uni grads

Zach Nielsen's First Jazz Release

I'm excited to spread the word about my friend, Zach Nielsen's first official jazz release.  Zach is a gifted leader and musician.  Here's what he has to say about his first recording:

It's a five song EP called “Songs in a Minor Key”. This recording took place this past spring in Albuquerque, NM with some of the best musicians the city has to offer. It is far from perfect (what jazz recording is?) but I think you’ll find some rich moments throughout that will peek your interest and engage your ear.

Recording jazz is a very different process than my pop/rock recording experience in the past. In jazz, all the musicians play together and we do a few takes and simply choose the best one of three or fours takes. With a rock recording you usually analyze every square inch of the recording and slave over all the minutiae. Not so with jazz. We attempt to capture a performance that is rich with energy and life but perfection is not the goal. Communication, interaction, and artistic expression are the goals and I think those goals were met in these short recording sessions.

For some, jazz is esoteric and obtuse. To the unacclimated, it can sound like random noise that is challenging to listen to for extended periods of time. For that reason I recorded a couple songs that most people will recognize. The recording kicks off with my arrangement of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and later on you'll find The Police’s famous hit, “Message In A Bottle”. In my experience, if people hear a simple melody that they recognize it greatly increases their enjoyment and overall listening experience. I hope that is the case for you as you encounter this recording.

The remaining three tracks are jazz standards from many decades ago. First, “Nardis” is a Miles Davis tune made famous by one of my piano heros, Bill Evans. Second, there is a lesser known Wayne Shorter tune that I learned back in college called, “Black Nile” and finally another jazz standard called, “Beautiful Love”.

I am excited to release this recording today and if you would be willing, please pass this info along to anyone you might think would appreciate it.

It can be purchased exclusively on iTunes and AmazonMP3.  Take a moment and click over to either site and listen to some clips. If you would be willing, pass the links along via the various mediums of social media (Facebook, Email, Twitter, Blogs, etc).   Here are the links you would need to share:

AmazonMP3 - http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0040G85RA/wwwtakeyourvi-20

iTunes - http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/songs-in-a-minor-key/id387646141

Recording Credits: Zach Nielsen - Piano Michael Glynn - Bass Ian Byrd - Drums on Come As You Are and Message in a Bottle Arnoldo Acosta - Drums on Black Nile, Nardis, and Beautiful Love Chris Saiers - Audio Engineer Mike Mulliniks - Mixing Engineer Bryan Lopez - Cover Design Ben Moore - Photography

Thanks to Fernando Ortega for letting me use his piano!

Who's Changed the Most Since College?

Found this old college picture of Kyle Fever, me, Justin Taylor and Dustin Shramek (click to enlarge).  Who do you think has changed the most?  This picture was taken right before us four guys took our future wives (all roommates - Laura Rohwedder-Fever, Jaime Friesenborg-Wolter, Lea Ostapoff-Taylor and Kellie Montag-Shramek) out for a fun night in downtown Waterloo, IA. 

If you were along for the ride, do you remember what we did?  I have this faint recollection of going to some rodeo in some convention center!?  And why am I the only one sportin' the tie?

Jim Luebe: A Man that Impacted Me Up Close

Jim LuebeOnly a handful of people have come into my life and impacted me up close.  Yes, I can point to pastors like John Piper and C.J. Mahaney who have had a profound influence on my life from afar.  But only a few have invested their lives into my life becoming like a father to me in the gospel (1 Cor. 4:15).  One of those men is Jim Luebe.  I met Jim as a college student at the University of Northern Iowa.  As a relatively new believer in Christ, he took an interest in me and saw in me the potential for leadership.  I remember sitting down with him one day and him turning to Joshua 1:9 which says, "Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous!  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  He looked at me and said that God had called me to lead just like Joshua.  So I needed to be strong and courageous knowing that He would be with me!  Hearing those words propelled me to take action and be the man God made me to be. 

