We've Moved!!!!

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Sold sign1

Hello friends!

The J-Blog has officially moved to our new home.

www.j-blog.net

Please update your browser's bookmarks and RSS feeds. See you at the new place!

Moving Sale 4: My favorite series

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Youth specialties

Hey friends! 

 

Here it is, the last official post on the J-Blog in this location! Tomorrow, we're going to move to the new site, which you will be able to find at (www.j-blog.net). Tune in tomorrow for Photo Friday and some intro posts!

 

To close things out, one of the things that I love to blog about most is when we take our annual trip to the National Youth Workers Convention. But a few years ago, I wrote one of my favorite YS summaries. After spending a few hours this morning pouring over the J-Blog, I think these posts represent some of my favorite writing I've done here. And so I shamelessly share it with you!

 

NYWC #0: Traveling

NYWC #1: Photo Blog

NYWC #2: Time Machine

NYWC #3: Challeneged

NYWC #4: Photo Blog 2

NYWC #5: Me Time

NYWC #6: Photo Blog 3

NYWC #7: Worship

NYWC #8: Photoblog 4

NYWC #9: Going Home

 

Tomorrow's the big day! Woohooooo!

Moving Sale 2: Anne Rice

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Good morning bloggers! 

First of all, good news! The J-Blog move is going a lot smoother than I had originally hoped, so the new site will launch officially on Friday! We'll wrap up the moving sale this week and then move over there for the first post in the new digs! Should be great!

Until then, check out this gem from the J-Blog's history. I wrote a quick piece on Anne Rice, and what her decision to leave Christianity was teaching all of us. It is to this day the single most commented on story in the J-Blog, so it deserves a second look. Enjoy!

Quitting Christianity: What Anne Rice is teaching us all


Posted by Jason Freyer at 9:42 AM Thursday, August 26, 2010
Anne Rice1 thumbGreetings bloggers!
A few months ago, Anne Rice stated on her Facebook page that in the name of Jesus Christ, she was quitting Christianity and was no longer a Christian.
It's taken me this long to get around to this post because that sentence is tough to wrap your mind around. How can a person quit Christianity in the name of Jesus? What's really at the heart of Anne Rice's comment here? What does it mean for those of us who are in the Church and in Church leadership?

Rice's comments make sense in a world where we're told it's perfectly ok to be spiritual but not religious. On the plus side, it would appear to this casual observer that there are more people than ever who are interested in the life and teachings of Jesus. People are opening the scriptures and seeing the God of the Universe who cares for and loves their souls. These people fall head over heels for the savior.

But they simply can't stand his followers.

These folks read the scriptures, particularly the teachings of Jesus, and as their eyes glance up from the page they notice that the people in the pews around them are nothing like the savior has asked of them. They see the horrible things we are capable of doing in the name of Jesus, the way we treat each other, and the way we treat people who disagree with us, and they want out.

So the question is, can you be spiritual, but not be religious? Is it possible to lead a life of devotion to Christ but not be a part of the community of faith? Yes and no I think. I understand the heart of this feeling, the desire to distance oneself from "organized religion" (a phrase I find pretty funny, because as someone who works in the church I realize that it's seldom organized). I can even understand feeling like you're capable of accomplishing more on your own than you could with a group of infighting Christians.

But the truth is, you need that connection. You need that community. You need encouragement when things aren't going your way and challenge to see things differently when needed. You need to have your viewpoints challenged by caring and loving people who are willing to invest in you. I personally think everyone should be a part of a small group, a team of people who will listen to your life stories and help you put things in perspective. Sure, the Church can be ugly. To quote Augustine, the Church may be a whore, but she's my mother.

So Anne, I see where you might have felt compelled to quit Christianity. But I also beg you to seek out those of us who are trying to make authentic and purposeful communities, trying to live the life that Jesus has laid out for us.

Perhaps we should spend less time worrying about being Christians and worry more about being disciples.

Godspeed,

J

Moving Sale 3: My New Monster

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Hello friends!


I accidentally published what was supposed to be this morning's blog post last night. Oops! So we'll do another one today. Don't forget, we'll be moving to the new digs on Friday!


This is the single most viewed post in J-Blog history, and frankly I have no idea why. It clocks in 3446 hits, 1400 some more than the next competitor. Why you guys like this one, I may never know, but here it is anyway. Enjoy!


My New Monster

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 (http://granfondony.com/) 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.

Godspeed,

Jason

Moving Sale 1: The First Post

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It's a blog!

Posted by Freyer at 4:38 PM Friday, October 24, 2008

It seems entirely appropriate to give birth to this blog just 6 short hours before embarking on an all night game of catacombs in the church. Researchers tell me such an act has about as much common sense as the following video:

 

 

 

We've all been there. We've all spent nights sleeping in the couches in our offices. We've all driven the church van home on entirely too little sleep. We've all had that feeling in the pit of our stomach when we knew we were going to kill that child if he/she uttered one more word. Chances are we even knew where we were going to hide the body.

 

 

Grave

 

 

This blog is for us, the youth leaders. It is for those of us who would rather spend our Wednesday nights dressed up as a big dork

 

 

DSC00417

 

than actually have a life and contribute to society. It is for those of us who are in love with our kids almost as much as we are in love with Jesus Christ. It is for those of us who are addicted to one of the following items:

 

 

St redbull f

 

Dunkin donuts

 

 

 

X men hugh jackman 4

I can only make a few promises to you from the on set:

1) I will make many promises about how often I plan to post on the blog. At the moment, I would like to post at least once a day, if not more.

2) I will almost never keep the first promise.

3) I promise that this blog is based on the ministry I am running in Pittsburgh. This isn't some place for big ideas that have absolutely no basis in reality. This is about real life on the front lines.

4) I promise to try not to let the fact that I am in fact a Christian get in the way of me having fun or telling fart jokes.

 

The only thing I ask from you is tons of comments. This thing is all about community, and we need to band together to make that happen.

 

So to those of us on the journey, light up one of those cheap cigars. We just had a blog!

 

 

6120151 1

 

Godspeed,

 

Jason

Moving Sale!

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Moving

Hello everybody!

 

October 24th 2008 is a day that I am certain almost no one remembers. I can't imagine anything of national importance happened that day. I think it was really just a pretty standard Friday afternoon. But it is for sure a day that will live in infamy. For you see, October 24th was the day the J-Blog was born. 

 

I don't even think it was called the J-Blog at first. I think it was just something like Psycho Youth Min or something like that. The early days were weird. Really, it was like I wanted to copy the Pensblog for youth ministry. It did not go well. Those guys are excellent at being them, and I am very much not. But the point was, I had a blog that I wanted to write about youth ministry, life, and the occasional ramble rant that would come across my mind. I had no aspirations of having anyone read the thing. I just wanted to write what came to my mind because I enjoyed writing. 

 

4 years later, this thing is out of hand! You guys are unbelievably supportive, showing up to read the J-Blog each and every day, sharing your thoughts with me on Facebook or in the comments, starting wonderful debates, and taking this thing much farther than I ever intended for it to go. So thanks for being along for the ride! 

 

As a result of all this support, and the ads that are wonderfully placed by Google, the J-Blog made enough money this year that it can move into a web hosting space all its own. It's not that the good ship blogger hasn't been extremely kind to us, but a new place to call home would allow us to do a lot more stuff than we're capable of right now at the moment. I think it's going to be unbelievably fun and exciting!

