Overwhelmed by worship.


Hello again bloggers.

As previously mentioned, last Friday was our first show as Echoes & Angels. It was an amazing night of worship! First of all, New Harvest Church and Fusion Cafe occupy a building that was a "gentlemen's club" in it's former life. I don't know why, but I was really struck by the imagery of this. What used to be a building of sin and debauchery has been redeemed and is now a place of worship. Plus, the coffee bar was simply amazing!

Worship itself was amazing! There were probably only 15-20 people in attendance that night, but man were they singing! More than that, people were authentically worshiping. It was simply spectacular! (This is an aside, but it was followed up with an amazing message from Pastor Will. I'm still thinking about his words!)

This was an amazing point in which I, the designated "worship leader", I was led in worship by the congregation every bit as much as I was leading them. I was overwhelmed by worship, I couldn't move. I couldn't breathe. I just sang the songs we picked and let the Spirit of God move through the building that used to be a strip club.

Fast forward to this morning at the Bridge. I picked almost the exact same songs (only fewer, we don't have that much time here!), but this morning it felt like it was a forced worship. Presbyterians have always carried this reputation of being the frozen chosen, but it's much more than a sterotype. It's the real deal.

I'm not in any kind of position to judge how a person is worshiping. I have seen middle school boys worship by wailing tennis balls at each other in a dark room (truely worshiping too, not just saying that), so obviously worship is more about the heart than it is the outward experiences. It's just that the worship at the Bridge lately has seemed to lack passion.

What do you think? If you're a Bridge attender I'd love to hear from you. Is it that we need to instill more passion at the Bridge, or is it that I'm not seeing something. Comment below!



A new project.


Hello friends!
A couple of blog updates today I hope. Stay tuned. But I wanted to inform you all about a new project that I'm working on with some new friends. It's called Echoes & Angels. We're a worship band, hoping to jump around and help churches who need supplementary worship for retreats or extra services or when their team goes out of town. We had our first gig on Friday at New Harvest Church, and man it was an absolute blast (more on that later!) But in the mean time, check out our website at www.echoesandangles.com and if you need a worship band for a retreat or special event, give us a shout!

More to come!



I've never needed your help more!


We filmed this as part of the J and Ed Variety Show yesterday. We desperately want it to go viral! Please pass this delightful video along to your friends, as it will brighten their day almost certainly!

Retweet, e-mail, whatever you have to do! Let's get the word out on Surprised Gage!



Youth Ministry and Creativity.


Greetings friends!

By way of an intro, I'm going to do a little bit of shameless self-promotion. Recently, I've been involved in a new worship band called Echoes & Angels. It's all happened kind of fast, the way God brought us all together, and the way things have been falling into place, but it's been a really rewarding time so far, and we're only in our second week of existence! If you have a couple of free minutes after reading this, check out our website at www.echoesandangels.com

I find myself in a new position with this band, as the worship leader (which is familiar territory) and main songwriter (now we're in the deep end!). In other words, my creativity is relied upon by the other three guys in the band, not to mention anyone who has us out for a worship gig (which, if you're interested, let us know!) A lot of my writer friends (mostly from the novel/book world) tell me that the best thing you can do is write a little something every day, and I figured this idea transposed itself nicely into songwriting. So every day, I pick up a guitar and try to write something. 90% of the time it's absolutely crappy, not worth anything at all! But that 10% is worth the effort!

I started thinking about all this tonight as I was working on a couple of messages that I have to deliver in the next couple of weeks. My sermons from Sunday mornings have been pretty good lately, I've felt great about them. But honestly (and may this be an apology to any of my youth who are reading right now!) I've felt like my Veritas messages have been lacking. To borrow a phrase from the ever-inspiring West Wing, there's no blood flowing to it. They just feel like empty words. And again, to any of the kids who may have stumbled upon this, I'm going to be working on it!

I hate to think that it might have something to do with the fact that I value speaking in "church" more than I do youth group, but the truth is, I tend to spend a little bit more time on those messages than I do on Veritas. When I'm really struggling for a Sunday morning message, I tend to try to find inspiration somewhere (Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, a witty blog post), whereas I might not be as willing to seek such inspiration for a Wednesday night message. This is both sad and wrong.

