Coming to Seattle and LA

I’m looking forward to spending the next two weekends in the Western part of our country as we offer The Leaders Table and The Green Room in Seattle, February 1 and 2, and in Los Angeles, February 8 and 9. The Friday event, The Leaders Table, for arts and worship pastors and leaders will be an intimate, interactive day of coaching where we can stretch one another’s leadership skills and talk about the hard stuff arts leaders face in ministry. I always look forward to those days, because inevitably I learn something new and I leave inspired myself. It’s so important for us to know we are not alone in ministry, and to figure out how we can more effectively lead artists, guide the creative process, work with our senior pastors, and manage our own lives in a healthy way.

Then on the Saturday Green Room events, we’ll include volunteer and staff church artists from many churches for a day designed to ground us in vision and core values for arts teams. Together we will explore why creativity, authenticity, relevance, and excellence matter so much in what we prepare for Sunday mornings. I will teach using some video highlight moments from Willow. The host churches – Timberlake Christian Fellowship in Seattle, and ROCKHARBOR in Costa Mesa – will lead us in a time of worship. Whenever church artists can be led by others and not have to concern themselves with any of the details, it’s truly a gift!

Outside of time with my family, there are few things I enjoy more than the privilege of spending a day with church arts leaders and their teams. It’s not too late for anyone to register, for either the Friday or Saturday event, or both. Just go to the website at: . I’d love to meet you in Seattle or Los Angeles!
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Jump in the Pool

Last weekend, my family and I took an overnight trip to Cincinnati. Monday was a big day, because it was my son’s birthday AND my kids had the day off school. We celebrated both of those by doing something that kids everywhere seem to enjoy in the wintertime: stay at a hotel with a pool.

For some reason, there are few things more exciting to my kids than spending hours jumping in and out of an indoor pool, even though the room is so hot and humid it takes your breath away. Personally, I’m not a big one for spending hours at the indoor pool, but they love it. As my kids were jumping in and out of the pool last weekend, I remembered another pool incident where my son learned a valuable lesson about swimming pools and life.

He was just learning to swim and still very unsure of the whole thing. It was at the beginning of the “pool season” (when you live in Chicago, there’s definitely a “pool season” and “no-pool season”), and he had regressed since the previous summer. The year before he had been jumping in, paddling around, and generally having a great time. But this year, all he wanted to do was splash around on the stairs. (You know—the stairs that let you walk in and out of the pool like a model in a Special K commercial.)

So there’s my son: wearing some sort of flotation device and splashing on the stairs. No jumping in for him. I did not understand this. Especially when seven short months ago he was having so much fun. What had happened? How could he have forgotten? I tried to entice him to leave the comfort of the stairs and venture into the deeper waters, but he didn’t want to hear about it. “I’m having fun here, Dad,” was his response. Kids.

Over the next couple days, something happened. He started to see that the pool was much larger than the ankle-deep water he had been kicking around in on the stairs for several days. Then it happened. All of a sudden, I saw him leave the stairs and walk along the side of the pool with a look of both fear and anticipation in his eyes. He walked to the edge. He paused for a moment on the side of the pool, staring intently at the water. Then his knees bent and his arms went up in the air as he left the comfort of the concrete for the possibility of big air and deep water. He plunged under the water. His flotation device quickly did its job and pulled him back to the service, his whole head covered with water, mouth sputtering, hands flailing, and eyes blinking. He had a huge smile on his face.

His mom and I told him how great a job he did, “What a great jump!” As he kicked and paddled around the pool, he said something I wasn’t expecting. “I was wrong, Dad. I shouldn’t have stayed on the stairs. I was wrong. Jumping in off the side isn’t scary, it’s fun!!” I couldn’t believe it. Significant truth from my son’s lips.

How many of us do the same thing in different areas of our lives? We allow everyday life to get in the way of things we know to be true. Things like:
• God is larger and higher and wiser and stronger than I can possibly understand, yet He loves me and sees me.
• My wife is an amazing woman and I am blessed to be married to her.
• This world we live in isn’t just made up of the things we can see or touch; there is more to our reality.
• The good news of Jesus is that God is re-making the world and we get to be a part of the project.

So often I find myself splashing around in the ankle-deep water or deadlines, to-do lists, and petty arguments and forgetting that deeper truth that is within my reach—a moment-by-moment connection with God, a chance to add my voice to the worship raised by all creation, an opportunity to work with creativity to offer hope and peace and strength to people around me that need them.

I want to live my life in the deep end of the pool and not be satisfied in the shallow, ankle-deep water.

What about you? In what area of your life have you settled for less than God’s best? How do you think you can rediscover the awe and wonder that goes along with the life God wants for you?

I think we’ll be asking these questions for the rest of our lives. We’ve got to constantly wrestle with them if we’re going to effectively lead others to worship God and connect with Him in meaningful ways. Let’s not settle; let’s jump in.
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We apologize!

