The First Paper Part Four: Submission


Argus U Turn In Homework Poster N15427 XL

Hello friends,

It is finished. All the writing, all the editing, all the polishing, all the self loathing, it is all done.

On Sunday, a whole day early, I pushed the "send" button on an e-mail that represented 3 months of hard work. It represented a lot of learning too, pushing my mind and my theology to places they hadn't been to before. It was a good term.

And yet, I felt my finger hover on the mouse button for a few seconds before making the click happen. Was the paper up to my best standard? Were there places where I could go back and make it better? I had a few extra hours, but I had long ago decided the paper was where it needed to be, but I could fix it if I needed to. What to do?


And with that, the end of the term was here. With that, none of what was going through my head mattered. I was ready to move on to the next thing, and maybe even a little bit more, I was ready to have a three week break. Come what may, it's done and over. And it feels really, really good.

Thanks for following along on this one.



The First Paper Part Three: Cutting Room


Film Editing

Hello bloggers!

If you've been following along this week, we've been tracking the progress of a young seminary student and the writing of his first paper in a very long time. Previously on Lost, err...The First Paper, we saw that our hero had escaped the clutches of the self-loathing period of writing a paper, and had experience his lightbulb moment. However, the lightbulb led to an unintended consequence: The 5 page paper was 6 pages long.

Our hero took some time off from the paper, to clear his head and try to focus on this morning, when he would have to decide what would stay and what would go in the paper. During the self-loathing period, this would have been easy. Just cut all of it. But now, now that the writer has formed an emotional attachment to the writing he's done, he hardly wants to leave any of it behind.

And so, sitting at the Caribou Coffee in my old neighborhood, I meticulously scanned the paper for pieces to remove. Does this argument make sense? Does this do a good enough job of coloring in the arguments I'm trying to make, or would a shorter quote do better? I spent a half an hour on the first pass, felt really good about what had been removed, and then glanced down with excitement to see that I still had 6 pages. Well, maybe closer to 5.75. But still, too much to turn in. And so I went back again. And then went back again. And then a fourth time. Finally, the paper weighed in at 5 pages.

These are the moments when you appreciate starting the paper as early as you did, because now I have sent to paper to my editor (read: Sarah) to look at the grammar and spelling and punctuation. But my eyes are off the paper for at least another 24 hours. A clear head is best when writing a paper like this, and when you're up against a deadline you don't have the luxury to take this kind of time with the writing process. I still have the original, unabridged version of the paper on my desktop, just in case I left something all too critical on the cutting room floor. But at the moment, I'm feeling really good about this guy.

More to come tomorrow!



The First Paper Part Two: Lightbulbs



Good morning friends!

After my last post, I think some people thought I was spiraling toward depression over this paper! In truth, that's what it felt like! The paper was being written, and words were finding their way onto the page, but it felt a bit like running on a treadmill. Work was getting done, but it wasn't going anywhere.

For as much as I can't stand the "Self-Loathing" stage of writing a paper, it is absolutely worth it for the stage that comes next. Sitting on my living room floor last night after Veritas, I started thumbing through the insanely large book that I almost read for this paper (and am mercifully thankful that I changed my mind!) Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright. Wright is someone my professor told me I should contrast Johnson with, and so I started just thumbing through the book, and hoping to stumble across something I could use as Wright's opinion of Johnson.

Did you know, books these days come with a device known as an index? And, when authors reference another person and/or their work, they tend to list every occurrence of these references right there in the back? Lo and behold, I was now sitting on Wright's DIRECT opinion of Johnson, rather than having to find a quote that would theoretically work, I had the direct quote in my hands. Not only that, but Wright's quote led me to another book that I just so happened to have on my shelf, and that book led me to another. But the end of 15 minutes worth of work, I had about 3,000 pages worth of material at my feet. But more important than that, I had direction. The light bulb went off, and I was off to the races. As of this blog post, the paper stands at 6 pages long, meaning I have too much information. This will come back to haunt me tomorrow when I enter the editing phase, but for the moment it makes me want to do a dance right here in the lobby of Starbucks!

Not to over theologize my own paper writing experience, but I wonder how often in life we don't take for granted the dark times in the light of the "lightbulb" moments? Yesterday, I was convinced that this paper was going to be the worst thing I've ever written. Today, I'm actually quite proud of the little bugger! It's important during the dark times in our lives to recognize that light is coming. It might take a while, but we live with hope, because hope does not disappoint us.

