Certainly Uncertain


Greetings friends!

Sorry I haven't posted in so long. I use Blogo as an editor for all the blogs I write for, and it was being cranky this week. But, one cranky spell in 3 years is a pretty decent track record, so if you're into blogging, and need an editor, I highly recommend Blogo!

I've been thinking a lot this week about certainty. Particularly when it comes to the predicted end of the world that never actually happened. I was reading a bit on www.familyradio.com just to get to know these folks a bit, and what struck me was the certainty with which they predicted the end of the world. It was GOING to happen. No one would be able to talk them out of it. Of course, we all saw how that went.

I think about the religious leaders of Jesus' day. The Pharisees and the experts of the law. After hundreds and thousands of years of studying the law of Moses, these folks were convinced that they knew what the heart of God was all about. They knew with certainty what was good, and what was wrong. And these were the people who Jesus placed directly in his cross hairs, and had the harshest words for.

There's a lot of debate around heaven and hell right now, who's a heretic and who's not, and who's a universalist and who's not. I don't really want to get into the finer points of the argument, but I do want to ask, how do you know with certainty your point of view? How can you be certain?

I mean, one obvious answer would be that the Scriptures are a source of certainty. But I don't know if it's that simple. First of all, the religious leaders in the days of Jesus were certain based on the scriptures, as was Mr. Camping. And also, the scriptures are a source of truth, not certainty, and those (in my humble opinion) are two different things.

Maybe another answer would be the community you belong to, if everybody else feels the same way about something then certainty can't be far behind, right? Yeah, but this also has two fatal flaws to it: 1) Group think, where no one challenges anything because they're afraid to be outside the group, and 2) people who don't look/act/dress/think/behave like the group are not welcomed in, so the group eventually dies out.

Maybe the truth is that faith is never CERTAIN. There were things that I was certain of in high school that I've come to discover are extremely wrong. Is it wrong to have a faith that's open to being wrong? Is it wrong to have a faith that's flexible and breathable and moving, open to whatever might enter the conversation next? Is that really a wishy-washy faith, or is that the kind of faith that affirms that Truth is a Person, and people are fluid and moving things?

I, of course, welcome your thoughts!



Worship in the Club


Hello friends,

I was driving home from a meeting today, and I'm pretty sad to announce that I was indeed listening to KISS FM. Yeah, I like pop music. What of it?

For all it's catchy beats though, I do like to make fun of the complete lyrical depth of some of these songs on the radio. Because "yes, of course we does" must make every English teacher's skin crawl. These songs have a complete lack of depth in their lyrics because I think, with subtle few exceptions, pop music has been reduced to one simple agenda:

Make people dance in a club.

It drives me kind of crazy when you get a song that has absolutely nothing to say but "everybody get up and dance!" It feels like the song is telling me what to do, and as I'm usually in the car when I'm hearing these songs, and dancing is out of the question!

But as I was thinking all of this on my ride home today, I started to wonder about the songs we write for worship. How many of them are just like that? Jesus died for our sins, so let's all get together in the club and put our hands up!

I get kind of conflicted here, and my brain starts to hurt drifting between two different thoughts. On the one hand, the death and resurrection of Christ is a huge moment in human history, and it absolutely deserves to be celebrated! Go crazy! Put your hands up! Dance! Sing at the top of your lungs! As someone who leads worship for a Presbyterian church, we could admittedly use a bit more celebration in our worship services!

But then again, is the worship music we create a little bit too shallow? If the only thing we're singing about is the party that is either here and now or the party that's coming in the next life, then are we robbing people of the deep and rich traditions of the Christian faith? Would it kill us to have a few more songs that use the language of grace and forgiveness (I think a series is coming on this...stay tuned!)

