How Did You Make London Happen?

One of the most common questions we receive (both now, as well as leading up to our move) is how did we make the opportunity in London happen. The problem is that the answer goes much further back than October of 2016 and the question isn’t framed correctly anyway.

Life has never been what I thought it would be. I know I’m not the only one (Those words feel like song lyrics and if they are I apologise). In 2012, I felt the Lord saying, “I know” and the phrase “The Lord Knows” has stuck with me since. That can be hard to hold onto when hard times come, as it can associate with the feeling of “if you know, why aren’t you doing something”. But what I always keep in mind with that phrase is in His time.

We had a conversation with Frankie, our daughter, about jobs. I was explaining that I’ve worked a lot of jobs before going into ministry and how thankful I am for all that I learned through them. I started as a custodian and lawn-care worker. Then worked in retail stores, a shipping company, a cafeteria, as a bi-vocational worship pastor, in live production, producing, and pastoring. Each job had it’s own purpose and reason. I find it encouraging to look back on the past and see how God was working, but I have plenty of “God, what are you doing?” moments as well. We might learn in this lifetime or we might not know until the next.

Growing up as a Pastor’s kid meant mandatory volunteerism. I’m not complaining. I appreciate it…now. I would sing on stage, but didn’t enjoy it, so I stood up to my Dad and said I wouldn’t do it any longer (while singing, “We’re not gonna take it, no, we’re not gonna take it”). My Dad, being the wise man that he is, smiled and said I would run sound instead. He would later tell people I was the best sound person they had. What he conveniently didn’t tell people is my competition wasn’t that stiff. One engineer was deaf in one ear and the other was more technically inclined than musically.

In High School, I grew to be comfortable in front of people again and picked up singing and playing guitar. On a missions trip to London I fell in love with the city, culture, and country and said I’d love to live there or work there some day. Ultimately, I thought I would go to university for music and either be a touring musician or a worship leader (that paradox alone is quite silly). When I enrolled my Dad recommended I double major in communication and music. Although I was gifted musically, he could tell the technical side came easily. Like any son that has a quality father, I respected his opinion and moved that direction. I ended up graduating with a major in communication and a minor in music and religion.

While in college I had to work on campus in the food service (as I didn’t have a car), predominately in the cafeteria, but at times in the café and doing catering work. I met and worked with a lot of people through this time. During this season I was always involved musically on campus, with churches, or working bi-vocationally as a worship leader.

As graduation approached my boss convinced me to come on full-time at the cafeteria. I was getting married and Stephanie still had two years until she graduated. She’s wicked smart (not evil, but Good Will Hunting “wicked smart”) and graduated with a double major a semester early. My boss left a month after hiring me (dirty trick, although in looking back I was thankful) and they brought in a new person who was not a fan of my working there and made life exceptionally difficult. It was hard work but I learned so much through the process. One big take away is that I could work with anyone and it wouldn’t phase me, which came in handy as my working years progressed.

At the same time I was on a pastoral team as a worship leader for a church in Orlando. I received some invaluable experiences in how to work as a production person by being a worship pastor.

During that time I had sent out 70+ resumes, DVD’s, and portfolios but couldn’t find any job opportunities (this is before personal websites, Vimeo, and such). It was good because it allowed Stephanie to finish college. As her graduation approached an opportunity with a church in Missouri opened up. I was an urbanite snob and after visiting Missouri a couple times and doing an internship in the area, I had told people I’d never live in Missouri and if I did, never southwest Missouri. God knew I needed the time to prepare me for accepting that position.

Upon taking the position it was in the fall of our first year that the lead pastor told me he had been praying for someone like me for five years. I was on staff for ten years telling that story to someone when it finally clicked that five years before that was when my Dad told me I should pursue both technical and music studies. I took a production position with the church, but my worship leading prepared me for how to do that well since I knew both sides of the microphone.

After almost 11 years at the church we transitioned out. We didn’t know what was next or where we were going, but our friend network went to bat for us in huge ways. The funny thing is the position at Hillsong happened when I saw the position on their website and filled out an application. It was the only place I interviewed with that I had applied for. After three weeks I got an email that they’d like to do a Skype interview with me. At the end of that interview they said they’d like us to fly out so we could check out the church. On the trip I told one of the staff I almost didn’t fill out the application since I had heard they were a hire from within organisation, to which they replied that they were glad I did. After offering and accepting the position, one of the staff mentioned they had been praying for that position for a year, the time when we started to feel like there would be a transition coming we just didn’t know what, when, where, or how.

