Monday, May 31, 2004

When I was a kid I had a go-cart. I spent half my childhood on that thing. I also had a helmet--that I never wore. It stayed in the hall closet waiting for me in the case of a tornado. I had serious tornado phobias. I remember only one or two times I sat in the closet in fear of the impending tornado with my awesome red go-cart helmet on.

Last night the Thomas family spent about 45 minutes in the downstairs middle bathroom. It was around midnight and we were getting severe weather. It was pretty comical because we actually squeezed the pack-n-play in there too. Thankfully, the tornados passed us, but many places in middle Tennessee were hit.

We just got back from seeing Shrek 2 (or as Maddie calls it, "Twek"). It was so great! The kids loved it. Ella began the laughter even in the previews. She had a great time.

One last thing...last night as we were praying, Maddie was listing off the things she was thankful for (heads, hats, lions, etc). After listing several things she said, "Oh, and I thankful for Jesus in the boat saying 'Peace be still'." I probed a little and she told me that "Mrs. Joyce" had shown them a picture in class that morning. In case any of you ever teach 2-3 year olds, don't underestimate what impact you're having.

It's been 2-3 weeks now of vacation...from the gym. Time to try and undo what I have spent the last few weeks doing. A friend told me about this new documentary called "Supersize Me". It's about a guy who only ate McDonalds food for 3 months. He went into kidney failure and all other sorts of tragic things. On that note, I think I'll get back to my Memorial Day corndog.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Final track listings for the fall release are due this Tuesday. (insert boisterous, knee slapping laughter here) Yeah, um, sure.

Thankfully, the folks at the label are really excited about what they have heard so far. We have a new engineer, a new studio, and a new production philosophy. Maybe all of those things together are giving a fresh sound. I am just glad they are feeling good about it. They are talking about a potential release of one song to radio this time. Not sure how that would work, but it's a cool thought, nonetheless.

Sheryl and I had a great date last night. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Changs. (Lettuce wraps and Chang's spicy chicken) The movie (Raising Helen) was absolutely wonderful. I highly recommend it. It is very funny in places and extremely touching. Having both lost a parent, we found it hard to fight back the tears in places...not to mention being parents and cringing at the thought of our kids having to endure loss. It's a wonderful movie.

More later. Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Yard sales...such an interesting venture. It's a game, really. People buy your junk and want to talk you down on the price. The real truth is, I would take about anything for this stuff. Junk! We were able to have some nice conversations with some interesting people today as well as hanging out with our friends, Paul and Jill and Paul's parents.

Sheryl and I are having a date night. Praise the Lord! I think we are going to see Raising Helen. We've heard good things about it. I'll let you know. We plan to start off the night at our favorite eating place...P.F. Chang!

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Friday, May 28, 2004

3 things today--

First, I have added some links. There's a picture section of family and ZOE, there's a link to my mom's new blog (quite the accomplished writer), and a link to Clint Lagerberg's web site. Clint wrote "For All You've Done" (O Cleanser of the mess...) and played guitar on that cut on Point of Grace's new record due out this fall. He's a great guy. Check out his site.

Second, last night Maddie and I were doing our typical nightly routine. We sat in her chair in her room and as I scratched her back we said our prayers. I've started trying to help her with some direction as we pray--which has only added to the sweetness and hilarity. I'll say something like, "Ok, now let's think of people we want to pray for or who we're thankful for." She'll pray for anyone and everyone. Then I might say, "Ok, now let's think about things God has given us that we would like to thank Him for." Last night she immediately replied with "thumbs!!" So, we thanked God for thumbs. After thumbs we went on to thank God for faces, necks, windows, beds, etc. In the middle of this Maddie looked at me and said, "What is a shepherd?" (I've been saying the 23rd Psalm with her every night but it's been over a week since we've done it--amazing what sticks in kids' heads!) I tried to explain that a shepherd is someone who takes care of things. I said that "like Mommy and Daddy take care of you and Ella and feed you and hug you and protect you and show you how to do things--that's what God does for all of us and that's one way He is like a shepherd." As soon as I had finished saying that Maddie said, "I like that." We then said the first part of the 23rd Psalm and talked about what it means. Maybe I am crazy, but it really seemed like she understood. What a cool moment. You can't buy moments like that. I have dreamed all my life of what it would be like to be a dad. Moments like that one are dream fulfilling for me. Thank you, God for the gift of children!

And, lastly, quite possibly THE funniest funeral story I have ever heard, and I have heard quite a few. Rubel was doing a funeral last week and had a humorous interaction with one of the relatives. The relative was giving him a hard time about his cell phone and predicting it would go off during the funeral. Rubel was determined not to let that happen and had his mind one it as he went back to talk to the sound man. The family wanted a song played at the end of the funeral--the woman's favorite song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Rubel gave the CD to the sound man with instructions on which track to play. The funeral went well, without a hitch. The end came and it was time for the song. The sound man pushed play. Unfortunately, the track he played was not "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Can you guess what it was??? Yep... "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead".

I howled laughing. I told this to a group of singers this morning right as we were about to sing in a funeral. Stories like that always help lighten the mood. You watch...this will become the next Urban Legend (but--it's true. You heard it here!!!) Maybe you have heard some funny stories like that one you'd like to share--click "comment" below and share them with us.

Have a great Friday and Memorial Day Weekend, everyone. Blessings on you and your families.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

I know it's faulty logic, but one would think that the actual car dealer would be cheaper than some random mechanic because the things they need would be at their fingertips. Clearly, car dealerships do not follow my line of logic. The very nice, random mechanic is charging us considerably less. This means we only have to sell one of our children instead of both.

This morning we had a staff intreat. We played a fun get to know you type game and then began to talk visioning. The get to know you game consisted of 3 questions. Here are the questions and answers...maybe you'd like to comment on what your answers would have been.
1. Earliest memory?
--Mine is at my 2nd birthday party. I have a distinct memory of my great grandmother being there. I remember the cake (the perfect yellow smiley face cake. After all, it was 1971) and the table and the people around me.

2. Most notable accomplishment that people might not know about?
--I had a pig named "Wilbur" who I showed as a 4-H project in 4th grade. He was awarded Grand Champion Hog. (From pigs to cruise ships...such a sordid past)

3. Last book you've read?
--Bare Naked Truth (I picked this up at the Emergent Conference)

Anyway, if you feel like sharing, post some of your answers below.