What do you think? Are we balanced in our songwriting, or could we use a touch more emphasis on one side or the other?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad



Hey friends,

Last night at Veritas, we started a series that I think is going to be pretty unique when it's all said and done. The theory behind it all is that we spend far too much time discussing things AROUND the idea of Jesus, and even (I am pretty guilty of this anyway) substituting information ABOUT Christ rather than a genuine relationship with Christ. So, as a teacher this is hard, but I'm trying to work through this series without any actual "teaching." My goal at the end would be that our students spent some time with the person of Christ.

Last night we talked about Matthew 11:25-30, and about the kinds of burdens we're each carrying. We watched a pretty awesome Skit Guys video, and then started asking questions. The truth is, at least in our neighborhood, I see our students so tense and so stressed out and so worried, and I wonder how much of that they actually NEED to carry around with them.

Questions are a marvelous way to teach. I've gotten so many interesting comments about the Bin Laden post from a couple of days ago, and all it contained were the questions in my mind. Take a look through the gospel stories, and you'll find that Jesus was way more about the question than he was about the answers.

And for our students last night, it felt like questions led to more questions. And those questions led us to another place. And by the end of the night, we were nowhere near where I had planned to take us. But then again, when you have a series which strives to keep Jesus as it's focus, how far could you possibly stray? And so, a few questions for us to think about this morning:

What kind of baggage are you carrying?


Why is it so hard to let Jesus carry our baggage for us?

Do we trust him?


Really really?

What's the first tangible step towards letting go some of what we're holding on to?

What role does the Church play in allowing us to let our baggage go

Where do we go from here?

Youth Ministry Friday: Relationships


So, I've been trying to re-invent the blog a little bit. Over the years, it's increased it's scope from a blog by a youth pastor to youth pastors, to starting to include worship leading stuff, to just whatever might be in my head.

But I thought perhaps there should be a bit more of the youth ministry thing, since it's one of my favorite activities, and favorite things to write about! So each Friday, we'll do a post about youth ministry, and we'll try to do it in such a way that everyone has something to learn in the process.

Why Fridays? Because Friday is the home of one of my favorite youth ministry events of the week at Westminster. After school, we pile the kids into our bus (and a couple of wonderful volunteer's mini-vans) and take our high school students to Chick-Fil-A. Now, this is usually when folks in youth ministry ask about the programing of the event.

"Is it a bible study?"

"Is it a discipleship opportunity?"

"What book are you working through?"

"How many people have been saved there?"

"How many people come to your youth group because of it?"

The truth is, there is no programming behind Chick-Fil-A. There's no agenda. We don't make any speeches. The whole idea is to give the kids a place to relax a bit after a hard week of school, and to give them a chance to hang out with us. Relationships, as cliche as it might be, is still the name of the game in youth ministry.

Because while there's no bible study at Chick-Fil-A, we've had some of the most spiritually fulfilling conversations in that dining room.

While there's no specified discipleship being offered, I've had a blast watching some of our kids grow in leaps and bounds over the years at Chick-Fil-A.

While I don't have any intentions of presenting the Gospel to new people, I've heard countless times from students who say they feel like they can belong with our group.

My question to us is this: How much time and energy are we pouring into our programs and events, and how does it compare to the time and effort we're pouring into our student's lives? If we're leading one of the larger youth groups around, do we still know all our student's names? Do we know their stories? Do we know their hurts? Do we know how they need us? Do we know (most importantly) how they need Jesus?

May we spend more time with our kids, instead of more time for our kids.

Different Voices


A few months ago, I was looking for a book in our office that was nowhere to be found. So I did the un-thinkable: I tore every book off the shelves and started to re-organize them so that I might actually find things. So far, it remains organized, which is a world record of some kind.

On the shelf right next to the door, I put all my "go-to" authors together. Brennan Manning. Rob Bell. Leonard Sweet. Don Miller. David Crowder. Brian McClaren. All the works by these guys (and the extra copies I've collected over the years) are in one place, a quick grab situation if I need some encouragement.