And in the meantime, it doesn't hurt to dance when the lightbulb comes on!



The First Paper Part One: The Loathing Stage


Hello again bloggers!

There's a lot going on in my world these days, and so I'm pumped to be sharing a bit more on the blog. If you find that I'm getting annoying, feel free to waste away the hours on YouTube.

I love the clip above! When I sit down to write, I almost always feel like that's how I start things out. The outside persona might seem calm and collected, but if you look closely enough you can see the rage boiling just beneath the surface as I pound my fist against the desk in frustration. This, as many of my writer friends will tell you, is the self loathing stage of the process.

I am hard at work on my first paper back at Seminary. It's the last assignment due in my New Testament intro course, and I really, truly want to knock it out of the park. Not just for the grade, but because writing has always been one of my strengths, and I want to make sure that it remains one of my strengths. In other words, there's pride on the line here.

It's not a horribly difficult paper to write, only a 5 page book review. The book in question is The Real Jesus by Luke Timothy Johnson, which sets out to explore whether the historical-critical method of study is the best way to approach the "real" Jesus, or whether there's a better alternative. I just finished the book yesterday, and so am now ready to write the paper.

I'm four pages in, and I'm trying a new approach as I go. Like the terror threat level, after I write each paragraph I am assigning it a color. Red means that I am most likely going to re-write all of this section. Orange means it's not quite red, but it needs some touching up. Yellow is pretty good writing, it just needs grammatical changes and editing. Green is ready to turn in to the professor. With four days left to write, I'm seeing a lot of red, a tiny bit of orange, an even tinier bit of yellow, and absolutely no green. The threat level is high.

But it will come. The hardest part about the loathing stage is realizing that there is in fact good writing underneath all this crap that is currently occupying my computer screen, and that with time and patience I can chisel away at it and bring it to life. Friday and Saturday are do or die days, and so I will only allow panic if I am still in the self loathing stage then. But knowing that I have a meeting with my professor in 30 minutes where I will show her where I am so far, I have a feeling the self loathing phase is going to stick around a bit longer...

More on this to come. Thanks for following along!



Reset 2012: Ashes


Ash wednesday

Good morning dear bloggers!

Today is Ash Wednesday. Tradition has it that in the early church, when a new convert wanted to join, they had to go through a 40 day preparation period before their baptism, which followed a liturgy of death and resurrection. The practice continued until today, where we celebrate Lent as preparation for the resurrection that is to come.

But simply put, resurrection doesn't make sense without death. We have a tendency in the Church to focus only on that which is positive, that which makes us feel good inside, that which makes us happy. Sure, that's all well and good, but without death the resurrection is just another story. Without death, Christ's work loses it's meaning. We don't call it "sad Friday" because it's the day Jesus died, we call it Good Friday because this death is leading us somewhere unbelievable.

And maybe that's the greater point. Maybe we need to look at death (and by this I should say I mean all different forms of death, personal, professional, emotional, financial, and all the other ways that darkness creeps into our lives) for where it's taking us. Ash Wednesday is all about staring death right in the face and saying "You don't scare me." through the power of the Risen One.

Today, if you attend an Ash Wednesday service, you'll bare the mark of death on your forehead all day. Let it be a reminder. Every time you look in the mirror, let it remind you that on our own, we're nothing more than a pile of dirt. I know, I know, sounds miserable. But the trick is, and what we really really need to remember is, we're not on our own. We are A LOT more than a pile of dirt. Not because of who we are and what we've done, but precisely because we've put ourselves to death, and let Christ reign in our hearts and in our lives. (Galatians 2:20)

May we all stare death in the face today, and realize that he doesn't have the last word. Jesus does.



Reset 2012: Pre-Game


Reset button

Greetings friends,

Today is Fat Tuesday, and while I originally thought that this was a celebration of portly people like myself, it's actually the pre-game celebration for a liturgical tradition within the Church known as Lent. The idea goes like this: when Lent arrives on Ash Wednesday (tomorrow), the tradition has it that you would give up something near and dear to you for a period of 40 days in dedication to Christ. So naturally, since today would be your last chance to enjoy such things, you party as hard as you can and consume as much as you can. This is where Mardi Gras comes from, and obviously that hasn't been blown out of proportion.