 

But, these things take time. There's a lot to set up and do over at the new place, so I think we'll be about two weeks or so before we're 100% ready to launch, including the prospect of importing everything from this J-Blog over to the new one so it feels like one coherent thought, just in two different locations. So while we're waiting, and while I'm neck deep in trying to understand the Hebrew Language, I thought we'd have ourselves a good old fashioned moving sale! When you have a moving sale, you tend to clear out the attic. Some things you find that you wish would just stay buried, and some things you find are treasures of the highest order. But at least in my case, I have fun remembering all the joys and difficulties as I sort through the old stuff. So each day for the next little while, we're going to re-post a classic J-Blog to reminisce together. Some of it will make me cringe with how bad my writing was in the beginning. Some of it is actually quite inspiring. Some of it is just weird and crazy. 

 

We'll keep that up for a little while, and then as soon as it's ready I'll post the link to the new J-Blog and we'll start a wonderful new adventure together! I'm looking forward to it!

Tech Saturday (on a Sunday!): Planning Center Online

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Imgres

Hello friends! 

 

Sorry I haven't been on schedule around here on the J-Blog. It's been a busy season with a final paper and a new language to learn down at the seminary, as well as the kickoff of a few things at Westminster that need my attention. But, happy happy news is coming to the J-Blog, and I'm hoping to make that announcement next week! In the meantime, accept as my apology a late Tech Saturday offering, and we'll see you all again on Tuesday!

 

To quote Rob Bell, I would screw up a one car parade. My administrative abilities are negligible at best, and disastrous at worst. Before the advent of iCloud, and the ability to keep all of my calendars and to-do lists in a single space, my desk, car, refrigerator, backpack, and palm were covered in sticky notes and reminders, about half of which I ever remembered to follow through on. My arrival at Westminster forced me to change my habits when it comes to planning and personal discipline, because the mistakes you might be able to get away with in a smaller church can be devastating in a larger environment.

 

One of the hardest things to keep straight and going was planning for our Bridge worship service. The way we've always put it that makes sense to me is that the Bridge is made up of many moving parts, each of which are changing from week to week. There are two primary worship leaders, who are both sometimes out of town. There are (at the moment anyway) 5 regular preachers. There are dozens and dozens of skilled and talented musicians who have cycled through our doors in the last 5 years, almost none of whom work for the church. And so we have to keep it all straight, some how we have to manage this monster of a thing called the Bridge, and in a perfect world, do so in such a way that to the congregation it seems seamless and smooth. 

 

This is not an easy task! 

 

Enter Planning Center Online. This outstanding web based service has helped us to keep track of what's going on from week to week and keep everybody in the loop. There are any number of excellent features on this site, and truth be told I still don't think I have figured out how to use it to its full advantage yet. But here for the sake of a blog post are a few of the features that have changed our worship service, and that I think could help you organize yours:

 

1. PDF downloads with YouTube Videos. We are forced because of the temporary nature of our worship space to run the no huddle worship team, meaning we do not have a weekly rehearsal time to get things ready for the Sunday to come. So one of the challenges we faced early on was how can we best equip our musicians to be ready to play when they walk in the door for a quick hour long sound-check that doubled as rehearsal? 

 

In Planning Center, you are able to upload PDF files of your chord charts. Our habit is to simply download the chart directly from CCLI when we can, and upload the PDF to planning center. That way each musician has the ability to download the music on their own when they're scheduled for worship. You can also attach a youtube video to the song in question, so that musicians can listen to the song and maybe even practice along with it with the chord charts. A few of our musicians show up to practice on Sunday mornings with their charts all marked up and highlighted, so they know what to expect when they walk in the door. 

 

2. When did we use that song last? We try our best to limit the number of times we repeat a song in worship, because we don't want to get bogged down singing "How Great is Our God" for ten weeks in a row. But because we have several different worship leaders sharing the workload, it's hard to keep track of what we do from week to week. Planning Center offers us a Matrix view, where we can see how each of the last few services shaped up, and what songs we might need to step away from, or what songs we haven't done in a while that could use re-introducing. 

 

This feature is also great when it comes to be our turn to participate in CCLI reporting. Planning Center can communicate directly with your CCLI account and report the songs we're doing from week to week, to make sure that the goofy worship leader doesn't forget to do so on Tuesday morning after staff meeting! One less thing to worry about in a busy week.

 

3. Scheduling. This is the biggest help for us. Once we know who's leading worship on a particular week, they can sign into planning center and set a schedule for each of our musicians. The musicians themselves can even help things along by letting us know which weeks they are unavailable, so that we can avoid scheduling them or schedule someone else. When someone declines an invitation, Planning Center can help suggest people who might be able to fill that role. 

 

Planning Center is a monthly subscription service. The cheapest package is zero dollars a month, so you really owe it to yourself to at least give it a shot! Plus, they do an incredible job with their video tutorials so that you know your way around the service. Stop on by and check it out today!

 

www.planningcenteronline.com

Faith, Politics, Hope, and Civil Discourse

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Religion politics article thumb

Hello everybody,

 

I am a firm believer in Church leadership trying to the best of their ability to keep from broadcasting their political views. Sure, faith has a place in politics as does politics in faith, but as someone who is being paid to teach, lead, and ultimately influence a congregation (or in my case a subset of that congregation) it just feels wrong to try to sway people's vote. Understand, that's not what I intend to do here.

 

I have been keeping a silent watch on my Facebook timeline, as people I know and love dearly have posted photoshopped images, which I suppose are this year's equivalent of bumper stickers. I have wanted to comment on several people's glaring inaccuracies on both sides of the isle. I have wanted to ask what the purpose of posting such snarky images was doing to add to the political discourse. I have wanted to ask where those facts came from, and if in fact they could handle the label "facts." But I do not. 

 

For one thing, we as a nation have completely lost sight of what it looks like to disagree civilly. If you support a woman's right to choose, I get to label you a baby killer and not listen to what you have to say. If you want to increase taxes on the wealthy to support programs like public education, I get to label you a socialist and not listen to what you have to say. If you are appearing on the other news channel than the one that I frequently tune to, I get to not listen to what you have to say. Come to think of it, it would appear that our nations political strategy (hear me on this, both sides of the isle) is to not listen while screaming our views even louder. 

 

Perhaps most frustrating is when both sides invoke God in their policies. You could make a pretty strong argument that the Republicans are trying to please God in their policies. You could make a pretty strong argument that the Democrats are trying to please God in their policies. I don't know anybody who could make a strong argument that God is being glorified in the way we treat those who disagree with us. Let's look at the best example we have. Jesus had disagreements with the Pharisees on a daily basis. He had some harsh words for them, and for the way they practiced their beliefs. But is there a scriptural example of Jesus not listening to their questions. There is not a scriptural example of Jesus reducing their argument to a cartoonish over-simplification. And while this is easy to forget, in the end when Jesus laid down his life for sinful humanity, he laid down his life for those Pharisees with whom he aggressively disagreed with.  

 

Let's get real. No one in the current climate would lay down their life for the other party, would they? Not when it's so much easier to shout our opinion louder and ignore those we disagree with. These are important issues we're discussing and debating. They deserve more than the easy route. They deserve more than a post on our Facebook. They deserve more than the ratings lifting snarky comment. 

 

So I'm not here to influence your political views. Like I said, if you stop and think about it for more than 30 seconds you can see that both sides have at their core a desire to glorify God, and I respect that. What I am hoping to influence (and this is a big dream on my part) is the conversation. What would it look like if you stopped posting or re-posting snarky images to your Facebook page? What would it look like if you questioned the validity of your facts before you used them in an argument? What would it look like to watch the other news channel for a while, if for no other reason than to get a feel for what the other side believes? What would it look like to take the attacks out of our politics, and replace them with a vigorous debate about ideas? 

