Laurelville for the rest of us part two: Toying with Emotions

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Hello again friends!

I have done enough three day evangelism inspired retreats to know how things are going to go down in terms of teachings. On Friday night, as emotions and caffeine are still riding high, tell a funny story or seven, get the kids into the idea of being on a retreat, and maybe name drop Jesus once or twice. Saturday morning, offer the sin talk. This can feel slightly sketchy, as usually the day time activities on Saturday are dangerous enough that someone could actually die, and the last thing they would ever hear is that there's a sin problem. This of course has never happened, but it's just enough to make me nervous. Saturday night, you give the good news of the gospel. Typically here, you want to over-emphasize the pain and the torment and the tribulation that Jesus went through, so that the kids will be good and emotional. If they're crying, you're winning. Then you let them loose for 20 minutes of silence to make their peace with God. Sunday, you wrap things up with more jokes and a talk about how to keep living as a Christian in the world you're headed back to.

It's a formula, and I throughly dislike formulas.

Which is why it was so refreshing to hear from our speaker Kent this weekend! His teaching style was a little bit different than what I was used to on these kind of retreats, and in a very good way. He stuck to the formula listed above, but he tweaked it enough and in such a good way that it really hit home with me, as well as the kids. So if Kent doesn't mind some positive critique (and who does?) I offer up three things that Kent did this weekend that made me appreciate what was being said:

  1. Be up front. Sometimes speakers in this situation will do what John Acuff affectionately refers to as the "Jesus Juke." One moment you're talking about monkeys at the zoo flinging poo at you (true story, I heard that one once) and the next you're equating it to the four spiritual laws. I think kids any more just want us to be honest with them up front about what we're speaking about, and that's exactly what Kent did this weekend. No bait and switch, no hiding meanings in cute stories. Here's what I'm going to talk to you about today. The kids knew exactly where he was going, and I think it made it a little easier for them to get there with him.
  2. Let the good news sound like good news. Kent made Saturday night's talk about the gospel and Jesus' sacrifice on the cross sound like, well, good news. It wasn't heavy. It wasn't depressing. There wasn't an orchestra playing in the background to make kids feel a certain way. Again, in a straight forward kind of way, Kent just showed us the person of Jesus. Rather than present the scandal of the cross and elicit a guilt response, Kent presented the scandal of the cross (let's face it, it will always be a scandal) as Jesus' biggest act of love, and invited people to celebrate in that. The change was subtle, but dang did it make a big difference, at least in this youth leader's eyes
  3. Prepare them for a healthy response. The Sunday morning talk always feels a bit to me like "Now you be a good boy or girl, or else Jesus is gonna zap you!" This was once again not the case for Kent. In fact, his goal was to get kids plugged into their local youth groups so that the celebration of Jesus' grace could continue well beyond the weekend itself. I didn't have any non-youth group kids with me this weekend, they were all pretty well established regulars. But if I had, this talk would have meant a lot to me. It would have opened the door to a discussion about what Church is really all about, and how to best include yourself in that if you made a decision to follow Christ that weekend.
So if you're reading Kent, well done! To the rest of us, my question would be what impact does the subtle shift in tone of our teaching (or just straight up living) have on our efforts to share the gospel with others?

Comments encouraged!

Godspeed,

Jason


Laurelville for the rest of us part one: retreat.

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Hello friends!

I must once again apologize for the lack of regular posting on the blog. I had meant to post a bit from the National Youth Workers Convention, but man I was so into everything that was happening I just didn't have time to pull out my laptop and write. A quick recap of that will come later I think. I have lots of notes to look back over.

This weekend, I took a group of 11 students to Laurelville Camp for a weekend retreat. It was an amazing weekend, with great times of building relationships and worship and games and all kinds of fun things. But while this was a trip meant for the kids, as I was wandering around and taking it all in I realized that there were any number of lessons that those of who who hesitantly apply the label "adult" to ourselves could learn. So we're going to work through a series of these things in the next couple of days, so keep tuning in to see where we're headed.

As is the tradition for any Veritas youth retreat, we began the weekend by taking away the devices that our students hold most dear. Cell Phones, iPods, Nintendos, basically anything that plugs into a wall. This ritual is always remarkable to me, because when it's happening, as I'm snatching the precious device from their hands, I always get resistance. Veterans know this is coming, but they still put up a fight. Rookies look at me as though I have three heads. "My cell phone?" they ask me. "How will I keep in touch with the world back home?"

That's the point, isn't it?

A retreat is exactly what it sounds like. Get away, back up, fall back, retreat. For 36 (what I would call) glorious hours, we are cut off from the world. No one will hear from us, and we won't hear from anyone else.

I've been at Westminster for four years now, and I've been doing youth ministry for about 8 at this point. Do you know that in all the times I've taken away the cell phones, nothing earth shattering has ever happened back home that required a student's attention? If it did, I always keep my phone on me so that parents can get in touch. But it's never come to pass that someone back home desperately needed to be in touch with the students. Funny how that works, right?

We got into a great discussion the one night as a group about how the concept of a retreat allows us to leave behind the very things that get in the way of our relationship with Christ. In fact, with the distractions set aside, it became clear for the students what the distractions actually are. It was like spraying bright orange paint on a hunter in camouflage.

And when I handed the phones back...almost no one used them on the way home.

So the question comes to us: What would you like to retreat from? You could argue that there was no way you could retreat from your cell phone (or your job, or school, or worry, or fear...), but I bet you could. I bet you could turn off the computer for a couple of hours and put your focus entirely on Christ and his work in your life. I won't deny that it will require an obscene amount of courage, but I believe it can be done.

Godspeed,

Jason


NYWC #0: Anticipation

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Hello friends!

Every year, Christmas comes in November for me. The one thing I look forward to more than most things every year is a chance to take a trip to the host city of choice, relax with some fellow youth workers, all the while digging and learning how to master our craft a little bit better.

As I mentioned last year, I had some concerns. I think most of those are gone, and have been replaced by concerns of sharing a bus with 4 smelly youth leaders for 10 hours on a trip to Nashville. But today, I want to share a little bit about what I'm looking forward to at the Youth Workers Convention this year:

  • Worshiping Crowder. Jars of Clay. Brandon Heath. Starfield. How can you not get excited about letting these folks lead you in worship.
  • Fellowship Each year we go to the convention, there's time to hang out with friends from here in the 'Burgh as well as meet some new friends. (Small moment of regret: Ed has to stay behind because of classes. Truly, my heart breaks for this.)
  • Food We eat like pigs wherever we are.
  • Rest Every year, without fail, I will choose a block of seminars to skip and take a nap in a hotel room. I long for this right now. I could use a rest.
  • Tic Long I heard him give a message on leadership a couple of years ago, and I would love to hear him give a similar message again after all he's been through.
  • Marko Same deal as Tic. These guys have a tremendous amount to teach us.
  • Coffee As if I needed an excuse, coffee is always in over-abundance at the convention. The fact that we're driving down instead of flying will only increase my final input.
  • Time with Sarah This year, Sarah is making the trip with us. This is sheer joy.
  • Breakout Sessions I took a quick glance at the schedule, and found at least 2-3 sessions I want to be at in each block. If only I could find a way to split myself into three different people.
  • Blogging I always enjoy blogging through my thoughts at the convention every year. Last year I worked through the theme of how 6 years into my youth ministry career things were essentially the same, but totally different. Who knows what I'll come up with this year!
Are you coming to the convention this weekend? What are you looking forward to?

Godspeed,

Jason


Prayer as a conversation

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Good morning friends!

This morning, it was really affirmed for me that one of my favorite parts of my job is to meet with people one on one and have a conversation with them. I love to preach, I love to lead worship, and of course I love dodgeball. But in truth, I don't love any of those as much as I love getting to know a person through a conversation over a cup of coffee.

After a meeting this morning with a new friend, I started to think about how our prayer life is really meant to be like this. I don't know if God is a fan of Starbucks or not, but I think our prayer life should more mirror the kinds of conversations we have with our friends than it does a formal speech or presentation. And so, as I'm working on a new devotional for students and for folks at the Bridge, I thought I'd share some thoughts and tips on how to view prayer as a conversation.