Obviously this is just the summary of a really long period of time. I’d love to say I did all of these jobs to the best of my ability and was a stellar employee, but I made plenty, and some severe, mistakes along the way. The good times, nor the bad times define me though. Sure they shaped me and taught me, but they aren’t who I am. My identity is only found in one place.

One take away is this, it had nothing to do with where I came from. Hillsong London didn’t know me before I applied and they didn’t know the place I came from. Always remember God is much bigger than our resume, who we know, where we’re from, or what we’ve done. Plain and simple, it’s what God had for us next. Our family and friend network is a major credit to all the opportunities that were offered to us in the transition. Relationships are what matter. People are the purpose. If we lose that, we’ve lost everything.

Especially when working at some of these places for long periods of time the constant thought would be, why am I still here? But if I had short-circuited or ended any of them short I would have missed what I have in front of me now. Everything I had done prepared me for what I have next. In life, we as humans think in absolutes. Leaps of faith versus staying faithful and waiting. For us, we’ve done both and I don’t think it is an either/or. In the end, the Lord will show you what is required; you just have to be faithful with what he has for you to do. You give and do your best and the Lord will take care of the rest. Those times can be especially hard when faith can look crazy or when people you respect throw out phrases like “you’re probably operating outside of God’s will”.

One thing I would encourage is don’t be fearful of the choice or the lack of clarity. That is where faith falls in. Fear of failure, pain, hurt, or choosing right vs. wrong can and will be crippling. The one song/phrase that always encourages me in these moments is I’m no longer a slave to fear, for I am a child of God. In my identity as a child of God it doesn’t mean I’m perfect, as I never will be, but I’m not going to live in fear of that either.

Even still we don’t think we’ve “arrived” and know the Lord still has more for us. More than we can ever plan or imagine. It’s an honour and humbling privilege to be used in any way the Lord leads.

So, for those people that have asked how the Hillsong opportunity came about, I guess I’d say when my Dad told me I had to run sound if I wouldn’t be on stage. Thanks Dad.

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Book Foreword

My Dad will release his seventh book this fall/winter. You can find his previous releases here. He asked my brother and I to write the foreword for the upcoming book. Hope you’ll check it out:

Stories have always enamored me. In the movie, Road to Perdition, Tom Hanks has two sons and his oldest son witnesses a crime. When asked if his son can keep it a secret, all he answers is “He’s my son.”

I grew up a Pastor’s kid, predominantly in the Chicago area. I love my Dad and always wanted to be with him. That meant I was always at the church with him. I was essentially Samuel (referring to the Prophet in the Old Testament), living and sometimes sleeping at the church. I’m pretty sure I drove every administrative assistant completely bonkers. Special apologies to Chris and Darlene for that phase when I thought I was a good drummer. I ended up getting a job at the church after getting a worker’s permit since I was underage at 13 years old. I was their greens keeper and a sanitation engineer of a multi-level complex. In other words, I mowed the grass and was a janitor/custodian/whatever-you-want-me-to-do staff person.

In the movie, Tom Hanks ends up on the run with his son and in conversation the son learns how much he is like his father. Thankfully, I have not witnessed a crime that my Dad had to back me up on or had to go on the run with my him. But I, too, am a lot like my Dad. He taught me how to serve other people, work hard, to give, how to love God, love the church, and to love all people.

Today, people tend to think buildings when they hear the word church but the Church is people. This is especially hard for a person like myself to understand since I am task-oriented and more purpose-driven than people-driven. I live in the paradox where people are our purpose and my Dad taught me to accomplish that it means living beyond myself, both in serving and in faith.

It is fitting that this book is on Ephesians, as one of my favorite passages/prayers is “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us…” I think we can miss that Paul is referring to the corporate church and not just individually in our lives.

Mercedes-Benz has the motto “das Beste oder nichts“, which means The Best or Nothing. If my Dad ran the company the motto would have changed to “The Best and nothings isn’t an option” (I won’t bother with the German translation, although my Mom’s heritage would probably appreciate it). Today, I’d hold the same mindset. Why give anything less than your best?

The biblical examples my Dad always gave were that “It isn’t I who lives, but Christ who lives in me” and “To do all things not unto man, but as onto the Lord.”

