Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fear Not

Happy Halloween!  I hope that this day full of thoughts of ghosts, goblins and spooks will be a good one for each of you.  I find it very interesting that this day based on scary things has become the second most popular holiday in USAmerica.  When you pair that statistic with the plethora of scary movies, vampire books, thrill rides and TV shows that are out there, you begin to get the feeling that we like to be scared.  The truth is many of us live in fear.  I want to explore that a bit today.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 by addressing the nation with his famous speech that included the line, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."  This oft-quoted piece of political rhetoric, while brilliant and well timed, is total BS.  We have all kinds of things to fear.  I grew up with the Cold War in full swing, and I had nuclear annihilation to fear.  Today we have disease, terrorists, a crumbling economy, LeBron James and FOX News to fear.  We are told to be afraid of everything we eat.  We are told to be afraid of people who are different from us. We are told to be afraid of our own leaders. Sue Sylvester (GLEE) says that fear is the only motivational tool that really works.  We live in a world in which people's fears, both valid and imagined, often control their lives.

At yesterday's Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Keep Fear Alive in Washington, there was much talk about how fear can immobilize and destroy us.  Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, in their own comic styles, pointed out how fear is being used to play on our worst instincts.  We become afraid of all Muslims because terrorists who happened to be Muslim did horrible things to our country.  That is like being afraid of all cars because someone you know had a wreck in one.  Colbert said we should be afraid of all robots; Stewart pointed out that R2D2 is cute and friendly.  To a great extent, their point was this:  There is plenty to be afraid of in this world.  But if we live in fear of everyone who is different from us- whether it be religious belief, sexual orientation, political persuasion, skin color or number of tattoos- then we will indeed live in constant fear.  We will become like the Bill Murray character in What About Bob? - unable to leave our homes, scared into a form of insanity.

So what do we do?  The great Larry Norman once wrote, "Why don't you look into Jesus?  I know He's got the answers..."  And indeed He does!  The King James Bible contains the command FEAR NOT 83 times.  God tells us to FEAR NOT.  The Angels tell us to FEAR NOTJesus tells us to FEAR NOT.  I get the feeling they may be serious about this.  But how do we get past our fears?  We do it by living a life that reflects our belief that Yaweh- creator of the universe and everything in it- is in control.  And that same God, ABBA (daddy) loves each of us so much that He knows our names and the numbers of hairs on our heads.  Jesus came so that we would live lives filled with love, not fear.  2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV) reminds us,  "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."   Jesus said He came to bring us abundant life, not a fearful one.  Fear will always be with us.  It can be confined to its' proper place in our lives if we will just remember this cliche- "I don't know what the future holds, but I know WHO holds the future."  When you come face to face with fear born of hatred, racism, bigotry or misunderstanding, hear the words of the Angel as the shepherds stood in their field, full of fear and misgivings.  Hear the words of Jesus to Simon Peter when He called him be a disciple, asking him to give up everything he knew for a life of mystery and uncertainty.  FEAR NOT!  Then go forward with the love of God surrounding you and lighting a dark world for others- including those you are told to be afraid of...

Now get out there tonight and scare the poop out of someone!  Hey- it's Halloween!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saturday Shout Outs!

Welcome to another episode of Shout Outs!  After a couple of weeks of finishing up the Kissimmee years, making people cry and starting off the new adventure in Chicagoland, I want to take few minutes today to look at what's been going on here in 2010!  Let's get started!
  • Happy Birthday to Jerry Hanbery, who turns 40 today!!!  OK, so he's not 40 yet- I'm just practicing!  But today is his birthday, and I hope it is a great one!  And yesterday was Mike Mercadante's (Springfield).  It's a big weekend for Hall of Fame characters!!!
  • Marilyn, Will & I had a great dinner with our old friend Jeremy Godwin (Springfield, pictured at right)) this past Wednesday night. It was great to catch up with news of his family (wife Laura and two little girls) as well as hear what his parents and twin sister Shelley were up to.  Turns out that Laura owns her own homemade candy shop in Archdale, NC, so if you are in the area and want something special be sure and check out Mama Laura's (Click the link and you can even order online!).   Just seeing the pictures on Facebook made me hungry!  Oh- one more thing.  Jeremy brought a special guest with him to Applebee's, and I am glad to report that Stinky the Pootopotamus is alive and well!
  • It was so good to hear from some great people I had not heard from in a while over the past two weeks- wonderful friends like Dana Schmidt, Jill Augenblick Lowe and Mark McKenna, all from FUMC-K.
  • Our dog Conner is back to waking me up at 4 AM several mornings a week.  Does anyone know a good pet psychologist?  Is it unethical to give your dog Tylenol PMLaurie Rees (Springfield) asked on Facebook yesterday why dogs don't come with snooze buttons- sounds like a winning idea to me!
  • One of the founders of modern youth ministry, Mike Yaconelli, was killed in a car wreck 7 years ago today, and I still miss him.  To read my thoughts on how Mike influenced me, click here
  • Kelly Jeck (FUMC-K) is getting married a week from today!  Best wishes Kelly and Keith, and may God bless your union.  Remember, no matter where life takes you, God will be there...
  • In a move that absolutely NO ONE requested, I have added audio of me singing Radical Man to the post on that song I wrote a while back.  To see it and some other classic Kissimmee posts, click on FUMC-K's Greatest Hits here or at the top of the page.
  • A whole bunch of dear old friends from FUMC-K- Jennifer Kuramochi, Meagan Halquist, Brook Elaine, Todd Willis, Caitlin Esry, Lisa Spires, Connor Lewis, Cindy Martin and many more- have been so faithful in responding to these blog posts.  Whether by comment, e-mail or Tweet, they have stayed in touch.  I say to all of them and to all of you- Just because I have moved on from writing about Kissimmee is no excuse to lose touch!  I love hearing from all of you, and it is special to me every time I do!
  •  Halloween is almost here so we know that Thanksgiving is not far away.  I am going to be doing some "Remembering New York" blogs the week of Turkey Day, and I would love for any of you who went to NYC with me to help me out with two items.  One, what were your fondest memories of those trips?  Two, what Broadway play (or plays) did you see?  Use this e-mail link and send me your memories.  Do it now!  Please? At right you see a group from Wesley Memorial UMC doing one of the required 100 group shots with Lady Liberty...
  • My thoughts and prayers go out to Jill and Brian Watson, who recently lost Jill's Uncle Bob to kidney failure, and to my dear friend Susan Tuggle who is dealing with cancer.  I love you all and you will remain in my prayers.
  • And finally, for those of you who have been guessing, I would estimate that I spent about $300 a year on candy for my office in Kissimmee... and that was just the stuff I bought for you guys, not the good stuff I kept for myself!
I'm done until tomorrow!  Happy Halloween everyone!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, October 29, 2010

"See you Tuesday..."

