Friday, December 31, 2010

My Heroes

Happy New Year's Eve!  I am certain that the year 2010 has had many heroes in the areas of politics, sports, entertainment and public service.  But this is my blog, and this is MY list!  These are some of the people who were heroic in my life this year.  And it's been a really good year...
  • Any list of my heroes must begin with my amazing wife, Marilyn.  She is the backbone of our family in so many ways- financially, spiritually and emotionally.  I am so thankful that God looked down on me almost 30 years ago and thought, "He is going to need someone special; better send Marilyn his way."  I am so blessed.
  • Likewise, my son Will is my hero.  He puts up with my lame humor and our occasional lack of resources with a loving spirit and a great heart.  He does all of this while being 15 and somehow avoiding being obnoxious!  I could not have asked for a better kid.
  • Jerry Hanbery.  You cannot be a better friend to anyone than Jerry has been to me.
  • So many of you have helped make this blog so much fun for me in 2010, and all of you who read and send me notes and comments on a regular basis are my heroes.  But there are 2 old friends- Meagan Hill Halquist and Brook Teoli Elaine- who have supported and encouraged me in ways even they don't understand.  I always know that no matter what else is going on, I have 2 readers.  Thanks, ladies!
  • Todd & Kristin Willis have lifted me in ways I cannot even begin to explain.  It is often said that true friends are the people who know the worst things about you and love you anyway.  That applies to many of you, but it has been especially true with Todd.  His efforts have been heroic in small but marvelous ways.  His old buddy Jocelyn Sessions Ward has also been a wonderful inspiration to Marilyn and I this year.
  • Rick Bundschuh and Ken McCoy got me re-involved in ministry through writing this year. Thanks guys.  You'll never know how much that meant to me.
  • This year I have been honored to visit with Ken Hill, Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi, Lisa Kraus Spires, Jeremy Godwin, Caitlin Esry, Bethany Esry, Julia Pribyl and Lauren Carr Cacciatore.  It is not always easy to see me these days, because you pretty much have to come to Tampa to do it.  Their efforts to get together with us have been heroic, and I cannot express how much it meant to me to see them.
  • As I mentioned earlier, there are so many people who make writing this blog everyday an exercise in great joy.  Comments from very old friends like Ashely Goad BroadhurstCharles Freedle and Jamie Robinson and Connor Lewis always encourage me.  So many different friends from my FUMC-Kissimmee family bring me joy each week.  It's been great to keep up with births and weddings and other special occasions.  But I close this list of heroes with one of my oldest friends, Susan McBane Tuggle.  She and I worked together at Quaker Lake back in late 70's, and she has made a number of comments on the blog over the past year.  She has been fighting breast cancer for the past few months and doing it with a faith and an attitude that is nothing short of heroic.  Boom-Boom, you are my hero, and I love ya.
That's my list for 2010.  It is only a partial list, but I hope all of you who been part of my life this year know how special you to me.  I wish for you all a blessed 2011.  Come back tomorrow to get started right.  It's not about resolutions- it's about a revolution!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cry Out To Jesus

"The worst thing is not crying out in the darkness. The worst thing is having no one in the darkness to cry out to..."  - Brennan Manning

I have sat alone in the darkness and cried out for forgiveness.  I have sought for hope that I thought might be gone forever.  I have wondered if anyone could ever love me again.  But I never doubted who the author of that forgiveness, hope and love would be.  I never lost sight of Jesus.  I knew that in my fear and despair I was never alone, no matter how much it felt like I was.  As we approach the end of the year there are so many people in our world who are hurting.  As we worry about resolutions like losing a few pounds or organizing our offices, they worry about feeding their families or finding a place to live.  They are without hope, and worse yet, they are without Jesus.  I say they are without hope- maybe I should say you you.  I know it has been me.  Whoever it is, we need to share the hope of the world- Jesus Christ- with the people in our lives.  I want to do my little part today by sharing this amazing video from the great band Third Day.  It will inspire you to reach out with hope- or for hope.  I pray that none of us will ever forget these words:
There is hope for the helpless 
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He'll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus, Cry out to Jesus

Remember, no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.  Offer love, hope and forgiveness to the people in your life.  May 2011 be the year of hope for all of the broken and hurting.  May it be the year of Jesus.



Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Youth Ministry Artifacts

I am no longer in student ministry, but I still try to stay up-to-date on all the latest trends, techniques and resources.  You don't spend 28 years of your life dedicated to a ministry and then just drop it.  But let's face it- if I was still in youth work,  I would be the proverbial old dog trying to keep up with the new tricks.  I do think there are some "tricks" that are time-tested and worth hanging on to.  Today, as a special service to those of you who may be working with teenagers in churches, I want to share 4 artifacts from the glory days of yester-year that impacted my ministry in a positive way- and still would today.  If you were in any of my groups some of these will sound familiar I am sure.  I still own most of these if you can't find them anywhere else...

The first artifact is a VHS cassette of the great Curt Cloninger performing his legendary one man show, Witnesses.  Travel with Curt through the life of Jesus, seeing our Savior through the eyes of people we know Jesus knew,  and fictional characters who "knew" Jesus.  You will laugh with Abe the Banana Man and Lazurus (played as a funky Italian man);  you will feel the confusion of the Innkeeper and Doubting Thomas; you will feel the pain of Barabbas.  I never had a group react to this tape (or the live show) with anything but passion.  It is actually available in DVD now, and you can order your own by clicking here.  We want Jesus to come alive to our students, and I know of nothing else that will have this kind of impact.

Artifact #2 is the Spontaneous Melodrama.  If you are unaware of this art form (turn in your youth ministry license NOW!) these are short skits that require no rehearsal or skill.  In fact, a total lack of skill and prep is preferable!  A narrator simply reads a script while actors perform the actions and lines as they are narrated.  They are always funny, and a great way to get students who normally sit "on the sidelines" involved in a youth meeting or retreat.  In the early days I got these from the Youth Specialties Ideas Books and some Young Life skits books.  Then I started writing my own.  YS eventually released a couple of books (available on Amazon) entitled Spontaneous Melodramas which featured the format telling bible stories.  I know my Springfield Friends Meeting students will never forget Beulah May, Bessie Will and faithful dog Pup- which spelled backwards is Pup!

Item #3 on my list of old things you need to have is the 4-Way Grinder.  The first benefit of this apparatus are the giggles you get from middle school students just by saying the name.  But once you begin to play with this great toy (see picture) all else is forgotten.  It's great exercise, great competition and fun for everyone.  But the Grinder is really just a symbol of a greater need in modern youth ministry.  Kids need time to play.  Not just an occasional Minute To Win It night (did they steal that whole show from youth pastors or what?) but regular games that involve physical activity.  So many teenagers forget how to play anything but their video games.  They need to learn how to have fun in ways that don't involve kegs and condoms.  Things like 4-Way Grinder, Finger Blasters and Water Cannons help us minister to the whole student- what David Stone called "Wholistic Ministry."  If your group hasn't played Sardines, Hook-Up Tag or the Technicolor Stomp, then we need to talk.  You'll have to Google the Grinder to see where to get one- or you can borrow mine.  It's in the garage...

And finally, one more DVD no student ministry should be without.  Fisheyes, a show featuring the disciples Andrew and Peter as portrayed by the great drama team Ted & Lee, is an amazing discussion starter.  We are forever telling our youth that the disciples were no different than you and me- and here is a great way to show them just that.  They mess up, they don't get it and they bail on Jesus- but in the end they change the world in His name.  It is an amazing show.  Lee Eshleman passed away several years ago, but the DVD is still available from http://www.tedandcompany.com/ And while there check out their Old Testament show, The Creation Chronicles.  Another amazingly human look at scripture.

So there you have it.  Take some of those gift cards you got for Christmas and invest in a couple of these classics.  Your students will be glad you did!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The 4 Phases of Ease

One of the first and most important things I learned on the journey to becoming a professional youth pastor was something called The 4 Phases of Ease David Stone taught this method of enabling the people around you to learn new tasks and do them well at a workshop in 1979, and I never forgot it.  The catchy name is a play on The Three Faces of Eve, a 1950's movie about a psychotic woman.  Fits right in with youth ministry, huh? And I think it is still valuable to all of us today.