A testament of these examples is that I’m still always at the church, deeply passionate about the church, and have a deep love for the bride of Christ, the church. So much so that my kids love the church and always want to be at it. Today, I, too, am a Pastor. I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to be a part of many great churches, especially the church I am currently at, James River Church. All of this wouldn’t be possible without my Dad. My Dad who made more sacrifices for us than we will ever know. Like selling his saxophone so that I could have braces, because the majority of my English/Welsh heritage is evident in my humor and my teeth.

So if you asked me about this book, or any of my Dad’s previous books, my only response to you would be:

He’s my Dad.

Ten for Ten

This month, I celebrated a decade serving at the church. This is a compilation of some of what I had learned during my time here. I initially thought ten points would be hard to come up with, but fifty-five points later (and counting), the hard part was picking ten.

Someone once asked how I had all these stories and knew what I knew, to which I responded, “I can’t give you my scars, I can only tell you how I got them.” Scars are not necessarily bad. Although sometimes inflicted by others, most are self-inflicted in our own folly, or done by the work of a masterful surgeon (and God is quite the surgeon).

It would be wise to preface that I am not perfect, I have not arrived, and you may (most likely) already know these. So, let them be an encouragement. May you enjoy reading this list as much as I have enjoyed my last ten years learning them.

  1. The Lord knows – Jeremiah 29:11-13; Isaiah 55:9; Psalm 139:4

A theme in every Bible narrative is that the Lord knows (hence the description for God of omniscience). This is something that has comforted our family in the easy times and the hard, the good and the bad. There was a season at the beginning of 2012 when that phrase was brought to my remembrance regularly and that year ended up proving that I should never forget it. It is something that I have held closely ever since.

After accepting the position at the church but before our move, friends would ask what we were coming to do. I didn’t have a firm understanding of what the job entailed, but I had this strong feeling we needed to go and God was calling us to it. He has shown us grace upon grace in accepting his call, and that is something I will never take lightly. There is grace and peace available in the unknown because He knows.

  1. Your first year is training – Hebrews 12:1-3

A couple years into working here I stopped by a co-worker’s office. We chatted a few minutes and before leaving I felt a prompting and said, “You should know that your first year is training. You need to learn the different cycles and seasons of the organization. You’re doing a good job.” It wasn’t until a year later when that same person told me that that was one of the most helpful things someone had told them.

Don’t tread on those that have gone before you. They paved the way in prayer, blood, sweat, and tears. You, too, will leave and want the grace from others knowing you weren’t perfect and did the best you could with what you had. May I always lift up and not tear down.

Instead of telling everyone what should be done, it is sometimes more influential to ask the right questions. Learn (even teach yourself) to ask the right questions instead of just speaking everything that comes to mind. It helps to understand the difference between opinion and counsel.

  1. It’s not about me – Proverbs 16:18; Matthew 20:28; Matthew 22:37-39, 1 Corinthians 13:5d

Since the Lord knows and he has plans that work on their own planes (Isaiah 55:9), I’ve learned to hold everything loosely.

Paul refers to himself as a servant for Christ. Jesus tells us he came to serve, not to be served. John the Baptist said He must increase, so I must decrease. It’s hard to serve well if you make it about yourself. Even Jim Collins talks about this in Good to Great. What he calls 5-star leadership we would call servant leadership.

It’s not they it is we, but it’s hard to get to we if it is all about me. To do anything revolutionary it takes a team (a group of people) and for a team to work it can’t be about me. In the times when I’m most frustrated or bothered, the first question I ask is have I made it about myself. You can’t influence if you don’t have relationship, and it’s hard to play a team sport (which life is) without relationship. Keeping score also hinders relationship and love among team. It’s talked about in 1 Corinthians 13:5.

It’s not about me, it’s about a purpose and about His will. Everything in the Bible points to Christ and the easiest way to not make it about myself is to keep my sight on Christ. Robert Murray M’Cheyne says, “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”

  1. Let God do the work – Psalm 37:7; Psalm 75:7; James 4:10

Although I do believe you have to do your part, one thing I’ve learned is to not get out ahead of God. He’s our defender, he’s our promoter; but left to our own devices He will allow us to try and do it on our own. Let me always be humble enough to realize I can only do so much and must always rely on him to do the rest, to do the work, to open the door.

I’ve even seen an interesting delineation when the phrase has been used “I’m called to…” versus “God’s called me to…” You may think it is semantics, but through time I’ve seen a very interesting correlation. Is it your calling or God’s calling on your life? Joseph had dreams from God, but he made God’s dreams about him and it led him on a 13-year journey from slavery to working second in command to pharaoh. Just remember that God works on his own timetable.

