Coming to terms as an artist.


Sorry I haven't been around in a while. I don't really have an excuse, but you people don't pay me to blog for you, so deal with it!
A few years ago, I was asked by Pine Springs Camp to come and lead worship for them at a fall retreat called the Big One. It was a pretty big deal to me back then, as I was really just getting started as a worship leader, so I felt like this was a group of people taking a pretty big chance with me. When they told me that the theme of the weekend was "God at the Center", I didn't really have a whole lot of songs in my arsenal that delt with the theme (People have since come to me after the fact and told me about a ton of songs that could have worked, but I didn't know them then). So I sat down on my couch in my office and in one afternoon wrote a song that I felt would fit the theme pretty well. That song was called "Hold Me Closer", and is probably the only song I've written that people know and remember. If such a thing exists on my level, it's my only "hit."

(By the by, I would really like to hear how a song titled "When Donkeys Flew" sounds...)

Now, almost four years later, I find myself once again leading worship for the Big One, once again staring down a theme that has little to no offerings in the worship world (Agents of Change), and once again writing a new song on my couch. It is not the most creative thing I've ever done (the title is, well, Agents of Change, and the chorus words are "Ohhh"), and yet it's probably one of my favorite songs I've written so far. I am pleased with my creation.

Sometimes though I think I cheat myself. Often times when I write a song, I don't feel like an artist of any kind, I feel kind of like a guy who puts chords and words together, and sometimes they even fit. But I think it's important for those of us who consider ourselves song writers to consider ourselves artists. God has created us with this desire to create stuff, and we should be proud of that. I have the hardest time telling people that I wrote a song, I'd almost rather be not noticed. And while that can be awesome for someone who struggles with pride, I think it's good to let people know that you're creating stuff. God wants us to create, and create we shall.

So, if you're a song writer out there, create something today. Make something beautiful, or even better make something horrible (practice makes perfect). Let God speak to people through your art, through your songs. And feel free to take a little bit of credit!

We added a new friend to our family this weekend. Everybody, meet Melvin!

He's getting fixed right now, so he probably hates me. That said, he's easily the coolest dog on the planet! Marley loves him too!





Greetings friends, and happy Saturday!

Yesterday saw the completion of a project that we have been hoping for and praying about for a long long time. The new Bridge sound system is in. The board pictured above is the actual board we're going to be using from week to week. Which beats the crap out of the little cardboard sound system we were using for the last 4 months.

Some features:

  • The ability for people in the audience to hear.
  • The ability for people in the audience to see
  • A much more streamlined set up process for the band.
  • A (hopefully) more useful set up for aerobic instructors in the space during the week.
  • In ear monitoring systems for the band (!)
  • More microphones than you can shake a stick at. (Seriously, get a stick...I dare you)
  • All in all, a better sound system than I've ever played on in my 20 some years of being a musician.
When we went downstairs yesterday to do training, I was a little bit scared at first at how immensely complicated the system seemed. It looked like we were going to have to go to school to learn advance sound engineering degrees to be able to sort this all out. For probably the first 10 minutes yesterday, I thought we were about to watch the whole system blow up in our face.

(BTW, that's the new official logo of the J-Blog)

But then I played on it for a while after the training, just trying to get familiar with the whole set up. It's going to be an absolute blast to worship in this space.

But I write this blog neither to brag or to boast or to whatever. I really want to ask for your prayers. My hope for this sound system was always that we could enhance one hour of worship every week, so that we could go out and be the people of God the rest of the week. I'll be preaching about that tomorrow (yes, it will be funny to talk about the unimportance of the new sound system the first week we have it), but I could use some prayers from everybody.

PS: Do you know what happens on Monday?



Oh my. Here's a little diddy from the intertubes. Enjoy worship leaders!

Veritas Post Game: HUGE!


The day after a big game can be either crushing or exhilarating (Just ask Sid). Either way, chances are there are things to be learned the day after, and so J-Blog faithfully returns to it's post-game coverage of both The Bridge and Veritas. Enjoy!

Glad to be back in the habit of writing some post-game posts. Last night was amazing, and a little bit frightening at the same time. Fortunately, due to some incredible planning on our part (read: we got lucky) we finished this episode of the J & Ed Variety Show with plenty of time to spare, so we got to hang out with the kids a bit more than a typical Wednesday.