We talked visioning for the last bit of the morning. As we go into this huge fund raising campaign over the coming months for our building project, it's important that we know where we are headed. I have found myself completely conflicted in many of these discussions. It's weird to feel a lack of certainty, especially when you're in leadership. Is this the best thing? Is this the right choice? Have we been faithful in the little things? Will everything become money centered? Do I have the energy to tell people to give money to something that I am not completely convinced of myself?

When I boil it all down, the biggest benefit I see in this move is the potential to impact culture inside and outside of Otter Creek. I think there could be some really exciting things happen in that regard. We need space. We need classrooms. We need parking. We need a building that isn't 50 years old. But...those things only slightly get my passions going. The thought of starting afresh and being able to speak to things in our Family of Faith that aren't even related to $$ is the most exciting part of all this. My biggest fear, however, is that we will lose sight of those things and our time and energies will be eaten up by fundraising. I beg the Lord to shield us from that.

And, finally, two words...Fantasia Barrino!!! I was excited for her last night. Why is it that someone who has fought through difficulties and who allows her scars to enhance her "presence" captures peoples' hearts so quickly? Is it because we hunger for authenticity? Is it because we all, deep down, like to root for the underdog? Is it because those "scars" really do enhance her performance and give her an edge over other contestants? Maybe it's all of the above. The interesting thing to me is that while we may agree that those things are true in music or the world in general, we certainly don't practice that in church work. Ministers seem to do anything to protect themselves from allowing weakness to show. (I guess most everyone does--whether people of faith or not.) I know I am guilty of that almost every day. I just wish we all had a little more Fantasia in us. The genuine, no pretense, raw qualities we see in her might help us speak to those who have decided to close the door on faith, or even more so, the church.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

I have decided to add a comment section to the blog. I look forward to dialoguing with many of you. If, for some reason, you hate my blog, all comments of that nature should go to Mike Cope. Thanks. :)

First things first--
John Creech DOES NOT have Cystic Fibrosis! THANK YOU, LORD!!!!!

I am sitting at my desk feeling quite the Bohemian. Those days at the beach allowed me to come back nice and crispy. Wow--I was like a 5 year old as we left yesterday. I had to try really hard not to pout about having to return to the real world. What a glorious time! The girls were so adorable. Maddie and Ella both got quite brave in their water explorations.

It was fun having Amanda with us. Bless her--my air conditioner compressor went out on the way down and since she had to be back Monday night, she left early and drove my Blazer back. I just drove it about 20 miles to the dealership to have it fixed and was completely drenched in sweat. I can not imagine going 7 hours in the heat of the day. Ug. Sorry, Amanda!

The Chisums came to see us our last day at the beach. It was fun visiting with them. Ali is now 11--so hard to believe. She was so sweet with our girls. Donna hasn't aged a bit. John brought a rough of the songs we recorded with him the other night. They sounded great! His project will be called, "A Table in the Wilderness". It is really wonderful and based on the 23rd Psalm.

We got in last night around 1am. I am not functioning quite up to par today. I have had a lot of thoughts over the last week about the things I experienced at the conference. I will write about them as time permits. As for now, I got voted (as many who miss staff meeting do) to write the lead article for the bulletin this week. How exciting.

After of a week of making wonderful memories with each other, several stand out.
1. Swim diapers are even better when they have the Little Mermaid on them.
2. On a road trip, the movie, Cinderella, covers a multitude of frustrations with screaming children. (However, there is definitely something prophetic about that song..."Cinderelli, Cinderelli, night and day it's Cinderelli" because truly, night and day, it has run through my head.)
3. Maddie swimming--really swimming--with her pink "noodle"
4. Ella being fascinated for at least an hour with dropping change in the shallow end of the pool and retrieving it.
5. Sheryl looking like the coolest, most beautiful Mommy out there.
6. Ella getting really sick for the majority of the vacation. What would a vacation be like in our family without one of us being sick?
7. EATING!!! Shrimp, fish, corndogs, Blue Bell ice cream (the best ice cream in the country!), Sponge Bob ice cream on a stick, stuffed crab...and on and on.

Thank You, Lord, for the gift of time with my family and our friends. Thank you for safety in travels and for giving us the time to enjoy your creation.

Friday, May 21, 2004

The shepherds of our church have called everyone to pray and fast for the Creech family this morning. If you would like to join us, please do. Todd and Maria are the parents. They have two children--Julia and John. Julia has already been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, a painful, terminal illness. It can be carried by both parents without them knowing it or ever having it. There is a good chance that John may have it as well. Julia is 7 and John is 3. Our steadfast prayer today is that John will be found to be healthy. Please join us in this intercession.

I may not blog as regularly over the next week while I am out. I'll jump back in as I can though.

Father, we knock, we seek, we beg that you save John from this horrible illness. We ask that you not only give John a clean bill of health, but that you miraculously heal Julia too. You are the Lord God Jehovah Rophe, You can do anything. We will praise you in sickness or health. You have us in Your hand, no matter what. We believe this. But we ask you as your children today to hear our cry for mercy. We ask this in the name of Your Son whose name we wear-JESUS.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Thursday night addition--

The session went well tonight with Chiz. We did a couple of songs, one of which was based on the 23rd Psalm. He wanted sort of a Westminster choir sound or boys choir. It has been so long since I have sung anything legit that it took a while to find my sea legs. Once we found our groove we nailed it. The group sounded great. I'm so thankful to be working with such talented people!

Tony Compolo was awesome this afternoon. He talked a lot about some very weighty, deep theology. He is so engaging that it seemed to go by very quickly. He said something that has stuck with me all night. He cautioned us to be careful of putting our faith in a nation. I have heard some similar things from Mike Cope. It's always convicting. Compolo said, "Look through Scripture and tell me who God typically sides with. Is it the rich and complacent, or is it the poor and oppressed?" Pretty strong words, and right on target. It's so easy to get so immersed in our culture and living that we think everyone lives like we do. I mean, mentally we know that's not true, but it's hard to fully grasp it.

