Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Moment With Mullins

"It's about a useless as a screen door on a submarine
Faith without works, baby- it just ain't happening..."

One of my interviews trips during the great job search of 1999 took me to a UMC in Indiana.  Strangely enough, it too was located in the suburbs of Cincinnati.  Even more bizarre, because Indiana does not recognize daylight savings time, the little community where the church was located spent several months each year in a different time zone from the city to which it was most closely connected.  I sure knew how to pick 'em, huh?

But that's not what I came to talk about today.  On that same interview there was a great deal of discussion (disguised as an argument!) about the direction the adults involved thought the youth ministry needed to go.  Some wanted more serious Bible study (I think one guy suggested all the students memorize Lamentations) while others thought that service to others should be the group's primary focus.  A few wanted to play more 4-Square.  When asked which of these I felt was more important, I presented them with my philosophy of youth ministry.  Ministry should be "wholistic" (from J. David Stone) and purpose driven (from Doug Fields).  When they said I had not fully answered their question, I went all Jesus on them and told them a parable.  A parable I had learned from Rich Mullins.

A man was in a rowboat- the kind with two oars, one on each side.  He decided to row only with his left arm so he could make it stronger, but soon found his boat went only in circles.  He switched to his stronger arm, his right arm, and rowed- but found he had only reversed the circling.  It was only when he rowed with evenly both arms that he travelled a straight path on the water.  So it is with faith and works.  Following Jesus requires both.

Rich was not trying to say that we can be "saved" by the things we do.  We cannot earn salvation.  If we have faith, salvation is a gift from God.  But it is also true that if we are followers of Jesus we will be in service to others.  If we truly believe, our hearts will be broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus.  The hungry, the homeless, the sick, the weak- all of the "least of these (Matthew 25)" that Jesus demands we look after, we will want to love in the name of God!  As the scriptures tell us, if we truly believe then our lives will show "fruit."

I don't think they liked my answer.  They never offered me the job; I wouldn't have taken it anyway.  They had no idea what they wanted and the time zone thing freaked Marilyn and I out!  I still believe Rich had it right.  He put his thoughts into this amazing little song called Screen Door.  Listen, watch and enjoy.  But also take this chance to check your own life.  If you call yourself a Christian, what do people see in your actions that would confirm that for them?  Too many people base the evidence of their faith on the things they don't do.  Jesus asks, "What did you do for the least of these brothers of mine?"  Don't let your faith become useless...   And Hal, I know you love this song- so sing LOUD!  Tomorrow, a church in Charlotte sends people to get me...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Black Hole

One of the churches that caught my attention early on in my 1999 job search was a United Methodist church located in Cincinnati.  From what I had been able to discern, they were a growing church with a solid youth ministry that had never had a full-time youth pastor.  I spoke with a woman who (along with her husband) was heading up their search effort, and several things about the position resonated with me.  After being dazzled by the New Orleans offer and the relentless pursuit of Dr. Tommy Dunbar, I felt good about this church.  I felt God leading me to explore that ministry.  I accepted their offer to fly me up for an interview.

In retrospect, there were a few warning signs before I ever got on the plane.  It turned out the church was in the suburbs of Cincinnati, but was actually located in Kentucky.  I am not sure why it bothered me that no one in the church seemed to be claiming Kentucky as home, but it did.  It also seemed a bit odd that I was going to visit this church but had yet to speak with the pastor.  I passed that off as a Search Committee doing a good job; I would meet the pastor upon arrival.  I received an agenda for the weekend by e-mail less than 24 hours before leaving, and conspicuously absent from it was any opportunity to meet any of the youth.  It just seemed a bit weird to me.  And finally, I arrived at the airport only to discover that the Cincinnati, Ohio airport is in Kentucky.   Everything just seemed a bit off.

The pastor (his name was Paul- I only remember that because I prayed for him for months afterwards...) met me at the airport and drove me to a restaurant. On the way there, he explained to me that he had been cut out of the loop on the entire youth pastor hiring process because he opposed hiring anyoneRed Flag #1  He felt like the church could not afford a new full-time staff person.  Red Flag #2  He explained to me that the couple who were heading up the search committee had been the volunteer youth leaders for several years, and had no intentions of leaving- they just felt they needed more help.  Red Flag #3  We arrived at the restaurant and he dropped me off and left.  And that was my last conversation with Paul until I called him after I returned home.

Lunch was with several adults associated with the youth ministry, and it was pleasant enough.  Afterwards I went home with the couple in charge, and we sat around their house and talked about the future of student ministry at their church.  The backbone of the ministry had been a Puppet Ministry, which they led- and neither wanted nor needed help with.  Red Flag #4   It was their pride and joy, and really (their words) "the only thing that mattered."  The job of a new youth pastor would be to run all of the "day to day" stuff while they focused on the puppets.  There was no need for mission trips- the puppet ministry took care of that.  Red Flag #5  There was no possibility for trips of any kind- all of the money went to puppet team.  Red Flag #6  In fact, a huge part of my task would be to raise money for the puppet team.  BIG HONKIN' RED FLAG #7  And on it went, never getting any better. When I started to ask questions and mentioned the concerns Paul had shared with me, I was told not to worry about it.  They already had enough votes on the Staff-Parish (HR in a UMC) Committee to have him moved the next June.  He was a lame duck.  Red Flag #8  By the time we went to the church for my interview my only real question was "Can I fly out tonight?"  It was awful.  The committee confirmed that the new youth pastor would basically work for them.  Red Flag #9  And finally, as I by now suspected, the salary that had been discussed originally was off the table. They were offering me less that I made at FUMC-K.  Red Flag #10  Ten red flags and absolutely no contact with the youth.  This place was a student ministry Black Hole, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

The worship service the next morning was wonderful.  It turns out that Paul was quite a preacher, and very innovative as well.  I got several ideas that morning that I used a number of times later on, which prevented the trip from being a total waste of time.   By the time I flew home that afternoon, they knew I was not interested in the job- and a few of them knew why.  I did call Paul when I got home to warn him of the "coup d'etat" being planned against him.  I prayed for him.  I prayed for me.  For that one weekend, The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named didn't seem quite so bad.  But I got over it...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


One sunny morning in the autumn of 1999 I arrived at my office at the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee expecting an uneventful day.  As happens so often in ministry, I was dead wrong.  I no sooner opened my door than the intercom buzzed, and our secretary Katie told me that The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named wanted to see me.  I headed downstairs trying to think what this visit could be about and assuming it would not be good.  This time I was correct. 
Some of the students I spent "too much time" with- 1999

