Stamina products 15 9200

Hello friends!

Yesterday I was on a roll! Ed and I went duck hunting in the morning, as we have for the last three years, and I finally FINALLY snapped a two year losing streak by bringing home a beautiful (and delicious) drake mallard. Oh, the feeling was overwhelming! Such joy!

And then I participated in a online bible study, where I felt like I was really starting to get a good grip on the material we were working through. I had a couple of points that seemed pretty well received, and started to imagine myself on the stage of the National Youth Workers Conventions telling people how they can be super awesome better youth pastors if they follow my three step program.

That evening, I lit a candle at the dinner table. This may not sound like much, but we typically eat our dinners on the couch while watching Futuarma or something like that, so to me it seemed as though I should receive the husband of the year award or something, as if lighting a candle was some sort of revolutionary idea.

After dinner, Sarah and I went to the gym, where I met Ed to take a spin class. I had decided a few days ago that it was time for off-season training for the summer's cycling events to finally pick up and start going somewhere, and so I thought a spin class would be no problem. I have in the past ridden 150 miles, so what could one spin class do to me?

I should have seen it coming...

To those of you who are regulars in spin classes, my hat is officially off to you. About 10 minutes into this class, I was no longer following the commands of the entirely too cheery instructor. I was just seated on the bike, pedaling a little bit, and trying to find my breath. I chugged water like a fish, and kept an eye on the clock the whole time hoping that the hour would be over soon so I could go home and not make eye contact with any of the in shape people.

I think God does a pretty good job keeping me on a short leash when it comes to pride. There aren't a whole lot of days where I think I'm the boss, I'm usually more than willing to give that title to someone else. And I don't think I let it slip into a kind of self-esteem vacuum either, where I'm getting down on myself because I don't have what it takes. I think more often than not, because of the grace of Jesus Christ, I'm exceptionally happy to admit that I don't have what it takes. I wouldn't want to.

But sometimes I forget. Sometimes I forget that my life is to God's glory, and not my own. Sometimes I forget that the select few times I have a personal winning streak, it's really because either God has provided the opportunity, or God has gifted me with the skills required. Karl Barth said that all sin comes from lack of gratitude. I couldn't agree more after yesterday.

And so we search for a balance. We look for ways to realize we don't have it all together, and ways to truly ultimately come to peace about that. I am a wreck of a human being. But I am the wreck of a human being whom God loves, and pours himself into. I can live with that. Actually, I can rejoice in that. And I hope you can too.



The Puzzle



Hello friends,

I am knee deep into Term II of Seminary, taking a course on the New Testament. Specifically, the Gospels, Acts, and John's letters. The course is set up as an introductory class, meant to teach us about the history surrounding the Gospels, how they hold up to other literary works of their day, how to read certain passages, etc. So far, I've really enjoyed it.

I just wrapped up reading a (rather long) chapter on the way scholars view the Gospels today. Some people have come before, reading this material, and have lost all their faith. Some scholars do an amazing job of breaking things down and claiming they are worthless, and these scholars take great joy in some of the issues presented within the Gospels.

One approach to fight these scholars off is to claim that there are no issues presented within the Gospels. That's just silly to me. There are some issues we need to take a pretty hard look at. Matthew and Luke present two totally different genealogies for Jesus. The details of certain parables, or even the interpretation of some of those parables, varies from author to author. John is all by himself when it comes to placing certain events in the life of Jesus in the same order as everybody else. There are issues.

But this does little to rattle my faith. In fact, it just makes me want to fall in love with the Word even more! Why are they different? Are the authors trying to tell us something? Do the differences actually point to something important themselves? What if Jesus told the same story a bunch of times, but used it to mean different things (a technique I employ ALL THE TIME!)? When was the last time you could get four youth pastors to watch an event and then recall it later exactly the same? Does it make the story and less credible?

Jacob wrestled with God. God broke his hip. But at the end of the day, Jacob was rewarded for wrestling with the Lord. May we never stop wrestling with God, especially with God's word. May we never try to avoid having our hip broken by ignoring the difficulties of our faith. May we with childlike wonder approach the scriptures with curiosity and desire!



Encouraging Doubt


Question mark

Greetings friends,

Between writing sermons, Veritas talks, attending classes, and getting caught up with all the reading for said classes, I've been working my way EXTREMELY slowly through two books that I see have a pretty sizable connection. You Lost Me by David Kinnaman and Sticky Faith by Kara Powel and Chap Clark. The question ahead of us in both books is, why is it that young people are leaving the church after their high school careers, and what (if anything) can we in the church do to avoid it?

There are lots of answers to those questions to be sure, and I'm only a chapter or two into either book. But the one thing that struck me about these opening chapters is the importance of allowing our teenagers the freedom to doubt, to express their doubts, and to face down the questions that will surely be asked of them when they leave the safety of the Church. All too often, I think we're too afraid to allow our students the time and the space to wrestle with their faith. I think we try to hand them neatly packaged answers, even if the answers we have are for questions that our students aren't asking.

What's to be afraid of? For starters, the kinds of things that our students may be doubting in our youth rooms are the kind of things they will be faced with in their college careers. So why not introduce the questions now, in a safe space, where we can help them learn how to use the tools God's given us to discover in our faith? Jacob wrestled with God and was rewarded for it. Don't you think we and our students will be rewarded for throwing the mats down and letting our kids wrestle with God?

I'd love to hear some thoughts on this from you in the field. How do you encourage doubt in your students? What are the kind of doubts that your students are facing?



The Pixar Effect


Toy Story

At the risk of sounding like a creepy old guy, I really enjoy going to see children's movies. Particularly the movies that have been coming out lately, really since Toy Story. Shrek, Finding Nemo, Monster's Inc. These movies are absolutely hilarious!

What strikes me at the moment though is how there are jokes or lines in these movies that only the parents are finding funny. The kids are still laughing, because there's an inherent goofiness to the characters. But the jokes are told on a level that both the kids and the adults are finding funny.

I envy this skill from these movie producers, because at the moment I'm writing a play for our Breakfast in the Manger event in a few weeks. I have the extremely difficult job of making something that is somehow funny to the kids in the audience, but also on a level that the adults may chuckle at as well. The very fact that I am sitting here blogging about it instead of writing the task at hand is an indication that I am stumped on this one, and may need some help.

What are some of your favorite jokes from kids stories? Are there any favorite children's books you like to read?



The Youth Pastor's Uniform


Steve jobs toy

Hello friends,

In the new Steve Jobs biography (review coming soon), Jobs talked about a trip to the Sony plant where he noticed the employes wore uniforms. He felt that the comradere that came from these shared uniforms would help his cause at Apple, but the Apple folks balked at the idea. All the same, Steve wound up coming up with his own uniform. A black mock turtleneck, Levi jeans, and simple white tennis shoes. While we all knew that was the uniform he wore at the big keynote events, I never knew that he wore that same outfit every working day! It was what made the difference between being at work, and not.

Sarah and I were just doing the laundry, and I realized that I too have defaulted to a youth pastor's uniform. Having spent some time this week at the NYWC, I realize that I am not the only one who wears this uniform. What follows is meant to be poking fun at myself, if it offends you because you share this uniform, may I suggest adding a sense of humor to your daily outfit?

On the top:

Ns plaid shirt

A t-shirt. This is where most youth pastors stop, but for me it is the base layer. I don't put a lot of thought into my t-shirt when it's acting as the base layer, so these are just the free shirts I've picked up from different events and camps. Unless it's going to get hot, which is possible, then I'll use one of the better shirts I've picked up from Old Navy, because I'm 12 years old.

Plaid-button up shirt. This is the key for me. I just hung up about 20 plaid shirts in my closet. I've picked them up from Old Navy (again, 12) or occasionally from someplace sophisticated (American Eagle) for when I'm feeling like I'm 14. Top button? Absolutely not! If there are long sleeves, they are to be rolled up past the elbow. None of this 3/4 crap. I've never been a fan of that.

Sweater. In colder months, I throw a sweater on top of the button up, and pop the collar out. The sweaters? Old Navy.

