Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Banana Splits

Tim Vestal, Carl Jones, Mike Yaconelli, Jerry Hanbery and Ray Luther in Anaheim, 1995

If you know me or if you have been following this blog for very long, then you know how important the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC) was to me over the course of my ministry.  It was at those amazing events that I received much of the encouragement, creativity and insight that helped me sustain my ministry for 28 years.  I have already posted about Dallas, 1982 and Atlanta, 1987 and The Country Quakers.  I continued to attend as the 1990's went on, and the more I was there the more I became connected.  I mentioned in Monday's post the great Yohann Anderson, the group singing guru who became a friend over the years, albeit a friend I only saw once a year.  There were many others who fit that same category.  Mike Yaconelli, Tic Long, Duffy Robbins, Tony Campolo, Todd Temple, Jim Burns, Doug Fields, Mark Oestricher, Rick Bundschuh and Tiger McLuen were among the great minds of youth ministry that I came to know through my experiences at the NYWC, and they helped form my ministry in many ways.  But my favorite years at the convention came in the mid 1990's, when I was rooming with the Banana Splits!

Ray Luther had followed me as youth pastor at Springfield Friends Meeting in 1995, but I had known Ray long before that.  He had been one of The Country Quakers back in 1987, and we had remained good friends.  Tim Vestal I had known even longer, going back to the days when he was a youth in North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends.  But we had not been very close, and I had not been in touch with him since moving to Kissimmee in 1994.  Somehow, we all reconnected and decided to room together at the 1995 NYWC, along with my Summer Intern, Jerry Hanbery.  It was a perfect match.  Together we roamed the halls of the NYWC in Anaheim, Denver and Philadelphia (at least) before Ray became a Senior Pastor and Jerry left me for a career in grad school.  And we OWNED the place when we were all together.  We scammed our way onto the front row any time there was a band or speaker we particularly wanted to see.  We got lots of extra freebies by helping set up the main hall before general sessions.  We sat in the "Peanut Gallery" on stage with Third Day, and Mac Powell (with his hair dyed blond!) came over and sang to us.  We laughed as Ray danced with his name tag (I can't explain it, you just had to be there), as Tim ran to brush his teeth at every break and as we all swooned over Laurie Polich.  We celebrated the great bands and made terrible fun of the duds.  We worshipped together, prayed together and skipped workshops together, making sure NEVER to miss a meal or a general session.  We rocked the hotels we stayed in with our own hit song "The Escalator Has An Emergency Stop."  You know it: "The escalator has an emergency stop, one at the bottom and one at the top..."  OK, so Ray made it up (actually Tim did; see comment below) and we were the only ones who knew it, but we still had fun singing it! 

We certainly had our adventures.  After the Anaheim convention we all went to Disneyland together and had an amazing time.  Ray developed sleep apnea over time and had to wear a breathing mask with a massive hose at night, causing us to refer to him as "The Elephant Man."  One night the mask fell off, we all thought Ray was dying, and Jerry went flying across to the other bed to save him, which in fact almost killed him!  But the best thing ever was the year (Denver, maybe?) when our expert in all things bizarre, Tim, got us started singing the Banana Splits Theme Song ( from the late 60's Saturday morning children's show of the same name) everywhere we went.  The only problem was we didn't know the words.  We only knew the Tra-la-la part (see video below), which we actually sang Fa-la-la.  But we sang often and with gusto, laughing hysterically at ourselves because we couldn't remember the words.  We became "those Banana Splits guys."  And we loved it.

So this my shout out to the NYWC, which made my ministry so much better, and to Tim, Ray and Jerry, who made the NYWC so much better.  I love you guys!  Banana Splits forever!!!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

First Aid

I mentioned in a previous post (Defending Scott) that Scott Burlison ( see picture) was never boring.  He was a youth from a difficult family background who loved the youth group and was very active during his high school years.  Scott was a great guy who just wanted and needed a lot of attention.   I have also mentioned previously (Sometimes people die) that I never had anyone seriously injured on a Ski Trip.  Today's story brings those two facts together in a story you had to see to believe...

I loved Ski Trips, but I was never much into skiing.  I had a fall getting out of a lift chair when I was in college that pretty much shut down the mountain for a few minutes while they sorted out the pile of humanity I created, and from that point forward I became a spectator on the slopes.  My task was to sit in the lodge, hold our tables, play Pass the Pigs, drink hot chocolate- and wait.  What was I waiting for?  The announcement.  Every time a voice would come over the P.A. system I would hold my breath and pray I did not hear these words:  "Will someone from the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee group please come to the First Aid station?"  In January of 1996 I was sitting in the lodge at Winterplace Ski Resort in West Virginia, and I did hear those words.  I raced down to First Aid and was told that the Ski Patrol was bringing in one of my guys who appeared to be badly hurt.  He had no feeling in his legs.  I waited and prayed.

They arrived a few minutes later with Scott strapped to a back board.  They took him in to see the medical staff as one of the Ski Patrol explained to me that he had taken a bad fall, and when they arrived he reported that he had no feeling in his legs or feet.  An ambulance had already been called to take him to the local hospital.  It looked bad.  As they examined Scott, I noticed that he kept changing his answers to some of the questions they were asking him.  I also noticed an occasional smile passing across his face.  I hated myself for doing it, but I found myself doubting whether he was actually hurt or not.  He had faked minor injuries before; perhaps he was just seeking attention again.  I kept my thoughts to myself until it was almost time to transfer him to the ambulance.  I pulled one of the medics aside and shared my doubts with him; he looked at me like I had lost my mind.  But he also thought it was worth checking.  They had removed Scott's ski boots and socks, and as the medic walked by the stretcher Scott was on he let his hand brush the bottom of Scott's bare foot.  His leg immediately jerked.  The medic turned and looked at me with a "You have GOT to be kidding" sort of look, and then walked away.  They had to take him to the hospital at this point, and I went with him.  The doctors there found absolutely nothing wrong with him, but they gave him a neck brace (again, see picture) to comfort him and to make sure he got attention from his friends.  It may have also been to keep me from strangling him...