  1. Less is more – John 3:30, Mark 12:41-44

I’d say more but I think it would go against the point. Outside of Jesus, less is more. In design, in art, in creativity, in life, in writing…

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication – Leonardo da Vinci

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. – Hans Hofmann

Andy Chrisman has a great blog regarding less is more in worship here.

  1. Not every opportunity is a God opportunity – 1 Samuel 24 & 26

David had ample opportunity to kill Saul. The counsel he received from those closest to him was to take what God had delivered to him, yet he still had enough wisdom and leading to know this wasn’t of God. In a day where something could be from God or Satan masquerading as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) it is best to pray and discern before you act. I’ve been offered many opportunities that would be either a raise monetarily or positional, yet each time I’ve felt that God wasn’t in it and in the long-term it has proved true.

That being said, I think God can still work in all situations for his good, because it says in Psalm 119:68 “You are good and do good.” It is also made evident in the story of Joseph that I referred to earlier. In Genesis 50:20 Joseph says God intended it all for good.

There may even be times where you can feel like Christ − that you aren’t accepted in your “hometown”. Although I do believe this is possible, I don’t think this is always the case. You may be passed up for opportunities or projects. Just remember to find where God has called you and know that he is in control.

In life we can think in absolutes: always, never, yes, no… Remember though, life isn’t absolutes.

  1. Do the best you can with what you have – Colossians 3:23

In all things it starts with the source−and you are a source. Whether this be in music, in production, in work, in life; if the source isn’t right, it will take even more work, or will sometimes be done in vain. As it pertains to team, raise up and bring along. Be a good steward, not with just resources but with people.

There was a time I walked into a music venue and one of the team members came up to me apologizing saying it wouldn’t be done at a quality I was used to. My advice was, do the best you can with what you have and the audience will be able to tell the difference.

God is in the details, and it’s the little things that propel something from good to great as per Collins’ book or it can be one of the catalysts for a tipping point, taken from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Tipping Point. In everything, make sure it is done to the level of doing it unto the Lord. If you only do the minimum, you’ll get the minimum.

In everything, do the best you can. There are no excuses, no matter who is on your team, what equipment you use, what your budget is, how much time there is. Some of the best work is done when limitations abound. I’ve seen people spend more time trying to get out of work when they could have been done with the work to begin with. Work smarter, yes, but do your best and do what it takes to make it the best.

Sometimes your best can be changed with the mind shift from what to why. Michael Jr. explains it best here.

  1. Nothing is impossible – Luke 1:37; Matthew 19:26; Mark 9:23; Mark 10:27; Philippians 4:13

The best and worst thing someone can say to me is that something isn’t possible. In my mind I usually think, that is the size of your god. It’s also something continually talked about in the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson; it would explain how people would tell Jobs it couldn’t be done, he’d push them further, and miraculously it would be done. People have a greater capacity than they give themselves credit for and with Christ on your side, all things are possible.

In my time I’ve had to learn to trust intuition. Sometimes it may be the spirit’s leading, but a constant prayer of mine is wisdom and discernment. God is in the details and the impossible is never easy. It will only make you stronger. If your impossible involves change, something I’ve found to be true is lasting change takes time. Sure, some can be a quick fix, but there is a lot of change you have to invest a lot of time to see. If your impossible involves something that seems too big for you, remember you serve a big God and the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

You can see an empowering and encourage message from John Lindell on the impossible here.

  1. The art of contentment – Matthew 6:25-26, 32-33; Philippians 4:12-13; Hebrews 13:5; 1 Timothy 6:6-7; Luke 12:15; 2 Corinthians 12:10

One thing that can rob contentment is comparison. Carlton Fisk once shared advice to the Chicago White Sox during a playoff season that the best thing they can do is Take Care of Your Own Business. All things are “but for the grace of God” and you may not know what was involved for whatever that person may possess, whether it be in the physical world or the spiritual world. It doesn’t help you or the team if you only point out what the other person isn’t doing or doing well. A thing to keep in mind is the psychology of projection or referred to as blame shifting. Biblically it is defined here in Matthew 7:1-5.

You’re not alone, but contentment and a fulfilled life usually involves a mind shift. You may have to figure out what that mind shift is based on your present circumstance.

