Greater Things Album Project is Now Live on Kickstarter

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 5.05.43 PMI’m using Kickstarter to fund my new album, Greater Things. You can get to the site by following this link. http://kck.st/1mDMz5x

I’m excited to share this with you and invite you to join in!

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A Backlog of Thankfulness Makes Tough Times Better

Several years ago, we were attending a National Vineyard conference in Anaheim.  It was a difficult season in my life. I was feeling particularly tired and sorry for myself.  Working two jobs, not getting enough sleep, battling a long illness, I loved leading worship but everything about my life was getting to be like going through the motions. I was deeply weary. There was no breath of inspiration for living the life God gave me. I felt like the valley of dry bones.
At these conferences, there are usually breakout sessions each afternoon on various topics, which I am sometimes inclined to skip, because I’m tired and I’m an introvert.  I need down time.
However, this particular time, Linda and I decided to attend an afternoon session on worship. It was led by Chris Lizotte and I really enjoy his thoughts on worship.  But I was surprised when at this workshop, Chris spoke for less than a minute and then introduced his neighbor, Jimmy.  I thought to myself ‘I should have gone back to hotel and taken that nap!’. Jimmy was a small man, in his early fifties/late forties, with a broad smile, a carpenter by trade, who embraced the Southern California surf culture, with a blonde pony tail and a pretty thick southern drawl. Jimmy had also been fighting cancer for a while and actually lost that fight not too long after.
Jimmy wasn’t really a preacher, but he had a powerful message. He was about saying thank you, out loud to God, for His love and every detail of care He shows for us.  This man embodied his message. He was joy packaged. We were undone!
His message wasn’t new.  The scripture clearly tells us to give thanks always and in every situation. But I think this message hit me hard for a few reasons. One, it was what God was speaking to me. It was clearly his word to my tired, sick, discouraged and weary heart. And it hit the target square on. It was all the more powerful because it was delivered by a man fighting cancer and could not have been more authentic and genuine. He was a husband, father and friend who in no way wanted to be in the situation he was in.  But, in every inch of his being, he was extremely and genuinely thankful.   The resulting joy and peace were something you could see and feel. I have a tape of the session, and it still moves me.
He was a living example of how actively giving thanks to God changes your perception of everything. He was a powerful reminder of the fruit of gratitude  Jimmy just had us all say “Thank You Lord” a whole bunch of times together.  It sounds contrived, but when the Spirit is in something, it gets real very quickly.  We could feel the Spirit moving through the room, happy to move among us and lift burdens.  We ended the time by crowding around Jimmy and praying for his physical healing. It was a bath of tears. Good tears.
This 90 minute session brought about a lasting change in me.  Here in the bay area; we are a sarcastic, suspicious, independent bunch.  How could something this simple as a grateful heart change such “sophisticated” people?  But it did change us.  There is power when we name things. And naming the things we had to be thankful for was just that, powerful. When we name things we see them. And we are reminded of them. And we stop and acknowledge them. And we encourage others when we share them. So we started intentionally thanking God out loud as an act of worship.  We wrote Him notes of thanks.   Thank you Lord, thank you Lord, thank you Lord became a breath prayer for us.
Everyone has difficult things happen.  We’re navigating a particularly hard one with our friends and family right now.  The hard challenges of this life are real. And we need to acknowledge them and pray our way through them, hearing what God is saying to us about them.
But equally if not more important is His goodness. So even still in the midst of the good and the bad, the easy breezy days and the hard painful ones, when we gather together for dinner, we each take a moment to say what we’re thankful for this day.  Each of us naming something we are thankful for, from the youngest to the oldest. It seems to disarm the enemy’s lies, calm our insecurities and neutralize our fears.  It sets the tone for our conversation. It puts us in the right frame of mind to hear His voice and go where He leads us.
 It can change your way of thinking and lighten your heart.  As it becomes an ingrained part of your daily rhythm, it will change the way you encounter others and engage in daily life.  You will see the joy of the Lord become your strength. It will become your “go to”, because you’ve put in the time, you’ve practiced the discipline of being thankful and it becomes part of your spiritual rhythm.
   “Thank you Lord, that You know my name, That you look at me and everyone as the same, Your love is strong, and it never changes.”  (From- You Know My Name by Chris Lizotte)