Jim also started a small group bible study with me and 3 other guys.  I think he affectionately called us "The Four Horsemen."  We met in the mornings on campus and studied through different books of the Bible.  We prayed together and were accountable to each other.  We also spent time with him in his home.  Jim intentionally let us see into his life, his marriage, his struggles, and even his sin.  But his heart was not mainly that we know him; he wanted us to know Christ!  Specifically, he wanted me to know the basics of living for Christ - The Word, Prayer, Fellowship, and Witnessing.  But he didn't just teach these things, he lived them out.  He never asked me to do anything he hadn't done first -- and that principle of leadership has stuck with me.  Jim is also a man of vision.  And he gave me opportunities to lead with vision.  Most older guys don't give younger guys the freedom to fail.  Jim did.  And in doing so, I learned to dream big and believe God could do great things -- more than I could ask or think (Eph. 3:20). 

And I'd be remiss to not mention how Jim showed me the importance of family.  He loves his wife and his boys.  I didn't think about that very much as a college student, but now I do, having been married for 12 years with 3 kids of my own.  Little did he know that he was giving me a model of how to put my wife and kids first in the midst of ministry.

Some of you know that Jim is now the Collegiate Director for the U.S. Navigators.  He and his sweet wife (Beth) continue to invest their lives into college students with a desire that they might become lifelong laborers in Christ's kingdom.  Sometimes I can still hear Jim's distinct voice in the back of my mind telling me about a friend of his that he described as "a faithful laborer over time."

Yes, only a handful of people come into our lives and impact us up close.  Jim Luebe is one of those people for me.  And my prayer is that I would be that for others in my life and ministry.

*Read this article he wrote to collegiate grads about true success in college ministry

Why We Love Rooting for the Underdog

It's been a long time since we've seen so many cinderella teams make it this deep into the NCCA tournament.  But that's what March Madness is all about, right!  There’s nothing like seeing the little, no-name programs like Northern Iowa (my alma mater!) defeat the traditional, mighty powers like Kansas.  But all this “madness” got me thinking.  Why do we love the underdog?  Why do we love rooting for the little guy?  I think it’s because we see ourselves in the story of these cinderella teams.  We identify with the “Davids” because we are weak in and of ourselves.  Not many of us are naturally gifted to do great things.  But all of us want to be a part of doing something great.  Ironically, this is God’s pattern for showing His greatness.  “He chooses the foolish things in the world to shame the wise; he chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong; what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Cor. 1:26-28).  God takes delight in choosing the weak things of the world to show His strength.  He loves choosing the small things to show forth his greatness and power. 

We see this in Scripture, don’t we?  God chose little Israel.  God chose little Moses.  God chose little Gideon.  And God chose little David.  We could go on and on to show how God chose the “underdogs” to carry out his plan.  But why did God choose them?  Answer: “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:29).  To say it positively, God did it so that we would be humbled.  That we would know that His glory is seen most powerfully in humility. 

The greatest picture of glory seen in humility is Jesus.  Jesus was the ultimate underdog.  He came as a tiny baby from the little town of Bethlehem.  He worked in obscurity as a humble carpenter.  He grew to be a poor man despised by the world and betrayed by his friends.  And he died a humble death on a cross.  But there was victory.  Victory and glory seen through humility.

I love the line from one song that says, “Who would’ve thought that a lamb could rescue the souls of men?”  That lamb is our Victor.  That’s our Champion.  The lamb who was slain.  The Savior who came out of nowhere to defeat the greatest opponent ever-sin and death.  And we will spend eternity in awe of this humble, crucified King.

So, why do we love the underdog?  Because we follow the One who lived humbly, suffered greatly, and died horribly, but now reigns in victory.

How Kurt Warner Expressed His Faith

Dustin S, friend and fellow UNI grad, on Kurt Warner's retirement: He retired yesterday from what is probably a Hall of Fame career. Everyone that knew anything about him also knew that he is a Christian. He is not shy about his faith at all. It is part of who he is. The following paragraph from Seth Wickersham at espn.com struck me when I read it:

Thanks for the religion. Some athletes give their life to Jesus Christ as a PR move; some are ripe with hypocrisy; some just say offensive things. Warner always expressed his faith without trivializing it or us.

