Book Review: More Ready Than You Realize


Good evening friends, and welcome to another installment of "J knows how to read."

Actually, the review for this book couldn't come at a better time. Two weeks ago I started a series on reaching out at the Bridge. We talked about Twitter and how sometimes our connections aren't worth much if there's no power behind them. Then I talked about evangelism, and why it is so many Presbyterians feel so afraid of sharing their faith with others.

Then today at staff meeting, we learned through a survey conducted at our church almost a year ago that we rank in the 9th percentile in regards to evangelism. In a collection of 100 churches, only 8 are worse than Westminster at reaching out.

But before I discovered all of that, I read Brian McLaren's book. I'll be honest, the real reason I started reading some of McLaren's stuff a few years back was because I thought I was completely against the theology of Emergent, and he seemed to be in charge of it. I really wanted to start reading stuff by people I disagreed with theologically, and so I grabbed Brian's books. It turned out, the emergent theology (which needs to be differentiated from the Emergent group) strikes a deep chord with me, and Brian McLaren does a really good job of holding my attention and making me understand where his theology is coming from. Like any good denomination or group of theologians, the emergent movement has it's share of whack-jobs who are to be cautioned against. But they shouldn't all be be painted with the same brush, and in fact Brian is a brilliant and orthodox brother. He really reminds me of a slightly older (would he appreciate that? I doubt it) and more experienced Rob Bell, and we all know how I feel about Rob.

The book itself follows a nearly two year relationship between McLaren and April, a non-Christian harpist with some serious questions about our religion. April comes across as an honest seeker, someone who sees all the church's faults, but still wants the hope and peace the church can provide. She loves the vision of a Christ-centered relationship that some people have described, but fear that they're just "trying to make Christianity sound good." With the exception of the fact that for some reason I picture April looking like the chick from Confessions of a Shopoholic for some reason, she seems to me to be an exceptional example of a seeker.

McLaren outlines how he approaches evangelism, a process he sees with a better name of "spiritual friendship." He does a brilliant job of presenting April's questions via e-mail to the readers, complete with bad spelling and grammar (something you never get on this blog, right?)

Perhaps the best part of this book is how vague it is. There is no list of suggested techniques. There is no guide to the four spiritual laws. There is no "evangelism for dummies." McLaren makes the brilliant point that there are as many different techniques to reaching out to a non-believer as there are non-believers. The way McLaren relates to April is way different from the way I would relate to my next door neighbor. I mean, this becomes a daunting task when we remember that Abraham's descendants will be as many as the stars in the sky.

Another very subtle point that comes across through the book is that evangelism springs forth best from acts of service. I think part of what scares Presbyterians (and other mainline denominations for that matter) about sharing their faith is that they see other people sharing it with random strangers on the street with megaphones and signs, usually accompanied with a sense of arrogance. What if spiritual friendships arranged because people though we were legitimately interested in them!

All in all it's a great book. I highly recommend it for youth pastors who are interested in teaching their kids about sharing faith. Plus, it's a pretty easy read. I got through it in about a week.



Billy Mays and a recognition of mortality.


Ok. This week has been a little bit crazy, and I think it's time someone on the blogosphere chimed in on the events (please, please note sarcasm).

It started with Ed McMahon, the beloved old guy who handed out money. I think he had something to do with Johnny Carson too, but I'm not sure. Anyway, when his death was announced on CNN, it was neither shocking our surprising. He was getting on in years, and as we're all aware no one is getting out of here alive. So while it was sad, it was not exactly unforeseen.

Then came Farrah. Again, not exactly surprising, seeing as she had been struggling with cancer for quite some time. It was at this point that I started to wonder if there was something in the water in hollywood, as all of these celebrities were passing away all together. No sooner had we all digested the news of Farrah Fawcett dying than...