The link we posted in January’s EQ[U]IP for Foster’s song Love Justice didn’t give you the song for free.

So, here is the link you want,

Sorry for the inconvenience....
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Rediscovering Awe in Las Vegas

Recently I spent a few days with some key arts leaders from around the country in Las Vegas. Yes, we went to Vegas. Together we explored what the arts movement is all about, which boils down to Rediscovering Awe – the kind of awe those first believers experienced in the glorious days of the early church. Acts chapter 2 tells us that “Everyone was filled with awe.” During our morning session, I attempted to use words to describe my passion for why we long to see a sense of awe in all of our churches, to marvel in wonder at transcendent moments where people are more closely connected to God through the arts and teaching. But honestly, my words weren’t even close to adequate – I could not seem to match the compelling energy in my soul with the language coming out of my mouth. Then as a team, we all attended the Love show produced by Cirque de Soleil. And we experienced awe together that night.

If you haven’t heard about this latest offering from the Montreal genius Cirque team, I will attempt to explain it – but again, words are terribly weak and inadequate! Featuring a gorgeous soundtrack of the best of the Beatles, this multi-dimensional experience includes acrobatics, dance, and stunning visual displays woven together in a 90 minute non-stop glorious journey. We were all afraid to blink in case we missed something! I found myself gasping and whooping and stunned by what I was feeling throughout the show. The craftsmanship was staggeringly beautiful, with the Cirque team leveraging every resource their palate allowed. I can only say, “You must try to see this production!”

The next morning when our group gathered again, I confessed my frustration at my mediocre attempts to be a vision caster for awe the previous day. But then I pointed to what we experienced together at Love, and said, “That’s what I’m talking about!” We should feel moments like that in church – because all truth is God’s truth, and those who crafted the magnificent Love experience are men and women formed in the image of our Sovereign God, the Masterful Designer whose handiwork far surpasses anything that emanates from Montreal! Arts leaders in church may not have the budgets and stages like those of the Cirque team – but we have creative spirits, hearts that can hear the whispers of the Spirit, and skills we can employ toward the crafting of moments filled with wonder. Yes, gasping and whooping can happen on Sunday mornings when we harness our God-given gifts and apply ourselves diligently to telling His story. For that is what our friends at Cirque do not have – a compelling, redemptive, timeless, glorious story. What would happen if the best of the arts world was applied to God’s Story? A whole lot of gasping…and a rediscovery of awe.
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Salem Baptist and Willow Creek Build Bridges

We have a tradition the last few years at our church to focus our services on Martin Luther King weekend toward bridging the racial divide. I’m still glowing from the joy of our services yesterday, when we partnered with Salem Baptist Church, the largest African American church in Illinois. This partnership is not new – we’ve been building friendships with the great people at Salem ever since our pastors, Bill Hybels and Rev. James Meeks, began their unique relationship a few years ago. Since then, core members of their church and ours have taken an annual Justice Journey together – visiting the key sights in the South where major events connected to the Civil Rights movement took place. Bill has preached at Salem Baptist, our high school ministries have visited one another, and I am growing a friendship with Salem’s arts leader, Walter Owens, and his wife Terri, who is a pastor and teacher.

Salem brought one of their choirs and a small band to serve us, and believe me, our church was rockin’! Then I had the privilege of interviewing Bill and Rev. Meeks, to explore together what we can practically do to right the wrongs of our country’s history and seek justice for people of all colors. We unpacked some of our learnings from the outstanding book, Divided by Faith. That book challenges the assumption of most white Americans that if we are not racist as individuals, if we are open to friendships with people from another race and very respectful, then we don’t need to worry about “the race issue.” What we fail to take into account are the structural inequities in our country, as a result of 400 years of enslaving African Americans and then decades of Jim Crow laws. Rev. Meeks was quick to acknowledge that none of us created these problems – but we must do what we can to make things right. The playing field simply is not level when it comes to education, employment, housing, and overall opportunities for black Americans. I urge you to read Divided by Faith and allow it to stretch your thinking and make you uncomfortable.

The most segregated hour of the week in America is still Sunday morning at ll:00 am. Most of us worship with people who look just like us. There are many reasons for this reality, but we are learning that when we move out of our comfort zones, when church becomes a more diverse place, we are all enriched. Whereas about ten years ago Willow was about 98% Caucasian, we now enjoy at least 20% non-Caucasians. This is a much more accurate reflection of the growing diversity within twenty minutes of our campus.

On this Martin Luther King day, I want to be a part of the solution. Not only do I want to continue building friendships across the racial divide – I also want to figure out what I can do on a practical level to help right some of the injustices that still exist. I’m not yet sure what that will entail, but I look forward to figuring it out in community. How grateful I am that the dream of Dr. King is fundamentally rooted in the heart of God. One day we will all worship together from every nation and every tongue. As Bill said yesterday, we need to taste that experience so much more this side of heaven.
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What’s On Your List?

