Monday, May 31, 2010

Random Ramblings: NYC '94

It is Memorial Day, a day when we remember great sacrafices made so that we can be free.  That includes Jesus, who died so that we might have life, and life abundant!  Honor the fallen by working for peace in the name of the Prince of Peace...

The four New York trips we took from FUMC-K tend to run together because there were many students and adults who participated in more than one of the adventures.  But each trip had its own personality, and here are a few of the things I remember from 1994:
  • Angie Whalin bought a stuffed dog from F.A.O. Schwartz at Central Park.  This dog was roughly the size of a small adult human!  She had to carry it back across Manhattan to the hotel, which was no easy task.  She also had to get on the plane to go home.  At one point we were afraid we might have to buy it a ticket...
  • Sharon Lynes was one the adults on the trip, and she quickly became addicted to NYC. She would go on to accompany us on all of our trips, plus a few of her own.
  • Todd Willis and Jocelyn Sessions were close friends, and as we walked the many, many blocks we walked each day around the city they would often walk side by side, engrossed in deep discussions.  If you have ever walked the sidewalks of Manhattan, you know that there is seldom room to walk single file, much less side by side.  Jocelyn always looked so surprised when men in $500 suits would bump into her and not apologize, and at one point she openly accused them of being rude! 
  • I already knew, and the rest of the group discovered, that the best hot chocolate in the history of the world could be found across 45th Street from the Milford Plaza at a place called Ooh-La-La!  Sadly, it closed a decade ago.  They put actual hot fudge in your hot chocolate.  Many was the morning I got up early, went and got a large cup, and then went back again when the rest of the group went!
  • We saw the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, with the Rockettes and Nativity featuring live camels and other animals.  It was stirring and uplifting, and gave us all an early start on the Christmas season.
  • This was the last NY trip we took that was officially a United Nations Seminar.  The seminar at the Methodist Center was not up to its usual high standards- it was actually pretty boring.  Plus, it was outside of the interests of the group of students I was now serving.  From 1994 forward we let the city itself serve as our seminar, and it proved to be a great teacher.
  • We saw Les Miserables on Saturday night, and used the story for our worship on Sunday morning.  We talked about the Biblical truth that "God is love," and we added the line from Les Miz that "to love another person is to see the face of God..."  It was a very inspirational morning.
  • I didn't know at the time that due to changes in Osceola County school policies we would not be back to NYC in November for several years.  The weekend before Thanksgiving is still one of my favorite times to be in NYC.  They are decorating, getting ready for the Macy's Parade, and just generally putting their best foot forward.  And it's cold.  New York is supposed to be cold!
These are some of the things that I remember from 1994.  But it wasn't until we returned to Kissimmee that I learned that there was one fact about which I had no clue.  A giant secret was being kept from me, and my world was about to change forever!  See you tomorrow!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Uncredited Glory

If you were to enter the Jones house between 6 AM and 8 AM on pretty much any Monday-Friday, you would find Marilyn and Will getting ready for work and school.  You would find me fixing breakfast.  And you would find our TV set to ESPN2 and Mike and Mike in the Morning.  I have been watching Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic for years, both for sports news and their great sense of humor.  They are quite famous, appearing on TV and radio four hours a day, plus the occasional SportsCenter and other specials.  They get to attend events and do things (broadcasting Monday Night Football and throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field, for instance) that most of us can only dream of.  The get more than their share of glory.  They also get bashed by others in media on a regular basis for a variety of reasons.  A couple of weeks ago they shared a story that really hit home with me, and I wanted to share it with you today.

It seems that the Mikes had a scene in the current movie Just Wright.  They played themselves, doing their show and trashing the basketball playing main character of the film.  The scene is pivotal to the plot; after hearing the guys kill his rep on air, the player retreats to his house, where he is shown sitting in his bedroom watching a narrated documentary on jellyfish.  It sets the scene for his comeback, which is the primary storyline of the movie.  Golic (the big Mike) went to see the movie opening weekend with his family, and sat in the theater afterwards to see his name in the credits.  He saw hundreds of names roll by, but no Greeny or Golic.  He saw the "Jellyfish Narrator" credited by name, but no mention of his own.  It seems that their pivotal roles had gone uncredited- and neither of them were happy about it! 

Their story made me think about my life in student ministry.  When you plan major trips and events and things go right, you bask in the glory.  When things go wrong, you suffer the embarrassment and humiliation.  To those around you it must seem like you live your life in the spotlight.  But the fact is, the most important things you do as a youth pastor are things that very few people know about.  Maya Angelou (Thanks, Brook!) once said  "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."  That is a brilliant description of youth ministry.  The true ministry of a youth pastor takes place in-between the big events and programs. That is when you can truly show them Jesus.  It takes place when a student gets dumped by his girlfriend and they call you for advice.  It takes place when a student's parents are splitting up, and he shows up at your house to talk.  It happens when they have partied too much and can't drive home, and they call you for a ride.  It happens when a young lady travels thousands of miles to see her boyfriend, only to find him with another woman- and she needs a shoulder to cry on.  It happens when a 16 year-old girl has a wreck and doesn't know what to do, and she comes running into your office looking for answers- and hugs.  True youth ministry takes place when the students understand that you love them and will be there for them. No judgement, no condemnation- just love.   The church does not see or read about these moments, but the kids know.  And Jesus knows.  This is the uncredited glory.

I remember in the early 1980's at New Garden getting a call from a young woman whose ex-boyfriend had shown up at her house drunk and violent, and I went to get him.  I remember driving across Tampa to pick up a young woman from Wesley Memorial after her father had thrown her out of his house.  I remember a long conversation with a young man whose family and friends had bailed on him, and he was thinking abut throwing his life away.  You know what all of those situations had in common?  They all took place AFTER I was no longer the youth pastor of the students involved.  To know that I had a lasting impact on the lives of some of the youth I ministered to was all the credit and all the glory anyone could ask for.  I no doubt failed more times than I succeeded;  but I hope I showed the students I served that Jesus will never fail them.  That was always my goal, even if sometimes I lost sight of it.  Today and everyday I thank God for the opportunities He gave me to impact the lives of students in Jesus' name.  Like Greeny and Golic, my name (and the names of countless other youth pastors) may not always show up in the credits here in this world, but, because of Jesus, I know that "When the roll is called up Yonder I'll be there..."  And that is all the credit anyone could pray for!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Losing Jennifer

One night (I think it was Sunday) while in NYC on the 1994 United Nations Seminar we went walking, winding our way from the Milford Plaza Hotel on 45th and 8th to Rockefeller Center, roughly 10 blocks away.  We saw Radio City Music Hall (where we would later see the Christmas Spectacular) and then walked over to see the famous ice skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza.  It was a walk I had taken many times before, and one I would take many more times.  But none ever had been or ever would be as memorable as this one...