Abiding: How to Hear God’s Voice

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.    John 15:1-4
In my home church, Vineyard Concord, we take the month of July for a time we call Summer Sabbath.  We suspend our midweek meetings, along with our kids and youth churches.  Our Sunday mornings together are called “All-In;” and we have a very simple worship time with a couple of activities all ages can do together.    During Summer Sabbath, the worship band is pared down It’s a couple of us on acoustic guitars and maybe someone on box drum.  I ask all of the worship team to serve in one year terms, which start in August. Summer Sabbath is also a time set aside so we can listen to God and decide together if they’re going to sign on for the coming year. We end Summer Sabbath with the whole congregation getting together for a picnic in a local park.
When we first started explaining Summer Sabbath a few years ago, some people got the impression that it was basically a time to give the church staff and leaders a break.  This does happen, but really, for us, Summer Sabbath is a season to abide in the Father and prune back our activities to allow us to bear better fruit in the coming year.  We encourage each other to embrace a rhythm of life where we take time to read, reflect, pray and hear God’s voice, so we can go and do the things we hear Him saying.  My wife, Linda, writes a weekly blog during this time, called Abiding, to help focus our thoughts and prayers.
Other churches we are in relationship with in our valley encourage their congregations to do the same. To join in and embrace Summer Sabbath as a time to intentionally rest in Him.  We may not be able to actually take a vacation or scale back our work schedules, but we intentionally find ways and time to connect with the Father’s heart, which we may neglect when we’re busy with fruit bearing times of our lives.  Our goal is to establish a rhythm in our lives of resting then working to bear fruit.
During the rest of the year, we talk about and encourage everyone to find a rest/work balance within the day, within each week, in every season. Life is not a marathon with a few weeks (if we are lucky) off for vacations in the summer. Life is about rhythm. All of creation reflects this truth. The seasons, each having a specific, rhythmic purpose, in order. Breathing in, breathing out. Daytime and nighttime. Work and sleep. We are created for both. Each has its own specific purpose in our physical and emotional and spiritual well being. God created it all, knowing how He made us. And by acknowledging this fact, we humble ourselves, admitting we are the created, and we honor His design in us. True, we easily get knocked out of rhythm in our lives.
To be sure, there are days, weeks, seasons where the call is to be intense and intentional about something, and we will needfully put aside rest or work. New babies come to mind. Or job changes or illness, or any number of life interruptions. But we must go back and find the rhythm we were created for and acknowledge it is designed for our good. We function best when we agree with God about who He says we are and how He made us. After all, we are the created, He alone is the creator. We honor Him when we recognize and by our actions agree with this.
Our Summer Sabbath begins on first Sunday after July 4th and runs through the last Sunday in July. Join us! I’d recommend seeing what daily and weekly activities you can put aside for the time, diving into the word and prayer, (we use the  Moravian Texts as our daily readings and the Abiding blog), to hear His voice. Then reflecting on what God is saying to you, now in this season of life. Listen to His direction for your upcoming season, year.  Since I’m mainly writing for worship leaders here, I want to challenge you to get in there and make this a rhythm of abiding. Daily, weekly, seasonally, annually, recognize your need to both bear fruit and abide. You’ll draw closer to the Father’s heart, and your ability to lead others will be more fruitful.197392_10150103597568862_3232886_n
Note: Moravian texts are a daily set of 3 or 4 sections of scripture, which can be emailed directly to you every morning.  They aren’t selling anything and they won’t flood your inbox.  It’s just a daily scripture reading resource.  We use it as something we can do as a church family. 

 

Collaborate

If you break down the word “collaborate” into its three sections, co-labor-ate, it seems to have something to do with working together after eating.  If you’ll hang with me for a few paragraphs, I’ll tell you the story of the song “Abide in Me”.
I spent more than a decade working the morning shift at a grocery store.  The morning shift is a bit of a misnomer, because it starts somewhere between 2 and 4 in the morning.  On Sunday mornings, I’d go in early so I could have everything wrapped up in time to have sound check for our Sunday worship celebration at 9.  I was pretty exhausted all of the time, and a few years ago we decided it was time for me to leave the store and get a normal amount of sleep.
For the first few months, I spent a great deal of time in chapter 15 of John, and knew I needed to take a while to abide.  I realized I’d not put myself in a position to hear anything from God for a long time.  Every time i tried to read or pray, I’d fall asleep.  So I learned to abide.
For several months, I set aside a couple of hours every day to read scripture, reflect, pray and listen for God’s voice.  I would sit and be quiet, listening. I realized I needed to rebuild my daily rhythm with God. This went on for about four months, and I became increasingly frustrated because I just wasn’t hearing anything.  I remember saying out loud, “God, I just don’t hear You!”
As soon as I said it, i noticed a bird singing off in the distance.  I remember thinking, “I wish that bird would be quiet!”  Just then, I heard something, not audibly, but I heard it.  God was saying, “Listen to that bird, I’m singing over you.”  That changed my entire perspective!  I immediately felt the anger and frustration begin to wash away.  Scripture started giving me a-ha moments again, and I could see my prayers being answered.  Through spending time abiding, I was again ready to bear good fruit.
A few days later, my friend Sean was speaking at our church.  He’d just returned from a spiritual golf retreat in South Carolina.  I was leading worship at another church that day, but my wife, Linda, wrote down a quote from Sean that hit a strong chord in her heart, echoing something she’d always felt, “It changes everything when you hear His voice.”
So I sat down with my guitar and iPhone to write the song.  After I wrote a version, I shared it with Linda to get her input on the lyrics.  She is really good at clearing things up that I can be nebulous about and getting to the heart of a lyric.  After she edited and re-formed some lyrics, I showed it to my friend Mike, who os the lead pastor of our church.  Since the song is written for groups to sing, I wanted to make sure the lyrics expressed truth and strong theology.  Once I had run it by Mike, I took it to my friend Jason.  He’s a fellow worship leader in our valley with a very strong music theory background.  He suggested some chord changes that made the sound of the song more interesting.
There were five people involved in the writing of Abide in Me before I ever played it for a small or large worship celebration.  By collaborating with friends whose opinions and skills I trust, the finished song was made much clearer and stronger .  Don’t be afraid to share your songwriting work with others.  Having a strong supportive creative community will make songwriting much more fun and fruitful.

