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Welcome to “Beyond Singing: The worship blog of Willow Creek”

Hey!  We (the worship team) would love to do whatever we can to help you take our community’s worship experiences even deeper.  This blog is about sharing stories behind the worship sets, resources to go further, and dreams for what worship at Willow Creek could be.  And we’d love to hear back from you!  How can we become a worshiping church in the deepest possible sense?

And so each week, we’ll post a reflection on each worship experience:  what happened…the heart behind it…info about the songs/readings…resources to go deeper…and maybe even a few video clips.  We’ll try to give as many tools as possible to help the 30 minute worship experiences on weekends and Wednesdays flow into the rest of the week.

So please join the conversation!  How are you experiencing the Almighty in worship (either inside or outside of the services)?  What can we, the worship leaders, do to better serve the community?  Let’s create this thing together…

Honored to get to be on this journey with all of you,

Matt, Aaron, Becky, Sharon, and the team.

Weekend Reflections: Psalm 139

This weekend, we spent the first half of our service praying, singing, meditating, and reading through Psalm 139. It’s such a profound chapter, and my only regret is not having more time to dive in! A number of people asked about the song Becky sang (inventively titled “Psalm 139″), so feel free to click HERE for the recording, lyrics, and story behind the song. Here’s the live video from the 11:15am service. (If possible, listen on headphones or with good speakers! Yeah, I’m a sound geek…)

All weekend long, as we invited God to “search us” and “find any offensive ways in us” and “lead us in the way everlasting”, I kept thinking about this quote: “We are not punished for our sins; we are punished BY our sins.” God is not waiting in shadows, ready to smack us when we mess up. He is humbly knocking at the door, hoping we’ll let Him rescue us from our self-sabotaging actions. He is inviting us into the best possible way to live.

“The sayings of Jesus are most often taken as expressions of some ethereal truth for especially religious people. Instead, they are mere observations about how life actually works.” (Dallas Willard). For example, we don’t avoid gossip because “God said so and will punish us”. . .we avoid gossip because it wrecks relationships. The same could be said of following God’s wisdom about rest, sex, money, etc. . .

How would our lives change if we stopped seeing God as The Enforcer, and began to embrace Him as The Emancipator?

Weekend Reflections: Grace on 8.22.10

Last weekend at Willow was built around Ethan Nickerson’s song “Grace”. (Those of you from Grand Rapids may know Ethan’s music from Mars Hill or his band The Mines…he’s a great singer, musician, and songwriter. And a really great guy.) Anyway, after beginning with Matt Lundgren’s song “Love Justice” and an expanded version of “O For A Thousand Tongues”, we launched into an extended meditation on Grace: how beautiful it is and yet how often we run from it.

Holly began by sharing a few thoughts about Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and how she wrestles with grace. Her final question was “Am I ever going to trust this grace? Or am I going to be a person of scarcity, constantly grabbing, paying penance and running…” This honest moment bled right into Ethan’s song…

Download “Grace” from itunes here.

After this haunting reflection on Grace, we landed in a minute or two of silence. Space. A small chance for each of us to say exactly what we needed to say to God. This was my favorite part of the service.

To close the experience we stood and sang the old Wesley hymn “And Can it Be (Amazing Love)”, and marveled together that God could love screw-ups like us. But he does! Grace is real. And even though we run from it every day, and kick and scream until it catches us, it will not stop the chase. God, thank You for not giving up on us…

Finally, after the service, I did a short interview with Ethan about the weekend. Here’s what he said…

All Worship Night!

Last night, we packed into the Lake Side Auditorium for a night of Worship:  prayer, silence, reflection, and even singing!  In many ways, praise be to God, it was a holy night.  Here was the flow of the experience…

Tuning our hearts – this is a simple spiritual exercise to help us prepare our hearts to worship

Here I am to Worship, Mighty to Save, and Come Thou Fount – we did all we could to open ourselves to God and invite Him to lead us throughout the evening.

The Lord’s Prayer Experience – line by line, we dug into the greatest prayer in human history:  “The Lord’s Prayer”.  We asked for forgiveness, prayed for our world and family, asked God to lead us, and prayed that His Kingdom would come and will be done.  And it was all held together by Becky’s version of Jon Foreman’s song “Your Love is Strong“.

Agnus Dei, Changed, Let it Rise, and How Great Thou Art – after spending nearly 20 minutes in the depths of The Lord’s Prayer, we got to open our hearts and arms and voices to God.  This was quite powerful and profound…hearing a couple thousand, passionate followers of Christ belting out “then sings my SOOOOOOUL!!!” together.

I’m going to remember last night for a long time…

Weekend Reflections: Be Here Now on 9.11.10

I’ve always kind of viewed going back to school as a new beginning of sorts.  And since I’ve spent 21 years in school from Kindergarten to Graduate School, going back to school has always been something that’s part of my yearly rhythm.  That’s the time when I get back into a routine and start developing habits – hopefully all good habits.  Since September 11,12 was the first weekend after Labor Day and most everyone was back in their fall routines we wanted this weekend experience to be a chance for people to refocus, to recognize where they’re at personally/spiritually and then look for God to lead them as they develop some God-honoring routines in the weeks ahead.

The band and vocalists had a lot of help from our friends this weekend.  Blaine Hogan, our Creative Director, created a very powerful multi-sensory spiritual direction piece with Ryan Trommer, one of our gifted video editors.  We also had help from 75 of my closest friends…also known as the Willow Creek Choir.

We began with 2 songs, Let God Arise – a contemporary rock worship tune and Come Thou Fount – an arrangement of the centuries old hymn.  We wanted to begin by expressing our desire that God would come near; it was an invocation of sorts.  Then we invited people to be seated as we experienced Blaine’s piece entitled “Be Here Now”

Our creative team found this piece to be so moving.  How easy it is to go through the motions, unaware of how God is moving and what we may be doing that keeps us separated from God.  Even watching this clip again I’m moved all over again.

BE HERE NOW from blaine hogan on Vimeo.

Following this powerful piece we wanted to acknowledge that God was indeed in our midst.  Sharon passionately led us through the song God Is Here as we asked our ever-present God to speak to us.  We ended this chapter in our service with the song Invitation Fountain.  The crux of this song is a very simple, yet very powerful statement, “If you lead me, Lord, I will follow…where you lead me, Lord, I will go”.  What a powerful picture it is for a church to state that with one voice.

God, we pray that once again…where you lead us, Lord, we will follow…

Matt