The Unbelievable Mess of Chick-Fil-A


Chick fil a spicy chicken sandwich

I never in my life thought it would come to this. Sure, I have read Orwell's 1984, and kind of assumed we were headed toward a dark place. I just never in my wildest dreams thought it would come to this, that the whole nation could be up in arms and brought to a screeching halt by...

...a chicken sandwich?

Seriously? My choice in lunch might actually be making a political statement? Or even worse/harder to believe, my waffle fries could be signaling a stance on my religious views? My relationship with Christ could be impacted by a yogurt parfait?

Perhaps we're missing something here...

Read the rest of my article here. More J-Blog tomorrow!

UPDATE: Perry Noble, who gave an INSPIRED talk at the National Youth Workers Convention a few years ago, says what I said only better. Read his version here



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Good morning friends!

I have been lucky as a member of Tree Anthem to be able to lead worship in some amazing spaces. Obviously this past summer I had the joy and the honor of leading worship at the Alive Music Festival in Ohio with about 250 of my closest friends. We've played at Camp Ligonier's outdoor stage a few times, and those kids are already pretty hyped up by the time we get there, so it's usually a pretty beautiful rock and roll set in the woods. And of course, who could forget Pine Springs the Big One, our favorite show to play each and every year? I have had the privilege of leading and singing all over the place, and I look forward to leading and singing in a bunch of new locations!

But yesterday I played at my absolute favorite venue. I hadn't been back at the Bridge in three weeks, and so I was extremely excited to get back in there and to lead worship. I saw friends I haven't seen in a long time. I got to laugh and some of the summer stories that have already started to form out of that place. I was challenged by the sermon and the scripture texts that went along with it. In short, I was home. 

I have known youth workers and worship leaders who don't feel at home in their congregations. Not so with me. I was home at Westminster the very moment I first step foot in one of the 31 doors we have become known for. The people I serve with are my friends, and truthfully everyone in the congregation serves right along side me and the rest of the staff on a daily basis. The Church (big C intentional) is the gathering of followers of Jesus, wherever they may find themselves. And so throughout the week when I see these friends at grocery stores or movie theaters or the more than occasional times we get together outside of the church building, I know that I am living a realized dream for what church should look like. I have found my home. 

Do you have a church home? A place where you can experience the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ through friendships deep and meaningful? A safe space where you can be challenged with the words of Scripture? A place where you can bring your brokenness unashamed, because everyone is encouraged to come just as they are? I hope you do. If not, by all means, feel free to join us at 9:45 AM on Sundays. We're the loud ones. 

More to come this week!



Photo Friday: Swing


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Hello everybody!

Welcome to a second (record breaking!) episode of Photo Friday, wherein I end the week with a photo that summarizes what's been going on here at the J-Blog. Let's dive in shall we? 

This week, in so many ways, it is all about getting back into the swing of things. Tuesday was the first official day in the office in almost three weeks. It was the first time we gathered in Jim's office for our staff bible study, the first time we had staff meeting, the first creative lunch after staff meeting. It was good to get back, but it was difficult to get into the swing of things. We definitely had to re-find our rhythm. 

This week is also my first time back at the Bridge in a while. I feel like I'm going to have to re-introduce myself to the congregation! But again, this was the first week I had to put together a set list, to really think about what songs would line up well with the sermon and would be singable by those who are in the congregation. There was a considerable amount of rust to shake off. 

I also began reading again for Seminary. A glance at the syllabus for the class I'm taking in August (that I'm really glad I read through!) informs me that I should read 1,200 pages of material before arriving on the first day of class. And so, summer break is over, and I've been diving back into reading. But not just reading as in letting my eyes see the words on the page and semi-absorbing what they said. This is back to seminary reading, back to trying to do everything I can to retain the information in question so that I can call it back whenever I need it. 

The phrase "getting back into the swing of things" has been thrown around a lot this week. Swings are a pretty good image to carry around with us sometimes. You have to go backwards first before  you can go forward on a swing. Sometimes people assume that the only way to go is forward in our society, keep moving, keep producing, keep busy, keep going. But a swing reminds us that you sometimes have to take a step back in order to take a step forward. You have to go on a quick vacation every now and again before you can come to work full of energy and creativity and passion. Or perhaps it reminds us that a step backwards won't be forever. Perhaps making tough decisions in your financial world will lead to a much brighter future. Perhaps tearing down a statue feels wrong at the moment, but removing the culture of hero worship is a big step forward in the long haul. 