 

At the risk of sounding overly patriotic, this political climate is not America. It's not worthy of the great nation that has lit the world with freedom for over 200 years. It makes a laughing stock of the gift of democracy to the rest of the world. It is an abuse of freedom in such a way that suggests we don't know what freedom really is. And it certainly makes a mockery of the God who makes us free through his Son to drag his name through all of it. It's time to stop. 

 

Will you join me? Will you stand up and speak out against this combative political discourse prevailing in this nation? Will you show love to the other side, whoever they may happen to be? Would you pray for your enemies, even in the political arena? Or better yet, will you come to the realization that the other party isn't the enemy, just people seeking to serve the nation in a different way than you see fit? 

 

Book Review: Extraordinary Leaders in Extraordinary Times

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Extraordinary Leaders in Extraordinary Times Volume 1 9780802829771

Hello friends!

 

We're back after a great Tech Free Monday Sabbath (TFMS), and we're offering up a book review. I actually finished the book a while ago, but seeing as this book was authored by my professor, I figured I would get a better handle on the book after the class was over. Usually, I struggle with professors who use their own books as a text book for a course they're teaching. It sometimes comes off as shameless self promotion, which I don't really want to deal with in a class I'm paying for. But that wasn't the case with Extraordinary Leaders in Extraordinary Times.


For one thing, this book is based largely on research in the field of New Church Development (NCDs for those of us in the biz...) and not based on the authors' opinions. The basic question was this: If there are NCDs that are effective and NCDs that flop, are there specific attributes of the leadership of those church plants that are consistent across the board? Is there one type of church planter who will be successful? 

 

The short answer after the class is no. While you can discover a few traits that will more frequently lead to success, like being a "Catalytic innovator", many of the church planters we met with during the class failed to contain all or even some of the tier one attributes from Extraordinary Leaders. At the end of the day, if God calls you to plant a church, God has called you to plant a church.

 

That said, if you are feeling that call on your life, this book is a MUST HAVE resource. It, combined with several other books on pastoral skill sets, can enlighten the attributes that you are strongest at, and also give you something to work towards on your weakest attributes. For instance, I think I'm a pretty strong Catalytic Innovator, in that I love few things more than staring at a blank whiteboard and making a new program or dream come to life through brainstorming, visioning, and discussing things with co-workers and friends. However, my desire to share my faith in one on one situations has been less than stellar. So after reading Extraordinary Leaders I have tried to spend some time hanging out with lost people. 

 

Also, it's worth mentioning that though these skill sets are specifically found in NCD pastors, those who lead existing churches probably have a good bit to learn from Extraordinary Leaders. The data from focus groups in particular helped to color in some views that I share, and challenge a few of my thoughts on church development. But even as a youth leader, there were practical tips and ideas that we can bring to Veritas right from the pages of this book. 

 

If there were any critiques of the book, they would be that it's based on surveys and research, and so at certain points read a little like a statistics manual. But when compared to how much like a statistics manual it could read, it's an extremely well written book. Also with the use of focus group data across several authors, occasionally you will find quotes re-used several times, making the book feel a bit repetitive. 

 

All that said, this book is required reading for anyone considering planting a church. It will surely live on my shelf and come out occasionally during times of prayer for discernment about where to go after seminary. But we get to go farther than the usual book review on this one. This book was followed up with one of the most innovative, creative, and inspiring classes I've ever had, and so tomorrow we'll be reviewing the class itself. You don't want to miss that!

Building towards Sabbath part two: Technology Saturday

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Iphone 4 review 21 user interface

Good morning bloggers!

 

As I left you in the last part of this series, I had come to the sudden realization that I had not taken a real Sabbath in a while. It is indeed a spiritual discipline, in that it's extremely easy to fall out of if you're not careful. The feeling that comes from falling out of the Sabbath practice is subtle, creeping up on you until one day you're cursing your phone out while driving down RT 28 in the middle of the day like a lunatic. 

 

So what is a Sabbath? Take a moment to reflect on this definition from Exodus:

 

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

 

So really, at the heart of things, this is about not doing any work. That would be hard enough, right? It leads to some pretty serious discussions about what is work. Our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Jewish tradition believe that even something as simple as turning on a light switch would qualify as work. That's not as really silly as it sounds though. Is a game of dodgeball work? It is to a youth pastor! Work can be defined in lots of different ways by lots of different people. I think at the end of the day, it's a heart issue for each person. 

 

What helps to solidify things is a sneaky little phrase in this passage, one that is too easy to look over. The seventh day is a sabbath TO the Lord your God. It's as if God knows (because he does) that the things we do as work actually wind up separating us from Him. God wants just one day out of our week where our primary focus is on Him, and our relationship with him. He wants us to stop producing things. He wants us to stop placing our value or hope in the things that we DO. He wants (I believe) to speak into us our worth and value, and he needs our undivided attention to do it. 

 

So if you were going to start a Sabbath-keeping practice, what would you do? What kinds of things would you stop doing because they get in the way of your relationship with God? What kinds of things would you have to START doing to enhance your relationship with God? If you find God in nature, would it be beneficial to have a day each week where you spent the majority of it outside? If you find God with people, would it be beneficial to have a day where you invited your closest friends over for a meal? 

 

For me, I realize that while I have a deep and profound love of technology like my Macbook, iPhone, iPad (ok, maybe just Apple Tech) that these things do little to nothing to enhance my relationship with God. I understand I could use them for that, and wouldn't discourage anyone who would want to go down that road on their Sabbath. But my technology devices remind me of work. The texts, e-mails, tweets, Facebook messages, all point in the direction of work sometimes, which can make Sabbath hard. I combine that with the fact that as an introvert, I connect with God best when I can sit on my porch for a while, reading, studying scripture, praying, and thinking in silence. So a new Sabbath for me looks like a Monday where I shut the phone off, leave the laptop at work, keep the TV at bay, and spend time in study and prayer. I would deeply encourage each of you to figure out what activities keep you from God and which activities enhance your relationship with God, and set aside (the definition of Holy by the way) a day to the Lord.

 

Incidentally, this presents a problem for the olde J-Blog. Monday is the first day of writing, and writing is a big part of what keeps me sane. You'll note that I've had more posts in August this year than I have in any month in the last three years. But if my laptop is turned off, I can't very well write for the J-Blog. What to do, what to do?

 

And so we're introducing Tech Saturday. I'm going to move the whole J-Blog's week back a day, so there will be no posts on Mondays. But then, on Saturday, since I'll be turning off my tech on Monday, we'll spend a little bit of time on the intersection of Technology with our four big areas (Youth Min, Worship, Seminary, and Book Reviews). I'll work through products, apps, websites, and other things related to the techy world. I think it will be fun! If you have any ideas for a Tech Saturday post, please let me know!

 

As for me, it's time for a Sabbath. See you next week J-Bloggers!

Photo Friday: Sunrise and Music

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266486148 41c217a7bb

Good morning friends!

 

I have some more thoughts to continue in the Sabbath series that we'll get to this afternoon. But I wanted to share a moment of worship with you all that I experienced this morning. Sometimes worship creeps up on us. Sometimes it's the absolute last thing we're expecting. I was driving in to school this morning, watching the sun come up over the city across the Liberty Bridge, and this song came up on my iPod and just set the whole tone for the day. 

 

 

Take a moment today to just appreciate God's creation. Even if it's in a traffic saturated commute to work or school. Put on a song that resonates with you, that speaks to beauty, and just enjoy what God has for you. 