But for me, Lent is way more than giving stuff up. Lent is a period of re-dedication, of pushing the reset button on our walk with Christ. In an era of human history where my phone literally tells me when it's time to get up, time to eat, and time to go to my next meeting, I think it's easy to forget things. It's easy to forget why we do what we do, why our day holds to the patterns it holds to, why we feel strongly about that which we feel strongly about. And so in Lent, we hit reset. We order things as they should be, we put things back in perspective.

And not just for a minute or two either. Lent lasts for 40 days, a stark reminder that sometimes to get to the promised land you're going to need to spend a little bit of time in the desert. You can't bring our typical consumer culture to Lent, because it demands all of your attention for a long period of time. You have to sit. You have to wait. You have to see things play out over a period of time.

And so my plan is simple (or at least it seems that way on the surface). I'm going to be getting up early each day (6:00 AM for those who were wondering), and spending a significant period of time in prayer and in scripture study. I'm going to be working through the Divine Hours (a habit I had but seem to have lost along the way) and reading through the daily lectionary (again, a habit that once was and isn't any more.) I'm not really giving anything up (other than sleeping in I suppose), so I guess I'll have to skip out on the party today. But I'd invite you to join with me! Pick up a bible, read a little bit, pray honestly and expectantly, and see where the Spirit leads you during these 40 days. Whether you're church tradition celebrates Lent or not, it's always helpful to push the reset button from time to time.

Also, if you're not doing anything and you're in the area, tomorrow night at 8:00 Westminster is hosting our annual Ash Wednesday service to kick things off. If you're a regular Veritas attender, we're going to wrap things up 10 minutes early or so, and head down to the sanctuary. Everyone else is welcome to join us as well!

Here's to a happy Lent, and to pushing the Reset button.



The Top 100


Top 100

Hello friends!

According to the fancy counting machine up here on the J-Blog, this is my 100th post dedicated to Youth Ministry! And so, in what might be a way-too ambitious a project, I have here compiled my top 100 favorite parts about youth ministry. I tried to keep things that I liked less near the bottom of the list, and those I really like at the top, but they're not in any firm kind of order. But even the stuff I dislike, I truly love about my job! You could join in the celebration too! If you have a special youth minister in your life, pass this list along to them, and see if they have anything to add!

So, without further stalling for time:

100. 4:45 AM the night of a lock in. This is where the wheels fall off the wagon.

99. The occasional cranky e-mail from a parent.

98. The even less occasional apology e-mail from the aforementioned parent.

97. Talking on the phone for any reason to any person.

96. That slight odor of rotten bananas in my car after a retreat.

95. Finding the rotten banana two weeks later.

94. Random meetings in my office from custodians who don't like the mess in the youth room.

93. Random meetings in my office from bible study leaders who don't like the mess in the youth room.

92. Random meetings in my office from the senior pastor who doesn't like the complaints from the janitor and the bible study leaders about the mess in the youth room.

91. Cleaning the youth room.

90. The downright refusal of most boys to shower or cleanse themselves in anyway during the course of a week long retreat.

89. The outrageous amounts of axe body spray required to conceal #90.

88. The assumption that I know how to fix anything and everything technological.

87. The assumption that I watch You Tube all day.

86. Watching You Tube all day.

85. Researching what in the world a "Beiber" is to stay culturally relevant.

84. Being seen as a day care provider for teenagers.

83. The weeks where absolutely nothing is going on, thus boring me to the point of tears.

82. The sure and certain knowledge that #83 doesn't exist.

81. Being asked when I'm going to become a "real" pastor.

80. Wondering to myself when I'm going to become a "real" pastor.

79. Youth group break ups

78. The six months of two-students not-talking after youth group break ups

77. Wearing a tie for the "big persons" service.

76. Wearing a tie for any reason at all.

75. I don't have to wear a tie.

74. My ninja-like skills when it comes to finding a sermon illustrations from shows like Mythbusters and Judge Judy.

73. Bumping into students/parents in the grocery store.

72. The awkward face students/parents give me when they bump into me in the grocery store.

71. The inspection of the contents of my shopping cart when being bumped into in the grocery store.

70. Finding new and refreshing ways to give the "sex talk."

69. Jokes during the sex talk.

68. "Wait, so like, what do you guys do all day?"