I worked the welcome table last night to get a chance to meet more kids on their way in. I really do want to spend more time this year getting to know the kids, and investing in them rather than the programs themselves. But I started to become slightly alarmed when at 5:15 there were already 30 kids in our group. When it was all said and done, there were 48 kids crammed into our youth room at 6:00. While this might not be big numbers for some youth ministries, it blows the doors off our previous record of 42. To say it was mobish would be an understatement.

We played a game that Ed and I made up. Ed did most of the leg work for it, and I pitched in a few ideas. The result was exactly what we had hoped for: chaos. The game took close to an hour to complete, mostly because people were yelling at each other, and the challenges were ridiculous in places. My favorite was making a 9 person pyramid. Gold.

Worship was probably the only point in the evening I didn't think went all that well. It was super hot in the tiny little room we typically use for worship, and the little air conditioner that couldn't wasn't helping. Still, kids were jumping, singing, laughing, and enjoying themselves in worship. Still, a fan wouldn't have hurt.

I took the High School kids outside for the teaching. It was excellent. I forgot how much I love working with the high school kids. Not that middle school kids aren't awesome little bundles of energy themselves, but high school kids are just so much easier to relate to. It was a good night.

Lessons learned: Tear down a few walls in the youth wing if you're going to insist on sharing Jesus Christ with teenagers. He's contagious.



Gentle Reminder


Good evening friends.
As my last post would indicate, I have a lot on my mind these days. Actually, I have for quite a while now, almost a year. I'm sure it's only natural for a 26 year old to have uncertain thoughts about his future. I would imagine that it's natural to wonder how you're going to take care of the future without completely screwing over the present. I would imagine it's natural to want to make sure you've got your beliefs in order before you jump into seminary. (Or not...)

Even if that wasn't going on, I'd still have a lot on my plate these days. We are still in the middle of our sound system install (three years in the making folks!). I'll be volunteer worship leading with the folks at Peters Creek this fall. I'm trying to whip the Bridge into a more professional service. We're finishing up our fourth youth room (WAAAAAYYYY behind schedule). We're still wrapping our heads around which mission opportunities are most important to us at Veritas. Confirmation is biting at my ankles. I am teaching four times in the next three weeks, and I don't have anything started on any of them yet. And I'm still trying to be the best husband I can to my wife (who, finds herself in grad school).

I'm nowhere near the breaking point. This isn't a feel sorry for me post, I've written those before. This is actually a pretty light fall for me (I am overwhelmed at how sad that sentence is). And yet, in the midst of it all, I can feel myself getting distracted from what it is I really do.

And so in the midst of my organizational structure (AKA: Mac Stickies) (AKA: Sarah would rip her skin off if she had to be organized in this way), I wrote a little note to myself (see photograph above). Like Bart Simpson, I wrote over and over again "Kids First!" And I really want to stick to that.

It's not that the other stuff I've got myself into right now isn't important. It totally is. It will some day need to be sorted out, and I'm confident that it will be. But God has placed me in this time and in this place for a specific reason, or rather about 300 specific reasons (I wish they'd all show up together!), and I want to be there for them.

To those of you who are in ministry, what would it look like if we all took a second and focused on who we're ministering to rather than how we're ministering to them? It's a trap I fall into all the time, and I can't imagine I'm alone. Sometimes, with the nobelest of intentions, we get so caught up in how we're going to "get it done" that we forget to listen to the people God gave us to care for.

"And that is why you fail..."

So take some time this week to connect with the people you minister to. Take somebody out for coffee. Call a student up to ask them about a test. Set aside some of your office time to pray for specific people and specific situations.

And if none of that works, write yourself a sticky note.



I am Emergent. I think. Sort of.


I've been debating this blog post for quite a long time, but I think it's time to get some stuff off my chest. I had originally thought this would be three blog posts, but couldn't decide a good point to cut the story without making myself sound dumb, so I totally understand if you don't read the whole thing. This will probably come back to haunt me, so here's looking at you Ordination Board!