Youth Ministry is a lot like the First Aid station at a ski resort.  We seek to make a difference in the lives of teenagers in a very short period of time, sometimes without knowing all the facts.  Often we can only apply emotional and spiritual band-aids,  when in fact surgery is probably needed.  When student ministry is done correctly- with love and compassion in the name of Jesus- those band-aids can help stop the bleeding and help our youth survive the stressful teenage years.  They can encourage students to discover their worth and their identities.  Sometimes we can't (or don't) do enough.  But sometimes, like in the case of Scott, the youth and the youth leaders keep giving love no matter what the person has done.  That is God's grace.  That is when youth ministry works.  Those are the moments that make me proud to have been a youth pastor for 28 years.  So Scott, where ever you are today, we love you dude!  I only hope you have as many fond memories of us as we have of you, and that some of those band-aids stuck...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, June 27, 2010

One Thing

The Beatitudes (a section of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:3-10) offer us an amazing insight into the heart of God.  The late Rich Mullins once called this scripture the condensed version of everything Jesus taught.  Yet most of its concepts are so foreign to us today, even in the church.  Our culture is not fond of the meek, the merciful or the peacemakers.  We in USAmerica certainly don't understand being persecuted for Jesus' sake.   But perhaps nothing is a foreign to us as the concept of being "pure in heart."

I used to think that being "pure in heart" meant moving beyond sin; that my heart would be pure when I was free of sin and fully in the arms of God.  I know now even being in the arms of God, even walking with Christ everyday and living my life under guidance of the Holy Spirit, will NEVER keep me free from sin.  I am human, therefore I will sin.  That is the Biblical truth.  I think being "pure in heart" means something altogether different.  In the movie City Slickers, Curly (played by Jack Palance) is asked what the meaning of life is by Billy Crystal's character, and he responds by holding up a finger and saying, "One thing."  When asked what the one thing is, he tells Crystal that he has to figure that out for himself.  Rich Mullins addressed this in song, pointing out that when Jesus becomes our "one thing" then we begin to become one of the "pure in heart."  We do not become sin free, but we do understand what it means to repent and know the grace of God.  We focus our lives on the things of God and the teachings of Jesus.  We begin to understand that while there may be more in our life than our relationship with Christ, there is actually nothing else we need.  Rich wrote, "Everybody I know says they need just one thing, but what they really mean is they need just one thing more...You're my one thing, and the pure in heart shall see God." 

The truth we are not likely attain this pureness either, at least not on this side of Heaven, because we are so easily distracted.   But we can strive for it.  We can seek to make Jesus our one thing.  Notice I didn't say strive to make church our one thing, because the church so often distorts what Jesus taught with its own history and bias.  If you make Jesus your one thing, you will lose some friends ("What will people think when they hear that I'm a Jesus Freak...).  Your world view will change, and the only citizenship that will matter to you is the one you hold in the Kingdom of God.  You will understand that politics have absolutely nothing to do with following the Christ.  You will know that "the least of these" people in our society are of great value to Jesus (See Matthew 25).  You will treat people differently, ceasing to judge and offering love to even those who despise you.  And the more you make Jesus your one thing, the closer you get to a clear picture of the heart of God.  That is an amazing promise.  And the best part is you don't actually have to do anything.  You just have to surrender your heart, and be willing to live without the "one thing more."  Let Jesus take over, and you will discover that you can be meek, and merciful, and a peacemaker.  You will "hunger and thirst for righteousness."  And you may just see God...

I know this is a rambling post, but God is putting it more and more on my heart to remind my readers that Radical Christianity is all about following Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our lives.  Anything (including organized religion) that draws us away from that one thing is a distraction we cannot tolerate if we seek to be "pure in heart."  My prayer is that I (and you!) may take another step towards that purity every day.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, June 26, 2010


It's Saturday, and time for another look back at the wackiness the was The UMYF Enquirer, the often silly monthly newsletter I wrote during my years at the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee.  Last week we looked at strange headlines; today I give you one picture and one story and ask if anyone remembers "WHY?" 

The picture is from a ski trip, I believe in 1997, and was reproduced in the March 1997 issue of the Enquirer with the caption "Youth Group Can Be Dangerous."  The people involved are Ben Thompson and Chrissy Weaver; I have no memory of what caused Ben to attempt to eat Chrissy's head.  Anyway, here is the picture.

The article is from the October, 1996 edition, and if anyone can explain to me what the purpose of this story was, I would greatly appreciate the information.  It seems totally random, but almost everything I ever wrote for the Enquirer has some point.  This one may be lost forever!  Here it is, a reprint of the full article:

Want to be part of our biggest, wildest event ever?  Then get ready for MOOSE HUNT '97!  We'll be headed for Butte, Montana and three weeks of hunting the wild Mitsubishi Moose.  Just bring your parents' VISA card, $600 cash and the biggest gun you can find to Cathy Thacker's house at 4 AM on Saturday, October 19th.  Also, since there is no airport, you'll have to parachute into Butte, so bring a strong umbrella to help break your fall.  See you in Butte!

So there you have it!  If you have any clue as to why I wrote that article, or if you would just like to make up a reason, e-mail me at or leave a comment below.  Have a great weekend and don't forget, tomorrow is God's day!  Honor Him!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, June 25, 2010

Magical Mystery Tour

Happy Birthday to Sara Thacker Reiter, Lisa Kraus Spires and Max Rees!  It's not very often three such wonderful people share the same birthday!

I have already told you the story of our first FUMC-K Mystery Weekend (see Live To Tell), a ridiculously crazy 1996 trip to Myrtle Beach, SC.  In 1998 Jerry Hanbery and I (see picture) decided to do it again.  This time we would replace the wackiness of 18 hours in a van with a more creative approach.   This time it would be a middle school only adventure, and our theme would be "Crazy Times."  And this time, Jerry and I had a serious plan...

We loaded up the vans at 7 PM on Friday, July 31st and hit the road.  This time there were no leaks;  no one on the two vans had any idea where we were going.  We headed north on the Florida Turnpike, and the kids were buzzing about where they thought we might be headed.  We then turned north on I-75, headed towards Ocala.  I was driving the always-iffy blue van, and I had the lead.  The blue van's issues played an important part in our plan.  About 4 miles south of Ocala, I "noticed" that the van seemed to be running hot.  I pulled off the side of the road and Jerry followed me, getting out of the white van to come assist me as I checked under the hood.  We had taped a baggie of water under the hood, and when I poured it on the engine (out of sight of the youth) steam went everywhere.  Jerry and I did some serious moaning and complaining about the "stupid blue van" and then returned to our vans, telling the students that the van was over-heating and that we were going to go ahead and stop for the night so we could try and get it fixed.  We stopped at several motels and I went in to see if they had any rooms (I had a great time telling the front desk clerks what we were doing so the youth could see me having conversations with them), only to return and tell the group there was no vacancy.  The youth were now getting a little nervous.  We finally found rooms at a Super 8 Motel (where, unknown to the youth, we had reservations!) and settled in for the night.  I held a meeting at which I informed the kids that I was going to try to get the van fixed, but that I did not know what the following day would hold.  We might just have to stay in Ocala. I drove off to get the van fixed while they enjoyed the pool.  I was not back when Jerry sent them to bed.  They went to bed grumpy.  It was perfect...