On the bottom:


Jeans: Old Navy (theme much?) jeans, boot cut. I tried light washes once, and just never got next to them, so my jeans are almost always dark, almost grayish.

(Option 2: Khakis from Old Navy, MUST be cargo or we're done talking.)

Shoes: I have made brightly colored shoes an icon. Here's how to order: Go to Amazon dot com, search for Adidas shoes in your size, and then use the color selector on the left side. The bolder the better. Though, make plans for accessories.


Watch: I am a watch fiend. Target (didn't see that coming, did you?) has some great watches. The bigger the face, the better. I want you to know what time it is from across the sanctuary. It's my ministry to you.

Socks: These need not match. Unless they are party socks:


At first, I thought it was just me. But like I said, I've seen so many youth pastors who wear the exact same uniform. So I ask you: What's missing? Feel free to poke fun at yourself (or your youth pastor for that matter!)




Tour Review: Rob Bell's Fit to Smash Ice Tour.



Greetings friends!

Last night, Sarah and I, along with Sarah's mom, went to see Rob Bell's Fit to Smash Ice Tour. If you've been following this blog even for a few seconds, you know that I am one of the world's biggest Rob Bell fans, so there wasn't a chance I was going to miss this!

I had only missed one of his tours up until this point. Everything is Spiritual and The God's Aren't Angry were amazing. First of all, they almost made my head explode with the level of complexity and theology contained within each, to the point that I don't think I really "got it" for either of them until they came out of DVD and I could watch them two or three more times to try to wrap my head around everything. They were like two hour sermons, which when you think about it is amazing that anyone would pay money to go see in this culture of ours. He's that good of a preacher.

But last night didn't feel like a sermon. It didn't even really make my head want to explode. Rob came out with a stool and a box of props, and proceeded to tell stories. Actually, mostly stories about his personal life. I do this all the time for my sermons, but even I will confess that it takes a lot of guts to share your personal life with that many people on a nightly basis, which is what happens on a big speaking tour like that.

The topics were all over the place really, from failure to creativity to originality, and even a few moments on what it feels like to be publicly criticized for a book you'd written by faceless bloggers (it's probably no conciliation to be praised publicly by faceless bloggers, but here we are anyway...). When the event was over and I looked at my watch, I simply couldn't believe that 2 hours had passed. It felt like 5 minutes.

The tour isn't going to very many cities thus far, but if it's coming anywhere near you I'd go and see it. It's an unbelievably brave thing for someone to open his heart up like that, and when someone does, I think we all have a lot to learn from it!



Book Review: Devotional Classics


9780060777500 0 Cover

Hello happy readers!

One of the three books that was required of my Spiritual Formation class is Devotional Classics, edited by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith. It's a collection of the best of the best in terms of writers throughout the Christian Tradition, and offers up their thoughts on a wide variety of subjects from evangelism to scripture study.

I strongly recommend this book, particularly if you find yourself regularly in charge of a small group. I think these short little snippets would work incredibly well as a weekly study, which would give you a LOT of weeks of material (the book is well over 300 pages long). There were only a handful of authors that I had actually read before (C.S. Lewis and Thomas Merton for instance), which meant that for most of this book I was having my horizons stretched by being introduced to new authors.

Some of my favorites included Watchmen Nee, who wrote about coming to God requires nothing more than an open and honest heart. I also enjoyed folks like John Calvin and Soren Keirkegaard, both of whom I had to read in college, and neither of them did I enjoy. But this time around, perhaps with maturity or perhaps with with a renewed interest in theology, I really enjoyed what each had to say.

There are far too many authors in this book for me to go one by one and tell you what they said, but again, I say I highly recommend it for every pastor! Go pick one up today!



#nywc : you've come a long way baby!


Logo ys mini full

Greetings friends!

Two years ago, I was at the NYWC in Atlanta. Atlanta is still one of my favorite places to do the convention, because it's where my first one was, and truthfully I think Atlanta is an extremely cool city.

However, two years ago, I wrote this post.

YS was not in a good place. They had done what was referred to this weekend as one of the most awkward moment in youth ministry history as they paraded a bunch of dudes to promise us that all would be well. It didn't work. None of us thought all would be well. In fact, as I remember it, several of my friends and I thought that 2009 would be our last convention.

Some pretty significant things happened in the months and years that followed. Tic Long came back to run YS, a move that was heralded in by a video featuring me and Ed standing on the roof of our church (always trying to out-ridiculous each other). We went to the convention last year in Nashville, and had an absolutely marvelous time. Things felt right again. Not that change is a bad thing, it's frequently good. And YS did in fact change a bunch about the convention that year. There was just a calm over the place that was missing in the 2009 convention.

Fast forward to Sunday. Once again we're in Atlanta, and once again we're in a time of transition. Tic Long is moving on to become an executive pastor at the church that every youth pastor on earth now wants to work at (seriously, can you imagine Tic as your boss?). Instead of awkward squirms and cautious glances back and forth, this transition was met with standing ovations and (if I'm honest) a couple of tears of joy. We celebrated the great man that is Tic Long, but I think we also celebrated that YS is on track and headed in a great place.

For better or for worse, YS is a big influence on so many of us youth pastors. For me at least, it's a place of refuge and rest, a place that not only gives me books to help my ministry, but gives me resources to help my soul as well. It's my safety net in ministry, and in 2009 it looked like it had a lot of holes in it.

I am just so very excited for what is happening with YS now. Mark Matlock, Kara Powell, Doug Fields, Adam McLane (who I think is obligated to read my blog every time I mention YS, so how's it going buddy!) and the rest of the crew look like their passionate about the vision of YS, passionate about resourcing us, passionate about ministering to us so that we can minister to our students. I will miss the heck out of Tic, but things are headed in a beautiful direction.

All that said, I still plan on praying for those guys, and I hope you'll join me. I can't imagine that all that they do is easy on them, so I offer my prayers every day for them and their families.

What do you think? Were you at the convention? How do you feel about YS these days?

More to come this week!



#nywc : Get out of the way.

Greetings from beautiful Atlanta.

We began our journey at 3:00 AM. That's disgusting. I don't even get up that early for hunting. And yet we loaded up on coffee, hopped in the car, and made the completely smooth (for the first time in recent memory) trip to Atlanta. The only issue was that I left my iPad behind on the plane, but some kind person managed to pick it up and follow me through the airport until they could catch up with me and give it back. Sometimes there are nice people in the world.

After getting checked in and visiting my favorite Starbucks, Simeon and I went to Marv Penner's seminar on teaching. By and large, this was information I already had tucked away in my subconscious. I've been doing this for 8 years now. I know a thing or two. And yet, I've known for a little while that my teaching and preaching have been flat at best this past year, so even if it's just a reiteration of what I've already known before, it can only help me at this point. Sometimes you have to remember to practice blocking and tackling.

If I have a complaint about the convention thus far, it is the gross distance one must walk to get from where the seminars are to where the big rooms are happening. Chances are this is my out-of-cycling-shape-self just rebelling, and not an actual issue. That said, I needed oxygen.

There was a lot that went on in the Big Room with Reggie Joiner and Starfield and the City Harmonic, which I don't want to just regurgitate here, because I know Youth Specialties is selling the tapes and the CDs and stuff, and they need their money. I was just struck by one message that seemed to be haunting me as I was listening and taking it all in: Get out of the way Jason. The Holy Spirit, the very agent of change in the world of the Triune God, is hard at work in your midst if you would only get out of the way and let him do what he has set out to do. The Holy Spirit is a significantly better youth pastor than I could ever be. All I need to do is show up with open hands and an open heart, begging to be allowed to participate in the communion of the Father and the Son in the lives of these teenagers.

Having been up since 3:00 AM, we came back for Epic Nap Time (and blanket strips and blanket strips and blanket strips...) Since the J-Blog has this new thing lately called "readers," and we're trying to hashtag each post with the NYWC, I'd invite you all if you stumbled upon this happy blog to offer your thoughts and comments as well. How do you need to get out of the way? What do you hope to gain from this convention? What do you think we should discuss here at the J-Blog?

How much Starbucks do you I could drink if I really put my mind to it this weekend?