But the trick is, we need to be inspired. It can come from all kinds of weird places. One of my weirdest places of inspiration is Smashing Magazine, which is designed for print and web designers. I don't know why, but usually I find a little nugget of inspiration there. It might even just be the feeling of wanting to be a inspired artist that draws something creative out of me. Who knows.

But my question to the few of us who have responsibilities in both arenas (regular worship services and youth group gatherings) is where do we find inspiration? How do we make sure our youth group messages are every bit as sharp as our Sunday morning offerings?

Leave some comments below to weigh in!



Abortion (Because I haven't been offensive enough around here...)


Ok. I am absolutely choking on my sermon right now. Nothing good is coming out. So I needed to blog to try to loosen the ketchup bottle, and I'd like to talk about something that yet again may offend people. Straight out offending is not my goal here, however I do want to challenge us this time around to think critically about something that is deep and divisive. If we can do that without hurling insults at each other, it will be a good day.

Today in Washington DC, somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 Christians will participate in the March for Life. I know that abortion is an absolutely volatile and divisive topic in our country. Those of us who value life at the deepest levels think it's wrong to end a life before it's given a chance. There's also an argument to be made that women should be able to do as they please with their bodies, and that no one tells men what they can or cannot do in the doctors office. This is also fairly valid.

However, (and here's where people are going to yell at me) I have a feeling that Christians don't care any more about the life of the children. They care about the issue.

Let me explain my thoughts there. Being a youth pastor, I would guess that the cost of a trip to Washington DC for the day would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 (you figure in your bus fair, food, souvenirs or whatever). If attendance at past March for Life events is any indication of where we'll find it this year, about 200,000 people are going to be there. That means that if my guess on the money is even a little bit right, that somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 million dollars will be spent by the folks attending the March. (And that may or may not include promotional materials from the group hosting the March)

$10 million? I'm not genius or anything but that sounds like a lot of money. Plus, the March for Life has been happening for almost 40 years, and no one's mind has really been changed by it. The government still does what it does, and desperate people in difficult situations are still getting abortions. I guess my question is if we truly value life, is this a wise and successful strategy, or do we just like yelling at each other?

Or how about the fact that Tim Tebow is going to be doing a Super Bowl commercial about abortion. $2.5 million for 30 seconds. Even before I get into how I don't think a 30 second advertisement is in any way capable of doing justice to such a deep and profound topic (I don't care how passionate you are about it, it's going to take you longer than 30 seconds to prove it), that's a whole lot of money for 30 seconds. Do we really care about life, or do we care about getting people to agree with us?

If we cared about life, if we truly honored and loved these unborn children, wouldn't we cancel both of these events, take the $12.5 million and give it out to people who were willing to adopt unwanted children? Rather than spending time and money trying to get people to think right, shouldn't we be spending time and money getting people to act right?

If we cared about life, rather than sending our best protestors to the front of the abortion clinic to degrade and insult the women walking in, wouldn't we send our best parents to beg and plead with these women to give the child to them if they didn't want it? Wouldn't we station those who have a heart for special needs children there, who would adopt the kid regardless of the risk of mental or physical handicap?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big fan of abortion. I think it's a horrible decision to make that often has to be made in a horrible situation. I just think the way we're handling it is horrible, and getting us absolutely nowhere. Actually the argument could be made that we're losing yardage on this issue, because people don't often associate our actions on abortion with the love of Christ. People see our bumper stickers and our marches and demonstrations and assume that we hate them because of the choices they've made or are about to make. I am certain of nothing more than this: people will not come to Christ unless we show them his love and his grace.

So with that love and grace, I welcome your thoughts and comments below. Let the conversation continue!



Creation, Evolution, and the Bible


(Author's note: this blog post has the potential to offend some people that I call friends, and I know that up front. My goal is not to offend, but simply to start a discussion. So if you find yourself offended by this post, or disagreeing with it, I highly recommend commenting below, so long as we keep to a high minded and loving debate, not a war of name calling. Ok...on with the show!)

