Retreat Blog

Hey everybody.
I'm sitting in my office, getting ready for this year's Sr. High Winterfest. To all of you who live in our fine city of Pittsburgh, I feel the need to appologize, as this inordinate amount of snow that has befallen us is completely my fault.
That is was the weather was like the day we left for last year's ski retreat. Remarkable. It actually turned out pretty well, as we were snowboarding in our hoodies and jeans quite comfortably. Today however, the skies opened up. Check out this shot from right outside my office: 
That layer on the top of the pillar came down about 2 hours ago. In my mind, this is the perfect ski retreat situation. It stopped in just enough time to make sure that the roads are cleared, but I bet you a ton of money that it's beautiful at 7 Springs.
I am so pumped for this trip. More on Twitter as the weekend goes!

Worship Leader

(disclaimer: if you were checking out the blog at any point today during my "logo experimentation", I apologize for subjecting you to that. Obviously I will never touch photoshop again...)
Hello friends.
I am sitting on the couch collecting my thoughts for the up coming Winterfest retreat. For the first time in a long while, my primary role will be that of Worship Leader. I'm not speaking, I'm not leading games. Of course, any time you go anywhere you want to develop relationships with the kids around you, so in that sense I'm always a "youth leader". But as I'm sitting here thinking through the weekend, I'm so totally stoked for what's coming: a whole weekend of idol worship.

(I wish I was that skinny...)
As I'm sitting and reflecting, I'm struck by some of the awesome worship experiences that have happened in the times of the Bible. I'm thinking about Elijah, up on that mountain praying to God, and then out of nowhere fire comes down from heaven. I'm thinking of David dancing around in the streets naked, because God has provided him with a victory. I'm thinking about Jesus just simply thanking God for the followers who by his teachings changed the face of the human world forever.
I have to let my heart be careful. My first instinct is to assume that such epic and glorious things will not befall us while we are at Camp Harmony this weekend. My first instinct is to not get my hopes up. My first instinct is to assume that all we will have is a couple of guitars and a loud sound system. But I don't want to be that way, and I have Jim's sermon from Sunday still ringing loudly in my ears. 
What if I've become so familiar with who I think Jesus is and what I think Jesus will do that my expectations are far too low for this weekend? What would it take for me to assume that fire will in fact come down from heaven? Not in the sense that every song will sound perfect or that I will break absolutely no strings, but in the sense that I am willing to step back and watch for Jesus moving in our students. What if I walked into this weekend assuming wonderful things were in store for us?
I kind of want my heart to be where it was when I was a kid at Christmas time. I used to wake up at 6 in the morning on Christmas Day, and my sister and I would sit atop the stairs. My parents wouldn't allow us to go downstairs without them, and they wouldn't let us wake them up before 7 (a policy I now fully understand and support). And so I would sit at the top of the stairs, knowing full well that something amazing was just a moment or two in my future, I just had no idea what it was.
May God make it so in my worship...
PS: I've been reading Jesus For President, and so don't be surprised if there's a Politics/Christianity post tonight. 



Brain Jam

It's a snow day today. It looks absolutely nothing like this photograph. It's actually slushy and nasty and disgusting. However, school is closed, which means the office is closed, which means Veritas is closed. Usually this would cause me great pain and discomfort, because I love Veritas and hanging out with the kids. However, Ed is in India, and this is the one week during his trip that Mandi would have been unable to help me. I was not really ready to do Veritas all by myself, and so God has delayed us so that I can have one less day without my faithful assistant. But don't worry kids. I'm going to be spending the day dreaming up a new event for us to make up for our two cancelled Wednesdays. 
Marko from YS has posted a link to my blog on his blog. I reviewed his book a while back, and I've actually be re-reading it since. It's spectacular! Go buy it! Go check out his blog! Go get a mohawk like his!

The Pens take on the Rangers tonight. I have a feeling that a lot rides on tonight's game. If we can't establish momentum now, I don't know if we'll be able to. 

I still freaking can't beleive the Steelers are in the Superbowl. I never would have called that at the beginning of the season. I really want to say that we're going to mop the floor with the Cardinals, but I'm hesitant to make such a bold claim. I know this for certain: it's going to be a great game. I wish I would have sent Ed to India with a terrible towl. 

I picked up the new iLife. I love it. I swear Apple can do no wrong. Well that's probably not true. Steve Jobs might be dying. But still. I love the fact that I can pick up a program, and within minutes be doing some really interesting professional looking stuff. More on this later.
I hope to have a more serious blog post later in the day. Hope you all enjoy the hibernation!