0 comments it


...days until the final


...days until the final

Deep Study


IMG 0101

Good morning friends!

There are three days left until the final, and with this my last day off I have locked myself in my home office and won't be leaving until I have a firm grasp on everything that may or may not be on this final! For those who have wondered, I'm feeling pretty good about it. Just a couple of butterflies as I'm gearing up for my first exam in over 4 years.

One of the things that I really have enjoyed this term is how much my work has been influenced by my schooling. Yesterday at the Bridge, I preached a message that was almost entirely inspired by the things that we had been reviewing in Dr. Barnes' class (Don't worry, I cited). It was a sermon that I spent an inordinate amount of time researching, reading, studying, and preparing for, and at least in my mind it paid off. Rather than just throwing something together at the last minute as an after thought, this sermon took time to create. And I loved it.

My next class at the seminary will be on the New Testament, and according to the course description, specifically on the culture and make up of the Gospel writers. I simply cannot wait! I feel like the scriptures open themselves up more and more the further and further we dig into them, and this course sounds like it's going to be ditching the shovels and bringing out the backhoe.

So I've got one eye on my books for Spiritual Formation, and one eye looking kind of longingly at NT 02. Obviously, I'll keep you posted as to what I'm learning, but in the meantime if I can offer some encouragement to pastors and youth workers, don't forget to do deep study. I know we have like 80 billion things going on in our world, but it's very important.

Here are some things to look forward to this week on the J-Blog:

1. The Countdown will reach zero.

2. We'll have a finals post-game wrap up.

3. I'm working on book reviews for all three of the books I've read for this class. Should be some good stuff there.

4. And of course, I'll be blogging from the NYWC in Atlanta beginning Friday. You know you don't want to miss that!

Rock on rockers!




...days until the final


(Get it?)
...days until the final


...days until the final


...days until the final


...days until the final


...days until the final

I am in the 1%


OccupyPittsburgh 600x337


Greetings friends,

A quick break from studying to share something I learned this week. On Friday, Ed and I went with some of our friends to the monthly PKN meeting downtown. I love this meeting. It is truly inspiring, uplifting, and delightful.

It can also be challenging, as this month's was. Brad Henderson, who runs the joint, was speaking to us about his work in Haiti. He shared the same message with us that he shares with multi-million dollar baseball players (he serves as the chaplain to the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins). To insist that his point wasn't geared directly at these uber-wealthy individuals, but that it had implications for all of us, he directed us to at website called You enter in what you make in a year and it shows you how you stack up with the rest of the world.

My results were kind of shocking.


I'm in the top 1.72%? Really? On a meager youth pastor's salary? As much as it might not feel like it some times, I am one of the richest people in the world. And chances are, so are you.

Brad's point was (quite correctly) not to guilt us, but rather to open our eyes to how much we had to celebrate and rejoice over, and to give out of our rejoicing. It definitely hit a chord with me, and I went home and examined how much we've been giving lately to see if there was any room to increase.

But then on the way out, we drove by the Occupy Pittsburgh folks. A pretty big part of me is on board with these folks in this movement. It's not fair that 1% of us should be able to create a system by which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. So sure, let's protest. But right after being told that I am in the 1%, it got me thinking. Maybe what we need is an Occupy America. Maybe we need to realize that even the penniless hippies that are camped out in front of Wall Street have more than most of the world. Which isn't to say that it's right that banks and investment firms have all the money. It is however to say that we're all part of the 1%, and instead of protesting, I think maybe we ought to start with giving.

Just some thoughts. I'd love to hear yours! As in, it will distract me from studying, please post a comment!





...days until the final

Study Plans


To study

Hello friends!

We are 10 days away from my first final at the seminary since my return. This final has caused me a tremendous deal of stress, because it is just about the only grade I'll get in this class. I get 50% for finishing my journals every day, but that's a given. So the whole thing comes down to the final, as whatever grade you get on that test will likely be what you get in the class.

I'm trying something new this term, as in I'm actually reading for class. This is new. You may be thinking, that's a very good thing Jason! Way to go! But alas, there's a draw-back. This class has thrown so much reading at me that it's making my head spin, and I'm told this is a light class. I feel very much like the picture above!

So these past few nights I've been trying to reduce the readings down to study guides, so that for the next week I can start to focus myself a bit more. But again, this is one of the hardest things I've ever done. I haven't taken any tests in this class. I haven't written any essays. I have no idea what this professor is looking for, and I have no idea what he puts emphasis on out of the massive amounts of reading.

I'm told the test will go down like this: he will give us 6 short answer essays, and I get to pick which three I want to answer. So hopefully I'll be able to narrow down to stuff I know and know well. But until then, I'm going to hit the books and study guides. I'm also going to ask you guys for your prayers, because I'm a nervous wreck! I appreciate it you all! And in return, I'll blog my way through the next week and a half!






In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stopped saying: "Holy, holy holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come." Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty four elders fell down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. (Revelation 4:6-10)

I was reading through the book of Revelation for my morning devotionals the other day, and I was really struck by this picture of worship from John's vision. It's so stripped down. It's so simple. It's just the living creatures, and the elders, pointing to God and proclaiming his glory.

I mean, take a look at what isn't included in this depiction of worship. There is no reference to a guitar. For that matter there's no reference to choirs or organs either. There's no appointed hour of worship, these guys are on the clock "day and night," and it would seem as though they never stop. There's no theological sermon, with 5 or 6 alliterated points. It is just simply worship.

That's not to say that those things that are missing aren't useful tools in worship. They are. But not a single one of those tools can be worship in and of itself. They, like the creatures and the elders, must point people towards the glory of God. And, in the way we have our worship services set up to happen once a week, I would argue that our services need to provide people the opportunity to point to God in everything else they do. From laundry to meetings, school to work, fun to dark days, everything we do must point to the glory of the Living One.

How have you pointed to the Living One today?


The top of the curve



Hello friends,

I just had a pretty excellent meeting with my advisor at PTS. We were talking about things back here at Westminster, and how things have been going very well for us at Veritas. We were talking about how We've felt lately like things were working their way to autopilot. We know that every fall we're going to go to Laurelville. We know that every year we're going to have a ski retreat. We know that if we don't do Catacombs this weekend, the one right before Halloween, we're going to be in trouble. We know these things now after four years, so there are few surprises available.

Dr. Son reminded me that every congregation (including congregational subsets like youth ministries) have a life cycle. Typically, it looks like the graph above. You start with things very low, a rebuilding period (Veritas had 11 students when we first started here). With love, work, and patience, you begin to see growth in the congregation.

But at some point, with the same systems in place throughout, no matter how hard you work, eventually you'll hit the top of the curve. Things cannot go any higher than this the way you are doing things. And so your ministry will start to slip down the other side of the slope. Dr. Son also reminded me that this is typically when we get defensive about our ministries. People start saying things like "But we've always done it this way, so why would we do it any other way?"

The problem is, few congregations (and again here, I include youth ministries) see that they're on their way down until they're already slipping. Dr. Son's encouragement to me, and my encouragement to you, is that when you find yourself at the top of the curve, it's your duty to find new and exciting ways to preach the gospel of Christ. Maybe you need to shake up an event here or there, just to give it some fresh creativity. Imagine you used the plateau at the top of the curve as your starting point for a brand new curve! You'd be in a very unique place indeed.

This is something I'm going to be wrestling with a little bit in the coming weeks and months. I'd love to hear your thoughts about it!



Some thoughts on beauty


735915 109423c0

Hello friends!

I picked up the new Switchfoot CD Vice Verses a few weeks ago, and the title track to this CD has been absolutely haunting me. There are good songs, songs that make you dance and songs that make you sing, songs that may or may not make you think. Writing one of these songs makes you feel amazing. But lately, I've noticed there's a whole other category of song, they usually don't make me sing them, or dance to them, or even really make me think. The only category that I have come up with is to say that these songs are beautiful.

I love to listen to these songs driving at night. Just to let the day wash over me, and spend a little bit of time basking in beauty. Because in reality, beauty is from God and God alone, and so when we steep ourself in beauty, we're steeping ourselves in God. That is what worship truly is, to be surrounded by the loving embrace of the Father of beauty.

