The Relevant Christians


Greetings friends,

There is a magazine (actually now I think it's best to call it a collection of magazines) that I have been deeply invested in lately. They are called Relevant magazine, and if you're not subscribed to them in some way (for starters I highly recommend the podcast, as it is free), you need to be.

The magazine is all about what it means to be a Christian in the world around us. Sometimes we as Christians try to find our way to a cloistered environment, getting away from the culture at large so that we can stay pure and holy. This is all well and good, but the truth of the matter is that Christ called us to reach the lost, and the lost find themselves outside of our neat and tidy Christian communities. So how do we reach them without becoming heathens?

Relevant does a great job of navigating this in a big way. The short story is that it's possible, and we as leaders in the church should be doing everything we can to make sure we're getting out to people where they are, not asking them to come inside our world and get their passports before we'll speak to them.

The word Relevant itself gets into a bit of trouble. Some people hear it and cringe, because they think (correctly) that Jesus is way bigger than simply being relevant. Jesus doesn't need to be made relevant to reach people, and in fact, any attempt to make him more relevant will likely lead to robbing him of power. All of that is incredibly true. My question would be are we as Christ-Followers, are WE relevant? The message is and always will be relevant to the cultures of the world, and Jesus can reach everyone from America to Brazil to Iraq, but I wonder if we're doing a good job being relevant to the people we serve?

All that said, I'm going to go sit in a coffee house to be among the people! Or something like that!



In Protest of Winter


Greetings friends,

This winter has been particularly ugly. We have had more snow than I can remember. My driveway was completely impassable. Temperatures were frigid and disgusting. When it's not snowing now, it's raining. This is no way to live.

When something is going horribly wrong with the human experience, it is not uncommon to see people (read: hippies) protesting. This can take on several forms, from a hunger strike to holding signs and chanting to refusing to bathe (this is simply a means for the hippy to have an excuse for smelling like, well, a hippy). And so as winter continues it's strangle hold on the Pittsburgh region, I have decided to connect with my inner hippy and protest.

So my friends, I welcome you to the official Jason Winter Protest Beard.

Here are the rules. I will not be trimming my beard in any way until low temperature is above 40 for three days in a row. Ed has done some quick research, and if this season is anywhere near the "average" then a razor shall touch my face no sooner than April 28.

But I cannot do it alone. I will be the first to admit that I am weak when it comes to these kinds of things. My attention span is just to short to keep one style of facial hair for any period of time. I get bored. I get distracted. I fail to operate trimming apparatus in the proper manner. So I will be blogging through this whole experience, in the hopes that your comments and encouragements will keep me strong.

I'll also be taking a picture of myself every day of the project. Hopefully, something like this will pop up:

Please, leave some comments. Help me accomplish my goals. We can do it people. We can beat winter into hiding and enjoy the sunshine together!



Update: The three days of 40 have come and gone. Unfortunately, the beard was never anything to write home about... :(
More challenges and contests coming soon!

Obligatory "Where have you been?" update


Hey friends,
Things have been super busy lately. Sorry I haven't been blogging with the kind of regularity that I would expect of myself. I will work more diligently to remedy that situation!

Here's what's been going on lately:

1. Echoes and Angels had to change our name to Tree Anthem. Some of you are to blame, for knowing that there was a band out there named Echoing Angels and not telling us. Anyway, you can still check us out at We're in the studio working on our EP, and I've got to say I'm really stoked about it. Keep checking our website for some blogs and videos and other great updates.

2. Ed and I have been diligently getting ready for the Ski Retreat, which starts in just about 3 hours! I'm very very excited about what we've got going on this weekend! I think the kids are going to have a blast, but I think they're also going to walk away a bit more excited in their faith. At least that's my prayer.

3. Preaching Preaching Preaching. I've been speaking a lot lately, and it's taking it's toll on my creativity! I think things are going to slow down pretty soon, so hopefully I'll have some time to let the reserves build themselves back up.

That's what's going on at the Westminster office. What's up in your neck of the woods?



iPad: Selling the experience.


Tonight I spent some time watching the Apple iPad keynote again. Why you ask? Because I want one and I am a complete and total dork. I could launch into a huge "everything Apple makes is amazing" rant, but we've been there before. Tonight though, I noticed something new.

The iPad isn't available yet. It's not even in the stores for people to go and play with. All we know at this point are that it exists, and the technical specs that are going to be related to the iPad. A lot of people lately have been super critical of the new computer, saying it hasn't lived up to the hype. First of all, God himself would have to design the iPad to live up to all the hype that preceded the announcement. Nothing was going to be as cool as the internet's collective imagination, and I think Steve Jobs knew that.

