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Practicing Advent

Filed under: The Practice — 3:30 pm



Things are so heavy in our world right now.  I find it both overwhelming and paralyzing.  The temptation (at least for me) is to get angry and cynical, or simply numb the pain with busyness and egg nog.  But there is a better way.

This is the great gift of ADVENT.

In December, as a Practice community, we are joining in the deep Christian tradition of ADVENTa season of deep longing, powerful hope, wise preparation, and unforced rhythms of Grace.  We’ll only gather twice, but both Sunday nights are shaping up to be pretty special…

Advent: December at The Practice

Christ’s invitation “to keep company with me and learn the unforced rhythms of Grace” is not just for us, but for the sake of the world.  For God so loves THE WORLD.  We learn to align our lives with Christ so that His love might fill us and overflow into everyone we meet.  We don’t ignore or deny the present pain – in fact, we are brokenhearted and work toward justice – but we know that death won’t have the last word.  O Come O Come Emmanuel!

Please feel free to join in any and every part of this journey.

Grace and peace,




Practicing Gratitude

Filed under: God's movement,quotes,The Practice — 7:09 am

A couple weeks ago, I got to share with The Practice why GRATITUDE may be the center of the center of following Christ.  In honor of Thanksgiving, here are those thoughts…

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us.
And He has given us everything.  
Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.  Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.  For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience.  And that is what makes all the difference.”  (Thomas Merton)

Jesus Christ is inviting every one of us into life to the full.  And Gratitude is the very center
of this kind of life.  Why?  Because God’s Love and Goodness is at the very center of Reality,
and Gratitude helps align us to what is most true.

N.T. Wright says “A sense of astonished gratitude is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience.”
Fr Ronald Rolheiser writes ”Sanctity has to do with gratitude. To be a saint is to be fueled by gratitude,
nothing more and nothing less.”

Meister Eckhart famously taught “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

Gratitude aligns us with what is most true in the universe:  the Love and Abundance of God.


And together, we watched this devastatingly beautiful short film about Ed’s Story.  May it encourage and inspire you today.  Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Ed’s Story, Gratitude from Baas Creative on Vimeo.


Am I missing it? On becoming Matthew McConaughey…

Filed under: life — 4:41 pm

I still haven’t recovered from one scene in Intersteller.  (Spoiler alert).  When space pilot Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, returns to his ship after their first mission, he discovers that a couple hours on that planet actually equalled 27 years on earth.  So while it was the same day to him, his children at home had lived 27 years.

Watching all he had missed

Watching all he had missed

And so he sat down to watch 27 years of video messages from his kids:  first talking about school homework…then sharing a college story…then introducing his newborn grandchild…and on and on….until finally, his middle-aged son whispers “Dad, I know you probably aren’t getting these messages.  We haven’t heard for you in so long.  So this is my last message…”

It was all I could do in that packed movie theater to not lay down on the floor and cry.

Because Cooper missed his kids’ childhoods. While he was off trying to save the world, his kids had to grow up without a father.  It didn’t matter that he loved them…because he wasn’t there to show them.  And by the time he realized his colossal mistake, it was literally too late.


Many of our fathers did this.  And my friends and I are in the season of deciding whether or not we’re going to do the same.  None of us would ever consciously decide to miss our kid’s childhood, of course. Never!  But we are setting the patterns in our 30s that will make the choice for us.

This is especially dangerous for those of us in professional ministry.  As soon as we add “God called me to this work”, we can justify and spiritualize our workaholism.  At least Silicon Valley CEOs can be honest and say they are driven by ambition, success, and power.  We church workers, often driven by the exact same stuff, try to spin it as “humbly paying the price for The Lord’s work.”  No wonder so many pastor’s kids hate the church.  No wonder so many pastor’s wives hate the church.

Friends, we don’t have to do it this way.  There is a better way.  Our kids don’t need us to save the world; they need us to see their world, and join them in it.  They need us to be there.  Not just physically there, exhausted after work, but emotionally present.  WITH them.  Seeing them…hearing them…delighting in them.

This will cost us something.  We may miss out on certain work successes and perks.  We may not reach the peaks of our professional ambitions.  But honestly, are those peaks worth our kid’s childhoods?

There is another way.  And our children desperately need us to find it.  There is still time.