Making Unconscious Competence Conscious

Have you heard of unconscious competence? It’s having the practiced skill at something so you don’t have to even think about it when you do it.  I’ve had the opportunity to lead worship many times in many settings for many years.  Along the way, I’ve gained some unconscious competence.  The problem with unconscious competence is that it’s just there and since you don’t think about it, you don’t think about explaining it and sharing it.  In this blogpost, I’m going to share some  things I’ve learned, along with giving  you the opportunity to share and ask questions.

Some of our local worship leaders joined together to be the worship band for an area wide Easter Week worship celebration.

We connect with God and with His people in worship.  These are a few of the practical things I’ve figured out along the way.

Love your people by singing songs in a singable key.  In most cases it will be a little lower than you’re used to, but you’ll have more people engaging if they aren’t pulling a throat muscle trying to sing along.

Enjoy what you’re doing and tell your face.  Open your eyes and smile once in awhile.  Be genuine.  Be yourself.  God loves you and He’s really, really proud of you.

Don’t be afraid of repeating songs.  If a certain song is moving people’s hearts, and you sense the Spirit moving among you, why would you be afraid to sing it a few weeks in a row?  Some songs seem to have a season of anointing or power. Singing heartfelt, familiar songs to Jesus, where they are so familiar people can sing them without looking at the screen; joyful, weeping, kneeling………  Songs like Break Every Chain, Revelation Song and Wonderful make their way into our hearts.  Our kids sing them while they’re outside on the swing set.  Why would we not encourage them by keeping it going?

Dynamics are important.  You need to be aware of what’s going on.  Sometimes, I’ll bring a loud song down to just the people’s voices, with very little instrumentation and repeat a section several times.  It’s a matter of being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and our hearts.  It’s not mystical and mysterious, but it is Spirit led.  I can see faces of people connecting, engaging and embracing worship.  I just see it on their faces and in their actions.  It’s prophetic, but it is learned by observing and listening.  Just about every week, we end up doing a song differently than we did in practice, because there is a nudge from the Spirit and we respond.  It works.

Here’s a tip for leading different groups and multi denominations.  If you’re given 15 minutes for worship songs, ask the Father to lead you through it, and He’ll do it in 14:59.  If you’re given a time parameter, honor it.  If you’re asked to do Shout to the Lord as your closing song, do it.  Giving honor to leaders is so good to do. Laying down your preferences to bless the folks you’ve been asked to lead builds their confidence in you. You’re there to serve.

Never flinch when you make a mistake.  Most people won’t notice if you don’t point it out.  I have a piano player friend who would quietly say “no” every time she hit a wrong note.  She didn’t realize she was doing it, and was grateful when we pointed it out to her.  It’s a good idea to gently, privately, positively point out these kinds of things to team members.  They’ll be grateful and feel loved.

If your denomination and congregation are open to it, invite the people to stand, raise their hands or show some other outward form of connection or surrender in worship. As you lead, you are also teaching by example. Be conscious of your own physicality that speaks and teaches your people as you lead.

Be the one who becomes friends with other worship leaders in your area.  Pull them together.  Do it to bless and encourage each other.  Worship with each other.  The fruit will be amazing!

If you have stories or questions, feel free to comment below.

Holy Week in Diablo Valley

 

 

 

401996_10200540315486888_1912593282_nThe week before Easter is one of the very best times of the year, here in the Diablo Valley.  I’m aware of the irony in that last sentence.  Our hometown area has a dominant feature.  Mt. Diablo is about 4,000 feet in elevation, with a nearly as tall north peak joined to it.  It’s a beautiful mountain, and it has an incredible view from its peak.  The legend I choose to believe about the mountain is that the Spanish originally named it “Montaña Doble”, or double mountain.  When American settlers came in, they renamed it Diablo and came up with some Native American legend about what went on up there in ancient times.  I think they just didn’t understand Spanish very well.

