In the Name of Jesus

Have you read this one? I picked it up recently after having received several recommendations to read it. Nouwen has written an insightful, challenging, soul-stirring little book here that strays from wordiness and worldliness. Much like my recommenders, I now highly recommend this book to anyone interested in growing nearer to the heart of Jesus in their daily life and ministry. At less than 100 pages, it is a quick read that beckons to be read over and over again. I am sure that I will pick this one up more than once again in the future.

Nouwen overlays the conversation of Peter and Jesus from John 21 on the desert temptation of Jesus from Matthew 4. In doing this, he shows three of the most alluring temptations for a Christ-following leader in the church (Relevance,Spectacular,Power) and how Jesus' responses to Satan (in Matt 4) and to Peter (in John 21) reveal the ways in which we can humbly respond as we seek to be leaders who live nearer to the heart of God.

God of this City

During our final session at the Arts Conference, Nancy had us stand up city by city as she encouraged us that God wants to move mightily through our gifts in each of our cities, all over the world. Once we were all standing, the band began to play a song that I had not yet heard. The lyrics of the song immediately resonated within my soul: "Greater things have yet to come, Greater things are still to be done in this city..." As we sang, a video montage showing city-scapes from all over the world played before our eyes. We truly live in a big, diverse world, but God is Lord of all and he is still moving. It was a very powerful song.

As the band drew to an end, Francis Chan came on stage. He said he could not leave without telling us the story of the origins of this song we had just song, God of this City. He personally knew the band who wrote it. Here is the story below that he told us, as found at the band's (Bluetree) blog If you haven't heard the song yet, I encourage you to listen to it, then read the story. It truly is one of God putting a new song in our hearts.

"Nov 2007. Bluetree are heading out to Pattaya Thailand to participate in an event arranged by Belfast missionaries living in Pattaya, Thailand called Pattaya Praise. We’ve no expectation of the event; we were just looking for an opportunity to serve somehow.

We didn’t know much about it before we left, but Pattaya is a dark place. It’s a small seaside town notorious for it’s sex trade. Throughout our time there we heard countless stories of girls who are bought from their parents for a price, sold to the sex industry at ages as young as 5 years old. Arriving in Pattaya the spiritual climate seems to change, it’s hard to define, but there is a very tangible change. On the bus journey in we’d been our usual cheery selves, but entering Pattaya at 10am and turning on to a street lined by girls ready for business, the bus became very quiet. We’re in total shock. It’s a sunny day but it’s incredible how dark it feels.

’Walking street’ we learn is the epicentre of the sex trade in Pattaya, it’s about a mile long and at night springs to life with neon signs. Thai people are generally conservative in their dress sense – it’s generally considered provocative to bare your shoulders. But on their street the girls are wearing very little, and offering anything you can imagine for a price. It’s easy to look around with human eyes, see the depravity and get angry. You see older men walking hand-in-hand with young girls – as a daddy, that’s hard to take in. It’s easy to get angry, it’s easy to judge – but that’s not our job, so we grit our teeth.

We were in Pattaya to be part of a praise event not far from this street, the soul purpose of which was to worship and show God’s light in a dark place. We wanted to play more than the scheduled slots while we were there, so we found out that one of the bar owners would let us play a worship set in her bar on the proviso that we brought as many from the missions team who would buy coke-a-cola all night. We walk in to the bar which is about the middle of walking street, girls are lined up on the stairs waiting for business. We get set up, we’re really nervous and quite uncomfortable but we kick in to a familiar beat of worship and soon it’s ok. God starts to speak and we started to move in to this spontaneous song. The truth is when you worship in a place, you start to see God’s heart for that place. What would God say to a place like this?

Amidst the depravity God says, I’m the God of this City, I’m the King of these people and Greater Thing are Yet to Come, Greater Things are Still to be Done HERE. The song wasn’t written before that night, but we came out of the bar having worshipped with the song that is now the title track of our album – God of this City (Greater things). The song isn’t just for Pattaya – it’s for your city, and it’s true. By faith we must expect that greater things are still to be done."