I was barely seated in his office when he began to share some thoughts on our student ministry.  He had heard from "reliable sources" that some of the youth had been talking about him in a disrespectful manner.  This was true.  His "pretend tears" that seemed to come most every week in worship had turned him into somewhat of a laughing stock among the teenagers (and some of the adults, I might add).  I did not tell him this, but did say I would speak with the youth about being more supportive.  He continued on to say that he was concerned about the number of youth attending church.  I reminded him that at our lunch a month prior to that morning I had expressed concern that the youth were very disappointed at the changes he had made to worship.  He told me it was my job to make them attend.  And finally- and most unbelievably- he informed me that our summer ministries had paid far too much attention to building relationships and attracting new youth.  He wanted me to spend less time with students and more time in my office.  I was speechless.  He also informed me that we were spending too much money on students whose parents were not members of FUMC-K.  This had to stop, I was told.  I half expected him to require membership cards (like the Show Me Cards from the alternate world on FRINGE) for admission to the youth room.  When I left the office of The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named that morning, I had a variety of names for him- none of which I can print here.  I was not asking "WWJD?"- I was thinking more along the lines of "What would Chuck Norris do?" I knew that my days in Kissimmee were numbered.

I went back up to my office and checked my e-mail, finding that several more churches had responded to my online resume.  Among those responses was one from an Episcopal church in New Orleans.  The head of their search committee had left a phone number and asked me to call him- so I did.  He told me that his committee had reviewed a number of resumes and placed mine at the top of their "wanted" list.  This was a very large church, with a huge budget for youth ministry.  He told me that the salary range was more than twice what I was currently making- at the low end.  They wanted me to fly my family in for an interview and to see the facilities (which sounded amazing) as soon as possible.  I agreed.  I was so frustrated with The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named and so dazzled by this church that I didn't even think about it.  I just said yes.  I was to talk to Marilyn and get back to them with a date. 

And then I started thinking.  What did I know about the Episcopal church?  Very little, except the history of how it came to be.  And that was enough to remind me that this Quaker had enough problems with the hierarchy and structure of the UMC- I would never survive as an Episcopal. This was not their problem- it was my own personal preferences.  I was just beginning to truly explore contemporary worship, and this church sounded even more liturgical and traditional than FUMC-K.   I knew very little about New Orleans as well.  Realizing I had jumped the gun, I called him back and said I needed some time to pray about it.  Two days later I cancelled the trip altogether.  My search would continue.  And it would not be the last time I would be dazzled by the "things of this world" as I tried to find a place to serve God.  Tomorrow, I take my first trip for an interview- in Kentucky.  And it was a doozy...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Roller Coaster Ride

As I wrote about on Friday, the autumn of 1999 was a wild time in my life.   I posted my resume with some online job banks and began to receive e-mails and phone calls from all over the country.  At first I was hesitant to respond, because I loved Kissimmee and the students and adults I worked with so much.  But eventually, even that love began to give way to my frustration with The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named.  I began to listen to some of the offers.  The roller coaster ride was beginning.  Over the next few days I will give you a behind the scenes look at some of what I was encountering.  We shall begin with Dr. Tommy Dunbar

I received a phone call from Dr. Tommy Dunbar petty early in the process, and he was a very impressive man.  He served as pastor of Clear Lake UMC, just outside of Houston.  Clear Lake was a large, growing congregation in need of someone to jump start their student ministry, and Dr. Tommy Dunbar thought I was just the man for the job.  I keep referring to him as Dr. Tommy Dunbar because that was how he would identify himself each and every time he would call.  And he called a lot!  He called to "sell" me on the church.  He called to tell me about all of the NASA employees, including astronauts, who lived in the Clear Lake community.  And he called- and called- to tell me what a "perfect fit" I was for their staff and their youth ministry.  He was a great guy and a good salesman.

He was, however, working against very strong opposition.  Marilyn and I had absolutely NO inclination to move to Texas.  It seemed so far away, and Houston was even hotter than Florida in the summer.  So despite his refusal to take no for an answer, I would not schedule a trip to Clear Lake for an interview.  He continued to call, even after I had accepted a position.  I think I would have loved working Dr. Tommy Dunbar- but just not in Texas.  No matter how often he called- and he called OFTEN- our decision was already made.

And therein lies a problem.  We didn't want to go because of distance and weather.  I was so wrapped up in all of the attention and the plethora of opportunities coming my way that where God was calling me got pushed to the back-burner.  I was going to make the decision.  Dr. Tommy Dunbar clearly believed God needed me in Texas.  I never stopped to listen to God's calling at the time.  I was too busy making up my own mind.  I was beginning to let it be all about me.  And I was clueless as to how far off track I was headed.   So my search continued.

One final note to this saga:  I had moved to Illinois by the following summer, when I received a call at home.  It was Dr. Tommy Dunbar.  He had been moved from Clear Lake UMC (I was so glad not to have gone through another pastoral change) to another church in Texas, and he needed a youth pastor.  I had only been at Union Church for a couple of months, but he didn't care.  He still wanted me.  By then it was too late- for both of us.  The ride continues as New Orleans comes calling tomorrow.

Becasue of Jesus,

Sunday, September 26, 2010

God Is No Fool

(Inspired by Lois Cheney's great little book God Is No Fool)

Psalm 19:14 (New Living Translation)
May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

If it was just my words that I need to worry about, I wouldn't have much of a problem.  But it's not- and I do.  There have been times when I thought my words could fool God. But they can't. God knows what is hidden is our hearts, and what consumes our souls. He sees our sin and the false idols that pop up in our lives. We cannot fool God- because God is no fool...  He knew we needed a Savior. Thank you, God, for your grace and mercy.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Random Ramblings #8