We started the walk back to the Milford, and everyone was in a great mood.  We were having a blast, plus Jill Painter was due to have arrived in NYC by the time we returned.  Our group would be complete.  As we were leaving Rockefeller Plaza, Jennifer Johns stopped at one of the food carts on a street corner to buy a Sprite.  She didn't tell anyone, thinking it would be a quick stop.  The group kept walking.  It is important to remember that this was in the days before cell phones.  We arrived at the Milford excited to see Dr. Jill, when suddenly we came to the realization that we no longer had Jennifer with us.  Panic immediately set in.  We could not remember where we had last seen her.  The girls checked her room, but she was not there.  It was quickly decided that a small group of us would back-track and see where we could find her.  Matt Schmidt and Brian Watson had grown up with Jennifer, living in the same general neighborhood.  They were as close as any friends can be.  As we started back across town, Matt was on a mission.  He was not speaking, and he was walking so fast the rest of us could not keep up.  We arrived back at Rockefeller Center, and after some questioning of New York's finest who are always in that area, we discovered what had happened and that they had directed her into a nearby building to wait for our return.  They had offered to bring her to us, but in her panic she didn't remember the name or address of our hotel.  We went into the building and found Jennifer, safe and sound.  At least at first.  After many hugs and prayers of thanksgiving for finding her unharmed, Matt Schmidt let loose!  He yelled at her for not staying with the group, listing all of the horrible things that could have happened to her.  He was so angry and so emotional;  he was truly afraid we had lost his dear friend.  I think Jen may have been more afraid at that point that at any other moment of the evening. She was shaken, but she was a trooper.   We walked back to the Milford one more time and had a happy reunion with rest of our youth family. Jen stayed very close to us the rest of the week.   It makes for a great story now, but at the time it was one of the worst nights on my ministry life.

The trip continued, and there are a few more stories to tell.  In the meantime, have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, and don't forget the reason such a weekend exists.  And tomorrow, be sure to visit the house of worship of your choice and get your praise on!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Mystery Man

The group that was part of the first New York trip I led from Kissimmee was made up of students who had been a part of the youth ministry of FUMC-K long before my arrival.  They were very excited about this new opportunity, so excited that when the pilot announced that we were beginning our decent into Newark Airport that several of them panicked and wanted to know why we were not landing in New York.  Newark, of course, IS a New York area airport!  It was the start of a wonderful 5 days in the city.

The participants included (pictured, back row) Hamp Sessions, Connor Lewis, Jocelyn Sessions and myself; (second row) Jill Franklin, Sara Thacker, Brian Watson, Jennifer Johns, Marilyn Jones, Sharon Lynes; (front row) Todd Willis, Ben Thacker.  Not in the picture are Angie Whalin, Matt Schmidt and Jill Painter.  This was a great group, and each of them were very important to the trip.  But if you look closely at the picture, you will find an unlisted person.  This picture was taken outside the U.N.  There is an older black man on the back right;  we have no idea who he is or where he came from.  After I had the picture developed, I asked around and no one remembered seeing him. He is standing right next to me and I never knew he was there.  He just joined in our group picture for reasons we don't know.  It is one of the great mysteries of all my years in student ministry.  If you know this man, please contact me immediately! 

Another first for this trip was temporarily losing a group member, which led to total chaos.  It also almost resulted in great injury to her- AFTER we found her!  Tomorrow that story can be told...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, May 27, 2010

CCM Countdown: 1

We have reached the end of my countdown of the 50+ Contemporary Christian Music projects that had the most impact on my life and ministry through 2006.  I have had a blast looking back at some incredible music, and I will continue to revisit some great music each and every Thursday.  To see the entire countdown, simply click here.  And now it's on to Number One!!!

1)  JESUS FREAK dc Talk-  1995
I had become a dc Talk fan in the early 1990's with their Free At Last album, and I had seen them live and found their mix of hip-hop, rap and rock to be unique.  I felt like Toby, Mike and Kevin were leading us into a new era of Christian music.  But even as a fan, I was totally unprepared for what I would hear when the song Jesus Freak hit Christian radio in August of 1995.  The song blew everyone away, both with the music and the message.  When the album dropped in November of that year, Christian music changed forever.  The music was current, the messages were bold.  I think the majority of the youth in Kissimmee knew many of the songs by heart, and we used the theme of being "Jesus Freaks" over and over again.

From the opening dis-chord of the electric guitar, this album took CCM songwriting to new levels.  So Help Me God rocked as an opener;  Colored People talked about how we focus on skin color when in fact we are all colored by sin.  The title track (see video below) is still amazing 15 years later.  What If I Stumble? and Day By Day would have been the standout cuts on many albums.  We met the neighbors of the "Gotee Brothers" for the first time, as Mrs. Morgan recounts the time she threatened to kill a drummer for playing too loud at Toby's house.  Between You and Me was a huge hit, as was Mind's Eye.  Their cover of Charlie Peacock's In the Light is one of my favorite songs ever.  And who can forget the lounge lizard version of Jesus Freak; "How many are here from Shelby County tonight?  I see that hand..."   Every song was a classic, and every song was a sermon.  A great album of musical diversity and faith, and for me, the most influential album of my far!  It is a question all Christ-followers should answer in their own lives:  What will people think if they hear that I'm a Jesus Freak?  What will people do if they know that it's true?

Nu Thang-  1990
Free At Last-  1992*
Supernatural-  1998*
*indicates album is also on this countdown

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A New York State of Mind

Once I had been harassed by some students into taking a group from FUMC-K to NYC in November of 1994, I had to get serious about planning in a hurry.  I was used to having at least a year to put such a trip together; it was already July of 1994 when I started planning this one.  Transportation was a major issue; we had always taken buses from NC to the Big Apple, but from Florida we would need to fly.  I was able to secure rooms with my old friends at the Milford Plaza Hotel (the Lullaby of Broadway) with the same rates I had secured several years before.  We would once again use the United Methodist Center at the U.N. to plan our seminar;  it would be my first time using them as a Methodist, not a Quaker.  Everything came together rather quickly, and soon we were able to announce that we would be taking a group to New York the weekend before Thanksgiving, just in time to see NYC all decorated for Christmas!

