Brown Bag Lunch in Naperville

There’s nothing I enjoy more (except being with my family) than gathering with other arts leaders and pastors to encourage, sharpen, and inspire one another. This Thursday, all arts leaders from the wider Chicago area (worship pastors, creative arts directors, programming directors, or whatever your title may be!) are invited to join me and our host Eric Bramlett for lunch in Naperville at Community Christian Church at 1635 Emerson Lane. We’re all going to bring a lunch and just enjoy some time connecting with one another, I will share some latest thinking on what we are all called to do, and we will have time for dialogue and interaction. I’d love to see you join us for just a 90 minute lunch if you can make it on Thursday. To let us know you’re coming, just register by e-mailing

Ann Keefer .

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A Story of Hope & Determination

We all love stories of people who have overcome obstacles and Jason, J-Mac McElwain is just one of those people. Some of you may have already seen the video posted below and know his story but it is worth seeing and hearing again.

I recently read J-Mac’s book, The Game of My Life. It tells the story of a young man growing up autistic. My youngest son Max is autistic, so I was personally very interested in his story. This book is a beautiful record of J-Mac’s journey from birth to this spectacular moment in his life. This game like many moments in life didn’t just happen. J-Mac , not knowing it would ever happen, worked toward it for years. His mom, dad & brother Josh helped him prepare for this moment in so many ways. He had teachers and coaches who inspired him and gave him opportunities.

Listen to J-Mac, “It’s important for all of you to know that I’m not a hero here. I’m nineteen. I’m also autistic. My teachers, the other special-education kids and especially my family are the real heroes. Because of them, I dared to dream.”

Who is inspiring you to dream these days?

For years I have dreamed of writing a book. I don’t know yet when that will become a reality but my friend Lori regularly encourages me and asks me about my book. I am so grateful for her voice in my life … she helps me dare to dream.
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A Psalm for Artists and Teachers in the Church

A friend and teammate sent me some verses this morning from Psalm 40. He was highlighting verses 2 and 3, but the more I read the entire Psalm, the more I realized how penetrating all its words are for artists and teachers. Of course, David was an incredible artist. We have so very much to learn from that highly emotional, passionate man who lived long ago and wrote songs documenting his highs and lows, his experience with God, his many sinful episodes, and his discovery of forgiveness. I have decided to focus on Psalm 40 in the first main session of our Arise Arts Conference at Willow in June. So here’s my challenge. First, read the Psalm…several times. Dig into it and discover along with me how rich it is for us as artists and teachers.

Second, sign up for the conference if you haven’t already, and bring your pastor along if at all possible. Let’s rally together as those who proclaim God’s truth in the great assembly. Let’s open ourselves up to further learning, to being inspired together by moments and outstanding speakers who will lift us to another level as Christ followers and as agents of communication. We need to be together, to be reminded that we are not crazy for what we do, to be ennobled as we see once again how vital the arts and teaching are for Sunday morning catalytic experiences. I sincerely hope to see you here in June, because you inspire me whenever I am among you. Have a terrific weekend…and don’t forget to read Psalm 40.
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I have been blessed, now I want to be a blessing
I have been loved, now I want to bring love
I’ve been invited, I want to share the invitation
I have been changed, to bring change

What I like about the song Changed is it expresses who we are and how we want to live. It engages both our hearts and minds, reminding us of God’s gift of grace and redemption.

I am grateful to worship leader, composer and all around good guy, Aaron Niequist for sharing this worship song with us. His new CD Broken Fists was recently released and worth checking out. It is filled with thoughts, emotions and declarations we long to express to our Creator, our Savior and Lord. I hope you enjoy this new song.

Click here to get this week’s free download.

Aaron Niequist
Aaron is a worship leader and songwriter. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his wife Shauna and their impossibly chubby 17 month old son Henry. After leading worship in the student ministries of Willow Creek for five years, and at Mars Hill Bible Church for four and half years, he is now leading worship at churches around the country and looking for his next adventure.
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Feeling Hungry

I’m just 2 full days into our 5 day Solidarity with the Hungry week where our congregation is voluntarily limiting our food consumption to three very small and bland meals a day with no snacks. I’ve also added for myself a fast on Diet Coke, which may just be harder than the missed food! But with only two days down and three to go, I already have already experienced some “Aha” moments in identifying with the extreme poor.