Happy Saturday, everyone!  It's time for another edition of Random Ramblings!  Here are a few of things rattling around in my head- but beware!  My brain can be a very scary place to visit!  Here we go:
  • The new season of TV shows is upon us, which is big news here at the Jones' house.  Our favorite shows include The Big Bang Theory (Sheldon Cooper may be the funniest character on TV these days), Fringe (it was a crime that John Nobles, who plays Walter Bishop, did not win an EMMY for last season); Glee (yes I freely admit it!); Modern Family (Phil Dunphy is my hero) and the How I Met Your Mother/Rules of Engagement/Two and A Half Men comedy block on Monday nights.  Plus football anytime I can sneak it in.  And Marilyn still loves her Law & Order: SVU.  FYI- we may be the only family in USAmerica still using a VCR to record shows.  Donations are being accepted for a DVR...
  • One of my favorite authors, Leonard Sweet, was quoted yesterday on Twitter as saying this:  "When the favorite story of the church is no longer Jesus, we are in trouble."  It's like it says at the top of this blog- "it's all about Jesus!"
  • Will is a sophomore at Sickles High School here in Tampa, and plays bass drum in the marching band.  The band (and football team) are 2-1 after last night's win loss to Largo.  Their show this year has a Latino theme, and none of us can pronounce the names of any of the songs.  But they sound good...
  • Thank you, Stephen Colbert, for speaking out for the "least of these" in front of the "Pharisees" in Washington yesterday.
  • My old friend J. Brent Bill ( who once referred to a week at Quaker Lake Camp as "organized chaos") writes a blog that I love to read anytime, but it has been especially good this week.  He is making a "Modest Proposal" for ways Quakers can regain the unique focus of their traditional worship while at the same time recognizing it is no longer the 1700's.  His suggestions include changing the architecture of the rooms we worship in so that we are facing each other and focusing on worship, not on a pastor or choir.  Perhaps they should worship in a circle or scattered gathering- like many youth groups do.  Another (and much deeper) idea is ditching the order of worship found in so many church bulletins and and letting worship flow more freely.  In other words, "let Jesus lead worship."  Kind of like we often did at youth group.  I'm telling you, struggling churches have the model for more relational, interactive worship starring them in the face- and that model is classic youth ministry!
  • I recently finished reading a manuscript for a book that will be published in January (I think) from my old friend Rick Bundschuh.  The book will be called Deep Like Me (Another Failed Attempt To Walk On Water).  If you have ever felt disqualified from serving God because you think that your sin is too great or your faith is too small, then this book is for you.  I will keep you posted on the release date.  Rumor has it a former youth minister (who knows a lot about sinking) wrote a recommendation for the cover...
  • And finally, we go back to The Big Bang Theory.  Last season Sheldon proposed an improvement to the classic game Rock, Paper, Scissors- and it reminded me so much of all the times over the years I made up rules to make games more fun (or weird or complicated!).  Here is his description of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock:   "Scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock, rock crushes lizard, lizard poisons Spock, Spock smashes scissors, scissors decapitates lizard, lizard eats paper, paper disproves Spock, Spock vaporizes rock, and as it always has, rock crushes scissors."  It's as simple as that!  Makes me want to play 4 On A Couch or Wink (the "killer" card game with 1 million rules)...
I trust that was random enough for you!  Have a blessed weekend, and be sure to praise God tomorrow, whether from your own house of worship or from Bedside Baptist, where the hours are always flexible!  Either way, let Jesus lead worship in your life!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, September 24, 2010

Feeding Frenzy

As I have mentioned here before, the summer of 1999 (that's me on the porch of the Betsy B that summer) was one of great joy and accomplishment for the student ministries of FUMC-K, and also one of great personal stress and frustration.  The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named was changing the entire atmosphere, future and spiritual nature of a church that I loved, and I was faced with a decision.  Six years earlier when I had left Springfield Friends Meeting for Kissimmee, I had to decide whether or not I wanted to "mess with happy."  This was very different.  This time I felt like a player on a football team who could no longer respect the decisions of the Head Coach.  My attitude (and that of many others) towards him was becoming more and more negative, and that negativity was impacting my spiritual life, and therefore my ministry.  I decided to put my resume out on some youth ministry job banks on the Internet.  Little did I know what was about to happen to me...

It only took a couple of days for the e-mails and phone calls to start pouring in.  Churches from all over the country were interested in me, and this was a bit of a shock.  My only national reputation at the time was among Quakers, a tiny denomination- and that had been six years prior to this job search.  It seemed to me that 40 year old Quaker-turned-Methodist youth pastors would not be in great demand.   I knew I had been blessed with strong youth groups over the previous 20 years, and I had shown the ability to stay at one church for much longer that the average youth pastor tenure of 18 months.  I knew I was employable- I didn't know that within the first month over 50 churches would contact me.  It was like a feeding frenzy.  E-mails and phone calls came into my office and home most every day.  I was in demand, and found myself in the position of interviewing churches more than they were interviewing me.  The calls came from most every denomination.  They came from Las Vegas, Texas, New Orleans, Chicago, Charlotte and all over Florida- and they just kept coming.  The more The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named got under my skin and made it clear he really didn't want me around, the more my ego swelled with this secret knowledge of the demand for my services.  And the more my ego swelled, the less my search became about God's call in my life- and the more it became about me.  And that is never a good thing...

Starting Monday I will take you back to some of the places I considered and visited, and to the decisions I made that eventually sent me to the Union Church of Hinsdale.  We will relive some wild, funny and odd stories that you have most likely not heard before.  And we will look back at the choices that led to me making a decision that should have been turned over to God.  I hope you will join me.  Tomorrow I offer up another edition of Random Ramblings!  See you then.

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Moment With Mullins

In November of 1999 the world of a dear friend and brother in Christ from FUMC-K came crashing down around him.  I will not tell that story here, for it is not my story to tell.  Suffice it to say that his life and the life of everyone close to him changed forever, and for many of us it was very hard to deal with.  Many of us missed warning signs that could have helped the situation, and people were hurt. I was already planning to leave FUMC-K in January of 2000; this event postponed my departure by two months.  In the midst of that turmoil I found much peace in the words of the great Rich Mullins (pictured) song Sometimes By Step (street name O God You Are My God).  It was a song we sang often at youth; or at least the chorus was sung often:

O God You are my God and I will ever praise You
O God You are my God and I will ever praise You
I will seek You in the morning,
and I will learn to walk in your way
and step by step You'll lead me
and I will follow You all of my days

Step by step.  So often we want to move in leaps and bounds in our walk with God, and we forget that the path is narrow and the road is hard.  This chorus has always been a prayer for me, and we sang it with youth at every stop since Springfield Friends Meeting.  We seek God.  We learn to walk- in baby steps so much of the time.  And it is when we allow God to lead, and we follow, that we actually make progress.  Step by step.