So if you have some iTunes credit, I'd check out Vice Verses (the whole album is pretty good if you've got a spare $10). Put on the title track tonight, and take a drive just for the sake of driving. I know, precious gasoline and all that, but I promise, it's worth it for a moment or two of beauty.

Walking along the high tide-line
Watching the pacific from the side-lines
I wonder what it means to live together
Looking for more than just guide-lines

Looking for signs in the night sky
Wishing that i wasn't such a nice guy
I wonder what it means to live forever
I wonder what it means to die

I know that there is meaning to it all
A little resurrection everytime i fall
You've got your babies, i've got my hearses
Every blessing comes with a set of curses
I've got my vices, i've got my vice verses
I've got my vice verses....

The wind could be my new obsession
The wind could be my next depression
The wind goes anywhere it wants to
Wishing that i learned my lesson

The ocean sounds like a garage band
Coming at me like a drunk man
The ocean tells me a thousand stories
None of them are lies

Let the pacific laugh
Be on my epitaph
With these rising and falling
And after all,
It's just water and i am just soul
With a body of water and bone
Water and bone....

Where is God in the night sky?
Where is God in the city light?
Where is God in the earthquake?
Where is God in the genocide?

Where are you in my broken heart?
Everything seems to fall apart
Everything feels rusted over
Tell me that you're there

Believing ON Jesus



Good morning friends,

I was getting caught up on my reading last night from Seminary, and something popped out at me and felt like it deserved a post. This quote comes from Devotional Classics, a book I look forward to reviewing here, which is a collection of devotional writings from all across church history. I was reading excerpts from Watchman Nee's What Shall This Man Do, and this is what caught my attention.

"What is salvation? Many think that to be save we must first believe that the Lord Jesus died for us, but it is a strange fact that nowhere in the New Testament does it say precisely that. We are told to believe in Jesus, or to believe on Him; not to believe that He died for us. 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,' were Paul's words. We are to believe first of all in Him, not specifically in what he has done."

How does the above quote strike you? Is it scary, an affront to what you've held to for some time, or is it comforting, kind of a release? For me it was the later, but I'd be curious to hear what you have to say about this one!

Happy Friday!



Time Management for Dummies!


Makes eat time

Greetings friends!

A look at my day:

9:00 AM The Alarm clock goes off. I have allowed myself to sleep in to cover the cold that has developed, and to work off the Wednesday Night Veritas Hangover.

9:05 AM I clean myself.

9:25 AM I brew coffee. This day will not be a success without it.

9:28 AM I sit down to do my daily devotionals. I've had to do them for a while now for class, but I've really enjoyed them a great deal. I read through 4 passages (one Psalm, one OT, one Epistle, and one Gospel) and journal some initial thoughts.

10:00 AM I pour what's left of my coffee into a travel mug and make my way to work.

10:15 AM I sit down and start answering a few e-mails, taking care of the registrations from the night before, other administrative type tasks.

11:35 AM A volunteer comes into the office to talk about the bible study she's leading. Seriously, best volunteers in the planet. Can't speak highly enough of them all.

11:45 AM Seriously, where did my time go?

12:30 PM The Thursday tradition of eating lunch while playing Mario Kart continues. Ed is having lunch at the middle school, so I play by myself. I am a huge nerd.

1:00 PM I sit down to start writing my sermon for this Sunday. More coffee is consumed.

2:03 PM I am choking. This sermon is exactly one blinking cursor. Nothing to show at all. Nothing.

2:34 PM Oh happy day! Our associate pastor was under the impression that she was preaching this week, and even has a sermon prepared.

2:35 PM I dance around the office with joy.

3:30 PM After taking nearly an hour to create a new ringtone from the famous website Homestarrunner, I hop in my car for the trek down to the seminary.

4:35 PM In my rush to get moving, I nearly hit two pedestrians in the cross walk. It was totally my fault. The girl is screaming words that I cannot print here. I roll down my window and say "I'm sorry. It's my fault. Please forgive me." She is stunned.

4:40 PM I arrive at the Starbucks, still shaken up a bit from the encounter in the crosswalk. I feel bad. I mean I apologized, but that's still tough to shake off. I get more caffeine. That ought to calm me down, right?

4:45 PM I sit at a table in the back of the Starbucks and pull out my book for class. I am behind. Tragically behind in my reading. I could blame the sermon, but I never got anywhere with that.


I need a time management for dummies book. I've been doing a pretty solid job I think of balancing the working and going to school at the same time thing (as of this writing at 5:14 the reading for the week is done) but I'm still struggling.

How do you manage/organize your time? Do you have a plan or a purpose, or do you just tackle things as they come?




The Purpose of the Game


Dodgeball avgjoes

Hello friends,

As is the case every week, I sit in my office and fight temptation. Temptation to sin? No. Temptation to blog about something that I shouldn't be blogging about? Nope. Temptation to listen to Ke$ha? Only sometimes. The temptation that I am facing on a near weekly basis is the temptation to revert to Dodgeball as the Veritas Game of the Week.

It's so perfect. Our kids love dodgeball. And who can blame them? There is just something to be said about mercilessly whipping a rubberized bladder across a large gymnasium and not getting in trouble for it. There's something about getting beaned in the face to the point where you bare the marks of the ball for a couple of minutes. And there is nothing better than when there is only one person left, typically the least likely to be a hero in a game such as this, and with it all on the line they catch a few balls and bring their team to glory. This is marvelous! But playing it every week is probably a bit overkill.

So today I'm sitting at my desk and wondering the purpose of a game in a youth group setting. Don't get me wrong, I think it's important. But I'm trying to figure out why it's important. Is it truly an evangelistic endeavor, in that kids will invite their friends when there's a solid chance that they'll play the right game when they get in the door? Is it because we feel the need to make sure that the kids think we're cool as their youth leaders, and so when we're leading cool games that obviously means we're cool? Sometimes we find games that fit well into our theme or our teaching, so they become a teachable moment, but these are few and far between.

So as I've got my YS Ideas book opened up on my desk, I'm wondering what people think the purpose of a youth group game is. Please leave any thoughts here in the comments!



Book Review: Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace


Worship community triune god grace james torrance paperback cover art

Hello again friends!

So I thought for the first edition of the new focused JBlog we would tackle a book review, partly because this book hits in three of the four focus areas for the blog, so we can boost some of those numbers up there!


A few weeks ago my professor for Spiritual Development taught a class that was based largely on this book, so I wanted to pick up a copy so that I could get a better grasp on what was going on. The essential premise of the book is that our worship (and by that, Torrance means way more than just the singing, he includes things like communion, baptism, prayers, liturgy, etc) must be rooted much more than it is in the idea of a Triune God, not just a Unitarian (a poor choice of term, as I found myself confused a bunch with the Unitarian Church) view. Do you get your revelation directly from God? And if so, how would you know if it was truly a revelation from God? Is your worship purely a reaction to the cross, rather than an inclusion of what Christ is alive and doing in your midst right now? If so,  you might have a more Unitarian view of worship.

What I liked

I really resonated with the idea of "participating" in the Trinity. Torrance argues (rightly) that in Christ's baptism, he becomes us, and through his cross we become him. And so Worship isn't just a response to what has happened 2000 years ago on the Cross, which would deny the presence and active leading of Jesus Christ in our lives. Rather, worship is all about claiming our place in the Trinity, of actively participating in the love of God. His baptism is our baptism. His death is our death. And gloriously, his resurrection is our resurrection. This, is the heart of the good news.

What I didn't like.

This book has an extremely scholarly tone, but that shouldn't come as surprising at all anymore to me. I'm slowly getting up to speed at reading this type of book, but I could see how it might be a bit difficult to just pick up and run with.

Read this if:

You are a worship leader or other church worker, particularly if you are in the reformed tradition.

Don't read this if:

You want a how to guide for worship. Torrance isn't about the HOW of worship, but more the WHAT of worship. So while you won't find a step by step guide for your next worship gathering, I think it will shed some light into why we do the things we do already.