 

More to come later today!

Building towards Sabbath part one: The Phone

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Cellphone battery

Greetings friends,

 

This week has been a week of discovery, and it's all leading somewhere pretty special. But I think you should see it develop the way that I did, and so we're going to go through a bit of a series for the next few days. Fun for all I tell ya!

 

Yesterday was our Veritas kickoff. 3 months of waiting, dreaming, planning, vision casting, praying, and excitement were about to give way to our 6th year of ministry at Westminster. A massive collection of people were involved in making it come together, including student leaders, parent volunteers, and staff people. 

 

Yesterday also happened to be another day in my all-day long intensive class about church planting. As I mentioned in the last series, I want to do my best job possible to be present during the class, and so I've gotten in the habit of turning my phone off at the beginning of class, and not turning it back on again until I get into the car to drive home. I have also completely geeked out and set the following sound as my phone's text tone: 

 

 

I think that's enough background for what's coming next. 

 

I got into the car, turned on the phone and started to take off for Westminster. As soon as the phone turned on, the texts started rolling in:

 

"What time do we start tonight?"

 

 

"Is so and so going to be here?"

 

 

"It's the kickoff, are we going to have the same leadership needs as a normal night?"

 

"I'm in college, and I'm still getting the text alerts. Can you take me off the list?"

 

"How much does the corn hole tournament cost?"

 

These are just the ones I read in the parking space, as texting while driving is dangerous and in no way recommended by the J-Blog. From there I began my hour long trek to Westminster. And every few minutes or so, I'd get another text, and I'd hear the same mario brothers noise. Using my bluetooth headset, I had Siri read the texts to me, all basic questions about what was going on in ministry that night. I may have imagined it, but I think even Siri was a little bit out of breath reading my messages to me as I drove. 

 

I actually started getting angry. Don't get me wrong, if you're one of the people that texted me I wasn't angry at any one person or at any one person's question, but just at the sheer volume of texts I was getting. At first I was angry at the idea that so many people would wait until the last second to ask questions. Then that they had questions at all. Then that gave way to realizing that had I done a better job of communicating what was going on that night I probably wouldn't be getting so many texts. Then I got angry at myself. And then I realized it was just the beginning of the year!

 

After careful reflection later that night, I realized that the anger wasn't about anything it seemed like it was about. And actually it wasn't anger at all. It was anxiety pretending to be anger. It was the build up of a long period of not resting, of not getting by myself, of not allowing myself to recharge. As I sat on the couch last night and reflected on things, I realized that I was out of the habit of keeping Sabbath. 

 

It's a spiritual discipline that comes and goes for me. When it's an active part of my faith journey, I find that I am much more capable of handling stressful and busy moments. When it's not there, I all too quickly become completely unspooled. It needs to be there, and last night came the realization that it hadn't been there for a long time. Something needed to change.

 

But then the questions start to arise. What is Sabbath? Is it simply a day off? Is it where no work is done at all? If so, then what is work? And how would you prepare for a Sabbath so that you could resist the temptation to work on the Sabbath? What if no one else takes a Sabbath? What would you say to them? How would you get them to respect the space you need? And what would your relationship with God do on a Sabbath? How would you reconnect the broken places in your faith journey? 

 

All these questions (and so much more) come in part two!

A humbling question!

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4811 11jena

Greetings friends,

 

As I've mentioned before, I'm in an intensive class this week (it turned out to be a one week class instead of two) on church planting at the seminary. I think on Saturday you can look forward to a post about this class, as it has been one of the most unique and innovative classes I've ever been a part of. But more on that later.

 

Part of the class is that we are to pair up with someone as a prayer partner and spend some time each day praying for each other and for the class. My prayer partner Judy and I meet every morning before class, and start our day out with the exact same question:

 

"How can I pray for you today?"

 

On the surface, particularly to those of us who are in ministry, this can seem like such a meaningless statement. We might throw it out there the same way many people answer "Fine and you?" to the question "How are you?" without thinking. It's built into the job, it's part of the lexicon, it's an afterthought, it's not much to worry about or get excited over. But being on the receiving end of that question for the last few days, it's really been a humbling, inspiring, and encouraging experience for me. Perhaps it's the weight of the question itself, or perhaps it's even that the asker in this case isn't asking it in an afterthought kind of way. Judy is legitimately asking to step inside my world, and join me in praying to God. What an honor!

 

When a phrase is staring to lose its significance for me, one of the things I try to do is to move it to places you wouldn't usually expect it. We anticipate hearing the pastor ask "How can I pray for you?" in a church building, especially on Sunday. We expect it at certain points in a conversation. We expect it in all kinds of places. What if we started using it outside of where it was expected? What if we started asking people how we can pray for them at work? What if we started asking them out to lunch or coffee, just to see how best we could pray for them? Are you asking your students, whom we all spend a great deal of time entertaining and teaching, how you can best remember them in your prayers? Are you then remembering to pray for them? Weekly? Daily? 

 

Prayer is a powerful agent. Prayer is the connection point between God and us. To have someone offer to pray for you is humbling. It leaves me at time speechless, because it's one thing to think that God would have time for my needs and worries (a whole other discussion) and it's another thing to think that another person would have that kind of time. So take an opportunity today to step into someone's life, and offer up some prayers in their direction. You might just make their day!

The Best Student: Worship

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Worship

Hello friends! This week marks for several students (including this author) the return to classes. In my case, I'm in a two week long intensive class which will leave me very little time to blog. And so I've set up these auto-entries to explore what it looks like to bring your A game to your work in the classroom. This week is all about being the best student!


And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

 

It has been said, correctly I believe, that most preachers only have six sermons that they preach. Six topics, all arranged in a different way, presented each week. I've thought about this long and hard when it comes to my preaching, and of course it's true. I really only have about six topics that I feel are in my wheelhouse. One of them is the concept of worship, and allowing worship to happen everywhere we are. Can you worship in the supermarket as well as you worship in your church building? Can you worship as well in the office as you do in your local chapel? And, more to our point here today, can you worship as hard while you're doing your school work as you do when you're singing your favorite hymn? 

 

The suggestion sounds absurd at first. School work as an act of worship? School work is often an excruciatingly painful experience, that students literally sing nasty songs about at the beginning and end of each and every school year. How could this be seen as an act of worship? How could this be something you praise God for allowing to be a part of your life. 

 

You realize that somewhere, somehow, along the line, participating in your studies is in fact doing what God created you to do. If you subscribe to the idea that God has a plan for your life (and I surely do) then God obviously planned for you to learn what you are learning, and to study is to exercise that call on your life. Perhaps it's difficult, but perhaps it's difficult in the same way that lifting weights is difficult to an aspiring athlete. Yes, it's not the most fun in the world. But it provides an opportunity for growth and excellence later down the line. You are learning in school to gather skills and talents, and ultimately use them in whatever vocation God is calling you towards.

 

A few ideas to keep you worship focused when you're studying:

 

1. Start every study session with prayer and scripture. Each morning, I read through the Presbyterian Church's daily lectionary. I read the morning Psalm at that point, but I save the evening Psalm for my daily study time. Whether I'm reading, or writing a paper, or any other kind of school work, I want to spend a bit of time in scripture and in prayer. Set up a little worship service for yourself right at your desk. (Incidentally, it's pretty cool to be able to go to a school where we begin each class with prayer. If you don't, gather together with a few Christian friends before each class and pray that your time of learning would also be a time of worship.)