Whether in ministry or in life, most of us would like to be able to pass our methods and knowledge along to others in a manner that doesn't hinder our work or hang them out to dry.  This is the very purpose of the 4 Phases.  There are two things about the process that I have always loved.  One, it works.  And two, it has no charts or graphs or tests, and it has no time limits.  You simply help people grow, and in the process free yourself up for new adventures.  So here are the 4 Phases of Ease:
  1. I Do It (and you watch)- It's what you already do.  When you want a Bible study taught a certain way, you do it and everyone else watches.  So the first great thing about the process is that EVERYONE is already on step 1.  How cool is that?
  2. I Do It (and you help)-  Now we begin to actively involve future leaders in the process.  This stage is also a classic parenting technique.  You teach your children to cook or hammer nails by showing them proper methods and then letting them help.  Or in ministry you might take someone to visit a student at home and show them what to do and what not to do as you both visit with the youth.  This leads to...
  3. You Do It (and I'll help)-  You begin to turn it over to your budding apprentice, but you do not leave them out on the ledge.  You go with them.  You supervise.  You encourage and let them know how important they are.  And when they are ready...
  4. You Do It (and I'll move on to something else!)-  Just like that, things are happening in a way that is actually helpful to you!  You can actually trust someone to set up the chairs, someone else to teach the lesson and someone else to handle the snacks- all in the ways you would have done it!  You can just sit back and hang out with the youth...or watch the Letterman you Tivo'd the night before!
 As Velvet Jones once famously said, "It's as simple as that!"  I have found the concept to work in various situations and with all kinds of people, including my 15 year old son.  And here's the best part- there is no pressure on the person who is learning.  It's not some program they must finish or they will be a failure.  They simply learn and progress to the point where the task (or ministry) becomes their own.  It's awesome.

So that's today's piece of old school youth ministry wisdom.  Tomorrow I'll tell you about some ancient artifacts no current youth ministry should be without!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Tale of One City- and Two Friends!

Marilyn and Will made it safely to the great white North Carolina, so I am home alone this week.  I feel like pulling a Kevin McAlister:  "I'm eating junk food and watching rubbish (football) so you better come out and stop me..."

I have these 2 friends.  They have never met, but I suspect they will soon.  This is a little bit their story and a little bit my story.  But mostly, it's God's story...

There was a young woman who was an important part of my student ministry at Springfield Friends Meeting in High Point, NC back in the late early 90's.  She came from an often distressed family situation, and she had some health issues.  She also had a tremendous love for Jesus.  After I left SFM, she continued to grow in her faith, and she eventually became a youth pastor herself.  She married a wonderful guy whose job moves him around a bit, and so she served churches in various parts of the country.  In November of 2010 they moved to Las Vegas, and she prepared to start over again.  And one of her priorities was finding a new church home.

There was a man who was called to ministry at Wesley Memorial UMC in Tampa about 8 months after I arrived there in 2001.  He and his lovely wife came from Charlotte,NC, and he was WMUMC's first full-time contemporary worship leader. He did it with flair, passion and a heart for God.  He was later called to move to a new ministry in 2005, shortly before I left WMUMC.  In this new ministry he was much freer to lead worship in the manner of his choosing, and he has thrived there.  I watch videos of their worship on a regular basis, and the church is on fire for Jesus.  As you may have guessed, the church is in Las Vegas.

Yesterday, at my suggestion, Ashley attended worship at The Crossing.  She wrote to me Sunday afternoon and said she had loved every minute of it.  She was warmly greeted, she felt comfortable and she LOVED the worship.  She immediately saw the passion in my old friend Jason, and she was moved by the service.  She told me that for the first time since her arrival in Vegas, she felt that she was home.  I immediately wrote Jason to let him know that the presence of the LORD has been felt in that house of worship on December 26th.

Why is this rather random set of occurrences special to me?  Because I don't believe it is random at all.  God puts people in our lives for a reason.  Every person we connect with, every life we impact, every soul we touch matters to God.  And He uses those connections to help mold our lives as we seek to serve Him in the name of Jesus.  My simple Twitter message to Ashley could be the start of something big.  Or it may have just led to one day of praising Jesus.  Either way, I feel that God used my life to make a difference.  As we head down the stretch to the beginning of a new year, I encourage you to be open to letting God use you in ways big and small to make a difference.  I talk all the time about "finding my ministry" in this new, post-youth ministry life I lead.  Yesterday, at least for one day, I found exactly what God needed me to do.  It's not just a song.  He really is an AWESOME GOD!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Remembering- Take 2

Last year on December 26th I had a post I titled Remembering.  Today I revisit part of that post with a few updates and additions.  I hope you all had a most blessed Christmas!

Not a day goes by that I don't miss youth ministry. Some days I miss the late night phone calls, the romantic dramas and the petty disputes between youth. Some days I miss the energy and the creativity that student ministry brought to my life. Some days I miss the planning and the programs and the events. Most days I miss the teaching, the counseling and the worship. Every day I miss the students and adult volunteers who were such a huge part of my life over the years, and I miss sharing life together with those dear friends and Jesus.  I miss something every day. Most days the memories are a blessing. Some days I miss it so badly that it hurts. Today is one of those days.