Michael Jackson. For so long he had been joked about and ridiculed for some obvious mental health issues. This death was absolutely shocking and surprising. 50? That is not the age most people expire, at least without some sort of horrible tragedy on hand. I was out with my wife and her mother when I heard. This apparently was the death the media would be focusing it's attention on. For a few days it's been nothing but Michael. While I'm greatful that most people seem to be remembering him for his wonderful contributions to the world of music and not the ridiculous aspects of his life, there's still something that bugged me about what was going on in the media. At this point it was clear that something was happening to celebrities across the board, and I had no idea who the next victim would be...

Billy Mays. Unreal. Apparently something happened on a flight he was on, and it took a while for him to feel the effects. I loved this guy. He was so over the top that you could not help but keep your eyes fixed upon him when he lit up your tv screen. He too was only 50 years old. It has been a sad time indeed.

Ed McMahon died on Tuesday, June 23rd. Billy Mays died on Sunday, June 28th. There were five days (of course, I hesitate to jinx this by thinking perhaps another famous person will bite the dust soon) of celebrities dying. I still can't turn on my tv to get actual news about what's going on in the world because our attention has been so fixated on these four souls who's hearts stopped beating. For five days, on one level or another, our nation was focused on mortality.

I learned just now that every 3 seconds a child dies in Africa from AIDs. For those like me who struggle with math, that's 180 a minute, 10,800 an hour, 259,200 a day, meaning that between Ed and Billy there were 1,296,000 children who gave up their souls on one continent alone. 40,000 children die each day of hunger around the world, again meaning that between Ed and Billy there were 200,000 children who died. CNN has not contributed many stories to any of them.

I know this is heavy handed. I know it's probably not what you might have expected on a blog about Billy Mays. But it's been heavy on my heart these last few days, and I think it needs to be on all of our hearts. Why is a famous persons life more important to us than one of these precious children? Why are they worth more of our attention?

Jesus said some pretty interesting things about all of this:

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

Yes, it's true that I will absolutely morn the loss of our great hero Billy Mays, and some of the other celebs who have gone into the great unknown. But I think today I'm going to spend a little bit more time morning some of our brothers and sisters in Africa. And, I think I'm going to write a letter to my sponsor child through Compassion.

While I hope that I don't often use this blog to push or advertise anything, I would encourage everyone to seriously consider sponsoring a child with Compassion, or any of the other great child sponsorship organizations out there. The relationship Sarah and I have built with our child is magical, and I promise is worth way more than the 40 bucks a month I send over there.

So if you're mourning the loss of someone famous (or perhaps even someone less famous who passed recently), may I encourage you to try to make a difference in a little one's life?



Oh how I love the Dave.


A little humor to kick start your weekend...

Enjoy it!


Writing Procrastination.


I am choking on Chapter Two.
Well, probably not as bad as it is in my head, but this is always the hardest part of any writing project I've ever embarked on. I start out of the gate with such joy and enthusiasm, such a love for the topic at hand, that chapter one comes fluidly and easily. But then I get bogged down in self doubt. Maybe the stuff I'm writing isn't good. Maybe no one really wants to read this stuff. Maybe I should write a book about theology instead. You mean I have to do MORE research to get this chapter finished? UGH!

I'm going to keep going, I promise. I started this project on May 25th, and by the end of August it's going to be written darn it. But for tonight, since I don't think I can write any more on this subject, and because I'm not quite tired enough to go to sleep, here are my top 5 procrastination exercises while writing:

5. Ridiculous Rubik's Cubes.

Where to begin? Jake sent me along to this website tonight, and I have to say I'm intregued. Who has the kind of time required to come up with this stuff? How much money did it cost to make that? (Did you see how much it sold for? Close to $4,000!) These people have earned my respect.

4. Not doing the dishes.

There are dishes piled up in the kitchen. I have set up my temporary office in the dining room adjacent. They are mocking me from a distance! They want to be washed, but the air conditioning does not reach to that room. Plus it's my birthday! Who does dishes on their birthday? Not me I tell ya!

3. Making Tea because the Coffee Maker is covered up by the dishes.

On a more serious note, I was given a box of Malawian tea by Abussa Nassiyaya while he was in town last September. It was all we drank while we were in Malawi, and so even though I would probably prefer a cup of high octane coffee right now, the smells and tastes of Malawi are filling my concious and reminding me of the great time I had there. Related to this exercise might be looking through my old photographs.