The following morning we woke everyone up early and told them to get ready, the van was fixed and we were leaving!  We hurried them, half-asleep, onto the vans and hit the road.  We were hoping that they would be too groggy to notice that we were now heading south on I-75.  And for a while, they were.  Slowly but surely, they begin to notice something had changed.  We stopped at a Burger King for breakfast, and the questions began in earnest.  We got back on the road, and finally some of the youth began to guess our final destination- Busch Gardens in Tampa.  And then- as if a fog was lifting- they began to realize that the entire "breakdown" the night before had all been planned.  We had fooled them completely, and they could not believe it- and a few were not real happy about it.  Jerry and I were giddy- we thought it was one of the best things we had ever done!  We went on to have a great day at the park, and a wonderful weekend, including a great time of worship on Sunday morning.  We wanted to make it memorable, and we had.  It was just one more time when a wild and crazy idea helped some students discover the presence of Jesus in their lives.

I found out a few years later that there were a couple of students on that trip who NEVER got the message that the entire first night had been staged.  I found out when one of them asked me, "Where were we going to go on that Mid-High Mystery Trip before the van broke down?"  And the Oscar goes to Jerry Hanbery and Carl Jones...  Have a blessed weekend everyone!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hall of Fame: Adam Hill

Adam Hill (above, with Lisa Kraus and Cyndi Reep) was one of the most unique young people ever to pass through a student ministry.  I knew Adam before he aged into the youth group at FUMC-K, as his mother Kay and older brother Nate were already involved when I arrived.  Adam was a study in contradictions from the day he set foot in the the youth room.  He was quiet, yet still managed to make a mark through participation almost every week.  He was an outstanding student in both middle and high school, yet was always a bit on the goofy side.  He had wonderfully bizarre ideas about some things, but was, from the beginning, a strong believer and student of the Bible.  Adam was the kind of guy you wish you had about 10 of in every youth ministry.

There are two silly stories that stand out in my mind about Adam.  We held an event when he was in middle school (I believe it was a Radical Sabbatical- more on those to come later) in which we spent a night in the youth room.  Adam attended, and decided that for the length of the event he would say only one word- POTATO.  When you said hello, he said POTATO.  When you asked him a question, the answer was POTATO.  It was weird, it was quirky and it was hilarious.  He stayed with it for at least most of a 24 hour period.  But that was (pardon the pun) small potatoes compared to the week at Myrtle Beach (see picture) in which he refused to brush his hair.  Every day his hair grew taller and wilder, and every day he did nothing to it.  At one point he named it, although the name has slipped from my memory.  It became a major focal point of discussion at the Betsy B, and every time I see a wild hairdo on a guy my son Will has to listen to the story of the week Adam let his hair run wild!

But neither of those stories are the reason that today I induct Adam into my Youth Group Hall of Fame.  Adam was a young man after God's own heart.  At a time when many of spoke of it, Adam was truly a Jesus Freak!  He wanted to soak up the scriptures.  As a high school student he first took and then helped teach Disciple Bible Study, a 34 week commitment to reading the vast majority of both the Old and New Testaments.  He was a regular at our Breakfast Club Bible study, even though he hated getting up that early.  A few times he even got up extra early to go with me to Orlando and get hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts for the entire crew.  In fact, Adam seldom missed anything we did.  After I left Kissimmee and wandered through my time in Chicago, we moved to Tampa.  Adam, Josh Fry, Sarah Crudele and Andrew Rogers (with occasional others) would drive from Kissimmee to Tampa on a regular basis and eat dinner with Marilyn, Will and I.  Adam went on to serve as a missionary in Italy for Campus Crusade for Christ.  He went out of his way (in what could have been a decision that created some issues for him) to invite my family to his wedding in May of 2009, and we were thrilled to be there.  He has become every bit the fine young man of God that he was goofball in that hair picture.  I, and many others, are very proud of him.

Adam Hill is exactly the kind of human being and Christ-follower I pray my son will turn out to be.  And I have to tell you, there is no higher honor I can bestow upon him than that- not even a place in my Hall of Fame!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Today marks the 300th consecutive day I have posted on this blog.  As many of you know, my goal from the beginning was to blog every day for one year, and I am approaching that milestone.  I have made no decision yet as to whether or not I will continue to blog in another 65 days, but I can say that the experience so far has been nothing but positive for me.  I have heard from many dear, old friends who are reading.  I have gotten comments, e-mails and (before it died) guestbook signatures from all over the world.  My Uncle Don Dormstetter googled himself and discovered he had been written about in this blog.  It has been great fun, and a learning experience for me. If you have not been reading from the beginning, you might want to check out this link to read a few of my favorite posts, or to visit my Hall of Fame.   I have had three true revelations since Day 1, and I thought today I would share them with you.

  1. I assumed that this would be primarily an exercise in telling old stories and having a good laugh.  It has been that, but as it says in the tag line at the top of my blog, it is really all about Jesus.  Every trip, every event, every failure and every bit of silliness and foolishness were a part of a ministry designed to help students connect with the Christ.  I always knew that in my head, but writing everyday about my history as a youth pastor has allowed me to really feel it in my gut, and to praise God for the opportunity to serve students in His name.
  2. I had always wondered if my work had made any long-term difference, and I have discovered through this process that the feelings and memories I have about the youth ministries I worked with over the years are shared by may of the students I served.  I have heard from so many, including Marshall Ratledge, Darek Newby, Dann Newby, Laura Wheeler and Terri Johnson from all the way back in my New Garden Friends Meeting/Quaker Lake Camp days, 1978-1983.  I heard from dozens of my old Springfield Friends Meeting (1986-1994) youth and parents of those youth.  I currently hear almost everyday from someone connected to the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee.  And no matter the year or the story being told, the response is nearly always the same.  The times we shared together meant something, and in many cases, still mean something- to all of us.
  3. There was never much doubt in my mind, but writing this blog each day and telling stories of days gone by has reminded me that I was blessed to be in ministry with hundreds of the finest students and adult leaders anyone has ever had the opportunity to serve.  Almost every day the stories, the pictures and the memories bring a smile to my face and a tear to my eye, often at the same time.  The love we shared as we walked our spiritual journeys together was very real, and even all these years later can still lift my spirits and remind me that Jesus loves me, just as He loves us all!  It is also way beyond cool to follow along with many of their lives on Marilyn's Facebook, to see their children, and to know that many of them are still seeking Jesus.
There are many more stories to tell and places to visit over the next 65 days, and I hope each of you will continue to join me on my journey.  My life, with its glorious successes and monumental failures, has always been covered in the grace of Jesus Christ.  May everything I do and everything I write point to Him.