Monday Morning Update

Good morning faithful readers. It's time for the Monday Morning update, a useless recounting of what's going on in my world. Go grab that cup of coffee, and let's dive in.
Current Listening: Working with Mark this weekend at Camp Harmony has led me to listen to a lot of Charlie Hall. Good stuff. Marvelous Light has been the song of choice for a few days now.
Current Reading: Youth Culture kind of wound down a little bit. It's a terrific book, but it's also very long, and extremely work related, making it hard to read on my off nights. On top of that, I've enrolled myself in the NavPress blogger review program. As such, I'm going to spend a fair amount of time today reading "How Can a Good God Let Bad Things Happen" by Mark Tabb. Hopefully a review will be forthcoming by the end of the week.

Bible Study: Still going through the Message Solo. It's good stuff.
The Gym: Missed a couple of normal work out days with this weekend's trip to Camp. Actually, it turns out I'm going to be at camp the next two weekends as well, so I'm going to have to work hard on the Gym.
Big Project: Gearing up for Winterfest this weekend. I'm actually super pumped about the retreat. I haven't been on one for quite a while. That, and I'd like to have the house cleaned up and presentable for Sarah when she gets home, so I ought to get off my butt!



Sunday Morning Post-Game: For the love of sound systems!!!

It's no secret that the sound/projection system at the Bridge has been on it's last leg for quite a while. We are hoping beyond all hope to have a new solution in due time. I even had two meetings (and you know how I feel about meetings) this week with a pair of companies that would like to bid on the job. However, time being, it's fail city.
Cue funny videos that somehow represent how I felt about our technology set up this morning:

But such is life. The new system is coming, and I will wait with patience.
Jim (as usual these days) gave a sermon that really caused me to think. He spoke about Mark 6, where Jesus is not welcomed in his home town. Lots of people understand this these days, particularly if you've ever worked in your home church. If people knew you when you were wearing diapers, they're not likely to take you serrious as a spiritual director.
(Speaking of not being taken seriously...)
But then Jim flipped it around. What if, those of us who have been studying Jesus for so long, we've known him since we were in diapers, what if we have started to think we've got him pegged? What if we have started to put Jesus in the category of predictable, and thusly robbing the Savior of a large amount of his power in our lives? What would it look like to truly set the spirit of the living Christ free? These are questions I am certain to be pondering in the next few days.
All Star Game tonight. Is it just me, or did the shootout seem staged? We go through a game where 22 goals were scored (11 a piece) and then all of a sudden for 10+ minutes there are no goals? Not only that, but it looked like everyone had just kind of given up. I dunno. I love hockey, and of course I love watching the Penguins, but it seems like everything the NHL does any more is promote itself. Kind of dumb.
Anyway, Geno had a decent showing for us. People were crying that Crosby didn't play. I'm crying that people are upset that he wants to win a Stanley Cup and thusly (and rightly) rested himself by not playing in a pointless show of ego. Ask me how I really feel sometime...

Ed is going to India on Tuesday. I don't know what I'm doing with my life for the next two weeks...
More tomorrow,


Wednesday Night Wrap Up: How to make a trophy.

Hey everybody, 
I haven't posted in a couple of days, which makes me feel empty inside. Here's a recap of what went on last night:
How to make a trophy: 
Step one: Procure an item related to the competition in question. For example, if you were to have a beach night, a pineapple from your local grocery would do wonderfully (though a quick lesson from personal experience would teach us that leaving it in your office for more than a week is a bad idea...)

Step Two: Procure gold spray paint. Ideally with a glossy finish.

Step three: Go to town. (This is best done outside your senior pastor's office, so he can note how hard it is you work. However, this can go from bad to worse if you accidentally spray the windows or walls of your senior pastor's office. You will need to take great care to avoid calamity)
For cafe time, we hung out and watched everybody's beach ware. And by everybody's beach ware, we watched the one kid who stole all of our beach stuff because everybody forgot. Pretty rocking.

(You will soon see how this picture relates to the post, however, it is the cause for much debate and speculation. For starters, this guy is my hero. Secondly, he has obviously trained for this event. Look at those legs! But thirdly, and probably source of most of the mystery, why exactly is there a guy in a cap and gown in the background? I believe this is exactly the right situation for a caption contest. Leave a suggestion in the comments...)
For a game last night we played kickball. It's quite a simple game, which usually turns out to be our greatest hits. As we were playing, I was thinking about the new sound system we're hoping to put in our gym for Sunday services, and imagining what calamity would befall it if it were up during the game. Perhaps I have more thinking to do on the subject...