2. Failblog.

Ok, admittedly there have not been enough failblog clips on J-Blog lately. Allow me to apologize for and correct my error all at the same time.

And of course...

1. Writing on the blog that no one reads!



The Book and the Poll Three


Ok, none of you bit on last week's poll question.

That's ok. I sat down to write today and didn't feel very motivated either.


What motivates you to worship?



Sunday Post Game: 80 Hours


Hello friends!
We are officially home. I hope everyone enjoyed the timed blogs (even though two of them decided not to post until AFTER we got home...maybe it missed me). Let's take a look at some of the recap from this week:

On Tuesday, we loaded up the bus and made our way to the ALIVE festival. This was it! We were looking forward to this trip absolutely all winter and spring, and it was finally here. We boarded the bus and drove the 3 hours or so to Canal Fulton Ohio. After setting camp up, and getting something in our stomachs, we ran into the true enemy of the trip:

It rained almost all day on Wednesday. It would break up a little bit every now and again, allowing us to see Mixtape Metro (who changed their name to "Sunny With a High", a decision I do not approve of, and put on a sub par show compared to their CD. I was a little disappointed) and Skillet (who put on a SUPERB show!) We also had some time sitting under the canopy at our camp sight and sang worship song after worship song. My fingers were tired and blistered at the end of the night from so much guitar action. It was stupendous!

Thursday the skies parted and gave us a wonderful day. However, we were starting to get calls and e-mails from parents. Apparently on Friday the end of the world would be striking right in the dead heart of Ohio. If only I had some sort of tool to help me through the decision process...

Seriously, the olde iPhone made its worth known to all this week. I spent an unimaginable amount of time browsing the weather forecasting world, trying to determine if we were really going to be hit with lightning and hail and perhaps even tornadoes. When we decided around lunch time to cancel the rest of the trip and move on to something else indoors, the iPhone allowed my secretary (MVP of the trip, by the way) to e-mail me a list of parent's phone numbers, and then set up a call chain. I got to book our tickets at a second event, and get permission slips to all the kids parents before we got home. And I did it all from an iPhone. Rock and roll people, rock and roll.

We did decide to come home. We did miss the Crowder band, and several other acts we had hoped to see. We also heard that there was a pretty big storm to roll through, so I'm not exactly disappointed with our decision. It just means that I'm going to have to pre-order our Church Music Tour tickets pretty soon. We decided to wake up on Friday, break down camp, and hit the road. We did that all in some pretty serious rain, so I'm kind of scared right now to open our youth room where we stuffed all the wet tents.

We decided to comp the kids for the missing days at ALIVE, we would make a trip up to Splash Lagoon in Erie. Ever since I had come to Westminster, I had heard kids asking me when we could go back to this place (they had gone just a few short months before I got there and loved it), so I figured this was our time. We loaded up the church bus and a couple of extra cars, and made another 2.5 hour drive to an indoor water park.

I will say it was nice to have a place to write my sermon where I could take a break every half hour or so and take a few laps in the lazy river or park myself in the hot tub. Good stuff! The kids really seemed to have fun, especially when they talked me into going down this death trap pictured above. I saw at least three people fall through head first! I made it out alive, but just barely.

When you count the working hours this week, Ed and I were on for 80 hours. We worked twice the daily recommended dose without even thinking about it. I've said before that I love my job so much that it never feels like work, and it absolutely doesn't. I do feel about as tired as I've ever felt though, and so I felt pretty bad about this week's sermon. A few people told me that I'm crazy and that it went well, but I just wasn't into it today. Shockingly, that's my last sermon for the whole summer. From here on out, I'm a worship leader and pretty much nothing else! Which will give me some space to keep writing the book.

Tomorrow is a day off! Tonight is peanut chicken with my dad (and the rest of our family, but it's father's day!) Rest is coming!



While I'm Out Part Four: The Prayer Life.