I'm just passing through the season in my life where everyone is getting married (I think, I hope, I pray, we're coming to the end of such things). I've been amazed by the culture of brides. Some brides will go to the store, pick out the absolute best dress they could ever want. They will come home with it and try it on in their home. They will tell all their girlfriends how wonderful it is. They will insist such conversations take place as far away from the groom as humanly possible. They will be almost in love with their dress as they are with their blushing groom.

And then they will return it.

Some sort of minor imperfection will arise, or they will grow tired of it, or it just won't fit them anymore (stylistically of course. I know better than to suggest a bride will gain weight and no longer physically fit into her dress). So she will return it, and will find a new dress. To my incredibly untrained eye, this new dress will have many of the main features our bride well in love with on the first dress. It will just be SLIGHTLY different, slightly reinvented. Of course all of the regalia of the first dress, only insisting that the new dress is even better and more wonderful.

I have even seen brides go through this two or three times before the main event itself. From the outside, it is amusing. I would wager a guess that from the inside, it's excruciating.

Of course, this is an analogy of what I believe is going on in the Church.

Referred to constantly in the scriptures as "the Bride of Christ", the church has for generations clothed itself in many dresses, getting ready for our glorious wedding day with the lover of our souls. But now as we take a gander at the culture that surrounds us, we're starting to notice that the dress doesn't quite fit us anymore. Or at least some of us are.

Some are trying with everything they have, with all they believe, to say that there's no need for a new dress. The way things have been working for us for years are still working. People are still happy. Truth be told, there are a few churches out there who are getting the job done with the dress they had before. I actually think Westminster is one of them, I've some how stumbled upon one of the only old school Presbyterian churches who are being somewhat successful. I also think we're being successful because we've got an ear to the ground with a heart for the past. But rest assured, we are the minority. Many of my friends and family are attending churches where they scratch their heads, and wonder why the old play book isn't getting them any further down the field. Simply put, their dress isn't working any more.

Honestly, I think one of the biggest places we see this playing out is in the divisions within the church. Particularly in the Presbyterian system, we seem to find a reason to split over EVERYTHING. There are enough jokes about it out there to keep Christian comedians in business for quite some time, but the reason these jokes are so funny is because there is an element of truth to them. Go ahead and search for the word "church" in Google News. See what pops up. Not very many of those stories paint the bride as being all that beautiful at all. Of course, this is probably due to a liberal bias in the media, not our own infighting...

Sometimes you have to look for the problem behind the problem. At times when I was in college I would come home and my sister would immediately verbally assault me about something trivial. She didn't care about the way I arranged my laundry. She missed me when I was gone, and that was her way of showing me.

Does the church really have a problem beyond the tiny problems that have us so splintered? Are we really upset at our bridesmaids for looking at the groom "all funny" or are we upset because she looks better in her dress than we do in ours?

Typically, the label that goes with this kind of thinking is "Emergent".

I was real scared of that label at first.

Some people who claim to be emergent are pretty out there. They represent theologies that I don't really get, or even flat out disagree with. So I was super hesitant to put that label on. I'm not wild about labels at all. Plus, as several people have pointed out, trying to get the Emergent Church to define itself is like trying to nail jell-o to a wall. I didn't know what they stood for, I didn't know what they were all about.

Enter Phyllis Tickle.

She spoke at the National Youth Workers Convention in Pittsburgh this year, and made what might have been one of the most well defined and spelled out explanation of the emergent movement. She noted rightly so that after years of splintering and dividing (basically going on since Luther nailed 95 ideas to a door in the 1500s), that the Church is starting to meld itself back together in some sort of blending of the denominations and traditions. She noted for example that someone who has been a Presbyterian his whole life, yet was deeply influenced by the Catholicism of his Grandparents, might start blending the two traditions. He might fall in love with the Presbyterian doctrine and theology, history and heritage, but still have a soft spot for the high value of liturgy held in the Catholic church. This young lad combines those things with this innate inborn desire to see the Church start coming together again rather than splitting apart. Sooner or later, this thing is going to melt its way together, with a bunch of people asking a very essential question:

How do we move this Church forward?

or to keep with my analogy:

Can we get a new dress?