Similarly, yesterday as Dan Kimball was closing his class, he passed out little salt packets and had us open them and put some in our mouths as he prayed for us. It was a really simple thing, and yet, so effective. We ARE salt and light. We can't afford to lose our saltiness.

This afternoon I was able to go spend some time with Phillip Duncan. I got to see Mary Alice and their new son, Jack. He's very cuddly and as cute as can be. Phillip went with me to Paragon Studios where we've been recording with ZOE to listen to some of the final mix. It's getting there. We then went on out to sing for the session tonight. It was nice having some time with Phillip. He's a good friend.

I am going to one more session tomorrow and then taking off for the beach. Pray that I will stay awake!

Lord, please bless the Creeches tonight. I know they are nervous about John's test tomorrow. Help me believe in Your loving power, no matter what the outcome. BUT--I ask that You will allow them not to have to face both children having terminal illnesses. Be with my family and keep them safe. Thank you so much for this week and all the feeding You've given me. I have so much to think about all those 7 hours I'll be driving tomorrow. Help me hear Your voice.

I am still not 100% after singing on a froggy voice all night Tuesday. I need to have something for tonight's session with Chiz. I am just thankful I am not singing tenor tonight.

I am headed back up to the conference this afternoon to hear Tony Compolo. I am looking forward to that. If you missed my long, verbose writing yesterday--check it out below. I am loving this conference.

Our dear Eric Noah Wilson, the executive director of ZOE ministries, was checked into the hospital yesterday with chest pains. We were afraid he'd had a heart attack. Please, please keep him in your prayers. The good news is--it wasn't a heart attack. It really makes me wonder if we're pushing too hard right now with the ZOE stuff. We're all feeling pressed to some degree, but when it gets physically dangerous like this, it really makes me wonder.

Sheryl, Amanda, and the girls made it to the beach last night. I am sure they are having fun today in the water and sand. I can't wait to get there tomorrow night!

Father, please be with Eric today. Keep him safe and heal him of anything that may be wrong in his body. We ask you to surround them. Put your hand of protection over them. In the same way, Lord, we ask for the Creech family--we beg you to allow these tests on John to come out negative tomorrow. Please give them peace tonight. And finally, we seek Your face, Great Healer, for Nathan Fite. Please continue to heal and restore his foot and legs. Be with his father, Phil. I pray against Satan's attacks of guilt, blame and bitterness. Surround them as a mother hen. Cover them with Your wings. Thank you for Your steadfast love for us, O Lord!

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Some of you will find this utterly boring. However, I thought I might try and download some of what I have heard this week so far. It's all been good.

Dan Kimball (Max Headron) began yesterday by relaying a recent Barna statistic saying that in 2002 he surveyed people between the ages of 12 and 30 asking them if they were a part of a church. 80%--yes EIGHTY--said they weren't. 45% of them had never been to a church and the rest got fed up and walked out. We are past the point of being in a nation that recognizes the Church, or even the Bible for that matter, as an authority. 80%!!! That's huge. So here we sit arguing over whether we have instrumental music, whether we sing during communion, whether a woman will stand up and make an announcement or even stand silently and SERVE communion. It's insane. We have to be able to think ahead to what percentages like that mean for the future. Clearly--CLEARLY--things don't work the way they used to. People don't automatically decide to go to church because it's the "American way" or the "moral thing to do". In fact, most of those folks would tell you (and they are right-- based on the facts) that morality and church going don't really have anything in common. There's not much difference between the Church and the world these days as far as that goes. The world isn't blind--they see it. We have to be willing to step back and take a new look at the approach we're using. We seem so protective of how we do "church". We even seem territorial of the buildings we meet in calling THEM the church. We are the church--we, God's people. Not a building, not a worship order, not a cultural tradition. If we had as much passion for the Lord as we do for our traditions of man, we'd turn this place on its ear.

Some are saying that this new age is simply just another generation gap. However, what we are hearing and what I believe to be true is that we are dealing with a new world view vs. a generation gap. If it were a generational thing, we could just update the songs, wear hipper clothing and be done with it. Even in educational circles, teachers are scrambling to figure out new ways to teach children who simply don't respond to learning as we all once did.

Dan Kimball took a video camera to a college campus and asked two questions--
1. What do you think of Jesus?
The response was very positive-- "I am all about Jesus", "I love His teachings", "It really says something to die for what you believe in", "I respect how he lived his life and loved people".
2. What do you think of Christians?
You could see their expressions immediately drop. Responses went a little like this... "I've never met a real one", "They are the most judgmental people alive", "They have taken the teachings of Jesus and turned them around to hate others", "I am trying to become one, but I don't see anyone I feel like could help me".

WOW!! Pretty huge statements there. When these folks were asked these questions--notice none of them said anything like, "Their worship services are boring". This emerging generation is into authenticity. They don't expect perfection by any means--but when someone proclaims to have everything figured out--essentially shutting down healthy dialogue--that's when they check out. When are we going to spend the energy we've used on how to have better worship assemblies on getting serious about living out who we say we are??

Dan included a section in his hand outs that was about preaching and communicating to this Emerging generation. This was helpful for me--maybe it will register with you too.

I'll use these for codes-- MC (modern church--where we all are) and EC (Emerging Church--speaking the language of much of those 80%)

MC: the sermon is the focal point of the worship service
EC: the sermon is one part of the total "experience" of the worship service

MC: the preacher serves as a dispenser of Biblical truths to help solve personal problems in modern life--much like a Tony Robbins conference with a few scriptures thrown in.
EC: the preacher teaches how the ancient wisdom of the scriptures applies to Kingdom living as a disciple of Jesus.

MC: there is an emphasis on explaining "WHAT is truth?"
EC: there is an emphasis on explaining and experiencing "WHO is truth"

MC: the starting point is with the Judeo-Christian worldview (Americans used to be based here--not any more)
EC: The starting point is the Garden of Eden and retelling of creation and origin of man and sin. Story, story, story---how we fit into the overall story of God.

MC: Biblical terms like "the gospel" and Armageddon" don't need much definition since they are basically understood.
EC: Biblical terms like "the gospel" and "Armageddon" need to be deconstructed and redefined.