As moving as that chorus is, it is the verses to the song that have so often reminded me that we all struggle with faithfulness and righteousness on this side of heaven.  From the first time I heard Rich playing the song on his hammer dulcimer while it was being written at Guilford College in 1990, there was something almost haunting about it.  The lyrics take you on a journey, drawing you close to God and then reminding you just how tough the journey is as we seek to truly be Christ-followers.  Read this amazing bit of poetry, and find yourself in the journey:

Sometimes the night was beautiful
Sometimes the sky was so far away
Sometimes it seemed to stoop so close
You could touch it but your heart would break
Sometimes the morning came too soon
Sometimes the day could be so hot
There was so much work left to do
But so much You'd already done

Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land
And I am that, no less than he
And on this road to righteousness
Sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond Your reach

That last line- "I may falter in my steps but never beyond your reach"- carried me through that November and my last few months in Kissimmee.  The reminder that no matter how far we fall in our spiritual journey we are never out of God's hands also helped me survive my own "crash" in 2007.  The reminder that there is much work left to do- in our own hearts and minds as well as in the world we live in- is also a reminder that we cannot do it alone.  We need Jesus.  As Rich once said, "God is right.  The rest of us are guessing."

I survived (and my family survived) my world collapsing because we never forgot that the grace of God is present in our lives no matter what we might have done.  I am not defined by my sin; I am defined by Jesus.  I hope my friend has discovered this truth as well.  We often think of praising God from the mountain tops.  Sometimes we must praise Him from the deepest valley.  And when we are at that place, there is no better refrain than this:  "O God, You are my God and I will EVER praise You..."

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hall of Fame: Married Couples

Josh Fry's Idea of Heaven...
Melanie Schultz, Sarah Crudele and Stephanie Potter
attack Josh on Ski Trip 2000!
Over the years I spent in student ministry there were many problems and issues I had to deal with, but inter-group dating was seldom one of them.  I have friends in youth work who spent many sleepless nights, lost all their hair and frequented hotel bars trying to cope with the issue, but it was never that big a deal for me.  We had plenty of times when students brought a "date" to events, but seldom did I have actual "couples" to deal with every Sunday and Wednesday.  I wish I could take credit for this, but really it was just the luck of the draw.  At New Garden Friends Meeting, the girls in our group were simply out of the league of most of the guys (the truth hurts, boys).  Even with the one serious couple we had there, Danny Newby and Kathy Fountain, that was still true!  How Dann landed her is still a mystery (just kidding).  And how Kathy got away with sending him bogus love letters while he was at college (and I helped!) is also still unsolved.  But they stayed together and got married.  At Springfield Friends Meeting, no one dated inside the group because there was an 85% chance that the person you were considering was your cousin.  It was no issue in Hinsdale, although I don't know why.  In Tampa at Wesley Memorial UMC the guys seemed interested in dating ONLY girls in the group, so I did experience some of the stress of the issue- but we survived because the girls had good sense.  And in Waycross the age mix was weird- older guys and younger girls.  So just crushes, and no real problems.  I used to thank God every day for this "luck" that He sent my way...

You may notice I left out the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee.  We had some dating couples who were part of the group, but really only two became serious and stayed active in our youth ministry there.  Matt Lupfer and Kristen Landry (pictured) met at Uth and dated for several years, eventually getting married.  Matt was a natural leader, who along with Jay Lynes developed the first website any of my ministries ever had.  Kristen was one of my favorite people, who once wrote a history of my life for a school project.  I still have my copy.  I loved them both as individuals, but as a couple in the early years of their relationship we all wanted to choke them both!  They eventually got it together and were a joy to be around, and I was honored to sing in their wedding.  The other twosome were Josh Fry and Sarah Crudele.  I don't remember at exactly what point they started dating, for in my mind they have ALWAYS been together.   Both grew into leadership roles in the student ministry, and were part of the core of that group at the time I left.  Josh played drums in our Praise Band; Sarah brought in her friends and the group became very much a family to her.  She took all kinds of abuse for her name, as I kept calling her Susan Crudley.  She would later be my Summer Intern at WMUMC.  I was honored to be at their wedding as well.

One not-so-funny story:  In 1999, as we were preparing to go to NYC, I suddenly had a space open up for a female that was already paid for.  Knowing how badly Sarah had wanted to go but couldn't afford it, I offered her the spot.  This was a nice thing to do.  I realized later that Kristen, who was in the same situation but had been part of the group even longer, really should have received the offer first.  That was not so nice.  Kristen was upset and I felt horrible about it, but Sarah had a great time and Matt and Kristen later lived in NYC, so that faux pas was forgiven; I am not sure that is true of other mistakes I have made since...

Danny and Kathy (now Dann and Kathy Newfont), Matt and Kristen, and Josh and Sarah are, to my memory, the only three marriages to occur from couples who met at one of my youth groups.  I am so proud of all of them.  It seems to me that with only three such unions in 28 years, all of them are deserving of a spot in my Youth Group Hall of Fame.  Welcome aboard!  Now I can just sit back and wait on the birth of my first youth group grandchild...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Flashback: The Pot Sink

I will be returning to my days at FUMC-K with tomorrow's blog, but along with the picture of Susan McBane Tuggle that inspired me yesterday I also found a few other ancient Polaroids.  This one features Carl Semmler and Eric Farlow (her future brother-in-law) washing Martha Ratledge Farlow in one of Quaker Lake's famous pot sinks.  How (and why?) does such a thing happen?  Read on, dear friends!

During the years (1978-1983) that I served on the Quaker Lake staff there were no designated dish washers.  Each staff member would be assigned to certain meals for certain weeks, and one of the jobs everyone feared the most was that of pot washer.  When our cooks would prepare meals for 100, often the pots and pans they used would be quite disgusting and would have to be scrubbed by hand before going through our industrial dishwasher.  There was no air conditioning at QLC, and often the temperature in the kitchen would be well over 100 degrees during the day.  So dishwashers found ways to entertain themselves or went insane- those were your choices!  Quite often there was a lot of singing in the kitchen after meals.  Martha and I would often harmonize on old favorites like Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms or hits of the day like Tainted Love, Shannon and My Angel Baby.  We would invent games to distract us, such as seeing how quickly we could operate the dishwasher.  When newcomers would help out, they were shown the Dancing Hair Trick, which I will not explain other than to say the newbies would end up soaking wet.  And on rare occasions, when we had exhausted all other avenues of entertainment, we would stuff a female staff member in the pot sink- still full of nasty water.

