Saturday, February 27, 2010

Help Haiti Live

Hey, friends. We are in Winona, MS getting ready for a night of worship tonight at North Winona Baptist Church. We are pumped! But if wasn't going to be there tonight, I would be at home watching Help Haiti Live. Help Haiti Live starts at 7:30pm central, and is a free concert that will be streaming live from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Please go check it out tonight if you have a chance. Some amazing artists are participating.

It's been six weeks since the earthquake in Haiti. And the needs there are obviously still as cavernous as ever. I am so thankful for the work that so many people are doing for the Haitian people. Not just relief, but rebuilding and restoring. Not all of us are able to hop on a plane and put our feet to the Haitian soil (I wish we could). But there is always something we can do. And I think that there is always room for us to do more. If you have a second, go check out Help Haiti Live, and see some of the ways that we can help. Even our smallest efforts and offerings mean so much.

I am constantly reminding myself that Haiti is not just a big wash of a country somewhere far away, with a mass of countless, faceless people. It's home for millions of 'one's'...individual after one after one...all needing hope. Like Joseph.

Don't forget - concert streaming live at Help Haiti Live at 7:30pm central tonight.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Great Adventure Recovery Week

Hey, friends! Hope all is well with you. Whew! What a week it's been. An adventure of its own. Coming down off of the mountain top of the Great Adventure reveal has been relatively harmless...but I'm exhausted, nontheless.

The week has been filled with back-to-normal kind of stuff. I've been finishing up recording a Christmas musical for choirs. And the team and I traveled to Madison, AL to be a part of Asbury UMC's missions conference (we had a great time). We are gearing up for two concerts this weekend with our Jesus Saves Live tour - Saturday night in Winona, MS, and Sunday night in Cullman, AL. Can't wait. Come join us!

I am still going through and processing all of the amazing encouragement that has poured in from you all about our Great Adventure. I am thankful to you for all of the kindness, prayers, and affirmation you have given to us. It means so much. We are truly BESIDE OURSELVES over this call and this season. I am pumped for you to meet my new church, and my new pastor and his sweet family. They all will undoubtedly be filling the pages of this here blog for years to come.

Many folks have sent emails of stories that are similar to ours. And some are stories that may be different, but are still stories of people looking desperately for God to speak to a searching heart. Please know that we are praying for you. We are praying for you.

My brain has needed some time to just do a whole bunch of nothing this week. And American Idol has filled that slot. And that phrase, ironically enough, describes this season of the show for me: a whole bunch of nothing.

I don't even know what to say about it, except to say that I gave that show 4 hours of my life this week. And all it gave me back was 4 hours of awkward.

Surely it will get better...right?

I haven't blogged a normal-day blog in so long, I forget how to end. So...

Cottrell, out.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Great Adventure, Part 7

We felt the call. We heard the call. We responded to the call. Now, it was up to the Lord to move through the hearts...and votes...of the people.

We went back to Englewood last Sunday, February 14, and I led worship that Sunday. And today, February 21, the members of the church voted on whether or not they feel I am God's man for the job. I really do love this process, and we fully submitted ourselves to their authority, as they cast their vote. And we were ready for whatever. Truly. After this whole process and experience, I don't fear much of anything. God is so large and in charge. If they were to vote no, I would be passionately pursuing Him just the same.

Well...I'm happy to say...

And...cue the music, Mr. Cash...

WE'RE GOING TO JACKSON! Tennessee, that is.

Our hearts are full. Our hearts are grateful. Our hearts are overflowing with passion for this new day. Of course we are still just as passionate about all the other facets of our ministry...Living Proof...Jesus Saves Live Tour...writing arranging and teaching. We are on STUN with joy for those things. But this new call completes the picture for God's will for us for this season. And because we are stepping into the full picture, its makes EVERYTHING feel like it's teeming with more life. We are sitting on READY for everything to which God has called us.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I know I have used way too many words. And I have told too much, probably. I'm so sick of talking about myself I could punch my own self in the face. Seriously. But I've learned so much. And God's been too faithful for me to stay quiet.