As I mentioned on Wednesday, in March of 2000 Marilyn and Will were still at my parent's house in Leesburg for about a week after I left for Hinsdale, IL.  While I was getting moved in, they were swimming, playing and spending lots of time at Walt Disney World.   It was difficult for me to work up much sympathy for them.  I really should have known better...

Since Will's birth in July of 1995, there had seldom been a week when my his Gigi and Pawpaw didn't make the drive to Kissimmee to spend a day with him.  More often than not, those days included time at WDW (pictures are of my Dad and Will at WDW and blowing out the candles on the birthday cake for Jesus we used to do every Christmas Day).  Well before he could walk, they would take him to the parks and just hang out.  They met the characters, found the best places for him to take naps and exposed him to the wonders of WDW.  As he got older and began to have a better understanding of the place, he had specific things he loved to see and do (not always your normal stuff by the way) and they would make certain he got to do it all.  He was there so often that the costumed characters would recognize him and pay him special attention.  Over the last year or so when Will was in the pre-school at FUMC-K, they would generally come on Tuesday.  It became a pattern, and one that Will loved.

We knew that our move to Illinois was going to be very hard on my parents.  We also knew that Will, at age 4, didn't really grasp that we were leaving Gigi and Pawpaw behind.  We joked about how disappointed he was going to be when we arrived in Clarendon Hills and "going to the park" meant swings and slides, not Baloo and Goofy.  And we knew he was going to miss his grandparents- terribly.

Despite many tears in private, Bill and Anne Jones had managed to hide their sadness from Will.  As I mentioned, they played together right up until time for he and Marilyn to get on the plane and come join me in Chicagoland.  Dad and Mom took them to the airport, holding back the tears as they said good-bye in the terminal.  As Marilyn and Will started to board, Will turned back to his grandparents, smiled a big smile and said, "See you Tuesday, Gigi and Pawpaw!"  Marilyn then rushed him onto the plane so he would not see the inevitable.  My parents completely fell apart, and Marilyn was trying her best to hold it together.  It was so sweet, so childlike- and so painful. 

We would all survive the experience.  Mom and Dad would come visit us in Illinois on several occasions over the following 18 months, and we had great adventures there as well.  Will loved our little local park, and still got to visit WDW when we visited Florida.  It's been almost 11 years since that day at the airport.  My Dad passed away in 2006.  At his memorial service I told the gathering that he had been a good father, coach and friend- but he had been a GREAT grandfather.  He was an amazing influence in my son's life (and mine).  My Mom still is.  Will calls her every weekend to fill her in on what is happening in his life (and to give her movie reviews!), and she was here just last weekend.  But nothing that happened before or since can bring tears to our eyes as quickly as the words "See you Tuesday..."  I'll see you all tomorrow with another round of Shout Outs!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Moment With Mullins

Some of you are aware of my history with the sacrament of communion.  I have shared how growing up in the Society of Friends (Quakers) gave me a unique perspective on the importance of remembering the sacrifice of Christ as part of daily life, not just as a symbolic ritual (to read more, see Communion Confusion).  In that same post I told the story of serving communion at New Garden Friends Meeting- something that had never been done before.  I shared the story of serving communion to the youth of Springfield Friends Meeting at a beach retreat, using Krispy Kreme doughnuts and orange juice.  I compared lunch at Pizza Inn to communion.  I have led and served Holy Communion at Methodist churches.  I have experienced tremendous power in the taking of the communion elements; I have also gone through the motions on many occasions.  In high school I attended Easter Mass at Myrtle Beach with my friend Steve Furr and witnessed the sharing of the Eucharist with 2000 Catholics.  And on Easter Sunday 2007 I served the Lord's Supper using stale rolls and frozen apple juice in a place where all present were struggling to keep from losing all hope- including myself.  It is safe to say that I think about practicing the presence of Christ- and that is what communion truly is- each and every day.

The late Rich Mullins and I shared this unique perspective, because he too grew up among Quakers.  Like myself, Rich loved the sacrament, and found great power in the symbolism of the bread and the juice.  But also like me, Rich understood that symbolism is not necessary in order to commune with God.  Every meal, every moment of solitude, every moment of praise can be spent in communion.  Remembering Jesus should not require the bread and the cup; it should be an everyday experience.   Our lives should be lived "in remembrance" of Jesus and the sacrifice He made for us.  And yet the the symbolism of the sacrament should not be lost on us.  It is an invitation to the family of God to sit together at the feet of the Savior.  Rich wrote today's featured song to express those beliefs.  He wanted the world to know that the "Peace of Christ" is always available, and that we are all invited to join the feast.  No matter the setting, no matter the moment, the love of Christ is available to us.  And we are to share that love.  In Rich's words,

Though we're strangers, still I love you
I love you more than your mask
And you know you have to trust this to be true
And I know that's much to ask
But lay down your fears, come and join this feast
He has called us here, you and me

So take this moment to hear the beauty of Peace (A Communion Blessing) and come into the presence of the Christ.  Experience His love.  Accept His invitation and come join the feast, wherever you may be.  "Peace of Christ to you..."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A New Beginning

In March of 2000 we loaded up the moving truck and headed for Chicagoland and the Union Church of Hinsdale.  The early indications from UC had been all we could have hoped for and more.  They had secured us a house (above) in the neighboring village of Clarendon Hills that we liked very much.  The basement of the house was as big as our entire house in High Point, and it was in a great community within walking distance of the elementary school.  Will would enter kindergarten in August, so the school was very important to us.  It was rated one of the top school districts in the country.  In addition to the house, they had paid for the movers and had also given us money with which to purchase new furniture.  Our new master bedroom and living room were loaded on the truck without ever being unpacked.  This was definitely a new beginning.

The people of UC had also given me reason to expect great things.  David Knecht (head of the Search Committee) had remained in close contact with us throughout the months preceding the move.  Others from the committee and church staff had called to offer their help and support.  The Senior Pastor at UC, Dick Nye, had called me at the office one day identifying himself to our secretary as Martin Luther.  She buzzed me and told me Martin Luther was on the phone.  Dick and I had a good laugh about that one.  It was clear to Marilyn and I that we were taking a major step up from The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named, and there was great joy in our hearts because of that.  To top it all off, I would be arriving just a few weeks before the previously scheduled Work Tour 2000, a senior high mission trip to Dungannon, VA.  I would be able to jump right in and spend some serious time with my new students over Spring Break.  I was so psyched...