1. Let God do some speaking.

I've said on this blog about a few thousand times that we Americans are terrible at sitting still, being quiet, and listening for the voice of God. Some times we even complain that we feel distant from God, that he's not around to answer our prayers. The truth is, we so frequently don't give God any room in our prayers to talk to us.

One of the ways God speaks most clearly to his people is through his word. The Bible is in fact the inspired (literally: God breathed) word of God, so naturally it has some of God's very words for us today! The Bible is an incredibly effective prayer tool among other things, so spend some time in the scriptures to see what God might have to say to you.

2. Honesty is the best policy.

Some times I know in my own journey I hold back from God. I feel like I'll be struck with lightning if I complain about the tiny things that are happening in my life. God surely has bigger and better things to deal with, right?

I don't know that there's anything more important to God than getting to know the heart of his people. If you're struggling with something, make sure you take it to God. If you are feeling angry with God, know that he's a big God and he can handle it. Surprisingly few people have ever actually been struck by lightning by God, so don't worry about that. If we affirm and believe that God is a loving and caring God, then we should know that he has our best interest in mind, and wants to get to the heart of what we're experiencing.

3. 21 days to a habit.

I have had friends who have told me that they want to keep in touch with me, that they really desire to be close. But then I don't hear from them for years on end, and so I am forced to doubt their desire. If they wanted to be in touch, they would be in touch.

The same thing goes with God. If we're serious about being with God, if we're serious about being closer to him, we should make a habit of going to him in prayer. Pick a time of day that works for you, and stick to it. There are tons of prayer books and guides out there if you need some help.

Are there any other tips that I left out? Anything that you have found helpful in your prayer life? Please feel free to share in the comments!

Godspeed,

Jason


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Location:University Dr A,Pittsburgh,United States

To our veterans

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Hello friends!

I don't like war. I think more often than not, the wars we fight these days are not very well thought out. More often than not, I think at there are any number of ways we could solve our problems that didn't include tanks.

However...

I don't want anyone to be confused. When it comes to the men and women who have LITERALLY said to their nation "I lay my life down for you", I have nothing but the deepest respect. Their sacrifice is incredible. And today we say thank you.

Really, it's kind of ridiculous to think about the kind of freedoms we have been given by their commitment to us. Just a few days ago, I dressed up as a banana and danced on the side of the road all in the name of bringing kids to Jesus Christ. While it might take you years to figure out how I concocted those ideas, no one would question my freedom to do it.

So if you have served this nation in uniform, please know that my thanks and my prayers are with you. I know its probably not all that easy to come home. If you haven't served in uniform, I encourage you to say thank you. I know I wrote this post a little bit late in the day, but I bet you can still say thank you the day after veterans day. It'll still count!

Godspeed,

Jason


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Highview Dr,Upper St Clair,United States

Technological Sabbath

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Hey friends,

Last Sunday I went down to the Open Door in Highland Park. It's so very rare to have a time of worship where I'm not in charge of something, and so I've been meaning to make a habit out of going to the Open Door to just worship!

BJ gave a sermon about taking a Sabbath that was really quite good. Truth be told, taking a Sabbath is something I'm fairly good at. Mondays are sacred days. There is to be no meeting. There is to be no office visits. I think three times in the four years I've been at Westminster I've come into the office on Monday to pick something up, but I try to do so under cover of darkness where no one can see me or ask me a question or anything. Literally, Monday's are sacred for me. So I was going into this sermon as though it were all review.

Not so! BJ encouraged those of us who are already taking a Sabbath to take it a step further. One of his specific suggestions struck me right between the eyes: What if you took a technology Sabbath?

I'm not sure if you can comprehend the difficulty that was posed to me in that suggestion. Ever since I got my iPhone and I could e-mail and Tweet and Facebook and even blog from anywhere I darn well felt like it, I was hooked. Addiction was hard and heavy. So, I make a vow to turn my e-mail accounts off, to not check Twitter or Facebook, and to only use my laptop to work on making music (more on this aspect of a Sabbath later...).

I survived!

Actually, it was quite pleasant. There were no angry e-mails waiting for me when I got to work this morning complaining about my sluggish response time. The J-Blog didn't fall apart without a Monday post (which, honestly, when was the last time I posted on a Monday anyway...). I didn't have hoards of angry tweets waiting for me. Truth be told, almost no one noticed I was gone.

Moreover, the lack of attention paid to technological vices freed up some time to do what I truly love to do on a Sabbath day. Ed and I went hunting in the morning. I spent the late morning/early afternoon song writing and recording a couple of things for a project I'm working on. I read this goofy thing composed of many pages bound together, I think it was called a book. I spent time with Sarah. What I thought would be a test of my endurance actually turned out to enrich my Sabbath experience.

Are you taking a Sabbath? If you are, could you take it a step further and take a rest from something distracting in your day?

Godspeed,

J


Worship from the beginning.

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Hello friends,

As you may or may not be aware, I have this band that I play with every now and again. We are all in some way or another church workers who have decided to spend some of our free time by worshiping together, and leading the Pittsburgh area in some spirit filled and rock influenced worship.

We also have a ministry to each other, as some evenings just turn into lengthy conversations about what's going through our heads in terms of worship or church leadership or Pittsburgh sports. Last night we had one of those excellent conversations about the theology of worship, and I thought I'd share a little bit here.

Worship is exalting God, and proclaiming his goodness. Worship is saying "thank you" for the life giving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Worship is enjoying the gift of life that God has granted us even now (as opposed to waiting until the day we die to enjoy God's goodness). When we realize all of that, we realize that worship absolutely can't begin unless we recognize our need for Grace.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, particularly in terms of giving grace to myself. I go through these cycles of thinking I can make it on my own, that my charm or my sense of humor or my talent for speaking can save me, that I am in control. And for a while it's going to feel like I'm actually in control, that things are on the right track. But eventually, I will unravel. I will come undone. I will be spent. And I will realize that I was lying to myself all along, and that I am nothing without Christ's ever-persuing love.

To talk about your need for grace always sounds a little morbid. Oh wretch that I am, that sort of thing. Quite the opposite, I realize every time that I get to this place that I am a broken vessel, but Christ's love pieces me back together. That's why I sing. That's why I get up in the morning and go to work. That's why I speak to teenagers. It's because Christ's love is alive in me, and it needs to get out and see the world without me getting in the way.

I don't know how to convince myself to stay in this frame of mind, rather than reverting back to this sort of "I can do it on my own" attitude that so frequently prevails in my life. I'm going to keep working on that. But for now, know that we are all sinners, even the best and most put together of us. But thanks be to God that Christ comes to us and offers his love unconditionally, no matter how many times we've been down this path before. His arms are open, and I could use a good embrace.

Godspeed,

Jason


Spiritual Disciplines

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Hello friends,

Yesterday was a kind of a rough day on me, at least in the opening sections. I'm not even really sure why. Perhaps it was the stress of the day mixed in with some nerves over a teaching I was giving on social networking (incidentally, if you were at said teaching, the slides are available right now at www.befreeveritas.com), or perhaps it was something else, but I just had this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach like something was wrong and I couldn't place it.

What do you do when you have these days? Where do you turn?

This is why having spiritual disciplines is so important, and why I get so nervous when I realize how bad I am at it. A good baseball player has rehearsed every situation that could possibly come his way so that in a game situation, he's not thinking he's just reacting. The reason we commit scripture to memory, the reason we work through a liturgy of prayers, the reason we spend time in meditation is because when a game day situation arises, we will be prepared.

So what are some of the spiritual disciplines you can involve yourself with? I'm going to list a few that I want to work on, and perhaps we can work through them together.

1. Scripture Memorization
I have often brushed this aside in the past, partly because when I was growing up there were bible trivia teams in my church. There were actual competitions to see who had memorized the most scripture. But as I looked at these kids who had spent hours and hours memorizing scriptures and bible verses, I realized that very few of them knew what it meant. So I kind of wrote this discipline off.

