About a year and a half ago we went to Disney World in Florida. We were there for a Children's Ministry conference, but took some time to go play at the park for a few days. As we were walking around Animal Kingdom we noticed that they were doing some renovations and upgrades. Along the walls built to keep us safe and out of the construction areas were quotes from Walt Disney. I read most of them and just walked on, but one grabbed my attention.
It reads...

When I read this I immediately thought of the church. Not a specific church, but the church as a whole. I thought of the many conversations I've had with church members, pastors, and worship leaders about this very idea.

Many times the thought is by making changes to the service, worship space or format it will make the church the “hip & cool” church or it will “bring in new people.” You see, every church wants to be on the “cutting edge” and wants to “stay current,” but I believe there is something that we can learn from Walt Disney's statement that he didn't even intend.

If you have ever been to Disney World or Disneyland, you know from the minute you step on the grounds you know you are in for something special. The technology, the artistry, and the overall experience is second to none. They are constantly creating, innovating and discovering new ways to engage their audience. They are on the forefront of entertainment. However, they are also very aware of one very important aspect of their industry; where they came from.

As you wander around a Disney park you can experience the latest, newest and coolest rides, but you can also ride the “It's a Small World” ride or the “Mad Tea Party” spinning cup ride, both of which have been there since the beginning. What I believe Disney excels at is pushing the envelope and creating brilliant new rides, but also remembering and holding onto the things that helped them create the environment of wonder and excitement we have all come to expect.

In my opinion the church could take a page out of Disney's handbook. Yes, we need to look forward. We need to create and develop and push the envelope, but we can't do that at the expense of the foundation that helped create what has been built. Sure, the “It's a Small World" and “Mad Tea Party” rides have been around for a long time, but people still love them! What they have done, though, is keep these classic rides and continue to improve them. As the technology improved, so have the rides, but they are still the simple ideas that the park started with. Disney is great at keeping the nostalgia, yet continuing to grow, improve and push the boundaries, that is what has kept them at the top of the entertainment world and will for years to come.

There are churches out there that are bridging the gap between old and new. Churches taking old hymns and giving them a modern feel and sound. Churches that are taking old sanctuaries and updating the sound and media systems, but keeping the classic feel. Churches that are using traditional liturgy, but updating the language. There is a way to push forward, try new things and engage the congregation with todays technology, but we shouldn't do that just because we want to be the “cool, hip church” or because “everyone else is doing it.” We should do that because that's what we feel is the right thing for our church at this time.

I know, it may sound like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth, however, like Walt Disney, I think the church needs to “keep our aim constantly focused on the future”, but also, as Disney does so well, remember the foundation on which we were built.

Those are a few of my thoughts this week. I would love to hear yours! Feel free to leave a comment below or on our Facebook page! Be sure to share this with your pastors and church leaders! Thanks for hanging out with me today!

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AuthorJustin Graves

As we travel across the country leading worship we get to see and do some exciting things. One of our favorite things to do is take some family time and find points of interest along our route. One of the things we have discovered that we love to experience is Presidential Libraries. We all enjoy getting a peek into history and learning more about the people who have lead our country, and the person in our family who loves it the most is Gabi! She enjoys finding out about the presidents family and what their favorite food was and why they wanted to become president. It is as wonderful experience for all of us!

Recently we had the privilege of visiting the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and it was fascinating! Michelle and I did not know much about Nixon other than the Watergate scandal, and even that we weren't too familiar with! As we “walked through history” we learned all about President Nixon, his family and how he grew up and were also able to tour his boyhood home! Just a few steps away from his family's home is his gravesite. He and his wife, Patricia, are buried right there on the grounds. We paused for a few moments to reflect and honor President and Mrs. Nixon when I noticed the epitaph on Mrs. Nixon's gravestone. It reads... "Even when people can't speak your language, they can tell if you have love in your heart."

I cannot say for certain if Mrs. Nixon was a Christ Follower, but we did learn on the tour that she had an incredible heart for people and love experiencing different countries and cultures. One thing she obviously understood was that people have a strong desire to be loved.

In my opinion, the phrase on her gravestone speaks to the very heart of Christianity. We can see this same idea in Paul's letter to the Corinthians where he says in 1 Corinthians 13 “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Paul goes on to tell us that love is patient and kind, it is not self seeking, proud or boastful. That love rejoices in the truth and always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres. He finishes up chapter 13 telling us, “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

There is another quote that Mrs. Nixon's epitaph reminds me of from St. Francis of Assisi. He said “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” I believe that Mrs. Nixon understood this idea and that she was a wonderful example of how we can express love, God's love, to everyone. Express His love to people who may be different than us, have different values than us, a different ideas than us, or who may even speak a different language than us.