After the moving truck hit the road we spent the night at my parent's home in Leesburg, FL.  I would leave and drive our car up the over the next few days, meeting the movers in Clarendon Hills three days after they left.  Marilyn and Will would stay with Gigi and Pawpaw (as Will called them) a few days and then fly up after I had the furniture moved in.  I took a leisurely drive up, spending nights in Nashville and in northern Indiana before reaching my destination. 

It was so odd to be in a place and not know where anything was.  Even getting from the house to the church required asking for directions, and it was only 5 miles.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered there were no 7-11 stores.  I spent most of the time setting up the house, but I did go in and visit with the staff and check out my new office.  I had serious "buyers remorse" while sitting in my tiny office, with no closet, no computer and none of my own stuff.  The youth ministry books on the shelves had been cutting edge in 1980.  The walls were barren.  But all of that could be easily remedied.  I was ready to go.  I was ready to start "fixing" the student ministry.  I was going to go to work and invite God to come along for the ride.  Which is a really backwards way to do ministry...

The little bit of  sadness I was experiencing in encountering all of the newness of Hinsdale would turn out to be NOTHING compared to what my family was going through back in Florida.  That story will be told on Friday, and forget the tissues for this one.  You'll need a roll of Bounty- the quicker picker upper!  See you then.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kissimmee Odds & Ends

If you have 34 odds and ends on a table, and you knock 33 of them off, what do you have left?  An odd or an end?   - George Carlin

Today I want to share a few odd thoughts on my years at FUMC-K, and bring that section of this blog to an end.  There will be some more New York stories coming in a month and more ski trip stories as well, but tomorrow we will move on to the Union Church of Hinsdale.  So here we go!

  • Way back in April I told you the story of SFM's return trip from Walt Disney World in 1993.  Included in that story was a description of a stop we made at Simmon's Truck Stop in South Carolina, and I promised you there would be yet another tale told about that place.  I never got around to telling it until now.  The FUMC-K group was returning from a ski trip in West Virginia, with Vern Watson and David Johns (pictured) driving the bus.    A car pulled along side of the bus and told Vern that the tread was coming off one of the rear tires.  We decided to stop at the next exit and check it out.  We pulled off, and turned into the large parking lot of a truck stop.   I could not believe our bad luck.  We were back at Simmon's, and it had not changed a bit- the guns, the dobermans and the porn were all still there!  To understand just how horrible this place was, click here to get the whole story.  What are the odds- different church groups, several years apart, winding up in the same hell hole needing a tire.  And I don't think we saved a soul either time...
  • At a National Youth Workers Convention I attended with Jerry Hanbery and the other Banana Splits, Jerry had the Affirmation Team at the NYWC put up a banner honoring me.  I don't know if I ever really told him how much that meant to me, but I kept it for years, and it is pictured at right in the enormous closet (with the Wendy's cups) that was in my office.  Thanks, Sundance- for so many things!
  • In November of 1999, Andrew Lewis, Mark McKenna and myself drove from Kissimmee to Cincinnati for the NYWC (Jerry joined us as well, although by then he driving a truck and just met us there for part of the time).  I don't know how many miles we drove, but I do know this:  It takes 17 CD's to make that trip- right Mark?  :)
    Caron Cook and Kim Heiter
  • Tommy Weaver, Meagan Hill, Joe Molnar, Eric Jakobsen, Jason Fry, Wayne Crotty, Cindy Franklin, Erin Bay, Jill Franklin, Aaron Falcon, Joan Thompson, Tricia Young, Bobby Young, Kim Heiter, Caron Cook, Lindsey Joiner, Brian Joiner, Natalie Moon, Megan Bay, Hamp Sessions, Chris Hanbery, Daniel Autrey, Celia Thacker, Matt Wheeler, Kristin King, Angie Whalin, Krystle Singleton, Melissa Pollock, Brook Teoli, Matthew Teoli, Ashley Blazina, Stephanie Gorman, Ashley Arrington, Sarah Dykes, Elizabeth Dykes, Courtney Moon, Sally Hollingsed, Steven Hollingsed,  Sarah Autrey, Lisa Harrison, Jessica Oversteet, Jay Lynes, Jennifer Borders, Josh Harris, May de le Fe, Carla Odell, Christine Cooper, Melanie Schultz, Stephanie Potter, Matthew Rogers, Trey Augenblick, Jon Burlison, John Holmes, Jennifer Holmes and Jessie Gudahl.  This is an incomplete list of people who were an important part of my years in Kissimmee, but whose names have not shown up very often in this blog.  You are remembered and you are loved.  I would love for my FUMC-K readers to pass along other names I may have overlooked in the comment sections.
    Jill and Debbie at Golf Tourney, 1998
  • And finally, I want to give a shout out to a couple of ladies who always made me laugh, patiently listened to my gripes and kept me sane (as close as I get,anyway) - Debbie Davis and Jill Augenblick.  They took care of my son (Jill led the child care and Debbie the FUMC School) in his early years (even if we did fight over which was "the real school").  They often invaded my office, stole my candy and made my days enjoyable.  Even after I was gone, they remained my good friends, meeting me for clandestine lunches so The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named would not know they were consorting with this persona non grata.  It was a joy, an honor and a pleasure to work with each of them, and I miss them still.
Thanks to all of my old friends from Kissimmee who have been such faithful readers.  If you'd like to take a look back at what I have written about you, visit the FUMC-K's Greatest Hits page.  I hope you'll stay with me as I look back on my journey after I left you.  It might just make you smile, because it turns out God has a great sense of humor.  I know I'd laugh- but all this happened to me...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, October 25, 2010

Old School Youth Ministry

We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel, but our very lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 
1 Thessalonians 2:8

If you read this blog with any regularity, then you know what a HUGE part of my life youth ministry was.  Even before I left the professional ministry for good in February of 2007 (due to my own sin and failings) I had become a somewhat outspoken critic of the direction student ministry seemed to be taking.  It seems to me that it has become more corporate, with more and more emphasis on style and structure and less attention to relationships. I have often had the feeling that meetings times and schedules reflect the whims of leadership and not the needs of students.  I feel like there has been a lot of change for the sake of change, just to try and "keep up" with the mega-churches.  Today I want to tell you two quick stories- one that illustrates how badly things can go, and one that reminds me that student ministry still changes lives.