Because of Jesus,

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Week Long One Day Choir Tour

Before beginning today's post, I have to admit to being a bit disappointed in the response to yesterday's Random Ramblings.  I thought for sure I would get some heated responses from soccer fans.  I guess I failed in my attempt to irritate that huge portion of the world's population.  I shall have to try harder next time...   :)

Andrew Lewis was a fixture at FUMC-K by the time I arrived in 1994.  Over the years he served the church as organist, interim youth pastor and eventually Director of Music and Worship.  He also directed the youth choir (first called Celebration Singers and later nUsong) during my tenure, and often helped with other youth activities as well.  Andrew was (is!) a great guy, a wonderful musician, and one of my best friends during the Kissimmee years.  We started making plans as early as 1995 to try and do a youth choir tour as a part of our summer ministries, but it didn't come together until June 20-27, 1998.  This is the story of that tour- a short story!

Andrew had nUsong ready to hit the road and sing.  Our youth worship band (which I called Spicy Bean Burrito; they actually had no name) was ready to rock.  We had skits prepared, roadies to help us set up the sound equipment and drivers for the vans.  My job was to find us places to play.  The first stop was easy; I booked us on a Sunday morning at my old stomping grounds, Springfield Friends Meeting in High Point, NC.  Two of our youth, Jill and Erica Souther, got us a gig on that Sunday night at an outdoor venue in Yadkin County (I stand corrected- it was Wilkes County- thank you Erica!), NC, sponsored by a church their relatives attended.  I had a possibility of a host church for Tuesday, and on Wednesday we were to go to my uncle's church near Raleigh.  Things were coming together- that is, until they completely fell apart!

By the time we left Kissimmee, there was nothing left of our choir tour but the two Sunday events.  We would spend the rest of the week travelling around, calling people and begging them to let us come sing, and trying to fill the days.  Those two worship events were wonderful; unfortunately they were the only two we played all week.  It was quite a disappointment for the group, and I was miserable, knowing I had let everyone down.  Because of all the free-time, some of the relationships in the group became a little strained as the week went on, and there were two youth (now a lovely married couple) I thought we might ditch at a gas station in Georgia; but we all survived.  Don't get me wrong, we had plenty of fun that week.  We visited Carowinds (see piture at top) in Charlotte, made a stop in Myrtle Beach, played lots of Spoons and loved being together.  But the bottom line was I failed the group, and we didn't get to do many of the things we had prepared so hard to accomplish.  We had wanted to bring Jesus to people in a fresh, exciting way, and we did.  But only twice.  I consider it a major OOPS in my career.  And I felt really bad for Andrew, who had wanted the tour to happen for so long.  When I pick my all-time  church staff in a future posting, you can bet Andrew will be in that group.  I just have to figure out which job to give him...

There is one final epilogue to this story.  I mentioned all of the playing of Spoons that helped fill the long hours we spent in motels.  It became fashionable for the losers in these games (GASP!  There was gambling on a youth trip?) to have to do something embarrassing.  One such loser had to run up and down the hall outside her room with only a towel wrapped around her.  A few years later, at her Senior Roast, an 8x10 full color picture (albeit a bit blurry) of her running in that towel showed up.  I still have that picture.  I don't know if Cyndi Reep reads this blog, but if you are out there, Reep, that picture is safe- for now!  The rest of you may want to warn her...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Random Ramblings

I have a trilogy of thoughts for you today, random (and irritating) though they may be!

It's Father's Day, and I wanted to take this opportunity to wish a blessed day to all the dads who may be reading today.  A special thought goes out to my buddy Jerry Hanbery, who is celebrating his first Father's Day as a dad!  I lost my own father in February of 2006, and not a day goes by that I don't miss him.  He lives on in my life in so many ways, as a guide and an inspiration.  I love you, Dad.  I also love being a dad.  I miss being a youth pastor, but one of the blessings of my failures and consequent unemployment is getting to spend more time with my 14 year-old son Will than I could have ever imagined.  We talk together and laugh together on a daily basis.  We discuss politics (which thanks to George W. and Sarah the Moosehunter is often a discussion of comedy as well), religion, faith (yes- faith is different than religion!), sports, music (he keeps me current and I teach him the classics), TV (we love many of the same shows) and, of course, movies.  Will is a huge fan of movies and hopes to make a career out of writing and directing films.  Our family sees a movie almost every weekend, usually taking in a $5 show at our local AMC Theaters on Saturday mornings.  Will loves to talk box office, Oscars and everything else related to the industry.  He is a gift from God in my life, and I love having the opportunity to spend so much time with him.  And speaking of movies...

Yesterday's $5 flick (well actually $8- we saw it in 3D!) was Toy Story 3, and Marilyn, Will and I all agree it was our favorite movie of the summer so far and an instant classic.  I don't want to spoil the story for those who have yet to see it, but once again there are tons of laughs, a great story, and a wonderful message.  Woody, Buzz, Hamm, Rex, Slinky Dog and the gang are such real characters- more life-like than many of the "people" we see on the big screen these days. They are friends, yet they are very different. They are insecure.  They bicker, they get on each others' nerves, and they disappoint each other.  Yet they are an enduring example of faithfulness and friendship.  They often doubt, but they never give up- on each other, or on their "Creator"- Andy.  They know that despite the changes their lives are going through, their bond will never be broken.  In this computer animated movie you can actually FEEL the love they all share.  I dare you to make it through the last 20 minutes or so without getting at least little teary eyed- I know I couldn't.  These toys really understand what it means to share life together.  In other words, the Toy Story gang is a perfect model for everything a youth group ought to be...