It's only in recent days that I've really started to think about it seriously. If you memorize a piece of scripture, you can carry it with you everywhere you go. You don't need to open up a bible at every second to check on a particular wording. I think it's important to memorize not just quick verses that can quickly be taken out of context, but to memorize entire passages or stories. Right now, I'm going to try to work on memorizing the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7), because that seems to be where I turn most often when I need some comfort or some assurance.

2. Journaling
I used to be in this habit, but something as of late has gotten in the way. Keeping a journal is a great way for those of us who work in the writing world to get some prayers and some thoughts out on paper. You can write out your prayers, keep ideas for later, or even straight out diary it up! This has always been helpful when I take one of my silent retreats, something that I need to do a bit more often as well.

3. Prayer Liturgy
For a little while, I was working through a series of books called the Divine Hours. These are a set of prayers that you work through in sequence through the day. It's helpful, because often times I can relate to the Psalmist in Psalm 77, where I tried to open my mouth but no words would come. Often times, unless something is wrong in my world, I don't exactly know what to pray for. And yet opening up the communication lines with God is an important part of every day. So having someone offer the text is fairly helpful from day to day.

What did I miss? Are there spiritual disciplines that you've found helpful that aren't listed here? I'd love to hear them!

Also, if you're looking for new ideas, my good friend Ed Cyzewski did a great series on 5 minute retreats a little while ago at his blog, and I would absolutely recommend checking them out.

Godspeed,

J


Some thoughts on politics.

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Hello friends,

As often as possible, I try to shy away from political debate and discussion on the J-Blog. But you know, last night was a big night in our nation, and so where would we be without a little bit of post-game comments?

The first thing worth saying is that I'm hugely appreciative that the campaign season is over. I understand that folks were a bit angry with Washington this time around, and that campaign managers know how to take advantage of that fact. But it took until Monday, the day before the election, before I saw a single positive campaign ad. Everything was about how the other person would be the worst thing to happen to America since Rosanne Bar sang the national anthem...

I am a disenfranchised voter, one of those people those ads were aimed at. But not for the reasons they thought. I'm quite frankly tired of politics. I'm tired of promises that don't get fulfilled. I'm tired of people claiming they're more willing to compromise than their opponents, when no compromises are ever reached (a fact I'm certain will only become worse now that the congress is a divided body). And so, I would like to address everyone who is involved in politics for a second: I'm going to be turning off the news until one of you can show me an accomplishment. When you can do that, we'll talk. Until then, you're on probation.

But all of this got me thinking on Twitter yesterday about the way we present the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How many of us have seen someone carrying a sign or screaming into a bullhorn about how Hell is an awful terrible place, and that Jesus is your ticket out? If I hear one more time "What happens if you get hit by a bus on the way out of here tonight?" (How morbid are we?) This line of thinking is a sort of negative campaign ad for Jesus. It's not about how good Christ is, it's about how horrible the Devil (or the world, or pop music, or Justin Beiber) is.

And so now I turn my gaze to you my fellow Christians. I've given up on the politicians, but I think there's hope yet for us. It's time to stop the negative campaign ads, and time to start showing the grace and the goodness of Jesus Christ. If God's grace is enough for us, then we should be able to share Christ's love without the negativity or the scare tactics.

Who will join me? Let's put an end to negativity, and embrace love.

Godspeed,

J


I'm bad at giving grace to myself.

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Hello friends,

Some quick off the cuff thoughts for you today, with almost no real thought involved.

I've been having a hard time lately (read: the last 27 years) with being organized and dealing with the administrative sides of my job. On every single spiritual gifts assessment I've ever taken, administration has occupied the basement. Not that I want that to be an excuse or anything. I struggle with it a lot, because when you struggle with organization, simple things that shouldn't be a big deal quickly become a big deal. It's like pushing a twisted slinky down the stairs, watching it catch fire, and wondering how it could ever have gotten that bad.

Today in particular I dealt with some administrative short comings, and going to lunch I felt just very down on myself. "I need to be better than this" I would lament. "These things shouldn't be such a big deal" I would reason with myself. But luckily, I had lunch with a good friend who reminded me (rather unintentionally) that if we plan on taking Christ's gift of grace seriously, then we need to start by giving it to ourselves.

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

For as long as I've been in ministry, I have struggled to truly believe the concept of God's grace being enough for me while I have tried to convince other people that it was enough for them. I don't know why it's so hard to bring that grace inside, to let Christ get into my heart and do his magic. But I know for certain that it needs to start happening more and more. To tell myself at each mistep (because lets face it, there are always going to be misteps) that His grace is enough for me, and even more so, that His power is made perfect in my weaknesses. In other words, when I'm at less than my best, God steps in and takes control in a way that I never could have.

So this afternoon, I'm going to be reading through some scripture in the hopes of giving myself some more grace. My encouragement to you is to do the very same!

Godspeed,

Jason



Navigating the Networks Part One: Technology

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Hello gang!

On November 3rd, I'll be presenting a class for parents on how to navigate the social networks. I think it's going to be a pretty awesome conversation for us, but I thought I'd hop on the blog and think through some things so that I can get your input on things as well. And of course, if you're not doing anything, swing by the church at 6:30 on November 3rd!

Genesis 11.

3 They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."

5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building.6 The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." 8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel c]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[c] —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Now, according to the infinitely wiser than I Rob Bell tells us that this story is actually about technology, not about language. Until this point, people were using round stones to stack and create things. You may have noticed, but it is infinitely easier to stack a squared brick than it is to stack a rounded stone. Therefore, in all actuality, a brick at this point in the story is a technological advancement.

When you think about a brick, you probably don't think about all the inherent evil packed into it do you? In fact at this point in our society, bricks are a part of our daily existence, though we rarely pay attention to them. In fact, I bet none of us would consider bricks a technological advancement. They don't even have computer chips.

And yet in this story, the way they were used created an issue for people. They used the technology in such a way that it brought glory to themselves, rather than to God. So while the brick doesn't contain any evil in and of itself, the way it was used was sinful.

So as we start to frame up some thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a whole host of other social network sites, are they inherently evil? Are they solidly in the bad category? Or are they completely devoid of evil, and just really excellent devices for us to take advantage of? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

Godspeed,

J


Some Blogs You Should Be Reading

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Hey gang,

I've been trying to write this sermon for the better part of the week, and it's just having a hard time working it's way out of my brain. So in an attempt to distract myself from the deafening silence and the glaring white screen, I thought I'd share a couple of blogs that are totally worth your time these days.

http://woodgrainworship.wordpress.com/
Adam Strawcutter

Adam is a really good friend from back in my days at IUP. He's a worship leader and a really deep thinker, and while he's not a Mac guy yet, I bet he will be soon. Also, he linked to the good olde J-Blog, so it's only fair that I link back. Don't be fooled: Even though he writes primarily from a worship leader's standpoint, there are tons of nuggets for those of us who aren't on stage every week.

www.whyismarko.com
Mark Oestreicher

Marko has been one of the most influential youth leaders in my journey already, and leaving YS hasn't stopped him from doing that. In fact, Marko usually blogs about what I was thinking about blogging about before I got lazy and forgot to blog about it. So if you want to see what the J-Blog would be like with less apathy and more experience, check it out. Lately I really recommend the pieces of scripture he's re-worked for youth pastors. Good stuff in there!

www.stuffchristianslike.net
Jon Acuff

Ed and I laugh daily at this blog. You really need to check him out if you have any kind of sense of humor about your faith.

Those are just three of the many blogs I check in with daily. What kind of stuff are you reading?

Godspeed,

J


Hidden Messages: The Insane Clown Posse is Christian?

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Hello friends!

I've been away from the blog for some time now. It's not been laziness actually, I've just had a really hard time finding something that needed to be said. I felt like I had already touched upon everything that I was thinking about touching upon, and that seemed silly to just repeat myself over and over again. So I've been sitting, watching Google news every day, hoping that something would come along and spark my interest and provide me with something to say.