I do have one final Great Adventure post that I will post within the next few days...a few things that God has showed me through all of this. And I think those things just might encourage you.

I have to go now. I have some celebrating to do. And I gotta go restart that Johnny Cash record...

The Great Adventure, Part 6

We said what God was waiting for us to say.


We give.

We surrender.

We raise the white flag.

We get it.

We see it.

We're with you.

And, in the words of good ol' Johnny, we're going to Jackson.

Somewhere in those pressure-packed and snowy January days, God turned out hearts. He changed our hearts. And not just our hearts. He changed our minds too. In one month's time, we went from not even remotely thinking this would ever be in our future to being so excited about kingdom work at Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN that we might not be able to breathe until we get there.

A few things had to happen first, though.

We decided that we needed to just sneak into a service one Sunday and check it out. And I don't mean check the church out in the sense of 'does it meet our approval.' I mean check it out in the sense of - see what happens in our spirits as we worship inside those walls, with those people, and take in the teaching of the Word of God with them. So we did. On January 17.

As we walked in during the first song, I thought of one of Jesus' most famous phrases: It is finished.

It was done. God was not subtle in our hearts on that day. We knew this was the place for us. It was all I could do to hold it together that Sunday. I just kept telling myself, "Keep looking at the screens. Don't look around. If you do, you will fall apart. Just stare at the screens. Must. Look. At. Screens. Only. Screens."

It was a futile attempt. The release we felt on that morning was too much. And staring at the screens or not, I was a heap of emotion. It was awesome.

To add blessing upon blessing, our kids had such a great morning. We had to drag them out of their Sunday School classes. "Can we move here?" they shouted in the halls. "Um, let's take that volume down please," I said as I covered their Dr. Pepper-moustached mouths. "And we'll take this conversation to the car." The joy was too much.

Another thing that had to happen is that we had to wait to give Ben our answer. Through the counsel we received, God had given us a certain date to wait for before we gave them an answer or made this story public. So that date was February 3. But here we were on January 17, and we already felt as though we had our answer. Abraham immediately came to mind. Was God going to put an 11th hour ram in the thicket before we walk this offering through? Was He holding that date for us to give us time to see yet another bend in the road? Was I going to wake up on February 2nd and be done with this whole journey? Or worse, was Englewood going to wake up and be done with this journey?

In my heart, I knew that wasn't going to happen. But because He gave us that date, we waited. And I'm so glad we did. Because in the 11th hour (the morning of February 2nd), He DID give us a word. It was a good word that was the final mark and final churn to complete our heart turn to this change. Not a word to share with anybody; a Word just for us. And it went deep into our souls. It was a work that neither Angela nor I even knew we needed. But once we got it, we were more fully at peace than ever before on this journey.

So at 12:01am on February 3rd, Pastor Ben got a call. From me.

"Hey," he said.

And I replied, "No ram in the thicket."

Joy commenced.

Still, there was one last piece to the puzzle.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Great Adventure, Part 5

Have you ever had one of those moments in life that was so amazingly God that you want to talk about it, but you can't because it's too sacred? I don't want to blow this prayer time out of proportion, but it's how I feel about it. I won't recount what all was prayed, but that time of prayer was a turning point in this journey.

The Holy Spirit fell in our den, hearts were poured out in prayer, and the four of us stood up from that 20 minute segment of time different people than when we began. It will ring in my spirit as one of the most profound and powerful Holy Spirit moments of my life. Our kids sat motionless on our couch for the entire 20 minutes (which is a miracle unto itself). When we were finished praying, God had begun a knitting in our souls. I'm not saying that we were instantly all bff's, or that nothing in our lives mattered anymore. But God had started a work. And all four of us were officially on the same page about it.

After the prayer time, we all awkwardly hugged - all so stunned by the huge God moment, we didn't know how to walk away from it. So we did what anybody would do. We headed to the mall food court. As we got in our car, I looked at Angela. And with a stunned look on my face, said, “What was that?” to which she replied, “ We are in trouble. LORD. HAVE. MERCY. LORD. HAVE. MERCY.”