The week after Christmas was always a big week in my ministry, and as I sit here today with nothing on my schedule and Marilyn and Will headed for NC, I miss it. I think back to Winter Camp at Quaker Lake in the old days. I remember Youthquake '88 in Denver, and Youthquake '91 in Vermont. I remember Youth Tremors at QLC on many of the in-between years. I remember ski trips and square dancing and Winter W.O.W. (Week of Wonder) and spending time with so many special people.  Today I remember all of these things, although I would rather not.  Tomorrow I can tell you funny stories about 28 years worth of youth ministry.  I can focus on the happy times, the amazing events and the students who found Jesus.  Tomorrow I will once again rejoice- but today it hurts.

It hurts because I cannot have it back. My sins have been forgiven by the grace of Jesus Christ, but forgiveness does not always mean there are no consequences for our sins. Grace is free, but it is not cheap. Jesus died for our sins. There is nothing cheap about that. On days like this I remember the consequences of my own actions and praise God that He chooses to love me anyway.   This year has brought me a number of opportunities to serve God through writing, and I pray that He will continue to lead me to where I need to be in order to best serve the Kingdom.

And over this past year many of you have shown me grace as well.  Through your support of this blog, your encouragement on Twitter or Marilyn's Facebook,  your e-mails and even visits you have shown me love I do not deserve.  But it is a love I am most thankful for.  And it is your kind words and caring actions that often keep me going on days just like this one.

Sometimes remembering hurts. But the good news- no, the GREAT NEWS- is that every day people sin, and every day those who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior are forgiven. God loves us every single day! And that is really something worth remembering...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, December 25, 2010

So This Is Christmas...

For unto us a child is born.  Unto us a son is given.  And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  Rejoice with exceeding great joy!

video

You Gotta Get Up (Christmas Song) - from the Rich Mullins album
A Liturgy, a Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band

Merry Christmas to friends new and old!  May your blessings be many and your troubles be few!

Emmanuel- God With Us.  That is what Christmas is all about.  God came to earth in the form of a baby so He could be with us.  As my old buddy Curt Cloninger says, "He didn't look like a Messiah.  He looked like a baby!" But that baby was here to change the world and to save my life- and yours.  No matter our sins, God is on our side- and Jesus is the ultimate proof of that. Enjoy the food, the gifts, your families and all the rest.  Celebrate the day. But never forget that it is all "on account of that baby born in Bethlehem!"    Merry Christmas to one and all from myself, Marilyn and Will

Because of Jesus,


Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve With the Jones Family


My son Will (after listening to me make up a song during a commercial on TV) remarked the other day that "no one in our family is normal- and that's a good thing."  Nowhere is the unusual nature of our family more clear than on Christmas Eve.  Here's a quick look at Christmas Eve with the Jones family...
  • I have to go shopping.  For as long as I can remember it has been a personal tradition for me to go out and purchase at least one present on Christmas Eve.  It used to be I had to go to the mall; now I buy very little at the mall, so I just go to Walgreen's or Big Lots or whatever- but I have to get something for Christmas on Christmas Eve.  It's a moral imperative...
  • The family (including my Mom) heads out to the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at Van Dyke Church.  It has been many different churches over the years (and I was usually working at those churches), and each church has given us special memories.  Whether it was Marilyn Burris singing O Holy Night at New Garden Friends, the candlelight circle at Springfield Friends, the marathon of 4 (and occasionally 5) services at FUMC-Kissimmee or any of the other special places we have called home, a Christmas Eve worship service has long been a part of our family tradition.  It's just not Christmas without proclaiming Jesus is LORD!
  • Then we head home for a traditional Christmas Eve meal- Hot Dogs!  Yes, hot dogs!  Since we began doing it at my Grandmother Dot's house when I was a little boy for the purpose of ease of preparation, hot dogs have become our meal of choice on Christmas Eve.  But we are natives of North Carolina, and so we are not talking about a wiener and a bun here.  A REAL hot dog has chili, slaw, onions, mustard and ketchup.  This is a Carolina Dog, and there is nothing that compares- and I've tried Chicago Dogs and everything else!  My mouth is already watering...
  • Will gets to open one present (of her choosing) from his Gigi (grandmother).  She has tried to kill this tradition as he got older and has fewer (but more expensive) gifts to open.  He has kept it very much alive!
  • The family part of our evening wraps up with a viewing of The Muppet Christmas Carol.  It is our absolute favorite, and always our last activity before bedtime on Christmas Eve.  What better way to remember "there's only one more sleep 'til Christmas..."
  • And finally, after Will and his grandmother are off to bed, Marilyn will wrap presents.  Somehow, even though we only bought Will a few things this year, my lovely wife will manage to stay up until 1 AM wrapping.  It's tradition!
So there you have it- a Jones family Christmas Eve.  Try these traditions at your own risk.  Better yet, create your own.  It's one of the way we keep Christmas in our hearts all year.  But no matter what you do, remember the reason we celebrate.  Thank you , God, for the gift of your Son and all that means to each of us.  And to all of you who are reading this simple blog, I wish you a blessed and merry Christmas.  Joy to the world, the LORD is come!!!