MC: The Scriptural message is primarily communicated in words
EC: The Scriptural message is communicated through a mix of words, visuals, art, silence, testimony, and story

MC: Preaching in a worship service is seen as the primary way someone learns from Scriptures during the week
EC: The preaching in a worship service is seen as a motivator to encourage people to learn from the Scriptures all throughout the week.

MC: Preaching and communicating primarily take place within the church building during a worship service
EC: A lot of the preaching and communicating take place outside the walls of the church building in the context of community and relationship.

Some of that may seem like a no brainer. However, the impact that taking these things to heart will have is significant. It means that we must begin to care more about Kingdom building and less about our kingdom (little k) protection.

I have really struggled with all this talk about "post-modernity" because I haven't truly seen it in action. I have had a couple of hazardous conversations with people who claim to be completely "post-modern" and came away feeling uncertain. What I have appreciated about the conference this week is that I haven't really heard that terminology used at all--except in a hilarious video razzing the stereotypical cynical post-modern. It was a slam on most of us there--so it was ok to laugh. The term being used most often to describe this group and way of thinking is "Emerging". That seems right on to me. It seems to accurately describe where we truly are without alienating the rest of our family in Christ...because, like it or not, we are in a time of "emergence". People think differently, Wicca (a type of witchcraft) is becoming extremely popular, the church has lost its voice to much of the world--these are different times. I feel like I can embrace the term "Emergent" because that's exactly where I find myself...sort of between two places, waiting and praying and seeking God's leading.

I honestly was afraid that this conference would be marked by a lot of Eeyore type thinking and talking. I have been blown away by the hope, the authenticity, the creativity and relativity of what I have seen so far. I laughed telling Sheryl--it's like 2000 people all running around with crazy hair, piercings, tattoos and Urban Outfitter clothing who all love Jesus and want to really storm this world for Him through new wineskins. It's entirely exciting. It's entirely energizing. It's entirely different. It's entirely scary for the majority of the folks who may be punching their cards on Sundays and Wednesdays across the country. Man--these are interesting times. For the first time in months, however, I am excited about the possibilities. For that I am extremely grateful!

If you've read this far, thank you for taking the time. If you haven't read this far, you won't be reading this anyway. More later.

The Emergent Conference is almost overwhelming. It's like being stuck between what you know to be true and where you actually find yourself. Dan Kimball looks NOTHING like I pictured him. I joked with my buddy, Nino, that between Dan and his worship pastor, they keep the hair product industry alive. (and if I say that--you know it must be something.) Dan looks something like Max Headron--remember the animated Coke guy? He's way hip and is very engaging. I stopped in here this morning to pick up my laptop to take better notes.

Last night we recorded late again. We were able to get two more songs..."For All You've Done" (O, Cleanser of the mess I've made...), and "Hear Our Praises". It was a good night, although we were all tired. No more ZOE sessions til June. Tomorrow night begins the John Chisum Integrity thing.

Sheryl leaves today for the beach. Our little sis, Amanda, is going with them. I will join them this weekend. I can't wait to have my feet in the sand and be in the sun. I am definitely a beach lover.

Father, as I prepare to download more information and ideas today, please give me discernment and peace to know how to translate this stuff in a way that will be beneficial and Kingdom building. Sometimes I just want to jump ship and start all over. I just beg you to help me be the leader you've called me to be. Give me patience AND boldness. Show me what you have planned for us. Please continue to be with Nathan Fite. Thank you for my family. Please give them safety as they drive this afternoon. Thank you for loving us like you do!

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Sunday afternoon tragedy struck a dear family at Otter Creek. Nathan Fite (3) ran out behind his dad as he was mowing the lawn. Phil didn't see him and accidentally backed the mower over his legs. Nathan lost a foot and had some severe injuries to his legs. Praise the Lord that he lived! Please be in prayer for them. Nathan is doing better, but especially remember Phil--such a difficult thing as a dad.

We spent yesterday morning at the Zoo--such a fun outing!! Maddie and Ella always love going. They enjoy the monkeys, the swings and the Sponge Bob ice cream stick.

Recording last night went very well. The team was completely in the pocket and it went about as smoothly as any first night of recording on a project has ever gone. This studio is unreal. We recorded our cut on Next Door Savior there too. It's a multi-million dollar complex. Faith Hill was in Studio A next door. It was tempting to want to camp out in the hall and listen.

We recorded Matt Redman's "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord" and "All Who Are Thirsty". I love--LOVE "Blessed". What a great song! It was fun having Nathan back with us in the studio.

I drove Maddie to school this morning--her final day this year. For Mother's Day,they sent Sheryl a picture taken at the beginning of school and one at the end. It made us both cry at how much she has changed. Our girls are so sweet. Every day is important. We aren't guaranteed anything.

Lord, thank You for Your tender mercies, Your gift of love to me through Sheryl, Maddie and Ella, Your gentle shepherding, and this new day. Please protect our girls today and let them hear Your voice over them.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Sunday addition...
First service wiped me out. After we sang "Good to Me", Tim had the church surround the Creech family and pray over them. They discovered that Julia (7) has Cystic Fibrosis last week and this week will have to check their son, John (3), since it's inherited. After the prayer time, Maria (the mom) gave a wonderful testimony of God's presence in the midst of pain.

The benefit this afternoon with Larry Gatlin and everyone was a big hit. He did some oldies--"All the Gold in California" and "What Will We Do Now". Actually, as an aside, my buddy, Michael McCoy sang that song as a Sing Song Host back in the late 80's and it's the best version of that song I have ever heard. Larry Gatlin is a really nice guy. Our girls enjoyed dancing to the music and wiping their BBQ covered fingers all over my black pants.

The fog here this morning is very thick. It's a shame because it's causing the wonderful smell of the cooking ribs outside to be less potent. They've been cooking all night in preparation for the benefit this afternoon.

The girls were elated to see Sheryl. It was a great reunion. Gail came over later and stayed with us last night. It was nice getting to talk with her for a while. They were both feeling exhausted from having taken in so much over the weekend at the Women of Faith conference.

This afternoon we have rehearsal with ZOE for the recording this week. John Mays will be with us. I still think it's funny sometimes that we're working with him. He's such a legend...but such a regular guy. He recently played me the new Point Of Grace record (I think it comes out late summer, if I am not mistaken) that he is producing. It is very different from their old stuff--a lot more edgy and current. I was blown away at some of the vocals. Since Leigh joined the group they have another power vocalist in there. It makes a huge difference.