Day 3 - Session V

This is the last installment in my debriefing of the Willow Arts Conference from last week. I've posted a lot of content here! God really captured my heart during this conference, so there has been no shortage of things to say and that certainly remains true for my review of the final session of the conference.

Francis Chan visited us from California, a man whom I was not familiar with before, but a man of God whom I quickly came to admire and respect. Francis is pastor at Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA. After one session with him, I would sum up his mission as one of trying to help the next generation develop a higher and bigger view of God and his intense love. You can visit his video blog site here or another interesting site of his

Francis, a bald, expressive, middle-aged Chinese man, got us laughing right away, when he compared himself to the previous speaker, Richard Allen Farmer. He said "I couldn't be more different." Farmer was incredibly eloquent, well-prepared, dressed in a three-piece suit, a talented pianist, but Francis walked up with flip flops, a small notecard of speaking notes and he said that he is "probably one of four Chinese people who can't play the piano."

So, because Francis' gift is not necessarily one of an artistic-bend, he stuck to his strength. As important as it is to be excellent and to work very hard in our creative expression that God has gifted us with - it's stewardship - we must never forget that the Holy Spirit has to show up, otherwise it is all for naught. True change will only happen with the Spirit. We can manipulate people left and right with crazy-cool stuff in the Church, but if the Spirit is not a part of it, no true change will happen.

"Give me talented people and I can grow any church - even a mormon church...But I want something more - which is everything!"

Stop and think: Have people ever seen your good works and then turned and praised God? Or has it been, "Hey Francis, that was a great message. Hey Francis, that was an awesome video you made."

"I'm so bored with what I know I can do. I don't want it to be about me."

Think about this more a moment: it was to our advantage that Jesus left the earth and gave us his Spirit. To our advantage. Don't you think that we should have a higher view of the Holy Spirit? Did people leave Pentecost saying, "Wow, that guy John is awesome - he learned Portuguese in like 5 seconds. No! They praised God and were saved. Shouldn't there be a massive difference between me standing here and the person next to me who doesn't have the Spirit?! Then why do some of our neighbors have more peace and joy than you! You are a temple of the Holy Spirit!"

Do people leave your church services with a bigger sense of awe toward God?

People can go to the movie theater for a good show, but they should be experiencing the almighty God when they come to worship. Are they?

God reduced Gideon's army from 32K to 300 men because he wanted to show them that it was him that would show up and give victory.

Francis said that the greatest compliment he ever gets is when people come up to him after a service or he sees and old friend from pre-ministry days and they say, "You??"

After this session, I made a word collage to express what God has inspired in my heart. God definitely showed up and elevated my view of him and his Spirit, through his interpreter, Francis.

"Is Google Making us Stoopid?"

The article by the same title in The Atlantic caught my eye today. Similarly, the article asks, "Is the internet reprogramming us?"

The author writes that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. We struggle to read long pieces of prose, but instead we find ourselves skimming from one blog to the next, pulling out anecdotes and phrases that pop.

"My mind now expects to taking in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the seas of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."

Referring to a study of the behavior of online researchers: "There are signs that new forms of "reading" are emerging as users "power browse" horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins."

Maryanne Wolf argues that we are not only "what we read", but "how we read." She believes that the style of reading promoted by the internet is a "style that puts efficiency and immediacy above all else" and it may be "weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when the [printing press] made long and complex works of prose commonplace." Wolf also believes that our tendency is leaning toward becoming "mere decoders of information" rather than readers who make "rich mental connections that form when we read deeply."

Much like the way that native Mandarin speakers form a different neurological circuitry for reading ideograms, the media and technology that we are currently immersing ourselves in is playing a role in reshaping our neural circuitry today, i.e. we are learning to read and think differently than we used to.

Researchers are discovering that even the adult brain - previously thought to fall into rigidity - is "very plastic" and "has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly."

Just think about how the invention of our modern timepiece - the mechanical, ticking clock - has reshaped our lives, the way we think and respond for daily activities. "In deciding when to eat, to work, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock."