Kurt Warner lived his life as a follower of Jesus Christ in a way that garnered respect from others. He didn’t trivialize Jesus or people. We can communicate the things we believe most deeply in a way that others thank us. I don’t know Wickersham’s religious views, but this tells me that Kurt Warner is a man of peace. May I be one too.

Before there was Between Two Worlds ...

Did you know that before Between Two Worlds (and WhatsBestNext and His Peace Upon Us) my friends Justin Taylor, Matt Perman, and Dustin S, were running a website back in their college years?  I forgot all about it, until recently I did a google search and it took me there. The site is called, Contend for the Faith.  As you browse through these articles written 10+ years ago, you can see God's hand on these brothers' lives.  And you can also see their obvious love for John Piper before he became so well-known in the evangelical world. 

All of these guys impacted me in different ways and continue to do so.  It gives me joy to give them a "shout out" today and remind them of the evidences of grace I've observed in them throughout the years.  Keep doing what your doing, fellas!  To God be the Glory.

Justin Taylor Teaching at My Church

IMG_1185It was a privilege to have my friend, Justin Taylor, come to preach at my church and speak at our Pastor's Conference this week.  We had a good time hanging out and encouraging one another in the gospel.  One of the things I appreciate most about Justin is that he makes you feel bigger in his presence ... which is hard to do since he's a pretty big guy!  But Justin genuinely thinks of others as better than himself.  It's evident in the way he lives and the way he blogs, always pointing to others and deflecting attention away from himself even though he's a gifted writer and thinker himself.  Here's the two messages he preached at our church.  Justin did a great job teaching on the familiar parable in Luke 15 comparing and contrasting the two lost sons and bringing out good gospel application.  And his message on adoption (spirtual and physical) was very helpful, providing a needed challenge for the church.

Matt Perman - A Unique Gift to the Church

Matt Perman is a unique gift to the church.  He was the chief designer of the Desiring God website and is now senior director of strategy at DG.  I'm blessed to call him, friend.  Along with Dustin Shramek and  Justin Taylor, Matt helped shape my understanding of God's sovereignty during my college days with him at The University of Northern Iowa.

UNI Grads: Angela Thye 10 Years Later

Name: Angela Thyehttp://vefcchildren.fhview.com/team.php

Where you are on the map: West Des Moines, Iowa
Full Time Job/Ministry: Children's Ministry at Valley Evangelical Free Church
Is this what you thought you'd be doing when you were in college? No, I thought I'd be teaching at an inner city elementary school.
What do you dream about doing 10 years from now? God's dreams for my life have far surpassed mine so far. . .so whatever dream He has for my life 10 years from now.
Favorite UNI Memory: Helping start BASIC (Brothers and Sisters in Christ) in '94-'95 and being on the first skit team.
Any other comments: Jesus has brought me through many valleys and shattered dreams since graduation in '98. Yet my life verse has become Deuteronomy 3:24, "O Sovereign Lord, You have only begun to show Your greatness and the strength of Your hand to me, your servant." I remind myself and those around me of this verse on the 24thof every month, which I term "Dt. 3:24 Day." For the rest of our lives, no matter what comes our way; we will be able to say, "He has only begun to show us His greatness and the strength of His hand to us, His servants."  I battled with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome from 2000-2007. For those of you who have family or friends who battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia, I highly recommend connecting them with Rest Ministries. Rest Ministries ministers to those living with chronic illness or pain. Their website is www.restministries.org. Their phone number is 1-888-751-REST (7378).

UNI Grads: Jesse R. 10 Years Later

Name: Jesse

Family: Sarah, Abigail (2 ½), Gloriah (8 months)

Where you are on the map: SE Asia

Full Time Job: Small business management

Is this what you thought you’d be doing when you were in college?  Yes, for the most part.  Seeking to honor God in life and business, to bless the community, provide jobs, etc, etc. 