 

2. Focus on where God is leading you through your studies. Again, maybe it's a little bit easier for me knowing that I'm pursuing a calling to ministry, but if what I mentioned above is true then God is calling you somewhere, and your studies are the road that takes you there. It's easy in the middle of the journey to forget where exactly it is you're going. A dear friend of mine gave me a pastor's stole for when I graduate, and I have it hanging next to my desk. Every time I sit down to read something I don't want to read, I try my best to remember where I'm going, and where this thing is leading me. 

 

Just some thoughts. Thanks for hanging in there on this series! More to come tomorrow! 

The Best Student: Organization

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Clutter

Hello friends! This week marks for several students (including this author) the return to classes. In my case, I'm in a two week long intensive class which will leave me very little time to blog. And so I've set up these auto-entries to explore what it looks like to bring your A game to your work in the classroom. This week is all about being the best student!

 

I can think of at least 30 people just off the top of my head who are more qualified than I am to write this post. I'm married to one of them! But all the same, as I've said a few times already in this series, my expertise comes from well cultivated failures. 

 

For example, my desk both in my office and here at home are perpetually cluttered. If you are willing to apply the label of creative to yourself, chances are you are intimately familiar with this idea. Throughout history some of the worlds most creative people have been the messiest. Something about the creative person doesn't want to be held together with the walls of traditional organization. We feel oppressed, which ultimately leads us to holding signs of protest outside some important historical landmark, which of course we do to avoid having to clean. 

 

My youth pastor told us an analogy once. Imagine you had a pet goldfish in front of you. His name is Bob. Bob swims along quite happily in his two gallon bowl, with the colorful pebbles on the floor and the plastic scuba diver you threw in for good measure. And yet as you stare at Bob, you realize that Bob is really quite confined. After all, two gallons is not a whole lot of water! And it seems that from time to time as Bob is swimming, he forgets that there is glass there holding him back and he smashes his face up against the wall. Finally having enough, you reach in and grab Bob from his fish-bowl prison and set him out on the table. "There," you say, "Now he's free to go wherever he'd like." 

 

Bob will only flop around for a few moments in this new freedom before he dies of suffocation. For Bob you see, the boundaries are what keep him alive. Without the bowl to contain the water, Bob doesn't stand a chance. For as much as creative people want to throw off the oppressive boundaries of organization, it's really what keeps us alive. 

 

There's no need to go overboard. You probably don't need complex filing systems or rolodexes for contacts or even fancy database software. But you need enough organization to know which way is up. You need enough to keep track of things. 

 

Like I said, I write from a place of failure. I've screwed this up enough that I think I've got a pretty good handle on how to do it right now (finally after all these years.) And so what follows are a few tips I've come up with over the years for keeping organized while at the seminary. Use them at your peril:

 

1. Get in the cloud. If I write a reminder to myself on a sticky note, that sucker will be lost within 20 minutes never to be seen or heard from again. And so thankfully, computer technology has advanced in such a way that notes are with you wherever you go. Welcome to the cloud! I use a free program called Evernote. The notes you take on your laptop can be with you on your smartphone or tablet, or even in a pinch you can access them in the computer lab through their website. You can also search through notes, which has become increasingly handy as you get closer and closer to exam time. 

 

2. Be Consistent. When I was in high school, I changed the format of the notes I was taking just about every class. Sometimes I would take notes in an outline. Sometimes I would take them as a stream of consciousness. Sometimes I would doodle my notes. I've found that actually all three of those methods can be affective, just not at the same time! When you sit down for a class, and get a feel for what kind of teacher your professor is, pick a particular format for your notes and stick with it. It will make finding what you're looking for at exam time a little bit easier. 

 

3. Reminders in predictable places. I have a calendar on my computer and phone that I set up with all of my exams and project due dates. It dings a few days out from when something is approaching code red level danger. But I also make sure to have a heading at the top of each page of my class notes for Assignments as well as Handouts. This is so I can go back later and see exactly where in the timeline of a class particular handouts or outlines showed up in my binder. 

 

These are just a few examples of what I do to keep myself organized. Ultimately you need to find what works best for you and stick with it. If you have any suggestions, the comments section is all yours!

 

Next: We wrap up our series with Worship.

Photo Friday: More Questions than Answers

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Empire state building 1

Hello friends,

 

This morning at roughly 9 AM, a gunman walked into the Empire State building and opened fire. Ten people were shot, and two of those (including the gunman) died. This is the 3rd mass shooting to impact the United States in the last two months. And this doesn't even include the unfathomable amount of gun deaths that happen each and every day in our country that don't get the benefit of being covered on CNN. We are as a nation, as literally as we could possibly make it, killing ourselves. 

 

As best as possible, I try to avoid politics on the J-Blog. This could easily find its way towards a discussion on gun control, laws regarding carrying concealed weapons, background checks, or limiting sales of ammunition. This are all important topics, and I have strong views on all of them. But in our political climate today, I am certain that a discussion on any of these issues on the J-Blog would only lead to a food fight where nothing would be accomplished. Don't believe me? Turn on CNN right now and see who's talking. I can't even watch the news where I am right now, I'm just guessing. People will argue and argue and argue and get exactly nowhere. So let's leave that behind for a moment. 

 

Let's instead ask ourselves some questions. What has been the reason behind the most recent uptick in violence in our country? I mean even if you want to discuss the gun control argument, nothing has happened lately to make guns more or less accessible. And yet, it feels like (at least to this blogger) that violence is on the rise around here, with the shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin, and now New York. What gives? 

 

And then we have to ask the question, what are we to do with this in our ministries? What are our students feeling as a result of these attacks? Fear? Sadness? Anger? How do we best respond to them while we may be feeling the exact same things? What does the Bible have to say about these shootings? For that matter, what would Jesus' response be to all of this? Something along the lines of "Those who live by the sword die by the sword?" Or would his words be more harsh? Or would he share how broken his heart was that people living in our society could become so emotionally unbalanced that they feel the need to inflict such violence as a result? 

 

What is our role in all of this? There is so much evil that happens in the world as a direct result of my ignorance (sweatshops, less-than-fair-trade practices, etc) that I wonder if I have a hand in these violent outbursts? People seem more than willing to pass the blame around to everyone from politicians to video games, what if we all carry a share of the blame? What if ignoring that in favor of passing the blame to someone else actually contributes to the problem? What if our political climate, with all the arguing, bickering, negativity, and attacking actually leads to these situations? Maybe not directly obviously, as if some super-pac put the gun in someone's hand, but indirectly. 

 

What if all of this violence, and even the lack of civil discourse in our country, is happening because of a vacuum of hope? What if people are resorting to outlandish arguments and outbursts because they don't see another way forward? What if Christians across the country and political spectrum are called upon in Scripture to bring hope to the world, to bring light into dark places? Would those two ideas mean that we are failing our nation? Would those ideas mean that we are failing our God? How would you begin to inject hope into our situation now? Where would you start? Can we afford to continue living the way things are going? Can we afford any more hopeless situations? 

The Best Student: Creativity

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Artist

Hello friends! This week marks for several students (including this author) the return to classes. In my case, I'm in a two week long intensive class which will leave me very little time to blog. And so I've set up these auto-entries to explore what it looks like to bring your A game to your work in the classroom. This week is all about being the best student!

 

Last spring, my good friend Justin Bowers held a conference for creative people. It was amazing! Artists of all varieties were present, including musicians, photographers, filmmakers, painters, writers, chefs, dancers, and many more. And while it was amazing to spend time in the hot tub each night (gotta love a retreat house that comes with a hot tub), it was fun for me to see how creative people interact with each other. It was fun to see how people could feed off each others energy. It was fun to learn from other people about how they approached their craft. It was fun to watch how they approached things other than their crafts! 