A couple of summers ago our son Will was at a week long youth event at a very large church in Tampa.  He had been attending the middle school youth group there for 9 months or so, never really feeling a part of the group for a variety of reasons.  We pretty much had to make him go.  He got no calls or visits from any of the leaders; he did get some post cards, including a "we missed you" card- for a week he didn't miss.  Then, at this week long camp, he went up to the altar one night for prayer.  And the full-time, veteran professional youth worker leading the prayer time prayed for him.  By the wrong name.  After a year as his youth pastor (in a group no larger than ours at FUMC-K), she didn't know who he was.  He was crushed.  As he moved up to their high school group, the church moved the youth program from Sunday evenings to Wednesday night, which made it almost impossible for him to get there.  He eventually gave up on that group.  And no one ever called. 

This past Saturday night Marilyn, my Mom and I had a late dinner at Dairy Queen.  While we were there, a group of teenagers came in.  I watched as a couple of the kids sat down while the others got in line to order.  An adult came over and asked them if they were getting ice cream, and they responded that they had no money.  He said to them, "Come on- I'm buying."  Their faces lit up and they rejoined the group, feeling special and loved.  As we were leaving so were they, and I asked the man if they were a youth group.  He was a bit surprised, but said yes and asked me how I knew.  I told him what I had seen and heard, and that I knew right away not only was he a church youth worker but that he "got it."  He understood what it meant to share life together.  He knew that taken by themselves things like ice cream, ski trips, going out to eat, seeing movies and breakfast with Chip (see picture) are not spiritual acts.  But when they help build relationships that can help bring a student into the presence of Christ, they are acts of holiness.

The scripture at the top was my life verse for student ministry.  Youth Ministry is all about sharing Jesus, but it is also all about sharing our lives.  I failed at many things over my 28 years of youth work, but I still remember the names of my students. I did not always do or say the right things, but I was there- to listen, to pray and to buy the occasional Blizzard (or movie ticket, or dinner).  I hope I never failed to share my life with the youth that I served.  I believe being there is the very least we should expect from those who minister to teenagers in the name of Jesus.  Over the course of the next few months I will be occasionally lifting up some of my philosophy of student ministry.  It may be old school, but I think it's time to get back to the basics.  That doesn't mean being stuck in the past.  Wayne Gretsky once said, ‎"I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been."  And we do need to be visionary.  But we also have to keep our eyes on the prize...helping students grow in their relationships with Jesus.

Tomorrow I finish off my memories (for now) of FUMC-K with some odds and ends.  See you then.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I Am Not

Happy Birthday Ken Hill!  We love you, buddy and can't wait to see you guys in December!

Please pray for my dear old Quaker Lake friend Susan McBane Tuggle, who is facing difficult health issues.  I love ya, Boom-Boom, and you are in my prayers!

If you read any of my pre-Easter devotional blog last Spring, then this may sound familiar to you.  But it says what is on my heart today.  Thanks for the inspiration,  Louie Giglio.

When Moses asked God who he should say sent him to save the people of Abraham, God responded "tell them I AM sent you. Yahweh is the "I AM," the God who was and is and is to come; the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I am none of those things, and neither are you. We are but tiny parts of God's plan, like so many before us and so many around us. When John the Baptist was asked if he was the promised Messiah, he replied, "I am NOT...but there is one who will come and reveal everything God has promised." We, like Moses and John and Peter and so many other giants of our faith, are NOT. But we know the great "I AM." As you worship today, be WIDE OPEN to the fact that God is God...and you are NOT. Open your hearts that God might use you so His will can be accomplished on this earth. Submit yourself so that Jesus might have His way with you and that you might quit trying to have your way with Him. Only then can His light shine its brightest. Only then can Jesus truly be the hope of the world. I forgot this for a period of time and made a huge mess of my life.  I don't intend to ever let it happen again.  A sign I used to have up in my office said The Main thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main thing!  I pray this prayer everyday in the hope that it will keep me focused on the things that truly matter.  I hope you will pray along...

Loving God, today I turn my life over to You. My skills, my failures, my sin and my joys all belong to You. I recognize that my life is not about me, but it is all about You. I realize that I sometimes like to play god, but that I am NOT..You ARE! Help me to understand that Jesus did not die on the cross so I could accomplish some political agenda or achieve some lofty position on this earth. Jesus died for my sins, because I am a sinner. Jesus gives me grace so that I might offer love and forgiveness to others, especially to the "least of these brothers of mine" who are in need and to the lost who think themselves to be beyond His grace. In the words of King David, himself a sinner of great magnitude, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit with in me, so that I might serve You." Use me, and I will give you the glory. Remind me today that I am NOT...but I know I AM, and that when I serve You we can offer hope to a hurting world.

In the name of the great I AM,

Friday, October 22, 2010

Footprints On Our Hearts

The closer we came to leaving Kissimmee in 2000, the harder it became to let go of the people there that we loved so much.  During those last few weeks my office at the church was a beehive of activity.  Students, parents, church staff and Youth Ministry Team members seemed to be in and out all the time.  None of us wanted to say good-bye.  In an effort almost no one knew about, I went back into the office of The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named and offered to call Union Church and tell them I was staying at FUMC-K.  All he had to do was say the word.  He did not.  As we began packing in earnest youth stopped by the house to help, to watch and to eat our food.  Amber Herrick stopped by to yell at me for leaving- as did others.  People I had not seen it a while showed up for events.  It made leaving just that much more difficult.