For a while now I've been leading worship for a friend's youth group on Sunday nights. A tremendous amount of people warned me that this church was super conservative, and that I shouldn't be doing this. But the truth is, I don't think there's that much that separates the conservative from the liberal (though I prefer the word "progressive", but we'll talk about that more later), and usually most Sundays I walk away feeling really good about what was being taught that night. The messages that are taught at this church are messages that could easily be taught at ours, if I only had the creativity to teach them!

That is of course until last night, when the topic was evolution.

Before I dive in, a couple of things to clear up. 1) I thought the teaching was incredibly well done, even though I disagreed with much of it. And 2) it takes some incredible guts to teach on this topic, knowing just how divisive and dangerous it can be. So before anyone starts jumping on the teacher of this message, know that I have the highest respect for him in the world. I just didn't agree with him.

It left me with a couple of questions that I've been running over in my mind all night and into this morning, and I thought I'd share them here and see if anyone has any thoughts.

#1. Why is the theory of evolution such a threat to Christianity?

I have honestly never heard a satisfactory answer to this question. We profess the greatest faith in the world, the love of Jesus Christ born in us, the power to conquer the grave. That's some powerful stuff! And yet when people start talking about evolution, an alarming number of Christians duck and cover (or worse, go on the offensive).

Really? That's what it takes to bring down the greatest story ever told? If in fact we are derived from monkeys, then Jesus doesn't love me any more? Really? Honestly if our faith is that weak, we need to re-examine some things.

#2. Are the scriptures literally true?
One of the answers I've gotten in the past that evolution is such a great threat to Christianity is that the Bible says that there was a 6 day creation. If this part of the Bible is not literally true, then we can't trust the rest of it. We need to defend the integrity of scripture.

Ok. First of all, the Bible doesn't agree with itself on the account of creation. If you read Genesis 1, you get the 6 day story, all the way down to a 7th day of rest. If you read Genesis 2, you find that the Bible says all of creation happens in one day, and that in fact it all happens in a different order than in Genesis 1.

But more important than that (and this may or may not be a sermon coming soon to the Bridge) is that the Bible does not have to be literal to be true. In fact, sometimes its least literal moments are its most true.

Take for instance the Prodigal Son. We all know this story, a boy tells his dad to essentially drop dead because he wants his cash, goes out and blows all of it on living like a teenager, and comes back to his father to find forgiveness and grace. It's a delightful story! The trick is, it never literally happened. There was no prodigal son. There was no inheritance given out. There was no pissed off older brother. This story is a parable of Jesus. He made it up. It never literally happened. What it does however, is it points to a significantly greater truth than the story alone could ever do. By itself, it's a heart warming tale of a father welcoming home his son. On a deeper level, it's the story of how a loving God can reclaim his fallen and sinful people. Even though it's not literal, it is incredibly and profoundly true.

If the world didn't come into being in exactly 6 24 hour days, does that negate the meaning of the story? I don't think so. I think the events that take place in Genesis 1 all say a few things about the story: that the world was created by a loving, intentional God; that somewhere along the way we didn't care very much for how God wanted things to be done and we started doing things our own way; and that God has been about the business of restoring his creation to the way it was before. The Genesis story can say all of those things and still allow a great deal of room for evolution and other ideas.

#3. Do we really need to demonize scientists?
Another thing that bothered me about the talk last night was the way in which we made science and scientists out to be bad guys. These are people just like us, out to find answers to some of life's more challenging questions.

When we feel threatened by them, and we start to put up walls and defend them, is there any chance that our scientist friends will ever know the deep and profound love that is Jesus Christ? If all they ever know of Jesus is that his followers really hate them and the work they're doing, are they likely to hop right on board? I doubt it severely.