The fact that we were flying was not the only thing that would be different about this trip.  I knew that the topics and discussions about world politics would be very "foreign" to some of the Kissimmee kids.  They had grown up is an environment that taught them that USAmerica is always right.  The seminar leaders at the United Nations would push their buttons in some major ways.  Another change was that I would be with an entire group that had not been on such a trip before, so keeping them safe and giving them a great trip was all on me.  It was going to be an exciting trip, but a bit stressful- and that was if I could get anyone to actually go!

It seemed that many of the parents were a little hesitant to sign their students up for a $500 excursion to a big, scary city on a trip led by a guy they had known about 3 months.  In the end, we would take 4 adults and 12 youth on what would be a landmark trip for our student ministry.  We would discover Broadway, see the Rockettes, do some great shopping, learn about foreign policy, see the sights and lose a group member along the way.  But first, we had to catch a plane...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hall of Fame: The Class of '95

Standing:  Me, Jennifer Johns, Angie Whalin, Chris Hanbery and Matt Schmidt
Kneeling:  Becca Smythe?, Carrie Morrell, Todd Willis and Brian Watson

Time can be a funny thing.  I have already written on this blog about my Youth Group Hall of Fame Class of 1996 from Springfield Friends Meeting.  Now we have moved ahead to my Kissimmee years, but we must go backwards in order to honor my newest Hall of Fame inductees, The FUMC-K Class of '95.  Confused?  Good!

By the time I arrived in Kissimmee, the students in the Class of '95 were late in their junior years, and they had been through a great deal when it came to their church.  They had begun their journey as middle school students who were part of the ultra-successful youth ministry of Jorge Acevedo.  Jorge, a brilliant youth worker and pastor, had focused primarily on high school students, a group to which the Class of''95 was just moving into when Jorge was moved by the Florida Conference in 1992.  The next guy was an excellent pastor named Kelly, but he was only at FUMC-K one year before getting married and moving on, and his primarily focus was middle school youth.  The next guy, Jim, was only around for about 6 months because he was just not very good at the job set before him. He wanted to be a pastor, not a youth worker, and it showed.   My arrival marked their fourth youth pastor in three years, and needless to say they were frustrated.  But more than that, the core of their group wanted the youth group to thrive again, to be important again.  They offered love and leadership, and as much as anything or anyone else, they brought the student ministry of FUMC-K back to life!

So who were these incredible youth?  The very active core group conisisted of Brian Watson, Matt Schmidt, Matt Wheeler (pictured with Todd on his shoulders), Jennifer Johns, Angie Whalin, Todd Willis, Brook Teoli, Becca Smythe (that may or may not be her last name!) and Steve Hollingsed (pictured).  Others, like Carrie Morrell, Sarah Dykes and Chris Hanbery were often around as well.  Brian, Matt and Jennifer were childhood friends to whom this group was of tremendous importance.  They were in my ear from day one, offering insight and opinion as to what needed to be done.  Todd was the pastor's son who fit right in with that group, and he was a true leader.  All of them helped me re-create the feeling that every week something special would happen at youth.  It was Jennifer, of course, who had changed my life with her words at my interview for the position in Kissimmee.  Brian, Todd and the two Matts were on that first epic trip to Mountain Top.  They didn't have time to wait around for me to "grow into" the job; they would be graduating in a year.  It was their faith, their desire to grow in Christ, and the urgency they brought to ministry that helped me get things up and running so quickly.  And it was their examples that set the tone for what students expected out of me and out of themselves over the years that followed.  For this and so much more, they are all deserving of a place in my Hall of Fame!

Their urgency made a major impact in another way as well.  I knew that Pastor John Willis and several of the youth and adults involved in my hiring had been very excited about the United Nations Seminars to New York I had led in the past, but I was planning on waiting until November of 1995 to plan one for my new church.  The Class of '95 let me know in no uncertain terms that November of 1994- before they graduated- would work much better!  I now had a huge trip to plan, very little time to do it, and all new transportation issues to deal with as well.  Looking back now, I know that the NYC trip happened because of how much love and respect I had for the Class of '95!  The stories of that trip begin tomorrow!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Breakfast Club

I tried a number of times during my years at Springfield Friends Meeting to start a before school Bible study (Breakfast Club) for high school students, but the distance from the church to the schools always made it too complicated.  The youth at FUMC-K had previously had such a program, and with Gateway and Osceola High Schools being just minutes away, I was very excited to resume the tradition.  In September of 1994 we began meeting in the Youth Room at 6:15 AM on Tuesdays.  Our crowds were never large, but they were faithful.  We moved to meetings to Thursday mornings at one point, and then back to Tuesdays, and the time changed several times as well.  But no matter when, we would gather for cereal, doughnuts, juice and Bible study, and it was always a great way to start our day.

Jocelyn Sessions (pictured on the 1996 Memphis SOS Mission Trip) was a very important and very faithful part of those early Breakfast Club meetings.  While I tried to provide a variety of cereal choices and doughnuts for our group, Jocelyn usually arrived with her own plain bagel and her own glass of water, because, quite frankly, Cocoa Krispies, Captain Crunch and Krispy Kreme doughnuts didn't fit her healthy lifestyle very well.  Jocelyn had a hard time remembering to take her glass with her at the end of the meetings.  Each week I would collect the glass and save it.  After a month or so of this happening, we set the full set of glasses out for the group to use one morning.  In classic Jocelyn style, she walked in, observed the glasses and said, "We have glasses just like those!"  I think our response was "Not any more!"   Cathy Thacker, the other adult who frequented the Club in those early days, always helped us keep a spiritual focus in the midst of such early morning silliness.  No matter who was there, it was always special.

There are many more Jocelyn stories to tell, and quite a few of them involved trips to New York.  I hadn't planned to go to New York in 1994, but the Class of '95 had other ideas.  Hang around all week to hear about them and the first NYC trip from Kissimmee.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Night of Joy

For many years before 1994 I had dreamed of taking my youth groups to Night of Joy at Walt Disney World Night of Joy, a Christian music festival,  always took place in September (it still does!) and in those days was held on consecutive weekends. The same bands and artists would play 3 or 4 nights, so you would just pick a night and go.  Trouble was, I could never get my groups to Orlando and back from NC in a weekend. So my first September in Kissimmee, I was headed to Night of Joy.  The trouble was, the kids who lived next door to WDW their whole lives were not nearly as excited about it I was!  But we went anyway...