Note: I'm at the Alive Festival all this week (June 16th-20th), and big fields are not known for their wifi connections. So I've set up a series of timed posts related to the new book to keep you all entertained. Enjoy!

There was a T-shirt floating around while I was in school. Some of the T-shirts we Christians are making are really something, just the utmost creativity piled into someone else's logo or something.

But the T-shirt that made me giggle a little bit while I was in high school read something like this: "As long as there are tests, there will always be prayer in school."

If we have students in our youth group who pray before difficult tests, we feel pretty good about ourselves. If we've taught them how to pray in and through difficult situations in life, we've done alright. If they're willing to pray out loud, well then you are a youth leader all-star!

When I first got to Westminster, I was supper proud of our kids in the area of prayer. We would open it up to the traditional "popcorn" style, where one youth leader would open the prayer, the other would close, and in between kids could pray for whatever they'd like. Some weeks we would be in our prayer time for up to a half hour! They would pray for themselves, their friends, their family, their hamsters, their sports team, their...

Again, we felt awesome! They were praying out loud! They were praying for each other! They were praying!

But then it occurred to me that there's actually a lot more to prayer than what we were teaching our students. What about silent prayers? What about prayers of examine? What about praying your way through the scriptures?

There are countless ways to pray. While I admit that it's no small accomplishment to get your kids to pray out loud and pray for each other, there's a lot more to teach them. We owe it to our students to teach them how to have a life of prayer, to live out the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, to "pray without ceasing." Be creative. Be innovative.

And continue to teach your kids a life of prayer!

While I'm Out Part Three: In awe of the scriptures.


Note: I'm at the Alive Festival all this week (June 16th-20th), and big fields are not known for their wifi connections. So I've set up a series of timed posts related to the new book to keep you all entertained. Enjoy!

I shudder to think of the countless sermon illustrations I've used over the past four years.

There was the time I tried (keyword: tried) to do an entire sermon as a modern day representation of Peter.

There was the time I ate pizza in front of the entire congregation and related it to evangelism.

There was the time that I didn't say any words at all, the sermon was done entirely on poster board (thanks Jax!)

I've done some pretty stupid things to try to get kids attention.

We have to be honest, in that one of the things that seems to define youth pastors (or any pastor for that matter) is the art of the sermon. When we're good at delivering God's word in a memorable way, people will remember us as good youth pastors. When we're not as good, people usually use that as the first point of attack. I'm not saying any of this is good or bad, it's just sort of the way things go.

What does sermon preparation look like for you? I know over the years I've had a couple of different incarnations, everything from being a stand up comic to attempting a 45 minute Rob Bell impression to a standard 3 point talk. Each has had it's ups and downs. Each has been effective at one point or another. Each has a special place in my heart as "the way" to prepare for a sermon. I'm just way too ADD to have one method and stick to it.

But one things remains constant for me. I become insanely nervous when I'm about to preach. I've done it hundreds of times at this point, too many to count. I've worked and refined my craft, trying my best to not trip over my own two feet with these personal ticks I've developed. I don't really fear that my fly might be down or something like that.

What freaks me the heck out is that I am speaking on behalf of God.

That's not to suggest that I think of myself as some kind of prophet. I don't think that every single sermon I've given is solid gold. I don't even really feel a constant connection with God, because I'm a sinner and the path is windy. But if we don't start with that notion that we are speaking on behalf of God, I don't think we're giving our words enough weight. I don't think we have an appropriate understanding for the power of the Scriptures if we don't at least tremble a little bit before opening it up in front of other people.

This should absolutely hold true for any setting where we're preaching the word of God. If you have a contemporary service like we do, and you're blessed enough to speak there with any kind of frequency, of course you should feel a sense of awe. If your church loves you enough to welcome you upstairs, there's probably a completely different sense of awe and fear. But what about your weekly youth gathering? What about the Sunday School class you teach, the one where you're pretty sure the only reason the boys show up is that one pretty girl who you're convinced is going to try to kill you? What about when a student comes into your office to ask you whether they should be having sex with their boyfriend, and you reach for a scripture.