Jesus- the only hope for me is you...and You alone!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tiny Jesus

Yesterday morning I was awakened by my dog at 4:40 AM.  I took him for a walk, realizing as I went out that he had not even had the decency to wake me up in time to see the eclipse.  I returned to the house and he went back to sleep, while I lay on the couch with all of the lights in the house off- except for our Christmas tree.  Our tree is beautiful, decorated with Disney ornaments (and others) collected over the years and many lights.  I love our tree.  But there is no denying one fact- in this house, our tree looks incredibly TINY.  It's a 6 1/2 feet tall tree in a room with 14 feet high ceilings.  The poor tree has no chance of filling up the room, or even of appearing significant.

That moment led to another thought- totally random in many ways, but I hope you may yet see the relationship.  I lay on the sofa thinking about one of the great theological movies of the past decade- Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby (sarcasm intended). Some of you will remember the scene where Ricky (Will Ferrell) is saying the blessing over a family meal.  He begins by praying, "Dear Baby Jesus" (My son Will still often begins prayers that way).  A discussion later ensues about the fact that Jesus did in fact grow up and become a man, but Ricky doesn't care.  He prefers to think of Jesus as a cute little baby, helpless in the manger.  Throughout his prayer he continues to refer to Baby Jesus in more and more descriptive ways, but never advancing him beyond the infant stage.

It occurs to me that far too often we do the same thing with Jesus at Christmas.  We have our nativity scenes and our Christmas plays and our scripture readings that focus (quite rightly) on the miraculous birth story of our Savior.  But too many times we let the story end there.  Like Ricky Bobby, we prefer a Tiny JesusTiny Jesus is cute, cuddly and much easier for us to understand.  Tiny J doesn't ask us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  Tiny J doesn't remind us to take care of the "least of these."  Tiny J doesn't call anyone a "brood of vipers."  Tiny J doesn't tell us "to find your life you have to lose it."  It is much easier for us if we do not allow Jesus to grow up...

So what does Tiny Jesus have to do with my pitiful little tree?  Just this- Tiny J may be cute and cuddly and worthy of our praise, just like my tree.  But the full-grown Messiah, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings- now that Jesus knows how to fill up a room!  The Son of God will become the most important person in history.  There is such power in his life, his teaching and in his death and resurrection that we cannot ignore his presence.  When we allow Jesus to grow up, it is no longer enough to bring gold or myrrh.  The only gift that is sufficient is to offer him our lives.

So this Friday night and Saturday, celebrate the birth of the infant Christ-child.  Worship the babe as the shepherds did all those years ago.  Rejoice in his coming to our world.  Read the Luke 2 stories of that most holy night.  Just be sure to keep reading- and watch that baby grow into a man who would one day save the world...

Jesus, the only hope for me is you...and You alone!

 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Heirlooms

Heirloom:  Something of special value handed on from one generation to another.

In the late 1980's at Springfield Friends Meeting in High Point, NC, it became a tradition for my wife Marilyn and our dear friend Karen Chester to sing the Amy Grant song Heirlooms during the Christmas season.  The song has always meant a great deal to me, and this year the lyrics seem to be speaking to me in a whole new way.  Let me try to explain.

This past Saturday  Marilyn, Will and I had lunch with three former FUMC-K students- Caitlin & Bethany Esry and Julia Pribyl.  All of them were still young when I left Kissimmee in 2000, and with the circumstances of all of our lives in the past decade I can think of little reason why we would still be in touch and still getting together.  But there we were, sharing lunch at Olive Garden, catching up with each others' lives and on old stories.  I was reminded again that the bonds formed in the youth ministries I have served over the years are strong.  Through our faith in Jesus, we became family to one another.  As in all good families, we struggle, we fail, we forgive and we celebrate.  The relationships I shared with hundreds of students and parents over they years are so much more that just memories- so much more than just stories to be shared on a blog.   