If however we can agree that the theory of evolution doesn't actually pose a threat to the Christian faith, and we instead started talking about the INSANE amount of intricate details involved in the evolution process (i.e, perhaps there's something or someone bigger behind this) and that even with evolution going on, the world just doesn't seem to be the way it should be (fallen, broken, sinful), and that we represent a loving, caring, and intentional God who wants to restore the creation, no matter how it came to be, aren't they more likely to listen to what we have to say? If as Christians we believe firmly that our Jesus offers us the love and grace that the world is so desperately searching for, then why are we shutting people off to his power of love?

So anyway, these were the thoughts that were flooding my mind as I was on the way home last night. I'd love to hear yours in the comments below. Again, just keep to a loving and brotherly tone, or else I'll delete them (in love.)



Yet Another Open Letter.


Dear Penguins,

Ok. Confidence is low right now. I get it. You guys are in a slump right now. There's no denying it. There's no pretending that it's something else. We're hurting a little bit, but it's not anything worth getting excited about. As FSN reminds us on a near nightly basis, we went through a slump that was almost exactly like this one last year, which we all thought was painful. By the way, how did that turn out in the end?

Oh. Right. Sorry I forgot.

So the message for tonight's letter is simple: relax. I don't play sports professionally, but I've heard that sometimes you guys get all mental on yourselves, so worried about fixing the "problems" that you don't enjoy the game. Enjoying the game is how you play your best. So as a fan, could I make a simple request of you this evening? More than winning, I'd like to see one of those goals where Sid can't stop himself from laughing at the end of it.

Ok, granted in that instance Backstrom showed his incredible skill by putting the puck in his own net. But all the same, we're playing the Maple Leafs tonight, so anything's possible. All I'm saying is have fun out there.

We'll get back to business some other time. :)

Your fan,


A fun test.


Hey gang. I wanted to set up an auto-tweet thing with the blog so I could be even lazier than I already am. But I didn't want to just put up a post that said "testing", so I've included a video for your enjoyment.

See? Wasn't that better than just "testing one two three?"

YS has me thinking...


Hello again friends.
Youth Specialties has been all over the youth ministry blogs this week with their announcement to bring back Tic Long in a leadership position, and speaking from my youth leader's position, it has brought me a tremendous amount of gladness and joy to see this company making some strides out of a difficult period. But all of it has got me thinking about two bigger points that I thought I'd share with you guys this morning:

1. There's no one like them.
In the time during and shortly after the NYWC in Atlanta this year, it seemed like a lot of us were really worried. We were blogging, pacing around our hotel rooms, and some of us were even ripping what little remained of our hair out. It seemed for a while that the current YS staff was just running around from blog to blog controlling the rumors what we were spreading ourselves, kind of like a really whacked out PR firm. It was scary times.

But I was thinking about this while I was driving yesterday, and I realized the reason that we were all scared was because of how much YS means to us. I tried to think through another industry or career path that had an organization as essential to its survival as YS is to youth ministry. If you're in youth ministry, check your book shelf, I can almost guarantee that there are three or four books on there published by YS. Not to mention the conventions, the blogs, the podcasts, the newsletters, and the job bank, YS is exactly who we go to when we don't know who to go to. Like I said, I thought about it a bunch, and can't think of another profession that has such a relationship with a company in the same way we have with YS.

This is (as we may have realized a bit too well in recent months) a blessing and a curse. I think the big reason we were all nervous over the sale and everything was that we depend on YS so very very much. And let's be honest, even with the confusion, they've never let us down (or at least not me). So I think we owe it to YS to make sure we bless them as much as they're blessing us. (Genesis 12:2) I know Adam and a couple of YS guys have been checking in here a bit lately, so if you all have any suggestions as to how we can best serve you, I'd love to have you share them.

You don't know what you have until it's gone, and I think we all felt the branch creak a little bit. Thank goodness for the YS staff's attention to God's calling, and their willingness to serve!

2. Tic Long is my hero.
That often times sounds sarcastic, or exaggerated or something, but I'm serious. I think Tic's return has just timed out well with a bunch of other things in recent weeks, but I'm just so encouraged to see (no offense Tic) a grey-beard youth leader who still loves what he does and does it so well. There is some sort of myth out there that when you reach a certain age you will no longer be relevant or helpful in a youth ministry setting any more, and I think Tic laughs in the face of such a myth. I've been thinking for a long time about becoming a youth ministry "career man", and barring any changes of plan from God's end, I think that might be what I'm called to for a long long time.