67. Camp mattresses

66. Mario Lemieux (Go with it)

65. Mornings when the heat is broken in the gym for worship.

64. Mornings when the coffee machine is broken for worship.

63. Starbucks

62. Meetings/Bible Studies at Starbucks

61. Starring at a blank screen on Saturday when scheduled to preach on Sunday.

60. Having a finished sermon on Monday when preaching the upcoming Sunday.

59. Being the guy who is constantly told the music erupting from his office is too loud.

58. Turning up the volume.

57. Not knowing what to do next.

56. Staying up all night on a retreat.

55. Getting up early the day after a retreat.

54. Retreats.

53. This photograph:

Excited kid

52. Typing in questionable image searches for the blog/teachings at Veritas (Beach Bum, Dicks Sporting Goods, and anything related to the sex talk being among my favorites!)

51. Google safe search.

50. Making absurdly long lists for a blog post about youth ministry!

49. Writing blog posts about youth ministry.

48. Writing articles for our Church newsletter.

47. Writing Advent/Lenten Devotionals for the whole congregation that people actually read and do.

46. Writing original worship songs that no one but Westminster sings.

45. When one of those worship songs gets out to other churches who also love to sing it.

44. Being a make-believe movie producer.

43. Having my computer back up in the middle of movie productions, thus slowing everything to a halt.

42. Having #43 happen 5 minutes before I'm supposed to be showing the movie in question.

41. Getting a chance to show people the lives of young adults through movies and films.

40. Working with students in confirmation class to discover where their story is going.

39. The INSANE amount of freedom I'm given over our confirmation class.

38. The INSANE amount of freedom I'm given over everything we do.

37. Finger darts.

36. Nerf Gun Battles.

35. Sticky Bun Sundays.

34. The J and Ed Variety Show.

33. Student Made Videos

32. Laughing until I cry.

31. Working with the best staff on the planet.

30. Playing Mario Kart on our lunch breaks.

29. The Alive Music Festival.

28. The Day of Jubilee

27. One on One Meetings with Students

26. The National Youth Workers Convention

25. Creative Lunch every Tuesday at the Sarku Japan.

24. Knowing that the people at Sarku Japan know me so well they need only ask me "For here or to go?"

23. Being a combo Youth Minister/Worship Leader.

22. Worshiping in a gymnasium.

21. Having to set up for worship each Sunday in a gymnasium.

20. Having only 45 minutes to rehearse for an hour long service.

19. Preaching.

18. The occasional Sunday to sit in the back and neither preach, or lead worship, but simply worship and pray with this wonderful beautiful community.

17. Chick-Fil-A.

16. My Thursday afternoon Bible Study.

15. Knowing for certain that I will never grow up.

14. Watching students who know for certain that they will never grow up.

13. Watching students mature into leaders.

12. Helping students who are hurting.

11. Getting to wear absolutely whatever I'd like.

10. Dodgeball

9. The unreasonable support I receive at Westminster from our staff, Elders, commissions, and parents to allow me to do what I do.

8. I get paid for each and every one of the items on this list.

7. Random campfire worship outbreaks.

6. When parents or students say thank you.

5. Getting the chance to say thank you to youth ministers who might not other wise hear it.

4. Working with my best friend.

3. Mission trips that change students lives.

2. Deep small group discussions

And the number 1 thing I love about youth ministry IS:

Seeing students fall deeply, madly, and radically in love with the Risen Savior Jesus Christ.


Love, incompletely


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Greetings friends, and happy Valentines Day!

Sarah and I have never been really big on celebrating these holidays. Why is today the day that we express our love to each other? Why is today the day for gifts and presents and chocolates? (Actually, Sarah has all but demanded I get her chocolate today, but I don't think that has as much to do with Valentines day as one might think...) What makes today any different than yesterday?

And then I was struck by how many of my friends on Facebook are single, and how much they struggle with this holiday. From a single person's perspective, this holiday is almost a slap in the face. Everybody else has somebody, except YOU. I can't imagine the loneliness that one might feel with every TV commercial, billboard, or news story dedicated to Valentines day when you have no one to celebrate with.