Hello bloggers!

We seem to go through this about once a quarter or so, but I was feeling the hurt from not having posted to the J-Blog in a while. As is typically the case when this goes down, there is a revamping of the theme, and I thank the designers of the free theme you see before you (whoever they are!)

I want to try to do my best to post once a day, whether I think I have something or not. My writing improves greatly when I'm on the JBlog, and you all seem ok with putting up with my dribble, so I really want to be disciplined in getting things posted up here on the olde' blog.

I've also really wanted to focus things. At the top, you'll see four specific areas (or TAGS as those in the biz call them) that I'm going to be focusing on at the JBlog. This isn't to say that there won't be the occasional riff into Pittsburgh Penguins (how awesome are they!) or hilarious YouTube Videos (those will be filed under youth ministry, because who doesn't love using them as clips), but for the most part I want to focus us in on four different areas:

Youth Ministry

How could we get away from our roots? Something special has happened in the last year or so, which I have been totally unprepared for, but somehow I have become a Veteran Youth Worker. A good friend of mine tells me that an expert is someone who makes the same mistake 100 times or more, and manages to stop making it. As much as I hesitate to say so, by that definition I believe I am an expert youth worker.

And so we're going to have a renewed sense of youth ministry around here. If you are a youth pastor, I'd love to hear your stories in the comments as well. But I'd love to offer some insights, challenges, dreams, and visions for where youth ministry is, and where youth ministry could be going. So get in on the conversation, and if you know someone who is a youth worker who could benefit from seeing things here, feel free to point them in the direction of the J-Blog.


I have the privilege and honor of also working with our Bridge worship service as a worship leader. My view on worship is definitely expanding. I've said before that I don't think that worship is limited to holding a guitar and busting out a song, but I'm seeing more and more of that knowledge lead to lifestyle change. In particular, I'm starting to see a great importance to incorporating home worship into corporate worship. This isn't to say that you could do the whole "God thing" on your own, but it is to say that there's a personal aspect to our faith in addition to our corporate aspect, and we'll explore both here. (For those of you who are fans of things like my Spire Articles, don't worry, this is where they fit in)


This fall, I returned to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in East Liberty. Granted, I am only on campus one night a week for one class a week, but hey, I'm still there. And I also think that I'm not alone in being a 20 something who works full time and has to try to juggle a seminary degree on top of that. Not only that, but when was the last time I took a test? When was the last time I wrote a paper? We'll explore in detail what it means to be a student, but most specifically a student of Theology. How could anyone not find that exciting?

Book Reviews

How could we forget these? I've actually been reading a great deal, because of the whole school situation, so we'll get to see a bit more here.

So anyway, that's where my head is headed anyway. I look forward to writing a bit more, and hopefully interacting with you guys through the comments!



Trying to live like Jesus.



Cosproductions TheYearOfLivingLikeJesusEdDobsonBookTrailer362

As part of my studies at the seminary, I am reading through the daily lectionary as prescribed by the Presbyterian Church. This includes one Psalm, one Old Testament reading, one Epistle, and one reading from the Gospels. That's a lot of reading to get done every single morning, but I'm two straight weeks in without missing one, and I'm truthfully loving it. I'm discovering that I'm so scatter brained that if I don't have someone telling me what I should be reading every day, I'm just going to be all over the place.


I've been reading through Matthew 5 and 6 these last few days, which are a part of the Sermon on the Mount. If you've been following this blog with any kind of frequency, or know me as a person, you probably know that these three chapters are my absolute favorites in the scriptures. How can you not love them? They are a collection of Jesus' most famous instructions! If you were to ask Jesus "How should I live my life?" his response would be something very similar to Matthew 5-7. I have read these three chapters about a hundred times even in just the last few years. I even tried my best to memorize these passages at one point.


So why is it that when I'm reading them now, I'm realizing that my life and the life Jesus describes for us are two totally different things?


From something so simple as yelling at people in traffic on my way to the Crowder concert last week (love your enemies I assume covers even Browns fans) to how I pray, and whether I'm making a big show about my faith, I'm finding that there are still areas in my life that need some serious work if I'm going to be living in the Way of Christ.


I'm also reading a book right now for fun (in-between my seminary reading) called The Year of Living Like Jesus by Ed Dobson (seen rocking an AMAZING Jesus-era beard above). Pastor Ed goes through an entire year of trying to shape his life around the kind of life that Jesus would have lived, and from day one realizes that it's an incredibly hard thing to wrap your mind around. Our culture has changed significantly, but still I think a lot of the struggle is outside of just the cultural challenges. The truth is, Jesus gave us an incredibly difficult prescription for this life.


Now, I also really affirm and believe in Grace. Jesus spells out the way we are to live, but knows already that we don't stand a chance. But still, I find it compelling to do everything in my power to live the way Christ would have me live. I want to be more generous. I want to forgive more. I want to love more. I want to pray in a way that's glorifying to God. I want to give my worries over. I don't at all want to lose my saltiness.


What's the most challenging part of living like Jesus for you?





Seminary Update


Hello friends!

It's been a long time since I've posted. I've been a rather busy bee! Here's what I've been up to:

*Tree Anthem is diligently trying to finish the new CD in time for the deadline we made for ourselves. We're close. We just have a few odds and ends that need to be tied up, and we'll be good to go!

*Veritas is back in fullest of swings. We've been having a lot of fun (at least I think) with the new Zero Theme. We're working through those things which hold the central focus for us in our lives, and what a bad Zero looks like in people. Tonight, we're going to take a look at what our Zero should be, and I'm super pumped about what we've got coming up.

*But the biggest thing that's been going on lately is that I'm back at the seminary. I'm taking a class right now called Spiritual Formation with Dr. Barnes. And it is absolutely blowing my mind! I had been doing the reading for the class before the class even started, so now I'm swinging back through again and reading a second time over, and I love each of the books we're reading (Augustine is a little bit hard to work through, but man, he was brilliant!)

The lectures are amazing too! I've been having a hard time keeping my fingers moving fast enough to keep up with the notes! It's been truly awesome!

I wish I had more time for the J-Blog, but I think at the moment I need to ask for patience and grace while I'm working through Seminary stuff. I'll try to keep you posted on what's going on along the way. Thanks for reading!



My New Monster



Hello friends,


I noticed something while I was at the gym working out yesterday, and I thought I'd share some thoughts here on the J-Blog.


When I was in high school, I took Advanced Placement American History, or APA as we called it. The idea was that you would submit yourself to an incredibly difficult year of learning, followed by a national test, which if you did well on you would be able to opt out of college classes. The test was the source of much stress and disdain from several students, and so our teacher nick named it "The Beast." It sounds ridiculous, but it actually helped get you through the tough year of classes to know that everything you did was one more weapon in your tool belt for when you would attempt to slay the beast. We pictured it with nasty fangs and blood drenched claws, and know that what we were suffering through would help us to slay the Beast made the suffering tolerable.


Last year, I started cycling as a form of fitness. I had always like bike riding, but never really got into the intense all out riding that so many people have come to love over time. I was at dinner with a few friends, when one Travis Bachelder invited me to participate in the MS 150, a 150 mile bike ride from Slippery Rock to Lake Erie. Foolishly, I said yes.


The 150 became my Beast. It was the monster that I had to overcome. At that dinner table, a 150 mile two-day ride seemed impossible. It was going to require a lot of me in terms of training, in terms of mental dedication, in terms of nutrition and eating better. I was going to suffer. But at least I knew that I was going to suffer with a purpose. I was going to slay the monster, and slay the monster I did. I never felt better after a ride than I did when we rolled into Lake Erie, and they handed me the finishers metal. It sounds cheesy, but that metal means a lot to me. It's not just two days of accomplishment, but it's every ounce of the 500 miles and countless hours in the gym that went into training me for that ride.


The 150 happened in the middle of my cycling "season", and I started to notice something interesting towards the end. I was losing my drive to go on. I didn't want to go out on a huge training ride. I had very little desire to go to the gym. When I did go out on a ride, I was seeking easier courses and flatter terrain. Without a monster to slay, I had no reason to suffer, because suffering pointlessly is really no fun at all.