Plus, how much adversity did Tic go through in these recent months with his head held INCREDIBLY high? If I were in his situation, I doubt severely that I would have been able to handle it with as much grace and tact as Tic did. The same could absolutely be said for Marko. I can't imagine what they're learning through all of this, or how difficult it's been, but these guys are walking through God's trials and tribulations with excellence and dedication to God's work. Again, I can only hope that when trials or tribulations come my way, I can handle it the way these guys did.

So those are just some of my thoughts on this week in YS. Anyone else care to share?



An(other) open letter.


Ok. Hockey is a very superstitious sport. Some people have a particular way they tape their stick. Others don't wash very delicate pieces of clothing for months at a time. Still others wear baseball caps for entire seasons. It's all excused by being a hockey "tradition".

Last game, I wrote you guys a letter to get you all pumped up. And you won! You snapped a 5 game losing streak! And the goals, oh they were a-pretty! I've never been more pleased! But we can't stop there!

We're six points behind those pesky Devils for first in the division. Sure, they have kicked our rumps every time we've played them, and that obviously means the tiebreakers are theirs. But let's be serious here, Marty can't keep this up forever. Sooner or later he's going to tank, and we're all going to enjoy laughing about it. I'm guessing it will come shortly after the Olympic break. And don't kid yourself, Boston is right on our heels.

And while I write this letter to appease the hockey Gods once again, I doubt you need it. Tonight you play a team you hate enough to make your blood boil. In case any of you forgot, the first time you played these guys, Hartnell bit (!) a human being. How bad do you have to be at hockey to actually bite somebody? I'm thinking basement.

So go get 'em boys! Flyers nation has already prepared for what's about to happen.

Your biggest fan,


It's baaaaack!


Let's face it folks: how could I be a youth minister who didn't have a faux-hawk?

Huge Success.


Good morning again bloggers! Today there will be a bunch of posts, to keep with my new years resolution of blogging more. If they bother you, don't read them. But totally read this one.

A couple of months ago my pastor and I were in our annual staff review, and we were talking about how you measure success in youth ministry. A lot of times, people want to take the easy way out and count things. You're successful if you have a great number of students, and it grows from week to week. Sometimes that's helpful, but not always. Sometimes it's just flat wrong. I've seen incredibly healthy and incredibly small youth ministries. I've also seen incredibly big youth ministries that have no depth at all, they're just big pizza parties. So my pastor challenged me to find new ways to measure our success at Veritas.

One of the things I have been considering along those lines is how comfortable I feel letting the students lead their own events. If they're truly latching on to what we're teaching and what we're all about, then they should be able to turn that around and teach it or be about it themselves. And last night, that's exactly what they did.

Our student leadership team was in charge of our prayer stations last night. They have been planning for months how they would execute five different prayer stations around the church, and they did it with flying colors! They even met a few times on their own, without Ed or I knowing about it! And apparently, the Facebook message stream is remarkable.

Our numbers were actually down a little bit last night (curse you winter sports!), but if you ask me, it was one of our greatest successes. If you're one of our student leaders reading this, way to be! If you're a youth pastor reading this, take some time to ask yourself what you could put your students in charge of this month. Let go of some control, and let the kids have a piece of your ministry. You'll be glad you did.



Big News!


Hello out there bloggers!
A few days ago, Ed and I were asked by some friends at Youth Specialties to film some clips for an announcement they were going to be making. As the stars of the J and Ed Variety Show, we jumped at the chance to put our awesome skills to work. I just had no idea that the announcement would be so huge and have such a big impact on YS. Here's the video:

Tic Long is coming back to YS! This calms a great deal of my nerves from before. Tic is a great great guy, and knows and respects youth workers with all his heart. Here's the blurb from YS:

He's back—Tic Long has returned to Youth Specialties! In the early years of the Youth Specialties ministry, Wayne Rice and Mike Yaconelli hired Tic Long. For more than 30 years Tic helped lead Youth Specialties and helped pioneer much of who and what the ministry is today. Tic's return as Executive Director of Youth Specialties is effective immediately. Most importantly, Tic has been tasked with leading Youth Specialties forward. His wealth of knowledge and expertise in the arena of youth ministry and his personal passion and love for youth workers will serve as a solid foundation in the growth and success of Youth Specialties.