Ahh....That did it. (Warning: Harsh Language)

That's right folks. In the midst of their violent and offensive lyrics, our good friends the Insane Clown Posse has been a Christian band the whole time. Apparently according to them, if you dig deep enough into certain songs, you can find God. If you dig deep enough into other songs, you can find out how hilarious sexual violence is...

Let's break this down from the top, because I think there are some pretty legitimate ramifications both for those of us who work in the Church and those of us who are just trying to follow Christ as best as they can.

First of all, it's not for me to say who is a Christian or not. While it sounds on the surface as though these guys are most definitely not behaving in a way that glorifies Christ, the only thing I can't see is what's going on in their heart, and truth be told that's the only thing that matters. As much as I want to call their motive into question, the truth is I really can't.

That said, any of us who have been at this for any length of time would say that these guys are not allowing the fruits of their faith to see the light of day. Or at least if they are, we all kind of wish they would bury those fruits somewhere to never been seen again. Beyond just cursing (which, truth be told, I'm ok with Christians dropping the occasional cuss word. What else are you going to say when you stub your toe or get popped with a paintball pellet in a tender area?) they sing about subject matter that is thoroughly inappropriate, and even seem to think that it's funny (see the article). Again, I can't judge the workings of a person's heart, but Jesus did say a couple of things about letting our light shine that to me just doesn't seem to add up here.

Now, the reason the ICP gives for singing about what they do is quite interesting, particularly for those of us who are youth leaders. Their claim is that they do these things to attract kids to their music, and through that eventually (and for them it's been a long LONG time) lead them to Christ. Now most of us would characterize this as just downright insane (pun intended), but ask yourself a couple of questions: what kind of marketing have you done to promote your youth group? What kinds of video games do you make available to make kids comfortable being around your youth room? Have you ever preached an edgy sermon just to be edgy? And probably most importantly to ponder, are these things a slippery slope that could lead us to an ugly place we never intended to go?

I'm curious on your thoughts. Does the ICP's announcement that they were all along Christian have any impact on your life or ministry? Or is it just another news story? Comment below!

Godspeed,

J


Crowder Conference Part Zero: Travelog

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Greetings friends and bloggers!

This week my good friend Curt Scott and I are journeying to Waco Texas to attend David Crowder's Fantastical Church Music Conference. As with all my conference adventures, I'll be chronicling our journeys here on the J-Blog.

We did not get off to a good start.

A couple of days ago, I began to get dizzy at random times throughout the day. Because my diet consists almost exclusively of diet coke and coffee, I figured I was just dehydrated and or tired. Unfortunately, it turns out that I am the victim of an inner ear infection. When I asked the doc about my travel plans, including what cabin pressure might do to an infected ear, she sighed and warned me that there was a sizable chance I might rupture my ear drum on the flight. Woooo!

So, loaded up on Sudafed, ear plugs, Advil, and chewing gum, I made my way to the airport for our 6:00 AM flight. As if anyone required any additional reasons to hate construction in Pittsburgh, I was stuck in a construction zone on the Parkway for a little too long, and so found myself standing at the ticket gate at 5:30.

To those of you who work in the service industry, a quick reminder. Your kindness is the difference between me calling you my hero and wanting to light you on fire. Yes, I understand that it is airline policy to not allow anyone to check in a half hour before the flight, but you don't have to be a hack (a great word for today, thanks Julie!) about it. After about 15 minutes of sheer hopelessness, we were given tickets to a later flight. The lady looked at us like we had three heads, as she was all but certain we would be staying in Pittsburgh today. God was (and still is) on our side.

I'm writing from the plane right now. So far there hasn't been any ear damage, and honesty there hasn't even been any discomfort from the pressure. This is itself a minor miracle, as I always experience a certain amount of ear discomfort on planes. Usually this happens at landing, so I'm still a bit nervous. I'll update and let you know how it goes.

(Update: made it through all our flights, no ear issues! Wooohooo!)

Perhaps this sounds silly, but I truly see Gods hand in all of this. Too many things that should have gone wrong have gone right. And I say again, if I'm going to be bold enough to ask God where he is when things are going wrong, I need to be humble enough to recognize when he's doing a good work in my life. Perhaps before this worship conference begins, vie been given a reason to worship...

More tonight,

Godspeed,

J

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Pleasant St,Waco,United States

The Cross and the Tomb: Reflections on September 11th

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Hello friends,

I meant to post this yesterday, as these thoughts all sprung up from reflections on September 11th, and what that day means to us as a nation.

This year felt different from other years, didn't it? In years past, we all seemed fairly united behind our mourning. September 11th was a day to remember those who lost their lives in a senseless tragedy, and not for political games or stunts. In years past, it seemed like we were standing together.

This year was different though, or at least it felt different to me as I was watching the news. It seemed as though we split into two different groups. There were the people who had become angry that September 11th happened, and seem ready to blame the religion of the people who committed those crimes. Beyond the Koran burning (which again, I feel like the J-Blog deserves a little credit for ending), it just seems like there's a subculture in America that hates Islam and those who practice it. The other side of the divide was occupied by people who hate it when people hate other people.

Yes, September 11th was a horrible event. Yes, those who are LEGITIMATELY responsible for it should be punished. Yes, it was a thing to be mourned as a nation.

But as I was reflecting on September 11th yesterday, I was filled with a different emotion, one that seemed to be missing in the media coverage: Pride. I thought about the firefighters who ran into the burning building, who gave their lives in an attempt to save other peoples. What's simply stunning about that thought is that it's not reserved for September 11th. Every single time these guys suit up, they are prepared to give their lives to save the people inside the burning building. If that's not American, I don't know what is.

But the problem is that somehow the folks who are filled with hate are screaming louder than the actions of those brave men and women. And that doesn't sit right with me. I hope it doesn't sit right with you.

In the Christian faith, in our monumental and defining hour, we had a choice of where to place our focus. We could place our focus on the cross, particularly the Romans who perpetrated the murder of our Savior. We could choose to focus on our defeat, on Christ's death in our place. But if our focus is purely there, and not on the empty tomb that gives the work of the Cross a context and a meaning, we've only got half a Gospel. The fact is, as Christians, we're taught to see the brilliant glory in unspeakable tragedy.

So when I think about September 11th, I don't want to think about Islamic Terrorists. I don't want to think about Christians terrorizing Muslims. I don't want to think about how much hate it must have taken to point the nose of those planes toward those towers. I don't want to think about the equal level of hate it must take to burn the Holy Book of a religion to settle the score.

No, I want to see the brilliant glory of a firefighter standing up to terrorists by giving his life in exchange for ours. I'm going to think about the men and women of the police force around the country who keep us safe at a terrible expense to themselves. I'm going to think about how for a time, we set aside our petty differences and united as a country.

And, if it's the very last thing I do, when I think about September 11th, I'm going to be filled with love. Both for my Christian brothers and sisters, and the people of the Islamic faith who have to endure so much hardship because a few psychopaths twisted their faith beyond what it was ever meant to hold.

Let us be filled with love!

Godspeed,

Jason


Enough is Enough.

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UPDATE: Shortly after this post went live, Rev. Jones decided to cancel the Koran burning event. While I'm sure the President's urging had something to do with it, I think that the J-Blog deserves a little credit!

Greetings bloggers.

I fought with myself for a long time about this post, whether I would write it or not. In the end I suppose if you're reading this, I decided to go for it. I'll explain the internal battle in a little while.

As I'm sure you've heard, a pastor of a small evangelical church in Gainesville Florida has decided that on September 11th, the 9th anniversary of one of the most horrific attacks on America soil, he and his congregation are going to burn the Koran, the Islamic Holy Book. In his words, he's doing this to send a message to the radical arm of Islam.

Le sigh.

Honestly, hearing about that makes me want to move to Canada. I'm afraid that someone in the world might look at him in America and assume that I'm like that too. There are a lot of factors in play here, so let's take a look at what's going on.