Jesus seemed to think in these terms. Whoever is last among you shall be first in the Kingdom of God. Whoever wants to be greatest must become a servant. Greater love has none than this: whoever lays down his life for his friends. Sometimes backwards is ok. 

And so this weekend, be ok with a step backwards. Take a moment to breathe, to relax, and to stop producing. If you really get into the swing of things, taking a step backwards will propel you further than you could possibly go on your own. 



Some thoughts on Heroes


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Hey everybody,

I had the pleasure when I was a kid to meet my hero twice. The first time was at a Pittsburgh Penguins event for kids, where players and coaches were sprinkled around the arena for us to get autographs from. My dad and I were kind of wandering the halls when we found a line of about 15-20 people. We didn't know who it was for, but we figured we could hop in and find out at the front. As soon as we were in line, a staff person yelled "Everybody for Mario Lemieux right here!" We had accidentally found the line for the greatest hockey player of all time, and we were near the front! I got his autograph that day, and even wished him luck for the game that was coming up the next day. He seemed genuinely shocked/appreciative of that! I still have the autographed puck on my desk at home. I met him a few years later at a restaurant, which was the first time I got to see exactly how outlandishly tall he was. He was literally larger than life in my 13 year old eyes. 

Of course this year, Lemieux had a statue erected outside of Consol Energy Center. In this town, in the hockey loving world, Lemieux is seen as a legend. As a hero. Kids my age would play street hockey and imagine they were him, glorious mullet flowing in the wind and all. He inspired me, and probably countless other people in our area and around the world.

Which is why my heart goes out to Penn State fans this week. I've been thinking about what it looks like to have a hero, and even more what it looks like to have a hero who stumbles. We'll probably never know the whole truth of what went on with Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky, but I think we can safely say that not a whole lot of the characters in this story acted as heroes. They faltered. They stumbled. And in the end, they let us down.

Countless of my Penn State fans are still in a state of mourning over the whole situation. I can't blame them. I've been trying to imagine what it would be like if Mario were caught up in something like that. If I had to watch as they tore down the new statue that meant to honor all the good he'd done in this community, I think honestly even now (long removed from my hockey playing days) I would shed a tear or two. It would hurt. I would likely be at a loss for words. I might protest. I might scream. 

None of this is by way of defending Joe Paterno or his actions/inactions in light of Sandusky's wrongs. I'm actually of mind that it was right to remove the statue, if for no other reason than because opponents would surely vandalize and/or destroy the statue on their own anyway. But the whole thing has caused me to ask deep questions of the institution of "hero" in our lives. Should we be vesting so much of our hope, inspiration, meaning, and purpose in ordinary, simple, sinful, flesh and blood human beings? While it's hard to imagine that my personal heroes could let me down, the truth is they're more than capable of it. Ask anyone a year or two ago if Joe Pa would be the center of this much controversy, and I bet no one saw it coming. Human beings are only capable of so much. I don't know that it's fair to put them on such high pedestals. Everyone has flaws. Everyone is damaged. Everyone is broken. 

But let's make this really uncomfortable for a second, shall we? This is a blog about youth ministry for those of us who are in youth ministry, so let me ask this question: Do your students see you as their hero? Is your program set up in such a way that you are designed to be the hero? Do you follow the age old formula "Dude loves Jesus, Kids love dude, therefore Kids love Jesus?" What if you let them down? What if you can't be the hero they imagine? I know how good it feels. I know how much it can inflate an ego and even heal some old wounds. But if we falter or fail, as sinful human beings are often known to do, what have we done to our students? 

Our faith really only allows for one hero, and that's Christ. Our job is not to be the hero, our job is to get as far out of the way and point towards the hero. This is hard. It's hard to not want to be the hero. But human beings simply can't handle that weight in our lives, no matter how heroic you are. 

But God absolutely can!

All about the journey


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Good morning!

As you are reading this, if I've figured out my blog editor correctly, I'm currently on the road back home from Vacation. If I can pretend for a moment to predict the future, I am probably staring at the countdown clock on my GPS telling me exactly how many more hours I'm going to have to sit in this car before I can get out, get home, and stretch my legs. Or I'm looking at how far away the next Starbucks break is going to be. 