Night of Joy is really an amazing institution.  Special tickets enable youth groups to enjoy the Magic Kingdom while occasionally stopping to listen to live concerts from some of the heavyweights of CCM.  It is a Christian event sponsored by Disney since the early '70's;  odd when you consider how persecuted the Disney folks have been by some denominations.  Over the years since 1994 it became one of my favorite nights of the year.  That first time a small group of us went over on a Saturday night and saw dc Talk, Geoff Moore and the Distance, Point of Grace, White Heart and others.  I was amazed at the size of the crowd and the mob scene you encountered trying to get from the parking lot to the park.  It was a great night, and in the years that followed there would be many great nights and many great bands.  NOJ never disappointed.

There were always a couple of things about NOJ that I found interesting.  First, I always found it strange that very few youth actually cared about stopping and listening to the music.  They might pause by a stage for a song or two, but them it was off to ride the same rides they had experienced so many times before.  It was always the adults who would position themselves by a stage to have a good vantage point for seeing Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys or dc Talk.  The other odd thing was that some of my friends who were WDW employees told me that more damage was done to the MK at Night of Joy that the rest of the year combined.  I could not believe my fellow youth pastors allowed such vandalism to happen, although I am sure my own groups caused trouble I don't know about over the years.  But we talked a lot about representing Christ, our church and our faith.  And for the most part, they heard me.

In later years, NOJ became a weekend event we travelled to from Tampa and Waycross.  In every case, it was memorable and great fun.  But for me, even as much as I love WDW, it was always about the music.  I remember seeing the lead singer of the O.C. Supertones throw his shoulder out of socket while dancing.  I remember Michael W. Smith premiering his amazing song This Is the Time a few months before the recording came out.  I remember singing along with MWS the first time we heard him sing OUR song Prince of Peace and having others in the audience amazed that we knew the words.  Someone even asked me if I wrote it- I wish!   I remember being part of a few thousand people joining the Newsboys in the whistle solo from Breakfast.  I remember being blown away by lives sets from dc Talk and Jars of Clay.  Great music and great memories.

There will be more stories of Night of Joy to come.  It has lost some of its luster since Universal began competing with its Rock the Universe the same weekend.  But it will always conjure great memories for me, and it all began my first year in Kissimmee.   Have a blessed weekend.

Because of Jesus,

Friday, May 21, 2010

Influences: John Willis

Myself, John, Todd, Pat and Keith at Todd's Senior Roast.

The Reverend John Willis was the Senior Pastor at the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee for the first 5 years that I served there, and we had a very unique relationship.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you have already read about our trip to the Black-eyed Pea and my experiences with his muppet, Hollywood.  But John's influence on my life and ministry goes much deeper that any of that.

Before I ever arrived in K-town I sent out a survey to the adults who would be helping me with the student ministry, and I also sent a copy to John.  He returned it immediately.  One of the questions was "What role do you see yourself playing in our youth ministry?"  John's response tells you a great deal about the man as a pastor and a leader.  He wrote to me that his role would be to support me and the ministry in any way that I needed, but that I would need to tell him what I needed.  He was not going to interfere or micro-manage me;  he felt that the church had hired me to be the youth pastor because I had expertise in that area.  And he treated me as a fellow professional from day one.  Andrew Lewis used to tell me that I was John's "Golden Child" because he had championed me over other candidates for the position.  And our relationship was special.  Every Monday morning we would get together and talk about what was going on in my ministry and his.  John was open to every idea, and he wanted desperately for his ministry and our church to be on the cutting edge of creativity.  Whether it was Hollywood, bringing a Brazilian congregation to the church, Bear Sunday or dramatic and unusual sermon presentations, John was always looking for something new.  And he always wanted my ideas and my input.  He encouraged me to push the limits of what people expected from their youth pastor.  He prayed for me.  He was one of the first to arrive at the hospital after Will was born.  He was a friend and mentor to me, and I loved the opportunity to work with him.

Not everyone in the congregation shared my views of John.  He was a dreamer, and many people don't like dreamers.  Senior Pastors are called upon to serve many roles in a large church, and administration was not John's gift.   Many of the church members had loved the previous pastor and failed to give John the opportunity and respect he deserved.  It was not until John was gone and his replacement (a story which will come much later) showed his true self that some of those same people began referring to Rev. Willis as "Saint John."  Through all of that turmoil going on around him, he always encouraged and lifted up the staff, and especially me. 

I'll wrap this up with a final story.  In 1997 the youth ministry at FUMC-K took a huge risk and sponsored a major concert featuring the band Geoff Moore and the Distance at the Tupperwear Theater in Kissimmee.  I'll detail that event in a future post, but as the day of concert drew near it became clear that we were going to lose a lot of money.  A lot.  I walked into John's office and explained what the numbers looked like, apologized for the failure, and offered to resign.  John never blinked.  He told me we would survive this.  He told me that he was proud of me for encouraging dreaming and outside of the box thinking in my ministry.  And he told me that when it came time to account for the money (and did I mention it was a lot of money?) we would do it together.  I learned more about true leadership in that hour in his office than in most of my previous years of ministry combined. 

John, his wife Pat, and their sons Keith and Todd (and their dog Susie!) were so important in our lives.  I could have worked for John Willis for the rest of my life and been perfectly happy, but that was not the plan God had in mind.  FUMC-K changed dramatically when he left- and none of that change was good.  The last time I saw John I stopped by his church in Tallahassee in 2005 for an unexpected visit.  I told the secretary I wanted to see John, but I told her when she called back to his office to just tell him that someone was there to see Hollywood.  He came running out of his office with a huge smile, and we visited for a long time.  He retired a few years ago, and the United Methodist Church is the worse for that.

I was blessed to work with some wonderful pastors (and a couple of major duds!) during my 28 years in student ministry.  Two others can be found by clicking the "influences" label at the bottom of this post.  But if I was picking an all-time, all-star staff of people I worked with (and I may just do that someday) there is absolutely no question who would be the Senior Pastor and Chief Dreamer.  Thank you, John.  

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, May 20, 2010

CCM Countdown: 2

We have reached #2 on my countdown of the 50+ Contemporary Christian Music albums that had the most impact on my life and ministry through 2006.  Next week we will reveal #1- think you can guess what it is?  I would love to hear your guesses, so leave comments or e-mail me with your thoughts.  To see the entire COUNTDOWN on one page, just click COUNTDOWN and explore my choices.   Come back next Thursday and discover #1!!!