What do you dream about doing 10 years from now?  I dream about helping start or improving businesses in the harder areas of the world, with my wife, mentoring and coaching others in this kind of work not only in the tasks at hand but in all of life.

Favorite UNI Memory: Wow, many!  Clogged toilet overflowing from 1st floor Promised Land, dripping onto our kitchen table cloth, and us still using it.  Attending Sunday morning service and noticing various men wearing familiar articles of clothing from my closet.  Paul Shepard and the green chair.  Mark and his “borrowed” toothbrush.  Paul scaring the liver out of Doug.  Doug and his mobile mattress.  Fast asleep and then woken up buy JT coming into my bedroom dressed as an old lady, was I dreaming?!  BASIC, Friday Night Alives, Dave Busby Main Event, DC trip for PKeepers, etc. etc.

(Optional) Any other comments or shout-outs to specific people:   My roommates (Doug, Mark and Paul) and other brothers…God used all of you to seal my heart to Him.  Junior/Senior year was such a life changer for me b/c of the fellowship.  It is amazing how He uses the Body in such powerful ways to change a life forever, thanks for the sharpening brothers!

UNI Update: Michael Miesen 10 Years Later

Name: Michael Miesen Family: Michelle. Brayden (4) Madelynn (2)

Where are you on map: Des Moines, Iowa

Full Time Job: Corporate Controller (aka bean-counter) for The Weitz Company, a general contractor.

Is this what you thought you’d be doing when you were in college? I figured I would be doing something in accounting. Call me naïve but part of me believed Justin Taylor when he told me he would hire me to teach finances to the church members where he pastored. Who would have guessed he would end up editing books and blogging? Thanks for crushing my dream JT.

What do you dream about doing 10 years from now? Loving my wife and kids and serving in our local church.

Favorite UNI Memory: 1. Discipling Chad Simington, Justin Taylor, Spot and the Fisher twins for two years in the PACK.

2. Knowing Justin Taylor and Zach Nielsen before they were nationally known blogging icons.

3. I agree with Reisetter on Z streaking during a poker game. Unforgettable.

4. Getting suckered by Justin into eating 10+ oreo’s filled with toothpaste in less than a minute and paying him back by hiding rotten sardines in his car. So many great memories it’s hard to remember them all. Overall, I’m so grateful for my time at UNI. God used it to teach me so much and blessed me with such great friends.

Random Thoughts: In the spirit of "it’s a small world" I have the privilege of working with two of our UNI class of 98 graduates in the Children’s Ministry of our church. Joshua Denhart (Director of Children’s Ministry) and BASIC skit-legend Angela Thye.

UNI Grads: Hilary Pepper 10 Years Later

Name: Hilary Pepper Family: Not yet, but patient and hopeful.

Where on the map? Deep in the heart of Texas! (Eh hem…it was during my time at UNI when I said I’d never live in Texas!—oops!)

Full Time Job/Ministry: My dream job! I'm teaching in an intensive English program in a university environment with international students from literally all over the world; however the majority of them are from the ME and Asia/East Asia. My heart has been burdened for the peoples of the ME for quite some time. Not knowing when I’ll go, I’ve had the joy of working alongside like-minded brothers and sisters through the local church. Together, many of us are also laboring in a CPM among M’s, believing that He has called some of the thousands living here (Acts 17:26-27). We are in the first year and are depending on our Father for so much!

Is this what you thought you’d be doing when you were in college? I knew I would be working with other cultures, but I had no idea it would be like this! These past 10 years have been more than I had ever envisioned or dreamed for my life. It has certainly been an Ephesians 3:20 decade.

What do you dream about doing 10 years from now? Similar to what I’m currently doing but dreaming and believing God for even more. I have no idea the location, but I’m confident it will involve the unengaged, a team, and Lord-willing, a family.