This particular journey will also be difficult as I will be headed back to work tomorrow. I'm guessing future me is thinking about all the tasks that are ahead of me. In a best case scenario, I'm letting my mind dream a little bit, starting to think about the big ideas that are ahead for Veritas and the upcoming school year. Worst case scenario, I've already activated my e-mail on my phone, and I'm thinking about all the mundane tasks that lie before me. 

What troubles me about this approach, and what I'm hoping I can avoid on Monday, is that I'm letting miles and miles of beautiful Pennsylvania (and at times, significantly less beautiful New Jersey) pass me by without so much as a second glance. What kind of beautiful sights might I miss if I'm not paying attention? What sorts of things might God want to be telling me that I'm just not listening to right now? 

I confess that I do this constantly. I am way more about the destination than I am about the journey. It should really be the other way around. The number of T-shirst in crummy gift shops that tell us that life is a journey ought to be evidence of this enough. It's almost as if some of us have conditioned ourselves to believe that the destination is where life is to be lived, and the journey is just in the way. "I'll be happy when I get that new job." Will you? Or were there points in between job A and job B that were meant to make you happy, but you missed it because your eyes were on the destination? 

I'm going to try my best this morning to enjoy the journey. I hope and pray that whatever journey you find yourself on, you will do the same!



Photo Friday: Vacation



Good morning friends!

I've had some big plans for the series at the J-Blog over the years, but I almost never seem to be able to keep up with them. Hopefully, this new schedule I'm working on will help to keep me on track. So here's how this one works:

At the end of each week, I'm going to find a photograph either that I've taken, or I'll do what I almost always do and steal from Google, that represents what we've learned this week here at the J-Blog. It might be a serious photo, goofy photo, or even the occasional photo caption contest. Who knows. But the main idea is that each Friday's blog post will center around a photograph of some sort. 

Like this one above! Last night, my aunt Beth arrived at the beach house to begin her vacation along with us. If there's been a theme in Sarah and my life this last week, it is that we have the single best family in the world (though we mean no disrespect to your uncle Tom or aunt Suzy). Some people actively avoid their family because they're annoying or distressing or something like that. Sarah and I seek our family out. They're good people.

After Beth shared THE BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD with us, we went on a quick bike ride along the beach, and then ended up at the bay at a restaurant on the beach. We sat around having conversation and watching the sea gulls dive bomb the fish in the bay. You can see Manhattan from a distance across the bay, and so we just sat and watched the birds and relaxed. And while we were sitting there, I took this picture of my toes in the sand. 

Vacation is such an important thing. I've grown concerned over our cultures need to DO more, to work longer hours, to make more money, to have nicer things, to use our business as a merit badge of accomplishment. And just because I've grown concerned over these things doesn't mean I haven't played right into their hands and done the exact same thing myself. I am too busy. I work too much. I am away from my wife for long periods of time in the summer. And so every now and again, the rest button must be pushed. Relaxation must be allowed to take a hold of me. 

We got to the beach house on Sunday after I was the guest preacher at Hillcrest Church. This photograph was taken on Thursday evening. I truly believe friends that it took me all four days to recover and begin to relax. It took all four days to shake the dust off, to allow myself to let things go and to just BE. This moment with my toes in the sand represents the end of the struggle, of allowing myself to vacation, and frankly to listen to what God had to say to me: 

"Six days you will gather, but one the seventh day, on the Sabbath, there will not be any." [Exodus 16:26]

Sabbath is important. Rest is important. Vacation is important. It gives everything that isn't Sabbath meaning, and purpose, and context. And yet all too often we (or at least I) feel guilty for taking the time off. Perhaps if we did a better job of recognizing that our breaks and Sabbaths aren't for us, they're for God. He designed us flawlessly, and he designed us to need rest. 

So perhaps you aren't near an area where you can dig your toes in the sand. That's ok. As we head into the weekend, make sure to take some time for a Sabbath. Make sure to rest, relax, and shake the dust off your feet of the work week before. But if you are near an area with ample toe digging sand, there's truly nothing better!

See you Monday!


On Writing


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Hello friends,

And greetings from my favorite vacation spot in the entire world, Breezy Point NY. After a long summer of trips and events and ministry, it's nice to be able to step back, take a deep breath and recharge the batteries. 

