Crowder Conference Part Zero: Travelog


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,



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Location:Pleasant St,Waco,United States

The Cross and the Tomb: Reflections on September 11th


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!



Enough is Enough.


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!



Earthquake Miracle?


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!



What I learned from the Veritas Kickoff:


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!



At the end of your rope


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.