The consolidation of our technological and communicative activities into one device - the personal computer w/ internet - allows us to check the time, headlines and email all at once, leading to scattered attention and diffused concentration.

A quote by one of Google's founders may well sum up the underpinnings of this transformation of our thinking that has walked down the aisle with the advent of the internet:

"Certainly if you had all the world's information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you'd be better off."

But, Socrates may have had been on to something, when he wrote that "as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they cease to experience their memory and become forgetful...and because they would be able to receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, they would be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant."

What do you think? Are we losing our ability to read and think deeply? I am certainly excited about the possibilities that the internet age has birthed, but I am wondering if I shouldn't be more aware and cautious of its power over more ways than one.


Day 3 - Session IV

This morning session on our final day at the Arts Conference opened with a talented young artist from California. Kendal Payne soothed our souls with her beautiful voice and captivating lyrics. I think I might have to look her up on iTunes.

Payne's performance catapulted us into a worshipful spirit and we were ready to listen to Richard Allen Farmer, who quickly became my favorite conference speaker up to that point.

Richard Allen Farmer is a seasoned, gifted pianist and vocalist who really knows how to use words to paint some beautiful images. About every other thing he said I was scrambling to jot it down because it was profound, beautiful, challenging or just so eloquently stated that I didn't want to quickly forget it.

Farmer decided to lead us on a tour of the artist's mind.

The first stop gave pause to the insatiable curiosity of the artist's mind.
"We push the envelope, we push buttons...we'll push anything."
"If curiosity is a disease, I'm not interested in being healed."
"It was said that DaVinci would not take 'yes' for an answer."

The second stop was the friction that occupies the artist's mind.
"It is the rubbing - the friction - that brings about the stylistic synthesis that the church so desperately needs."
"Friction is invited to take off its shoes and sit a spell."
"We find it a necessary ingredient in our creative pursuits."
-We must constantly welcome diversity in our creative experiences in the Church - "contrary to popular opinion, the people whom we serve in our churches are not stupid" - they like being led strongly.

Thirdly, he stopped to look at the "pen and lips" of the artist.
"Shame on the artist who cannot articulate the oral, olfactory, tactile or audible creation that has been given for our consumption."
Referring to pro athletes on TV, he said, "I'm almost sure that I'm going to hear someone commit linguicide."
"The artist should be able to explain his sculpture in a way that Stevie Wonder or Andrea Boccelli can himself see it."
-It has always been amazing that Christ has been called the Word of God

The fourth stop was to notice a cloud or vapor that looms overhead.
-Sometimes, we do just get lost in the wonder and awe of God's creation and there are no appropriate words
-Silence and mystery have their place

The last stop was at the Truth (God's Word) that must be the foundation in the artist's mind.
-"In him, we live and move and have our being"
-Our art needs the theological underpinnings
"Don't be afraid to mention God in your art."

I was very inspired by Farmer. He helped me to loosen the chains of insecurity or fear that sometimes come trailing behind me when I seek to be creative. God created first. He wants us to follow him in that, too.


Day 2 - Workshop III

Right-Brain Preaching
Mark Batterson, National Community Church, D.C.

When signing up for workshops, I tried to diversify the speakers that I would hear. I didn't realize that Mark was leading my second and third workshops, but I am really glad that I was at both.

Before flooding us in practicals, Mark wanted to make sure that we - as the teachers of our church communities - remember this: we are nothing without the Holy Spirit. We must have God's favor. Yeah, we can manipulate people and get a rise in emotion through some creative twist on our sermon, but we should pray for God's favor. Simple, but great preface.

Mark started by giving us an introduction to neurology and the psychology of the brain. We are to love our God with all of our heart, soul and MIND.

Jesus was very creative in his preaching, often in parables of less than 250 words. God spoke in various ways at various times throughout history - he likes to keep it fresh and relevant.

Here's a nugget - "Creativity is not optional. It's stewardship."