Martha was often a dishwasher (she was a lifeguard, and when the pool was closed they had to be good for something!) but seldom a victim of the pot sink.  The reason?  She was too strong and fought too hard.  When you tried to get Martha, you often paid a price.  But as you can tell from the smile on her face in the picture, she was always a good sport about pranks and was a great person to work with, both at camp and during our time together as co-workers at New Garden Friends Meeting.

Putting a human being in a sink is a complicated act.  It often led to minor injuries, and at least once I remember taking someone to the hospital with some sort of sprain after such an event.  The most interesting part was filling out the insurance paper work on the line where is says "How were you injured?"  Writing "I was stuffed in a pot sink" just seemed hilarious to us- not so much to the insurance company! 

Those summers I spent on staff at QLC were amazing times full of great stories.  We also did some amazing ministry there, although the pictures don't prove that (on the left that's one of our cooks, Louise Massey, along with Eric Farlow, myself and Tim Vail in the QLC kitchen)!  To read more, look at the LABELS at the bottom of this post and click Quaker Lake.  You'll be glad you did!  Come back tomorrow and we'll add a youth group married couple to my Hall of Fame!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tell Me Why I Don't Like Mondays

It's Monday, and I feel like it's a Monday.  The Boomtown Rats once sang "Tell me why I don't like Mondays" (a fun little song about a girl who went to school and shot all her friends just because it was Monday), and today I ask the same question.  For the first time in a long time, I don't have a plan as to what I am going to write about today.  My motivation is missing, and I am not sure why.  Maybe it was a nice relaxing weekend, featuring a visit from my Mom.  Maybe I am bit melancholy from a day spent remembering (and trying to celebrate on Twitter) the passing of Rich Mullins 13 years ago yesterday.  Maybe I am a bit down because traffic was very slow on this blog over the weekend.  Or maybe I am just not sure I have anything interesting left to say.  I don't know why.  But for whatever reason,  I am struggling to put words to the page this morning.

So as I am looking at pictures and seeking inspiration, I found this one.  Susan McBane Tuggle (with watermelon) worked with me at Quaker Lake Camp in the late 1970's.  We shared a couple of great summers and remained in contact for a few years, but for the most part had lost contact for many years until Marilyn connected with her on Facebook through a Quaker Lake page.  Susan then discovered this blog, including a few stories about her.  Through Facebook messages and comments here on my blog, we have reconnected in some small way.  And as I looked at this picture this morning and thought about how many years ago it was taken, I was reminded of this truth- we all leave marks in each others lives.  No matter the amount of time we spend together, no matter the situations we are in, we all leave marks.  Looking at this picture produces nothing but positive memories of "Boom-Boom" because she left nothing but positive marks in my life.  Most results are more mixed- marks are good and bad.  So I write this morning with the realization (again!) that this blog is in many ways a list of the marks so many people have made in my life.  Thank you, Susan, for reminding me today of all of the incredible people who have passed through my life.  You were one of the best.  And thanks to all of you who made marks in my life that keep me smiling on Mondays just like this one.  I'll try to do better tomorrow.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, September 19, 2010

10 Things You Must Know

Remembering Rich Mullins- 13 years ago today he went home to see his lifelong best friend- Jesus. 

Psalm 8: 4-5 (NIV)- What is man that you are mindful of him, 
the son of man that you care for him? 
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor. 

On August 8th, Pastor Matthew Hartsfield delivered a message at Van Dyke Church, the church that Marilyn, Will and I attend, entitled 10 Things You Must Know (if you have surrendered your soul to Jesus as Lord and Savior).  I have been using his points as a devotional guide ever since, and I thought some of my readers might be interested in doing the same.  All of his points came from the scriptures (in parentheses) and were designed to remind us, just as the words from Psalm 8 remind us, that we are glorious creations of God.  Despite our sins, our faults and our flaws, we are children of the living God- and that is something to celebrate!  Because "God don't make no junk..."   

So check out the scriptures and keep this list handy.  Check it out anytime you feel like a loser or a failure.  It's the ultimate self-esteem booster.  The Creator of the universe- the all-powerful Yahweh- is also your Abba (daddy) who loves you and knows your name.  How awesome is that?

1.  You are handcrafted (Psalm 139:13-15)

2.  You are valuable (Luke 12:6,7)

3.  You are loved (John 3:16)

4.  You are rescued (Romans 5:6-11)

5.  You are privileged (Romans 5:1,2)

6.  You are powerful (Ephesians 1:19-23)

7.  You are invincible (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)

8.  You are fearless (Romans 8:15,16)

9.  You are unbeatable (Romans 8:31-34)

10.  You are a winner (Romans 8:35-39)

Thank you, Matthew, for sharing these words of encouragement.  May God continue to use them when the darkness of this world closes in on us and labels us worthless.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saturday Shout Outs

Tomorrow, September 19th, will mark the 13th anniversary of the day Rich Mullins died in an automobile accident.  My faithful readers know how much Rich meant to me and my ministry, and know of my efforts to keep his ministry alive with my writing.  Take a minute tomorrow and "Sing your praise to the LORD!" in memory of Rich.  But now it's time for another round of Shout Outs!  Here are some of the friends, old and new, that made me smile this week!
  • Got a great e-mail from Todd Willis (FUMC-K) this week, letting me know he is reading and that he really enjoys the devotional posts.  Always so good to hear from Todd!
  • It seems like most every morning this week I had tweets waiting for me that made me smile from Caitlin Esry (FUMC-K).  This is a very good habit- leaving messages, tweets, comments or e-mails- that more of you should try.  I'm just saying...
  • Catie Cook (FUMC-K) let us know what is going on with her as she prepares to head for Afghanistan:   Fly down to Ft Benning, GA on 1 Oct & then to Afghanistan via Kuwait on 8/9 Oct. I have a feeling the time between now and then is going to fly by. Have clinic & surgery this week, St. Louis for Scott AFB next (it's a section in my branch), back Wed night for a range on Thurs, then relaxing and not doing too much the week after as that's when I leave. Thanks for the thoughts and prayers! It's appreciated knowing people are thinking/praying as I'm getting ready to start this new adventure.  So pray, people!
  • A new Twitter friend from the website visited my CCM Countdown page and found my list to be interesting, especially my inclusion of Lost And Found.  If you have never checked out my countdown, you should!
  • We heard from Susie Thomas (Quaker Lake) on Marilyn's Facebook.  She and Neal are doing well and having a blast with their grandchildren.  Neal is pictured at right, trying to maintain order at snack time at QLC.  It never worked...
  • Kelly Jeck (FUMC-K) was named to the Osceola Historical Society Board of Directors this week.  YAY Kelly!
  • I learned from another Twitter source that a script has been written and approved for a feature film on the life of Rich Mullins.  I am so there...
  • Cyndi Reep Browning checked in with a comment on the post about the one and only Senior Trip, reminding both myself and Lisa Kraus Spires of the great music we used to listen to in the vans on our trips.  It was in Kissimmee that I began my tradition of starting every trip with Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.  Awesome!
  • Ann Saunders Hale (Springfield Friends) is another faithful Twitter friend who is going through a lot.  Please keep her in your prayers.
  • Debbie Davis' mother fell and fractured her back a few nights ago.  Please remember Debbie, Izzy and Ari in your prayers.
  • Bethany Esry (FUMC-K) sent me an e-mail last night updating me on a few members (Matt Rogers, Julia Pribyl and Celia Thacker) of the Confirmation Class of 1999 and telling me about her job in New York City.  So good to hear such great news!
That's it for today!  Keep reading and let me hear from you- and you could be featured next time I do Saturday Shout Outs!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Other Class of '99