The keynote focused less on the technical specs of the iPad, and more on the experience a user would have with the device. Steve (yes, we're on a first name basis now. He calls me "that blogger guy I've never heard of", which oddly enough is on my birth certificate...) kept referring to what it felt like to hold the internet in your hands. He mentioned how much fun it was to look at the photographs. He sat at a couch, not displaying the device standing up the way he has at almost every other product introduction in the company's history. Essentially, Steve was telling us that the tech specs are nice, but the experience was what would really interest people.

Now, to take that a step further, when we think about our evangelism techniques, are we really going to convince anybody how much they need Jesus by simply telling them the "tech specs?" Are people even remotely interested in what our faith is like, or are they interested in what our faith can do? If we shared our Christian experience with people, would we be more successful than if we just recited four spiritual laws?

When you're this behind the experience, you get this excited about the experience. My arguement here is that if your life has truly, deeply been affected by Jesus' redemptive work on the cross, aren't you that excited about it? Aren't you even more excited about it? Don't you want to share it with people in a creative and energetic way?

I think there's a lot more here, but I'm tired and there's a dog asleep on my lap. I'd love to hear your comments though!



Grocery Store Self Check Out: A Code of Conduct


Ok. Some of you may have tuned in for this morning's Twitter rant. For those of you who missed it, I had a bit of an issue with the self checkout at Giant Eagle this morning. Well, not an issue with the self checkout, but an issue with the person who was in front of me in line.

This has happened before. People think they know what they're doing, and they have no idea. A device which was meant to cut down on time in line has in recent weeks added to those lines. What's to blame you ask? A complete lack of concern for the rules.

Until now, the rules were unspoken. I think we all just assumed we all knew what to do, how to be considerate. Well, it seemed there are those among us who have no idea. And so, as a service to the public, I am going to disclose those unspoken rules. This is based on today's frustrations, and the sins of a great many people who came before...

In no particular order:

  1. The self checkout is not for mega orders. This one is almost more for your own sanity than the sanity of the people behind you. How can you possibly expect to scan and bag an entire months worth of Cheerios and Cheetos by yourself? I know, they have begun to label the self checkout lanes as "express" and...uh..."not express." But come on. We should all treat the self check out as an express lane, particularly if no one is on the other end helping you bag.
  2. If you have never owned a laptop/pc/desktop/calculator, you are forbidden from working the self checkout. I swear to you, I watched a woman once spend 5 minutes spelling the word "Apple." This is unacceptable! They claim these things are fool proof, and for 95% of the population they are. But that 5% is in love with the self checkout phenomenon, and it's driving me crazy. My suggestion: everyone should have to enter their e-mail address before being given access to the self checkout. That way at least you're pretending you know how to interact with technology.
  3. Under no circumstances are children to be allowed to operate the self checkout. I can hear some of you now. "It's an educational experience! It prepares them for growing up!" To you I say we don't allow children to drive, smoke, drink, vote, pump gas, or play the lottery. And that's all for good reason. They're not ready yet. If your child cannot tell the difference between a squash and a cucumber, they are of course forbidden. (Exception: If you find yourself in violation of rule #2, and your child has hacked into the CIA's facebook page, go for it.)
  4. Phones are not allowed. One of my favorite quotes of all time is on the Penguins Stanley Cup DVD this year when the Great Billy G. says "There are a lot of guys who shouldn't be chewing gum and doing something else at the same time..." Well there are a lot of you out there who should not be operating the self checkout and doing something else at the same time, and that includes a conversation with your aunt Marcy about how carrots cost more than they used to. Put your phone away!
    (Exception: If you are in no danger of violating #2, and you are witnessing rule breaking, you may pull your phone out in line to publicly admonish people on Twitter. This of course must come to an end the INSTANT you approach the machine and it asks you to scan your advantage card.
  5. If there are more than 3 people in line behind you, and there's even a doubt in your mind regarding your ability to navigate the self checkout without breaking the rules, proceed directly to the nearest regular line. Please. For the love of everything good and holy, do not attempt to learn how to use this nifty piece of technology the night before they're predicting "even more snow." Learn on a Tuesday. At 11. When no one else is there. Please.
Those are my rules. Did I leave anything out?



The end of the slump part two: heroes.


Welcome to the continuing series on what ended the little slump I felt I was in the last couple of months. Be sure to check out part one.

I (like many of you I assume) have a couple of heroes in my faith. These are people who I look up to, people who when I seem them going about not just their jobs (most of them are preachers or musicians) but also the way they live their lives I see the love and joy of the risen Christ. These are the types of people whom I emulate.

I've thought a lot about this, because there are some critics out there who would claim that such behavior is in fact hero worship, or even idolatry. I will confess that I need to be very careful about that, to make sure that I'm not looking up to people more than they deserve. But the truth is (when we're honest anyway) that living like Christ is a difficult thing. To be in tune with the redemptive discipleship we are called to is not an easy task. So when we see it exemplified in other people, isn't it natural to want what they want? Isn't it natural to follow in their footsteps knowing that ultimately they're leading you to His?