It all points to the fact that our idea of love as human beings, even at its absolute best, is incomplete. 1 John 4:8 says "But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love." Love, when it is complete, is the Father. Love, when it is full, is the outstretched arms of Christ. Love, when it is most magnificent, is the grace and embrace of the Spirit.

So here's my encouragement to us today: Let us focus on the right kind of love. If we have a significant other, could we shower God with worship as much as we shower them with gifts and flowers? If we're single, could we direct our attention to the God of love rather than to our culture's idea of togetherness? If we are truly blessed enough to have a marriage, could we look at our spouse the way God looks at them?

Some food for thought!



Youth Pastor


Pastor de ovelhas1

Hello friends,

Last night was our weekly youth ministry meeting, known around the world (seriously) as Veritas. I'm climbing my way up to being here at Westminster/Veritas for 5 years, and last night I was struck by something that I think we need to recover in Youth Ministry.

My denomination doesn't bestow upon me the title of Pastor just yet, that's something that comes with ordination and an painfully long seminary degree. And while I'm super respectful of that process (sometimes), I'm going to have to go ahead and steal the title a little bit early. Not because it's a ego thing, actually it's quite the opposite.

The word pastor has its origins in shepherding. A pastor was someone who had a flock, and someone who took care of the flock. We borrow this word because of passages like John 21:15-19, the idea being that Jesus has left us to care for his flock. And so that youth group you have isn't just a rambunctious group of kids that you have to keep entertained for a few hours once a week. They're the flock that God has given you, and they're the flock that you have to take care of.

Each "sheep" has their own story, their own needs, their own desires, their own hurts. Each "sheep" has its own needs in terms of pastoral care, and a truly good youth pastor will take the time to minister to each kid as if they were one of the flock.

I get it, not everybody is in this gig for the long haul. Not everybody is going to stick with it for life. Some of us are using youth ministry as a means to get some church experience under our belts before we move on and become "real pastors." That's fine, I get that it takes a special (feel free to interpret "special" in any way you see fit!) kind of person to do this as a career. But at the end of the day, the students God has placed in your ministry are still your flock, and God has asked you to care for them.

A program will never care for sheep. A flashy preaching style will never care for the flock. A christian hipster with TOMS shoes (more on this later) won't feed the sheep. Only someone who recognizes that the flock needs the life-giving nourishment of Jesus Christ and is willing to do what it takes to lead them there can care for the flock.

So today, go ahead, even if your denomination doesn't support what I'm about to say, call yourself a youth pastor. But know that it comes with a lot of weight and responsibility!



On being a rudder


Sailboat 1

Hello friends,

Someone once told me that there are two types of leaders: Sails and rudders. Leaders who are sails are usually up front, visible, and easily identifiable. You can see the sails of a boat from a long way off. Leaders who are sails typically own the front of the room. They do their business with a microphone, or a large personality. Frequently, they are the ones who get all the credit too. Usually, this is the type of leadership I find myself in. Preaching the sermons, singing the songs, being the "up-front" guy.

This past weekend however, I got a chance to be the rudder, and I kind of liked it.

We went on our annual ski retreat to Camp Harmony and Seven Springs. This is an event we've been doing with some of the other congregations in our area for about 3 years now, and it's growing and growing each time we do it. I love doing ministry with my friends, but I have noticed in the years past that when three different churches come together, there are too many people who are sails for us to all be upfront. Someone needs to take care of the behind the scenes stuff.

Rudders aren't seen. In fact, a lot of people might not even think they're all that important to the operation of a sailboat. But they literally steer the ship. The boat doesn't function without them. And so rudder leaders are those who keep to the behind the scenes work, who try to facilitate things so that they're running smoothly. I spoke once this weekend for about 15 minutes, but other than that, my leadership was behind the scenes stuff. Dealing with the sales people at Seven Springs, organizing the technology for worship, renting the vans for the trip, keeping things organized. I absolutely loved it! Not that I don't love being in the spotlight, I do that too. But for once, it was good to get a different perspective of leadership.

I don't know about your ministry situation as you're sitting here reading this, but I all but guarantee that you have rudder leaders in your group. Almost everyone does. And all too often, they go completely un-noticed. My encouragement to you today is to say thank you to your rudder leaders. Things would not run smoothly without them, and what they provide to the ministry is every bit as important as the sail leaders upfront. So pull them aside this week and say thank you. I know I will!