Worship was great, as was our bible study time. Honestly, though we started with Romans 3, we got onto so many tangents throughout the night that I can hardly remember what we talked about, so I don't really have any further thoughts on the subject right now. Perhaps later. 
To celebrate Beach Night, Ed and I are in the office listening to Reggae music. It's a great day!

(He shot the sherrif)
More later,


Hello friends,
I watched the Inauguration with the staff at Westminster today. It was interesting. We have such a wide variety of political views on our staff, but everyone seemed to understand the weight of what we were watching. I think I'm still digesting everything that's happened today, how far we've come as a country, how much we've accomplished, how much more we have left to get done. I totally dug the line "We will turn our tanks into tractors." Well stated.
I had an interesting day at work today. We've been working for a long time to get an updated sound and projection system at the Bridge. I had a meeting about it today, and things are progressing. I just frequently get frustrated at how limited our sound system is, and how long it takes to get stuff done in a church of our size. But, I need to keep telling myself to count the blessings (for they are many) and keep my chin up.  
In the meantime, I have updated our worship software, and I'm going to be fixing it up a bit so that it will be ready and rarein to go for Sunday. 
The best news of my life: The J and Ed Variety Show is already shot and ready to go for this week! Excellent!

Watching the game. It's 1-1 after the first, but dang we looked good in the first period. I'm just exceptionally excited to relax tonight at watch the game.
More tomorrow!


Today is Martin Luther King day. In all honesty, I've never really given a whole lot of thought to this day and what it means, but today it seems all the more important, given the events that will take place tomorrow.
I have known for a couple of days that I wanted to do a blog post about MLK. I just don't know which direction to take it. There are so many aspects of this man which are worth noting in our modern context, so many lessons that can be learned. I feel like my little blog is incapable of handling the vast weight of such an enormous historical figure. I feel like my fingers on the keyboard are incapable of getting the record straight.
I think we have to start with the idea that Dr. King saw an injustice, and was compelled to speak out against it in the name of Christ. He was after all a Christian pastor (which by the way, if more people spoke the way he did, our churches would be radically different). For him, this wasn't about power or recognition, doing the right thing so other people would notice. I even saw on a documentary today that he was rather embarrased by the fact that he won the Nobel Peace Prize. He didn't want anyone to mention it at his funeral.
Secondly, few people in the world have taken Jesus' message of non-violence to heart quite the way King did. As I watched film footage today of the marches in Alabama, I was struck by how little the protesters were actually doing. They were simply walking, and to the police officers of the day that was enough to beat some of them severly. But King and his followers never used violence back. They would not bring down their cause to that level. Instead, they just protested the wrong that was being done to them. As I watched today, I couldn't help but think of Jesus in a garden, repairing a Roman soldier's ear. He could have fought back, but that just wasn't going to glorify him or his cause very much.
I know some people would point out that King wasn't perfect. I know that he had affairs, and by no means is that acceptable. But I think when you start pointing out other people's imperfections in the face of their great Kingdom accomplishments, you're missing the point. If people who have sinned cannot advance the Kingdom into this world, what hope do we have?

This is not about hero worship. This is not about idolizing a man. For me, this is about looking at someone who was intent on living the life Christ called him to in every aspect of his world. He was right, and he knew he was right all along, but he never seemed arrogant about it. He never insisted on his own way. He simply lived a life according to what Christ was speaking into his heart. Nearly 40 years after his death, as the first African-American President is going to be sworn in tomorrow, I wonder what he would think about all this? I wonder what he would say about very tiny steps being taken in the name of love?

Monday Morning Update

Good morning faithful readers. It's time for the Monday Morning update, a useless recounting of what's going on in my world. Go grab that cup of coffee, and let's dive in.
Current Listening: I've been switching back and forth between Brandon Heath and Andrew Osenga. Sometimes Christian music just doesn't get enough credit in the secular world.
Current Reading: Still working through Youth Culture. It's been slow, mostly because I've been pretty lazy this last week.
Bible Study: Working through The Message Remix Solo. I really have been having fun praying through the Bible, and have even started keeping a prayer journal of everything I'm working through. 
The Gym: I've been right on track with the gym. I'm starting to feel like I have a bit more energy and drive throughout the day, and hopefully that will translate into legitimate health.
Big Project: I'm going to be working on a Super Bowl part for the youth group. But today mostly I'm planning on collecting some thoughts about Dr. King. Look for a blog post later.

Sunday Morning Post-Game: A Slice of Pie?