I'm still not completely sold on being a fully blown emergent youth pastor just now. Like I said, I have a pretty loyal attitude towards the Presbyterian church and (most) of what they believe and stand for. And so my attention turned to a group called Presbymergent.

I feel like a million bucks getting stuff like this off my chest. There are some who say don't rock the boat, but I believe the boat needs some rocking. The tagline for Presbymergents says a lot: "loyal radical". I'm still exploring what that means. I'm still digging deeper into the richest of graces of Jesus Christ, and digging deeper into the best ways to live my faith out in this cultural current.

But for a long time, I've been told to be careful, to not make too much noise, to not rock the boat. But I am convinced the dress doesn't fit anymore, and I'm in need of a tailor.

So if you don't like rebellious Presbyterians, I would recommend you stop reading this blog.

But if you're interested in dress shopping with me, buckle up for a wild ride.



PS: If you made it this far, you deserve a prize. Leave a comment with the word "Wedding Dress" to receive a nod and a wink from me! (I don't have anything else of worth to give!)

Unity in the Body

When we were growing up, my sister and I had exactly the same toys. Obviously my parents were wise beyond their years, because we competition would be fierce if one of us felt the other one was getting cooler stuff. But then, we ran into the problem of not being able to tell our toys apart. And so for a long while, my sister and I would have exactly the same toys in completely different colors. I bet if we had learned to share a little bit better, we could have saved my parents a fortune.

Youth ministry for a while there was turning in to the same sort of situation, wasn't it? In July I attended a conference at a church who had it's youth housed in a separate building (which was about the size of Westminster, so I wasn't jealous at all). We have our own youth pastors, our own youth worship bands, our own youth centers, and in a lot of cases we have our own youth worship services. Simply put, most churches have two sets of the exact same toys in different colors.

This is all running through my mind because last night our senior pastor joined us as a guest speaker at youth group. In fact, I was feeling quite jealous because it seemed as though our students were paying better attention to him than they typically do to me. He had them hanging on just about every word he was speaking. I seem to be saying this every night we have youth group, but this was the best night of youth group we've had so far.

There are people out there who would say that having your senior pastor speak at your youth group is a bad idea. They would say that he (or she, if that's your situation) would be irrelevant. They would say that it wouldn't have any kind of meaningful impact on the students. They would be wrong.

Lots of people have suggested lots of reasons why this might be the case (Marko's Youth Ministry 3.0 is a great read on this subject). I would even venture a guess that there was a time when such a separation between church and youth ministry made sense. I don't think that time is here any more though, and I would hope that we could start breaking down those walls.

The danger in such a suggestion is that we would insist that the youth group get to invade the bigger church body. Maybe you would have a youth Sunday and expose the older members of your congregation to electric guitars and rock and roll in worship. That's not necessarily the worst idea in the world (unless of course the rock is so loud that it resets someone's pace maker, not that we're speaking from experience here or anything...), but I wonder if we're closing ourselves off to ways in which the church could invade our youth group. Over the years, we've had some great guest speakers come from within our congregation. We've had members come by and just hang out with the kids on Wednesday nights. We've even had grandparents participate in our caving and high ropes retreats.

My encouragement today for those of us in youth ministry is to pull down the walls we've started to put up in our churches. My kids certainly gained a lot from it last night, and I'm sure that yours will too.




Who is posting all these anonymous comments?
I like them, since you seem to like me, I'm just curious!
More later!

Civil Politics

Last night I saw something awesome, and I thought I'd share it with you. I apologize for making this now two blog posts in a row about politics, so I promise my next one will be about youth ministry or dodgeball or something. But last night I was captivated by what I saw on the Rachel Maddow Show:

First of all, the background story is that Rachel Maddow is one of the most liberal commentators on the television, and Tom Ridge is, well, not. These two couldn't differ more in their opinions of their policies. But the whole interview can be found on Maddow's site, but I loved the tone and the civil nature of this debate. I've grown tired of people who have turned absolutely critical and serious debates into circus shows, and this was anything but that. And so my hat is off to Miss Maddow and Secretary Ridge. Way to have a serious discussion without making anyone look stupid.

That said, Youth Group tonight, so I'll be making TONS of people look stupid!