A couple of days ago I wrote about the FUMC-K graduating class of 1999 and how special they were to me.  There was another class at the same church the same year that was also very special.  The Confirmation Class of '99, comprised of mostly 6th grade students, was the final confirmation group of the millennium.  It was also the last group I worked with in Kissimmee.  Even though I had them in "uth" for less than 2 years, this group became very a special part of my life and my memories.

This was a class dominated by females with strong personalities.  The guys- Bobby Young, Matthew Rogers and Johnny Singleton- had no chance against the plethora of females in their class.  In addition to several young women and men I don't really remember, this group included (pictured) Victoria Cottam, Isabelle Davis, Julia Pribyl, Brittney Herder and Bethany Esry.   Also in the class were Sarah Whitman and Jessie Gudahl (who were both older I believe); Celia Thacker, Meredith Karr, Justin MacLachlan and Megan & Natalie Hord.  Many of these youth are not just names to me; they are stories!  Witness the following accounts:
  • Celia, while at Myrtle Beach, once gave us all the deep insight that "there are fish in the ocean."  We were stunned...
  • Sarah, while on a Ski Trip, found herself the object of some unwanted affection from a group of truckers. Or at least that was the story we made up after an odd late night phone call...or something.   I'm pretty sure that is not a true story, but we told it for years!
  • I gave Meredith beginner guitar lessons in my office, and we had a lot of fun.  I wonder if she still plays?
  •  One of my final great memories from FUMC-K was a Melbourne trip we took in February just before I moved to Chicago.  Bethany, Izzy, Brittney and Julia made that trip memorable in many ways, but especially the lunch we shared at the Chinese restaurant.  Fabulous memories, many of which they reserved for me in a scrapbook they presented me with later.
  • Isabelle and her mother Debbie (pictured) quickly became two of my favorite people after they arrived in Kissimmee.  Debbie directed the K-5 school at the church, and we spent a lot of time laughing (and complaining) in my office with Jill Augenblick, our child care director.  My favorite memory of Izzy is the little dance she would go every time we played the Audio Adrenaline song, Get Down.  She was dancing, but it was like someone was throwing something at her head and she was ducking at the same time.  I still find myself trying to copy her moves whenever I hear that song...
The Confirmation Class of 1999 was still in middle school when I left Kissimmee in 2000.  Today, many of them are in college,  grad school or working.  They have grown into fine young men and women.  But with apologies to Dwight Oakes, who was their youth pastor far longer than I was, they are one of the great "What ifs?" of my ministry.  I think they could have easily become one of the great classes ever, a stone-cold lead pipe lock for my Hall of Fame.  If any of you are out there reading, leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail and let me know what you are up to.  You were- and I am certain, still are- an amazing group of people.  It was hard to leave you...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Moment With Mullins

Happy Birthday, Beth Vestal McGalliard!

Among the many blessings I have received from writing this blog has been a reconnection with the music and ministry of the late Rich Mullins.  For the uninitiated, Rich was a great song writer (Awesome God among many others) and Christ-follower.  I was blessed to spend a few days with Rich in 1990, and have felt the impact of his ministry in my life ever since.  Stories, references and songs featuring Rich have dotted the pages (see labels) of this history of my life and ministry, but Rich still has much more to say to my readers and myself.  I've decided to trade in my CCM Thursdays title and change over to A Moment With Mullins which will now be featured each Thursday.  Some weeks will feature music, some lyrics and others stories- but every week (for a while) will feature Rich.

I have struggled over the past few years to make some sense of who I am now that I am no longer a youth pastor.  I had begun to feel defined by the sin in my life, rather than by the love of God and the grace of Christ.  It was only when I began to understand that all of us who believe and surrender are defined by Jesus that I started to feel ready to face the world again.  It is what we believe and who we believe in that makes us who we are.  I could ramble on for hours and not say what I want to say as well as Rich did in his brilliant song CREED.  Based on the words of the Apostle's Creed, the song lays out the basic beliefs of a Christian.  Reciting or memorizing words does not make you a Christ-follower, but knowing what you believe can only help as you seek Jesus.   The song can be found on the A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band album.  You may also be familiar with Third Day's cover version.  Watch and listen to the powerful video below, and let the words (included on screen) speak to you as they do to me.  "I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am.  I did not make it, no it is making me.  It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man."  And that's all I have to say about that...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

We Are the Family of God

"We are the family of God, yes
We are the family of God, and
He's brought us together to be one in Him
that we might bring light to the world."

During my last few years serving Springfield Friends Meeting we began having what we called "Alumni Gatherings."  At those times when former youth group members were home from college, we would plan a lunch at Pizza Inn or some other small event to help us all stay in touch.  Every year at the YFYF Christmas Party at our house the alumni were not only invited, but invited to stay for a couple of hours after everyone else went home.  By Christmas of 1993 we had quite a large group that stayed in touch, but were missing the special times we had shared over the years on youth trips.  So we decided to plan an Alumni Trip for the week after Christmas, 1994, to the one place we knew we could get people excited about.  We were going back to Walt Disney World.