Favorite UNI Memory: Not sure if you all remember this, but 98% of my college days were Christ-less days. In God’s perfect timing, He used high-school friends Mark, Doug, Katie, Laura, Jesse, and Dennis to point me to Jesus during the rough years, and Spot’s testimony to draw me to Main Event ’97. While there, He used Justin’s cross-dressing (old woman?), Mark and Aimee’s small group time, and Caligiuri’s re-enactment of the crucifixion to reveal His Truth to me. Therefore, aside from my final two months on campus, my UNI memories with everyone don’t run too deep. However, I’ll never forget the team mascot who was strapped to our van’s windshield the entire way to Passion ’98 and, while there, the group’s obsession with front row seats and Piper-sightings. I kept thinking, “My new friends are kinda weird!”

Being a part of the gals’ bridal showers and learning how to play “Hot Seat!”…blaring (and dancing!) to Peder Eide’s, “Where Justice Rolls Down” in my sorority house. I forget who exchanged the Oreo cream filling for toothpaste at a church potluck. Dirty.

Seriously, though, you UNI grads have no idea how much each of you has helped shape who I am today. Your examples of grace and love and Christ-likeness in my initial months/years of learning to walk with Jesus were foundational and life-giving to me. www.seeandknow.wordpress.com.

UNI Grads: Eric Schumacher 10 Years Later

Name: Eric Schumacher Beautiful Bride: Jenny

Full Quiver: Josiah, Micah, Elijah, (#4 is due December 14!)

Where you are on the map: Cedar Rapids, IA

Full Time Job/Ministry: I pastor Northbrook Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids.

Is this what you thought you'd be doing when you were in college? Yes.

What do you dream about doing 10 years from now? I dream about being a better husband to my wife, a better father to my children (who I pray increase in number!), and a better pastor to Northbrook Baptist Church.

Favorite UNI Memory: There are too many from which to choose a "favorite." Meeting my wife at a concert is too obvious. My college roommate, Jake Conner, has forbidden me to share all the good ones (since they are embarrassing to him...). So, I'll go with the "spiritual option"--the CCC Christmas Conference in Minneapolis my freshman year. It was were the Gospel became very clear to me. The time that I spent listening to Dustin and Matt engage in theological conversation and Bible study, watching them do evangelism downtown, and praying with them had a huge impact on my soul.

(Optional) Any other comments or shout-outs to specific people: I'm grateful to everyone--students and campus ministers--who took the time and had an interest in ministering to me as a young Christian while I was at UNI! The Lord used their efforts to impact the rest of my life...and therefore also my wife, my children, the church I pastor, etc. College ministry has a far-reaching impact. May the Lord raise up more to invest in that mission field!

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*Special Note: 

  • Read about how Eric has ministered to his congregation in the wake of the flood in Iowa.
  • Listen to Eric's sermon last week entitled, "The 500 Year Flood and the Kingdom of Christ"

UNI Grads: Greg Fisher 10 Years Later (almost)

For the record - I'm only at 9 years ... 1999 grad

Name: Greg Fisher

Family: Wife: Darath (Wright) also 1999 grad; Son: Malik (born 9/19/07); Dog:  Sophie (Cavachon)

Job: Tax Manager at Pella Corporation in Pella, IA

Ministries: TNT (Twenties 'n Thirties): co-leading Bible Study through Third Church.   Leading a Men's Bible Study (re-studied the college fav 'Desiring God'). 

Is this what you thought you'd be doing when you were in college? Pretty much what I thought I would be doing when I was in college.  I figured I'd be out of Public Accounting after a few years (it took 6).  Didn't realize I would be back at Pella where I did my internship during the summer between Jr and Sr year.  

What do you dream about doing 10 years from now? Wow, 10 years from now.... haven't thought that far ahead.  I'd like to be doing a ministry that helps people with their Finances - budgeting, getting out of debt, etc.  I want my kid(s) to be growing in their character and relationships, especially with Christ. 

Favorite UNI Memory:  It wasn't during the school year, but proposing to my wife via scavenger hunt was my favorite memory during my college years.   Otherwise it's too hard to narrow down from all the great FCA & Main Event memories.