Freedom of Speech
Rev. Jones absolutely has a right to burn the Koran. He absolutely has the right to do so on whatever day he darn well chooses. I was talking with a friend about this whole mess, and she said we should just arrest him for a week and make sure he can't do it. Unfortunately, that's not how things work here in America. Because I have the right to say what I'm thinking on this blog, he has the right to say what he wants how he wants to. So politically, I'm forced to say go for it.

What bible is he reading?
What sends me around the bend in this story is that the main character is a Christian, and in fact is in charge of an entire congregation. As I leaf through the Gospels, I can't imagine where this guy is finding the inspiration to burn another faith's holy book. However much we might have disagreements, however much we might view another group of people as an enemy, we're instructed to love. I don't see how such an action could ever be construed as love

What kind of response will you have?
September 11th was a horrible horrible day in the life of America, filled with the hate of mad men and murderers. We were attacked simply because a small but loud group of terrorists hate the kind of lifestyle we promote. So Rev. Jones has decided to attack that day by fueling his own kind of hate? It doesn't make sense to me. The very best thing you can do in a situation filled with that much hate is to respond with love. Even if Christ hadn't commanded us to live that way, it would still make sense.

The Broader Theme
I think that the broader theme going on behind the scenes of this story and some others is a growing intolerance towards Muslims. I have some pretty serious issues with this, but I think we need to come back to them in later posts. What are your thoughts on this story? Leave some love in the comments!

Godspeed,

J


Earthquake Miracle?

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Good morning bloggers,

Ed and I are fairly convinced that the earth itself is rebelling against us. When you think about the incredible amount of natural disasters that have been taking place lately, you realize that we might be right. Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes. Even things like the oil spill kind of count. We've been the victims of a lot of stuff lately!

Which is why yesterday when I saw that there had been an earthquake in New Zealand, I shuddered a bit. Mother nature was at it again. Yet this morning, as I was browsing Google news, I saw what might have been the most encouraging things I've ever seen:

The 7.1 magnitude quake, centred 40km west of Christchurch, shut down the central city and caused up to $2 billion in property damage, but the human toll appears to be just one death - a heart attack during the quake - and the serious injury of two men hit by window glass and chimney bricks.

That to me is crazy! I've never lived through an earthquake, but I think 7.1 sounds pretty remarkable! Heck, even a 3.1 is remarkable, because feeling the ground tremble beneath my feet would likely send me round the bend. But to walk away from that with only one loss of life and two injuries, man. The word miracle comes to mind.

Yes, there was a lot of damage done in that town. Yes, it's going to take them a while to rebuild afterwords. But for all the times that these natural disasters happen that we say "Where was God?" we need to affirm the times when beautiful and powerful things happen. We need to celebrate the incredibly small loss of life.

I will continue to pray for the people of this town, as I hope you will. But I'm going to rejoice that a solid portion of those prayers will be praise!

Godspeeed,

Jason


What I learned from the Veritas Kickoff:

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Everybody's back to school except for me! So this year, I'm going to work through a series of blog posts meant to show how some of the youth ministry events we've hosted have informed my own faith journey. Who knows, maybe they'll inform yours too!

A few years ago when I first got to Westminster, the habit was to have a big party for the Veritas Kickoff. And by big, I mean ridiculous. We would spend anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 dollars on bringing in a relatively big name band, having a battle of the bands before hand, food, drinks, movies we produced. We went crazy! My predecessors had started it, and I figured that was what you did in a big church, so we kept it up for two years.

After the second mega kickoff, we realized that we were achieving absolutely zero goals. We were bringing in 175 kids to these events, which is a big number, but not the kind of number you're hoping for with a $5,000 price tag. Worse still, none of those kids stuck around throughout the year. They weren't there because our youth ministry was awesome. They weren't there because we were doing a great job of sharing the love of Jesus Christ. They were there because we brought in a great band.

So two years ago we switched our model. Rather than spend thousands of dollars, we opted to try to raise some money for people in need. We do that every year with a bowl-a-thon, followed by our normal weekly program. This year we had 15 people come on the bowl-a-thon portion. Most of the bigger youth ministries in our area would laugh at that kind of a number, but I think it set the tone for the year. At least it did for me.

Instead of jumping into a hype machine, instead of being focused on making sure whatever band we hired had what they needed, instead of making ends meet financially, my youth ministry year kicked off with me hanging out with students. If you haven't figured this out, bowling is a wonderful relational experience, because absolutely no one is good at it. You all get to make fun of each other.

As I'm sitting around today reflecting on what I learned on Wednesday, I'm realizing that ministry doesn't happen in big events and excellent plans. I mean it can, but those things aren't the most effective fuels for ministry. What I'm learning is the most effective fuel for ministry is being relational with people. This works for youth pastors, but I think it also works for people in general. This is why I run and hide when people try to evangelize with signs, or when I'm asked how I would share Jesus in two minutes or less. People aren't looking for a next big thing any more. They're looking for Jesus, and he's asked us to relate to people for him.

So get out there this week, and be relational. Whether you work in a church setting or not, it's what Jesus has commanded us to do!

Godspeed,

Jason


At the end of your rope

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Greetings bloggers!

This week has been a whirlwind! Luckily, it wasn't an unexpected whirlwind. It was the kind you could see coming for miles in the distance. Kind of like watching a hurricane creep up on the shore line from miles away, at least you knew you could batten down the hatches.

Ed and I switched our day off from Monday to Friday in an attempt to get more done before the Wednesday kick off. I intended to be in the office until around 3:00, but when I started cleaning out the youth rooms and setting up the new tables and chairs, it took until 6:00 pm to get out of there. Tuesday was our normal meeting day, which meant the hours between 9:30 and 1:30 were spoken for. This would have been fine, except we had agreed to volunteer that evening at the Pittsburgh Food Bank from 4:30 until about 9:00. Wednesday was of course the big Veritas Kickoff (more on this later!), which meant another 12 hour day. Then Thursday became the "do all the normal day to day work you kept pushing off because the kickoff needed more of your attention" day, which lasted well into the evening. When I finally pulled into my driveway last night at 10:30, my bones were achey, my feet were tired, and I was worn out.

It's times like these that Matthew 11:28 seems to be so very profound.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Everything I was doing throughout the week was good. Everything needed to be done. There were COUNTLESS times that while I was working on something that God's glory showed up and made me smile. But at the end of it all, I was just tired.

I think there's something in the American Culture that says that it's illegal to let yourself show how tired you are. It's some sort of sign of weakness that you might be burdened or worn out. I've seen so many people just keep pushing through, working until there's nothing left, simply because they feel like they have to.

And yet Jesus' words here seem to indicate that he knew we'd be getting tired. It's as though in his eyes, it's not only acceptable, it's expected. It's not a sign of weakness at all. It's a sign of being alive.

So today, as I spend most of my time parked on the couch watching Judge Judy, I encourage you to give yourself permission to be tired. Admit those times where you find yourself at the end of your rope. And above all else, know that the living Savior saw it coming, and wants to be your source of rest.

Godspeed,

Jason


The Blame Game

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Greetings Bloggers,

Every day, when I start out to write the blog post of the day, I take a quick look at Google News just to see what's going on in the world, and to see if it would be worth chiming in on. As I was browsing today, I noticed a couple of headlines:

  • BP probe blames its workers for Gulf blowout
  • Glen Beck blames Liberals for America losing it's honor
  • Obama blames Republicans for holding up legislation
  • Parris Hilton blames cops for illegal search

Maybe it's just today, but it seems like everybody has somebody to blame right now. It feels like we're all angry about something, and rather than own up to our role in why the world isn't as it should be, we're too busy pointing the finger at somebody else.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It's in our DNA. At the creation of the world, as God's perfect creation is falling, we see a man pointing at a woman pointing at a snake. From the very beginning, humanity has been pointing the finger at somebody else, as though all of our problems rest solely on their shoulders.

This isn't to say that there aren't times where someone has wronged us and they need to be called out on it. Every day there are times and places where a person needs to step up and accept the blame everybody is heaping on their shoulders. To accept such blame takes guts and boldness.