But lately, I've been trying my best to reach out to some different authors and get some different voices into my diet. Mike Yaconelli. Scot McKnight. N.T. Wright. Authors that I've known were good, but were almost always in second place to my habits of reaching for the same books over and over again.

The problem with reaching for the same books over and over again (especially if you're reading theology books) is that your view of the world is shaped by these books, and if you keep reading them again and again, then you're in danger of cementing your worldview with no hope of growth.

So when you're looking for new voices, where do you look? Does the Amazon recommended section help? Do you have trusted friends who share what they're reading with you? Do you have a book club? What are you reading now?

Good questions to ponder!

What comes out of our mouths.


Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

I realized something nasty about myself the other day. I caught it when I was having a conversation with someone at work. We were talking about something ministry related (kind of proves my point that I can't remember what it was). And the whole way through, I think maybe six or seven times, I brought up the bike ride I was gearing up for. I was pretty proud of myself for all the work I was doing (still am in fact), but I walked away from that conversation thinking "Man, I must think I'm cool."

I didn't like it one bit!

After some deep introspection and examination, I realized that I had a couple of other tricks to get you guys to make me feel pretty cool:

1. Make jokes about myself. This does one of two things: It either beats you to the punch of making fun of me, so that I can control the impact, or it makes people give me a compliment to balance the joke out. Either way, I make fun of myself, and you make me feel better. I am a jerk.

2. Make every story about me. Dang, I am good at this one. You might be telling me about something deep and personal in your life, something that takes incredible bravery to share with someone, and I will take every opportunity given to me to share some trivial story about me that makes me look cool. I am a big jerk.

3. I write a blog. I am a colossal jerk.

Then I read the passage above, and I started to think through a beautiful world. What if everything I said wasn't meant to make me look cool, but was meant to make other people feel good about themselves? What if every comment that came out of my mouth lifted my friends up, rather than lifted me up? What if when I asked someone how they were doing, I actually cared what their answer was rather than just using it as a means to get them to ask about me?

I've been trying this for about a month now, and truthfully, I'm not very good at it yet. I walk away from conversations thinking "Dang it...could have done that better!" But truthfully, just trying to keep it on the front of my mind helps.

How much time and energy do you dedicate to thinking about what you say? Am I alone in feeling this way, or is it a more common experience?

Share away!

Getting Away


A few weeks ago, I went away for a couple of days to Pine Springs camp. I had planned on making a get-away once a year when I took the job at Westminster, and it turns out that I've been successful only twice. More on this at the end.

What do I do on these retreats? It's one of the hardest simple things to do:

1. Sit quietly. I have been an advocate of making sure that we're opening our ears and our hearts for what God might have to say to us, but the truth is that I am one of the worst in the world when it comes to putting that concept into practice. An hour without my headphones is too much. But at the onset of the retreat, I sat on the couch in the cabin and just listened. I've never actually heard an audible voice doing this (though who knows what might come next time), but it's more like a cleansing of the palate. As was the case with this retreat, God was going to speak the whole time. I needed to get my head straight and be ready for it.

2. Read. Mike Yaconelli wrote in his book Getting Fired for the Glory of God that youth workers are horrible about reading. Guilty. But like anything, the busyness of life can get in the way. I don't have time to read when I'm getting ready for that lock-in next week. So to take a couple of days to get away and get a few books under my belt, as well as some much needed personal scripture reading, was welcomed. By the way, reading entire books of the bible in a single sitting is amazing, and you should do it as often as you can. Changes the whole perspective.

3. Relax. This is hard. Very hard in fact. It feels selfish. But the hard reality of it all is that you are useless to those you minister to (and we all minister to someone) if you are tired, burned out, at the end of your rope. Really at that point, you're just annoying. So I had little problem grabbing pizza from Dusty's and listening to the Penguins game (an over-time thriller).