OK- so if you know me at all you know I am not a fan of soccer.  I have been to many a match in my life to watch students play, and I just don't enjoy it.  I love sports, and I can see the strategy in everything from water polo to ice hockey, but soccer still feels like guys running around kicking a ball until the game ends in a scoreless tie.  Anyway, I am trying to watch the World Cup and expand my horizons, but it is just not working.   The best part is listening to announcers with a British accent, but even that has problems.  First of all, if you have the sound on you have to hear those awful vuvuzelas that make the sound of a million bees invading the stadium.  Secondly, the announcers are always making obscure (to USAmericans, anyway) references to the Premier League and the Champions League and one hundred other things we know nothing about.  One of the ESPN talking heads said at halftime of yesterdays match between Cameroon and Denmark that the defense had been terrible; that it was "bad football."  He followed that by this telling statement: "But at least it is good TV."  So, he is telling us, good soccer is boring!  How can it be a good thing that if a team scores a single goal, the announcers talk as if the match is over- "you can't come back from that!"  Japan actually won a match this past week in which they only took 3 shots on goal; that is one shot every 30 minutes!  The two most talked about plays so far have been a goal that England allowed against the U.S. that my dog could have blocked, and a goal the U.S. scored that a ref took away for reasons he doesn't have to tell anyone.  And this is high-level international sport at its best?  Aside from killing anyone who ever blows a vuvuzela again (and I am a pacifist), here are a few ways I would change soccer:
  • Get rid of the offsides foul.  Why do they penalize players for running too fast?  Having players wandering around by the goal at all times would spread things out and allow for teams to actually score on occasion.
  • Always play overtime.  I am sick of hearing a " nil-nil draw" referred to as "a good result."  You should lose points for a tie, not get a point.
  • Institute a hockey-style penalty box, thus getting rid of those ridiculous yellow cards that the refs hold up like Lex Luthor approaching Superman with kryptonite.  Then bring on the power play goals!
  • Every time a player flops (falls down like they have been shot when an opponent brushes against them) they get sent to the above penalty box for 10 minutes.  No questions.  And if they stay down for more than one minute then they are out of the game, because we assume at that point they are actually injured.  These are supposed to be athletes, not actors.
  • Free substitution.  In hockey teams change whole lines on the fly, but in soccer getting a sub in is tougher than a security check at an Israeli airport.  And why only three per match?  More substitutions lead to fresher players and- say it with me- more goals.
  • I am nitpicking now, but why can't the goalie wear the same uniform as the rest of his team?  Are they afraid his teammates or the ref will forget which one he is?
  • Let Ron Burgandy broadcast every game.  "You stay classy, Slovenia..."
Sorry for rambling, but hey, I warned you!  Happy Father's Day, and have a blessed week.

Because of Jesus,

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Birth of SHO-Time

When you work with a large youth group like the one we had in Kissimmee, you spend a tremendous amount of time figuring out ways to make it feel smaller.  You develop programs, create new events and seek ways to get small groups of students together so you can have a chance to build community and relationships.  In early 1996 I began to think about ways to give our high school youth more opportunities to get together without those "pesky middle schoolers" hanging all over them.  I decided on a once a month program that I called SHO- Time.  This Senior High Only event would be simple.  We would pick a restaurant, gather for dinner, and just hang out and visit.  It seemed like a great idea, and eventually it was.  But it got off to a very slow start...

The first SHO-Time was held February 29, 1996.  I thought meeting on Leap Day would make it memorable and unique.  I advertised the event with every means available- our newsletter, post cards and our Youth Group Hotline (847-XLAX).  There seemed to be a buzz, and I was excited.  We decided on Chi-Chi's Mexican Restaurant (now defunct; I miss that place and especially their Cancun Seafood Burritos!) because it had good food and a great party atmosphere.  Marilyn, a very young Will (age 1.5) and I showed up excited for a great dinner with wonderful people.  And we waited.  Finally, the crowd began to arrive.  The "crowd" was named Connor Lewis (pictured at top with Teresa Reep and Hamp Sessions in NYC- Teresa loved SHO-Time and used to pick the restaurant we we were going to visit next!).  He was both the first and last to join us.  We had a great time (although I am sure Connor felt a little awkward being the only one there) and I just wrote the low turnout off to it being a first time event.  But the next few months brought more of the same.  Lisa Kraus joined us one month; others were in and out.  But Connor was faithful, coming most every month.  He kept talking abut how much fun we had.  And eventually, the idea caught on.  As the years passed (and not just in Kissimmee; I did SHO-Time with every group I served through 2006) it became a signature event, something the high school kids looked forward to every month and that middle school youth couldn't wait to age into.  SHO-Time became a place to bring friends, and where some of the kids who didn't come to youth group on a regular basis felt comfortable.  We went to a lot of great restaurants in the Kissimmee area over the next few years, with Rio Bravo Mexican Restaurant and Planet Hollywood being among the favorites.  Every month brought a new opportunity for the students to hang out with each other and for me to hear what was on their minds.  I know I looked forward to SHO-Time every bit as much as they did.

I have been digging through some of the old newsletters from my days at FUMC-K, and starting tomorrow I will spend the next few Saturdays looking back at some headlines and stories from the UMYF Enquirer.  Get ready to laugh!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, June 17, 2010

CCM Thursday: Hands and Feet

One of the bands that we were very fond of during my years in Kissimmee (and Hinsdale, Tampa and Waycross) was Audio Adrenaline Audio A was a band that made consistently good music for over a decade (they have three albums on my Top 50 Countdown) and never disappointed in concert.  Over the years I was with groups that saw them live at various locations, such as Night of Joy, Carpenter's Home Church and a high school auditorium in West Virginia.  We often sang their songs Big House and Get Down as part of our student ministries.  We used videos from several of their songs, including Some Kind of Zombie and Never Gonna' Be As Big As Jesus to kick start discussions.  I used the song BLITZ  (14 kids in an old church van...) as our theme for the summer of 1999.  And their incredible call to missions, Hands and Feet, was a favorite song used to promote our mission trips.  I was so blessed to take groups all over the place in the name of Jesus, from Nashville to Mexico, and Hands and Feet was often used to kick-off such trips.  Their commitment to making music to challenge youth to live a Christ-filled life was always a great help and inspiration to me.

Audio A also always seemed to have a handle on issues that could get students talking.  No song was better for that than Hands and Feet (see video).  The song is all about how we are the hands and feet of God in this world we live in.  In a world where we are told to "look out for number one" and to "do what make you happy,"  Hands and Feet is a call to remember that we are third.  "The LORD is first, my friends are second, and I am third" is a mantra I have tried to live by, even though just like everyone else I often fail.  The lyrics cry out to God that the singer will "go where You send me."  We so often try to make our service to God something we choose or create, and then we pray that God will bless it.  I am reminded of the story of Ananias in the book of Acts.  God comes to this newly converted Christ-follower and tells him to go visit Saul of Tarsus.  Saul was a noted killer of such converts, and going to see him made little sense to Ananias.  But God called, and Ananias went- and Saul became Paul, perhaps the greatest Christian in history.  We, as the church universal, need to find places where God is working, and GO join Him in those ministries.  As Christ Tomlin wrote, "Not to us, but to Your name be the glory..."