Some Sundays I try to remember what it felt like to just get up and come to church with everyone else. It's been so long that it's difficult to remember how it felt. Sundays represent something different for me now. It's the day when things need to come together. It's a day filled with a certain amount of heaviness. There's a burden to ministry. It's supposed to be there--it may be easy and light, but it's still a burden. Coming into mornings like this I think about faces and hearts that will enter this building today. Some will come in excited and ready to worship. Some will bring a lot of disappointments, fears and doubts. Some will come praying that no one will see how they're really doing, while others come praying that someone WILL see how they're really doing and ask. It's a messy job, this ministry thing. Meanwhile, realizing my own weakness and human failings, I am called to stand and lead God's people in worship. It makes sense when you consider what we are studying today. Isaiah 40. No matter what we are, where we've come from, what we believe or don't believe, or how modern or post modern we may be, God is still God and we are but a blade of grass. There is one thing that can draw us together--the love of Christ. Christ's love COMPELS us. I like that. I find truth in that statement. How else can you describe it? Thank You for the cross, Lord. Thank You for the nail pierced hands, for bearing the weight of my sin, and for setting me free.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Last night went exceptionally well with the girls. I kept wanting ask who they were and what they had done with my children. They were nothing short of angelic--saying "please" and "thank you" to me and to EACH OTHER. They even hugged and kissed in the bath tub. Seriously, a blessing from God! They really are amazing kids. (Every parent thinks this, I know) They are sweet natured, kind, and funny. They were just extra amazing last night.

Life lesson # 10,234...never, NEVER attempt to open your new electric toothbrush package while going to the bathroom. Let's just say, I spent several minutes sanitizing. Disgusting.

This morning I continued to clean while the girls played. Around 10:30 we got dressed and went out to Walgreens to do a little birthday shopping for Abby Cox. (paints, play dough, coloring books, etc.) We made it to McDonalds by 10:30 and planted there for the next two hours. Perfect place! Our kids love to play on the indoor playground there. A dad walked in with his two kids and we exchanged knowing looks. He sat behind us and I heard him pray for the food with his kids. I turned around and asked him if he were on Daddy duty all day or just for lunch. We ended up having a nice conversation about fatherhood, faith, Jesus and other stuff. I was glad to have met him.

I also ran into Tonja and Steven Lowry. I went to high school with them in Abilene. Too wild! They have lived here for four years and we haven't really seen each other at all. Steven is finishing his medical degree and they are moving back to Abilene in a few weeks where he will be on staff at Hendrick Hospital. Pretty neat seeing them. High! 16 years since graduation. I keep up with only a hand full of people from those days. It was cool seeing Tonja and Steven and remembering what they were like (I was a Senior and they were Freshmen).

The girls are asleep--HALLELUJAH! I just can't get over how wonderful this time with them has been. Thank you, Lord!

I just got a call about our mini-van. (True story--I traded in my Chrysler Sebring convertible for this mini van a couple of years ago. I inherited the Blazer and Sheryl drives the mini-van. It was a hard pill to swallow.) We left it at the shop yesterday because the brakes were squealing. Looks like it requires about $220 worth of work. I should have become a mechanic. Ugh!

Next thing on the agenda is Abby Cox's party. Cake, party favors, ice cream--and that's not even to mention the stuff for the kids. :) I admit...I love to go to birthday parties. In fact, one of the absolute dorkiest statements I ever made in High School was when this guy who was new to our school asked me over lunch if I partied. I immediately replied, "uh...well, I like birthday parties." I wish I had his expression on film somewhere.

Thank You, Lord, for the beauty of this life. Thank you for the all over warmth I feel when my girls hug me and won't let go. Thank you for the joy I feel when I hear them laughing with each other. Thank you for the satisfaction I feel when I see Sheryl's hard work being such a great Mommy paying off in the way the girls treat each other. Thank you for naps, birthday cake, McDonalds french fries, old friends, new friends and for being in all of it. You are Abba!

Friday, May 14, 2004

Sorry for the frequent posts today--but I wanted to share the good news.

Looks like Jill is in the clear. The doctors think it was an extreme case of migraine brought on by some hormone stuff. This is a HUGE praise God! Thank you, Lord!!

I can't believe I haven't mentioned this...

La Toya London voted off American Idol?? What has become of us?

As long as we're talking the ridiculous...anyone see ER season finale last night? Just plain stupid. Come on, writers, that was just completely uncreative. Dumbest season finale ever. (As I write this, I am overhearing a conversation amongst some of our admin. staff out in the main office. They liked it. What do I know?)

Last night Bobby came over to rehearse with us for the benefit Sunday. He's such a talented guitar player! Sheryl is singing "Knees to the Earth" and "One Pure and Holy Passion". I am singing "Fly Me To The Moon" and "River In The Rain". ZOE will sing something and then we'll do one with the Gatlins.

Last night while putting the girls to bed I recited the 23rd Psalm and Zeph 3:17 over and over to them. They went to sleep by those words--such powerful words! To think that God quiets us with HIS love and rejoices over us with singing! I, on the other hand, had a sleepless night. I kept thinking about the Creech family and Paul and Jill. I heard my watch beep every hour--exhausting. Clearly I am better at sharing those scriptures than receiving them...something that is hitting me this morning.

I found out a week or so ago that the early morning YMCA "sculpting" class that's been wearing me out actually begins 30 minutes earlier than I've been showing up. Imagine my disappointment! This morning was my first time to endure the entire class. I may not be able to move this weekend.

I have added a couple of new links (look to your right). The Passion link is awesome and has great music. The dreambook thing is simply a guest book. Feel free to drop me a line there anytime or give feedback (the most dangerous words ever written in ministry).

My mom is with her Spiritual Formation group this weekend visiting a monastery in New Mexico. Her friends, Jeannenne Nichols and Kaye Price-Hawkins, are with her on this adventure. The three of them have been in covenant relationship for years, but only in the last 3-4 have they gotten intentional about making it a Spiritual Formation type of thing (see books on this subject by Richard Foster for more info). I marvel at their collective wisdom and depth. Some people only wish they could have deep spiritual discussions with their parents. I only wish I could be as deep as mine. What a blessing.