And that's what's required of all of us, isn't it? To be bold and stand up to accept the consequences when we've screwed up. And if you're anything like me, that happens considerably often. So here's the challenge for us today (because I can't do anything about Glenn Beck or Paris Hilton): don't blame anybody at all for your issues. Even if they deserve it, let today be a day to ask God for forgiveness rather than asking someone else to accept the blame. As always, if something spectacular happens during the day, feel free to share in the comments!

Godspeed,

Jason


What can save you?

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Greetings bloggers!

(WOW! We had over 650 readers yesterday! If any of you have stuck around for today's post, thanks for stopping by! I'm really honored!)

I wasn't so sure about this post, but then after reading some of the comments that came up in yesterday's post, I felt like it was a fitting follow up.

I struggle with daily devotions. There, I've said it! I don't know what my problem is, but the act of getting into a habit when it comes to reading the scriptures on a daily basis eludes me. I'll get a good head of steam going for a while, maybe make it a couple of weeks of reading each and every day, but after a while the wheels fall off the wagon, and it becomes too hard to get caught up.

I don't know if it's the upbringing I've had, or the too many to count festivals and conferences, but I feel like a horrible failure every time I get off track. As a pastor, it's even worse. How could I possibly be expected to teach people about the scriptures if I can't convince myself to read it every day?

This morning as I was thinking over all of this, I was reminded that reading the Bible can't save me. I can read that book every day from now until eternity, but it will never save my soul. It's a proven fact.

I wonder how many things we think will save us that absolutely cannot. As was pointed out in abundance in the comments yesterday, the Church cannot save us. Our financial giving to the Church cannot save us. Our acts of charity cannot save us. Our political views cannot save us. Our love for our neighbors cannot save us. Our tolerance towards other faiths cannot save us. Our weekly church attendance record cannot save us.

We cannot save ourselves.

The truth is, the only thing that can save our souls is the incredible, excellent, surpassing, and overwhelming love of Jesus Christ. I've been kind of shocked at how quickly the people around me and I forget that. We're quick to throw people under the spiritual bus for having a spirituality that looks different from ours, but in truth, we can never take away the love Jesus has for us and for each and every one of our neighbors. That part is eternal.

So remember friends, you are saved by a loving God, not by your works, and not by your acts of righteousness. And remember too, that Jesus' love is so powerful, it covers the people who don't believe in him. (More on that tomorrow hopefully!)

Godspeed,

Jason


Quitting Christianity: What Anne Rice is teaching us all

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Greetings bloggers!

A few months ago, Anne Rice stated on her Facebook page that in the name of Jesus Christ, she was quitting Christianity and was no longer a Christian.

It's taken me this long to get around to this post because that sentence is tough to wrap your mind around. How can a person quit Christianity in the name of Jesus? What's really at the heart of Anne Rice's comment here? What does it mean for those of us who are in the Church and in Church leadership?

Rice's comments make sense in a world where we're told it's perfectly ok to be spiritual but not religious. On the plus side, it would appear to this casual observer that there are more people than ever who are interested in the life and teachings of Jesus. People are opening the scriptures and seeing the God of the Universe who cares for and loves their souls. These people fall head over heels for the savior.

But they simply can't stand his followers.

These folks read the scriptures, particularly the teachings of Jesus, and as their eyes glance up from the page they notice that the people in the pews around them are nothing like the savior has asked of them. They see the horrible things we are capable of doing in the name of Jesus, the way we treat each other, and the way we treat people who disagree with us, and they want out.

So the question is, can you be spiritual, but not be religious? Is it possible to lead a life of devotion to Christ but not be a part of the community of faith? Yes and no I think. I understand the heart of this feeling, the desire to distance oneself from "organized religion" (a phrase I find pretty funny, because as someone who works in the church I realize that it's seldom organized). I can even understand feeling like you're capable of accomplishing more on your own than you could with a group of infighting Christians.

But the truth is, you need that connection. You need that community. You need encouragement when things aren't going your way and challenge to see things differently when needed. You need to have your viewpoints challenged by caring and loving people who are willing to invest in you. I personally think everyone should be a part of a small group, a team of people who will listen to your life stories and help you put things in perspective. Sure, the Church can be ugly. To quote Augustine, the Church may be a whore, but she's my mother.

So Anne, I see where you might have felt compelled to quit Christianity. But I also beg you to seek out those of us who are trying to make authentic and purposeful communities, trying to live the life that Jesus has laid out for us.

Perhaps we should spend less time worrying about being Christians and worry more about being disciples.

Godspeed,

J


Why we need church unity more than ever.

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Hello again!

I've been working through some thoughts for the blog, and really trying to rediscover what it is that I'm passionate about. As I keep bouncing back and forth through ideas, I keep coming back to how much it breaks my heart to see how the Church (big C = everybody) is divided and separated. There are issues that I think are funny, and issues that make me angry, but there are so few issues that can break my heart like the knowledge that our Church body is falling apart at the seams in some places.

Take for instance my own denomination, the lovely and wonderful Presbyterians. A few years ago now (I can't believe this has been going on that long!) we began a debate on whether or not we could ordain homosexual pastors. Well, actually we dipped our toes in the water of debate by taking back roads and attempting to hide our true intentions rather than open ourselves up to actual honest and authentic debate, but that's all semantics. Since then, we've seen churches engaged in lengthy lawsuits and arguments with their Presbyteries in an attempt to leave. When I get right down to it, I get angry with churches on both sides of this debate. If a church can no longer stay in the Presbytery because of serious and legitimate disagreements, we shouldn't make that harder for them by blocking their land use or trying to sue them broke. We should shake hands and say "Go in peace and love." On the other hand, I don't know that the issue is big enough to warrant picking up our ball and heading home. If we aren't in communion together, we aren't going to challenge each other and we're never going to grow.

I blame Martin Luther. Actually, I bet if the great thinkers of the Reformation were still around they'd be furious at us. Luther never intended to break away from Catholicism, just as Wesley never intended to break away from the Church of England and Calvin never intended to start his own denomination. These guys were deep thinkers and revolutionaries who saw the need for change, but not a desire for division.

Not to mention the things that divided the church then were significantly more severe than several of the divisions we face today. Luther was torqued because the church was trying to sell Christ's free gift of grace, an outrage to end all outrages. Some denominations split these days over the color of the carpet and whether a guitar can be used in worship. Priorities people, priorities.

Of course, maybe I'm wrong here. Maybe there are issues that are bigger than we can work past that I'm just not seeing. But as I mentioned in a previous post this week, I'm also seeing a newer and younger generation of Church leaders stepping up and begging for the Church to rejoin in communion together, to prepare ourselves for the wedding feast of the Lamb on the last days.

What do you think about our divisions? And perhaps more importantly, how do you think we can bring the church back together?

Godspeed,

Jason


Book Review: Hear No Evil by Matthew Paul Turner

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Hello bloggers!

Every vacation seems to come with a beach read. This vacation was also the first to have my new iPad with me, so I did what you would expect of any youth pastor with an inability to focus would do: I spent the first three days trying to decide what to read.

But then, once I got settled in, I landed on Matthew Paul Turner's book Hear No Evil. The first chapter alone is worth the entire price of the book. The only complaint I had was that at times Turner is so funny I laughed out loud, which made reading the book in public a bit of a challenge.

Turner walks us through his upbringing in a Fundamentalist Baptist church which seemed to have a unique relationship with music and the blossoming Christian music industry. It was a little difficult to read through some of the chapters that dealt so heavily with his baptist up bringing, as it was incredibly different from my own Presbyterian Heritage. It's weird to think that there might such a thing as denominational culture shock, but there absolutely is.

Hear No Evil is an absolute must read for anyone with even the slightest hopes of making it in the Christian Music Industry. As someone who spent some time on the inside, Turner exposes some of the more hypocritical nature of the industry. There are lots of stories in the book that I don't want to spoil, but let's leave it at this: Christian music isn't all sunshine and rainbows.