The other side of my heroes of the faith is that often times they're thinking what I'm thinking, but they're significantly better at articulating it than I am. Sometimes that little bit of clarity is all I need to get a better grip on where things are going in my walk with Christ. It's like they clear the fog away and allow me to more easily find a path.

Again, you have to be incredibly careful not to fall into idolatry here. If you worship the hero rather than allowing the hero to lead you to Christ, then you are in some pretty dangerous waters. You also want to be extremely careful not to lose your voice. I've been burned before when people found out that I was directly quoting David Crowder or Rob Bell in something I was doing. What they're doing works in their churches, and while they might work in yours with a little tweaking, you don't at all want to steal outright. Plus you might get sued.

Who are your heroes of the faith? Who are the people that you can look up to and read a book or watch a DVD or listen to a sermon and find inspiration? If you find yourself in a slump, take a couple of minutes to yourself and spend some time with your hero. You get bonus points if it's someone you're in contact with and you take them out to lunch.



The end of the slump part one: reading


Greetings bloggers!

Let's do a series together, shall we? I do this for several reasons, but the most self-serving are that 1. readership has been down lately and 2. I'm snowed in, and the sky has opened up again. Put simply, I am bored.

But there's a bigger reason for the series I'm hoping to embark on the next couple of days. I mentioned in a previous post that I was kind of out of tune with God, that our harmonies just weren't working out right. But the past few days, I've been feeling myself come out of the slump. I am certain that a few of you out there on the internet have experienced a slump before, and may even be experiencing one now. I hope you might find one of these tips helpful.

For me, it starts with the Scriptures. I have this on again off again on again relationship with any kind of reading habit, so I feel a bit hypocritical suggesting it. I know a lot of people are with me in the struggle to find themselves in any kind of habit. Perhaps it's the falling out of the habit that begins the slump. So for the last few days I've been making my way through the word with extravagant results.

A little tip for you all, though this might happen to me simply because I was born and raised a Presbyterian. I have grown up thinking that to read the Bible effectively you need to take little tiny chunks at a time, because there's so much information in there that you might get overwhelmed. That might be true, but lately I've been centering myself in Paul's letters and reading each letter in a single setting. I'm probably letting little details slip past me, but 1. I'm getting a much more coherent idea from the letter and 2. maybe it's not all about the details in the first place.

I'm also reading some books. Actually I'm multi-tasking quite well, and find myself in three books at the same time. While these books are at all the Scripture, they are based pretty heavily upon them, and I read with my Bible at my side to double check things. It's been quite rewarding, but we'll have more on that later I do believe.

See you in part two tonight or tomorrow.



Out of tune.


Good day everybody. In case you're one of the few people who are reading the blog from somewhere other than Pittsburgh, understand that we are absolutely buried under 21 inches of snow. For the first time I've ever been through, church was cancelled this morning. Lots of churches were cancelled. I was supposed to speak at Hillcrest Church this morning. Nope. So Sarah and I sat on the couch and did the right thing. We watched Rob Bell.

I haven't watched/listened to Rob in a while. And one of the lines that stuck out from me was when Bell said "I know a couple of live in tune with the restoration of all things." And once again, he spoke right to me as of late.

Lately I've been feeling off my game. Not drastically, not self destructively, not even in a way that I think many people would notice unless I said something. But things just haven't been as they should be. Or at least not as good as they could have been.

I thought about the exact phrasing of "in tune with the restoration of all things" and took it quite literally. I play a lot of guitar in my free time (and even some for work!) and have on more than a few occasions noticed that my guitar will slip out of tune. Just a string here or a string there. This of course doesn't mean that the guitar is broken or worthless or anything. It just means I need to take a couple of seconds to get in tune.

The easiest way is to stop playing for a second, and in silence step on a tuning pedal and get everything straight before moving forward. The metaphor applies here to those of us who work in the church. Maybe sometimes you need to stop playing the Christian and get yourself in tune with the living Christ.

The other way a lot of guitar players get in tune is to check themselves against someone who already is. Sometimes a little less accurate, but if done carefully this is pretty effective. Obviously the condition to make this work is that the other person needs to be in tune themselves.

I find that I get out of tune with my Christian walk most often when I try to do things on my own. When I want to have the best sermon containing nothing but ideas I've come up with, I tend to have very little material to pull from.

As luck would have it, the snow has caused a natural tuning pedal moment. We've been off for two days, and we're going to be off at least one more. Nothing to do, nothing to work on. It's time to stop playing and get myself in tune.

What do you guys do to get in tune?