You see God's love isn't earned, it is a free gift, and we are called to share that gift with everyone!

I hope you will be inspired by Mrs. Nixon like I have been. I want to challenge you (and me) to let God's love shine though you this week so that everyone you come in contact with will be able to “Tell that you have love, God's love, in your heart.”

Thanks for hanging out with me today! I would love to hear your thoughts! Please leave a comment below or on our Facebook page!

 

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AuthorJustin Graves

If you have ever been in Los Angeles and walked down Hollywood Blvd, you know that you can see all sorts of interesting things. The street is full of people in costumes waiting for you to come up and take a picture with them and then give them a tip. What a crazy business! I will give them credit though, they out there working and making a living pretending to be Spiderman, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Sparrow or even the guy from the Halo games. We were walking down the street a few months ago and came across this guy. At first I wasn't sure what was going on, but looking closer I was pretty amused.

Here is a guy dressed like Jesus, all the way down to the crown of thorns, playing the guitar and singing on the street for tips. He was playing everything from AC/DC to Neil Young, and he was pretty good!

We stood and listened for a bit and I had to take a picture because I didn't think anyone would believe me if I told them that I saw Jesus playing the guitar on the street in Hollywood. Now, I have no idea if this guy is a Christ Follower or if he was doing this just to get a reaction, but it got me thinking about the way that express my faith. Do the people that I come in contact with everyday know by the way that I act and the words that I say that I am a Christ Follower? Would they know by the way I treat my family and the people around me that I love Jesus? Here is a guy literally being (or pretending to be) Jesus on the streets of Hollywood and sometimes I find myself afraid to say too loud what Christ has done for me. It was just a bit of a wake-up call and I wanted to challenge you this week to live out your faith. No, you don't have to dress up like Jesus and stand on the street corner or carry a cross down the highway, just be aware that you can show people who Jesus is by the way you act, speak and treat each other.

I would love to know if you have a caption for this picture. Leave it in the comments below or on our Facebook page! Thanks for hanging out with me today!   

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AuthorJustin Graves
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Just over a week ago I had the privilege of going "Over the Edge" for Make-A-Wish of Central and South Texas. (See my previous post "Over the Edge" for more details) I wanted to give you an update on my experience and the money raised that will bless these amazing fighters. 

It was amazing! Right from the start the Make-A-Wish team was there to greet us and make us feel like a part of the team and safety, of course, was their number one priority! We arrived early so we could make sure we knew what we were in for and to cheer on the other's who were rappelling. It was an awesome sight to see people dangling off the side of the building knowing that I will be up there very soon. 

As we waited we were able to meet some of the kids who had been given Make-A-Wish trips. It was so encouraging to meet these brave kids and  their families! 

As I got to the top of the building, all strapped into my harness and looking down on the people  below, who looked like ants, I realized what I had gotten myself into and I was very excited for my turn!  Once I was hooked into the ropes and standing on the edge of the building, I was so encouraged to hear my family and friends cheering me on from below. 

It took me just over 15 minutes to make it 38 stories/480 ft. to the bottom. Exhausted, sore and full of adrenalin, I was grateful to be back on solid ground! After I was unhooked, I got to take a picture with a Make-A-Wish recipient and was greeted with hugs and cheers. It was an experience I will remember the rest of my life and I am so honored to have been chosen to go Over the Edge for Jaxon's F.R.O.G. Foundation! 

 

Make-A-Wish was able to raise just under $500,000 to grant 98 wishes and we were also able to raise $1000 for I Am Courageous! We are so excited to continue to encourage these brave fighters and their families through uplifting music! And YOU were a part of that! YOU are the ones that help us make that happen. Every time you purchase a Spirit Stick, an I Am Courageous t-shirt, or donate to I Am Courageous, YOU are helping make a difference in these families lives! We could not do it without you! Thank you for your generosity and believing in the ministry God has called us to! 

Here are a few more pics of the Over the Edge event. Thanks for hanging out with me today! 

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AuthorJustin Graves

After spending a nearly 3 months in Los Angeles, we feel like we have gotten to know the area and culture very well! Here is a list of some of the things we learned while we were there.
In no particular order...

Avoid the 405 & 101 no matter what.
The El Capitan Theater is the BEST place to see a movie. EVER!
Even after living there for 3 months, it is still exciting to see the Hollywood sign...every time.
LA has the largest urban park in the country. Larger than Central Park in New York City!
Being Gluten Free is easy.
Despite what they say it is NOT always sunny in LA.
LA is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.
It takes AT LEAST an hour to go anywhere in LA. It doesn't matter if it is one mile or 10 miles.
There is always a line at In-n-Out, no matter what time of day or night.
There are a ton of free entertainment options in LA.
No matter where you are you can see the mountains.
Everyone drives a Prius or Tesla.
You rarely meet someone who is actually from LA.
Spiderman and Jack Sparrow are always hanging out on Hollywood Blvd.
It doesn't matter what the weather is like, it's always a good day to go to the beach!