A Conversation about Creativity, The Beatles, and Creating Art During my Crisis of Faith

Filed under: creativity,God's movement,music — 9:09 am

My friend and filmmaker Kurt Larson recently invited me onto his Bad Headshots podcast.  We had a fascinating conversation about the creative process, growing up in the Midwest, and even making art during my own crisis of faith.  (He tricked me into going to some deep places! Ha.)  I think the world of Kurt, and am really honored to be a part of this.  Please give it a listen and let me know what you think!


Bad Headshots Podcast:  Musician Aaron Niequist


Bad Headshots Podcast

Bad Headshots Podcast



Learning to Be Peacemakers in Israel and Palestine

Filed under: Discipleship,Palestine / Israel — 1:57 pm
Lynne Hybels

Lynne Hybels

This Saturday morning was the first official Israel/Palestine “learning community” at Willow Creek. We set out 300 chairs, not knowing if people would come, and over 650 showed up. It was a stunning, powerful, fascinating, heartbreaking, and inspiring three hours.

I sat in the front row and pretty much choked back tears the whole morning.

Lynne Hybels began by sharing a bit of her journey into peacemaking. She read from the beatitudes and framed the whole conversation in terms of being “a common friend” to both sides. There are few people I know who live this out more fully. Lynne finished by gently yet prophetically declaring:  “It is possible to be Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine. In fact, I believe this is the only way to be Pro-Peace. And Pro-Jesus.”  Amen and amen.

Second, Todd Deatherage (co-founder of Telos Group and friend/mentor to many of us) did the impossible: he presented a dual-narrative history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in 60 minutes. It was brilliant. Like watching a master painter with his canvas. Or like watching Obi Wan explain the force to Luke! Obviously, Todd would be the first to say that he could only give a basic sketch in such a short amount of time – the actual conflict is SO complex – but with God’s grace he attempted to offer an honest story that honors both perspectives. Such a gift. At the end, he shared a few principles for peacemaking…

Todd Deatherage

Todd Deatherage

Robi and Bassam

Robi and Bassam

Finally, we heard from two peacemakers who have lived through the unthinkable. Robi Damelin (Israeli) and Bassam Aramin (Palestinian) both lost children to the conflict. Hearing their stories broke my heart, especially as a father, and yet their commitment to peace blew me away. When tragedy strikes, most people choose to either shut down or take revenge…which only prolongs the conflict. But Robi and Bassam have chosen the way of engagement, non-violence, and reconciliation. A couple quotes…

“Revenge is never an end to the violence, only a new beginning.”  (Bassam)

“Without a grassroots movement of reconciliation, there is no hope for peace. There may be a cease-fire, but not peace.” (Robi)

I highly, highly recommend checking out what they’re doing with The Parent’s Circle.


FYI, Willow recorded this whole morning, and they are deciding the best way to make the content available. I’ll keep you posted. You’ll definitely want to see this!


Saturday morning was like pouring jet fuel onto a fire that’s been burning in me for a long time. I want to be a peacemaker. I want to give my life to the things that Jesus gave his life to…although I’m not always sure what to do. But Saturday reminded of a wise mentor’s response to the question “What do you think Jesus would do if he walked into Jerusalem today?”

After hearing the question, the 85 year old man paused for a moment…with a very intense expression…and then whispered quietly…

“If Jesus walked into Jerusalem today, he’d do now what he did then:
care for the poor, speak truth to power, and get himself killed.”


Robin Williams and The Liturgy

Filed under: God's movement,music,worship — 10:32 am
It's not your fault (1)

It’s not your fault

The death of Robin Williams has really messed with me.  It’s just so profoundly sad and heartbreaking.  But while re-watching many of his interviews and movies, one scene keeps playing in my mind, reminding me of the power of slowly repeating the Truth in love.  Remember the famous “It’s not your fault” scene from Good Will Hunting?  (Watch it here)

This brilliant scene is profound at a number of levels, but lately it’s been reminding me that we all need to hear the Truth more than once.  Slowly, firmly, and with great compassion.  Over and over.  Reality takes time to seep through our defenses and distractions, and we can’t always hear the beauty of Grace when she first begins whispering.

So as a worship leader, this raises a number of questions…

(1) If most of us need to hear the gentle truth repeated over and over, why do I spend so much time pursing innovation in worship and creative ways to reimagine our liturgy? Why are we so quick to add video content, moving lights, and production value to keep things fresh?

(2) If God often speaks in an easily missed, gentle whisper, why are many of my worship sets so loud? It’s pretty hard to hear a whisper at 110 dbs.