Optional Comments: Last year I had to write a narrative about how God has impacted my life for a class for church.  It was amazing to look back at how significant my spiritual growth was during those college years. Even at a state university God can have a major impact on our lives. 

My shout out would be to J Chad Simington for inviting me to many of those things that significantly impacted my spiritual growth - FCA, IOLBC, the PACK. 

UNI Grads: Jen (McCulley) Johnson 10 Years Later

Name: Jen (McCulley) Johnson

Family: I have an amazing husband named Joel and our first little girl is on the way in just a little over a month!   Where you are on the map:  Manhattan, Kansas

Full Time Job/Ministry: We work with the Navs at Kansas State University!  I just finished my 7th school year here after doing EDGE Corp at UNI and then working in Colorado at Nav Headquarters for a year...

Is this what you thought you’d be doing when you were in college?  No...my plan was to go into broadcast journalism until the end of college when I decided to do 'just a year' of college ministry first.  That one year has turned into 10 and honestly, I can't think of anything else in the world that I'd rather be doing.  We absolutely love Kansas State and working with the students that we work with.  It's the best job I could imagine and I'm so glad that God's plan was bigger than my own...

What do you dream about doing 10 years from now?    I hope that the Lord can still use us in college ministry!  We'd love to do this for the rest of our lives!   Would love to have 3 or 4 kids if the Lord would allow that!  Either through adoption or our own biological kids...  Our dream would be that we'd have the privilege of seeing former K-State students laboring throughout the country and around the world for Christ in lots of different arenas and occupations...

Favorite UNI Memory:  I have such a bad memory, I can't remember a lot of specifics!  I know that all of the Main Events were huge for me and all the great times doing worship on top of the Union together.  But I do know that college was such an incredible time for me...  God really used those years to build some strong foundations in my life and He used so many of you as my friends to help shape me!  So thank you!  I love that so many of us can be reconnected through facebook and each other's blogs!  There are some things that I really love about technology! :)   We do have a personal blog...mostly a soon to be baby blog!  www.joelnjen.blogspot.com  and a ministry blog (that is terribly outdated, but I'm hoping to post something soon!) at www.ksunavs.org/blog  

UNI Grads: Zach Nielsen 10 Years Later

Name: Zach Nielsen

Family:  Kim Nielsen, Taylor (5), Autumn (3)  Emery (1)

Where you are on the map:         I live in Albuquerque, NM

Full Time Job/Ministry: I am the Music Minister at Desert Springs Church, www.desertspringschurch.org

Is this what you thought you'd be doing when you were in college?

I thought I would probably be in full time ministry of some sort.

What do you dream about doing 10 years from now?

I dream about seeing the church rise up in our world and being faithful to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  I want to be on board with that most likely through some mix of music, teaching and discipling.

Favorite UNI memory:   Too many to list here.  1) Seeing JT get his car towed due to unpaid tickets, 2)Smashing the white rat under our fridge, but not discovering it until a week later when it stunk so bad we about all puked 3)Friday Night Alives 4)Main Events  5)Seeing JT scare a whole group of young impressionable college girls when they thought I called them into our music room to sing them a new song that I wrote, but rather is was so that JT could come out of the adjoining bathroom wearing a dress and the old lady mask he had.  Screams were deafening   6)Together with JT, feeding moldy ding-dongs to Dennis Colton and him not noticing and eating them all.  7. Seeing Matt Reisetter put the speakers to our stereo in the window on the morning that Iowa was playing UNI in football and cranking the Iowa fight song and putting it on repeat and then having the cops show up.  8. Seeing Matt Reisetter never go to class cause he was too lazy to get out of bed cause he stayed up all night watching Babe Winkleman’s fishing show or any other random dumbness that caught his attention on the TV at that time of night.  He would get up around 1pm after hitting the snooze literally 12 times and then order a small pepperoni pizza from Dominos.  Wack jack  9) Having “cleaning parties” where the girls would come over and clean our apartment for us.  Misogynistic I know.