 

In my opinion, creative people make the world go round, and not just because I feel like I am one! I think that people who approach even the most mundane things with an eye towards creativity, with an eye towards making something that no one else has made. I love people who can start with a blank piece of nothing and end up with a work of art. 

 

Maybe it doesn't feel like it at first, but school (of all kinds!) is a great place to express creativity. In any number of disciplines, whether writing a paper or taking a test or giving a presentation or even doing (gulp) math homework, you have an opportunity to make something where there was previously nothing. You have an opportunity to create. Perhaps I'm alone in getting goosebumps when that thought washes over me, but I don't think so. I think creating is something primal. I think it goes back to our creation, to being made in the image of God. At that point in the story, really the only thing God has shown himself to be about is creating. God loves speaking a fresh word into chaos, and having something beautiful appear. Each time it happens, he can't help but repeat the refrain. "It is good."

 

This is why the idea of plagiarism is so ugly to most of us. The idea of taking something that someone else created and claiming it as your own is a cop out. It's lame. It's boring. Sure it's stealing, and there's a lot of punishment that can (and will) come from that. But from that primal place, it's like saying to God that you don't want to be like him. You don't want to create something new on your own. You'd much rather take the easy way out. 

 

This is why I obsess over papers. Writing is one of my chosen art forms, and I don't ever want to do poorly on an assignment because of poor writing. All of the papers I wrote last year, I took a picture of the outline before I started writing, and a picture afterwards. Because it's just so fulfilling to start with nothing and to end with a (and I hope I'm not over stating this) work of art. It speaks deeply to me. It speaks deeply to the soul. 

 

Perhaps you don't see it that way. Maybe for you school is just that thing you do, drifting from class to class and finishing up busy work. God knows there are teachers and professors out there who only ever assign us busy work, and I think we'll all agree that they are the pits! But take some time this year to be creative. Allow yourself to go down paths you might not otherwise go. Allow yourself to make something out of nothing. Allow yourself some freedom and flexibility to bring art into your academics. Let yourself proudly wear the label of a creative. 

 

Next time: Organization

Photo Caption Contest (with prizes!)

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Hello friends!

 

I'm breaking in to the pre-posted stuff to share a photo caption contest. This fits in with the theme of both the coming beginning of the ministry season, and the rodeo we went to recently! Take  your best shot at a caption, and the winner will get a $5 donation from me in their name for the upcoming Bike: MS ride

 

Happy captioning!

 

Large 2009 07 27 ap caption contest

The Best Student: Rhythm

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Hello friends! This week marks for several students (including this author) the return to classes. In my case, I'm in a two week long intensive class which will leave me very little time to blog. And so I've set up these auto-entries to explore what it looks like to bring your A game to your work in the classroom. This week is all about being the best student!


The video you see above is an example of the work of who I believe to be one of (if not the) greatest drummer of all time. When I was growing up and learning how to play the drums, Carter Beaufort is who I looked to as a hero. I would spend hours in the basement with CDs (remember those) blasting through my sound system while I tried to mimic what Carter was capable on the drums. Mimic was the best I could hope for in that situation. The man is blessed with talent that few possess. 


And yet for all the complex and impressive the drum solo above is, Carter Beaufort and I would both admit to the same thing. Underneath all the flash and hype and lights and speed and sound, lies a basic element. Simple rhythms are pieced together in rapid succession to create the work of art you see above. Again, don't get me wrong, this is impressive. I could spend years breaking down this one solo and never be able to play it exactly as it is presented here. But beneath it all is the blueprint of rhythm. 


I don't know about you, but when I'm focused in on being a student, I find I do the best when I get to be in a sort of rhythm about the disciplines of school. I do best when I study at particular times, in particular places, with particular surroundings. I do best when I get myself into a schedule, a repeating of days events in an ordered and disciplined way. I do best when my notes are all arranged them same way from class to class, so that it's easier to find what I'm looking for when I need it. In other words, I find myself a rhythm. 


I can only write about this (and most of the other topics you'll surely discover these next two weeks) because I know what it's like to operate on the outside of rhythm in an academic setting. I know what it's like to haphazardly fall through a study schedule. I know what it's like to let the pressing needs of important things in my life drown out the constant needs of my studies. I know what it's like to be disorganized, to not be able to find where I put that stupid note to save my soul! I know what it's like to live on the outside of rhythm academically. It is not pretty. 


As we're gearing up for another year at school, what is your rhythm? What are the building blocks for your academic success? Perhaps finding your rhythm means sitting down with a calendar, and defining when study hours are going to be and keeping them as if they're an appointment with a good friend. Perhaps finding your rhythm means cleaning out a study space in your world, a place that is reserved for learning and learning alone. It can even be as simple as a wardrobe. When I am closing in on finals, I only ever wear my National Youth Workers Convention hoodie from a few years back. I don't know why, but that hoodie only shows up when I'm deep in studies. Go figure. 


We have countless tools and technologies that can help us find our rhythm. But from one techno geek to another, please remember that these tools can help us find our rhythm, but they are not our rhythm in and of themselves. A metronome is a drummers best friend. But no one would ever start a drum solo by turning on the metronome and walking off the stage. You need to use the tool properly. 


And we also need to remember that in this particular post, we're talking about the means and not the ends. Finding rhythm for the sake of finding rhythm doesn't make you a talented student. Carter Beaufort could have come out and played all the rudiments (building blocks of rhythm for percussionists) he knows and it still would not have been a very interesting solo. No, rhythm is merely step one. Step two is finding your creativity...

The Best Student: Presence

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College Student2

Hello friends! This week marks for several students (including this author) the return to classes. In my case, I'm in a two week long intensive class which will leave me very little time to blog. And so I've set up these auto-entries to explore what it looks like to bring your A game to your work in the classroom. This week is all about being the best student!

 

When I was in college, I set a world record. Not the kind that I (or my parents for that matter) would be very proud of. When it came to my major classes, I was there like clockwork. Anything dealing with religion or education, my rear was in the seat each and every day. If the class was outside my major however, I was never there. I had discovered that no one was going to get mad at me or say anything if I didn't show up, and so I often didn't. As a not too surprising result, I would do very well in my major classes, and my grades in my other classes left much to be desired. 

 

I'm older and wiser now, and hopefully you are too. Hopefully if you're in school you realize that not attending your classes is a fairly ridiculous idea. But what if showing up for class is about more than simply walking in the door? What if presence is more than simply filling a chair? 

 

I can't tell you how many nights last year during seminary that I walked into class after a long day, well beyond tired. I would be in the chair, and I would even take notes, but I wasn't there mentally. I wasn't present. Or perhaps I did have plenty of energy, and I was on top of my game. But speaking of games, the Penguins were on that night, and my eyes were glued to my score center updates! I wasn't present. 

 

Presence is very important when it comes to being a good student. In our multi-tasking culture, we have likely all mastered what it looks like to float through an activity while our minds are somewhere else. We might look pretty engaged, but in the end we're as far away from the topic as we could get. Our minds are back home, or in our beds, or in our troubles, or in our joys. 

 

For me, if I'm going to continue as a seminary student, then I need to give it my all. This means going to class well rested. This means setting the distractions aside (at least as best as possible). This means being present. Anything less is actually a lack of respect. It's disrespectful to the professor who has been planning this material for you. It's disrespectful to your classmates, who are trying their best to learn without disruption. And truthfully, it's disrespectful of yourself. You deserve better!

 

And it doesn't hurt to actually go to classes every once in a while!