(3) Am I more afraid that people will be bored, or more afraid that I will add to the distraction?

(4) Do my worship liturgies create space for people to hear God whispering over and over, or do I give people one more entertaining opportunity to miss God’s voice?

(5) At the core, is my faith in God or in my ability to lead people to God?

These are easy questions to ask and impossible questions to perfectly answer.  But we need to wrestle with them.  I certainly do!

Which is why the Liturgy continues to capture and mess with me.  We gather together to tell the Big Story…over and over, over and over, over and over…until it finally begins to sink in.  Slowly and deeply.  And in these holy moments, the beautiful Truth God has been graciously whispering to us since the beginning of eternity sneaks past our defenses and into the cracks of our aching hearts.  Hallelujah.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

May we all learn to have ears to hear what God keeps whispering.


So what is this Practice thing?

Filed under: Uncategorized — 8:55 pm

Created by New Branch Films.


Cutting away everything but the essence

Filed under: church,God's movement — 1:31 pm
old church


My friend Rob used to say that the mark of a great sermon is how much content you leave on the cutting room floor.  So he’d learn as much as possible…and then spend the rest of the week cutting away everything but the very essence of the idea.  Out of this deep knowledge and complexity, he was able to make things profoundly simple and focused.

I wonder if it’s time for the church to do the same thing.

Over the last couple decades, the modern church as become really complicated: programs, services, classes, coffee shops, gymnasiums, and everything in between. It’s all great stuff, of course, but the sheer quantity can overwhelm and make it difficult to distinguish the essence from the extras.

One of my friends recently confessed “I’m not exactly sure why I go to church these days. Mostly out of guilt, I guess.” He went on to explain…

“I can build a case for really ‘high church’ (taking the holy sacraments) and a great case for really ‘low church’ (praying/sharing in a living room), but I can’t figure out why we need all the stuff in between. And my church is ONLY the stuff in between.”


What do you think? Does this resonate with you? What would it look like to trim the church down to its essence? What would we lose…and what could we gain?


So what can we actually do? Practice.

Filed under: The Practice — 11:48 am

As you can tell from my last couple posts, the darkness of the world has really been weighing on me this summer. Especially the carnage in Gaza. I can’t shake it. Most days I feel torn between two bad options: (1) lashing out in anger and blame, or (2) giving up and avoiding it all. Anger or avoidance. Adding to the conflict or burying my head in the sand. But thankfully, Jesus offers us a third way of constructively engaging reality, and it begins with prayer.

I know this in my head, but don’t alway practice what I think.

And so this coming Sunday, August 10th, we are having our one “summer Practice” gathering in the Willow chapel. 7-9pm. We will begin with an opening worship liturgy that anchors us in God and leads us to pray for our world. Together, we’ll lift up Israel/Palestine, the violence in Chicago, and a number of issues that break God’s heart…asking for peace, justice, and God’s will to be done on earth. Whether your heart is heavy or hope-filled (or a mix of both), let’s bring the fullness of who we are to these prayers, songs, and intercessions. Amen.

Father Michael teaching The Examen

Fr Michael at The Practice

Following the opening liturgy, Father Michael Sparough will guide us through the Jesuit practice of The Prayer of Imagination. If you’ve never experienced Fr Michael or this practice before, prepare to go on a powerful journey with God. (Check out Fr Michael’s last visit to The Practice HERE). I’m so excited for our community to be lead by such a godly and gifted spiritual director.



Finally, as is our practice, we will end the night by gathering around the central practice of our faith: Holy Communion. Because our hope is Jesus Christ. We don’t trust in violence, power, or even politics to bring peace; we trust in the power and grace of Christ. We don’t trust in our own abilities to fix ourselves and become the people God made us to be; we trust in the power and grace of Christ. There are many things we can and must do, but our faith is in God alone. Hallelujah.

So please join us!  The Willow Creek chapel.  7-9pm.  Everyone is welcome.

Grace and Peace,



Contemplation as the Path to Peacemaking

Filed under: Discipleship,Palestine / Israel,The Practice — 4:08 pm

We’re all friends, right?  If so, can I ask for a favor?  Please take an hour this week or next and listen to this teaching from Brian Zahnd…

“Contemplation and The Way of Peace”

In light of Gaza, Ukraine, and so much of the unrest in the world, Zahnd digs deep into the question of How can we actually follow Jesus into peacemaking?  Really?  Not just hippy-dippy idealism.  Not just angry activism. But how do we become the kinds of people who can tangibly love our enemies and choose The Way of Peace?