4. Journal. I'm a writer by nature, so I'm sure people will have a hard time with that one. But as I mentioned previously, I think God was speaking to me the whole time I was in the cabin. For as random as my reading selections were, there were a few common themes that kept coming up as I was reading both my books and the scriptures. Writing it down and then piecing it together at the end of the retreat really gave me a chance to see a bigger picture, one that I truly think God put on my heart.

Now the problem here (and it should be obvious) is that not everyone has the flexibility to take a silent retreat. Work sometimes gets in the way. Families get in the way (by the by, Sarah is super awesome and supportive about this kind of thing in my life). Life gets in the way. But for as much as I was putting it off for a couple of years, it truly helps me minister to folks better.

So I urge you, even if it seems like a stretch, take the time to get away. Go somewhere you'd love to be. Take only what you need with you. And most of all, take an open heart, ready to hear what God's going to say for your life!

Another great way to start the day!


A good way to end the night/start the day!


House Keeping.


I know, I know, you've heard it before. But I really am going to try to spend some more time on the J-Blog.

Starting with this dazzling new theme you see. It's my favorite that I've had so far.

Unfortunately, it does have one draw back (at least as far as I can see). It's hard to tell where to make a comment.

See that little green word bubble next to the picture at the top of this post? That's where it's at.

Of course as always I encourage comments, but only as long as their civil and respectful.

Sorry for the confusion! Enjoy the Monday!

What to make of Osama Bin Laden


Greetings friends.

I was about three seconds away from going to bed last night when I read the news on my Twitter feed (there should be a whole other post about this!) that Osama Bin Laden is dead. What followed was a series of emotions, distaste for the news industry in our country (what else is new?), and a tremendous number of questions. I don't know that I have any answers, but I think that's ok. I think we just need to ask ourselves some questions as a nation right now. So, in no particular order:

1. Is it ok to celebrate the death of someone? Even if that someone was evil?

2. Does it make me less patriotic that I don't want to celebrate his death?

3. Why didn't anyone (at least while I was watching) take a moment last night to thank our troops? Say what you want about everything that's happened in the last ten years (and some of us could say plenty), but our support of the finest men and women in the world should be absolute! Where were they last night?

4. What do people who lost loved ones on 9/11 feel after last night?

5. Did it really bring closure? Or are they still mourning/suffering/grieving this morning?

6. How do we best support them?

7. How will we channel the (at least presumed) feelings of unity in the country right now?

8. Why does it take something terrible (death) to bring about this sense of unity?

9. What are the implications on our relationship with the Muslim nations of the world right now?

10. What does this do for/to my faith?

11. How do we fit passages like Matthew 5:44 into a national situation like this?

12. How could we possibly talk about anything else at youth group on Wednesday night?

13. What if one of the kids asks a question I don't have a good answer for?

14. What if I have a good answer, but they don't like it?

15. Is Wolf Blitzer growing a playoff beard?

16. If we want to celebrate something, why not celebrate our freedoms?

17. How do you even do that?

18. Fireworks?

19. Hotdogs?

20. Starbucks? (Ok, actually that one has an answer)

21. If we're so desperate to celebrate that we're willing to celebrate a man's death, is it because we needed him to die, or is it because we've been desperate for something to celebrate lately?

22. If it's the second, then why is the Church so miserable at promoting joy and celebration?

23. What's my role as a leader in the Church in promoting joy and celebration?

24. Is this blog post too depressing?

25. Or is it actually raising questions that we need to deal with?

26. Back to Matthew 5:44, how do I pray for Osama Bin Laden?

27. Should I pray for his family?

28. Should I pray for the rest of Al-Quidea?

29. If yes, what in the world should I pray for them for?

30. That they find Christ?

31. That they stumble into Christ-like lives?

32. Would they even know a Christ-like life if they saw one?

33. Isn't that my job?

34. Aren't I doing a terrible job at that?

These are just questions. Some of them feel like they should have answers, but I'm not sure if I have answers to any of these questions. Of course, with as much respect for each other as we can muster, I would welcome a civil discussion here in the comments if you feel like you have something to share.