2)  LEAD ME ON-  Amy Grant-  1988
Amy Grant is without question the most important artist in the history of CCM, and many of her albums could have made this list.  Considered by CCM Magazine to be the best album in the history of CCM, Lead Me On was a game changer for me.  The songs move and inspire without having to be heavy-handed spiritually.  I listened to it over and over, and even today the songs find new ways to challenge me in my faith journey.  It stands the test of time; it is an album I never grow tired of.  Amy has had a brilliant career, full of life altering songs, but nothing else she has done comes close to this one.

The first four songs are probably my favorite opening four songs on any album, from any genre, EVER!  It opens with 1974, which recounts an early "conversion" experience for Amy in a youth group setting.  I lived through the song many times in my youth ministry career.  The title track (see video below) is one of the greatest songs of faith ever written.  "Lead me on, lead me, to a place where the river runs into Your keeping.."  Gives me goose bumps every time I hear it.  Shadows talks about how we all have a dark side that people don't usually see, and how we "have to keep watch on our shadows."  And Saved By Love is the story of us all.  We struggle. we fail and we sin- but we are all saved by the love of Jesus.  It is a truly amazing song.  Other classics include What About the Love; If These Walls Could Speak Wait For the Healing; If You Have To Go Away; and Say Once More.  A brilliant album from an all-time great artist.

Amy Grant- 1977
Age To Age-  1982*
A Christmas Album- 1983
Unguarded- 1985
Heart In Motion- 1991
Behind the Eyes- 1997
Simple Things- 2003
* indicates albums featured in this countdown

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Video the Bishop: Part 2

Several months had passed after the big visit from our Bishop and the burning of the mortgage on the Administration Building at FUMC-K.  The youth were sponsoring one of our famous Coffeehouses, which always drew big crowds of church members.  Quietly, behind the scenes and unknown to the rest of the staff, I had been working on a Video the Bishop song- just as Ginny Johns had suggested.  While the lyrics had almost nothing in common with the truth, the song is one of my favorites.  Here is Video the Bishop;  words and music (which you can't hear) by Carl Jones.

I headed for the church on a clear winter's day
Hoping to hear what my Bishop had to say
As I cruised through Kissimmee in my old pick-up truck
I was praying that the Bishop might just bring me some luck

You see I'm out of a job and my dog has the flu
And my youth group belongs in the Gatorland Zoo
So I'm hoping for help from the good LORD up above
I want to be famous and showered with love

We arrived at the church, just my pick-up truck and me
The place was so crowded that no one could see
I climbed up on my truck to secure a good view
When a man tossed me a camera and said "Boy, here's what to do..."

Video the Bishop from your pick-up truck
It's your ticket to wealth and fame
You'll probably be remembered in story and song...
As the man who shot the Bishop from the rear of a pick-up truck

The Bish began to speaking and I zoomed in to see
He was making his last statement, he was issuing a plea
I just kept on taping, he never saw me standing there
As he grabbed a piece of paper and waved it in the air

"This is the church mortgage," he said waving it to and fro
"We're now going to burn it 'cause you finally raised the dough!"
He set fire to the paper and put it in the urn
The crowd began to cheer and the flame began to burn

The flame kept getting higher and fear spread all around
It seemed that the Bishop might just burn our building down
And I just kept on shooting as the crowd began to run
Focusing on the Bishop and all that he had done

Video the Bishop from your pick-up truck
 It's your ticket to wealth and fame
                                     You'll probably be remembered in story and song...
                        As the man who shot the Bishop from the rear of a pick-up truck

So now I'm rich and famous, and it just goes to show
That anyone can win on America's Favorite Videos
Yes, even MORMONS can win, on America's Favorite Videos!

When I finished, the crowd was in hysterics.  John and Pat Willis were laughing so hard I was afraid they would pass out.  I only performed the song twice, and the Bishop heard of it but never got to hear it.  Maybe someday when my album comes out...  I just know that for many, the song was more memorable than the actual day.  It's always nice to re-write history.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Video the Bishop: Part 1

Only 99 posts to go until my year is up...

The newest building on campus (about 5 years old) at FUMC-Kissimmee when I arrived in 1994 was the Administration Building.  It housed the offices of the majority of the church staff, the church library, a conference room and a couple of classrooms on the bottom floor.  The second floor contained my office, several more classrooms and the Youth Room (That's the custom-made giant bulletin board I had made for the youth room pictured on the left).  The Youth Room (later known unofficially as the attic; now known officially as The Attic) was a gigantic space, with a pool table, ping-pong table. video games, big screen TV and monster stereo system.  It had a folding wall you could use to cut the room in half (known as the $10,000 wall; anytime it was up I had to threaten the students with an "if you break it you buy it" speech) and plenty of room for games and small groups.  It was a great space with only one major problem.  The youth room was located directly over the church offices, and there was no sound insulation between the floors.  So when we walked in the youth room, the heard it downstairs.  When we played games like the Technicolor Stomp, the whole building shook.  Summers, when we were often up there everyday, were hard times for church staff trying get work done...

Sometime during my first year on staff the church received an anonymous (well, I know who it was, but I'm not telling!) donation of over $600,000 to pay off the debt on that building.  It was an amazing gift that would free the church to spend more on ministry.  It was decided that a Sunday morning would be set aside to celebrate the gift and burn the mortgage on the building, as well as to consecrate it.  The date was set around the schedules of our District Superintendent (DS) and the Bishop of the Florida Conference.  Having been Quaker most of my life, I didn't really understand how significant it was that the Bishop was going to be there, but everyone was very excited.  Looking back now I think it was the only time in my 6 years there that the Bishop visited on a Sunday morning.  One Tuesday morning in staff meeting we were discussing the actual ceremony, which was going to be held outside the Administration Building.  John Willis wanted to make sure that the entire thing was filmed, and we began to discuss how we could best accomplish this task.   Someone suggested that we put a cameraman in the back of a truck so he (or most likely she; I am sure Pat Pribyl got stuck with the job!) would be elevated and have a good angle on the Bishop and the flaming mortgage note.  Our church administrator, Ginny Johns, then set in motion events that would change memories of the mortgage burning forever.  She said "Video the Bishop from a pick-up truck.  Sounds like it ought to be a country song..."  And then they all looked at me...

