Kicking off.

Greetings bloggers!

You know that dream? The one where you wake up for school one morning, realizing that you have a huge project due and you haven’t done a thing about it? And then you show up at school and discover that you forgot to wear pants or something like that? Or perhaps you, like me, know that less as a dream and more as an every day occurrence?

That’s what today has felt like.  Continue reading

Book Review: A Christian Survival Guide by Ed Cyzewski

4331 lifeline cvr CC.inddGreetings friends!

Long time readers of the J-Blog know all about Ed Cyzewski, and the awkward way that the two of us met. Since then, I have been extremely honored to call Ed a friend, and I have been looking forward to this release from him for quite a while. So without further delay, here are my thoughts on Ed’s newest book, A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth

Continue reading

Keeping your head.

gBGKxFq

Greetings friends!

Sarah and I were returning from vacation on Monday afternoon, and found ourselves having an unexpected adventure. As we were driving down the PA Turnpike, I heard an odd whooping noise. At first, I thought it was the Kayak that my brother in law had loaned me for paddling around in the bay at Breezy Point. So Sarah and I pulled over on the side of the road, checked everything out, and discovered that the kayak was indeed as tight as we could possibly have expected. So we got back in the car, started driving again, and heard the same whooping noise from time to time. The last time it did it, the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree, with check engine lights and other blinking warnings of doom flashing all over the place.

Uh-oh.  Continue reading

Side Job

Hello friends!

Just so you all know, I’ve been cheating on you! I mean, not like that. A friend of mine and I have started a side blog, found here, where we will be posting about all things awkward and disturbing. It’s sure to be tons of laughs.

But fear not loyal J-Blog readers (all five of you), we’re not going anywhere. Whilest on vacation, I have been dreaming up posts about youth ministry, politics, superheroes, and the end of the world. So we’ve got that to look forward to! We’ll kick things back up next week. In the meantime, stay classy San Diego!

Update: Forgot the link earlier. Awkward…

First Thoughts: OS X Yosemite

Greetings bloggers!

So yesterday I did something horribly foolish, but totally J-ish. On my one and only laptop, means of work and productivity, I installed the public beta of OS X: Yosemite. I am a sucker for apple products as fans of the J-Blog know all too well, and so I wanted to get my hands on this thing as quickly as I could. That said, it’s still very much a public beta, so there was a possibility that after I installed the program on my one and only laptop, that said laptop could spontaneously combust and leave a pile of ashes on my desk.

I clicked install anyway.

At first, things were a little bit slow. This was slightly disheartening, but not cause for alarm. After all it’s a beta, and the laptop I have isn’t Apple’s top of the line platform, so there was a chance the two just weren’t going to play well together. But once things got settled in, my lappy resumed its normal speeds. So I continued about my work and waited for something else to break down.

I’m still waiting.

Now granted I’m not a power user by any means. I’m sure there are features upon feature that I am ignoring because I simply don’t know they’re there. But this thing looks sweet, and to be honest that matters a good deal to me. If I’m going to spend 8+ hours behind a laptop typing, there ought to be something sweet to stare at. Yosemite doesn’t disappoint! I wish I had iOS 8 to go along with it so that I could play with some of the pairing features that are available, but I’ll have to be patient like everyone else on that front.

Are you an apple geek? Have you tried the new beta software?

More to come I’m sure.

 

The cycle of distraction and procrastination

 

Greetings bloggers!

So today as I pedaled my way into the office, I ran through my to-do list. I needed to make a Set List for the show we have this Saturday, and then print the chord charts for practice tonight. And I had to wrap up my sermon. The first item on my list happened in about 30 seconds. We already had a skeleton set list that we had been using through the summer, it just need to be expanded a little bit.

What followed the printing of the set list was a monument to not doing the task at hand like you just wouldn’t believe. I started to notice about an hour into the process that I had a little cycle going, anything to keep me distracted from the task at hand:

I checked my e-mail
I opened Facebook
I opened Chainlove to see what they were selling for bicycles.
I opened a few cycling blogs to see if they had posted any cool videos.
I looked at my sermon. I typed two sentences of outline.
I checked my e-mail.
I opened Facebook.
I walked down the hall to our communication directors office for a robust discussion about our mini-golf tournament. This took a half hour.
I checked my e-mail.
I opened Facebook.
I opened Chainlove.
I  looked again at my sermon. I changed one word in the outline.
I walked to my mailbox in the church office. There was a tremendous letter from a member of the congregation who had heard the last sermon and thought it was just what he needed to hear. This only added pressure to the current sermon.
I checked my e-mail.
I opened Facebook.
I opened Chainlove.
I watched a video online about how to make a perfect cup of coffee.
I watched three more coffee videos. 30 minutes gone.
I brewed a cup of coffee.
I checked my e-mail.
I opened Facebook.
I looked at the sermon, and decided that it was time to blog to try to get something, anything, whatever I could, to flow from my fingers into a written word.

