Photo Friday: Sunrise and Music


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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


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!


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



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



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


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



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!)


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


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


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 yourself.


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


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: yourself.

...with all your mind.


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


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...




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!


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



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. 

...with all your heart.


Greetings friends!

Yesterday we took a look at Matthew 22:34-40 as a way to examine what the basics of youth ministry might look like. Today I want to focus in on what Jesus claims is the first part of the most important commandment:

"Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart..." (Matthew 22:37)

I spent the better part of last term in Seminary learning that American Theology in the last 100 years or so has placed a profound emphasis on logic, understanding, and knowledge when it comes to God and Spirituality. We want to think this thing through. We want to set up a 6 week series, or a collection of blog posts, or a Christian Education Seminar as our way of understanding who God is, and what God is all about. That all has its place, and we'll get to that in a few days.

But that's not where Jesus starts. He doesn't start in the nice neat lines of logic that so many of us have become accustomed to. He starts with the heart. The illogical, messy, unpredictable, wild and free piece of us that beats just beneath our chest. That piece of us, that is what we're called to love God with.

And not just some of it. All our hearts. We're called to love God with a passion and a zeal and a desire that only our hearts can provide, and beyond that we're not supposed to have the same passion or zeal or desire for anything else. That would constitute loving something else, which would mean that we're not loving God with all of our heart.

I mean, just as a for instance, do you love doing Youth Ministry more than you love God? It happens to some people, more than I think anyone would be willing to admit to publicly. But it's true. We can fall in love with that feeling you get when a student finally "gets it." We can fall in love with those late night sessions around the campfire where we're in deep conversation with a student. We can even fall in love with dodgeball. And all of that is fine, as long as we don't love it more than we love God.

You can apply that to just about any profession in the world too. Do you love being an artist more than you love God? Do you love making money more than you love God? Do you love being a stay at home mom more than you love God? Again, don't mis-read me, I'm not saying you can't love these things. But if they get in the way of your love for God, if you give your heart to those things, then according to Jesus we're into some murky waters.

Our students are extremely perceptive. They pick up on things that we assume no one in their right mind would notice. They look to us for an example, even if it seems like they'd like nothing at all to do with us. And one of the first things they notice is what has the full attention of our hearts. What do we love? What are we passionate about? What do we desire? The truth is you can have all the best programs in the world, be an extremely eloquent speaker, be able to come up with the greatest youth group games just off the top of your head. But if you don't have your heart right before God, your students will see right through that, and your ministry will be completely worthless.

So I hope you'll join me today in my prayers. My prayer is that my heart would belong only to God. My passions, my desires, those things that keep me up at night would be God's and not my own. I pray that I would desire him more than I would desire anything else in the world. Be careful though. If you're willing to pray this prayer, it's possible that God might just answer it.

Tomorrow: ...with all your soul.

Get back to basics!


Steelers defense

Hello friends,

As I was browsing through my RSS feed this morning and reading all the blogs worthy of my attention, I noticed not one, not two, but three posts that used football and sports as their illustration. I don't want to miss out on that bandwagon!


It was rumored that legendary Steelers coach Chuck Noll pulled the team aside after a fairly nasty loss (Thursday night anyone?) and informed them that they were going to spend their practice time in the coming weeks to focus on basics. They would spend time blocking. They would spend time tackling. They would spend time doing that which at this particular point of the season felt silly, but all the same were the building blocks of any kind of success they might come across. WIthout the basics, the more advanced stuff doesn't make any sense at all. 


I'm thinking about this as we're about to ramp up another year of ministry, and wondering what the basic elements of a solid youth ministry are. What are the things that would matter even if you stripped away the fancy programs, well researched curriculums, and beautiful looking powerpoint shows? What are the things without which your whole ministry would collapse? 


What follows seems obvious, which is why it's so very important to give it our full attention: 

"Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" (Matthew 22:34-36)


In other words, "Hey Jesus, what does blocking and tackling look like in a spiritual world?" 


Jesus' answer is astoundingly simple and unrelentingly complex all at the same time: 

"Jesus replied "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)


I'd actually like to spend the better part of this week thinking about this and focusing on this here at the J-Blog, but a few questions jump out at me from the start: 


Before we begin this season of ministry to others, how is your relationship with God? 


How much of your work week is dedicated to improving your relationship with God so that you can improve other's relationship with God? 


How much of your work week is dedicated to prayer, dedicated towards communication with the Father? 


How do we show other people what loving the Lord with all their heart and soul and mind looks like? 


Who is our neighbor? 


Who are our kids neighbors? 