Then the farewell parties began.  When you have spent six years building what are hopefully deep and lasting relationships with people, bidding them adieu is no fun.  But everyone feels a need for closure in such situations, so there were a variety of events put together so that we could all say good-bye to one another.  I don't remember many details about the actual events.  I do remember that the final farewell was a reception after church in the Fellowship Hall, and that it was very nice (I also remember that The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named couldn't be bothered to stay more than 5 minutes).  What I really remember from all of the events is that we got 4 amazing gifts that I still treasure. 
  • The choir that Marilyn and I sang with, Joyful Praise, gave us a framed copy of one of my favorite anthems we had done- We've Come This Far By Faith.  It was signed by all of the choir members, and it hangs on the wall in our living room today.  Andrew Lewis was someone we were going to miss tremendously.
  • Some of the younger girls in the group- Bethany Esry, Brittney Herder, Isabelle Davis, Julia Pribyl and I am not sure who else- made a scrap book for us.  You have seen some of those pictures on this blog, and that scrapbook is very dear to me.  So is the inscription inside the front cover:  "To Carl Jones, the BEST youth leader ever!"  They were wrong, of course, but I love them for saying it!
  • Sam and Leila Lupfer presented me with a journal with the title, "Carl, I'll Never Forget the Time..."  In it, many members of the Youth Ministry Team and church staff had remembered events and moments that we had shared over the years.  Entries from the Lupfer's, Cindy Martin, Cathy Thacker, Mark & Beth McKenna, Dana Schmidt, Karen Fry, Michael & Becky McCleery, Brian and Jill Watson, Carol Kraus, Sandi Lynch and more were so meaningful and touching. 
  • The youth, led by filmmaker Colleen Martin, produced a video to say good-bye.  It was awesome.  Most of it was shot in my office; every time I watch it I am reminded how AMAZING that office was!  Among the the video highlights were Sara Autrey telling me how "degraditated" (her favorite made-up word) she was that I was leaving;  Colleen trying to interview Nate Kern in the men's room, where he was pretending to pee;  Adam Hill marking me off his list of People to Kill while applying lipstick;  "Twins" Melissa Lynes and Erica Souther telling me how much I would miss them;  Kelly Jeck singing the Oscar Mayer bologna song (spelling it wrong, of course);  Matt & Dana Schmidt talking with their backs to the camera because they "refused to watch me leave;"  Andrew Rogers not appearing on film, but providing the voice for a doll and singing Figaro; Sarah Whitman asking me to say hello to all the truckers for her; Jena Threadgill pretending to come out of the shower to be interviewed; and Josh Fry telling me how much he would miss me as he peeled off 5 layers of shirts and coats and then poured water all over his t-shirt.  There were also segments from Erik Jacobsen, Lindsey Joiner, Sarah Crudele, Melanie Schultz and Karen Fry that still bring me to tears.  I cannot express how much I treasure that video.
In Dr. Jill's (pictured) entry in the journal I was given she wrote, "I am thankful that you have always loved me just because...and in spite of...who I am."  Today, I could use those same words to express my love to her and the many others from those days who have loved me when I certainly didn't deserve it.  That same journal contained an inscription from the publisher on the inside cover.  The words were meant for me at the time, but they apply so well to what all of us- youth and adults- shared in those days at FUMC-K.  I'll close with them:

Some people come into our lives and quickly go.  Some people move our souls to dance.  They awaken us to new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom, and make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon.  Some people stay in our lives a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.
Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Final Countdown

You have not entered a time warp.  Last night when editing this post I accidentally hit "publish" instead of "save."  That is why the the date line says it is Tuesday instead of Wednesday.  Trust me- it's Wednesday!

Marilyn and I decided in late October of 1999 that we were going to accept the invitation to lead the student ministries at the Union Church of Hinsdale outside of Chicago.  We had never wanted to leave the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee, but we found ourselves with few options.  I could no longer serve along side of The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named.  (As an aside, the first time my mother met him it was in our front yard, because he had parked at our house across from the church.  He introduced himself to her as "The Big Cheese."  She said she knew then that he and I would never last...)  I was prepared to tell FUMC-K of my plans and leave before the end of 1999, but circumstances led me to delay the entire event.  I could not leave in such a time of need, so I wound up announcing my move in January and actually leaving in March.  Once again, just as I had done when leaving Springfield Friends Meeting 6 years earlier, I went to the youth and asked them what they wanted to do in our last weeks together (click here for that story).  And once again, the answer was, "EVERYTHING!" 

We certainly gave it our best shot.  I put together a Ski Trip.  Our usual spots, Winterplace in West Virginia and Appalachian in Boone, NC were both totally booked.  My old friends at Carolina Tours (CTI) found us space at Massanutten Ski Resort in Virginia.  I had never heard of it before (or since), and yes- it truly was a "mass of nuttin."  But we went (see pictures) and had a great time, treasuring each moment as if it was our last time together- because for some of us, it was.  I also recall that on that trip a young person from another youth group died in a skiing accident while we were there, and we gathered with a number of other groups to pray for his friends and family.  It was a very touching moment that put much of our sadness into perspective.

Back in Kissimmee, we sang every song we loved (every week!), went to all of our favorite restaurants together, played our favorite games and hung out as often as possible.  I threw together one last Rec Around the Clock, even though it wasn't summer.  We took time to be together and to share the love we had for each other.  Just as it had been at SFM, it was exhausting to do all of this while packing and preparing for a new ministry.  But it was sooooo worth it...

The final big event before the farewell parties was a retreat at Melbourne Beach.  This time it really was a "Last Gasp."  I remember very specific moments from that weekend.  I remember posing for the picture (at right) with Julia, Victoria, Izzy and Brittney.  I remember a bunch of youth coming in my room and watching a movie together.  I remember going out to eat at a Chinese restaurant for lunch on Saturday and feeling incredibly blessed to be sharing life with such amazing people.  And I remember sitting by the pool very late one night, praying for each of the youth of FUMC-K by name, and knowing how much I would miss them all.  I had done all I could do- it was time to "let go and let God."

Friday I will remember some of the farewell moments and say good-bye to the Kissimmee years.  Tomorrow it's another Moment With Mullins.  See you then.

Because of Jesus,

The Best Laid Plans...

As September of 1999 rolled around, my life and ministry were in a bit of turmoil.  I was at an impasse with my own Senior Pastor.  Despite my repeated attempts to communicate with him, The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named was making me a little crazy.  I was pursuing my options and looking for a new ministry; at the same time I was being pursued by churches from all over the country.  I didn't know how it would all turn out, but I did know this:  I would work as hard as I could for the students of FUMC-K as for as long as I could. 

At our Youth Ministry Team meeting in late August of 1999 I presented the team with schedules for our Sunday nights, Wednesday nights and special events for the 1999-2000 school year.  It was to be our first year of being a fully-functional "purpose driven" student ministry, and I was very excited to get started.  Our Wednesday Night Live Bible studies were going to focus on the ministry of Jesus.  Our Sunday evenings would continue to surprise our students with a variety of programs, games and worship.   I wanted everyone involved to know that despite my issues with The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named, I was still looking to the future and giving my all.  Here is just small sampling of some of the special events we had laid out for that year:
  • Rock the Universe/Night of Joy Marathon Weekend
  • A Live the Life Evangelism Retreat
  • Spaghetti Dinner & Talent Show
  • SHO-Time @ Ohana's
  • Fall Family Festival for the children of FUMC-K
  • WWJD Spiritual Growth Retreat
  • Supertones/All Star United/Plankeye Concert
  • No Turkey Thanksgiving Family Feast
  • Adopt-a-Family for Christmas
  • Christmas Eve Living Nativity
  • Kyoto's Night
  • Ski Trip
  • "Souper Bowl" Hunger Event
  • Super Bowl Party
  • Orlando Solar Bears Hockey
  • 30 Hour Planned Famine
  • Easter Sunrise Service
  • Senior Roast
  • Another full summer of amazing events, including a Myrtle Beach trip, a Mission Trip to Washington, DC, and the best Youth Week ever!
And that just scratches the surface of what we had planned.  Some of it would happen; much of it never came to pass.  It would have been an amazing year.  As it turned out, God had other plans for us.  There would be tragedy in our youth family.  The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named pulled the rug out from under some events.  And I found myself heading to the Union Church of Hinsdale.  Tomorrow we will look back at those last few months before my March move to Chicagoland, because we did manage to get a lot done despite it all.  But I can't help thinking about what might have been...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hard Days