I hope you will be inspired by the Hands and Feet video to get out there and join God in His plan to save the world.  We are all a part of God's Plan A, and there is no Plan B.  I guess that makes us the real A-Team...  Have a blessed day!!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Moons Over Myrtle Beach

Mooning- the art of dropping your pants and showing people your rear end- has been around for a very long time. It is a staple of teenage rebellion, a tradition that dates back at least as far as my parents' generation. There is just something exciting about surprising someone with your bare bottom, and yet it truly harms no one, even as it offends many. We have all seen bums before; as far as I know most of us have one of our own! Over my years in student ministry I saw many a moon. Some came from our youth; others came from teens who were mooning our kids. I have known habitual mooners, guys who would drop their pants in most any situation if given the slightest encouragement. Four young men from Kissimmee once mooned Jerry and I as we entered our hotel room in New York; there is photographic eveidence of this event, taken by Andrew Rogers (that picture will not be seen here, now or any other time!). I once had a young man in my group in Tampa who proudly announced his intention to moon someone in all 50 states, and at least one nun. Love it or hate it, mooning is a part of the adolescent culture. My only rule was that it not be done from the church van or bus with our name on the side. Even youth pastors have standards!

There was one occasion on which I had to intervene in an episode involving mooning. In 1999 the group from FUMC-K was spending a week at the Betsy B in Myrtle Beach. The Betsy B was an oceanfront house, with a small bridge leading from the house through some sand dunes and onto the beach. I began to hear reports that at night, as people headed out to walk on the beach, they were getting mooned by our own group. The report that I received indicated that it was two of our young women who were in charge of these ambushes. This seemed odd to me, as I had not enountered that many female mooners. I went out to see for myself what was happening, and sure enough- Colleen Martin (bottom left) and Chrissy Weaver (top right) aided and encouraged by a few others, were the offenders. They were having so much fun that they seemed a bit out of control, as if they would have shown their butts to anyone who happened by! I knew I needed to say something.

I pulled Chrissy aside (maybe Colleen too, but I specifically remember Chrissy) and began to explain some of the logic of mooning as I understood it. Guys liked to moon other guys to surprise them and gross them out. Guys liked mooning girls because it made them blush and scream things like, "GROSS!" I told them I did not know how females felt when mooned by other girls. But there was one thing I was certain of- when girls show their bottoms to guys, guys are not embarrassed or grossed out. Guys do not run away. When girls moon guys, GUYS LIKE IT! This piece of ancient wisdom seemed to do the trick; the mooning slowed was down after that. Sometimes our knowledge of the strangest things can come in handy...

A year or so later, outside of Chicago, I was mooned by a bunch of teens riding a bus; there must have a dozen butts sticking out of the windows at once. It was then, as I was being mooned by the youth group of the St. James Presbyterian Church, that I realized my rule forbiding mooning from the church bus had been a good one indeed! I offered a prayer for their youth minister...and I laughed. Every moon reminds me of those moons over Myrtle Beach!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

One Wild, Wacky Day

I mentioned yesterday that on occasion youth ministry causes you to push the limits of sanity in order to increase excitement and attract students.  Over the years many of those days have occurred during the summer, especially during Youth Week.  Today I want to remember one very wild and wacky day.

Tuesday, July 8th, 1997 was a part of Youth Week '97, which featured the theme It's Good To Be Alive!  At the end of the day, I might have questioned that!  We began the day by meeting at FUMC-K at 9 AM and heading over to Disney's Yacht Club Resort and the character breakfast at the Cape May Cafe (see group picture above).  The all you-could-eat buffet featured every breakfast food you could imagine, including Mickey Mouse waffles.  One of my favorite parts of the meal was that I could get orange juice, coffee and chocolate milk all at the same meal without paying extra.  Plus, you got to eat with Pluto, Goofy, Donald and Minnie.  It was a great start to the day...but only the beginning!

We returned to the church around 11:30 AM, where many of the youth just hung out until 1 PM and the next phase of our journey.  Others joined us, and we headed to The Florida Mall for another of our famous Mall Scavenger Hunts, including the search for The Pink Panther (for an explanation, click here!).  After a long afternoon of invading every store in the mall in search of the answers to trivia questions, we returned to the church around 5 PM and the students went home..for a while.  In the meantime, I had more work to do to be ready for the final event of the day.

I had rented a huge, World War II era searchlight to use as part of the grand finale.  After the kids went home for supper, we hauled this gigantic light out into a large pasture on the outskirts of Kissimmee and prepared for the big finish.  When the crowd returned at 8 PM, we divided them into vehicles and gave them one task- find the giant searchlight.  As darkness fell, the light was turned on, and you could see it for miles around.  Determining where it was coming from was a bit more difficult.  Our original plan had been to have worship at the site of the searchlight, but it was brutally hot and there was thunder and lightning, so as groups found the site they were sent back to the church.  Some were able to find it fairly quickly; for others, it took a while.  Once everyone made it back to home base, we had snacks and settled in for a time of worship.  We finished around 10:30 PM and sent everyone home.  It was an amazing day.  Well over 100 students participated between the three events.  The Spotlight Search was another of those weird things we did that had the whole community talking, and had our youth saying once again, "I can't believe we just did that!"   And the day ended with dozens of students praising Jesus.  It just doesn't get any better than that!

I don't know that any of these events were particularly memorable to the youth who attended, but days like this were very important to the ministry.  They were days that Jerry Hanbery and I looked forward to every summer.  The great Tony Campolo once wrote a book entitled The Kingdom of God Is A Party.  I hope we communicated that feeling in our ministry, and in those wild, wacky days.

Because of Jesus,

Monday, June 14, 2010

Live To Tell

Creativity is such an important part of student ministry.  As a youth worker you are constantly striving to come up with ideas that have a WOW factor.  You want to keep students a bit off-guard, wondering what you might come up with next.  You are always seeking new ideas, or at least ideas that are new to your group.  Not to sound too much like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, but tameness, sameness and lameness are enemies of a successful youth program.  Finding ways to keep students engaged is an ongoing struggle.  You find yourself always pushing the limits of what is acceptable and what is possible, all because they have to show up before you can share Jesus with them.  And every now and then, you cross the line between the creative and the insane!

On August 2nd, 1996, the student ministry of the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee went flying over that line.  As part of our summer ministries, we decided to do a Mystery Trip.  Students could sign-up, pay their $35 and have absolutely no idea where they were going.  We would only give parents the information when they arrived at the church on the day of the adventure.  There was a tremendous amount of excitement generated by this new event, and about 25 of us (see group photo at top) prepared to share in the mystery.  The only people who knew where we were going were Jerry Hanbery (my intern) and myself.  We had decided to take the group to Myrtle Beach, SC.  Many of the students had never been, and we were planning a major trip there in the summer of 1997.  A weekend in MB seemed like a wonderful idea for an adventure.  And it was- eventually.