The Sunday morning came and went without a hitch.  The note was burned, we had wonderful worship services, and the DS, the Bishop and their wives had lunch at the parsonage with the Willis family.  At some point during the post-meal conversation, John remarked that the staff at FUMC-K was really coming together, and that they might be interested to know that the new youth pastor was a MORMON.  Not Quaker, but MORMON.  John's son, high school senior Todd Willis, heard his dad's mistake but decided it would be more fun NOT to correct it (if the story I was told later is accurate).  Apparently both the DS and the Bishop and both of their wives turned pale, and someone asked "Really?  A Mormon?"  John still didn't hear it and began to tell them all about me.  Finally the truth came out, and everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief.  The DS said later that he was ready to schedule a meeting with John to talk abut his future- and mine!  I have always thought that John did me a favor- by the time they found out I was Quaker that seemed pretty normal.  It was something we could laugh about later.

So the debt was paid, the building was dedicated and we moved on from the Mormon incident.  But there was still the matter of the song...  

Because of Jesus,

Monday, May 17, 2010

7 Things: The Last Gasp Summer Blowout

Every church I ever served as Youth Pastor, it always seemed there was one annual trip or program that became the signature event at that location.  At New Garden Friends Meeting it was our Marathon Lock-Ins.  At Springfield Friends Meeting it was TNT.  At the the First United Methodist Church, I believe it was the Last Gasp Summer Blowout.  Each of my six summers in Kissimmee we took a weekend trip to Melbourne Beach (technically Indiatlantic Beach) for a time of sun, fun, fellowship and worship.  These were some amazing weekends, and today I present another of my lists of 7 Things, this time about those Blowouts.  Enjoy!
  1. The first two years (1994, '95) we took this trip in mid-August.  The other 4 were held Labor Day Weekend.  The first year we actually drove back on Sunday morning and did a Youth Sunday where we led worship that we had planned during the weekend.  Not sure whose idea that was...
  2. Once we quit the bonehead Youth Sunday planning idea after 1994, every year had a theme.  In chronological order they were:  Love One Another Hitting a Home Run in Our Spiritual LivesConsuming Fire Crossing the Line;  and Into Jesus
  3. We stayed at the Quality Suites in on the beach for all but one of those years.  The Suites had received major hurricane damage and we had to say at the Sheraton.  Our one year there we had a meeting room on an upper floor (great room with an incredible view), and after worship one night we celebrated a birthday (I believe Lauren Carr's) with cupcakes.  When I left the room that night, I found cupcake debris everywhere; there had been a food fight.  The elevator down to my room was covered in icing.  We cleaned it up and the culprits were taken care of in proper fashion.  I have been prejudiced against cupcakes ever since!
  4. The rooms at the Quality Suites had oceanfront balconies, and in one of the early years (maybe the first) some of the guys took to throwing ice at some of the girls out on their balconies.  Erin Auginblick got hit by a piece, and we decided to make a point about the ice throwing.  She came down to our next meeting having been made up to look like her eye was all black and blue, and we made the guys feel like dirt for throwing the ice.  Later, when the scam was revealed, everyone had a good laugh and my point was made.  Every now and then you get one right...
  5. The beach in that area was very rocky, and it seemed like every time we were there the riptide was really bad.  So we spent most of our beach time in the pool.  I have great memories of that pool, including tossing my very young son Will (born in July, 1995) up an catching him.  He loved it, except for the one time I dropped him and he went under...but that was not so bad either!  We also had some massive "chicken fights."  I also remember having some great discussions and fellowship times in the jacuzzi by the pool, which we took advantage of quite often, even very late at night.
  6. In 1998 (I think) our worship leaders for the weekend were our old friends from Hawaii, the band Spooky Tuesday (at right with Darin Miller).  By then they had done two concerts for us in Kissimmee and we loved them.  I remember two things about them being with us:  they rented a surf board from a local shop and somehow broke it.  And at some point that weekend, they taught us a new song called Prince of PeaceJessica & Kevin (far left) later e-mailed me the chords and lyrics and it became a signature song for our student ministry.
  7. The closing worship services for these weekends became legend (wait for it...)ary.  The year of the cupcakes I did a dramatic story about a young woman who gave up on herself.  I used a clay statue of a girl to illustrate the story, pouring different color paints on her to represent her moods and feelings.  When she reaches her lowest point and is considering suicide, I pulled out a hidden hammer and SMASHED the green ware.  Pieces went everywhere, and the group was stunned.  I then brought out another, new replica statue and talked about how Jesus can restore us and heal us even in our darkest hours.   It was an awesome night.  But it was not the best closing worship in Melbourne.  That would be the year I told the story of the Warm Fuzzies.  Everyone was given colored fluffy balls to share with their friends as they told them how much they meant to them.  Connor Lewis made us all cry, and then the spirit just spread around the room as every one shared their feelings.  It was one of the best nights of worship I have ever been a part of, and it is representative of how special all those Last Gasp Summer Blowouts were. 
As always, I would love to hear from anyone who was there and read your memories.  The guestbook is broken and gone, but you can still leave comments below or e-mail me.  Thanks for all the memories and love you all gave me over the years!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pressing On

I mentioned once before that our theme for my first summer in Kissimmee was Don't Look Back.  We based that theme on the scripture found in Philippians 3:13-14But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward the prize that is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Jesus Christ."  We wanted the students in our ministry to focus on what lie ahead rather than the past, both in terms of our programs and their relationship with Jesus.  So many times we feel that the sins that we have committed in our pasts somehow keep us separated from Jesus forever.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Grace comes to us new everyday.  Dwelling on our past sins may keep us from feeling connected to God, but that is because we have not forgiven ourselves.  God is ready to love us and give us purpose this morning no matter how we may have failed Him last night.  It is truly an amazing thing.  But in order for us to accept this gift of grace, we have do do what Paul told us to do in the Philippians passage.  We must forget what is behind us and press on toward a goal of living life with Jesus.

Years after the summer of 1994 and our Don't Look Back theme, the great band Relient K wrote a song about this scripture called Pressing On, and today I share it with you below.  All of us can look back and see moments (or months!) that we would like to erase from our lives.  Jesus does that for us.  We just have to believe it!  The lyrics to the song remind us that while God is always looking down on us, He is never "looking down" on us!   What a blessing!  I encourage you to take the song's challenge:  "To go back to where I was would just be wrong; I'm pressing on!"  Have a blessed Sunday everyone!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Come As You Are

One of the things that excited me the most about moving to Kissimmee in April of 1994 was the knowledge that there was a little more to do in the Kissimmee/Orlando/Lake Buena Vista area than there had been in the Piedmont Triad of NC (note the sarcasm).  I immediately began to think of ways to spice up my annual Youth Week, and in particular its signature event Rec Around the Clock.  In the years that followed this first FUMC-K Youth Week (August 1-6, 1994) this became a spectacular event.  But the first one was not too shabby either...