Much of the planning for this event took place in a booth at Pizza Inn, with Todd Farlow and Danny McCorquodale supplying most of the brain power.  Unknown to them at the time, I was thinking of leaving SFM for a youth ministry position in Kissimmee- but that would not effect the trip much at all.  We booked rooms at Disney's All Star Resort and began to advertise the event to our old friends.  To be honest, many of the details of the trip are gone from my memory, because during the following months we did move to Florida.  Life got very hectic.  But the trip went ahead as planned, and in December around 15 former youth descended on Orlando by car and plane.  And we had an awesome week together.  I will never forget the night at The Fireworks Factory when we told them all the news that Marilyn was pregnant with Will.  That group of people meant so much to us.

I wrote yesterday of relationships and ministry.  Thinking back, this group defines what relationships are like in the real world.  There were a number of couples who made the trip, and almost none of them are stayed together.  There were guys on the trip who were the best of friends but seldom see each other anymore even though they live less than 30 minutes apart.  There are people who have moved away from High Point- some very far away.  Some are very involved with SFM; others have new church families; others have drifted away from God.  This group is a sampling of what happens to every church youth group as students grow into adults.  But here's the thing- for that group, and for many others I have been associated with over the years, the relationships we built in their younger days are still there, and still significant. If we were to find ourselves thrown back together again, there would not be awkwardness, there would be love and joy.  When Ken Hill called a few months back to say he would be at WDW for a conference, we couldn't wait to see him.  If Charles Freedle or Michael Mercadante needed to share a room with Marilyn and I (as they did that week) they would be welcomed.  The same is true for anyone from any of the groups I have been blessed to be a part of.  The relationships formed in youth group bring you in to the Family of God, and the grace of Jesus keeps you there.  The bonds are strong, and the threads of love run deep.  Even when you don't realize they are there...

The picture you see at the top was taken on the Alumni Trip at Splash Mountain.  The gang had it framed and gave it to us, and it sits on display in our living room.  It contains couples no longer together and friends who have drifted apart.  But to me it is a symbol of all of the love and laughter that has passed through my life over so many years of being blessed to work with amazing people in God's name.  It is a picture of the joy that comes from being part of the Family of God.  This blog has allowed me to reconnect with many of you who are, in my heart, a part of that picture.  God's family portrait is one amazing photograph, and I am thrilled to be in it with all of you.  And one day there will be a family reunion that will be the absolute best party ever!  See you there...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The One and Only Senior Trip

Front Row:  Cyndi Reep, Teresa Reep, Tommy Weaver
Back Row:  Jacob Lupfer, Cindy Franklin, Ben Thompson, Nate Hill, Matt Stewart
The clown is NOT Jill Souther!
I got into a bit of trouble here yesterday when I mentioned certain graduating classes that had a special impact on my life and ministry at the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee and failed to mention some others.  Someone (choosing to remain anonymous, although my money is on Erica) commented that the Class of '03 was small (Caitlin Esry, Erica Souther, Josh Fry and Eric Jakobsen) but faithful.  And they were right.  So was the Class of '02 (Amber Herrick, Sarah Crudele, Adam Hill, Andrew Rogers and friends) and the Class of '00 ( or should I just say John Holmes- I think he was it for that year!).  I also heard from Catie Cook, reminding me that she too was a part of the class of 2001.  But the comment that really caught my attention came from another anonymous person who said the the Class of '99 was the most special.  And after a moment of reflection, I couldn't argue with that statement.  The Class of '99 was indeed special.

For many years I had been aware that we in student ministry do a poor job of marking significant events in the lives of our students.  Rites of passage like drivers licences and moving into high school often go unmarked when they should be celebrated.  At various times I offered to take students to dinner when they turned 16 and other special times.  Our Senior Roasts were often the highlights of  the graduation season for our youth.  I had always wanted to do a senior trip, but it was one of those things I had never been able to fit into my schedule or theirs.  In early 1999, I decided to change that.  I began talking with that phenomenal group about a trip, and after some serious planning we picked a weekend and decided to go to Atlanta.  Not everyone could go, but as you can see from the picture at the top (I could have sworn Erin Bay & Jill Souther went too- am I nuts?), we had a good group.  And we had a blast.

We went to an Atlanta Hawks game (that's where we met the clown).  We toured the World Of Coke and Underground Atlanta.  While there we ate lunch at Hooter's, which at the time seemed scandalous!  Nate made us go see The Matrix, and (at least) Teresa and I feel asleep.  We visited the Hard Rock Cafe.  And we celebrated the memories and friendships that had made the previous 5 years so special.  It was a wonderful weekend.

I realized that this was something I should have been doing for years, and was excited to begin a new tradition.  I didn't know at the time that 1999 would be the last class I would see graduate during my time at FUMC-K, and the only Senior Trip I would ever lead.  I didn't fully understand how important such a trip could be until early 2000 when I announced I was leaving.  The aforementioned John Holmes, one of our only active seniors that year, was devastated that he would not get a senior trip- even if it was just the two of us.  Relationships formed in the name of Jesus are amazing and powerful, and far too often underestimated.  Tomorrow I will tell you about another trip (from another church with an entirely different group of people) that also demonstrates the significance of those bonds.  But for today, I say thank you to the Class of 1999 for their leadership, their friendship, and the amazing part they played in my spiritual growth during our years together.    I also want to welcome you all to my Hall of Fame.  Come on down to Tampa and we'll do it again...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, September 13, 2010

Trouble In Paradise

Throughout my early years in student ministry I was blessed to work some absolutely amazing Senior Pastors.  When you are a youth guy like I was, you are pretty low on the congregation's respect scale, and the support of your pastor is crucial.  David Robinson, the pastor at Centre Friends Meeting who first asked me to lead a youth group, was a great encouragement to me, as was Ben Hurley doing my short stint at Cedar Square Friends Meeting.  Then beginning with my move to New Garden Friends, the pastors I worked with became much more that supportive.  David Bills, Max Rees and John Willis were major influences on my life and my ministry.  As a matter of fact, if you click on any of those names you can read posts labeled "influences" that detail what these men meant to my life and my ministry.  They were my teachers, my mentors and my friends.

When John Willis was moved to Tallahassee by the Florida Conference of the UMC in June of 1999, I had no reason to doubt that our new senior pastor would continue this line of great men with whom I had shared my professional life.  I was confident that a strong, growing church like FUMC-K (pictured at top) would get a forward thinking leader to guide us into the future.  I was wrong.  I am not going to mention his name; I do not wish to cause anyone grief.  But the Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named (sorry, Harry Potter fans) almost immediately started leading us backwards.  I have previously mentioned the building project he helped to halt.  He also began to dismantle our efforts to make one of our worship services more contemporary.  When I took him to lunch to talk about how this was impacting our youth, he agreed to think about the changes he was making.  A couple of weeks later, he instructed our worship leader, the brilliant Andrew Lewis, to stop doing so much praise music.  We were headed the wrong way, and the fake tears he shared in worship most every week were not soothing our fears. 