If we don't come at this book with a sense of awe and reverence, then we are not ascribing to it the kind of weight it deserves. Because absolutely no shudders of fear go down my spine when I read TIME magazine out loud.



While I'm Out Part Two: Worship in small places.


Note: I'm at the Alive Festival all this week (June 16th-20th), and big fields are not known for their wifi connections. So I've set up a series of timed posts related to the new book to keep you all entertained. Enjoy!

This past Saturday was the wedding of our good friends Matt and Ruth. Usually, I find weddings to be horribly awkward and not very fun at all, but Matt and Ruth and the folks that helped them put this together did a terrific job. I actually enjoyed myself the whole way through. The service was beautiful, everyone looked lovely, and hardly anyone passed out. (Ok, no one passed out, but man weren't you excited just then!) The reception was fun and laid back, and with the exception of the bridal party dance (which I performed with all the awkwardness of a 7th grader at the Prom) a great time was had by all.

Our other good friends Keith and Emily were in town for the weekend, and so after the reception I drove out to Murrysville to see them. It was super late, and I had to preach the next day, but it was good to hang out with them, even for an hour or so. Sarah stayed in Murrysville to watch her dad's pooches, and I went home to enjoy a bachelor pad all to myself.

On the way home, I drove through the city with my windows down. It was an absolutely beautiful night, and I just wanted to breathe in as much clean air as I could. I must confess that I am absolutely a city boy. I don't know what it is or why it is, but I love spending time in the city. Something about the urban sprawl, the creativity that comes from being downtown, I just get overwhelmed. As I was sitting at a red light by the Liberty Bridge, I turned the radio off, and just listened to the sounds of the city.

And I worshiped.

I thanked God for such a wonderful day for Matt and Ruth. I thanked him for giving me wonderful (and hilarious) friends to share such an occasion with. I thanked him for the large cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee that sat beside me, waiting to be consumed. But mostly, I thanked him for being who he was, the lover of my soul.

This small, five minute worship service did not happen in a big place. There were no fog machines, no sound systems, no praise bands, and no projectors. It didn't come with a sermon or a three point lecture about theology. While all of those things are important, I think that worship can happen in all kinds of places, including the small ones. Worship can invade a person's life and make them a new creation, one intent on loving the creator of the universe with all their heart, mind, and soul.

The question to us as youth leaders is, how do we shepherd our students in this habit? How do we teach them that worship isn't just what happens on Sunday mornings, but actually a lifestyle meant to be enjoyed at every possible opportunity? How do we beat down the culture that says church is where you go on Sundays rather than who you are every day?

Stay tuned...



While I'm Out Part One: My Favorite Summer Event.


Note: I'm at the Alive Festival all this week (June 16th-20th), and big fields are not known for their wifi connections. So I've set up a series of timed posts related to the new book to keep you all entertained. Enjoy!

Right now (unless there were delays, and there probably were) I'm on the bus on the way to the Alive Festival. It's the official kick off of our summer programming. It's the event that we've been looking forward to for months. When we were down and depressed about what might have been going on around us during the school year, Ed and I would remind each other that Alive was coming. This is what we live for. This is what we're all about. When Saturday comes, and I wake up on the cold hard ground in a big field in Ohio, a tear will form in my eye as I begin the countdown until the next Alive trip.

We've been going on this trip since we were in school ourselves. Just yesterday, my wife pulled out pictures of Ed and I at Alive in 2001. We were not very old. We were babies. We had the time of our lives. I bet if you told us then that we'd be leading our own youth ministry trips to the festival in just 8 short years, we probably would have laughed in your face. We just loved being there. We still do.

We have this trip down to a science. We know how food is going to be prepared. We know how our tents are set up. We know how to arrange transportation. We know where to find the best bands, and how to get a free smoothy from the best smoothy stands. We have played frisbee on an island in the middle of the lake with The OC Supertones. We spent time with Switchfoot. Third Day signed my yearbook. This festival is the bomb.