One of the things that I do when I'm going through this recharging stage is to re-evaluate what it is that gives me energy, what it is that is lacking from my life when I'm too busy that brings me joy. When I'm on vacation, I make it a point to make sure that my bike comes along with me because during the sumer I often lose focus on cycling just for fun. I make it a point to bring my guitar along with me to spend some time songwriting. I spend some time in the scriptures, and real deep time at that, not just a surface read through. These are the things that can get neglected when life gets too busy, and it's important to hit the reset button before things get ramped up again in the fall. If I've done vacation right, by the time I get back I'm not only well rested, I'm back in the habit of resting. 

And so last night, I read an e-mail from that reminded me that I am in fact still considered a correspondent for them. I signed up for this news organization in 2009, to write articles about Christianity, if at all possible directly related to the Pittsburgh area. My last article for them was in 2009. It just simply slipped off my radar. So when I read that e-mail, I was reminded that one of the ways that I recharge best is when I'm writing and writing frequently. This usually leads to a sad, sorry attempt to write a not well thought out book. I can't tell you how many "Chapter one" documents exist on my computer that were born at this very beach house only to be forgotten in the return to the real world. So I don't think that a book is the right answer, at least not right now. 

I think the answer is to try to keep myself accountable to writing both here at the J-Blog and on Examiner. I sat down last night and came up with a schedule for myself, and hope to actually be able to keep up with it. You can expect to see posts here at J-Blog on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and new articles at Examiner on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Again, I don't have the world's best track record when it comes to keeping up with these schedules, but I'm going to do my best for you guys! As always, if you have any topics related to youth ministry, seminary, worship, or book reviews, please leave a comment here below. I have a few posts already swirling around the old noggin to get us kick started, but this blog is way more fun when its a conversation than when its just me ranting. 

See you Friday!



Planning and Riding


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Hello friends,

A few days ago, I experienced two sides of my personality pretty dramatically. Hard as it might be to believe, I can sometimes be a compulsive planner (my blog posts are not part of this side of me obviously). I can also sometimes drift to wherever my heart is taking me without much planning at all. 

For a few years, I've started to notice that when it comes to teachings at Veritas, we cycle around to the same topics again and again and again and again. This year for instance while we were studying addictions and how they impact our faith, several of the students said "this is nice, but we feel like we've been over this before." After checking with the calendar, they were right. We had been over it before. About 4 times in 5 years. 

And so I sat down at our white board, and crafted something huge. A four year teaching plan for High School Veritas. Each teaching planned out for four years, so that a student who comes in as a freshmen will never hear the same topic repeated twice except in certain instances where repetition is key. And even there, the repetition is once every other year, so that we can break up the monotony. Four years of planning! I can tell you what we'll be talking about each week until 2016. I walked away from the whiteboard feeling really good about where we're going as a ministry!

I got in my car, drove home, and decided to take a training ride. This was one of the first times back on the bike after a two week break with Alive and Vacation Bible School, so I decided that I just wanted to hop on and get my legs spinning. I had no plan. I had no goals. I had no measures of success other than to end with a smile on my face. I actually wound up going faster and longer than I would have thought (10 miles at a 16.9 mph average), but again I had no real goal, so I didn't really have anything to compare it to. But being completely without plan felt good in that moment. I felt free. 

I see both sides of the argument from different youth leaders. Some insist that you have to be meticulously planned out, to the point where you know every detail of every possible event about 5 years before you actually pull the trigger on it. I get this. It leads to some security and safety. It also frees you up from having to think a whole lot on your feet, because the thinking took place months ago. 

I also know people who say the Spirit needs to move in freedom, and that our plans would get in the way of the Spirits work. If I plan something for a high school event while the Spirit is busy making other plans, I might miss something. I get this line of thinking too. Too many plans can suffocate a movement. 

I think what becomes obvious here is that there is a time for everything. Having a four year teaching plan for us right now is going to alleviate a lot of problems we've been experiencing at Veritas. But at the same time, I love nothing more than the impromptu visits by students, the unplanned movements. I'm even sick enough to love when plans go horribly wrong, and I'm forced to think a bit on my feet. It's got to be both, in certain situations and certain times. And to know the difference takes the spiritual gift of discernment. 

What about you? Are you more of a planner, or a free spirited person?