Oh ya, that's why I love to travel…

When you give children craft supplies, they’ll create something. Sometimes they need suggestions or a little help, but you don’t have to teach them to create. They’re born as little kings and queens of creation, with a desire to shape and build as part of their being.
Do you know what else they do instinctively? They give their little creations back to you, or to other people they love. When they’re done pasting and cutting and glittering and stickering, they delight in giving what they’ve made back to the parents that provided the resources to begin with.
They don’t create grudgingly, and they find joy in offering it back to you when they’re done with it. I’m pretty sure you don’t have to look much further than that for the meaning of life.
God created this giant playroom, and he filled it with beautiful things. Then He made His children, and he put them in that playroom, and He set us free to create and shape and build. And when we accept His gifts, and make them into something new and imprint our likeness of Him through our stewardship and mastery over the resources He gave us, the right response is to offer those things back to our Father.
Like the little kid with glue on their fingers and stickers in their hair, delighting in gifting back to the giver, to offer back to God what we’ve done with our gifts is to honor and please Him.
You could take the analogy further: learning to share with others, learning to respect what others have made and not trying to take for yourself what you have not been given or have not earned… We’re all just big kids, with no less of an innate God-likeness or broken sin nature than we had when we were littler versions of ourselves. Only our creations can be bigger and more wonderful — and our sin can be more hurtful.
So what are we to do with our lives while we’re here? We’re to seize with thankfulness and joy every gift from our Father, we’re to shape and create and steward and invent and master the things He provides. And with no less joy, and with a righteous pride in our obedience and humility knowing the simplicity of our offering, give the finished product back to our Father, from whom every good and perfect gift comes. And if instead, He asks us to give to someone else, to some other child of His that He loves, so that they can understand their value and His passion for them, then we should give it gladly, knowing we were used by Him to show others what He is like.
Everything we have is His — but if, when we receive it, we use it in a way that allows us to give it back to Him without shame; if we build, shape and grow it in a way that honors Him, and refuse to use those gifts to hurt others, but work together with them to do the best we know how, then like the proud parent who hangs their child’s art on the fridge for everyone to see, I imagine God smiles on His kids, and blesses them like the Father He is.
It took awhile on this trip — longer than it did when I was younger and less cynical — to be reminded that I love this giant playroom we call planet Earth. And I want to explore every corner of it. And I want to use my gifts, and grow what He’s given me, and share with God’s other kids, and make something out of everything He’s given us. To make the world a better place, to act out His image in me — the image of a creative, generous, righteous God. And to show it to my kids, and tell them the whole wide world is ours…
God made it for us.
Colossians 3:23-24, Genesis 1:28, Genesis 2:19

Church At Home out of Beta

Church At Home is a somewhat new ministry of our home church here in Ontario. The leadership’s vision was to allow those who might not be comfortable coming into a big church for the first time to check it out and see that its not that weird or scary, and to facilitate community and connection with our global church family. We do this with a live video stream and a facilitated chat window where people can discuss the service. Notes and supporting media are posted as they’re available as well.
This has been a long project for me, that started as a quick and dirty proof of concept that too rapidly became a production system — followed by months of hunting down and squashing bugs. We basically ripped and replaced every major component of the original system, including a nearly complete re-write of the website back-end, a reinvented chat system, a new Internet connection, a new streaming computer, a new CDN service, and finally a new stream publishing system.
For publishing the stream, we started with Expression Encoder Pro, which for reasons related to my employer I was obviously biased towards. It was installed on a Mac Mini running Windows 7, but we quickly determined that the little Mac was underpowered. That was replaced by a Lenovo desktop with an Core i3 processor. We recently added a second Lenovo machine with a Core i5 that will run the HD stream.
At first we pushed the stream to a blade server running at a local ISP who was willing to donate bandwidth, but we had problems and were concerned about scaling, so we connected with FaithNetwork, who set us up on the Edgecast CDN.
Rogers Cable Internet was unable to provide a guaranteed upload bandwidth, so after more problems, we went with an MLPPP connection. Its theoretically better, but the customer service is even worse, so I’m not going to advertise that provider.
Expression has a known issue with ending the stream when connectivity drops — even for a fraction of a second, so although Silverlight SmoothStreaming gave us some amazing capabilities (allowing us to publish multiple stream qualities AND deliver iOS support, all from the same computer!) we were forced to switch to Flash Media Encoder, which is frankly better known and supported by EdgeCast. This is unfortunate because Flash needs to die, but for the sake of our volunteers, and because we’re using essentially a residential Internet connection, we had to make the switch.
A number of skilled individuals participated in the project, wiring up the necessary equipment, coding the website (including handling issues with multiple timezones and shifting streaming technologies), and navigating the personalities involved in setting this up. Eric provided leadership and oversight, and his company LucidMedia created many of the pieces, Pat made the website work, and Verne connected the systems.
As of today, we think I finally have a system that is reliable, easy to consume, and easy for volunteers to operate. You can start it up (from powered down!) in 6 clicks, and shut it down in the same amount. If you don’t go to church, or haven’t been in awhile, you should check it out. I’m proud that my church has some enjoyable, meaningful music, and straight, honest and challenging teaching.
I’m declaring this project done — a multi-site launch is the next ministry project we’re helping out with, along with some old friends and new ones, and I’m sure it will be even more fun than the last time we did one of these!