As I was lying in bed the other night, and I saw an article about Gran Fondos. I had never heard of such a thing, but the article made it sound like the next step up from the charity rides that I have been doing so far. It's usually a century ride, or 100 miles in a single day. They are known for their climbs, and usually have competition on the climbs. They are not to be trifled with, yet they come with rest stops. Like the 150 was to me a year ago, this ride seems so very far out of my reach. There's one coming in New York early next season ( and I want to ride it so bad.


It is my new monster.


All of a sudden I can't spend enough time in the gym. I'm already upset that it's raining/getting colder so as to keep me off the bike a bit more. I will let you know when I get crazy enough to wear the jackets and tights and ride in the weather anyway. But this monster is coming, and I must be ready to slay it.


What is your monster? And what happens when people don't have a monster to work towards? Is it in fact true that suffering makes a little bit more sense when we realize it's leading us somewhere?


Food for thought.





Veritas: Some further thoughts on zero.


Greetings friends!

Last night we had the first Veritas of the school year. I love love love love love love love love (get it yet) love love Veritas! It's a lot of fun and energy and excitement and joy, and this year it seemed to have been bubbling up all summer into a night of just sheer worship and excitement.

We kicked off our theme of Veritas:Zero with some introduction into where we're headed in the next few months. For those who weren't there last night, a quick catch up:

In Malawi, our sister church in the town of Zomba has acquired the nickname Zomba Zero. It it thusly named because it was the first thing that was ever built in the town, and everything else in Zomba gets it's identity from the church at zero. Nothing happens outside the relationship it has from the church. Everything is tied to that one thing.

And so we asked last night what our Zero is. What is the one thing in your life that makes all the other parts of your life make sense? Obviously there is a bit of a Sunday School answer that goes with this (JESUS!) (said in an incredibly cheesy voice), but last night we noted that we want to get to the heart of the answer now. The real answer, rather than what you would think the youth pastor wants to hear. What is your zero?

We talked about David, who in Psalm 139:23 said "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts." This is a crazy bold statement to make to God. Because before I open up my heart to God, before I allow him to see the messed-up-crazy bits of my life, I'm going to do my best to clean up. I'm going to try to get things in order, sweep up a bit, and try my very best to make it look like I have everything all together.

Of course this is a sham. God knows everything already. We learn in the same Psalm that he knows when we stand up and when we lie down, and how many hairs are on our head, and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The truth is there's no detail about our lives that isn't abundantly clear to God.

But I think there's something special in the openness of asking God to search our hearts. I think there's something about knowing that we're holding nothing back, that we're letting God search us freely, and that we may or may not like what he finds.

Because the truth is, when we invite God to search our hearts, he's going to show us exactly what our current zero is. He'll show us exactly the area in our lives from which all the other areas get their meaning. And he's God, so he's not going to be shy about it. If we're open, honest, and ready to do a little introspection, God's going to point out exactly what it is that keeps us from him.

And at the same time, this God that knows everything, sees us at our very very worst, offers us the forgiveness to move forward and the grace to hit the reset button on our zero. This God somehow is both the judge and the jury, but he's also the healer. And so as scary as it might be to open up our hearts and allow God to see what's going on inside, it is required. And thank God for the grace that awaits us on the other side.

MUCH more to come soon!



Deep Posts: Help!


Hello friends!

Every time I preach a sermon, I almost always walk away thinking "Man, I wish I would have had more time to elaborate on this point or that point." Today was no different, except that today I woke up and remembered that I have a blog where I can expand upon any idea I darn well feel like it. So if you were at the Bridge this morning, this is a bit of a deeper exploration than what we went through this morning. If you weren't, well then hopefully this is just thought provoking.

In Psalm 50, God prescribes for us what praise should actually look like:

"Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." (Psalm 50:14-15 NIV)

We have this idea brewing in the American psyche that we need to be able to accomplish anything and overcome any obstacle that lies in our way completely on our own. I'm not sure where this came from, but I'm fairly certain we can all blame John Wayne, or perhaps Chuck Norris. But I am no exception. I know that there are times in my life that while I desperately need somebody's help, I will not ask for it. There will typically be a conversation in my head that includes rationalization, and a desire to not look like a sissy or a wimp or whatever word is going through my head at the time.

Ultimately, this is a rather destructive approach to life. There are a few things that happen when we take on the maccho man (or woman) bravado of figuring things out for ourselves:

1. We can't do it.

This should come as no shock to anyone. We know this going into certain situations don't we? "There's no way I can do this on my own..." we say as we proceed to the starting line without the rest of the team. I don't know how many times I've failed at doing something because I thought I could do it on my own. Or perhaps a better way of saying it, I don't know how many times I could have done something better if I had just sucked it up and asked a friend or two for help.

2. We alienate ourselves from the community.

God's word is clear time and time again that you and I were created for community. It's in our blood, it's in our DNA. God hard-wired us to need each other, and when we put on the tough guy routine, we begin to shift our way out of the community. Of course, you've got to ask yourself, how tough can you really be if you're running away from the design of the Creator of tough?

3. We lose opportunity to praise.

This was the new revelation to me this week as I was preparing for the sermon. In Psalm 50:15, God tells us that we bring him honor when we ask him to help us. Think about that for a second. Asking God for help is not a sign of weakness. It is not a sign of your life falling apart around you. It isn't even a sign of a weak faith. In fact, just the opposite. Asking God for help is actually an act of praise. Having the boldness to take our entire person and place it in the hands of the creator takes a kind of trust that few people are comfortable with. But placing that kind of trust in the creator is to proclaim to ourselves and those around us that he is trustworthy, and that he deserves to be praised.

So, it's time to drop the John Wayne impersonations. If you're anything like me, you long ago realized they weren't working anyway. Let's take some time together this week and Praise God, by being bold enough to ask him to help us when we need it. I think we'll all be pretty amazed to see what he comes up with to rescue us!



Word play: Rescue


2007 Volvo XC70 Catalina Island Rescue Unit Front And Side 1280x960

Hello faithful readers!


Ever have a word get stuck in your head? Like a fire ant that has climbed into your cerebellum and decided to make it's nest in your consciousness, this word has grabbed your attention and will not let go? Well, even if you haven't, play along with me.


I've been working through a few books and scripture studies lately in an attempt to get myself prepared for the upcoming season of Veritas, and I'm stumbling over these words that used to have my attention, but no longer seem to have the grip they used to. And the more I'm reading, the more I'm discovering, these words are essential to a Christ-Centered Life, and they need to be picked up and reclaimed. Today's word is rescue.


The truth of the matter is that all of humanity finds itself in a dangerous or harmful situation on a daily basis. We harm each other with alarming regularity. The things that we do to each other on the internet alone should probably qualify as war crimes for the soul. Our words rip and tear at each other so that we have the perceived feeling of being raised up when really all we've done is torn another person down. And all of that is before we even get to the unimaginable harm we do to each other physically, both intentional (wars, stealing lunch money, rape) and unintentional (ignoring the poor, ignorant of suffering, holding on to all the food ourselves while someone else goes to bed hungry). We are horrible to each other.


But then I think about some of what's going on in my world, and without turning the faithful J-Blog into my person therapy session, I've realized in recent weeks that I am capable of doing all that harm to myself with very little help from the outside world. I talk myself down. I beat myself up. I say things to myself that I would never say to any other human being. While it's not always this way, I'm realizing that I can be a total wreck.


Of course, in the Christian faith we have a language for this too. We call it Sin, and it is the engine driving the injury we inflict on ourselves and others. When we aren't busy using it as a weapon against each other (see paragraph above), we start to realize that everyone is a sinner. We realize that it's inescapable. We find ourselves in a situation not unlike Indiana Jones being stuck in quicksand. There's no way out, and thrashing against ourselves or other people only makes us sink faster.


And hence, the importance of the word rescue. We believe firmly that Jesus rescues us from the dangerous or harmful situations others have brought upon us, as well as those we place ourselves in. Like a coast guard diver who leaps from the helicopter into the choppy water, Jesus leapt from the right hand of God and came into our world and experienced our hurts, our desires, our temptations, and even our death, purely and simply so that he could provide us with rescue. His blood shed on the cross was a promise that we would never have to deal with sin again.