Angela couldn't sleep that night (duh). God brought to her mind a dream she had 10 or more years ago. She went to her office to see if she could find an old journal whee she had written the dream down. She found a stash of old journals, pulled one out and opened it. Immediately she saw these words in her own handwriting: "Lord, thank you for bringing my family to Jackson."

Um, excuse me?

Turns out the very first journal she pulled out on this very day just so happens to be the journal she took notes in at the Beth Moore Living Proof Live conference held in Jackson, TN in November of 1999 (10 years to the week of our concert at this church last November). She was thanking the Lord for bringing her family to that event. Weird, huh? Yep. Coincidence? No says I.

It was time to call in the big dogs.

We needed counsel. So we called our pastor. And we called Beth. And we emailed our team of intercessors. We told them everything. None of them flinched. They all listened and committed to pray. And they committed to give us words as God directed. Immediately, 2 different intercessors sent us the same scripture...totally independent of one another. Hmmm.

January 1 until January 17 was INTENSE. And I'm not talking about camping. INTENSE. I don't have a lot of tangibles to give you, because it was a spirit work that was going on inside of both Angela and me. All of the unpacking of our lives we had done over Christmas, we continued to do. God gave us scriptures to pour into our hearts...Ephesians 1, Isaiah 33:2-6, Hebrew 11, Deut. 8, to name a few. We prayed. We talked. We read. We laughed. We cried. Finally, I had had enough. I needed a break. I had not been removed from this intensity for more than 5 minutes at a time for weeks. So I pulled my comfy chair up to the fireplace, grabbed the remote, and went searching for something fun on TV that would take my mind off of this nonsense for a while. I started looking through the tv guide channel. I saw that Walk The Line was on. Woo hoo! Good one. Let me soak up somebody else's hard life for a while. Maybe then I will get some much-needed perspective (my own self-absorption was even killing me. seriously.). So I turned the TV to Walk The Line.

Within two seconds of watching that movie, Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) steps up to the microphone to sing. What does he sing, you ask?

"I'm going to Jackson."


Seriously, God? For real? This is how you are going to play? God got a good laugh out of us that night. And I think we got one out of Him, too.

So we said it. We finally said it.

The Great Adventure, Part 4

God had some work to do in me. In us. And the processing that we began on that trip to Boone was the beginning of what I think God was looking for from us. We asked God for wisdom, and for a WORD. We told Him to get our hearts where they needed to be. We basically put ourselves on the chopping block in a way that we hadn’t before. This was a deep work – down in the depths of everything we were, and this season required it.

As we began to navigate through these waters over the Christmas holiday, God took me to Isaiah 33:6, and gave it to me to cling to as the verse that would wave over us like a banner as we walked through this crucible. It says,

“He will be the sure foundation for your times;

A rich store of salvation, wisdom and knowledge.

The fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.”

Well, it was wisdom and knowledge that we needed. And it was fearing the Lord in the sense that we weren’t as open as God needed us to be that kicked us into higher gear seeking His plan for our lives. And at that point, our own plans seemed so futile.

Christmas was good (despite both Angela and Lily Kate having the flu, and me wandering aimlessly everywhere we went with a blankness that I can only call weird). I was strangely emotional through Christmas. Angela had been emotional, too. It felt like grief. Everything would be fine in the moments that we were immersed in the Word and prayer. But many times we would be awakened at night or caught off guard during the day with a deep sadness or state of panic. Each time we went to the Lord, these feelings would subside. And we were honest with each other about our feelings all along this journey. This stretch of time was even more proof that I have the most amazing wife ever. Good grief...her perception and wisdom and evenness. Our hearts were so unified in sizing up where we were, and what we needed to do to navigate through the next few phases of this journey. Granted, I don't think at that point she totally saw what was coming (neither did I), but we were on the same page, which was all that mattered to me. I knew (or, thought I knew) that all of this was about the Lord growing us in areas that we needed growth in, and not so much about us picking up and moving to Jackson ( I find it funny when we presume what God’s work might be…when we put words in His mouth. Funny.).