It seems like several times a year I have to do things that remind me how much my life has changed in the past four years.  Every now and then all of the reminiscing I do as I write this blog slaps me and reminds me of why I am writing a blog instead of still doing ministry in a church.  I am reminded of my own past sins and failures.  I look at pictures, books, my guitar and other reminders of days gone by- and I am saddened.  I try to spend those days in prayer and focusing on the amazing grace that rescued me and brought me to this place. But sometimes the past is a ghost that cannot be so easily swept away.  Those are very hard days- and today is one of them.  And it's a Monday.  Instead of moping, I will leave you with some lyrics from the late Dan Fogelberg's 1974 song Souvenirs.  The song is actually about surviving memories of lost love.  For me, student ministry is just that- a lost love.  And as wonderful as my 28 years of memories are, the loss still hurts. But God is still in His heaven and Jesus is still LORD, and this day will pass.  I'll be back tomorrow with some more memories of the tremendous blessings I have received in my life.  Have a blessed day, and never take anything or anyone for granted...

And down in the canyon
The smoke starts to rise.
It rides on the wind
Till it reaches your eyes.
When faced with the past
The strongest man cries...cries.

And here is a sunrise
To set on your sill.
The ghosts of the dawn
Moving near.
They pass through your sorrow
And leave you quite still...
Sitting among souvenirs.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saturday Shout Outs! (Sunday Edition)

Since yesterday was my lovely wife's b'day, this week's edition of Shout Outs! got moved to today. Here are a few of the things that have been going on over the past couple of weeks:
  • Today is my Mom's birthday.  Although she has no intentions of ever owning a computer so there is no chance she will see this (until I show it to her next time she visits, anyway) I hope she has a wonderful day.  Marilyn, Will & I are all going to Leesburg today to take her out to lunch.
  • I have exchanged a few e-mails with Todd Willis (FUMC-K) over the past couple of weeks.  It's been great hearing from Todd, and I have to say that his wife Kristin is without a doubt my favorite reader that I have never met!  Thanks for the encouraging words!
  • It's looking like we may get to see our old friend Jeremy Godwin (Springfield) in a couple of weeks when he is down this way on a business trip.  I don't know if he'll bring Stinky the Pootopotamus or not...
  • One of the "trending topics" on Twitter this past Friday was #that would be awesome.  If you don't know Twitter, that just means a lot of people were typing thoughts and ideas that fit the category.  Here was my contribution:  If I could have a giant reunion with all of the youth I served and adults I served with over 28 years of uth ministry #thatwouldbeawesome  A couple of my tweeting friends, Caitlin Esry (FUMC-K) and Ann Saunders Hale (Springfield), say they are all for it.  Anybody else want in?
  • We ran into Justin Overstreet (Wesley Memorial) working at LIDS in the Citrus Park Mall the other night and had a great visit.  Somehow seeing Justin in a store selling baseball hats seemed just about right...he always had one on!  And congrats to Jennifer Gastler (Wesley), a brand new high school teacher here in Tampa!!!
  • The fam and I had dinner at Red Robin (Yumm!) last Sunday with Jun & Jennifer Kuramochi (formerly "Bob" Minnigan of FUMC-K).  As always we had a blast, and Jen, you need to write a book of stories about your extended family.  Or maybe a screenplay.  It's a sitcom waiting to happen!
  • Ashley Goad Broadhurst (Springfield) and her hubby John are moving to Las Vegas in a couple of weeks.  Apparently they bought Caesar's Palace and will be living there...or something like that.  But they are definitely moving!
  • Got this message via Facebook from Catie Cook (FUMC-K) on the 13th, so let her hear from you and keep her in your prayers:  Arrived into Afghanistan super early Monday morning and am awaiting supplies to in turn fly out to my duty assignment. Not an overly exciting time thus far and am so ready to get settled and start working! I'll be located at fob Fenty in Jalalabad. Will be checking facebook and gmail ( frequently so keep in touch! My address will be as follows:
    Catie Cook (no rank!)
    Combat Stress Control/TF Med
    FOB Fenty JAF
    APO AE 09310
  • According to my Blogger statistics, my October 10th post Grilled Cheeus received over 400 page views.  The Betsy B post received over 250.  When I started this blog I would have been thrilled at the thought of 250 visitors during the course of the year.  Thanks for reading, everyone!!!  I am humbled to know so many of you are interested in what I have to say- or maybe just afraid of what I will say about you!
  • Kelly Jeck (FUMC-K) posted a picture on Twitter Friday night of herself, her fiance Keith and Aziz Ansari from Gator Growl at UF.  If you don't know Aziz, he is on the NBC show Parks and Recreation and in 2009 hosted the MTV Movie Awards.  People I know know cool people- how cool is that! 
  • Thanks to the 40+ friends from all over the country who took time to wish Marilyn a happy birthday yesterday.  You all helped make it a special day, and we love and miss you all!
I guess that is it for now.  Have a blessed day, and just for kicks, LEAVE A COMMENT!!!   Did I say that out loud?  I'll be away from the computer most of the day and would LOVE to have a ton of comments to moderate when I get home.  Click the word Comment at the bottom of the page, and ZAP-  You're published! ( just as soon as I get home and approve it!).    :)   See you all tomorrow...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Happy Birthday Marilyn!!!

My lovely wife Marilyn is celebrating her birthday today.  A gentleman never reveals a ladies age, so I will simply tell you that she is younger than me.  Also that one of her favorite shows is Hawaii 5-O.  And that's all I have to say about that...

