time. I couldn't believe it. I keep thinking--if I had called, maybe I could have talked to him.

Why is it that we hang on so tightly to this fleeting life? Just one more exchange. Just one more laugh. Joe is staring VICTORY in the face. Laney, his 18 yr old daughter, is there singing over him--singing the songs of faith that Joe loves. We are left to wait. We wait for Joe to enter his reward. We wait for God's plan in our own lives to continue. We wait in eager hope that one day we will not have to face death like this anymore. We tell ourselves that we are a blade of grass--here today and gone tomorrow. We condition ourselves to open up to love and loss and painful things again. We wait with eager anticipation for the day we will all be reunited with Jesus. Mary, Laney and Justin are waiting. I imagine Laney watching her dad's chest go up and down as I did, wondering how it will feel when he is gone. Mary whispered to Joe this morning that he shouldn't hold on anymore. He's been faithful. He's waited and LIVED. What do we do in waiting?
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Don't lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight."

If you're reading this today--Tuesday--please lift up Joe, Mary, Laney and Justin Smith. They are waiting faithfully. They know this isn't the end. But the pain, grief, confusion, and aching are very real. God, please send Your comforter to surround them. Wrap Your arms of love around them. Allow them to feel you there, holding their hands.

We are a moment
You are forever
Lord of the ages,
God before time.
We are vapor,
You are eternal,
Love everlasting
Reigning on high.

We are the broken
You are the healer.
Jesus, Redeemer,
You're mighty to save.
You are the love song
We'll sing forever,
Bowing before You,
Blessing Your name!

Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Highest praises, honor and glory
Be unto Your name.
Be unto Your name.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Sunday was a good day. Sunday night we had our life group over and it was a good time of fellowship and sharing. We discussed how to put our faith into action. We talked about what we felt would connect with people who aren't "Church goers", and we talked about what kinds of things Jesus might be doing if He were here. It was a great night.

Yesterday afternoon, I got the phone call I had been waiting on. As I had imagined, Don (the older gentleman I referred to last week who I had contacted for some mentoring) had been out of the country. He frequently travels to Israel. He asked me to go walking at Radnor Lake, but since we were having people over I knew I needed to stay and help prepare everything. We did talk a bit though. It was encouraging--even just those 10 minutes. He told me he would love to play that role in my life and that he often walks with Michael W. Smith and serves as a sounding board and mentor for him. I figure if it's good enough for Smitty...please! Don has pastored so many people and has provided words of wisdom in some very difficult times for me. We plan to get together the week after Easter. He did go ahead and offer that if I were feeling tired, burned out, etc--that I was definitely doing something wrong. There's some news. I recognize my tendency to go about this life on my own strength. I know that is a struggle. I anticipate Don nailing me on that point and others. I had a feeling of thankfulness after we talked. I feel God's hand in this. I am so grateful for Don's willingness to share his time and wisdom with me.

We bought an outdoor patio set for Sheryl's birthday (coming up on April 13) at Target. It was still a little too cold to eat outside tonight so we sat at the table and just watched the patio set...sad! It's time for summer!!

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Spring Forward! Why is it that the time change this go around usually feels like a hard shove instead of a "spring"? All I know is that the bird outside my window that has been singing waaaaaaay too loudly at 5am these last few weeks didn't warm up until around 6 and I was already up! Isn't it sad to want to shoot a sweet little bird first thing in the morning? "tweedle tweedle tweet" (over and over and over and...)

My buddies at Starbucks this morning were certainly feeling the time change. Every time I see them I think of Sheryl working at Olive Garden and having to deal with "Sunday dressed Christians". I try and speak some word of encouragement, but at 6:30, there's usually not a lot to say. I usually get a laugh out of them one way or another though.

Last night went well. My favorite part of Saturday nights to date is still the stations. I love being able to go and meditate or do whatever exercise is planned. Last night the 4 stations looked like this:

1. The prayer station--you could go and be prayed over at any point during the service. Sheryl and I went back and Scott and Lisa Owings laid hands on us and prayed. There is just something so powerful about praying for each other. I constantly underestimate how rejuvenated that will make me feel.
2. Journaling station--last night the exercise was to write things that are uncertain in your life and then on the back to journal what God might have to say about those things--or how He would speak "light" into them.
3. Secret Sin--at this station you were to write things that you were harboring in your heart--deeds, attitudes, etc. on a piece of velum that was attached to another piece of paper. Then you were to hold it up to a light at the station and when you did you saw scriptures about light shine through the things you had written on the velum. Extremely cool.
4. The Supper--at the front there were a couple of people to receive those who wanted to take the Lord's supper. I love that. To me, that seems to get more at the point of "communion" anyway. Definitely one of my favorite things each time.

I find myself thinking a lot about my home church in Dallas (maybe today it's because that's how that church used to do communion every week). Lake Highlands is a quirky little place, but the lives and hearts of those people have impacted me so much over the last 15 years. If you're ever in Dallas, go visit. The preaching is completely real and challenging. Jim Reynolds talks about his own struggles as an attorney in Fort Worth. His real life struggles and desire to be Christ in the workplace come to life in his sermons. David and Donjalea Chrane are the worship coordinators and leaders. So many people know of them because of the power with which they lead and they authenticity they bring to ministry. That place is on fire. I am grateful for the way it still affects me--700 miles away.