As time passed over the holidays, I felt like my heart was going to explode. Not good and not bad. Just so very intense. I kept asking God for His easy yoke and light burden. I would get relief in moments, but for the most part I was obsessed with thoughts of possibilities. I stayed in the Word more than I had in so long. Just looking for Him...and listening for His voice. A strange thing happened during this period of 3 or 4 days. My heart began making a shift. And I gotta say, it literally felt like a huge ship turning around and heading a new direction. As I began to ponder the possibilities, the thought of NOT taking this call began to feel more heartbreaking than the thought of leaving Franklin. I don't know why. I just began to feel compelled to take up this call.

I wasn't fearful of losing anything about my ministry as it was. I saw in the physical realm how it could all fit together in a great way, and was thankful that Pastor Ben was embracing the things that I am already doing in kingdom work. God tells us that our boundaries fall in pleasant places (Psalm 16:6), so I didn't have any hesitation about that stuff. And as I began to think along the lines of the 'how's' and the 'what's', my thoughts began to change from broad stroked questions and feelings to specific dreaming of pastoring a choir again...leading a team of other worship leaders...raising up the next generation of worship leaders...jumping into a college community and leading those kids through those 4 (or 5 or 6) years of their life and sending them out closer to God than when they arrived...investing in a community and dreaming with a pastor of crazybrave things to do for the glory of God in that community that was ready to dive in.

Still, I was a mess, and needed to get a grip in the worst way.

Angela and I continued to talk about it over our travels. And Ben and I continued to talk too. We thought it might be a good idea to get the four of us together just for a visit. No big discussions or anything. Just to get to know one another. The best time seemed to be New Year's Eve. So, Ben and his wife Lynley left their 4 kids with her parents in Arkansas where they had been for Christmas, and came to spend New Year’s Eve with us.

So, they arrived at our house late afternoon on New Year's Eve. We played games and ate and did nothing much. We all rang in the new year together. It was a fun night. Lynley and I completely dominated Ben and Angela in Sequence. No surprise there. The girls went to bed and Ben and I stayed up until 3:30 or so, talking about ministry, vision and a bunch of 'what if's'. We got on our knees and prayed for God to make Himself clear.

The next morning we all got up and enjoyed a slow morning. At some point while we were in the kitchen making breakfast, Ben began to ask Angela some personal questions about this possibility. It was a good moment, but also hard. He asked things that of course Angela and I had talked about together, but it was a hard moment because it was the first time we had talked about how this possible move would affect us to anyone else. Angela is so grounded and so wise. I am the touchy-feely ball of emotion, and she is the discerning, practical, wise side of us. She asked him questions too. We got to hear his story about how he came to be the pastor of this big church as a 29 year old who had never pastored before.

As the morning ended, I was conflicted. I was happy that we had all talked openly about possibilities and dreams. And I was happy that Angela seemed to have a light spirit about it. But at the same time, I felt down. It seemed like there were so many questions and obstacles, that the chance of it happening was minimal at best. By this point in the story, I had already begun dreaming of leading this people. So with all the questions flooding in, I was pretty sad. But ultimately I trusted God, and was just anxious to get to the answer.

Lunch time came around, and that meant it was time for them to hit the road. They had plans to go to the Cool Springs mall and shop for a while before they left. So we decided we would follow them there and have lunch with them before they shopped. As they were packing up to leave, Angela and I asked if we could pray for them and and for their travels. So we huddled up in our den, with our kids lined up on the couch taking in all in.

Then it happened. Prayer happened.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Great Adventure, Part 3

It was an awful night, actually. A couple of awful nights. I could feel God putting the slightest bit of pressure on my heart. I couldn’t really define what was going on inside, but I knew that the Lord was beginning to stir the pot. Still, I still wasn’t letting my heart go there. And to fend off a potentially painful journey, I continued to give Pastor Ben a moderately-defiant ‘no.’