One evening as I was putting our small portions of rice and pieces of chicken into bowls, I thought about how much meat to give each person in our family of 4. Then I imagined a mom who every day has to divide up such meager portions – usually with little or no meat – and decide whether to distribute the food evenly, give the older people more, or sacrifice some of her own. These are excruciating decisions I never have to make.

I’ve also noticed how limited my energy is throughout the day with so little protein and overall calories. It’s harder to do my work, and my work is not physically challenging. I can’t imagine walking a mile or more with a huge jug on my back to get decent water, or working on a garden in oppressive heat when the body lacks energy.

Our family is already talking about what we look forward to eating on Saturday when the fast is over. But as my husband reminded me, the extreme poor never get a break from bland eating and hunger pangs. This is their life, every single day, just enough to survive, no promise of a treat around the corner.
I hope my daughters are experiencing some of these “Aha” moments in the midst of their complaints. This is a memory that can serve us well if we pay attention. When I think of how hungry I feel, I try to offer up a prayer for those who are hungry on a relentless basis. This has been good for my soul…
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The Morning After

This past weekend we launched a 3-week campaign at our church we’re calling Celebration of Hope. Our focus is on limiting our consumption in order to feed hungry children in Zimbabwe. I had the privilege of speaking about Poverty and Hunger in our services, digging into the Scriptures such as the story Jesus told in Luke 12 about the rich man who kept building bigger barns. What an accurate image of we Americans and our meaningless over-consumption! Meanwhile, a silent holocaust takes place every year as 6 million children under the age of 5 die of hunger-related causes.

I rejoice in the growing passion of our congregation to voluntarily limit our consumption and make sacrifices to serve the under-resourced. Part of our campaign includes a 5-day Solidarity with the Poor eating plan that will run from today through Friday. We’ve challenged people to eat just three simple meals a day (approximately a l cup portion), with no snacks, soft drinks, etc. When we feel those hunger pangs, we will identify with the 1 billion people on our planet who live on less than $1.00 a day. My husband and I are engaging in this plan with our teen-age daughters, who have already whined a bit, but are willing to give it a shot. I think this is a tremendous way we can help our kids grasp the vast inequities between the poor and the non-poor.

For three weeks, leading up to Mothers Day, we are all finding ways to limit our consumption in other ways as well, saving the resources and putting the funds in an envelope to pay for the 3.5 million meals we are packing and sending to Zimbabwe. Those meals will feed 15,000 children for one entire year! We already have almost all the required 15,000 volunteer slots filled for 2 hours of meal packing. It looks like we’ll have to turn away some people who really want to serve.

In Guest Central, our location for greeting people after the service, I enjoyed some tremendous conversations. One woman, with tears in her eyes, told me she had been deeply moved by the service. Her plan had been to go shopping after church to buy some Gucci shoes she had saved for. Instead, she pressed $1,000. of cash into my hand and asked for the money to go toward Celebration of Hope. (I don’t know why she was carrying so much cash!) There’s such a deep joy in giving, and I could see that joy all over her face. We have a long way to go in this country toward caring for the poor, and I know I still have a lot of growing to do. But I do celebrate evidence of progress as hearts are softening. Nothing could be closer to the heart of God.
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ARISE – Calling all Dancers

When it comes to ARISE there are many people and experiences I am looking forward to. To name one or actually to name two … Alan Luu and Lisa Jaskilka. These gifted dancers and choreographers from Mosaic Church in Los Angeles have agreed to come and lead four of our dance breakouts.

Alan and Lisa were two of the talented dance team members that were part of SCRIBBLE , one of the highlights of last year’s conference.

In addition to talking about developing a dance ministry, Alan & Lisa will be leading 3 other breakouts helping dancers and choreographers stretch and grow their skills.

I am also looking forward to the dancers who attend ARISE meeting and learning from Bril Barrett. Bril is a gifted choreographer and dancer. Bril’s credits include The Chicago Human Rhythm Project, and The National Tour of Riverdance. Bril was also one of Willow Creek Community Church’s choreographer for Imagine Christmas.
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Have you read the book THE BIG IDEA?
If you haven’t … you ought to!

Either way, did you know that Dave Ferguson, Jon Ferguson & Eric Bramlett, authors of THE BIG IDEA are going to be at ARISE? That’s right. On Thursday, June 12, they will be leading an all day practicum designed for churches interested in developing a strategy to implement THE BIG IDEA in their own context.