Sheryl will spend the weekend with her sister, Gail, at the Women of Faith Conference. It should be a nice respite for her. Gail is bringing several girls and they are staying at our friends' house and guest house (the Smiths). The Smiths own the Minnie Pearl Mansion. It's a cool historic place filled with great stories and room to enjoy being together. I pray it's a filling time for her.

Father, thank you for calming us with your love. Thank you for your voice singing that pure, sweet melody over us today. Help me take time to listen and receive. You are God of all. I am but a blade of grass. As we look at Isaiah 40 this Sunday, I am reminded of how true that is. You are timeless. Thank you for being interested in me at all. Please be with the Creech family. Give them peace as they wait to see if their son also has Cystic Fibrosis. Please be with Jill as she gets results from the neurologist today. Thank you for being the Great Physician. Help me trust You more in that role.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Rehearsal went well last night. We have a rough arrangement down of "All Who Are Thirsty" and "Hear Our Praises". Besides those two we can record "For All You've Done (O Cleanser)" and "Your Grace Still Amazes Me" and be on our way.

Next week will be pretty full. We record with ZOE on Monday and Tuesday nights, I have the Emergent Conference during the day and then I am organizing singers and singing for an Integrity Music recording session on Thursday and Friday. (with my buddy, John Chisum) THEN--Friday night I leave for our family beach vacation. Wooo-Hooo!!

This weekend we are having a Benefit for the Wayne Reed Daycare Center. About 7 years ago Otter Creek built a daycare in inner city Nashville to help struggling families. This the BBQ will include some fun entertainment. The Gatlins will be here. We're singing something with Larry Gatlin at some point--should be interesting. The musicians, some of which were Hee-Haw Staples (now, there's a resume bullet point) are going to smoke! (not cigarettes--we hope) There will be jazz, country, the Orange Blossom Special, and lots more fun.

I wrote recently that the Pastor of the Shepherd of the Hills Church talked about Church being a Spiritual Spa for many people. The more I have thought about that, the truer it seems to me. For some, the church is like a hospital (which is a good thing). For others, the church is like basic training. It's this segment of folks who might be termed "Metro-Spiritual" (forgive me) who seem to be missing the point. When we adopt the cruise ship, or spa mentality, it automatically causes us to begin to navel gaze. We begin to want things the way we like them. It becomes about us...which activities best suit our liking...which massage we ask for...etc. We become about image instead of transformation. We want to be nice and "white washed" but are still dead on the inside. While that's not true for everyone, I fear it's true for more than we'd like to admit. I have been there. I know what that feels like and how exhausting it can be. Just some thoughts rolling around in my head.

Sheryl's sister, Gail, comes in tomorrow for the Women of Faith conference here in Nashville. (call us conference central) I am so thrilled that Sheryl will get to go this weekend. I think it will be a needed break and filling for her. Meanwhile, I will have the girls. Our big outing Saturday will be to Abby Cox's birthday party.

Father, thank you for leading us like a Shepherd. Thank you for your rod and staff. Thank you for your healing power. Please be with the Creech family today as they deal with learning that Julia has Cystic Fibrosis. They are such encouragers, Lord. Please strengthen them today. Some things just don't make sense, God. But, we have chosen to trust You, no matter what we face. Be their strong tower today. Praise Your name for adopting us as your children and caring for us.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Sheryl and the girls went to K-Mart yesterday and bought the wonderful, amazing, most summery...Slip and Slide. We have a big hill in our back yard that is PERFECT for the Slip and Slide. We set it up with the hose after work yesterday and the water spraying proved to be quite the obstacle for Maddie. Ella, however, loved it. She was sitting on the slide just getting soaked and laughing. We had a great time. We're going to try just running the hose down the slide to see if that might be more acceptable for Miss Maddie. It's funny--she's a daredevil to a certain extent. She loves roller coasters. She loves swinging as high as possible. But when texture is involved--water, sand, etc.--then things change.

AMERICAN IDOL!!!! A guilty pleasure. Fantasia and LaToya. Please! Maybe I can convince one of them to come sing with ZOE instead of Simon? Right.

We met this morning about our Saturday night service. We're trying to think through what it will look like this fall when we go weekly instead of monthly. It will most definitely mean staff adjustments and a hire (at least we are convinced). It's exciting to think about building a new community at that service.

Next week I am attending the Emergent Conference here in Nashville with speakers like Brennan Manning, Brian McLaren, and Dan Kimball. I feel like I am waiting with great expectation for this conference. I want to understand more about post modernity. I want to know what things are working. I want to be able to talk to McLaren and others and ask them how they're navigating these treacherous waters. I really can not wait.

Some of our best friends in Nashville, Paul and Jill Young, are going through a rough time. Yesterday Jill doubled over in pain thinking she was having an aneurysm. Her head was literally exploding in pain. She crawled next door to their neighbor's house and the neighbor was able to take her to the ER. They still don't know what is wrong with her, but she vomited for about 12 hours straight. Please keep her in your prayers. Their sons, Mack and Champ, are already promised to our Maddie and Ella. We love these people very much.

We have a rehearsal tonight with ZOE for the recording. We need to get three or four songs done next week in time for the pre-release on June 4th. Another prayer need.

Father, bless your most wonderful name! Thank you for the connections at Pepperdine with people and hearts. Thank you for displaying Your power. Thank you for being so active in so many lives and churches. Thank you for being in control. You've told us the Church is your bride. Show us what that means. Show us what wineskin will be best in building your Kingdom in this new millennium. Thank you for being more concerned about this than any one of us could possibly imagine.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Back to work! I am feeling refreshed even though I am physically exhausted. It reminds me about what Don Finto said to me recently..."The Lord doesn't burn anyone out. Burn out comes from doing something in our own strength or by getting our attentions disorganized." I believe it. Being involved in lives and real ministry last week has given me a fresh fire for the daily work here.

Staff meeting this morning was good. Always minutia and details to sort through, but good to be together and think about why we're here.