The next morning was Sunday, December 20. I was en route from Raleigh, NC to Louisville, KY. AT 8:27am, I got a text from Pastor Ben. It said something to the effect of (not a direct quote):

I’ve been on my prayer bench getting ready to preach three services, praying with a deacon, and God will not release your name from my heart about this calling. Will you please respect the fact that I feel like I’m hearing from God on this, and at least open your heart to pray about it. If you feel like God gives you a ‘no’ still, I promise to leave you alone and will not mention it again.


I realized that although I had said I would at least pray about it (and I did), I knew that I had not opened my heart to it (which is a totally different thing). So on that Sunday, I began to do just that.

Remember when I said it felt like the Lord was beginning to put the slightest bit of pressure on my heart? Well, on December 20th, the pressure increased. A lot.

We were supposed to drive to Boone, NC for Christmas on Monday the 21st, but Lily Kate had the flu, so we waited. I spent that Monday wandering around the house, crying, sleeping, packing, crying some more. And some more. I don’t even know why. I didn’t feel sad; just emotional.

We finally hopped in the car and headed to Boone on Tuesday. And that is when Angela and I began to break down all of this that God was putting on our plate. We had talked about it all that week before…keeping communication open about what each of us was thinking. But really what Angela had been saying was, “Oh, sweetie. You’re turning 40. Bless your heart. It’ll be ok. Do you need a new car or something?”

That all changed on the drive to Boone. On that snowy day driving across Tennessee, my bride of 16 ½ years and I unpacked everything about our lives together…dreams realized…dreams unrealized…our definition of success in ministry…God’s definition of success in ministry…God’s standards for walking uprightly in the kingdom of God in this generation…what we felt like our kids’ destinies might be…how to fit them rightly for their callings…what needs to stay in our lives and what needs to go in terms of continuing to allow God the freedom to use us as equippers in the body of Christ…LISTEN. We unpacked it all. The good, the bad and the ugly. We pulled out every single aspect of our lives and looked at it in the Light. It was AWESOME. There is something about putting on the brakes in life and taking a full-scale emotional, physical and spiritual inventory that is fulfilling beyond measure. We never loved each more than we did in those moments.

So, we began to pray. And pray hard. And I will never forget praying this at the very onset of that day :

“Lord, you know I will go ANYWHERE you call me. And…”

And I heard God interrupt me in my spirit to say, “Now just hold on right there. That’s not true.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Great Adventure, Part 2

This pastor had a vision for his church to do a women's retreat. He called to see if we had any openings in our calendar for 2010. He said he would take any date we could give. And he also shared some specifics about his vision for the event, all of which I resonated with in my spirit. We had closed our booking for the year. But I talked to Angela about it; since her parents live in Jackson, I thought maybe we could kind of consider it a work-vacation weekend. The kids could ride horses and four-wheelers with their grandparents, and we could do the event at the church. She agreed. We gave him a date in April. We were pumped about it.

Then I got a call from him (his name is Ben) a couple of weeks later. This one was less lighthearted. He called me to tell me that his worship pastor had resigned to take a job at a university. He was calling because he felt like the Lord led him to call me...presumably to help him find a worship leader. I knew I could help him find his guy. My heart did not really consider even for a moment that I might possibly be the guy. But since I know so many great guys in worship ministry, I felt well-equipped to be a good connector of people in this situation.

He wanted to visit face to face to talk about it, so he drove to Franklin one day (Jackson is less than 2 hours west of Nashville) so we could spend the day talking about what he's looking for in a worship pastor. I did some preliminary work..made him a list of 6 or 7 people...listed their basic facts, listed what I perceived as strengths and weaknesses of each one, and listed why I thought each one would be an asset to the church.