Mark's communication motto - John 12.49 - God shows him what to say and how to say it - "content and packaging"

1. Big Idea - from the Ferguson brothers at CCC in Naperville, IL - "less is more" - the pressure of a bed of nails is diffused by a 1000 points, but one nail will stick it to ya.
2. Trailers - "the movie screen is the postmodern stain glass" - a movie trailer for your message will engage a theater-crazed culture.
3. Culture series - choose topical series that engage the culture. We live in a culture that is Biblically illiterate, but music and film literate - speak their language.
4. Cross Pollenation - "I believe that ever -ology is a branch of theology."
5. Get Demographics - understand your congregation's make-up and know what their needs are. Sometimes the message idea that is least voted for is the very one that they need to hear.
6. Sermon Props - Jesus used all kinds of objects from everday to give his message a punch, such as mustard seeds. "The most important truths must be communicated in the most unforgettable ways." anon.
7. Off-Site Sermons - get out from behind the pulpit and out into the world to teach. Video messages from the site of where you almost died in a car crash, for instance, can be powerful.
8. Sermon Branding - instead of calling the series "1 and 2 Timothy", call it "Potential"
9. Metaphors - find them and use them!
10. Pray - without it, numbers 1-9 are nothing.


Day 2 - Workshop II

Snakes and Doves
Mark Batterson, Pastor of National Community Church in D.C.

Mark is a former Willow member and Trinity grad, who has planted a church in D.C. that has now grown to four sites in about ten years. It sounds like they are having a really positive impact on our nation's capital. National's vision is to meet in movie theaters (and near, or at, Metrorail stops) all throughout the city. You can visit them on the web at

From the beginning, Mark struck me as a very genuine, positive, God-centered man who really wants God's kingdom to come and not his own. It was only after a failed church plant in north Chicago, that he and his wife found God's favor in D.C.

He opened by wondering aloud if David ever went back to the battlefield where he defeated Goliath. Did Zaccheus ever return with his grandkids to the sycamore tree where Jesus called him from? Did Lazarus return to the empty tomb of his own resurrection by Jesus? We've lost the art of remembering (OT - altars) the places where God gripped us.

Mark walked through Matthew 10:5-16 and camped on verse 16, in which Jesus tells his disciples that they must be as "shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves" as they go and preach the good news. What does this look like in a worship gathering context?

Part of this innocence, he argued, is checking our motives. Why are we in this? Is it for our kingdom or God's? Return to that place of a soft heart of humility and dependence, remembering that it ends and begins with God. Mark showed us a video of a baptism celebration that they had in the Patomic. It was very inspiring - taking us back to the basics of our motivation in ministry.

Second, we must be shrewder than a serpent. Eluding to the enemy being described as a serpent, we must be even more shrewd than it in our approaches.

We must know our culture. We must be able to exegete the culture - not just the Bible. Contextual intelligence has been found to be one of the top - if not the top - components of an influential leader. Do I "understand the times" (1 Chronicles 32)?

Mark said that one of the values of his church is that "irrelevance is irreverance." Chew on that. He said that they take incarnation seriously. Just becuase a church is reaching the culture doesn't mean that they are watering down the gospel.

Mark argued that we have forgotten (or never known) what it is like to enter into a worship service for the first time. Today, people like to sample. Websites, webcasts and podcasts can help people do just that. He said that a way we can be shrewd is to use technology for even more powerfully positive purposes than the enemy can use it for his.

This may have digressed from the topic of shrewdness, but he made a good point that too many people are wasting a lot of sideways energy in the kingdom - bickering and complaining about the little things that "those other Christians over there" are doing. He said that he was very tempted to be angry about some new church plants that were starting in DC theaters (that's our vision!), but instead they prayed for those church plants and gave them money to help them get off their feet. Cool.


Day 2 - Workshop I

Attack of the Killer Brainstorm
Tony B, Creative Dude from Windsor Crossing in STL

Tony is an animated, hilarious guy who worked for several years as a creative strategists for an ad/brand agency. He now works in ministry doing similar stuff, but with, as he said, "soul impact."

We opened up by brainstorming a no-budget birthday party for a 6 year-old boy who likes cars and turtles. It was a fun exercise to stretch our imaginations within some parameters. He came back to this thought later.