We were planning to leave the church at 7 PM on Friday, August 2nd, but there was an immediate snag in our plans.  We had to wait for someone to finish their participation in a fashion show at the local mall, so we wound up sitting in the mall parking lot until around 8 PM.  During this wait, Kendall Crotty began to pass the word around that we were going to Myrtle Beach.  His mom had ratted us out!  Before we ever began our Mystery Trip, the mystery was solved.  That was the first bummer.  The second bummer was that I had been to MB a hundred times in my life, but never from Kissimmee, FL.  It's a long way.  A very long way.  About 9 hours.  I'll let you do the math, but suffice it to say that we arrived at the Days Inn in MB in the very early hours of Saturday morning.  The last few hours of the van ride were brutal;  I later heard rumors of people (Connor Lewis?) just laying down on the seats, regardless of the fact the seats already had people sitting in them.  I was just trying to stay awake so I could drive.  We arrived, checked in, and went to bed.  It was noon before we were up and about and enjoying the sun and surf.

We had a great weekend.  We played together, ate together, visited the Myrtle Beach Pavilion together and worshipped together.  We spent 18 hours in vans to spend 30 hours at the beach when we lived in Florida; that was the insane part.  But we had wanted a memorable event, one that the kids would talk about for years to come- and we got one!  We had titled the weekend Live To Tell after the Geoff Moore and the Distance song for two reasons.  One, our theme for worship was that our lives should tell the people we meet that we were followers of Jesus.  Secondly, we wanted them to know that this weekend was about survival; that they had lived, and should spread the word that strange and wonderful things were happening in the youth ministry of FUMC-K.  On both counts the weekend was an amazing success.  It is safe to say that in those years Jerry and I were often wrong, but we were seldom boring...

We did another Mystery Trip a couple of years later that was not as insane, but was much more dramatic.  That story is still to come.  Have a blessed day, everyone!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ragamuffin Thoughts

Perhaps the greatest theological truth ever written is this:  "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so..."  It is a love we cannot earn and do not deserve; it is a love we simply have to accept.  Yet I am not so sure we really believe that.  I am not certain we understand the concept of grace.  We are too busy trying to EARN God's love; we are too involved in being against things and decalring our point of view to be correct.  We are missing the point.  We are all ragamuffins who fall short of living without sin, yet Jesus loves us anyway.  Today I want to share with you some excerpts from the first chapter of Brennan Manning's classic book The Ragamuffin Gospel (1990, Multnomah Press).   I hope these words will offer hope and clarity to you as you worship God on this Sabbath.

Something is radically wrong.

The Christian community often resembles a Wall Street exchange of works where in the elite are honored and the ordinary ignored. Love is stifled, freedom shackled, and self-righteousness believed. The institutional church has become a wounder of the healers rather than a healer of the wounded... Put bluntly the American Church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice.

Our culture has made the word grace impossible to understand. We resonate with slogans such as:
"There's no free lunch."
"You get what you deserve."
"You want love? Earn it."
"You want mercy? Show you deserve it."
"Do unto others before they do it unto you."

Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if it is only personal discipline and self-denial that will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing.

Our approach to the Christian life is just as absurd as the enthusiastic young man who had just received his plumber's license and was taken to see Niagara Falls. He studied it for a minute and then said, "I think I can fix this."

We believe that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps- indeed, we can do it ourselves. Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency. Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut.

It is time for us to realize that if we can earn God's love by our beliefs and actions, then Jesus was not necessary.  His coming to earth was a fool's errand if we can bridge the gap that sin creates between ourselves and God by our own efforts.  It is time our theology got back to the basics.  Sing the truth to yourself today and everyday, and feel the power of God's love.  "YES- Jesus loves me!"

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Sometimes People Die"

One of my favorite memories of my Kissimmee days took place on a Ski Trip to Boone, NC.  We were blessed over the years to never have anyone seriously injured on the slopes (we did have one major fake injury, but that is another story).  But on this particular adventure we had to take Jennifer (Bob) Minnigan (pictured) to the emergency room  This is the story of that night.

One evening we had returned from skiing and dinner to our chalet-style motel on the outskirts of Boone, and there was time to kill while we waited for our scheduled time in the group room.  We were planning a time of worship together.  At some point during the down time, a small but violent wrestling match broke out between Connor Lewis (pictured) and Jennifer. The details of the event have always been a bit sketchy, but it is my belief that at some point Connor picked Bob up and body slammed her (OK, not really, but it makes the story better)!  In any case, Jennifer's arm was hurt badly enough that they came and got me, I got Dr. Jill Painter, and together we decided she needed to got to the hospital.  I got directions while Jill grabbed our fearless bus drivers, David Johns and Vern Watson.  Even though only three of us needed to go, the bus was our only means of transportation.  I have often wondered what the emergency room staff thought when they saw a 60 passenger bus pull up to the front door that night...

We went inside and begin to check Jennifer in, and things continued to be interesting.  I pulled out the medical release form that all youth pastors have had students fill out since the dawn of time and presented it to the lady at the desk, proving to her that I had the right to secure medical attention for Jen.  She looked at it, laughed at me, and proceeded to explain that those release forms are not worth the paper they are printed on.  So we moved on to the next thing, calling Jennifer's mom to let her give the doctors permission.  From my end, hearing only Jen, the conversation sounded something like this:  "Mom, we are at the emergency room...No, the skiing was great...I got hurt at the motel....horseplay."  She failed to mention the body slam.  In any case, with Bob now signed in, it was time to wait.  There were several people there, mostly with ski injuries.  There was a rack of pamphlets on dealing with tragedy in the waiting area, and we picked a few up to read.  Dave and Vern had joined us by this time, and as we all settled in for the wait we began to look at a pamphlet entitled What To Say To Your Children When Their Friends Are Sick.  We opened to the first page and read the words of wisdom that I have quoted so many times since.  It read, "You should prepare your children for the worst.  When their friends are sick, inform them that sometimes people die."  And right there, in the middle of sick and injured people, the five of us began to laugh uncontrollably.  We couldn't stop.  We kept thinking of scenarios in which a child had their tonsils out or broke a nail and their friends were told "Sometimes people die."  After Jennifer left us and went back for x-rays we continued to laugh and make fun of this booklet.  They gave her a clean bill of health (her arm was actually fractured, but no one in Boone ever told us that) and we hopped back on our bus and headed back to our waiting group.

On our way back we (OK, I) devised a plan to shake Connor up a little bit.  They group was waiting in the group room, but Connor was out waiting for the bus.  He was truly concerned for Jennifer's welfare.  As we pulled up we had Jen hide, and I got off the bus and went to Connor.  With my most serious look, I told him that it was pretty bad.  I told him Bob had not done well.  And then, without a trace of a smile, I told him "Connor- sometimes people die!"  For just an instant, his face and body language told me he was buying it.  That was more than we could take, and we all started laughing and Jennifer came out and gave him a hug.  Yes, I know it was cruel; I also know it was hilarious!  We then went in and had a time of worship together, full of a new knowledge of how much we cared about each other.  It was a great night.