Now yes, I am procrastinating. Part of it is the feeling of being stuck. The sermon has a pretty solid beginning, and I know exactly where I’d like it to land. Getting from point A to point B is a difficult journey sometimes, and trying to get there while staying honest and true to the scriptures is another spot of bother in the process. But this is the creative process. It doesn’t all happen at once. Very rarely have I sat down to write a sermon and gotten up an hour later with product in hand. It’s 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, a solid half hour in a coffee shop over here (my next move if something doesn’t come to life soon is to get out of the office and away from distractions…)

How does your creative process work? And does procrastination play a role for you?

We could love more…

Greetings bloggers!

I realize that as I’ve been posting more and more lately, I’ve come up with some pretty depressing and/or hot button issues for us to ponder over together. I promise that soon I’ll have a video of a cat dancing or something, but today these are just the thoughts that are on my mind.

Today I’m wondering why it is as youth pastors we (or maybe it’s just me) haven’t paid more attention to what’s going on in Texas regarding the immigration crisis. Children, and I would have to guess that included in that are more than a few teenagers, are flooding into the United States because of deteriorating conditions in countries like Guatemala and Honduras. And when I say flooding, I’m not kidding. There are so many that we don’t have enough immigration judges to hear their cases, so many of these kids are living in squaller in temporary holding facilities while we try to sort out what to do.

Now granted, this is a complex situation that requires a more nuanced mind than I have to give to it (a fact I wish people would be more aware of when they speak on television about this or any other topic). You want to do what’s best for the kids, and you want to obey the laws of our land, and it seems like those two ideas may hold a good bit of tension. I get that. I get that we can’t just blanket accept every kid that crosses our borders. I get that there are legal issues. I get all of this.

Dee Barrow

This, however, is what I don’t get. I don’t get the animosity and hate that pours from many people on this issue. This was among the tamest signs I could find to post on an otherwise Christian blog. And remember, most of the people who are flooding in to our country at this point are kids. Kids. Kids who’s parents sent them here because they wanted them to have a fighting chance at success, which is if we’re honest exactly what we would do if our kids were in trouble. So I just don’t get the hate.

Again, I get that it’s a complicated issue. And I get that some Christian churches have stepped up big time and housed some of the kids and posted bail for some others and things like that. But I’m compelled to think that in this situation, as complex as it is turning out to be, we could love them more. We could offer more love to these kids who are (no matter how you slice the pie) not having the best life. We could offer more love to these parents who are just trying to make a better life for themselves. We could offer more love to the judges and government officials who are trying to sort this out. We could offer more love to Congress and the President, even as they suggest ideas we may or may not agree with to solve this crisis. We could offer more love.

We could always offer more love.

Empire

Greetings friends,

So as I mentioned, I’ve been paying a little bit closer attention to the news lately. For a while, I absolutely could not stand to watch anything that tried to pass itself off as news in this country. If you tuned to MSNBC, you would find the liberals blaming the conservatives for holding up progress. If you tuned to FOX, you would find conservatives blaming liberals for trying to do too much too quickly. And if you turned to CNN, you would find a group of people trying to be professional newscasters and failing miserably.

Now recently we’ve had a few stories that have turned our attention elsewhere. The conflict in Israel has gotten out of hand, with rockets fired and incursions launched. And then just as we were starting to tune in to something like that, the news broke that a passenger plane had been shot down in the active war zone in Ukraine. Suddenly (and I might add, refreshingly) the spotlight was taken off of ourselves and turned to a world that could use our attention.

A seminary professor a while back was commenting on how little we pay attention to world events in this country. “When you’ve formed an empire, you care very little for what goes on outside the empire.” We in America don’t like to think of ourselves as an empire. We’re too democratic for that. But use whatever word you’d like, perhaps superpower, and the point remains the same. We really only care about what impacts us directly.