Good afternoon friends.
Today was one of the rare occasions in which I preached, felt good about it, and felt like others felt good about it too. It was a message about evangelism, which for Presbyterians is really difficult. I wonder why that is? Those who identify with the Evangelical branch of Christianity have little to no problem sharing their faith, and while I might disagree with their methods, their heart is totally in the right place. May we find the same heart!
But anyway, the big illustration I used was this: What if you met somebody who had never tasted pizza before? How would you explain it to them? Would you use a photograph?
(Just a picture)
Would you try to break down the ingredients (in the same way a Theologian might show you parts of God)?
(Not the whole picture)
Or would you try to mime it out, trying only to display the joy of eating a pizza?
Each of those ideas may be helpful tools in bringing somebody to Christ. But to truly introduce somebody to the living Christ, they have to taste and see him for themselves. You can do a combination of the above mentioned strategies, but until we're leading people to taste the goodness of the living Christ, they are all just pieces of the puzzle, and not the solution.
Pens 3, Rangers 0.
We made a huge trade yesterday to bring in a new goalie. All the press seemed to indicate the thinking was to put a little pressure on Fleury. I thought he would play the game of his life today. I was right.

(Knows what's going on.)
Just one more game before a MUCH needed break. Imagine how great we might be if some of our injured players have a moment or two to rest up and heal up! Things would be great!
Huge game today. Ed has said that if the Steelers and the Eagles make it to the Super Bowl and you have unfinished business in Oakland, get to it. It will likely burn down.
(Burn baby burn)
That was a long post-game. I'm going to see if I can go back through the blog and update the lables. See ya next time!


Speaking of Apple...

A day of rest/Some thoughts about marketing.

Good afternoon everybody.
I am sitting on my couch. I spent the night last night playing some music with a potential new band, and then following up by recording for my good friend Ben Bitzel's album. It was super good to be back on the drums last night, and I felt like I was rocking and rolling on a level that I haven't been at in a while. I was (wait for it) playing like an animal.

While I am sitting around at home, I am thinking about marketing. Our youth group just bought an ad for the high school musical, and so our church's communication director and I have been working hard to design it. I struggle with marketing, because I spend so much time preaching and giving messages in 20-40 minute blocks, and marketing is all about summing that all up in a photograph. It is hard for me.

This is our youth ministry's logo. Actually, it has a tremendous amount of meaning, because each of the three arrows stands for one part of our mission statement (more on this later?). I also think it just looks really good, it's clean, it's simple to understand, it holds up both in color and in black and white. While I'm thinking through it, I thought I'd post some of my favorite logos and marketing schemes in recent years.

Apple Computers (Link)
Ok, I'm a little biased. I love Apple. I think their computers are the bomb diggity (yeah, I just did that to the English language). But beyond that, they've had a logo that has been more or less unchanged since their start in the 70s. They've done a really good job of modernizing it without ditching what works for them. 
Mars Hill Church, Michigan (Link)
Again, probably a little biased because of my love for Rob Bell. But this logo is as simple as could possibly be, and I'm not sure but I think their logo (like the Veritas logo) is based upon their mission or purpose statement. I'm very impressed by logos that can be clean and simple and yet convay a ton of information if you know where you're looking for. 

Google (Link)
This has nothing to do with kissing up to the company that owns my blog. Honestly, at first I really didn't like the Google logo, but it's started to grow on me a little bit. It would appear (based on the three logos I've picked) that I'm also a little partial to that shinny effect everyone's using these days.
Here's the point though. I'm starting to think that logos are more important to young people than they've ever been before. There was a point in time that people could make the arguement that it really didn't matter, but I think those days are gone. So to those of us who are in youth ministry, how important is our ministry's logo? How important is our marketing campaign. I know we all hate it, but perhaps it's time to start picking up on it. 
PS: I'm going to start labeling my posts, so people can find parts of the blog quicker. Yeah!


Pass or Fail: Facebook for ministry?

Hey everybody,
When I first started at Westminster, I started a Veritas Facebook page. It was pretty hastily put together, and not very well thought out, but I was pretty intent on meeting the kids where they were in today's youth culture.
But since then, I've been pretty disapointed at what the end result of facebook ends up being. I'm pretty bummed that most kids in our youth group have a difficult time with some of the most basic of human interactions. I'm exceptionally disapointed when the kids "cyber-bully" each other, as I'm certain no one these days has quite the healthy respect for a "wedgie" that I have.
All kidding aside though, I wonder which is better. I wonder if it is better to (in this case in particular) engage the youth culture, and put it to work for our ministry, or is it better to stand our ground and admit that Facebook has some demons? I have a particular leaning, but I'll wait and see what the comments bring.