So, those are a few things we discovered during our time in LA. If you have any you would like to add, feel free to leave a comment here or on our Facebook page! Thanks for hanging out with me today!  

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AuthorJustin Graves

Can red thes yo?

Have you ever read a book and the pages were out of order? What about a web page that didn't load correctly? Ever try to order off of a menu that had the wrong prices with the wrong items? Frustrating, right?

Ok, I may have only ever experienced one of those, but man is it annoying! It's kind of like being in a worship service on a Sunday morning when the words on the screen aren't the same as what the Worship Leader is singing.

As Worship Leaders our job is to minimize distractions so that the focus is on God, and when the words are out of order, misspelled, or not even there at all, it can be distracting.

 Over the last 14 years we have found a niche as the “fill in” worship leader which gives us the opportunity to be in a different church almost every Sunday. We have had the opportunity to visit churches, big and small, and getting the words correct seems to be an issue with many of the churches we have been to. Since we are with different ministry teams and tech people each week we try to make it as easy as possible for whoever is running the words for us.

Here are a few tips we have discovered that can help everybody stay on the same page:

  1. PLAN!
    Decide how you are going to sing the song (verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge –chorus – etc.) BEFORE you sing it on Sunday morning. This doesn't mean you can't leave room for the Spirit to move, but if you have a plan going into the service it will help! That way the you, the band, media team and anyone else involved in the music part of the service are always on the same page.

  2. INPUT!
    Put the words in the computer in the EXACT order you plan to sing it. It doesn't matter what program you use (ProPresenter, EasyWorship, MediaShout or PowerPoint) you have the option to put the song in the order you will sing it. This makes it easier on the tech person running the computer so all they have to do is push the space bar! If you do the bridge 3x or repeat the chorus twice at the end, put it in the computer that way! (Again, this doesn't mean you can't let the Spirit lead, we will cover that in a bit!) Also, don't forget to check the spelling as well! 

    1. VERIFY!
      Check the words in the computer BEFORE the service. We all know that just because we save something on the computer doesn't mean that it stays that way! Also, as the worship leader, sometimes you may not be the one who inputs the songs into the computer. I know many churches who have a media team that takes care of that, so it is important to communicate with the media team the flow of each song and even more important to check the words in the computer on Sunday morning before the service starts.

      1. DEFINE!
        Make sure person running the computer for the service KNOWS what their ROLL is! Just because they are in the back behind a desk does not mean they are not a part of the worship team. They may not be on stage, but everyone knows when they mess up. However, MOST of the time is it not their fault! If the words are not in the computer in the order that you are going to sing them, and the media person is having to guess what comes next, of course they are going to mess up! We as Worship Leaders need to make sure we give the team every opportunity to succeed. It is also important to make sure they know that they are an integral part of the worship experience.

        1. TIMING!
          Make sure slides are switching ON TIME! Sure, the words may be in the computer correctly, but if the media team is switching the slides late, it won't really matter! One way to help make sure this happens is to communicate with the computer tech to go ahead and switch the slide WHILE you are singing the last line. If they wait until you have sung it all the way through, it will be too late! Your congregation is smart. They can remember the last few words as the slide changes. It is also a good idea to make sure that the media person is not being distracted by people talking to them or by their phone (email, Facebook, games etc.)

          1. COMUNICATE!
            If you do find yourselves in a situation where you do need to change up the flow of a song or even the order of the set list, don't be afraid to communicate from the stage where you are going or what you are about to sing (see previous blog post “Turn it Up Man!” for more on this subject). When you do feel the Spirit moving or things in the service change at the last minute it is a good thing to communicate what you are doing so that the band, media team and even the congregation know what is happening. You may feel like this is “unprofessional” or “amateur” but people will appreciate your realness and authenticity if you just communicate what is going on.

            We all want our services to be excellent, and many times we skip over this little detail, so if we want to do all we can to minimize distractions, we need to make sure that we look at every aspect of the service!

            I hope this helps a little! I would love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to leave a comment here or on our Facebook page. Thanks for hanging out with me today!

            Posted
            AuthorJustin Graves

            As a songwriter it can be frustrating when things aren't coming out right. A few years ago I was struggling and it seemed like everything I was writing was awful! So, instead of quitting I did the only thing I knew to do...write a song about it! I wanted to share it with you just so you know what goes on in this crazy head of mine! I filmed this in the other day in the high desert of Acton, CA. so you could experience a little of the beauty we have been enjoying while we have been here!