One of my favorite parts of the trip are the nightly times of worship. Some of the biggest names in contemporary worship will be there to lead us. Folks like David Crowder, Chris Tomlin, Paul Baloche, Lincoln Brewster, and a bunch more have set the standard for worship music at Alive. It's huge too! Big lights, big sound systems, fog machines. Heck, they even had a disco ball once.

But I wonder about the youth leaders who are at this festival and desperately want to provide worship experiences for their youth. I wonder if they become a bit frustrated by the fact that they completely lack the skills or resources or know how to put together worship on this grand scale? Their fears are probably not soothed when they walk back to their camp sites hearing the kids say things like "That was the coolest!" and "Why can't we do stuff like that?" All of a sudden, our friendly imaginary youth pastor is scared to death of leading worship.

Fear not little flock. There are ways for worship to be even bigger than the Alive festival using even less "stuff". Your kids can experience worship in ways they never thought possible before. There are people out there who want to help you accomplish that.

More to come!



The Book and the Poll Two: Electric Boogaloo.


Hello everybody!
Right now, if I've done this right, I'm sitting on the T making my way downtown for the Stanley Cup Parade! But, because I have some slightly larger plans ahead of me, and I promised I would use Monday mornings to poll you the faithful readers, I set this up to be a timed post. If technology is for me, this will all go together swimmingly!

So, here's today's question:

What was your favorite non-musical worship moment? A prayer station, a sermon that spoke to you, that cute girl you used to sit next to? Lemme know!

More this afternoon!



Sunday Post Game: Things to do!


Greetings bloggers!
What a day! What a weekend! Things have been out of control around here. Those boring days of last week are officially gone, and have been replaced by the insane and hectic schedule that is summertime. I love it! Let's see what all we have in store for a post-game report today!

Today I preached at the Bridge. I was nervous as all giddy up going into the service, because I didn't feel like I had a good grip on where I was taking the sermon. It was a lot of stats, and a big illustration, but it really didn't have a whole lot of legs before I got up on the stage. But then as typically happens, I was given words from the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that we as preachers can slack off in preparing our message, but that occasional one-liners would pop up that I am no where near smart enough to come up with on my own. My favorite was "You couldn't ask the disciples of Acts 2 what they did at church this week, because they ARE the church this week." Good.

We talked about Twitter and Facebook and Myspace and blogging. We talked about how we as a culture are trying so very hard to be connected to each other, but we're doing it with relatively shallow and unfulfilling tools. It's not to say that any of these things are bad (obviously), but that if we look to them to fulfill us, we're going to be sadly disappointed. Maybe the church needs to take over, and become the ultimate social networking reality.

Tomorrow morning, I am heading in to work (on a Monday? Gasp!) to attend the Fishers of Men group that meets at our church at an un-godly hour of the morning. Some of the guys have been asking for me to join them for quite some time, and so I figure it's probably about time.

Then I'm headed to South Hills Village, where I will promptly take the T downtown to view the excitement that is the Stanley Cup parade in the city of Pittsburgh. The parade doesn't start until noon, but I truly think I'm going to leave right after fishers of men (at what, like 8?) to ensure my place by the stage. I have waited a long time for this. I haven't been able to go to many games this year. The least that could happen would be for me to get up close and personal with the cup. Which again, it goes with out saying, well done boys!

Then I'm headed back to the office, where Ed and I will do our inital packing for Alive. The trailer has been in the parking lot for about four days now. I look at it every time I pass through, and excitement floods my heart. I can't wait to go! It's going to be such a spectacular trip!

Then we're headed down to Kennywood park to hang out with the kids on their picnic day. How cool is my job? We were praised this morning for having attended a student's graduation party last night. You're doing this job well when you go to parties? Sick. This is exciting stuff indeed.

There is so much to do before we leave at noon on Tuesday. I'm trying to set up a daily post on the blog for the 5 days that I'll be away. So far I have one written, so there's some work to be done there. I would like to clean the house a little bit for Sarah, as she seems to be a little bit more at ease when the house is in good order. I also need to do our grocery run for the week, and start packing my clothes and such for the trip. A fully plate awaits me this week, but I can handle it!