So thanks YS for letting us be part of this announcement. And I would suggest we all continue to pray for Marko, who seems to have stumbled upon something awesome of his own!



Young Girl Talking About Herself.


Ok folks. Parry Gripp has done some amazing things in the past, but today we'll focus on this video. The chorus is INSPIRED!




An(other) Open Letter


Hello my dear, beloved, Pittsburgh Penguins.

Let's face it: we've been on a little bit of a slump lately. We've lost five in a row. No fewer than three of those should have been easy wins. We haven't seen or heard from Geno Malkin for days. Fleury's confidence is somewhere down around his ankles. Mike Yeo is in a hospital. These are not good times.

But brothers, we stand together. Tonight, let's turn it around! The Steelers are out, which means every one in the city of champions is watching us. Tonight, we play the Thrashers, and we can so take them.

And if for no other reason than to use this awesome image again, let's all just remember one thing:

All business.

Kick it brothas!


A Creative Tsunami!


Hello friends!
I find myself in a really odd place today. I have a lot of things that I need to be creative with (that isn't so odd, actually pretty downright normal). Usually at this point in the week I'm running around the office with the tennis ball in hand, bouncing and brainstorming all at the same time trying to get some ideas out and on to paper. It can sometimes be a dry and painful process. Nothing comes for hours or even days at a time. Typically I work my way out of such slumps with about ten minutes to spare, but everything before that is a bit nerve racking.

But this week, I seem to be in a different place, in that I have so many ideas on my mind, and not enough outlets for the ideas. I'm preaching this Sunday, and I have about 5 different directions I could take the sermon, and each sound pretty awesome in my head. I'm working on some writing for the church newsletter, a couple video ideas, some songwriting, and even some ideas for a book that's popped into my head. I feel like I'm going under a creative tsunami!

At first, this would appear to be a great thing, but it's hard! It's hard to pick just one or two of these ideas and brainstorms and commit to them. I wish I could take a week or so and just get away to write it all out, so that I'll have it when it comes again. But alas, this is not possible. I just hope that I can get as much on paper as possible without going completely insane!

What do you do if this situation ever strikes you? Are there helpful hints I should be working through?



Back to work!


Hello bloggers!

After a long and relaxing Christmas Break, we're headin back to the office tomorrow morning! That means among other things, that I'm going to be coming back to blogging with a fair amount of consistency. But to get us started, here is a brief of list of things I'm excited to get back to in youth ministry:

  • Our messy office.
  • People excusing our messy office with the saying "oh, those are the youth guys."
  • Going to a meeting with our Senior Pastor, and hearing him introduce me: "This is Jason, he's our youth guy. Could you tell?"
  • Stopping at Dunkin Donuts on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Kids stopping by our office after school.
  • Kids stopping by our office after school with food!
  • Chic-fil-a Fridays.
  • Our Tuesday morning staff bible study. So much fun/depth of conversation!
  • Listening to pop music under the pretense of including them in worship songs.
  • Having an awesome assistant in the desk beside me!
  • Drinking inordinate amounts of caffeine, and justifying it with parents by reminding them of our twice yearly lock ins. It takes all year to build up to that!
  • Writing sermons.
  • Studying God's word.
  • Praying for kids.
  • Working with kids.
  • Realizing every day that God has called me to something that is way too much fun!
What excites you about youth ministry?

New Life Goal Part Two


Oh gosh. I was just kidding. My real life goal is to be as awesome as "the dealer"...

New Life Goal.


Hey guys. I have a new life goal. I'll let the film do the talking...

Yeah...I want a moped. Anyone got one for sale?