Which brings me back to the song and the picture at the top.  Shortly after we moved to Kissimmee in 1994, Jimmy & Karen Chester (the couple on the far right in the picture) and Jeff & Lori Cox (Lori is in front of me; Jeff was the photographer) and all of their kids came to Walt Disney World for vacation.  We were blessed to spend time with all of them that week, and it was simply an amazing adventure, full of stories and memories. I don't suppose we have all been together in one place since.  But lately, through through the wonders of Facebook, we have caught up with these old friends again.  We know that there have been births and weddings for their now grown kids.  And that picture, which has spent years displayed in a Pooh Bear frame in our home, is now alive again.  I find myself missing the people more than the memories.  And just as with Caitlin, Bethany and Julia, that is exactly how it should be.

It always brought tears to my eyes to hear Karen and Marilyn sing the line, "My precious Jesus is more than an heirloom to me."  We must never allow Jesus to become just a picture on a wall or a cross around our necks.  Jesus must never be an heirloom we try to pass along to our children or our friends.  Jesus must be real and alive in our lives.  This Christmas season enjoy the times with friends and family, the traditions and the gifts.  Enjoy the memories of Christmas past.  But do not forget that it is the Christ, born so that we might know life and life abundant, who is the reason we celebrate.  Jesus- the only hope for me is you...and You alone!

Monday, December 20, 2010

One Soilitary Life

Welcome to Christmas Week.  This Saturday we will celebrate the coming of the Light into a world filled with darkness.  Jesus came to us as a baby, but it was his life, death and resurrection that would forever change us all.  Today I invite you to read these words of faith, adopted from a 1926 sermon by Dr. James Allen Francis, and consider the full meaning of Christmas and who the babe of Bethlehem would become...

He was born in an obscure village, the son of a peasant woman.  He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter's shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he became a wandering preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn't go to college. He never visited a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of those things one usually associates with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through a mockery of a trial. He was executed by the state. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind's progress. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that One Solitary Life.

Jesus- the only hope for me is you...and You alone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Peace On Earth

Today is the final Sunday of Advent, and on our wreath we will light the candle of Peace.  The prophet Isaiah, when listing the names of the coming Messiah, said that He would be called the "Prince of Peace."  And in fact, Jesus does bring a spirit of peace and love to the hearts and souls of many people each day.  But when it comes to peace in our world, those same followers of Jesus have often done precious little to help the cause.  The Christian church has often been at the forefront of causing divisions in our world rather than helping to heal them.  We are so quick to point out our "superiority" and the faults, flaws and differences in others that we fail to grasp the fact that the love of God is meant to bind us together, not separate us.

Over the past 30 years or so, the evangelical church has often supported political positions that make us seem like war-mongers.  We worry about being safe from communists, terrorists and others who wish USAmerica ill, so we build vast armies and greater weapons.  We live in a world where some defense is needed, I suppose.  But we too frequently use violence as a first choice instead of the final option.  This shows an incredible lack of faith in God.  The great Tom Leher once wrote about Israel, "The Lord's our shepherd says the Psalm, but just in case- we're gonna' build a bomb!"  Our strength should be found in our faith, not in our weapons.  We ignore Jesus' teachings about being peacemakers because they do not fit in with our fears.  On the world stage the followers of Jesus have too often failed to honor the Prince of Peace with our actions.

Why is this?  I believe it is because we fail to be peacemakers as individuals.  We cannot bring peace to the world if we can't bring it to our homes and relationships.  I cannot have anger and hatred towards my next door neighbor and expect to bring the love of Christ to the larger stage.  I cannot reach out to a hurting world if I don't make peace with my own family.  When I was in the 8th grade, the school chorus sang a song at our Christmas program called Let There Be Peace On Earth.  The message was simple- if there is to be peace on our planet, it must begin with each of us.  One relationship at a time.  I have heard the song hundreds of times since, and it never fails to move me.  The angels left the shepherds with a promise of "peace on earth and goodwill towards men" on that most holy night we celebrate at Christmas time.  If peace is to begin with you, then who is it you must make peace with?  Who must you forgive?  Who must you ask for forgiveness?  Who must you compromise with in the name of love?  Read the lyrics to Let There Be Peace On Earth (or click the link to hear it on YouTube) and decide- in a country where we spend endless hours discussing our differences, what will YOU do to bring us together?  It's Christmas.  Light the candle of peace in your soul- choose to make a difference.  Choose peace. 

Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our father
We are family.
Let us walk with each other
In perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.

Jesus, the only hope for me is you...and you alone!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tweeting On My Twitter

As I have told you before, my weekday mornings begin with getting breakfast ready for Will and watching Mike & Mike In the Morning on ESPN2.  They love to get feedback from viewers, and you can can text them (as you may remember, I am physically incapable of texting), e-mail them or reach them on Twitter (@MikeandMike).  And almost every morning, Mike Golic will say something about someone "tweeting on their Twitter."  The way he phrases it makes it sound like a "Twitter" is a separate machine made especially for tweeting.  It always makes me laugh.  Actually the entire concept of Twitter used to make me laugh.  I could not imagine being one of those people who wanted the world to know what I was eating for lunch or where I was driving to next.  I was certain I would never be on Twitter.  I got over it...

I have learned to love Twitter.  I love hearing what people are thinking about the events of the day.  I love getting new people to read and respond to this blog.  I love trying to respond to the tweets of others with witty comments.  I love hearing from friends in faith (both old and new) who share their beliefs, wisdom and frustrations each day.  My own tweets seem to fall into one of 4 major categories:  Old friends, Faith, Disney and Sports.  I also LOVE responding to the tweets of others, trying to be helpful, silly or both.  I really do enjoy it all.  So today I thought I would share with you a few of my tweets and a few from people "I follow" from the past week or so, just to give you an idea of what being @Youthguy07 on Twitter is like.  Here we go!
  • From Stephen Colbert: "Only 9 days left to fortify your homes against the Grinch. He must not get his hands on our roast beast!"
  • From Toby Mac:  Please retweet. Tobymac's new song "Christmas This Year" http://bit.ly/eTZKB8
  • From Greg Smith:  "Jesus tends to come to people where they are but rarely leaves them as they were."  - William H. Willimon
  • From Dr. Jim Burns:  "Marriage is a relationship in which one person is always right and the other is usually the husband."   :-)
  • From Ryne Pearson:  "You've been swined!"  (Adding to me to a list of writers who also love bacon!)
  • From Steve Martin:  "New Year's Eve falls on December 31st this year."
  • More Steve Martin:  "So New Years Day will be on January 1st, pushing Valentines Day to February 14th."  (and yes- THAT Steve Martin!)
And here are a few of my own tweets:
  • "If thou doest partake of the manna called HOT Krispy Kremes, thou shouldst also drinketh their hot cocoa- for it is good." 2 Heziciah 12:17
  • Want a hungry person to understand that Jesus loves them? Feed them. "Empty bellies have no ears." -Ancient Proverb
  • "The problems of 2 people don't amount to a hill of beans. But this is our hill. And these are our beans!" - Frank Drebin     RIP Leslie Nielsen
  • When your sin takes away everything you have, you discover that God's grace gives you everything you need. This I know...
  • I am thinking of hosting a Fetivus party if I can only figure out when it is. Can anyone provide the aluminum pole?
  • One of the top 5 sitcom clips ever, courtesy of @greatoldtvshows - featuring Rev. Jim from "Taxi." http://bit.ly/mgzLz

    As you can tell, Twitter gives me an outlet for being serious, for being silly, for being witty, and for sharing my thoughts with all kinds of different people.  I currently have over 425 people "following me," and I "follow" a lot more than that.  I suppose if I have a point today it is this- listening to what youth pastors, pastors and other people of faith are saying on Twitter gives me great hope that a new generation of Christians is rising up in our world.  They seem to promote grace over law (like Jesus), forgiveness over hatred (like Jesus), love over politics (like Jesus!) and Jesus over the institution of "church."  They give me great hope that the church may yet turn out to one day be full of Christ-followers instead of church members.  Praise God for that...
My other point is this- go out and buy yourself a Twitter machine and learn to tweet on it!  Then you can follow me, Steve Martin and all the rest of the crew!  See you tomorrow!