And frankly, it’s getting worse. When you think about how easy it is to only listen to people who share your point of view in this country, it is crazy. If I am conservative, I can listen to conservative radio on the way to work, read only conservative papers, enjoy books written by only conservative authors, and then watch the evening news presented by conservative Americans just like me. If I am liberal, the same dizzying array of choices await me. If I am a white Christian, I can form my theology by only listening to or reading white Christians. Same thing if I am black. We have taken the idea of isolated empire and have become empires in and of ourselves.

And that’s kind of lame.

A group of friends and I have been getting together to read through the book of Acts once a week. This week we read over the great story of Paul in Athens, sitting down and having a debate with the Greeks about matters of faith and religion. Paul has studied their culture. He knows all about their “unknown god.” He knows what their poets have said. And rather than beat them to a pulp over how different they are, rather than defending his own empire, Paul uses what he knows about the other person to have an honest, open, and frank discussion about what matters most to him. It’s an incredible sight to behold in the scriptures, and sadly I don’t know that a discussion like that could happen today.

I don’t know if those of us who see Christianity differently could sit in a room and appreciate each other’s differences. I don’t know if those of us who have two different faiths could sit in a room and have a civil discussion. I don’t know how many of those outrageous Facebook political debates could actually happen in real life. And that’s sad. I learn way more about what I believe when I step outside myself and see things from another angle. I learn much more about how to love other people when I better understand how they see the world. And I can’t do that too easily in our culture, because we are so invested in empires.

So I don’t know about you, but I’m going to do my best to leave the empire behind. I’m joining the rebellion. I’m joining the rebellion that says love is more powerful than fear. I’m joining the rebellion that says the souls of people half way around the world matter just as much as the souls in my own back  yard. I’m joining the rebellion that says that the Lord on the cross is a sign of victory, not defeat, and that perhaps winning every battle isn’t what’s most important.

Who’s with me?

Liberation

 

Greetings bloggers!

The last few sermons I have preached back at Westminster have been some of the best reviewed sermons I’ve given in a while. This is certainly not to brag, though I suppose a blog is exactly the space for a person to puff themselves up. I don’t really think that the popularity of these sermons has anything to do with my homiletical game. I can tell because the compliments are not the usual “Hey, when you opened your mouth full English sentences came out. That surprised us. Well done!” that I receive on a weekly basis. The most common phrase I heard in the aftermath of these sermons was “I needed to hear that.” As a preacher, could you honestly ask for anything more? An affirmation that your proclamation of the Word of God was so honest and true that a thirsty Christian came away feeling like they got a glass of water? In the most theologically correct language: Boo yah!

So what did I preach about? What was it that was so powerful that many people came up and offered their thanks for the message?

The first week, which was actually the first Sunday in July, we talked about Galatians 5, one of my favorite texts:

It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm therefore and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

Freedom yo. It was fourth of July weekend, and so to celebrate I took a good hard look at what freedom in Christ is like. Note that this text says that Christ has set you free. Not that it might some day. Not that Christ will set you free if you follow the right doctrinal statement or theological system. You are free now. What you do with that is up to you. You can use that freedom for good, and try to spread the good news to people who are desperate for it. Or you can just roll over again into slavery. You can give up all that freedom that Christ has given you, and just fall back into the same sins again and again and again. Essentially, I preached the gospel.

Now, that particular Sunday there was a testimony given by a member of the congregation, and it was communion Sunday, so with the time crunch my sermon was only about 10 minutes long. So naturally I expected people to like it, because I got them to golf sooner! But again, it wasn’t that they liked the sermon. The phrase that came up again and again was “I needed to hear that.” So I found that rather interesting. In a church, where a sermon is preached week after week after week, what people feel like the need to hear is the straight up gospel message.

So I drove a little bit farther in that direction. I had the pulpit for all three services this week, and I decided to talk about resurrection. Not just Christ’s resurrection, though surely that’s a critical piece of our faith, but more about what Christ’s resurrection allows us to do. Christ’s resurrection allows us to move from death to life, to move from gossip to care, from envy to encouragement, from idolatry to worship, from greed to charity. It was the essential argument that the gospel matters in our world here and now, not just as some kind of fire insurance for when we die. It was, essentially, the gospel message again.