Jennifer is already in my Hall of Fame, and Connor will join her soon.  I have been telling this story for years, and in fact, the last time I told it I was with Jennifer as we told her husband.  I am so glad I was there that night, so that I have the skills to deal with my son Will when his friends are sick.  I take his hand, look him in the eyes and say, "Will...sometimes people die."  Feel free to use this in your own life, but don't be surprised when people laugh!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Frosty Experience

Lauren Carr was one of my favorite youth from the first day I met her.  There was just something about Lauren that was special.  She is pictured at left with Amber Herrick and Chrissy Weaver, who often referred to themselves as Carl's Angels.  I have many memories of the three of them, including a lunch at Friendly's after I moved to Chicago and came back for Lisa Kraus's wedding that I will NEVER forget!  But there is one Lauren story that stands above all the rest...

I already knew before the Mid-High Adventure Trip of 1995 that Lauren required a specific diet.  Her favorite food- in fact, the ONLY real food she would eat- was macaroni and cheese.  And not just any mac and cheese; it had to be Kraft!  I do have some memory of riding around Atlanta trying to find her some KFC so she could eat the skin off of the chicken, but for the most part it was Kraft mac and cheese or bust.  Upon reaching the Ocoee Inn on the trip we ate in their restaurant, where they had mac and cheese, but alas it was not Kraft.  Lauren would eat junk food when we stopped for gas, but for the most part she just did not eat much on our trips. 

We were coming back through Atlanta on our way home to Kissimmee when we stopped at a Wendy's, and Lauren got a Frosty.  We proceeded on down the highway, and for the second time in my life (see A Waste of Good Cookies) I had someone tell me, in the midst of Atlanta rush hour traffic, that they might need to stop because of a stomach issue.  And before we knew what was happening, Lauren was sick.  And there was Frosty everywhere.  Inside the white van.  Outside the white van.  ALL OVER the white van!   I cannot fully express to you how unpleasant it was to see this Frosty for the second time.  We pulled off the interstate as hundreds of cars went flying by, and we tried to clean up.  It was at this point that one of our Youth Counselors, Mike Mangan, performed a historic act of bravery.  Mike was helping clean up the mess (which was significant!) and we didn't have nearly enough napkins or paper towels.  Mike was wearing a gray Georgetown University t-shirt, and in a great act of personal sacrifice he took off the shirt and began to use it to soak up the secondhand Frosty.  He mopped up the puke until his shirt was completely saturated.  As we finished our clean-up and were getting back in the van, Mike stood by the roadside, starring at his shirt.  It was almost as if he was saying good-bye.  He then turned and tossed the Frosty stained t-shirt into some bushes by the highway and returned to then van.  Seldom has one man sacrificed so much so that others could ride in a barf-free van...

Lauren got married earlier this year, and I assume her eating habits have improved.  I have no idea if she was ever able to eat a Frosty again.  Mike (about whom I will blog again at a later date) was a great help in our ministry in many more ways than just his janitorial services.  The group that lived through the event loved to tell the story, and were in fact bound together by the experience.  It was just another example of how a shared history brings groups closer together than any lesson, program or event ever could.  Lauren survived.  Mike survived, although his shirt did not.  And the poor white van was never the same again...inside or out!  Used Frosty will never be a popular color for vans...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, June 10, 2010

CCM Thursdays: SLINKY!

It was at a National Youth Workers Convention in the late 1990's that I first discovered the singing duo Lost And Found (that is the correct form; no lower case "a" and  no ampersand).  I heard them sing one song (Hearts On Fire) and then introduce themselves- and I was hooked.  Michael Bridges opened by saying, "Hello.  We are Lost And Found.  My name is Michael and George's name is Baum.  And the answer to your question is YES- we are supposed to sound like that."  With George on electric piano, Michael on guitar and both of them on vocals they did have a very unique sound.   By the time they had finished the set with their incredible song Lions, I was hooked.  I bought a couple of CD's (Speedwood I and II) and began learning to play Lions. It became a song we loved to sing at youth group. I also contacted their management and began to try and bring them to FUMC-K for a concert.  They came and played for us on July 16th, 1999 (my son Will's 4th birthday!) as part of our Rec Around the Clock to wrap up Youth Week.   They were a huge hit with our youth and adults.  They had to fly to their next concert, so they left their van at our house for a week.  I felt like a street vendor, as youth kept stopping by wanting to purchase CD's from the van.  It was awesome how connected our students felt to them. The gang especially loved their albums THIS and Speedwood III  (For any of you there who may have a copy of Speedwood III with the song Used To Be on it, it is a collector's item- that song is no longer available on any Lost And Found CD...).  When they returned to pick up the van, I got to spend several hours with Michael at the airport waiting on George, and I was amazed at his insights into faith, being a Christ-follower and Christian music.  I believe they are one of the few bands around that still understands that music for youth ministry should involve both songs of faith (Convinced, Baby, Cling To the Cross, New Creation) and songs of fun (Slide Girl, Hi At Hotel, Saskatchewan)- and that describes every Lost And Found concert. 

In their John Lennon Song Writing Contest award winning song Lions, George plays the slinky.  You can see and hear this in the video below, but it is tradition for everyone in the audience to yell SLINKY! each time George plays.  As I mentioned, we loved singing the song at youth, and in early 2000 we decided to do it as a part of my final Youth Sunday in Kissimmee.  I wanted to make this a memorable morning worship at FUMC-K, so I went to an Orlando novelty warehouse and purchased 300 plastic Slinky toys.  They were waiting in the pews when the congregation arrived that morning, and we had everyone from ages 2-80 singing and playing the slinky at three different worship services that day.  It was a great way to go out.

I would have several more experiences with Lost And Found after leaving Kissimmee; those stories will be told at a later date.  But I do want to share one more thing about the song Lions.  At the darkest point of my life, when everything seemed to falling apart, the words to this amazing song often kept my soul afloat.  I hope that when things grow bleak for you, the truth in these lyrics will illuminate the darkness:

Satan prowls like a roaring lion, seeking whom he will devour
I know that though he keeps on trying, he's no match for Jesus' power, baby!
Oh them lions they can eat my body but they can't swallow my soul (no, no, no)
They keep on trying to crash my party but they can't get control, no no

George and Michael are still out on the road singing songs of faith and fun, and if you ever get a chance to see them, GO!  You can learn more abut them by visiting  Enjoy the Lions video, and be sure to check back here tomorrow to read about a man who literally gave the shirt off of his back for the good of our group!