I am planning our Summer Life Series, which won't be called that anymore. After 8 years of "Summer Life" and concerts and all, we're going a different direction this year. It has run its course. We'll still do some special event types of things like Phil Keaggy and the Family Picnic, but it looks like we're going with more of a peak of the week type of thing. I somehow got handed this when I came on staff 8 1/2 years ago and it grew into a monster--mostly by my own doing. I am convinced that these Summer events are part of what led me to feel like the "cruise" director planning Spiritual Spa activities. There is probably a better way to accomplish what we need here than the smattering of events like we've done in the past. I hope I can know what that is.

Just finished my turkey wrap with spinach and feta. Thanks, honey!

Have a great Tuesday, everyone.

Monday, May 10, 2004

It's hard to sum up the last week in one blog so I will try and break it down into digestible segments. Overall, it was a wonderful week of ministry and fellowship. Listed below are some bullet points of memorable moments.

--flights to and from California with two children under the age of three...praise God for community! Thanks to everyone we knew and didn't know for being family to our children.

--Having Kim (Sheryl's cousin) with us to help with the girls--PRAISE GOD for Kim!

--Having a wife who is not only drop dead gorgeous and can sing more soulfully than most anyone, but who also keeps a cool head about her while our children feel sick and throw the occasional tantrum. How did I rate her??

--Ella going out with two ear infections. Maddie going to the Malibu Clinic on Wednesday with two ear infections. (pretty rough week for them in some ways--but totally fun in others. Maddie calls ZOE her friends.)

--Tuesday and Thursday late nights--powerful ministry times for us. I felt better about those nights than many of the past years. It felt less like we were whipping people into a worship frenzy and more like we were actually engaged in ministry. Thursday night the daughter of our friend, Joe Smith, (Laney) spoke about losing her father. It was incredible. INCREDIBLE! I truly believe Laney is gifted in a very unique way. Remember her name. It wouldn't surprise me if one day she was leading the charge for Christ in our country.

--Mike Cope's wonderfully funny and heart touching as always. It's a joy to work with Mike. John York rocked on Friday too. And--Lex and Avery were amazing on tech!

--Spending the mornings down in the little community of Malibu where there are shops and a little playground (many star sightings here every year--Pamela Anderson, Brad and Jennifer Pitt, etc. My star sighting this year at this location was "Booger" from Revenge of the Nerds. Yes, I saw it. Didn't most every guy in the 80's?)

--Laughing non-stop at Jason McArthur and his witty jokes and "spanglish".

--The sacred stairwell at Smothers Auditorium where we rehearse every day.

--Having Chuck and Laura Rathbun (Sheryl's brother and his wife) at the lectures

--Getting to see old friends like Ryan and Sarah Williamson, Aaron, Russ, Hainey and the Richland Hills gang, Sandra and Lex, the Tarbets, Joel Soliday, the McCoy Family from Abilene whom I dearly love, Laney Smith, Lee Ann Giddens, and many other Pepperdine friends.

--The fateful trip to Santa Monica with the family, Kim and JV. Maddie screamed in the van most of the way down the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) and back. I am not sure JV has fully recovered.

--Short, but meaningful visits with people like Tim Castle, Jack Reese, Aaron Gin-Forsburg, Peter Wilson, Mike, Colin McCall, Bert Reynolds and others. (Lots of hi-bye type conversations, but these went below the surface--something for which I am always grateful.)

--Going to Zuma Beach (Point Dune) and seeing Jennifer Aniston. (Ok, so it was a great moment--give me a break!) She was doing a film shoot and we got to watch a little bit of it.

--Finding out my trip to minister in Australia and go to the Hillsongs Conference next summer looks like it is a go! Possibly with Chris Seidman. Too fun!

--Seeing people engage in worship--really engage. I don't mean all looking the same either. Some were standing with hands in the air, others in more contemplative posture--but most all engaged.

--Getting to go back to the beach with Ryan and Sarah and the ZOE members with kids. Ella was hilarious. She was running full out towards the waves. Maddie has a sand phobia and would have none of it! So amazing to see their different personalities.

The Weekend

--We stayed at a very nice hotel, thanks to the record label. The girls went down easily Saturday night while we sang at the first two services at the Shepherd of the Hills Church.

--The services (3 more on Sunday--5 in all) went very well. We were well received and felt very welcomed. The staff we met were all so nice and sincere. The people (1200 at each of the 5 services) of the church were so excited about being there and seemed to really be in community. They had their kids choir helping to lead worship so after we sang some, the band hit the downbeat and rocked out with songs like "Every Move I Make", and "Forever". It was a blast! (check out the Otter Creek web page for a picture later this week...

--One funny moment during the first service Saturday night...Some of us went out to sit in the congregation. I sat next to Jason and only mid way through did we realize that there was this HUGE dog at our feet. (A guide dog in training) It looked like an afgan or something. We realized it when he raised his enormous head and looked at us. We almost yelled, it was so surprising. He then settled in on Jason's feet after licking his shoe for a while. Guess he's not really trained yet.

--Hearing "Pastor Dudley" speak on community and the church. It was really awesome. He was this real hip, down to earth minister who talked about his frustration with people who say things like "I love Jesus, I just hate the Church." He said that was like going up to someone and saying, "I like you, but your body is just awful" or "I like you, I just can't stand your wife." I thought that was pretty powerful. I think some are quick to judge the Church based on its effectiveness or other things while forgetting that it's still the bride of Christ--warts and all. (I have been one of those people)

--Having a wonderful Mother's Day celebrating my wife--the incredible mother (and wife) she is, and thanking God that my own mom is alive and well and such an amazing servant in the Kingdom. They are both Godly mothers and I am blessed by their examples.

--Flying home. HOME!!! Towards the end of the flight when Maddie had reached her end, all Sheryl, Kim and I could do was look at each other and laugh.

--And finally, making it through the week with voice in tact. PRAISE YOU, LORD!!! That was a huge answered prayer.

Today we slept in. Maddie and I took in a movie this afternoon ("Home On The Range"--so fun!). Later we all met up at Paul and Jill's so Maddie, Mack, Ella and Champ could play. I thought Maddie was going to go through the windshield--she was so excited to see Mack. It's fun to enjoy friendship and even more fun to watch our children begin to enjoy it.

Tonight the kids are in bed, the clothes are being washed, and I am thankful for a very FULL week. God was very present this week. I felt His power more than I have in a while. I am so grateful to be doing what I do. It's weeks like this past one that make me remember that.