            Hope you enjoy! Please share this with your friends! Let me know what you think by leaving a comment here or on our Facebook page! Thanks for hanging out with me today!

            Posted
            AuthorJustin Graves

            For those of you who may be new to my blog my wife, Michelle, and our 9 year old daughter, Gabriella, have spent the last few months in the Los Angeles area. Gabi is an up and coming actor. She has an incredible talent and has felt God's call on her life to be His light in the entertainment industry. So we have been in LA since the middle of February to really get a feel for what life is like in Hollywood.

            Being from Texas we had no idea what to expect. Of course we've heard the stereotypical view that if you are not “somebody” that nobody will give you the time of day. Or that everyone in Hollywood is “fake” or pretending to be something that they are not and if you can't help them advance their career they want nothing to do with you. However, we have had a drastically different experience. Stay tuned...

            We travel for a living. We are always in a different place meeting new people. We love life on the road, but we always have home to look forward too. We love coming home to our family, our friends, our house, our dog, but out here in LA it is just the three of us. We are staying with a wonderful family that has blessed us beyond measure by letting us occupy two rooms in their house and hang out with them constantly, but there is something about having your family close, especially on special days like birthdays and holidays. So needless to say we were starting to get a little lonely, especially with Easter approaching.

            This past weekend the whole world celebrated Easter. Everyone made plans with family and friends to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Savior, but we weren't sure what we were going to do. We had knocked around a few ideas, but nothing really landed, until Michelle got a message from a friend.

            Debra lives in Hollywood and she was on the dance team in high school with Michelle. We have had the opportunity to hang out with her and her family a bit, and they have been kind enough to give us some good “insider” tips on what to do and where to go in LA.

            Debra said she was having a few families over for Easter dinner and egg hunt for the kids and would love for us to join them. We were so honored and excited! Just being invited made our hearts happy, but knowing that Gabi would have some kids her age to hang out with was a total bonus!

            We had no idea what to expect. We were going to Easter dinner in the Hollywood hills, with complete strangers. They all know each other, their kids go to school together and they have been friends forever, so how would we fit in? Well, right from the first “Hello!” we felt like we had all been friends for years. It was amazing! Everyone made us feel welcomed, loved and glad that we were there! It was so wonderful and I haven't even gotten to the craziest part yet! There we were, in a beautiful house in the Hollywood hills, overlooking the city of Los Angeles eating Easter dinner with some of the most important people in the entertainment business. People you would probably wouldn't ever know, but there were movie producers, television directors, acting coaches, film editors and more. I could name a million TV shows and movies that you know, and we were having dinner with the people who make them happen! As I looked around the homes we were in, I started asking questions about the art other decorations in the house. “That is one of only 3 in the world. The others are in the Smithsonian and Columbia Pictures home office.” “This is a piece given to me by (insert famous actor) when we wrapped shooting (insert major motion picture everyone knows).” Yeah, those were the kinds of conversations we were having, but not in a “Hey, I'm gonna show off!” kind of way, just a matter of fact, everyday life sort of way.

            I couldn't tell you if any of them are Christ followers, but whenever anyone asked what we did and we told them that we lead worship for churches and write songs about Jesus, none of them flinched or walked away, or looked at us like we were crazy, they actually wanted to know more. Not the "typical" response you would expect from the Hollywood elite. We shared in conversations about music, life, film, and kids. We laughed and ate and felt so loved. It was a beautiful day!

            Sure, we had an amazing time celebrating Easter with our new friends, but I wanted to tell you all of that to make this point. How many times do we as Christ followers see a visitor in our church, or new guy at our Bible study or a new family at the PTA meeting or on our kids sports team and never reach out? The families we had lunch with were a very close knit group. They could have kept to themselves and just tolerated us being there, but they didn't. They went out of their way to make us feel welcome, included and loved. It doesn't take much to shine the light of Christ. Just a simple “Hi there! My name is ­_____.” can go a long way. You don't have to be “BFFs” or tell each other your deepest fears, Jesus just asks us to be His light. Romans 15:7 tells us to “Accept each other with love, just as Christ has accepted you.” You don't have to agree on everything, you don't have to agree on anything, but simply being the light of Christ to someone can make the world a better place.

            So, my challenge to you this week is to ask God to show you someone to whom you can be His light. Remember, it doesn't have to be a big grandiose gesture. Just a kind word and a smile go a long way!

            I would love to here how it goes for you this week! Please come back and leave a comment here or on our Facebook page with your story! Thanks for hanging out with me today!

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            AuthorJustin Graves