This is a great experience for Creative Arts/Worship Directors and Senior Pastors to attend together. Check it out.
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Churchill and Twain for Church Leaders

A friend of mine in California, Jeff Brazil, sent me two quotes after we had a conversation about the negative and inaccurate blogging words being penned about Brian McLaren and his orthodoxy. I think both Winston Churchill and Mark Twain have something to say to Christians about our tendency to impulsively write and speak words before we are willing to fully explore a situation and listen carefully to one another.

A lie gets halfway ‘round the world before the truth can get its pants on.

Winston Churchill

Religion and politics are two subjects where people draw their conclusions based on information that is almost exclusively second-hand.

Mark Twain

I was reminded once again of those words today when I had the privilege of interviewing Brian (along with Bill Hybels) for an upcoming Defining Moments recording. Every time I am with Brian, I am more convinced of his passionate love for Christ, his devotion to Scripture, and his prophetic voice for what it means for each one of us to invest our life in building the kingdom of God on earth. Yes, Brian is controversial. He makes us think. He stretches us out of our paradigms and challenges our assumptions. That’s what prophets do. But Brian’s motivation is pure and his heart is solid gold.

Why can’t Christians learn how to respectfully disagree with one another? Instead of engaging in animated dialogs about issues we care so much about, we instead too often resort to expressing hateful thoughts, not believing the best about our brothers and sisters, extending no grace. Go ahead and ask your questions about Brian, his writing and his theology. That is healthy. But in the process, speak with a tone of love and respect and acknowledge the possibility that you may not fully grasp what Brian believes or is advocating. Are there any more gracious words for any of us to say than the words, “I may be wrong about this…” or “Am I misunderstanding something here…?” I wish all of us would more closely follow the words of James, to be “quick to listen and slow to speak.”

This June, at our Arts Conference titled Arise, I couldn’t be more thrilled that Brian will serve as one of our primary speakers. I believe God has something for us to learn from him. And whether or not we end up agreeing 100% with what Brian has to say, I am certain we will all be enriched as we wrestle with some new thoughts, as we consider what it means to be fully devoted followers of Christ seeking to redeem and restore this broken world with the love of Christ. Thank you, Jeff, for giving me a window into the reflections of Churchill and Twain from long ago – words that could not be more relevant for Christian leaders today.
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The church is realizing that there is an awareness of God sleeping in the basement of the postmodern imagination and they have to awaken it.The arts can do this. All beauty is subversive; it flies under the radar of people’s critical filters and points them to God…When the front door of the intellect is shut, the back door of the imagination is open. Our neglect of the power of beauty and the arts helps explain why so many people have lost interest in church. Our coming back to the arts will help renew that interest.

Ian Morgan Cron, Chasing Francis ...
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Wanted: Filmmakers and Video Teams

One of the experiences I’m most looking forward to at Arise, Arts Conference ‘08, is the Film Festival! This year, it’s open to anyone who created a video or film for their church! So, send us the best original works that you have created this year!

This was last year's winner from Granger Community Church.

Entries will be judged in the following categories:

• Promo (<90 seconds)
• My Story/Testimony (<5 minutes); cause, individual or ministry, life change
• Humor (<4 minutes)
• Drama (<10 minutes)
• Music Video (<5 minutes)
• Topical (<7 minutes); man on the street, focused on subject area
• Animation (<3 minutes)

The best overall video/film will win 4 Arts Conference ’09 Registrations. Submissions must be sent by May 12th. Check the website for all the details. Looking forward to seeing your creativity, and I know all who attend the Film Festival will be inspired by your imagination and ingenuity.
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The Last Lecture

Did anyone catch The Last Lecture: A Love Story for Your Life? ABC and Diane Sawyer told the story of Randy Pausch. Randy is a husband, father of 3 beautiful children, and an inspiration to many people around the world. In September of 2006, Randy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His condition is terminal. In September, Randy delivered his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University, where he was a professor in the computer-science department. The lecture made it to the intranet and to date has been viewed by over 6 million people.

One of the most moving portions of the program last night was hearing how his story has changed the way people live their lives. He inspired them to change their thinking and to live differently.

Artists and teachers have the same opportunity each weekend, tell the story of a life transformed by Jesus Christ. A few weeks back the creative team at my church weaved 3 people’s story about how God has used His Word to speak to them and change their lives, with music and the spoken word. It was beautiful and inspiring. It helped me remember how faithful God’s Word has been to me and my family.