Nite nite!

Monday, May 03, 2004

Rain, rain, rain!!! What better way to combat a rainy day?? Starbucks, of course! Say it with me..."Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino" ahhhhhhhh.

In case you're wondering, this site is not sponsored by Starbucks.

We had a great life group last night. We had possibly the most expensive Jersey Mike's sandwiches possible (what's up with that?) and some great fellowship. It was so fun having Tracye visit. If you visit our Otter Creek website and look at the photos of the Christmas show, you can see her picture there. She's a very lovely black woman who sparkles with joy. We really miss you, Tracye.

Usually, I am leading in some capacity, whether on Sunday mornings or even at life group, which means Sheryl is the single parent. Last night Paul and I took the kids outside so they could enjoy being a part of the group. Jill shared her Spiritual tree--a powerful experience from what I heard. Tracye shared some too. It was a wonderful night of family.

This morning I am at work (not my typical Monday routine) trying to get myself organized to leave for Malibu tomorrow. I think we are doing 6 sessions at Pepperdine and also 5 services at the Shepherd of the Hills Church. I'm gonna be doing some series Millie Vanilli by the end of the week.

I won't blog again until next week. Thank you for your prayers as we go out to minister. We need them. Please pray for the ZOE singers by name:

Sheryl/ Brandon Thomas
Melissa Kirby
Karin Hensley
Amy Westerman
David England
Jason McArthur
Peter Wilson
Johnathan Vest

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Sunday morning addition--

You know how some people only drink half the juice cup in communion? I think I got the other half of somebody's juice this morning. There oughtta be a "sniglet" for that.

As I predicted, it was a great morning. Reco's leadership was wonderful. He doesn't lead like most of us are used to. He speaks a slightly different worship language (if you will). It would be almost comical for him to sing every note straight and "white". That's not him. He brings such PASSION, such ENERGY to his leadership. It was wonderful to see the Church being led by someone who has those gifts and allowing themselves to be led by in a little different style. Isn't it funny how some of think that everyone should worship just like we do? I mean--you see it in the mission field all the time. Folks go to foreign countries and try and make cookie cutter churches out of what they've known here in the states. God is so rich in creativity. He has given us all a voice and a heart with which to worship Him. He doesn't ask that it all look the same, He only asks for our hearts to be right. He wants there to be LIFE in there--in the heart. Make sure your heart is making melody, don't just give me lip service (He might say). Create such a melody that all of your being is engaged. Truly, that's what Reco's leadership did for me today. Thanks, Reco!

Starrrrrrrbuuuuuucks! Thank you, Lord!

It's pouring down rain here. It rained most of the afternoon and evening yesterday. I was driving here and saw something that made me laugh. Along Old Hickory Blvd. there were sprinklers going at full blast. We're practically in a flash flood watch and here are sprinklers working overtime. Don't you think that's like us sometimes, spiritually speaking? We can't take enough time to step back and see the big picture and we are working overtime in our own strength while God is sending us flash floods of His own feeding and teaching? Just a thought.

Our service was awesome last night. Chad and some of the Sanctuary guys led worship and did a great job. (Sanctuary happens here at Otter Creek on Thursday nights...most of the guys who played last night have graduated from college and handed over their leadership to the next generation.) I thought Tim's teaching was wonderfully conversational and challenging. The stations were great too. I just enjoyed being there as more of a participant. Plus, I got to sit next to my dear sister, Tracye, who left us to be a part of a powerful ministry in DC. We miss her a lot.

There were several there last night who have stuck in my mind...people like Kim Butler. Kim is searching. Last night was her first time here. She sat in a chair yesterday getting her hair cut by one of our praise team members, Eve Clevenger. Eve talked about Otter Creek and the powerful things she has been experiencing. Kim showed up last night. I'm thinking about Steve...a guy with a really cool British accent who went to some of the churches where revival is breaking out in England. (Matt Redman, etc) Sunday mornings aren't really in his native worship language. Last night was. I'm thinking of Adam. Adam is a wanderer to some degree. Yet, last night, he was here. He was being prayed over by the shepherds. He was a part of the Body. I am thinking about some of our Shepherds who manned the prayer station. What a powerful acting out of their receive people and pray for their deepest hurts and needs. It's a very encouraging picture for me, whether it's called modern or post-modern.

This morning I get to co-lead with Reco. Actually, I am going to only co-lead at the beginning and then turn things over to him. We've got a great team on board and we're ready to worship the Lord! Actually, it might be better put that we're gonna have a little "church" up in here this mornin.

Father, we bring You our hearts. Use these vessels today to bring You glory. I pray for those who are coming and feeling lost. Seize their hearts today for You. I pray for those who are feeling so lonely. Holy Spirit, give them the comfort that is beyond our understanding. I pray for all those who are dying inside and still feel like they have to come here this morning with a pasted on smile. Please forgive us, Lord. Help us truly be the Church. I pray for Holy Spirit guided leadership for Reco, the team and me this morning. Thank you for Your faithfulness.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

A couple of months ago we bought a membership at the Nashville Zoo. (one of the best things we've spent money on in a long time) We go at least once a week and get to hear the "screaming monkeys" and play on the big padded playground. It's a beautiful day here in Nashville--a perfect zoo day.

I forgot to mention that Next Door Savior didn't win the Dove Award. The category it was entered in was called "special events" and the rock musical, "Hero" won the Dove. Sheryl and I didn't even go this year.

Tonight at River Front Stages (this cool festival in Nashville every year) Styx is playing at 9:30. I can't tell you how tempting it is to go. However, we have our Sat night service and that will take up the better part of the evening.

Our friends, the Duncans, had a baby boy on Thursday. Welcome to the world, Jackson! Jackson's daddy, Phillip, is a great worship leader. I am blessed to have him at Otter Creek as a fill-in leader when I am not there and as a regular praise team member. Congrats, guys!

I love summer. Shorts, banana pops, home made ice cream, flip flops, the pool, the smell of fresh cut grass and that awesome feeling of being freshly sun kissed all make me smile. Today is May 1st. Call me happy clappy, but I'm doin' the happy dance over here. Praise the Lord!