This morning I sit here praying for our assemblies and asking God to show His face to us. I pray that we will get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do his work. I pray that true ministry will happen. I pray that conviction, healing and restoration will occur. I pray that my heart will be sensitive to the Spirit's timing as I lead worship. AND--I pray that the praise team remembered to set their clocks ahead. AMEN!

Saturday, April 03, 2004

It is beautiful here today! Wow--what a great Spring day! We had fun last night with our friends and Mr. Disney. It was nice to be out as adults enjoying adult conversation.

We spent the day out and about shopping for Easter stuff at Michaels, eating at our favorite Baja Burrito and then playing at the park. I am at the office now preparing for our Saturday night service.

It's hard to believe that Easter is almost a week away. There's so much left to be done. I am trying to take it one day at a time.

Last night Sheryl had an interesting dream. It would be hard to believe that God's hand wasn't in it. In her dream she saw us in the future and doing certain ministry related things. It was exciting to talk about. Of course, in her dream, we were also at the beach talking to people. What can be wrong with that??!

Tonight the theme is about light and darkness. I do believe that there is no darkness at all in Christ. But, sometimes that gets translated in such a way that I feel like we say to those going through valleys that it can only be light. I completely believe that Christ brings his light into our souls in ways we could never understand. However, I also think that because of the nature of this world, we have times when we have to walk through shadows and when illumination seems elusive. What about being faithful during those times? I am looking forward to this service. I think it will be encouraging...and I LOVE hearing John Catchings play cello.

Interesting talks with my buddy, Woodard. Interesting talks with one of our Elders, Fred Ewing. Interesting thoughts running through my head while reading A New Kind of Christian. Perplexing thoughts and feelings as I try and relate my current situation to the things I am reading in McLaren's book. Most of it is hitting me between the eyes. Some of it is lost on me. Interesting times we're in--we, the Church at Large.

God be with us. Show us what it means to be Jesus in today's world. Can we do it in our current form? Or, are You preparing us for a brand new wineskin that might completely shake our paradigm? Your thoughts are not our thoughts. Your ways are not our ways.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Back back train and get your load...

What the heck does that mean anyway? My college roommate/best man/alter ego is in an interesting situation right now. He has been in the business world for the last 8 years and now is considering going to work for a church. He is finding out how different those two worlds can be. The guy who's been leading at the church he is looking at leads the song called "Get Right Church" almost every Sunday. I probably shouldn't comment further...but again, I ask, back back train???

Sheryl had a much needed night out with our friend Amanda Brooks McKinney last night. It was so wonderful to hear her talk about it when she got home. Sheryl and Amanda are good for each other. I think it's always good to have a friend who can relate to you on the deeper levels. Amanda is so gifted! She and Sheryl both have the voices of angels. I am so grateful for her friendship to Sheryl and for loving our kids so much.

Tonight we are going out with Jason McArthur and Alisha Swindol and a friend visiting from Orlando who we affectionately call Mr. Walt Disney. Charles is a "big wig" with Walt Disney World and just happened to be a ZOE fan. Jason met Charles when he was out there with one of his artists from Reunion Records. He was floored to find out that Charles not only knew about ZOE, but had come to one of our conferences. Charles invited our family to Disney World in January. It was AWESOME! He completely fixed us up.

Otter Creek's new web site is up and running. Holly has done an amazing job. If you get a chance--check it out!

Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, April 01, 2004

The meeting with the record label went well yesterday. After all that, we decided to only cut one song. It's hard to piece things together on a live recording--especially an a cappella recording. We got to preview the packaging and see all the finished art work. It's looking great!

Rehearsal for Saturday night went well. JV and John Catchings are playing--what talented men! John is a world renowned cellist. He stays so busy that it's hard to plug him into Otter Creek stuff. I am really excited about him playing Saturday night. JV, of course, is an amazing pianist. Working with them made things seem so easy and quick. I am spoiled to be surrounded by such gifted people.

Rehearsal for Easter followed and also went well. We rehearsed "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" (a cool arrangement that Clarissa put to paper from weird thoughts in my head), and "Your Grace Still Amazes Me". It is a fun group singing and they sounded great!

I got home and my kids were already in bed--but just barely. I went into Maddie's room and her head was on her pillow. I leaned down and she just gave me this great sly grin. She said, "Daddy, you know what? I love you!" I just beamed. She then followed it up by saying, "You know what else? Jesus loves you!" That was it for me. Such a great reminder. I am so glad that He reaches out to us in so many ways. Sometimes it feels like Chinese water torture when you're on the run from Him. Other times His voice is like the soft rain--constantly tapping on your shoulder. Last night I went to bed feeling drenched in reminders of His provision and power in my life.

God is so good.
God is so good.
God is so good,
He's so good to ME!