He briefly walked through two categories of brainstorming problems that he has witnessed: Process and Professional Problems. For example, the parade of "no, duh!" ideas, the theologian in blue jeans (i.e. can't give an elevator explanation), the laptopper (often me), etc.

He argued that these problems are the difference between "utter awesomeness and a big bag of barf." He like to use very poetic language :)

Tony reminded us that we have the Holy Spirit who has filled us. It all starts there. He said that moving from his numbing job as an ad guy to a creative dude in ministry, was like "finally rolling in the grand piano and now learning to tune it and play it to his best ability."

Tony's ideas for better brainstorms:
1. Separate your "to-think" meetings from your "to-do" meetings
2. Your team should be like a joke without the punchline (a joke most often is filled with people that normally don't go together)
3. Don't think outside the box...think inside the circle, the circle of your creative community. He said what we all think these days "we're tired of the Box metaphor." The metaphor was created when Disney generated the 9-point puzzle. Parameters (see above) help us to be even more creative.
4. Ditch the 'doh - toys rarely, if ever, help us be more creative. They distract.
5. Creative environments don't often generate better ideas - people do. He showed us images of his former employer - this totally rad place, but he said it was just as stifling. They'd have to leave.
6. Walk the Roads - take notes about everything that you encounter on the roads. Jesus used metaphors that he gathered from walking out among the people.

Tony said corporations are paying big bucks for this "new" idea of walking the roads - paying creatives to just go to a bar and be a fly on the wall and listen to people's stories, interests, hobbies. We'd be amazed at the things that influence us each day.

On that note, Tony showed us a video. It was so good, I wanted to imbed it here for you to see.


Day 1 – Session 3

The Robbie Seay Band opened up the final session of the day. Their musical performance wasn’t overly impressive, but I really admired Robbie’s honesty as he shared the story of his turnaround recently from apathy to genuine concern for the poor and oppressed. He did a great job of expressing how Compassion International kids can change our worldview. I’ll give him this: he does have sort of distinct, raspy sound which makes him stand out in the pool of status quo “Christian” music.

Brian McLaren was on stage next for another interview by Nancy. I had been really anticipating his address, because I have been very challenged, encouraged and perplexed by his writing. I have only read his recent book, Everything Must Change, which has received its share of criticism. B-Mac (as I like to call him – we talked after the session was over. seriously.) opened by giving a highly filtered synopsis of the book, talking about the two operating questions – What are the biggest problems in the world and what does the message of Jesus have to say about them? He spoke about the Suicidal Machine we live in and the problems of the Planet (Prosperity), Peace (Security) and P (Equity) and the primary framing stories we are living within (Domination, Revolution, Isolation, Scapegoat) and finally the alternative framing story that Jesus Christ offered – to live in the kingdom of God and its new reality of reconciliation rather than destruction.

McLaren also gave us a glimpse of why these questions first became important. When he was working a youth camp back in the day, he asked the kids what were the primary questions they were facing in the church. The kids responded with topics such as predestination vs. free will, guitars vs. drums, etc. He then asked them what questions/topics were important to them - the things they cared about and talked with their friends at school about. They responded with things like poverty, racism, over-population, etc. He put the two lists next to eachother and was amazed that there was NO crossover. That was a problem. That is a problem.

Quoting Shaine Claiborne, he joked that if "the Church won't get involved in these issues, then the rock stars will cry out."

McLaren said that we have been saved not only for the afterlife, but also from wasting our lives here on earth. We need a both/and, not an either/or. He was asked about the redemptive work of Christ and he responded that of course he believes in that, but apparently there are some people out there who "know better than I do what I believe."

McLaren talked about how God cares about the soul and the body, the eternal and the temporal. And as artists, we should appreciate that because so much of art is an intermingling of the two.