I don’t mean to overstate here, but learning this would change the world.  Or at the very least… if I can learn this, it will change my entire life.

As a side note, Brian has spent a lot of time in Israel and Palestine, and spends quite a bit of time telling stories:  being in a bunker with his friends in Gaza…in a rocket shelter with his friends in Sderot, Israel…and with many of his Jewish, Christian, and Muslim friends in the Holy Land. If you’re looking for a first-hand, both/and perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you may find this helpful.

Jesus said: “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Friends, many of us would call ourselves children of God, but if we’re very honest, we have not yet become peacemakers in the way of Christ.  We Christians are often known primarily for the people/things we’re against.  But there’s a more beautiful Way.


Cynicism, Idealism, and Proximate Justice

Filed under: Discipleship,life,Palestine / Israel — 9:12 am
Proximate Justice

Proximate Justice

In my early 20s, I became a cynic. I gleefully excelled in the twisted art of poking holes and always finding the worst in things. (Oh what a joy I was to be around.) And after a couple years, I assumed that I must be a fundamentally pessimistic, negative person.

But over the last decade or so – through honest friendships, plenty of therapy, and God’s grace – the “thing beneath the thing” has been coming to light. As it turns out, I’m not a cynic at all.  Not even a “glass is half empty” person. But instead…

I’m a hopeless optimist who doesn’t know how to deal with disappointment.

I can see the epic beauty of what’s possible, and this fills me with life, passion, and hope. There’s always a glorious new idea to chase around the upcoming corner.  But when reality doesn’t live up to what’s in my head and heart, I am often crushed by the disappointment.

Are there any frustrated idealists out there? Raise your hand if you’ve been hiding under cynical armor.  I see that hand. Me too.

To be honest, the last two weeks of global events have been overwhelming and depressing.  Especially the devastation in Gaza. And even though I believe that every person on earth has been invited to join God in healing and restoring the world, lately I just want to give up. Things will NEVER be completely fixed, so why keep trying?

Thankfully, one of my heroes in peacemaking shared this stunningly brilliant article called “Making Peace with Proximate Justice” by Stephen Garber.  Here’s his point…

“What keeps us going is the possibility of proximate justice—of something rather than nothing—knowing ahead of time that it will never be everything on this side of the consummation. Francis Schaeffer called this the vision and hope of substantial healing, arguing that it was the antidote to the all-or-nothing syndrome that so afflicts us, whether in the most personal parts of life, as with marriage, or the most public, as with political engagement. I really hoped, I really tried, and it didn’t work—so I’m done. His words have been a great grace to me for a long time. A person can touch and feel something that is substantial; it is real, even if it is not everything—but it is not nothing, either.”

Are you as inflicted by “the all-or-nothing syndrome” as I am?  Either my job is everything I’ve ever dreamed it can be…or I want to quit. Either my marriage is like the movies every second…or I want to bail. Either I am single-handedly bringing peace to the Middle East…or what’s the point of even trying. Right?

Please take a moment to soak in the challenging and healing words from Stephen Garber below. He has given his life to both gut-wrenching honesty AND relentless hope…or as he says “I do not know of any challenge that is more difficult than to really know the world, and still choose to love it.” We can’t give up. Honesty and hope. Leaning in with eyes and hearts wide open…

“Making Peace with Proximate Justice” by Stephen Garber





In Light of the Current Events in Gaza

Filed under: Palestine / Israel,Uncategorized — 12:03 pm
Gaza bomb


Please allow me to spend a moment in someone else’s shoes.

If our mayor one day announced that half of my house now belonged to my neighbor, and forced my family to live in the other half while the new family spread out in what used to be my bathroom, bedroom, and study…I would be very angry. And if this new family invited their relatives to move in also, taking more and more rooms, forcing me into the basement, my anger would only increase. And if I took this injustice to the US Supreme Court, only to have them rule in favor of my neighbor and move my family into our garage while my neighbor’s family took over my entire house and changed the locks, I would despair. And unfortunately, if I’m completely honest, this despair might even turn to violence.

The violence would NOT be justified, of course. It never ever is. But I must admit that if I were pushed into a corner long enough, I just might throw a punch. Or fire a rocket.