Here in Diablo Valley, we have a multi-denominational family of churches named Church Without Shoes.  During holy week, we share in 40 hour prayer time on Monday and Tuesday, followed by a community wide communion service on Maundy Thursday.  There are about 35 churches involved, to varying degrees.  The pastors even go on a yearly retreat together.

This year, the worship band for Maundy Thursday consists of 13 musicians and tech folks from 9 churches.  We play pretty universally known worship songs, but the biggest thing going on is relationship.  We’re excited to see how God will use us together in worship, in relationship and in mission.

Have a great Easter Week!

Early On

 

The Road to Worship Leading

I started playing guitar at 14.  My parents signed me up for lessons because they were concerned I was getting too quiet and turning into a loner.  They were right.  My junior high experience isn’t one I look back on with any fondness.  I grew to my full 6’4” without gaining any weight.  I was, however, growing a nice crop of acne all over my face. My dad told me would be character building.  My eighth grade campaign ended with 6 weeks of mononucleosis, which did not come from kissing a girl.

I started guitar lessons, and was immediately immersed.  My non-school waking hours were spent practicing on a $40 Orlando acoustic guitar.  After a few months, my teacher passed me along to another teacher, who passed me along to another.  I took lessons all through high school, and was progressing right along, until I realized that the cool guitar players also sang.  With that in mind, I bought the songbooks for every Beatles, Dylan and James Taylor song I could find.  I was still pretty reluctant to sing and play in front of people, but my parents made me do it, even though I groaned and resisted.

My junior year, a girl at school asked me to come to a Young Life meeting, which was being led by my biology teacher, Mr. Ashlock.  I don’t know how he knew I could play and sing, but he asked me to bring my guitar.  When I arrived, he told me to go up front, next to the other guitar player and play along.  Everything was going well, I was just playing guitar and singing.  There wasn’t any big pressure until Mr. Ashlock asked me to sing “A Horse With No Name”, by America.  I knew the song well, so I figured, “why not?” and went ahead and did it.  I don’t know why he asked me to do it.  I’ve asked him about it since; he says he doesn’t remember.  But, after a couple of months, in the Ashlock’s family room, as Seals and Crofts “Summer Breeze” played on the stereo, i quietly decided Jesus was who I wanted to follow.  And I followed Him, with my guitar, the last two years of high school.

After high school, I moved into a dorm at San Diego State. Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album and the ubiquitous “Free Bird” were playing on every dorm room stereo.  There was a whole lot of partying going on all around me, and for some reason I just couldn’t join in.  I got really lonely, and moved back home after one semester.

Meanwhile, my friend, Mike McCoy, had taken over leading the Young Life club at Concord High, and asked me if I’d like to help lead.  (That was 1975.  It’s 2014, and we’re still in this together.)  I thought it sounded like a good idea, so I enrolled in junior college and led songs and Campaigners for Young Life.  There was a very pretty brunette named Linda who was also helping out.  She already had a boyfriend, but man, she seemed really nice and was becoming a really good friend.  Of course, we fell in love, listening to the Doobie Brothers “Black Water”.  We were engaged in 1976 to Bread’s “Baby, I’m a Want You”, married in 1977 to “Beautiful” by Gordon Lightfoot, raised a family, and now are grandparents together.  Our grandkids like Mumford and Sons.  So do we.

In the summer of ’75, our Campaigners group started reading Bonhoffer’s “Life Together”.  After reading it, we were convinced the only way to live life like Jesus was to move in together, pool our money and share our lives.  So started Life Together Community.  We bought and shared houses, worshipped at home, ate generic foods, homeschooled our kids and looked for some place far away from the city, where we could live out our lives following Jesus.  We were sure the institutional church had it all wrong and we were going to blaze our own trail to Christian living. We never ended up leaving town, because we never sensed God saying it was a good idea to leave.  We’ve also since repented of our view of the church.  Now we’re part of Church Without Shoes, a multi denominational family of local churches. The remnant of Life Together still live right here on the same street, four families who live in two houses.  They’re set up like duplexes, sharing a laundry room.

In 1984, our friend, Marty Reitzin, invited us to Santa Barbara for a weekend conference at Westmont College, to see John Wimber.  We had heard stories of the Vineyard and the Fuller Seminary course, MC501, but we were pretty skeptical.  So we, the McCoys and a couple other friends drove south in our 1975 Mercury Marquis to see what  was really going on.

I remember walking into the gym at Westmont.  Worship had already started.  The songs were so simple, but there was something different going on.  I ran through a flurry of emotions as worship went on. The music, the thick presence of the Spirit, the healing;  I was sold right then and there. I knew. I needed to become a worship musician. Many kairos moments (we used to call them divine appointments) over 14 years led to that night. So many have come since and will continue, but from that point on, the decision was made. I was a worship leader.