After I finished this book, I was so in love with Turner's writing style that I picked up a few of his other books on my Kindle for iPad app, and I'm sure I'll be reading them soon. But in the meantime, I highly recommend following him on twitter (@jesusneedsnewpr) and checking out his blog (be warned: he sometimes gets a little edgy...but then again I like edgy!). As for Hear No Evil, I give it two thumbs way the heck up!

Godspeed,

Jason


Caption Contest.

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While we've had a lot of readers, and some pretty lively Facebook conversations, we should have some fun and take advantage of it with a good old fashion caption contest!

Come up with a funny caption for the photograph above and leave your entry in either the comments or on the Facebook post linked to the post. And in fact, we'll offer up some real life prizes this time! Deadline for entries will be 5:00 tomorrow. I'll pick the funniest caption, and the winner will get a free entry for the Veritas kick off if they're a student, or a lunch with me at my favorite spot (Sarku Japan) on the day of their choosing.

Good luck!

J


Where do you get your news?

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Greetings Bloggers,

Home from vacation, and while I'm headed back to work on Tuesday, I figure I should make the best of my free time while it was left. After all, we had close to 300 hits here on the blog while I was away! Thanks for reading!

This week I covered some pretty dicey subjects from the news. We talked about the "Mosque" at ground zero, the issue of homosexual marriage and prop 8, and my overall distaste for Christian Rap. With the exception of the rap business, I posted most of what I did for two reasons: 1) because I had a fairly strong opinion on each of these issues, and 2) because they were all over the news. While I was working through each of the issues, you may have noticed that I took a couple of cracks at the media. I'm not wild about them.

Politics and spirituality in my mind don't mix, or at least not in the way that we seem to be mixing them these days. For instance, often when a person takes the bible very seriously and reads it on a daily basis, that person and those actions are labeled "conservative." If a person is serious about social justice, that person is typically labeled "liberal." So what happens to a person like me, who takes scripture very seriously, and is serious about social justice? Are we liberal, conservative, centrist? Or is it perhaps that the labels from our political system do not apply in any way to our faith system?

Which leads us to our problem with the media. Pick a station, any station to get news. Fox = Conservative. CNN = Liberal. MSNBC = Very Liberal. Even though TV is my chosen mode of transportation, it turns out newspapers, blogs, radio, and other forms of news media all fit into these left or right categories. So if you want to gather information about a news story, particularly a story that might affect your faith, which station do you use? Who do you turn into? I'll leave that up to the comments section tonight, leave a note and tell me where you turn to.

Enjoy the new layout!

Godspeed,

Jason


Prop 8 (And what it means for you!)

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Hello friends!

I've been seemingly getting more and more controversial around here the last couple of days, so why not go the whole nine yards and bring up gay marriage again.

Let's start in the owners manual. As my beautiful and talented wife pointed out on her blog (http://sarahfett.blogspot.com/2010/08/homophobia-is-gay.html) (my linky thing is broken or something...sorry) the Bible is fairly clear on homosexual behavior, but fails to say anything at all about homosexual orientation. According to the Scriptures, you can feel however you want, acting on it is a bit of a problem.

I understand that the question of whether or not homosexuality is a sin or not is a pretty hot button topic, and that I don't know where I am, but let's push it as far to one side as we can take it for the moment and say for the sake of argument that it is 100% a sin. Let's say that a person is actively engaged in a homosexual lifestyle (a phrase that makes as little sense as "christian coffee shop," but whatever) but has accepted Jesus into their hearts as Savior. Wouldn't that make them beloved forgiven sons and daughters of God? Wouldn't that wipe clean their transgressions? Wouldn't that put them in exactly the same boat you and I find ourselves in?

But Jason (I can hear some of you screaming through your computers), they're living in sin and are not repentant of their sins. Fair point. Did you know that we have hard evidence that 74% of Americans age 18-34 are in that very same place? They knowingly participate in a forum of sin and debauchery, directly in opposition of Romans 1:25-31. They openly admit it, and in fact it's become such a part of the American culture that we have adopted part of the lexicon of this sin into our everyday lives.

I'm referring of course to Facebook.

Facebook is a center for little more than gossip, isn't it? Youth leaders, back me up on this, when was the last time you had a meeting where you DIDN'T hear someone say "Did you see what happened to so and so on Facebook?" or "Well everyone on Facebook is commenting on so and so's page" or "I have to get home so I can check on Facebook and stalk people." We all know that Facebook is a place for little more than gossip at best, and slanderous talk at worst, and according to our passage in Romans (typically used to oppose same-sex marriage) we see that it's a sin. Yet most of us unrepentantly continue to live a life consumed by this particular sin.

If you want to get a good feel on how severe a sin is, I would venture a guess that the number of times Jesus mentions it in the Gospels is a pretty good indicator of how important it is to God, right? Do you know how many times Jesus mentions homosexuality, orientation or behavior? Never. Zero. Nada. Go ahead and check me out on that, but while you're doing it, check out how many times Jesus talks about divorce, and then count the number of divorced people in your congregation. We seem eager to forgive them (as we should), but Jesus had some pretty harsh words for them. If we're going to be harsh with our homosexual brothers and sisters, then shouldn't we have some harsh words for those who have been divorced for reasons beyond infidelity? Or do we need to be harsh with anyone at all?

The trick is, if we're going to make the claim that homosexual behavior is a sin, and that is absolutely the worst thing we can say about it, then friends it's time to stop treating those folks like they're living a great life of debauchery while you and I are living a holy and blameless life. No one is blameless. Probably the most under rated and forgotten part of God's gift of Grace is that is levels the playing field. I am certainly no better than you, just as you are no better than me. In Christ's eyes, we're all the same.

As I mentioned on the blog yesterday, you and I have two jobs as believers in Christ. We have to love the Lord with all we've got, and love our neighbors as ourselves. If you keep reading you'll find the third job, to go and make disciples of all nations. These three things above all have we as Christians been called to.

I can't find on Google an exact breakdown of how much was spent on Proposition 8, with legal fees and propaganda and advertising and what have you, but I bet if we could it would be an astronomically big number. If you were a person of homosexual orientation, and you looked at the sensational amount of money the church was willing to spend to keep you from being happy, what are the chances you would be willing to accept Jesus Christ? What are the chances you would be ok hearing a person talk about the freedom that Christ has to offer? What are the chances that you would be wanting to walk through a door and find love in a church? Probably slim to none.

The truth is, we can't force everybody in this country to be Christian through the laws we pass, which is essentially what things like Prop 8 are trying to do. If your church or denomination is uncomfortable with gay marriage going on, that's fine and that's your choice. But we shouldn't force that choice on people who don't know the love and forgiveness of our savior. It's a religiously free nation, and if Jews are allowed to celebrate Passover and Muslims are allowed to celebrate Ramadan and the best you can come up with for the reason homosexuals can't marry is because the bible defines marriage as between a man and a woman, then we can't tell people it's illegal. It's simply not our place.

The bottom line for me is that I celebrate and worship a Savior, not a religion. Absolutely nothing would make me happier than to share with each and every person on the planet the great and surpassing love of Jesus. The truth is that I don't think we can do that while we're angrily telling people what they can and can't do. Let's start with spreading the love of Christ, and then move on to other issues as they come up.

That love of course applies to the comments on the blog and Facebook! I'd love to have a lively debate, but let's keep love first and foremost in our hearts. Game on!

Godspeed,

Jason

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:W Market St,Breezy Point,United States

The Mosque at Ground Zero: My Thoughts

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Good morning friends!

While we're up here at the beach house, we have access to something that Sarah and I have missed a little bit more than we probably should: Cable TV. Yes friends, that endless stream of "information" is back in our lives. And while we've been using it appropriately every day (CSI: Miami, NHL Network, and Ghost Hunters to name a few), there have been times that we've turned our attention to things we probably shouldn't (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and The Daily Show to once again name a few).