In longevity there may come times when you get stir-crazy, but that is when you ask yourself what has God called you to and is he in what you’re wanting to do. Stay engaged and remember to constantly see the forest from the trees. After a while you can forget the majesty in familiarity. It’s always helpful to get a healthy dose of perspective wherever you may be at. No place is perfect because no one is perfect, and it’s usually better where you’re at than you can see.

  1. If you’re called to leave, leave well – Luke 6:31; Matthew 7:12

There are times when I get a text, phone call, or someone stops by and I know why before they even say anything. They have decided to leave wherever they work and want my thoughts. The best advice I can give is leave well. It never pays to burn bridges and even if you were “wronged” (which all boils down to perspective) then be the bigger person.

Perspective is something that could be its own point but it is too large of a topic for now. To see a tidbit of what I mean, the Pixar movie Inside Out makes a well-played joke about what I’m insinuating here.

One thing I would always caution is make sure you are leaving because God is in it and not because of someone. That someone could leave at any given time and then the question is does God actually want you there or did you step out on your own.

Is it really time to leave or do you just need a break? If you’ve burnt the wick at both ends it may be time for a vacation or break. Recalibrate to God’s voice and find out what he has for you.

I’ll leave you with this benediction from the Apostle Paul: I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.  Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:16-21 NLT

The First Ever Christmas Production

When growing up Fletch was one of my favorite movies. In one scene Fletch is wrongly arrested and claims his occupation is a shepherd. I found this hilarious, partly because it is not a common occupation anymore, and partly because I have a pretty dry and daft sense of humor.

This Christmas season as I was reading through the Christmas story again I found a few things that caught my eye differently:

“There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.”

Luke 2:8-14 MSG

God displayed the very first Christmas program that included a choir of angels and a light show (theologically some say this was God’s glory appearing and enveloping them). Not just an angelic choir, but a huge angelic choir, according to Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation. Other translations describe it as “a vast host of others – the armies of heaven…” or “a multitude”.

It makes me wonder if God was trying to show us that a message can be effective when paired with the right music and a quality light show. But I digress, since the next thing said is “they were terrified.”

There are three takeaways I saw when thinking about the historical context of shepherds themselves.

  1. This announcement was given to the nominal or non-believer.

Some commentators/scholars explain that shepherds didn’t hold to classical Jewish tradition because of being too busy with their sheep. It was hard for shepherds to keep Sabbath because of sheep needing constant protection and spending the majority of their time in fields.

May we not get too busy during the holiday season to truly celebrate the reason for this season.

Usually when people are upset or disgruntled during Christmas the argument could be made that they’ve taken their eye off the ball, figuratively speaking, in forgetting what the point of the season is to begin with.

  1. Shepherds were the lowest/common class of society at the time.

The reason I find this so cool is from before Christ’s birth he was reiterating a common message he had in that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

From the start he wanted to show it was God that would spread the message. If God wanted all people to know immediately he would have told the group of people that would have been best at spreading the message. Instead he picked the lowliest people of that time, whom most people wouldn’t interact with. Which also teaches us that God works in his timeframe, not ours.

It is sometimes those you would least expect, that God says is the right person. Like another shepherd we know, David.

  1. The shepherds were most likely watching over the sheep that would be used for temple sacrifice.

God announced his son’s birth, the final and ultimate sacrifice, to those who were watching over the sacrifice of that time. Those that were so close to the salvation of that time, who were nominal believers at best because of work, were told of the arrival of the final sacrifice.

It reminds me of a story told on West Wing:

There was man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town and that all of the residents should evacuate their homes. But that man said, “I’m religious, I pray, God loves me, God will save me.”

The waters rose up.

A guy in a row boat came along and he shouted, “Hey, hey you, you in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety.” But the man shouted back, “I’m religious, I pray, God loves me. God will save me.”

A helicopter was hovering overhead. A guy with a megaphone shouted, “Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop you this latter and I’ll take you to safety.” But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him, and God would take him to safety.

Well…the man drowned.

And standing at the gates of St. Peter he demanded an audience with God.

“Lord,” he said, “I’m a religious man, I pray, I thought you loved me.  Why did this happen?” God said, “I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a row boat.  What are you doing here?”

May we not be too close to the work, even in our work of Christmas programs and events, to not let him work in us. May we all be moved by the events and programs we are apart of and not just go through the motions. May we never be too close or too common to the story that it cannot affect us in the deepest way possible.

Finally, my favorite part of the shepherd’s story is no matter who you are or where you’re from; He came to save, He came to fulfill, He came to be. May you have a blessed and joyful holiday season.

Merry Christmas!