Now if you find yourself a preacher like myself, don’t you think from time to time that the gospel is too simple? Surely the folks in our congregation have already sorted that part of the faith out right? We don’t need to hash that out again. We can move on to something sexier, like gay marriage or Christian morality or something like that. No need to cover those bases again.

Go ahead and take a moment to look at the news. Don’t you think that this is exactly what the world needs to hear? The good news that sin and death are beaten by Christ, and we don’t need to submit to them any farther. People are desperate for that!

But then I get a little bit sad when I see what Christians are known for in the news. We aren’t spreading good news at all. I mean if we’re spreading good news, people should be liberated from something should they not? If we’re spreading Christ’s gospel, shouldn’t someone be liberated from sin or death, able to live their lives freely and graciously? When I see how the Church responds to the issues we have decided to respond to (don’t be fooled, we pick and choose what issues are important to us) I see very little liberation. I see condemnation and retribution and inflammation, but I don’t see liberation. That’s a shame. And as I’ve thought about it more, I think the J-Blog could be a place where we could spread some good news through the big news stories of our day. Hopefully I won’t be so lazy so as to allow more of that to happen here.

But in the mean time, how can we be good news in our very own neighborhood? Right in our back yard, how can we be good news? Can you spread the good word among your friends and family? Can you liberate those who are stuck in a cycle of death and dying by speaking the simple love of Christ into their lives?

Please slow down!

10776749944_d5f3021327_z

Greetings bloggers!

I’ve been riding my bike to work all week. While I wish I could say this was for noble reasons, like getting in shape or saving the environment or something like that, the truth is that my car is a month overdue for inspection, and I’m too lazy to take it the three blocks up the road to have it looked at. So the whole week was to be accomplished by bicycle. Work? Bicycle. Groceries? Bicycle. Coffee at Starbucks? Bicycle. And of course in the process, I got more in shape and did a little piece of saving the environment.

Now I have been on the receiving end of many jeers and shouts from passing motorists. My personal favorite happened not once or twice, but three times.That’s right. Three times someone has driven past me and yelled “Go the speed limit!” Which is hilarious, because the only thing I can’t do in most cases is go faster than the speed limit. The problem is not that I cannot obey the speed limit. It’s one of the traffic laws I have no issue behaving on a bicycle. The problem is that people are in a rush, and want to go substantially faster than my little legs can take me.

Today though things took a dangerous turn. I was riding to work, and had to make a left hand turn on to one of the streets in our neighborhood. Left turns are dangerous, and this turn is on to a pretty busy road. I could see at the top of the hill that there was a truck coming, but supposing he was traveling at that speed limit I had been yelled at about so many times I would have loads of time to get out in front of him. The other side of the road was clear, so I signaled, turned, and got on to traffic.

I could hear behind me the tell tale sound of a diesel engine revving. The truck had sped up to catch up to me, and pulled even with me. The passenger yelled “Get the (censored) off the road!” I stared him down with my typical deer in the headlights look that occurs when conflict abounds. Then the truck pulled ahead of me and swerved into my lane, which was the shoulder of the road. That place where trucks are not meant to go. The place that I was currently occupying. I slammed on the brakes to avoid the ensuing collision, let my wits catch up to me, and sped up to try to catch the plate number. Sadly, I don’t have Jens Voigt legs. I never caught him and never got to check the plate.

Now, I’ve spent the better part of the day imagining all sorts of revenge I would like to enact on these meat head truck drivers. I’ve wished and wished that I believed in karma, so I could let my head hit the pillow knowing that these dudes would eventually get theirs. But as the day wore on, I realized that I just felt really sad for them. Where does the anger come from? I mean perhaps these guys had rough mornings that were bad enough so as to turn them into homicidal maniacs, but I don’t think so. I think that they were in such a hurry, the mere sight of a pudgy cyclist slowing them down was too much to bear, and they let off some steam.

They’re not alone.

How busy are we really? How quickly do we need to get from home to work, or work to home? When was the last time that we instituted a sabbath, a day where we don’t have deadlines or reasons to go super fast? When was the last time we took our time, slowed down, and spent some time with the people we love?

I’m going to keep riding. I’m going to take 20 minutes to get to work when it could have taken 5 in a car.  I’m going to spend the weekend hanging out with the people I love. And if you’re the drivers of the truck, come on over. I’ve got a porch, a grill, and a desperately needed moment to relax.

Godspeed,

J