So like I said, I think we're going to spend a good part of this week at the J-Blog looking at this. But before we do, may I encourage you to read over this passage each day? Whether you follow what goes on the Blog this week or not, I think this is a fantastic passage to read before we launch any ministries for the year. And because it seems so obvious to us, because the meaning is already assumed by most people, that's all the more reason to pour over this text and beg it to speak clear and new meaning into our lives. A living and active word will do that to you!


More thoughts later!



Photo Friday: American Dreams


Greetings Earthlings,

How can you not love Switchfoot? While I shuffle the contents of my iPod rather frequently, there is almost never a time that Switchfoot isn't at least a part of the mix. Lately, I've been stuck on the album Oh Gravity... and in particular this song American Dream. 

I find myself going back and forth. In my heart of hearts, I want to live a simple life. It seems to make sense to me. I don't want to spend any time at all caught up in the trappings of consumeristic America, letting my wallet determine my worth. And so every once and a while, I'll drift into a living simply mode, where I try to set things aside and live as basic and down to earth as humanly possible. 

It usually lasts a week or so. 

Then I'm right back into it. Apple will release a new iPad that I absolutely must have. Old Navy will have a sale and I'll spend my money there rather than say at the Goodwill, where everyone wins in the end. I will obsess over how my car isn't good enough because it doesn't have leather seats or a navigational system (though, at this particular moment I'm happy the car runs without falling apart!). And no one will notice anything is wrong, nothing will feel wrong, because that's the culture we surround ourselves with. I'll blend in to the crowd, and no one will notice me. 

I worry about this. Jesus seemed to think that living simply was the best way to go: 

"Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts, no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or staff, for the worker is worth his keep." (Matthew 10:9-10)

In other words, working for the kingdom of God should be payment enough for us. It should be status symbol enough for us. Whereas the American Dream really ends up enslaving most of us (ask anyone who has over-maxed their credit cards), the Kingdom and the work we do for it frees us. It might seem so backwards to our American culture, but the less you worry about yourself, the more free you'll really end up being. 

This has implications for youth ministry too, you know? If our youth ministry is run by programs and toys and gadgets and stuff rather than by relationships and an honest yearning for the Spirit of God, then our kids will end up loving the world every bit as much as we teach them to. Please understand, this comes from a place of conviction, I'm thinking through our ministry as I'm typing this. But all the same, does your ministry feed the American Dream, or the Kingdom Come? 

I'm going to work on this the next few weeks. I hope you'll join me. I hope you'll join me in trying to put God first by putting myself last. I hope you'll join me in trying to advance the Kingdom by suppressing my desires. If his love is really better than wine, and the worker is really worth his keep, then won't we actually be better off in the long run? Won't we actually be free? 

Cleaning the Youth Room...



The sign in Ed's hands reads "The cleanliness of this room is the responsibility of EVERYONE. Please clean up dishes, spills, food, etc. Thank You."

Yesterday was a day of dread around the office. It's been a day we've known was coming for about six weeks now. You see, we have what we call "The Worship Room" in our youth area. It's a big empty room, the only furniture is the stage and the table we set the sound equipment on. It's the room responsible for making the floor shake on Wednesday nights. It's where we always hope heavenly mosh-pits erupt weekly. But because it is nothing but a big empty space, and because it remains largely unused during the summer, after each and every trip we dump everything out of the church bus into that room and leave it "for later."

Later began yesterday. We're still not done. 

We haven't yet discovered any living creatures under the mess, though that has happened in years past. Again though, we only got about halfway through yesterday, so there's hope for today. 

I think it's good that youth ministry runs in seasons. Usually by the end of the school year, after almost 40 weeks of youth ministry on a regular basis, I'm ready to take a break. I'm ready to have my Wednesday nights to myself, to be able to spend a bit more time with my wife during the week. But as I was sitting in the worship room yesterday, watching as the mess started to disappear, my mind started to wander into what we could do to improve the room. It started to wander into dreams and plans and visions for the upcoming year. It started to wander into who was coming back for this new year of ministry, and what new faces we might see this time around. Now, all of a sudden, after three months of break, I simply cannot wait to dive back in to a youth ministry season. 

Like I posted a few days ago, this feeling of church home is very important to me. And as I was looking around the worship room, dreaming about what we could do with that space this year, I was wondering if our students felt at home here at Westminster. Does this space invite them to feelings of safety and encouragement in the presence of God? Does this space exist as a hiding place for them when things aren't going well? Does this space represent a place to celebrate joy and encouragement in times of excitement? In what ways does the space itself do those things? In what ways do the people who fill the space do those things? 

I realize not everybody has a youth wing. We are blessed beyond what even I think is reasonable. But I've done youth ministry in a single room in my home church. I've seen friends who do youth ministry out of a residential house, because that's the space God has given them. Maybe you don't even have a typical meeting space, maybe you meet students in whatever coffee shop or fast food joint will have you. But before the season ramps up, before we get things going, perhaps its a good time to ask if your students feel at home in your space? Perhaps it's a time to work with that space to make it more inviting, to make it a safe space. 