Our theme for the week was Come As You Are, and we focused our evening sessions on understanding that Jesus gives everyone a "come as you are" invitation to join the family of God.  We began the week with a Leadership Luncheon, at which myself, Rev. John Willis and several other staff members served lunch to the youth and led a discussion about being leaders.  We gathered again that evening for our first session and a seek and find (and shoot with dart guns!) game called Night of the Assassin.  The week was off to a great start!

Day 2 featured UMYF Night with the Osceola Astros.  The Astros were the class A farm team of the Houston Astros baseball team, and I had arranged for us to have specially priced tickets, special seating, and for one of our youth to get to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.  My memory tells me that Lauren Carr, then just a rising 6th grade student, got to throw out the pitch...but I have been wrong before!  In any case, it was a fun night and served to let the whole community know that the youth ministry of FUMC-K was back in business!

The first Putt Putt Masters Golf Tournament was held on Day 3, and after our second session that evening we used wallpaper trays and built the world's largest banana splits.  Both of these events would become a regular part of our programs.  Day 4 found us tubing on the Ichetucknee River, a cold spring river just north of Gainesville, FL.  For years I referred to it as the "Itchnituknee River."    Tubing the slow floating river through some beautiful forests and freezing your buns off was a wonderful way to spend a day with good friends.

And finally, Friday night brought us to Rec Around the Clock.  I know we went roller skating and to a movie;  beyond that I just remember that we were out all night and had a blast!  The crowds were pretty good all that week, and the buzz about our student ministry was starting to build.  We were trying to follow Jim Rayburn's old guideline that "it is a sin to bore a student withe the Gospel."  By keeping Jesus at the center of what we did, and being willing to get a little crazy with our programming, we faced the future with great excitement.

Because of Jesus,

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mid-High Mission Adventure, 1994

One of the things I knew I wanted to do in the summer of 1994 was to put together some sort of mission opportunity for the middle school youth of the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee.  Having arrived there in April, I was too late in the season to plan any major trip, so I focused on what we might could do in Orlando.  I discovered the Second Harvest Food Bank, and found that they had lots of work for a group of teenagers, sorting food and packing boxes for delivery to shelters and soup kitchens.  We decided to keep it short to keep the cost low and encourage more students to participate, and so June 26-29 we were off to O-town!

Our small group stayed at a Days Inn on International Drive, down near Wet'N'Wild in southwest Orlando.  We were in the middle of a huge tourist area, especially popular with foreign tourists at the time.  This was made even more interesting by the fact that teh Cirtus Bowl, located just downthe road from us, was hosting the oepning rounds of the 1994 World Cup soccer tournament.  Every where we looked we saw fans of Ireland and Mexico.  We spent the mornings working at Second Harvest.  I remember the big deal about driving from the motel to food bank was going to down the Orange Blossom Trail.  I learned why the OBT (where I had stayed with youth groups on two previous Disney trips) had such a shady reputation with the locals.  It seemed like we passed a strip club about every 100 yards or so.  And every time we passed one, Nate Hill was there to point it out to us, like a tour guide on a bus!  It became a tradition.  We arrived to work at 8 AM each morning.  We didn't work all that many hours at Second Harvest, nor was the work all that hard.  But it was hot.  Brutally hot.  Just imagine being in a warehouse with no AC, in late June in Florida.  When we left at noon, we were drained.

We spent the afternoons goofing off an getting to know one another.  I learned a great deal about the youth who were along for the journey.  We ate lunch one of the days at an all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut buffet, and the late James (Chico) Fry ate all any of us could eat-  I stayed at the restaurant with him for 15 minutes after everyone had walked back to the motel.  There were girls fighting over a guy- and two of them (Hello Erin and Jen!) were cousins.  We spent one afternoon and evening at Wet'N'Wild and had a great time, including several of the students riding what ever that thing is that Erin Augenblick is riding in the picture at the top.  In short, we worked hard, we played hard, and we built community.  In my mind it was a very successful little trip, that paved the way for future mid-high adventures.  What I don't remember is who else was on that trip, although I am fairly certain Kay Hill was the other adult.  If you have knowledge of other people or stories from those 3 days, I would love to hear from you.  Comment here or e-mail me at

We ended that first summer with FUMC-K's first ever Youth Week.  Come back tomorrow and enjoy the memories!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, May 13, 2010

CCM Countdown: 2.5

Only one more album between today and #1 on my countdown of the 50+ Contemporary Christian Music projects that had the most impact on my life and ministry through 2006.  To see #3 and get links all the way back to #50, click here!  Join me again next Thursday for #2!

2.5)  GOOD MONSTERS-  Jars of Clay-  2006
I never thought that JOC would be able to top their self-titled debut album (#4 on this list) but they did with this project, their 3rd on my countdown.  Upon first hearing the CD I jumped it to number 1 on my list;  a few years of reflection land it here at 2.5.  Every song is a masterpiece of a gut-wrenching, soul searching faith journey.  There are no easy answers given here, save for one- life spent walking with Jesus is far better than any alternative.  But that path is not an easy one either.  Dan Haseltine has never sounded better on vocals, and the production values rival any CD of any genre I have ever heard.  A great, great album.

The CD opens with Work, an incredible song (video below) about how difficult life can be ("It's the breathing that's taking all this work") and how important it is to not live life alone, without JesusDead Man (Carry Me) finds the Jars crying out to God raise them from the dead feelings they have inside- it is simply a tour de force of music.  All My Tears and Even Angels Cry continue this theme of pain and passion.  We are then lifted up by There Is A River, with its' incredible chorus:  "There is a river that washes you clean, there is a tree than marks the places you've been.  Blood that was spilled, although not your own, for all of those tears love will atone."  Good Monsters follows with question "Do you know what you are?"   Even the best of us are simply good monsters.  Oh My God is prayer of such passion that it always stirs my soul.  Mirrors & Smoke is an upbeat surprise featuring a vocal from Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer.  The closing songs, Light Gives Heat and Water Under the Bridge are songs of redemption, reminding us that both our hearts and our relationships can be saved.  There is not one song on this album that I do not absolutely love!


Jars of Clay-   1995*
Much Afraid- 1997
If I Left the Zoo- 1999
The Eleventh Hour- 2002
Who We Are Instead- 2003
Redemption Songs- 2005*
*indicates album also included in this countdown

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wednesday Night Live!