It's been interesting to remind myself of how if you watch CNN for any extended period of time, you'll come away feeling like a story is impacting each and every citizen of the union for days at a time, but the fact is it's impacting almost no one, they just use the story to keep people watching. When you go without the 24 hour news channels for a while, you quickly realize that most of the stories they offer are not as big as they make them out to be, nor will they have any impact at all on your day.

That said, I want to make sure people are reading my blog, so I'm going to imply their very same tactics and talk about the Mosque at Ground Zero here in NYC.

Truly, since we started turning on the TV here, almost all you hear about is the proposed Islamic Community Center in Manhattan. I hear CNN rant about it, I hear Keith Olberman rant about it, I hear Glen Beck rant about it, and then at the end of the night I hear John Stewart make fun of all three of them for ranting about it. It's as though this story is the only thing that matters in the United States right now.

Let's clear up a few things before we go any further. The word "Mosque" is probably inappropriate here. From what I've heard and read (which admittedly isn't that much, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) this will be a community center, offering activities and recreational opportunities to the community at large. It will indeed have some space to pray upstairs, but it is not an official house of worship where people gather each week. Also, the words Ground Zero are a bit over-exadurated as well. The news networks can't seem to agree on whether it's 2 or 4 blocks away from Ground Zero (we could launch into a whole debate on how it would be seemingly impossible for these "news" agencies to spin a measured distance like "blocks", but who has the time?). I spent the better part of the day walking around New York City, and 2 blocks is a bit of distance. Sure I'm out of shape, but I broke a sweat walking two blocks when Sarah and I accidentally got off at the wrong subway stop and had to walk back to our car. 2 blocks is not "right next" to anything in this city. It becomes even less so when you realize that those two blocks are often filled with sky scrapers that block out things like the sun.

But this of course is a youth ministry driven blog, and thusly a Christian driven blog, so I'd like to set aside any and all political ramifications of this issue and speak to those of us who are bold enough to claim to be disciples on how we should be responding here.

Jesus was once tested on what the greatest commandment in the scriptures were. In a stunning moment of clarity (usually Jesus answers these questions with a more confusing question), Jesus replies "Love the Lord with all your heart, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. All of the laws and the prophets hang on these two commandments." What this means for us is that if you are acting on something, and you think it jives with a piece of scripture, yet doesn't allow you to fully love God or love your neighbor, you've missed part of the message. Something is wrong. So when we Christians are taking a look at the "Mosque" story, if our hearts are filled with anything less than love for the people involved, then we've failed in some capacity. Yes, it's a messy situation. Yes, people who claimed to represent Islam did a horrible thing on September 11th. I strongly recommend we re-associate ourselves with some of the things people have done who claim to represent Christianity (The Klu Klux Klan, The Crusades, Slavery, Apartheid, and Christian Rap just to name a couple) to get a feel for how easy it is for a religion to be mis-represented. Islamic extremists are not the same as all Muslims, and in fact they are a GROSS misrepresentation of the values and ideals taught in the Koran. So when I look at our Muslim brothers and sisters, I don't feel hate. I feel compassion. I feel empathy for what they've had to endure because of the foolishness and evil intentions of the vocal few in their midst. My heart is full of love, and in fact it's because that's what Jesus insisted it needed to be full of.

The second thing is we have to be honest and look at the goals these folks are trying to acomplish. To build a community center is (I would assume) an attempt on their part to better the community around them. They are attempting to make the world a better place. Take a quick look at one of my favorite Scriptures, Matthew 25:31-46 and ask yourself a hard question: Are they doing a better job of following Jesus' commands than we are? Sure, there are Christian community centers all over New York City and the world, and they're doing fantastic work. But every time I hear a Christian spout off on one of the "news" networks, I wonder how much time and energy he or she put into that appearance to speak against the "Mosque", and how much good that energy could have done if applied in a different direction. They're trying to better the community, and we're trying to stop them (or at least that's how it's playing out in the news). What if instead of investing our precious time and energy in opposing something beautiful coming out of a different religion, we tried to create even more beautiful things in our religion? I mean, I don't want to turn this into a competition between the Christians and the Jews and Muslims as to who can improve their community the most, but honestly if we were in such a competition, we'd be getting our butts kicked, and we're the ones told to love our neighbors as ourselves.

These are just my thoughts. Again, I understand that this is a difficult subject (just wait till tomorrow when I think I'm going to tackle Prop 8!), so I welcome criticism and encouragement. But above all, let's remember the call we were given, to love God with all our hearts, and love our neighbors as ourselves. If our conversations don't line up with that, what good are they? If our actions don't line up with that, they're worthless. If our lives don't line up with that, are we truly to call ourselves disciples?

Godspeed,

Jason




- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:W Market St,Breezy Point,United States

Getting in the way

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Greetings friends,

While I'm on vacation I've been blogging about some thoughts that have just been floating around in my head as relates to youth ministry. Today, I'm going to tackle something that really upsets me, so I hope not to offend anybody, but I feel like there are some things that need to be said.

I remember when I first started in youth ministry, and had teamed up with a collection of the youth workers in our neighborhood on a big worship night. The town I was in had several youth ministries and churches, each of us having a fairly small number of students. The thinking was that every now and again we could get together, and feel like one big group. If you ask me, this was down right biblical. I don't think Jesus had denominations in mind when he established God's Kingdom on earth. But believe it or not, that's not the point here.

My pastor at the time was pretty upset about the notion of us partnering with other churches, particularly churches who might have a different political leaning than our church. I don't remember much of the specifics, because I think I was in some sort of low-level rage that only appears in movies, but what I do remember is how mad I was. I remember my face being red as could be. I remember storming out of his office into mine, slamming the door. Basically, I remember being a 22 year old fresh out of college little boy.

Now I'm a 27 still immature as could be little boy, but I have a bit more of a framework to form my argument with. You would think this was an isolated incident, the denial of partnership on the grounds of political issues, but in fact it just happened to a good friend of mine. His pastor specifically asked him not to partner with us, because of something our senior pastor supposedly said that gave away our political leanings one way or another. So today, I want to speak for a second to senior pastors, and issue a challenge.

I challenge you to find any of the following words in the Scriptures: liberal, conservative, democrat, republican, progressive, new age, redneck, or hippie. I mean, if the argument some of you senior pastors are making is as serious as you make it sound, surely you can come up with a place (or ideally several places) in the Scriptures to back up what you believe, right? The idea of denominations, and even further the idea of denominational isolation are in there too, right? Jesus mentions that you should only associate with people who are righteous and agree with everything you agree with, right?

While you're looking for those Scripture references, let me throw one at you for your consideration:

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:3-6)

Is keeping away from the people who believe in Jesus yet disagree with you politically sound like making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit? Is withholding spiritual experiences from teenagers because of something their senior pastor said in that vein? Have we made every effort? Are we still making every effort?

For whatever reason, it seems like youth ministries are starting to get the hang of this. Every year, I head to the National Youth Workers Convention, and I spend a long weekend with youth workers from every possible denominational heritage. And every year, I am completely unaware of our denominational differences. For those four glorious days, we are one faith, following one Lord, one Father of all. And I'm not over-stating it when I say that it feels like heaven. We're going to have to deal with each other for an entire eternity, we might as well start getting used to it.

I love when youth groups partner together, pull resources together, and put on events with the aim of reaching as many students as they can for Christ. Not making as many Presbyterians or Methodists or Catholics as they can, but sharing the love of Christ with as many as they can.

Now for sure, I bet there are youth pastors out there who are every bit as guilty of this as I'm blaming senior pastors for. But in my experience, we seem to be the ones trying our very best to tear down the dividing wall. We may disagree on everything from gay marriage, abortion, predestination, which party God wants us to belong to, whether or not we should belong to a party, what to do about war, how to best support our troops, what color the carpet in the sanctuary should be, or whether women should be pastors, but we all tend to agree that we are sinners and that we're sunk without the love of Jesus Christ. Could you all do me a favor and set the rest aside, and let's work together on better understanding that grace and our need for it?

I think we'd be pretty amazed at how much faster we could run the race!

Godspeed,

Jason

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:W Market St,Breezy Point,United States