But let me also step into my neighbor’s shoes.

After being viciously mistreated in our last neighborhood, if the mayor gave my family legal right to half of a house in a safe neighborhood, in a neighborhood where our family tree began and where we once lived long ago, I would gratefully accept. Even if it already had a family in it. And in my thankfulness for a safe home and fear of ever going back to the abuse of the old neighborhood, I would most certainly invite my loved ones to enjoy the security of this new home. Even if it already had a family in it. And if the other family got angry and violent and threatened my kids, you better believe I would fight back. Every dad has the duty to protect his family.

The violence would NOT be justified, of course. It never ever is. But I must admit that if my family was threatened long enough, I just might throw a punch. Or drop bombs from fighter jets.


I’m learning that this conflict cannot be reduced to “good guys vs bad guys”.

One of my heroes (Christian peace activist Sami Awad) explained to us that this conflict is NOT simply Israeli vs Palestinian or Jew vs Muslim…but it’s ultimately a conflict between those who want peace and those who don’t.  There are wonderful, peaceful men and women on both sides (I’ve met many of them), and dangerous saboteurs on both sides (which we see on the news all the time).

And so, personally, I’m not trying to decide which nation is 100% right so I can 100% support them AGAINST the other nation.  It’s just not that simple.  But in the name of Jesus, I want to find and support the peace-makers on every side. These are really dark days, but we can’t give up.


Jesus picking and choosing from the Bible

Filed under: God's movement — 9:52 am

It seems to me that the most important question we can ask right now is “What is the bible?”

Most of the current debates in Christianity appear to have this question at their root. We’re rarely talking about the issue. Most of the debates center around disagreements with how to read and apply the bible.

As someone who takes the Holy Scriptures incredibly seriously but worries that we’ve made them into something they were never meant to be, I am desperate to find a deeper, more nuanced, more historic, more truthful, more beautiful understanding of what the scriptures actually are. Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible is a wonderful place to start. And today, let’s look at Fr Richard Rohr‘s perspective on how Jesus approached the bible. This is wonderful…and uncomfortable…and stretching…and so beautiful…

What Jesus Says about God

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jesus teaches about the God he knows. He offers a kind of “soul language” that makes sense to as many people as possible. Many of the citations he uses are from extra-biblical sources, aphorisms, legends, and stories. He takes wisdom from wherever it comes. When he does quote scripture, the only Hebrew Scriptures that he quotes are those that move toward mercy and justice and inclusivity. There are scriptures that present God as punitive, imperialistic, or exclusionary, but Jesus never quotes them in his teaching. In fact, he speaks against them.

The longest single citation of Jesus according to the Gospels is in Luke 4. He went into the synagogue and unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and “found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down” (Luke 4:17-20). Wait a minute! Jesus stopped reading before he finished the text! Isaiah 61:2 actually says: “to proclaim a day of vengeance from our God.” Jesus skips the last line because he isn’t here to announce vengeance. He has a completely different message, and thus critiques his own scriptures. This is quite telling.

Jesus creates stories to communicate that God is good, faithful, and merciful (i.e. the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the Publican and the Pharisee). Jesus exemplifies biblical faith, which is not trust in ideas; it’s trust in a person—God, his Father, whom he trusts so much he calls him Abba, Daddy, Papa. Jesus knows that God is always with him and in a caring way.

Jesus was not changing the Father’s mind about us; he was changing our mind about God—and thus about one another. If God and Jesus are not hateful, violent, punitive, torturing, or vindictive, then our excuse for the same is forever taken away from us. Maybe we do not really want such a God?

Adapted from Hierarchy of Truths: Jesus’ Use of Scripture
(CDMP3 download


Let’s help an amazing artist create amazing art!

Filed under: creativity,music,willow — 10:11 am


For the last five years, I’ve had the privilege of leading worship, singing, and creating art with Sharon Irving.  She is sincerely one of the most talented people I know…a pure artist who never stops imagining and exploring and pushing.

If you’ve been around Willow, you know her well.

Whether singing, rapping, writing songs, or doing spoken word, Sharon brings a prophetic power and possibility to everything she touches.

And she is recording her debut album!

The story…

Like most independent artists, she needs our help to make this happen.  So let’s join her!  Might you be willing to help support her Kickstarter Campaign?  Even 5 or 10 bucks?  Or more?  Here is the link to all the info and a way to give…

Sharon Irving’s Kickstarter. 



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