The Mountain Top trip was not the only interesting part of the Summer of '94 at the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee.  Our theme for the summer was Don't Look Back, as we tried to shift the focus of the ministry from what it had been (a great success followed by two years of turmoil) to what it could be.  There were lots of new events, but one of the keys to the summer was a new program we called Wednesday Night Live!  (The group from the first WNL is pictured at top).  The history at FUMC-K dictated that there would be a Bible study on Wednesday nights during the school year.  My personal ministry history was to have a fun and games times on Wednesdays during the summer.  I decided to combine the two and give it a catchy name.  We would have an hour of Bible study followed by an hour of weird, wild, wacky stuff.  No one was sure if people would show up or not.  But the Youth Ministry Team decided to give it a go.

We decided the Youth Counselors would teach each week, and that our subject for the summer would be the 10 Commandments.  Each week we would tackle a different challenge from God with a different teacher.  Karen Hall (now Gould), Carlene Heck (now Skiles), Cathy Thacker, Jerry Hanbery, Laura Drapkin, Kay Hill, Becky Watson (now McCleery), Jill Painter (now Watson) and I all served as teachers.  We tried to give a little different perspective to God's Top 10, and I think it worked, because the crowd kept building all summer long.

Of course it didn't hurt that the study was always followed by an event!  Things like The Great Gumby Search, Banana Night, Snow Blast, Christmas in July and a trip to Old Town made each week special.  As always, things seldom went exactly as planned- usually because Todd Willis and Jocelyn Sessions were cheating at the games!!!  But we always had a blast, and slowly but surely Wednesday Night Live! became a huge year-round part of our student ministry at FUMC-K.

We tried a few other new things that summer as well;  a Mid-High Mission Trip, a "kidnapping," Beach Breaks and much more.  You will hear more about several of these events.  Looking back, I think we succeeded in moving the group out of the past and into the present that summer.  So many of the youth were feeling like that were a day late and a dollar short for the glory days of youth ministry at the church.  With our efforts that summer I think we convinced them that they weren't late; in fact, they were just in time.  We were ready to follow Jesus into the great WIDE OPEN...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sculpting Tickets

Our final stop before heading for home to Kissimmee on our 1994 mission trip was a fun stop in Atlanta.  I had not really made any plans for this stop; I just knew I wanted us to have some fun to wrap up what had at times been a very stressful trip.  And we did have some fun...

We got rooms in a Days Inn just off the interstate and located behind a strip club.  It turned out we were not is a very nice part of town, but we didn't really care.  It was decided we would try to go to an Atlanta Braves game.  We had no tickets, but I had been to enough Braves games to know you can always scalp tickets outside the stadium.  So off we went.  I remember absolutely nothing about the game.  To tell you the truth, I don't even remember if we got in.  I do remember how excited Jocelyn Sessions was that we were going to scalp tickets.  She just kept talking about it.  Only thing was, she kept referring to the fact that we were going to "sculpt" tickets.  It was hilarious.  We all kept joking about what that would look like; to see artists sitting in front of Fulton County Stadium forging tickets out of clay.  "Sculpting" tickets became a catch phrase I used for many years.  Jocelyn would have many more "moments" in the coming years, and you will read about them here;  they would only reinforce what a special part of our youth family she was!

The next day (I think) we visited Underground Atlanta.  Again, I have very little memory of the event, but it did produce one of my all-time favorite group pictures (at top).  Getting dressed up, posing for the photo and laughing so hard we couldn't stand up was exactly the finish the trip needed.  The guys look so serious because the photographer wanted us to look like old west bandits- and it worked.  The girls were just supposed to look pretty- and they did!  It was all great fun.  We headed home with a new bond, new enthusiasm and a bright future.  God can do amazing things when we surrender to Him.  Dr. Jill definitely got it right- it was the best worst week ever!  See you tomorrow.

Because of Jesus,

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Blue Van & The Manly Men

Hollywood lives!  Thanks to Lauren Carr Cacciatore for sending me a picture of John Willis and his muppet Hollywood (with sunglasses) to share with my readers.  Lauren is a regular reader and was recently married.  You will be reading about her in the days to come.  She is still an angel!!!

I have mentioned before that while on our Mountain Top trip in 1994 that we had two church vans; a nice white one, which Jill Painter drove, and a blue one, which I drove.  The blue van had issues.  The radio didn't work.  The cruise control didn't work.  The air conditioning was suspect, seeming only to work when it was not hot outside.  The speedometer was questionable.  And, most importantly for purposes of this story, the gas gauge was not accurate.

We had left Mountain Top for the last time (and I do mean last; there was NO WAY I was ever going back again!) and were driving through the hills of Tennessee when suddenly the blue van came to an abrupt halt.  I know very little about cars and engines and such, but even I was smart enough to figure out pretty quickly that we were out of gas.  The gauge didn't say so, but we were.  Oops.  I had overestimated how far we could make it before having to refuel, and now we were stuck in the middle of the middle of nowhere.  Jill drove ahead (left us, in other words) and found the nearest gas station a few miles down the road.  After you hear what we did next, you may ask the question, "Why didn't you just send Jill to buy a gas can and bring back some gas?"  I have no response to that.  It would have made perfect sense.  But it was not what we did.  Instead, the manly men of our group-  Matt Schmidt, Todd Willis, Brian Watson, Matt Wheeler, Brad Watson, Ben Thacker, Hamp Sessions, Scott Burlison and myself-  pushed that van for about 2 miles in the hot June sun.  I give all the guys credit, because to tell the truth I don't remember who all actually pushed.  But push we did, and we eventually arrived at the gas station.  We had conquered the road and were feeling very macho...

We were bonding over our manly feat of strength when it came time to continue.  We were also incredibly sweaty and smelly, and preparing to continue our journey in a van without a decent AC system.  So the guys decided to "air out."  All of the windows were opened.  The girls were are securely placed in the white van with Jill.  Most of the guys then removed their shirts and their pants and rode for the next couple of ours in only their boxers.  It was a unifying display of manly pride that once again served as one of those unplanned events that pull a group together.  Only those of us who were not wearing boxers did not participate as I recall.  Thank God we had the good sense to excuse ourselves from the adventure!  Between the boxer brigade and them making fun of me for running out of gas in the first place, the trip was very upbeat and joyful as we headed for our stop in Atlanta.  And Dr. Jill and I were even now- a speeding ticket for her, running out of gas for me!

This merry band of travellers was becoming quite the youth group family.  And we still had a couple of adventures to go...

Because of Jesus,