Last week we I had the opportunity to spend time with arts leaders from around the country. We spent time talking about a variety of topics but one of my favorites was hearing about what they have been reading. What has been changing their thinking … touching their souls … and bringing them enjoyment.

I thought you might be interested in some of their suggestions.

A few people mentioned the book The Shack by William P. Young. They were moved and challenged by the story. Others mentioned Glory Revealed: How the Invisible God Makes Himself Known by David Nassar, God’s Greater Glory by Bruce Ware, and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

Looking at my list of books from last year, I would recommend The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan, Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult and Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear by Frank Luntz.

I love to read. I am always on the hunt for a good book. A story to inspire me. Words that could change my mind. And truths that will change my life.

So, what do you recommend?
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Musings on American Idol and Church Auditions

With the writers strike and a lot less great television to watch, I decided to check out the early rounds of American Idol last night. It was oddly comforting. I discovered that it’s not only people who audition for church vocal ministries who can be vastly deceived about their gifts! For years I participated in the selection of soloists. Our process included an extensive interview to discern the character and spiritual commitment of a person, along with an audition to see if he or she could actually sing. Like Simon, Paula, and Randy, our team was tempted a few times to erupt in laughter – but as Christian leaders we held it in (at least until the person left the building), and attempted to be gracious and constructive in our response. Lots of wonderful folks certainly could sing, and it was a joy to add them to our team. But there were always a few who were so vastly off that it was impossible to understand how they could actually think that singing was their “thing” and should be widely shared. My most vivid memory goes back a couple decades to a young man who belted out Frank Sinatra’s song My Way completely off pitch and with a grating tone. He was certainly loud! We wondered if noone in that guy’s life had ever spoken truth, held up an accurate mirror, and took the risk to suggest that maybe he pursue another gift or passion to serve the church.

I realize this kind of conversation makes church leaders extremely uncomfortable. Lots of ministries choose not to hold auditions, and trust the discernment of the individuals to be self aware enough not to join the choir or worship team unless they have basic musical skills. Sometimes we believe that anyone “with a great heart, a love for the Lord, and a willingness to serve” should be given the opportunity. But then I wonder if we would allow just anyone to preach, or to do our church accounting, or to care for our precious children.

I wish all of us had a more accurate view of our gifts, our strengths and weaknesses – myself included. I know enough not to try to sing anywhere in public all alone. But what am I not seeing in my area of contribution, where am I ignorant of my own limitations, and how intently do I pursue a clearer picture from people who will tell me the truth? To some extent, we all have blind spots. So this morning, I’m committing myself to invite more feedback into my life, especially in those places those close to me would be most hesitant to address. I’ll never grow unless I traffic in reality.

Last night was so much fun, I think I’ll have to Tivo tonight’s round while I enjoy the thrill of helping baptize 26 folks at our mid-week service!
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Free Download: Love Justice

He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 TNIV

About a month ago at a Sunday morning service I heard a great new worship song. Matt Lundgren, worship leader at Willow Creek taught us Love Justice. The song not only engaged me musically but moved my head and my heart. It called me to self-examination and it called me to want to live more aware of the world God has placed me in.

After the service I asked Matt to tell me about the song. Love Justice was written by Brian Wu and Matt Lundgren. They are half of Foster, a new group of worship leaders. Stephen Kelly, Thomas Egler and a diverse network of other worship leaders round out this group of gifted and Spirit led artists. They have a desire to awaken the church to compassion, mercy and justice. Love Justice is just one example of how they hope to inspire people to be agents of social change.

Foster aspires to be bridge builders in areas of culture and racial division. Their music reflects this aspiration in the multi-cultural approach of their EP, A World that Barely Breathes. They hope to inspire people to broaden their worship language. To increase their God vocabulary. And to inspire us to not just engage in a moment of worship but to live our lives as worship.

I hope you will download this song and check out Foster. If you want you can get more of their music at
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New Year's Prayer

The Lord bless thee and keep thee.
Numbers 6: 24

God give thee a year of rich blessing;
‘Tis my deepest longing for you,
That He may give more abundantly
Than what thou hast known hitherto.

God bless with a spirit of patience,
To bear ‘mid life’s ills and its woes,
The burden and sorrow that presses,
Which no friend on earth sees or knows.

God bless thee with strength and with courage
Just daily to take up thy cross,
And follow wherever He leadeth,
For Him counting all things but dross.

God bless thee with power of endurance,
When tested by conflict and strife,
Look up unto Him, the Unseen One,
To Him, He is the God of thy life.

God give thee such fullness of blessing
As only His hand can bestow;
That forth from thy life living waters
To thirsty ones round thee may flow.

Ephesians 3:20, Romans 7: 30-39, 7: 10-15, John 3:16

I discovered this on another blogger’s site, Darrin Brooker. He found this on a card tucked in an old book. The 130 year old prayer isn’t attributed to an author.
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