He left us with five challenges:

1. Integral worship - give a higher and fuller view of God through our worship and teaching
2. Humanize the other - we are so accustomed to dehumanizing the other in our country, but we must unearth the real, human element of people's stories of suffering and joy.
3. Humanize ourselves - stir and unveil our own emotions and stories, lead people to inconvenient thoughts
4. Revalue creation - celebrate the beauty in creation and its reflection of the Divine as we see in many old hymns, such as Come Thou Fount, How Great Thou Art
5. Revalue (Redeem) our relationships and connectedness

"You all have been doing an amazing job at making the Church better because of art, but I hope that you can see now that maybe God wants to make the world better because of the Church."

Nancy and Brian also brought up two men who lead Fair Trade organizations, one in California (Trade-As-One), the other in the Dominican (Peralta). Both have markets set up here at the conference, where we can get products such as messenger bags made from recycled rice sacks - very cool. The memorable thought from the Trade As One guy:

"How often do you vote? (every couple years) No, you vote every time you open your wallet." Know where your money is going and what you are supporting.

Day One of the Arts Conference was basically awesome and I look forward to the two remaining days.


Day 1 – Session 2

This session began with an UNBELIEVABLE violin performance by 14 year-old Emily from Michigan. This girl was unreal. She did things with the violin that I didn’t know were possible (and you know how educated in the violin I am). At times, it sounded like a banjo, flute, cello, kazoo, you name it. I felt as though I got a “free” ticket to a $70 violin concert. Maybe one step below Joshua Bell.

After that spectacular performance, you can pretty much only go down. So, we moved from high art to low art and had a “Rock Band” competition. They brought up six volunteers from the crowd and had a battle of the bands show, complete with an Idol-esque panel of judges. It was a fun, entertaining crowd pleaser.

This session featured one of the headline speakers for the conference - Gilles Ste. Croix, the founder and creative director of Cirque de Solei. Nancy interviewed him on stage and we learned about how Cirque was born and how it evolved into what it is today. He spoke about the creative process involved in creating a new Cirque performance. The process begins 2-3 years before the 20 week preparation period of a new performance, such as the newly created “Love” show for Vegas, which features newly re-created Beatles music. Nancy said that this show was one of the top three artistic experiences that she has ever had.

Nancy ended by asking Gilles this question: Why is art important in our world?

“It may be one of the things that distinguishes us from animals, but it is more than that. We need to create and art speaks to our emotions. These emotions are necessary for living – otherwise it is like being in a desert without water. It feeds you and changes you. It makes you a better human being. It does not leave you the same ever again.”


I’m at Willow Creek’s annual Arts Conference, which is entitled “ARISE” this year. The vision is that God uses arts and artists to help pull us out of the muck of our darkness and brokenness and into his light and healing. So, we’ve come together to be inspired and equipped to be artists who are more in tune with the heart of God and the work that he is doing in our world. I’ve been excited about attending this conference for a while and now it’s here. I’ve actually never been to Willow Creek before. The only thing I have to say is that it is nearly “too much for my eyes,” to quote a man from New Guinea after seeing another mega-church in the Chicagoland area. I’ll try and give a run down of the week’s events.

Day 1 – Session 1

The conference opened up with a fantastic drumline sequence. Already, I was blown away by the auditorium and stage that Willow has at their disposal. About 10 African-American guys and girls gave quite a mesmerizing drum performance on stage. It was fun to see a non-traditional art form (for the Church) kick things off. It got our hearts beating to a similar rhythm, that’s for sure.

Willow’s worship band transitioned smoothly in right at the tail end of the drum beats. They have a nice, inconspicuous three-tiered transient stage for their band. Very modest. J Seriously, though, this band was amazing. I loved that they had a diverse group of musicians and a diverse worship set to match. It was a very eclectic time of worship with many different instruments and vocal expressions. I deeply appreciate that. I am quite tired of the standard rock band worship set. My two favorite moments were when an African-American female started freestyling for a call to worship at the beginning of the song “Everyday” and the other moment was a very soulful, beautiful rendition of the Doxology (Praise God from whom all blessings flow) by an African-American man. I was quite impressed by this talented worship band. They did an incredible job. They were sharp, not showy and rooted in the awesomeness of God in their song selection (i.e. the songs were more about God than us).