I have told you many times on the pages of this blog (see last year's birthday post here) what an amazing woman she is, and how much I love her.  I have told you how the grace she showed me in our darkest hour saved me from myself and kept my faith alive.  And I have told you what an incredible mom she is to Will.  All of those things that I told you are true- and every one of them is an understatement.  Marilyn is my best friend and my partner for life.  I wish I could give her everything she deserves, but for today, I can give her this.  I love you, Boo!  I can't wait to see what the future holds for us!  See you all tomorrow for a special Sunday edition of Shout Outs!

And here's a little birthday present for her:  Have a ROCKIN' BIRTHDAY, Marilyn!!!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

7 Things: The Betsy B

Earlier this week I received an e-mail from a woman named Amanda whose extended family is planning a trip to North Myrtle Beach next summer.  They have never been, and they are looking to rent a house for a week.  The realtor she is dealing with recommended the Betsy B because of price and size.  She googled "Betsy B" and came across my blog and the various references to the place, and e-mailed me the following question:  "In your opinion, what amenities make the Betsy B such a great place?"  I assumed by amenities she meant swimming pool, lazy river, golf carts, golf privileges and other things so prevalent at many NMB rentals these days.  I told her it had none of those things; just a nice location and a great beach.  And then I started thinking (uh-oh!).  What was it that made the Betsy B such an amazing place to take a youth group (besides being the future home of my Hall of Fame!)?  The answers can be found in these 7 Things:
  1. The Layout-  With three floors, each with four bedrooms, there was great flexibility for sleeping arrangements.  No matter the number of males and females it could always be worked out.  There was also a kitchen on every floor, which gave you options (although we always kept the food on the 2nd floor so there was only one kitchen to clean each day).  Three living rooms meant 3 televisions, three couches and multiple easy chairs.  We could be all together for worship, or spread out for Black Thursday
  2. Location-  The Betsy B is located in a section of NMB known as Ocean Drive.  When I was younger, all of the "cool kids" and great parties were at OD.  Things changed, but we could still walk to the shops and arcades of OD, or go get a snow cone or a hot dog.  We were surrounded by other houses, but shared our property with no one else (most of the time).  Our silliness didn't bother other people, and no one ever bothered us.
  3. The Porches-  An oceanfront porch on each floor, complete with rocking chairs, made for wonderful daytime beach watching and great moments at night.  Some of my favorite conversations ever took place on those porches, and so many people have such strong memories of sitting out there at night and singing or just hanging out.  I wrote a number of songs sitting out there watching the moon reflect off of the Atlantic Ocean.  Ahhh- the moon over the ocean...
  4. The Outdoor Showers-  While there were 3 showers per floor inside the Betsy B, the most memorable ones were located outside, by the right side of the house as you came back in from the beach.  Originally just open showers used to rinse off sand and ocean, they were eventually enclosed so you could take full showers.  This was quite handy when everyone was trying to get ready to head out to eat or down to the Pavilion.  Plus, it was a bit weird and a little exciting to talk to a naked neighbor of the opposite sex in the stall next to you as you both showered...or was that just me?
  5. The Beach-  The wide, sandy beach that was located right out the back door was one of the things that made the Betsy B such a popular place.  If you wanted to lay out and tan, this was your beach.  If you wanted to swim or body surf, this was your beach.  If you loved taking late night walks or threatening people with Sand, Water, Sand, Water, Crab, Crab, Crab! then this was your beach.  It was perfection!
  6. The People-  The very best thing about the house was that it gave us the space and freedom to have up to 45 of us live together for a week.  I always thought of it as a Christian version of The Real World- "45 of us picked together to live in a house..."  We always left the Betsy B with new experiences, better relationships and a stronger bond.  From the group I grew up in at New Garden Friends, through the Springfield years and on through Kissimmee, just saying "we are going to the Betsy B" brought a smile to the faces of my students.  The people were what made the trips great.
  7. The Stories-  The Betsy B lives on through the stories of those trips, many of them which I have shared on this blog.  You can read about Moons Over Myrtle Beach, Karen Fry's Birthday Surprise, The Legend of Big K and more (check out all of the links in this post).  I'll never forget Stacy's raft, Avis' "flipper," Adam's hair, Kelly's jokes or the KISS concert.  I could write a book of nothing but Myrtle Beach stories- and the Betsy B would be a major character.
So Amanda, I don't know if any of these things count as amenities or not.  But my suggestion to you would be bring all your relatives, create your own stories, and discover the magic of the Betsy B.  Just don't damage it.  Someone is going to buy it for me someday!  :)

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Moment With Mullins

Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."  -John 14:1-3

Last weekend a senior at Sickles High School, where my son Will is a sophomore, died what seems to be a tragic, senseless death.  He was not a friend of Will's but was a close friend of several of Will's buddies on the drum line.  As I listened to my son talk about that death this week, I was reminded of what a hard thing it is to deal with- and yet it is an inevitability for us all- in this world...

Rich Mullins talked a lot about death.  When I met him in 1990, the song that he had written of which he was proudest was Elijah, which deals with death.  At Springfield Friends Meeting in the early 90's many of the youth wore t-shirts which came from Rich which said, "Live like you will die tomorrow; Die knowing you will live forever."  Rich believed that dying meant seeing Jesus in person.  He was not afraid of it.  He believed the scripture from John that you can read at the top of this page.  He knew that one day he would be with God.

One of Rich's final songs was based on that scripture.  That Where I Am You May Also Be appeared on the Jesus record, which was recorded and released by the Ragamuffin Band after his death.  If you purchase the CD, you get two disks.  One is a demo.  Rich is in an old church recording some songs on a hand-held tape recorder.  The other is the finished product of the Ragamuffins recording those songs, featuring many guest artists as well.  The finished version of That Where I Am You May Also Be (you can listen at bottom) mixes both.  Rich is singing as it opens; it is raw and unpolished.  It then swells to a glorious chorus (featuring the voices of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant) that seeks to remind us that if we trust Jesus, we will be together again in our Father's house.  Rich sings the words of Christ to us when he says, "in this world you may find trouble, but I leave you my peace, that where I am you may also be."  Death will be swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).  We can die knowing we will live forever!

Until that day, I take comfort in these words Rich once wrote about himself:
"Someday I shall be a great saint- like those on the windows of magnificent cathedrals.  I know this, not because of any evidence I have produced myself, but because of the witness of His Scriptures, because of the evidence of His grace, and because of the testimony of this sky that washes over me at dusk."