Next time: Rhythm 

...as yourself.

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25 affirm selfesteem1

A rare Saturday morning post to wrap up the Basics series. Pretend it's like cartoons!

 

We've been studying what the basics of youth ministry looks like by studying what Jesus seemed to think were the basics to faith. The most important commandments in the Law. The entire Law and Prophets hang on these two ideas. In other words, these weren't throw away words. These words are meant to be savored, each and every last one of them. 

 

When we come to the last words, we may be tempted to think that this is the least important part of the commandment. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Think of this series of commandments like a great detective story: the real plot twist comes right at the very end. 

 

We left off with Jesus telling us to love our neighbor, a task that in this day and age seems to be very difficult for most of us. Stories like bullying and political fighting and wars and rumors of wars lead us to believe that not a whole lot of people have a firm grasp on what it means to love our neighbors. But Jesus doesn't just blindly point us toward loving our neighbors. Jesus gives us context. We are to love our neighbors as yourself. In other words, the same level of respect and dignity we have for ourselves, we should have for our neighbors. 

 

Do me a favor, take a second and turn on any 24 hour cable news channel, and watch for 15 minutes. I don't care which channel it is, and I wrote this on Thursday night so I have no idea what news stories are dominating the headlines right now. But I'm willing to bet that in 15 minutes, you will come across at least one, maybe two situations where clearly someone has neglected to love their neighbor. Maybe it was the politicians, maybe it was the criminals, maybe those are the same people, or maybe even the commentators relaying the story to us. Either way, here I am a whole 36 hours away from this going live and I'm fairly confident we won't have to look hard to find someone avoiding loving their neighbor. 

 

The reason for this problem can really only be one of two things: either 1) we have completely lost compassion in the face of the challenges of the 21st century, and we really do think that everyone out there is a miserable little twirp who deserves to rot in hell for all eternity, or 2) (a more likely alternative), we've forgotten what it looks like to truly love ourselves.

 

Think about it. We live in a culture where competition and drive are the number one goal from the time we learn how to walk. And yet if we have any kind of intelligence at all, we know that no matter how good we are at something, there will always be someone better than us. When I was in high school/college, I got to be a pretty solid drummer/percussionist. There were however people better than me. I could name them. Some of them I was friends with. Some of them I still am. For all the hours I put in to practicing, I could not achieve the greatness I wanted. There were just simply people who were better than me. 

 

So I wonder if we've lost a healthy sense of self-esteem. What if we either puff ourselves up beyond what we're capable of, putting on a display of misplaced bravado that really only embarrasses our friends and makes strangers think we're jerks? Or what if we just assume we'll never matter for anything, because we'll never rise to the top, and so we just give up on the idea of loving ourselves in the face of every else. Neither situation allows us to love ourselves fully. 

 

My senior pastor has a philosophy about sin and self esteem. His point is that the more we embrace how fallen and broken we are, the more we're opened up to embrace the loving and saving Grace of Jesus Christ. Loving yourself doesn't consist of painting a unreal picture of yourself and trying to live up to it. Loving yourself is what happens when you look at yourself the way that God see you. Forgiven. Blessed. Redeemed. Child of God. It's what Paul was hearing from Jesus when he wrote "My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness." The more you embrace weakness, the more you experience the power. 

 

This takes some time and some practice, believe me. But once you get it, you truly start to see a picture of the world as Jesus imagines it. What would it look like if someone's love for God was so profound, with all their heart soul and mind, that they saw themselves just as they were, perfect child of God? And what would that look like if it were unleashed on the rest of the world? What would it look like if we loved our neighbors with that same kind of compassion? What would the world be like if instead of exploiting every misstep by our opposition we embraced them, and welcomed them into the grace that is made strongest in weakness? What would our youth ministries look like if our students love for God led them to a deeper love for themselves, and thus a deeper love for their neighbors? Even the ones that don't look, act, dress, talk, or think like they do? What if we saw others the way that God saw them? What if we saw ourselves this way? 

 

That is why this is so basic and elemental. It's so small, and yet is has such a far reaching impact. It's reach is so far that Jesus has no hesitation saying things like "The Law and the Prophets" can hang on this idea. We must fight the temptation to over-complicate this. We must fight the desire to make it more work than it really is. We must allow God's power to be made perfect in our weakness. And we must teach our students to do the same. 

 

Next week: The Best Student.

 

Love your Neighbor

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Lg Good Neighbor provincial wood fence

Keep coming at you today! 

 

Jesus actually breaks the Pharisee's rules in the question at this point in Matthew 22. This expert in the Law asked Jesus what THE greatest commandment in all the Law was, and Jesus breathlessly begins telling us what the SECOND commandment looks like. 

 

Two thoughts pop up before we move on: 

 

1) Perhaps for Jesus, trying to pack our understanding of God into pre-determined rules and frameworks will always leave us wanting. Perhaps he's known all along that one commandment would never do it. So perhaps that makes it worthy to spend some time examining our rules and our regulations about God and see if they are big enough to hold Him up...

 

2) Loving God by itself, even if it was with your entire heart, entire soul, and entire mind, will not be enough. There's barely a pause between what loving God looks like and what loving our neighbor looks like. For Jesus, all the law and the prophets hang on BOTH of these ideas. And so one is just simply not enough. 

 

But after those two thoughts sink in, this passage begins to truly haunt us. This is a difficult passage, deceptively so. This is the passage that makes me raise my eyebrows when someone tells me that their biblical hermeneutic is as simple as read the book, and do what it says. How can you simply do what this says, when it raises so very many questions: 

 

-What does love look like? 

 

-Does the way I love God have anything to do with the way I love my neighbor? 

 

-Does loving my neighbor have any kind of action that goes with it, or can I have this emotion while I sit on my couch and watch Oprah re-runs? 

 

-Who is our neighbor? 

 

-What if our neighbor doesn't want to be loved? 

 

-What if loving our neighbor actually winds up hurting our neighbor in the short run? 

 

-What if our neighbor doesn't love God? 

 

The sheer depth and breath of what's being suggest in a statement as seemingly simple as "Love your neighbor" is staggering. Jesus even had to take some time in a later teaching to explain exactly who our neighbors are, and his answer wasn't short: 

 

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c]and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

So where does this leave us in the youth ministry world? I think it means we need to spend a little bit of time talking about who our neighbors are, and who our kids neighbors are. And I think they're different than what usually comes to mind. In a world where bullying has taken center stage, perhaps an extended discussion on who our neighbors are would be of some benefit. In a world where the political discourse has turned into a verbal demolition derby, examining what it looks like to love our neighbor can only be helpful. 

 

But loving our neighbor is only the first step of the equation. 

 

Coming tomorrow: ...as yourself.

...with all your mind.

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Brain fitness

We've been taking a look through Matthew 22, and Jesus' answer to what the greatest commandment in the entire Law might be. The third area Jesus calls us to love God with is our mind. 

 

This post has been difficult to write, if only because in the Presbyterian stream (if not all of Protestantism) we are all over this! I am part of an entire Christian Education team at Westminster, set up in such a way so as to ensure that everyone at every age has a program to be a part of to learn as much about Christian Spirituality as possible. Sermons often times end up sounding more like a shortened lecture than the art form that they were originally meant to be. I have on my laptop a resource that can connect me with just about every commentary written on every verse of Scripture, and multiple translations. And it's available to everyone. 

 

And all of this is good! I wouldn't do what I do if I didn't think Christian Education was important. Particularly in this world we live in where too many people form their opinions on Christianity based on what they're hearing in the media or on the news. We need to dedicate a healthy portion of our time to educating people in what the true way of Christ, and against the distorted and warped versions that are out there in our world. 