Of course, the struggle is that we are in the already/but not yet. For as much as we look forward to the life to come in the Kingdom of God, we still live in the world that everyone has universally agreed is falling apart at the seems. But rescue is here, and rescue is coming. Christ frees us from the harmful situations we place ourselves in, and offers us the ability to forgive those who place us in harmful situations. And in the end, the ultimate rescue of the Kingdom founded on earth as it is in heaven will be ours to enjoy forever.


Praise God for Rescue!





Scripture Deficency




Greetings friends!


A few days ago, I realized that something was a little bit off in my world. Not major off, but I was just discovering that I was all around irritable. A little bit beyond that, I kept finding myself doubting my own abilities, and feeling a bit unworthy of certain things. I get this way from time to time, and you would think that by now I would know the reason why and the cure to the affliction (hint: it's the same thing)


I realized that I wasn't spending any time in the scriptures at all. This is always a tricky area for those of us who work in the church I think, because we confuse the time we spend in the scripture for work (writing sermons, leading small groups, etc) as the time we should be spending in the scriptures for US. During my biblical drought, I bet I opened the bible every single day (if that sentence even makes sense!). The problem was, I was reading it for someone else, not for myself.


We have affirmed that the bible is the living word of God. In truth, the way I read that is that the bible is the only book on the planet that actually read you back. God communicates to his people through his word, and when you're always reading the bible with a mind to find tidbits of information for someone else, you're probably missing what God has to say to you. And it has been my experience that because the bible actually reads you back, it knows exactly what you need to hear at any given moment, whether it's challenge or encouragement, or a dollop of both.


So for my own growth, I took a whole new approach. I've made it pretty clear on this blog that for preaching/teaching, I'm a big fan of the TNIV (although, I have a New International Version from 2011, and I have to say that so far I'm a fan). So to keep me from making this about other people, I reached for a copy of Eugene Peterson's The Message. I've started a study through Isaiah, using Lectio Divina, and I can say for certain the God is speaking to me through the pages of his scriptures. I mean, if someone who is carrying around doubts and worries reads things like "Don't be like this people, always afraid somebody is plotting again them. Don't fear what they fear. Don't take on their worries." or "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows--Light! sunbursts of light!" they are sure to understand that God is speaking to them, as was the case with me.


So let me encourage you my friends, get into the word. Particularly if you're a church worker of some kind, don't forget to read the bible for yourself from time to time. God has some things to say to us too!





I need your help! (Please read!)


Web livestrong 01

Hello friends!


This past June, you helped me achieve what I thought would never be possible. Together, we raised over $1000 to fight MS. Your donations fueled my ride, and together we inspired several folks who are suffering from that disease. I would never have thought that we would raise over a grand, nor that I would have been able to ride 150 miles in two days! What we accomplished was simply miraculous!


Inspired by our work together, I set my sights on another charity that is very near and dear to my heart: The LIVESTRONG foundation. The foundation started by Lance Armstrong benefits thoughts living with cancer, and those who have survived and need further assistance. Let's face it, I've been sold out to LIVESTRONG for a long while now, so when we were so successful with Bike MS, I signed up for the LIVESTRONG challenge in Philadelphia.


The challenge is one week away, and I am $125 away from the minimum donation required to ride. I've been training hard for weeks, and feel like I'm in the best shape of my (admittedly short) cycling career. If I don't have $250 in donations by Saturday, I will sadly not be able to ride in the LIVESTRONG challenge.


We don't need big time donations here. If just a few of us can get together and offer $5, I think you'll be amazed at how quickly we can reach our goal. Together, we can make folks living with cancer know that they are loved, and that we support them.


Your support means the world to me! I'll have live updates on Twitter from the ride, so if you are able to donate, keep the journey going by following along with the updates.


To donate, visit





A great article worth reading!


Open bible

Hello friends!


Just a quick update today. I've been working through a lot of what I think about the Bible, and how we read it, and how the way we read it these days may not be the best way (or, for that matter, biblical). While I'm going to continue to mull over these thoughts for a few more days, I came across an extremely well worded article that I completely agree with, so I thought I'd share it with you all to get the gears spinning.


Other than that, I'm back to work this week, so that probably means a few less posts. Hopefully we'll be able to get a couple of other hits up in the next week or so. Veritas returns very soon, and I have some thoughts to share about that as well!




Dreamer: What kind of pastor will I be?

Hello friends,

I've been reading Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor as I get ready to dive into Seminary this fall. First of all, it's a really good book that I'm hoping to review here at the J-Blog as soon as I finish, but it got me thinking about what kind of pastor I will end up being when I finish my time at PTS.

This is how my brain is wired, and I understand it's different for everybody else, but I am so much a dreamer. I get caught up in imagining what kind of church I'll pastor. Will it be a big one or a small one? An old one, or one that I've planted myself? What kind of congregation will I have? Who will be the people that I love to hang out with and grow in faith with, and who will be the people who make me want to rip my fingernails off (come on, we all know they're out there)? Or will I stick with youth ministry for a real long time, try to find an ordained position?  Sometimes this week, I've been just closing my eyes on the beach, and dreaming of what life will be like in the (sigh) nine years it will take me to wrap up this degree.

I think dreaming is important. Like I said, I know that most people don't dream the way I do, but for me it's so critical. It's like the GPS to my life, mapping out what dreams are worth following and which are dead ends. Some dreams are short, like the current dream of taking a nap on the beach in a couple of hours. Some are big, like trying to figure out what my future holds. But either way, dreaming is a big part of my life, and I wonder if it shouldn't be a bigger part of all of our lives.

God seems to enjoy the dreamers. Joseph comes to mind. It's a story worth reading a a couple of levels, because Joseph's dreams got him in a lot of trouble, as ours will from time to time. But in the end, it seems to me at least that God rewards the dreamers. Take a look at King David. For as much as he was the mighty king and warrior, he writes Psalms in a way that indicates that he knows how to let his mind go, to play with imagery and dreams. This, scripture tells us, was a man after God's own heart.

So what are your dreams? Where does your mind wander when you give it enough time? What scares you about being a dreamer?

Till next time,



Book review: Love Wins and Erasing Hell

Hello friends!

As I previously mentioned, while in Africa I took some time to read Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Love Wins by Rob Bell back to back, which provided some interesting insight to this theological discussion by two of my favorite authors/speakers/pastors out there.

Before we dig in, a few thoughts:

#1) Let's be civil
As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I'm discovering more and more the importance of civil discussion and debate among us in the Christian world. I know that both of these books have raised some eyebrows and some temperatures in the blogosphere lately, and I'm sure that my words here will be no different. I only ask that if we're going to wade into a discussion in the comments here that we do so lovingly and with grace and kindness and respect. Anything less isn't worthy of our calling to the Way.

#2) Let's watch the "H" word. 
No, not hell. That word we'll probably use a lot here. I mean heretic. I've seen that word thrown around a lot in this discussion, and I'm honestly quite appalled by it. There are times when we're meant to label something heretical, or someone a heretic, but I think we've taken to using it far too much in our time. Really, I'm seeing it used for groups of people who have a disagreement with a particular tribe church or denomination. If this person doesn't line up with our doctrine statement, we throw the "H" word at them.

In my humble opinion, these are two throughly dedicated guys who took a hard look at the Scriptures, and came to two different decisions about them. Neither is outside the realm of Orthodox Christianity (just ask C.S. Lewis, Augustine, or Gregory of Nyssa). So while we might disagree on some points, let's be careful with the name calling and labeling.

Now, on to the books. Let's start with Francis Chan.

For as much as some people are saying that this book is not a direct response to Love Wins, it sure acts like one. Rob Bell is quoted in almost every chapter, but in a way that kind of looks to me like Chan was working on this book for a while before Bell's came out, so they added those quotes at the last minute. I think Chan believed what he believes well before Bell's book arrives on the scene, he's just hoping on the hype train (who could blame him?)