I was wondering how you have been telling stories at your church. What creative elements have been supporting your stories?
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My Glorius "Trip to Bountiful"

I just returned from a matinee performance of one of the most beautiful and life-affirming plays I have ever seen – Horton Foote’s Trip to Bountiful. Performed at the Goodman Theatre of Chicago, this play is a classic work from one of America’s finest living playwrights. Horton Foote is beginning his seventh decade as a writer for the stage. He also won an Academy Award for his screenplay adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird and for his original screenplay, Tender Mercies. Most of Foote’s plays focus on characters from a fictitious town, Harrison, Texas, patterned after his own hometown of Wharton, Texas. But the characters could be from anywhere in that they display the struggles within families common to all humans. This particular play explores the themes of what it means to go home, to be home, to be grounded in the rich gift of family and familiar places.

I celebrated the incredible craftsmanship of the play’s writing, direction, and staging. But what most brought me to my feet at the end (and moved me to tears) was the brilliant performance of Lois Smith in the lead role. Only a few times in my life have I witnessed a performance so filled with depth and reality and power – she totally inhabits the character from beginning to end. I stand in awe of her giftedness and skill. What a rare and remarkable theatrical experience!

Some people believe that live theatre is no longer an effective art form for ministry on Sunday mornings. I wish all those folks could have attended this play with me today. There is nothing comparable to a magnificent moment in live theatre. My perspective is that many have abandoned the use of drama in church primarily because they have never seen it done well, never really believed the performances, or witnessed the power of a tremendous script in the hands of a gifted director and team of actors. We must not abandon an entire art form simply because we have not yet been able to recruit and leverage the giftedness of dramatic artists. When music is done poorly, I don’t hear anyone advocating that we stop all music in the church. We simply devote ourselves to doing it better. I, for one, will never give up on the potential of the dramatic arts for effective, life-changing ministry.
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Genuine passion declares that God is good and because He is good, life is good and it’s worth pouring ourselves into. It’s worth taking risks and being creative if we can bring more beauty and meaning to each other and the world.

Mary Jenson, Still Life...
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Arise is coming...

Art should lift the soul out of the mundane to a higher place: a place of truth and beauty where we can glimpse the face of God.

Last night I was taking a final pass over the Arise brochure before it went to the printer today. I was humbled, once again, to see how God has worked in so many ways….bringing a unique combination of gifted teachers, leaders and artists together to encourage us all at this year’s Arts Conference. There are teachers from over 53 different churches this year! What a collection of insights to be shared and learned.

I am really excited to hear our main session speakers, Gilles Ste-Croix, Francis Chan, Brian McLaren, Nancy Beach, and Richard Allen Farmer. I believe we will be challenged to live, lead and create in new ways.

One of the highlights of the conference experience is worshipping together. This year our guest worship leader is Kendall Payne.

You don’t want to miss this experience. Next Tuesday, 4/8, is the Super Early Bird deadline, so register quickly for the lowest rates. The breakout classes are all on-line now…check them out!

Hope to see you at the Arts Conference.
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What are you doing for Mother’s Day?

Mother’s Day can trace its roots back to seventeenth century England. Mothering Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent, was a day when children, who were often sent away from home to work as servants or learn a trade were given the day off and the opportunity to be at home. Much like today mothers were treated to special foods and bouquets of flowers.

Today, included in this special day of honor, May 11, many moms spend an hour with their family in your church. So, I wondered what you were doing to honor, celebrate and encourage the mom’s in your congregation.

I have planned and participated in many Mother’s day services. I remember looking for just the right song, drama or experience. I thought you might be doing the same thing … looking for just the right words, the right music or expression to tell the mom’s in your community that they are valued and important to our families.

I asked a few friends for some of their ideas. Here is just a smattering of what they told me …

Each mom receives a flower as they leave the service.

Each mom receives a cake, saying ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’ Just in case, dad or the kids forgot dessert.

A video with pictures of moms and kids set to Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, One Heartbeat at a Time. (Here is a short sampling of the song, with Steven explaining why he wrote the song.)

One of my favorite ideas is from Shane Duffey, Creative Arts Pastor at NewSpring Church. Their pastor weaves into the message a story of one mom. One mom who sacrifices and gives so much to her children. This year they have identified a single mom and will do the ‘extreme home makeover’ thing and give her a home. Shane told me, “We love it because it blesses a family that needs it, warms people’s hearts, casts vision about ‘loving people’ and making an impact in our community all the while providing a tangible example and platform to share who Jesus is.” This is the second year NewSpring has given this wonderful gift to a mom and their church.

So, what are you doing for Mother’s day? Share your ideas and let’s do a little virtual brainstorming.
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