Even if that means a two day cleaning spree...

Trying to listen


D935 rebel pilot headphones wearing

Hello friends,

The Dark Night of the Soul is a concept I've written about here before on the J-Blog. It's the idea that God would simply stop speaking to you. You wouldn't hear from him for a long while, despite constantly praying and seeking and asking and searching. It is, according to many church fathers like St. John of the Cross, a blessing. If you only had a relationship with God for the sake of loving God, and not for all the things he could bless you with, would you still love him as deeply? Or is God our cosmic sugar daddy, always there to give us what we need? 

This isn't that...

I found myself in a situation this morning where I needed discernment. Sarah and I even sat down and prayed together and asked God to help us make the right decision. And as I found myself in the moment, as I was thinking through decisions and what was in front of me, I heard nothing. I didn't hear a voice from God. I didn't feel the Spirit descend like a dove. I didn't see the clouds part. I had nothing going on inside me. It was not unlike driving in a really thick fog, being pretty sure there is road underneath the wheels but having absolutely no idea where the road was taking me. 

The temptation in this moment is usually to blame God. After all, he can take it, right? The temptation is to call this a dark night of the soul, a moment in time where God abandoned me and stopped communicating. For once in my life, I saw right through the temptation right away. The problem wasn't that God wasn't speaking. It was that I wasn't asking. Sure, Sarah and I said a quick prayer that morning, but my mind was elsewhere. The prayer was half baked on my end at best. In typical fashion, my mind was on what I could do. My mind was centered on the actions that I could take. What am I going to do next? 

It's so subtle isn't it? This idea of grace vs. works. I mean sure, when it comes to salvation and eternal life we're all pretty good at seeing the difference, knowing that the correct answer on the theological test is to say that nothing we could ever do would make God love us less. We are given our free gift of salvation because of Christ's work on the cross, not ours here. Yet I don't think that the eternal ramifications are the only place this grace vs. works battle plays out. I think when we enter our prayer life focused on what we can do in a situation rather than ask God for his wisdom, it's like trying to have a conversation with someone while wearing headphones. You can't possibly listen to what the other person has to say. 

Tonight, I'm taking my headphones off. I'm hoping that I can sit quietly enough to hear what God is saying to me. The situation from this morning is well passed and resolved, but there are other situations. There are so many areas in my life where I would rather trust myself and what I can do rather than leaning back, trusting God, and listening to what he wants to speak into my life. 

My prayer for us tonight is that we would listen. That we would be still enough to hear what God is speaking into our world. That we would have the strength and the courage to take the headphones off, and listen and converse with God. What a privilege and an honor it is to have a conversation with the God of the universe, that we all to often take for granted. 

Let us pray...

Book Review: Working the Angles by Eugene Peterson


Peterson  Working te Angles

Greetings again friends,

Two blog posts on a Friday? You guys are lucky! 

Seminary kicks back into full gear for me again here in two weeks, and because this first class is a two week intensive, I need to read like the dickens before it gets here. 1,200 pages worth to be exact. Not being the fastest reader in the world, I had to get cracking. 

So I just finished up the first of the books on my list, Working the Angles by Euguene Peterson. Most people when I mention his name roll their eyes slightly, with visions of The Message dancing in their heads. True, that's not my absolute favorite translation of the scriptures. But when it comes to writing about what it takes to be a pastor and lead a community of people in the ways of Jesus, Peterson is second to none. 

In Working the Angles, Peterson notes that many of us pastors have become adept at faking it. We've figured out that if we preach the same 6 sermons with slightly different funny illustrations, show up at the occasional board meeting to open with prayer, and make our rounds at the hospitals for visitation, then we've earned our paycheck. For Peterson, being a pastor is not (and sounds like has never been) about earning a paycheck. Being a pastor is not about faking it. Being a pastor is about faithfully leading a community of believers. 

Three areas in the pastors life seem to be deeply missing according to Peterson, and they make up the three sections of this book. The first is prayer. Who among us hasn't wanted to elevate the prayer life of their congregation (or in most of our cases, youth group)? But if our prayer life is simply opening up meetings and gatherings with a few short words, then haven't we taught our flock to pray the same way? Peterson reminds us that prayer is essentially spending time in the presence of God, and so few of us actually carve out enough time in our busy schedules to pray properly. If by the end of the first section you aren't equal parts encouraged and challenged, you haven't been paying attention to this book!