By the end of summer I was in a quandary.  I loved FUMC-K, and we loved living in Kissimmee.  The Youth Ministry Team was an amazing group of adults who loved our young people.  I had an awesome group of youth to serve.  The class of 2001 was a no-brainer Hall of Fame group, with Colleen Martin, Jay Lynes, Matt Lupfer, Erin Augenblick, Kristen Landry, Chrisy Weaver, Lauren Carr and so many others.  The class of '04 (Kelly Jeck, Lindsey Lupfer and friends) was another stellar group, and the class of '05 (Bethany Esry, Julia Pribyl, Isabelle Davis, Matthew Rogers) had the potential to be an all-time favorite.  I didn't want to leave.  But it was becoming more and more difficult to give a positive answer to the question I had always asked myself:  If I didn't work at this church, would I attend it?  The rest of the church staff was as frustrated as I was.  My office, because it was upstairs and away from the main offices, became a place of refuge where staffers would come to crash and complain.  Things were not good.

Upon returning from what would be my final Last Gasp Summer Blowout, I put my resume online in the Youth Specialties Job Bank.  Offers began pouring in.  I didn't want to leave, I wasn't ready to leave, and God's call in my life was very unclear.  There was trouble in paradise, but there were also stories still left to write as I shared life with an amazing staff and those incredible youth.  The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named (and his henchman) wanted me gone.  The autumn of 1999 was going to tougher than I could even begin to imagine.  And yet, God was still in control, and there was still ministry to be done.  Tomorrow we get back to those stories.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How To Be An Atheist

"Everyone is entitled to have an opinion.  It's just that yours is wrong..."
-George Carlin

Every Wednesday morning I board a city bus at 6:10 AM and head to Temple Terrace for a class.  This is not a class anyone volunteers to take, it is one some people are required to attend.  To say that it is a diverse group of people is a major understatement.  The discussions are often quite entertaining for me, and this past week was no exception.  A 38 year old man, when asked what he was doing to meet new people, indicated he was preparing to join an Atheist Club.  The group facilitator, knowing my beliefs quite well by this point, asked me if I thought the guy was an atheist.  I told the group I didn't think so, but for me to explain why I doubted him would take too long.  So today, I offer up my opinion on what makes a good atheist.  I hope you will read it in the spirit it is intended.  So here we go- how to be an atheist:
  1. Believe in something.  Too many people call themselves atheists when in fact they are agnostics.  What's the difference?  An agnostic doubts and denies the existence of God.  An atheist believes there is no god- and everything that goes along with that belief.  They don't answer questions about God with statements like "I don't believe all that stuff" or "I've never seen God."  They answer flatly and with conviction- "there is no god." An atheist believes- they just believe in no god at all.
  2. Understand what it means.  To believe that there is no god has ramifications in every part of your life, just as believing in God does.  A good atheist knows that their belief system means that everything that has happened in all of history was an accident.  Nothing created the universe, it just happened.  Christians may argue about creation theories, but they all begin with "in the beginning God..."  The atheist's universe has no beginning.  People were not designed by a Creator, they just morphed out of slimy ocean creatures or magically appeared one day.  There is no purpose to life, you just do whatever you want to because there is no higher calling to which you should aspire.  And you can't just offer these thoughts as possibilities- you must believe them.
  3. Watch your language.  It is a moral imperative that you quit asking God to "damn" things.  You believe there is no god, and to keep saying this makes you a hypocrite.  Interestingly enough, hypocrisy by Christians is often the #1 reason cited by non-believers when asked why they do not attend church.  Wonder if it keeps them away from the Atheist Club too?
  4. Become lawless and loveless.  A true atheist understands that our laws are based  on the 10 Commandments.  Since God does not exist, those commandments were bogus (despite historical documents that prove otherwise- See Item 5) and therefore the laws of our land are not valid.  Make up your own, or live in the total chaos of a lawless society.  And since our basic understanding of love- the way we treat our fellow human beings and show them respect- comes from the world's religions, you must throw out that stuff as well.  If God is love (and He is!) then love must be totally foreign to you.  You can have all of the sex and lust you want, but the concept of love should be removed from your belief system.
  5. Believe something for which there is no evidence.  It's tough being an atheist.  There are historical documents and confirmed events dating back thousands of years that point to the existence of God.  The miracles and the resurrection of Jesus were reported in many historical documents (not just the Bible) by many different witnesses.  Hundreds of people have spent millions of dollars and their entire lives trying to prove the Bible to be fake or God to be a fairy tale.  Instead, they keep proving the very things they were trying to discredit.  The fact that you got sick on your vacation or that your football team lost by 37 points yesterday is not proof that there is no God.  Many scientists who believe in creation theories like evolution or the big bang cannot get past the question of how those things began.  They are hesitant to say "God created," so they use the phrase "intelligent designer."  Sounds like a creator God to me.  In any case, it is hard to make the case that the universe "just happened."  But that is the case you are left with, so learn to defend it.
  6. Have no hope.  I cannot personally imagine going through life without the knowledge that God loves me.  God's love and grace have lifted me from the depths of despair on many occasions.  Without God, I would have no idea where I would turn for hope.  Both of us have to have faith- the evidence of things unseen.  But for the atheist, your faith is in you.  No one stronger, no one greater, no one who loves you unconditionally.  Just you, with all of your flaws and failures.  You must be much stronger than I am...
Many atheists consider themselves to be intellectuals, above all the "hocus-pocus" of religion.  Consider this intellectual perspective.  Have you ever witnessed child birth?  Have you ever picked a ripe apple from a tree and tasted its amazing flavor?  Have you ever looked into the Grand Canyon or out at the waves on the ocean, or thought about the precision complexity of the human body?  If you can consider these things and still think all of it happened by accident, then you may have what it takes to be an atheist.  But consider this- if you are right and there is no god, then I look foolish, and neither of us have lost anything.  But if I am right, and God created the world and sacrificed His only Son so that we might spend eternity with Him, then there is much to gain through seeking God- and much to lose by choosing to ignore His presence.  If all of that sounds like a case for God, then why don't you look into Jesus?  I know He's got the answers...

Because of Jesus,