May God's promises contained in this joyous song give us all the hope to carry on. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The WOW Factor

On the Sunday of our interview weekend in 1999 we attended church at the Union Church of Hinsdale.  It happened to be Commitment Sunday, a time of lifting up the church budget and asking members to make a financial pledge for the following year.  I already knew that Union Church was a very traditional church in terms of the layout of the sanctuary, the music and its' worship style.  This concerned me a bit, so I was was anxious to see what worship felt like.  I was astonished when as Rev. Dick Nye began his sermon, he was interrupted by a man walking down the aisle dressed in biblical garb.  This man ascended to the pulpit and introduced himself as Moses.  What followed was a wonderfully creative skit on giving that had the congregation laughing and involved.  It felt neither stuffy nor overly traditional, and it put many of my fears to rest.  Once again, I was impressed.

Lunch with a few of the church staff members did little to change my impression.  Dick Nye, Barb Cathey, Mark Toole and others seemed like people it would be a joy to work with.  They all said glowing things about the church and about the possibilities for student ministry there- with the right leadership. I found out that Barb and I would share a secretary.  I had never had my own secretary before (although Millie from Springfield might argue that point!).  They informed me that the two areas of youth ministry that seemed to be working at Union were a hand bell choir (see album-yes, album- cover at top) and a Spring Break Mission Trip they called Work Tour.  They told me that the church contained a wide range of theologies, and wanted to know about my comfort level with those who believed differently than I did.  Having at various times been one of the more liberal believers in North Carolina and perhaps the most conservative Christian in all of New England, I felt uniquely qualified to handle the situation.  I left lunch feeling more and more like this might be the place.

More visiting with David Knecht and Mary McKenzie also helped.  These were two loving, caring Christ-followers who had huge hearts both for youth and for the "least of these" in Chicagoland.  They both loved Jesus, and both of them would be there to help.  Mary was a stay-at-home mom and David had sold his computer company and was basically retired- at age 35 or so.  He wanted to learn everything I knew about youth ministry- it had become his new passion.  Everything I had learned about Union Church was leading me to think that this was where God wanted me next.  Marilyn and I flew home still worried about how far away it was (and about the lack of contemporary music, but the staff seemed to think I could have an impact on that) but otherwise just praying that God would give us a clear answer on moving.

Looking back later, it was easy to see how I was seduced by Union Church.  It was the WOW Factor.  First, there was the feeling that they needed me- not someone like me, but ME!- if their youth ministry was ever to be all it could be.  Secondly there was the money.  Not just the huge salary, the nice house in a nearby neighborhood and the other benefits, but the opportunity to do ministry with an almost unlimited budget.  There was the church staff and the people already in place to be molded into a Youth Ministry Team.  David and Mary were amazing people, and I could not wait to get to know them better.  I would have great people to work with.  And finally, the skit at worship that morning had convinced me that despite being an older, traditional church, worship was creative.  I looked at all of that and said WOW!  And after some time praying about it, Marilyn and I looked at all of that and said YES.

Remember what I wrote yesterday about seeing only what we want to see?  In the end, worship was actually seldom creative at UC.  The money was not what it seemed to be.  The Allegro Hand Bell Choir turned out to be in competition with the youth ministry in many ways.  There were people excited about building a student ministry, but the youth and parents were not really part of that group.  And perhaps most importantly, there were very few people in that church with the love for Jesus Christ that I had seen in the staff and in Mary and David.  I'll write more about all of that later on.  Before we headed to Hinsdale, we had a long way to go at FUMC-K.  Those stories will resume on Monday.  Tomorrow it's another Moment With Mullins!  See you then.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Brave New World

Marilyn and I flew to Chicago in the autumn of 1999 to interview with the Union Church of Hinsdale.  We had no idea what to expect.  We knew very little about Chicago and almost nothing about Hinsdale.  We knew no one in the area.  David Knecht (pictured; he's on the right), the co-head of the Search Committee, was meeting at the airport- and we had no idea what he looked like.  It was all a great mystery.

David was there to meet us, and as we drove the 25 miles or so out to Hinsdale he talked excitedly about the weekend they had planned for us.  We were headed for the house of Mary and Tim McKenzie.  Mary was actually co-head of the committee with David, and her home would be the center of operations for the weekend.  Before heading there to meet the committee over lunch, we stopped in downtown Hinsdale to get our first look at the village and the church.  Both were like something out of a movie.  The church was large, old and majestic.  It was located just a block from downtown and across the street from the middle school.  Hinsdale was a beautiful little village.  My dear friend Pat Pribyl from Kissimmee had once lived in the area, and she would later tell me that "Hinsdale is what Celebration (the Disney planned community near Walt Disney World) wants to be when it grows up."  After a quick look around we were off to the McKenzie's home.

We knew right away that we were in a different world.  The house was not any larger than the rest of the homes we saw in the village- but it was HUGE.  As we were shown to our room we were amazed to discover the house had 9 bathrooms.  Nine.  We would later learn that the average price of a home in Hinsdale was $850,000.  We recovered from our initial shock and began a very long day of interaction and interviews.  I met with the committee all afternoon while someone took Marilyn around to see more of the community. 

The interview was the longest and most amazing I have ever experienced.  They questioned me about every experience I had ever had related to student ministry.  I had to recap my entire career.  I had to explain in great detail my philosophy of ministry.  I was tested on my knowledge of Purpose Drive Youth Ministry.  They wanted to hear all about The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named and why I wanted to leave Kissimmee.  Every member of the committee had questions.  And then they began to talk about salary and benefits.  I was stunned.  They were offering more than double my FUMC-K salary and better benefits.  It was a huge job they wanted done, and they knew they needed someone with experience to do it- and they were willing to pay for it.  The power of my ego (thinking I was the only man for the job) and the money began a slow seduction of my soul; one that I would remain completely unaware of for quite some time.  For now, I just knew I really enjoyed this group of people.  By dinner time I was exhausted.  But not done.

That night the McKenzie's were hosting a party for Michael Surratt.  Michael was the church's longtime organist and hand bell director who had just spent a year on sabbatical.  A paid sabbatical.  I had been in youth ministry for over 20 years and no one had ever even mentioned a sabbatical.  The only sabbatical I had ever been a part of was sleeping on the floor in in the youth room at FUMC-K at our Radical Sabbaticals. At Union Church, Michael had taken one because it was required every 7 years!   And now they were welcoming him back with a party.  I was really growing to like this place.  At the party I met dozens of new people, and they all had questions as well.  I was getting the feeling that this church really cared about this Youth Pastor position.  And that was a great thing...

Tomorrow I will tell you more about David, Mary and the staff of Union Church.  I was about to be fooled by people who had no desire to fool me.  Sometimes we only see what we want to see...

Becasue of Jesus,