The second area we need to spend more attention is in the habit of scripture reading. In this section, Peterson sounds a lot like the conversations I have with my self in my own head, only he's way more articulate. Too many have reduced the Bible to a book containing facts. We tear apart the facts and tidbits of Greek and Hebrew with our modern exegetical studies, all the while sucking the life directly out of the living and active word. We have to wrestle with the book. We have to listen to what God has to say to us, not just reading the words off the page. We need to engage the scriptures contemplatively today. 

The last area is in that of Spiritual Direction. Some of us have seemingly confused Spiritual Direction with Christian Counseling. They're not the same. The act of Spiritual Direction is a lot like having a guide on a wilderness trip. Someone who has been there before, and is willing to walk along with you as you go. Too often, I am at least convicted that my spiritual direction is more about my having an idea to fix a person's problem, rather than just letting them speak and share with me. 

Like I said, Working the Angles is both encouraging and challenging. It helped me to celebrate where I am, and desire to get to where I want to be. I highly recommend it for anyone working in any level of ministry. 

Have a great weekend!



Photo Friday: 2012-2013 Veritas Theme Announced!


Hello friends!

It all started a few weeks ago. Ed and I were driving with our friend Dave, and Katy Perry's new single happened across the radio. As is often the case when a pop song that actually sounds good shows up, we all affirmed that it was indeed a good pop song. There are so few. It even seemed to have, to at least our amateur listening ears, a semi-Spiritual message hiding in its lyrics. Thus began the thinking. 

A few weeks later, as we were sitting around trying to determine the theme for our year at Veritas, the ideas were bouncing around the office like wildfire. Actually that's not true. A 6th theme is hard to come up with without repeating the previous 5. And so we thought until smoke came out of our ears. And then the song appeared again, and we knew it in a heartbeat. This year, Veritas would wake up.

Boy, we need it don't we? Looking around at the various blog posts I've put up this week, all of which seem to surround Christianity and the news, it would appear as though most of us who are practicing Christians are sound asleep. We are sound asleep to how our words are used, heard, and interpreted by those who need the living word most of all. We are sound asleep to what it looks like to make hay out of a fast food restaurant rather than have a civilized debate about where we might disagree. We are sound asleep to the grace of God in our world. 

"Wake up sleeper, 
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you." (Ephesians 5:14)

Are you wide awake? Are you wide awake to the way God is moving in your life? In your family? In your relationships? In your community? In your workplace? Are you wide awake to how your lifestyle affects those around you and around the world? Are you wide awake to your relationship with God? Or are we in some kind of half-snoozing slumber, where things are happening, but we're only a little aware of it? 

Come to Veritas starting August 29th, and wake up.



The words and the Word



Hello friends,

Jim touched on something the other day in his sermon that has been rattling around in my brain ever since. The sermon dealt with fear, and what it looks like as a Christian to deal with the fear in our lives. Nobody lives without fear, it's something we all deal with on a daily basis. But when dealing with fear, and consulting with friends about it, one of the annoying refrains that Christians seem to throw at each other is "Oh, just trust Jesus. It'll be better."


Does that provide any sense of comfort to the person in question? Or what if the person in question is already trusting Jesus, but still feels fear? What if the fears themselves are wrapped up in what trusting Jesus looks like (a prospect that honestly should scare us more than it does I think)? There are more than a handful of situations where the words "Just trust Jesus" don't fit. In fact, they can be harmful. 

But as I mentioned, that all got me thinking. A cursory glance through my twitter timeline this week led me to a handful of sayings that we seem to try to make fit in every situation, even when they don't. Sometimes I even get a bit nervous when we post random pieces of scripture that are taken completely out of the context in which they were meant. For instance, did you know that the saying "Where two or more are gathered, I am with them" comes from a teaching about disciplining an unrepentant sinner? 

I mean, I get it. The twitter world attempts to solve every nail with a 140 character hammer. But our words are at times worthless. Our words can only take us so far. Our words, more often than we'd like to admit, fall flat and much shorter than we intended. 

But Jesus does not. 

Jesus himself is THE Word of God made flesh. When God speaks words, whole galaxies come into being. When Jesus speaks, light breaks into darkness. When the Spirit speaks, an entire movement within the Church is born. When the Word speaks, things start happening. 

And so maybe for those of us who are in ministry, we should spend a little less time coming up with and finding pithy sayings that are meant to encourage in every situation, a one size fits all piece of theological encouragement, but rather we should spend a little more time inviting the Word made flesh into our ministries and our conversations. Maybe we should invite Jesus to put a fresh word on our tounges every time we are bold enough to represent him publicly, to those who need to hear from him most. Maybe instead of tweeting about a situation, we could spend a bit more time meeting with the people behind the situation. 

Just some food for thoughts. Happy Wednesday everyone!