He got here early one morning and we went straight to it. We started talking about his vision for his church, what he was looking for. We talked about his calling – how he came into his calling as a pastor. We talked about our wives and kids (they have four kids ages 5 and under). We talked “shop” – church stuff. I love talking church shop. Love talking about serving this generation with other people who love it. Strangely, we had this eerily close rapport. We talked for much of the day, and I made it through my list of worship guys for him. But he was not interested in the list. He checked out for much of the list. He finally said, “I hate your stupid list. Get your list outta my face,” or something funny to that effect. He was not there for my list. He was there because the Lord put me on his heart as the guy for his church. I practically laughed him out of my house. No disrespect meant. I just knew that it was something I wouldn't even schedule is so crazy...our boundaries are nicely set...this Cottrell train is moving, and wasn't about to jump tracks. He might have been disappointed, but I didn't budge. It simply wasn't a possibility. His offer was even very accommodating: continue doing what I'm doing - Living Proof, other travels, recording, writing - and just make my home base there with them. He said they had a staff for me that would help me make it all happen, and would make it so that the church wouldn't miss a beat when I'm away. But it still seemed equivalent to going to live on Jupiter to me. Not a possibility.

We had had a great day...even had a 20-minute encounter with Steven Curtis and Marybeth Chapman at Target. Ran into my pastor's wife at Starbucks. It was a fun day. He headed home that afternoon.

A couple of days went by…going on with life…texting occasionally with this pastor. He still talked of being convinced that I might be the guy. But I wasn’t budging. Then that Saturday I got a direct message on my twitter account from him that said:

"Ok, so I couldn't sleep last night. Prayed HIS will for YOUR life audibly with my wife, and silently as she drifted off."

That's funny, because I could not sleep that night either.

The Great Adventure, Part 1

Ever since we began in a traveling kind of ministry, I have always thought that at some point I would end up leading worship in a church. It always seemed like it would be the ultimate destination for me. I must confess I never prayed about it, or received that as a word from God. It was just what I always assumed. Then, in the past two years, after watching some worship pastors that I know go through really tough circumstances, I pretty much vowed (an unholy vow, mind you) that there would be zero chance of me being on a church staff. Ever.

I looked at all of the wonderful things to which God had called me. Why would I ever bring a church staff job into the picture to complicate an otherwise wonderful and peaceful picture? So, as I spent most of this past year getting ready to turn 40, I assumed I would just stay on this current train with Jesus and sail off into the sunset...doing basically what I'm doing now for the rest of my years in ministry (traveling, singing, writing, arranging, leading worship) . I love it...I'm happy...I'm busy. No facet of our ministry shows any signs of slowing down any time soon. Ministry is hopping, family is happy, and all is well.


My team and I were in our final weekend of our Jesus Saves Live Tour for the year. It was Friday, November 13, in Jackson, TN. Great church. We had a great night of worship with their choir of 150 or so, and a full house of worshippers. The worship pastor was a great guy. Open and warm and very encouraging to us about our ministry. I didn't get to meet the pastor. I had heard about him. I heard he was a young guy...about 33...was called to that pastorate at age 30 or so, and had never pastored before. After the concert, the pastor came to the stage, shook my hand…that typical pastor-handshake-on-stage-while-everyone-claps-at-the-end-of-a-concert moment. He thanked us graciously, and left. We all went about our normal post-concert tasks. I never saw the pastor again that night. Never had a single conversation with him.

After the concert, we did our typical post-concert routine…greeting people, taking pictures, talking to new friends, and packing everything up on the bus. When everything was finally packed up and cleaned up, we all hopped on the bus to drive through the night to our next destination. I climbed on the bus and said the strangest thing. Something I've never said before...nor did I have any experiential facts with which to back it up. I walked on the bus and simply said, "I think I could grow old with that pastor." I don't know what possessed me to say it. I think that maybe it's because I had so convinced myself that there was no pastor I could ever work with...or church that would ever have me…and I would be smart to not even consider that I would have a place on a church staff ever again. I THINK that's what prompted my comment. But something quickened my heart to this guy in particular. Hard to explain. I had watched he and his wife worshipping during the concert. I watched them whisper to each other...pray together...raise their hearts in surrender together. For some reason, I had an innate trust in him already. Maybe that's where my weirdo comment came from.

I never thought about that comment or that pastor again. Then two weeks later, I got a call.