Nancy Beach, arts director at Willow Creek, started things off after the drummers. We walked through Psalm 40 (the Message) together, particularly the first few verses – “He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from the deep mud”, “He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip”, “I waited and waited and waited for God”, “He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise song to our God.” She did a great job of ushering us into a time of interaction, reflection, silence, prayer, journaling, confession and rejoicing and it really laid the foundation for the theme of the conference – ARISE.

We also witnessed a fairly well-done drama during this session, during our reflection on “He lifted me out of the ditch.” The drama was based on Romans 7:18-19, where Paul reveals the everyman inside. The drama specifically highlighted the struggles of three people in job ethics, pornography and food/body image disorders. The lyrics of the drama’s closing song were:

“I do not want to do what I’m about to do, but I cannot stop. I’d gladly trade my nothing for your everything. I just get so scared that I might drown. I never saw my shadow until I saw the light. I need more light to drown it out…Hope casts me headlong into you.”

As Nancy was finishing, she stressed the importance of recording or transcribing new believers’ stories in our churches. She introduced a man from their church and a live video-drama performance that was really impressive. There was an interpretive/break-dance to match the video retelling of a man’s journey from success to prison to Christ. It was powerful.

A couple closing thoughts:

“If we aren’t careful, we will create (or "do ministry") more out of memory than out of imagination.”

“What are we doing to proclaim new songs to our assembly?”

“Are we painting the fullest picture of God (that we know of) through our worship and teaching? Don’t conceal anything.”

Weekend in Chi-Town

Amber and I had a memorable time in the windy city this past weekend. It really felt like a gift from our Father - blessing us with his favor so that we may turn and praise him for goodness. One of my favorite quotes from his Word is Matthew 7.11, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"

The weekend started out with a road trip up from Champaign with our friends, Ty and Laura. Ty got 4 tickets for his birthday and he shared two of those with us. What a super guy! We're going to miss him next year when he and Laura move to Chicago so that he can start school at NorthPark.
We couldn't have asked for a better game. Now, I am still a diehard Cards fan, but I can enjoy a good win and I am not ashamed to root on the loveable losers. The weather forecast included thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes, but none of that ever materialized at Wrigley. So, we had a beautiful day for a game. The Cubs were down 8-0 to the Rockies in the 5th, but they came back (thanks in part to former Cardinal, Jimmy Edmonds) and won 10-9.

Ty and Laura dropped us off at our hostel, which turned out to be mostly a gem, especially compared to what we could have paid at a normal hotel. We stayed at the Arlington House International Hostel, located in Lincoln Park, just minutes away from the Zoo and an El Train stop. We got a private room (not common for hostels) and we were pleased with the cleanliness and location.

After dropping off our bags, we caught the train and rode the brown line to the Art Institue. During the summer on Friday evenings, you can enjoy free admission from 5-9pm. Thank you very much.

We woke up way early (not planned) on Saturday and made our way to Navy Pier. It was an unbelievably beautiful day and we got to the Pier before any other tourists. We found a little table right on the water's edge and enjoy the sunshine and lakefront breeze.

After enjoying a couple hours at the Pier, we spent most of the day walking around downtown sites and shops. We ended the evening with dinner at The Village, an Italian restaurant in the Italian Village on Monroe St. The service, atmosphere and food portions were great. The food itself was fairly standard, but enjoyable. It was a good carb meal for our race the next morning.

The main event came on Sunday morning, which was the original cause for the mini-getaway to Chicago. We both ran the "Run for the Zoo" 10K at Lincoln Park Zoo. About 4000 runners came out and we had another gorgeous day to top off our weekend. The race course wound through the zoo, lakeshore drive and harbor area. Amber really surprised herself with a time of 54 minutes and I finished in 44 min. My legs were tiring at mile 3 already, but I was able to push through for a strong finish. The first mile was difficult because of the crowded pack trying to make it through the narrow pathways in the zoo.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the zoo and conservatory and wrapped up the weekend with the train ride back home to Champaign on Sunday evening. It just takes a weekend in Chicago to remember how small and quiet Champaign really is. I think I really enjoy what both cities have to offer. It was a weekend that I won't soon forget.