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


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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!