 

But Jesus doesn't say that part of the greatest commandment is to stuff our heads with as much information about Christianity as we can. Jesus says we are to love God with all of our minds. This means the part of our minds that is dedicated to Spiritual practices, AND the part of our mind that is focused on our homework. It means to love God with the part of our minds that memorizes pieces of Scripture AND the part of our mind that memorizes sports statistics. It means that we love God with the part of our mind dedicated to Christian Education AND the part of our mind dedicated to reading writing and arithmetic (incidentally, how are those the three "Rs"?).

 

This has tremendous implications for those of us in youth ministry. How much of your time with students is spent encouraging them in their academic pursuits? Have you encouraged your students to view their studies as an act of worship (a thought that a seminary professor made abundantly real in my life)? When your students encounter a problem, do you rush to solve it for them, or do you allow them to work through their own problem  solving methods with guidance? 

 

Loving God with our whole mind does not mean stuffing our craniums with facts and figures about Christian Spirituality at the expense of everything else. It means claiming each part of our mind, each part of our intellect, each part of our cognitive facilities for Jesus. 

 

Next: Love Your Neighbor

Photo Friday: Landfall

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Landfall Hiva 20Oa

Top of the morning to ya everybody! 

 

It's going to be a busy day here at the J-Blog. One should count how many days there are in the week before diving into a lengthy series! So keep checking back all day today for updates and new posts. 

 

Today is my last day in the office for the summer season. And even that is a bit of a stretch. We've got a zoo trip in the morning for college students, and then I'll likely spend the rest of my day in the youth rooms trying desperately to get caught up on my summer time cleaning! There is only one emotion running through me right now, and it's a good on to hold on to...

 

Anticipation.

 

I am so very excited for what is coming our way over the course of this next school year. I'm excited for the new faces that are going to come through our doors. I'm excited to see the growth in the students we've known for years. I'm excited to experience the stories that are going to make me laugh to tears. I'm excited to be present with these students who drink deeply from the well of Christian grace. I'm just really excited.

 

It's like a storm that you're able to see in the distance. It's coming, and it's going to be powerful. 

 

I know some people for whom this coming storm is just that, a big scary ominous storm. I know some people who would like to be done with youth ministry. I know some people who look forward to everything I look forward to the same way you look forward to a root canal. But a bit of encouragement to you: God can still use you. There are still things for you to say, ideas for you to share, dreams for you to spread. That same God can be your strength, can bring you rest when you need it, and inspire you to spread his Gospel message. 

 

And so today I invite you to pray with me. If you look forward to the coming year, then let's pray for the students that we're going to interact with each week. And while we're at it, let's pray for those who are burnt out and in need of God's grace to run this wacky race called youth ministry. 

 

More updates as the day goes on! Stay tuned!

I need your help! Join the revolution!

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ILD Bike MS 2012 logo interim

Greetings again friends!

 

In June, I participated in my second Bike MS event. We rode for two days, 75 miles a day, for a total of 150 miles. To this day, it is still the most challenging and difficult ride I do of the year. But oh my, is it worth it!

 

And this year in particular the fundraising side of the event was a smashing success. The event itself raised nearly $1,000,000! Our team, the Roadkill Warriors, raised over $66,000! And for my part, I was fortunate enough to have friends and family help me raise $700. Each and every penny of that money goes directly to research for MS, attempting to find drugs that make life easier for these patients and ultimately to one day find a cure. 

 

If there was a bummer for me in this year's fundraising efforts it was that a few people gave a large sum of money. Don't get me wrong, I'm 100% grateful to anyone who gave, particularly if they gave large sums. But I've always had this dream that a TON of people would get together and give small amounts to get us towards our goal. While the fundraising is obviously important, I think equally important is raising awareness of MS, of getting as many people involved in the fight against this disease as possible. 

 

And so, an experiment...

 

This September, I am participating in another Bike MS event, the Cooks Forest Ride. This is a much shorter ride, and actually looks according to the map to be significantly easier. Because it's a one day event not a two day, the fundraising goals are much smaller, which should make what I'd like to see happen possible. I am capping the donations at $5 a person. Please do not give any more than that. My fundraising goal is $100, so if 20 people give $5 we'll be there in no time. I wouldn't be surprised if through the magic of Facebook we could get as many as 40 people to give $5. What if we found 80? What if we found 100? What if that many more people knew about Bike MS and all the help it provides people in need? 

 

$5 is nothing. It's a cup of coffee at Starbucks. It's a couple of cases of Coke. It's two gallons of milk. (I must be thirsty...) If you made a donation for the Erie ride, I appreciate that deeply. Could you spare another $5 for this event? I want to live in the kind of world where a huge collection of people could join a revolution and make a difference in the lives of people who need it the most. I want to live in the kind of world where a small band of dedicated citizens can make a difference.

 

To make a donation, visit my personal page here. Together, we can put an end to MS. Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can be the revolution. 

 

As for me, I'll go hop on the bike and start training!

...with all your soul

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Images

Ok, forgive the pun! 

 

We continue today with our series on the basics of youth ministry as laid out by Jesus in Matthew 22. Right after saying that we must love God with all our hearts, Jesus jumps to another hard to define idea by suggesting that we need to love God with all of our souls. 

 

I thought perhaps a google search was in order to attempt to define what we mean (at least in these modern times) when we're talking about a soul. As is often the case, google did not disappoint: 

The spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal. 

 

The word that hops out at me from that definition is "immaterial." Madonna was right, we are living in a material world. We are focused beyond denial on what we make, what we bring in to the family, how much money is in our bank accounts, how good looking we are, how often we go to the gym, what style of clothing we're going to cover ourselves up with, or what style of clothing we're going to let provocatively show a little of ourselves with. By and large, in the American culture anyway, we don't care very much about the immaterial soul. 

 

For one thing, if my soul's in a good place, I can't show off for you. There's no comparing souls among competitive people. On the other hand, if my soul's in a bad place, I can keep that pretty well hidden, and so I do. But even when the soul is feeling very good, even when we've taken some time out of busy schedules to allow for soul care, the "buzz" we get from that is nothing like the feeling of buying a new pair of sneakers, and so we don't tend to worry about the soul. 

 

And yet, this idea of the soul is essential to Christian thought and practice, isn't it? When we pray, we're often encouraging that immaterial part of us to wake up and take part in things. When a piece of scripture speaks particularly clearly to us, we claim that it fed our souls. We are for sure behind the idea that the soul is immortal, that through Christ the eternity offered our souls is a glorious and divine one. 

 

So as we start into another season of ministry, how's your soul? Is it in a good place? Is it being drown out by the material "needs" we've conjured up? Is it being well fed by scripture and prayer and community with other good souls? Or is it tucked in the back of our consciousness?  

 

But even beyond that, if your soul is in a good place, then what does it look like to love God with all of it? The soul isn't typically thought of when it comes to love, that's something that we usually reserve for the heart. But if this immaterial part of us is capable of love, how do we direct that love towards God? I guess another way to approach that question is to ask what it looks like when our soul is pointed in a direction that is other than God. When we are too angry for too long, that's not healthy for the soul. When we pollute our selves with negativity and doubt, that's not healthy for the soul. When we too often ignore the scriptures and what they offer us for soul food, that's not good for the soul. 

 

And so before we begin this season, I'd invite you to spend a bit of time focused in on the soul. How is yours doing? And where is your soul pointing? 


Next: ...with all your mind.