This book is a summary of what has been the typical classical evangelical Christian teaching for the last 100 years or so, mainly that those who do not accept Jesus Christ in this life are doomed to some sort of punishment or destruction in hell. Actually, Chan isn't quite sold on conscious eternal torment or just a simple end of life. But either way, in Chan's view, hell is eternal. No second chances as prescribed in Love Wins.

What I liked
1) I really liked the heart Francis Chan had in the writing of this book. He says accurately: "It forces me back to a sobering reality: This is not just about doctrine; it's about destinies. And if you're reading this book and wrestling with what the Bible says about hell, you cannot let this be a mere academic exercise." Paragraphs just like this one litter the book, and make you realize that Chan understands that people won't appreciate what he's suggesting, and neither does he. He just understands it as truth. For as cold and unwelcoming as the discussion about heaven and hell have been lately, Chan is heartbroken and gentle, and we need more people like that in the world.

2) Francis Chan did his homework for this book, which is what led me to believe that this was written or at least started well before Love Wins hit the shelves. An untold amount of research and bible study went into this book, and I for one think that more books could benefit from this. Rather than just opening our mouths and spouting our opinions, we ought to make sure that we're taking a hard look at the scriptures. Anything else is just opinion, which is worth while but not all that weighty.

What I didn't like
1) There was some false advertising in this book right from the start. In the introduction, Chan says "I'm not going to hang on to the idea of hell simply because it's what my tradition tells me to believe. And neither should you." He follows that up with saying "...if it's true, if the Bible does teach that there is a literal hell awaiting those who don't believe in Jesus, then this reality must change us." The introduction makes it sound (as least to me) that Chan intends to check tradition at the door, and rely squarely on the scriptures. This is typically Chan's M.O., and honestly I looked forward to it. But then through the book every scripture was read in light of a theologian or particular theological background, as though their way to read it was the only way to read it. I found myself saying "That's nice that they feel that way Francis, but I'm interested in how you read it."

Don't get me wrong: Tradition and theology are critical in our Christian beliefs, and leaning heavily on them is important and good. But not if you tell me in the introduction that this is more about the scriptures than it is about your tradition. This is probably more my own disappointment rather than a flaw in the book, but there it is all the same.

2) There was a footnote that actually made me physically upset to read. It's a note on Matthew 25:31-46. The footnote (#3 in Chapter 5 specifically) says "In the context, Jesus is talking about impoverished Christians, not any poor person. This is clear from Jesus' description of the poor as 'these brothers of Mine.'" I could not disagree with this interpretation of this scripture any more. I've been pouring over this passage for a long time, and never came to the conclusion that it was meant for Christian poor folks only. First of all, caring for people and mission work are two of the finest ways to bring non-Christians into the most wonderful Way of life that's out there. Secondly, Jesus didn't really have an intention to start a new religion, did he? So why is it that he would give a teaching in which the people to be affected by it were in a particular religion? That doesn't seem to make sense to me. Lastly, Jesus had a heart for everybody, including Gentiles (see the Roman Centurion in Matthew 8:5). In all my readings of the Gospels, I've never seen Jesus putting fences up around who can get help and who can't. I love you Francis, but I think you got it wrong here.

3) Lastly, it's not the best writing in the world. I won't hold that against him, but it was kind of hard to work through at times. The sections surrounding Love Wins in particular seemed rushed, and so the writing takes a noticeable dip there. But hey, you guys put up with the garbage that I write, and this book is way better than that!

First of all, it's important to note that this book has an incredibly different goal than Erasing Hell. The later is a theology book, meant to clarify a particular doctrine statement. Bell outlines a different agenda in the introduction of Love Wins:

"I've written this book for all those, everywhere, who have heard some version of the Jesus story that caused their pulse rate to rise, their stomach to churn, and their heart to utter those resolute words, 'I would never be a part of that.'"

So rather than having the direct objective of clarifying a particular theology, Bell intends this book to be an encouragement to the disenfranchised who NEED to see Christ in a different light if they have any hope of getting behind Him. Now obviously to do that Bell includes some theological statements and doctrines, but I think it's important to note that it's meant for another purpose.

Bell's idea is that heaven and hell are choices we make, both in this life and in the life to come. He affirms what Presbyterians have long stated, that God's love is irresistible, and that given enough time, everyone will come to know that love. Even if it's in the afterlife.

What I liked
1) Rob Bell is not afraid of complexity. This book makes it clear that salvation is quite simple, as it is found in Jesus Christ and in Christ alone (anyone who denies this about Bell's book hasn't read it), but the way that salvation is worked out is a rather complex thing. What does believing in Jesus really mean? Is it saying a prayer? Is it a lifestyle? Is it what you do? How can you tell who believes in Jesus and who's just saying they do? It's a complex discussion, and if we're honest, it requires a lot of extra thought on our end. I need a faith that has such complexity. I need something that goes way beyond surface comfort and happy feelings. I need a Holy Spirit who will take me deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole with every scripture I read.

2) Rob Bell uses scripture as much if not more than Francis Chan to build his argument. Somewhere along the way people started saying that Bell has either a low-view of scripture, or that he doesn't place himself under it's authority. I know I'm one of the biggest Rob Bell fans on the face of the planet, so perhaps I'm biased, but I really truly believe that he built a position entirely on Scripture here in Love Wins. You may not like his interpretations, or the conclusions that he comes to. But that's a different discussion. Like Chan, Bell has absolutely done his homework, and it shows.

What I didn't like
(Yes, there are a few things about a book Rob Bell wrote that I don't like. I'll give you a second to recover...)

1) Unlike Chan, I had a hard time with Bell's attitude in this book at several places. It's almost as if he can feel his critics coming, and so he develops this downright snarky attitude in places that I can honestly do with out. Granted, I don't know what it's like to be the subject of every blog post and the bullseye for every sermon in the country for a couple of weeks, so perhaps I'd develop a snarky attitude too. But given how much I desire to have a respectful and honest debate about these books, I was disappointed to say the least about the tone taken in certain places in Love Wins. (Note, this is hard to quote in the blog, as it usually involves a long paragraph followed by a snarky comment at the end. As I've been advocating all along with this book, it's probably better for you to read it for yourself and see what I'm talking about)

2) Chapter 7 deals heavily with the Prodigal Son story found in Luke. To try to summarize an entire chapter in a few lines or less, when you get to the end of the Prodigal Son story you find the older son miserable outside the party being thrown for the younger son. Bell's assumption then is that "In this story, heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other."

Now, this gets messy, because in addition to believing in real afterlife heaven and a real afterlife hell (again, anyone who says he doesn't hasn't read the book), Bell also believes that heaven and hell are happening here on earth. In that sense, it makes sense that heaven and hell could be rubbing elbows in the very same place based upon the kinds of choices people were willing to make about their own stories. But this is confusing at best in this chapter, and I think it could lead to a bit of confusion. I'd have liked to have a little bit of clarification on this position. But then again, I didn't write the book.

Wrapping it all up. 

So what can we learn from these two books?

Two very serious, very dedicated Christian men have read almost exactly the same scriptures, studied them, prayed about them, and came to two radically different conclusions. What does that say to us? That one must have prayed wrong and there for got it wrong? Or does it mean that the Holy Spirit wants to stir the pot, and help us debate it among ourselves for a bit? (Anyone who doesn't see the Holy Spirit as a rouser of rabel isn't seeing the whole picture)

My guess is that the truth lies somewhere between the two extreme views put forth by these authors, and I don't know what that looks like. But that's the beauty of a situation like this, it invites us to discover and dig into God's word for ourselves. Rather than picking one of the sides and defending it tooth and nail, what does it look like to find the holes in both positions and try to sort out for ourselves where the truth lies?

And so that's what I'd like for us to do here at the J-Blog. Where do these authors stand on these issues, and how is it different from where you stand? Remember to answer that question in a way that explores our faith, rather than defending it. I think that will make all the difference. To help, I'm humbly asking that no one comment on this post unless you've read Love Wins, Erasing Hell, or both. Opinions are great, but opinions based on rumors can be rather toxic to a good conversation.

May God bless the conversation.