Jesus- the only hope for me is you...and You alone!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Toy That Saved Christmas

It's hard to remember now that there was a time before VeggieTales.  They didn't come along until 1993, and I didn't discover them until a few years later. I would eventually come to know these Veggies personally (I lived only a few miles from their studio in Lombard, IL) and appreciate their unique ways of communicating biblical truths through animation and great story-telling.   This is the story of how The Toy That Saved Christmas actually saved a Christmas party for us one year at FUMC-Kissimmee

During the Christmas season of 1996 the youth ministry of FUMC-K decided to throw a party for the younger children of the church on a Saturday morning in our Fellowship Hall.  The goal was a festive gathering that would be fun and focus on the holiday as the birth of Jesus.  A group of students and myself were in the youth room on Friday night putting together some decorations and games when we realized we had a problem.  We had planned to be outside for part of the morning (it was Florida, after all!) but it was going to be cold an rainy, so we needed to re-group.  Someone suggested a movie to fill the time, but we didn't want to just show Rudolph or The Grinch.  We wanted something with a Christian message.  I remembered that I had received a video in a recent Interlinc shipment that had something to do with Christmas, so we decided to watch while we worked and see if it was any good.  I had very low expectations.  Christian films and cartoons were so often very cheesy.  But we gave it a shot.

Almost immediately we were hooked.  The opening song was very catchy.  The animation was excellent.  It was funny.  And it had a great message about the true meaning of Christmas.  And then, right in the middle of the story, the Veggies interrupted themselves for something called Silly Songs With Larry.  Larry was a cucumber, and the song was about Santa.  If you've never seen this you are in for a treat.  Watch it here!



The show continued on as Larry, Bob the Tomato, Junior Asparagus and a toy named Buzzsaw Louie tried to teach a nefarious toy maker named Wally P. Nezzer (brother of Nebby K. Nezzer- get it?) the true meaning of Christmas.  We quit what we were doing and just sat down to watch.  It was meaningful and hysterical.  By the end of one viewing we were already quoting lines like it was a Monty Python movie.  We immediately rewound it and watched it again- and it was just as awesome!  It was like watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon- it was for children, but so much of the humor was great for older audiences as well.  Creators Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki had outdone themselves. The next day the kids at the party watched it once, then wanted to see it two more times.  The Toy That Saved Christmas really did just that.  It set up our lesson for the morning perfectly with a line that still resonates in our world today.  The narrator (Grandpa) says he is telling a story about a town that didn't get Christmas.  His grandveggie responds "That's terrible- a town that didn't have Christmas?"  Grandpa then says, "Oh, they had Christmas.  They just didn't get Christmas!" 

What a great description of much of our world today.  Everyone celebrates Christmas- I'm just not sure how many people get it.  And those of us who do understand the true meaning of Christmas cannot sit around and wait for someone else to explain it.  If three vegetables and a toy with a fully-functioning buzzsaw in his right arm can bring the meaning of the birth of Jesus to Dinkletown (and rescue Mr. Nezzer from almost certain death in the process)then surely we can spread the word in our neighborhoods.  And if you haven't seen the classic VeggieTale bible stories like Josh and the Big WallDave and the Giant Pickle and Rack, Shack and Benny- then go get them now!!!  Have a blessed weekend everyone!

Jesus- the only hope for me is you...and You alone!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

All Is Well

Today's special Christmas song is All Is Well, from Michael W. Smith's first yuletide album simply entitled Christmas.  It has long been one of my favorite songs about the birth of Jesus, even though you will notice that MWS seems to be missing from the singers.  This song is all about the message.

People have been using the phrase "all is well" to describe situations and conditions for hundreds of years.  In colonial days the Town Crier used to announce "11 o'clock and all is well!"  Of course he didn't really mean it; he simply wanted to assure the villagers they were not being attacked.  There were still things that were not well.  In the movie Animal House there is a scene where the town is involved in a riot, and a very young Kevin Bacon stands in the middle of the street yelling "All is well!!!"  It wasn't.  And how many times has a politician looked directly into a TV camera and announced that "all is well" when in fact things were falling apart?  The phrase carries very little weight in our world, because all is such a big word and we know that something, somewhere is not well.

It has been nearly 4 years since my sin caused my world (and that of my family) to literally fall apart.  In the first year I was convinced that "all" would ever be "well" again.  During my quiet time one morning around Christmas of 2007 it occurred to me that I was focused on the wrong "all."  It was quite true that my life would never be the same again.  It was also true that there were people I had hurt and disappointed who seemed unlikely to ever forgive me.  But God already had.  God had sent his Son to earth through a very confused young woman who must have been certain all was NOT well- and yet it was.  And as I thought about that story, this song came to mind.  The birth of the Christ-child was God's announcement to everyone that "all is well."  And when God says it, "all" really means ALL!  Life will never be perfect, but how can it be anything but "well" when you are secure in the knowledge that the God of the universe sent His Son to save you- and ME!  And that is what the song is all about.

Life is still hard.  Things go wrong.  People disappoint us.  But because of Jesus, there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make Him love you less.  I don't know about you, but to me, that truly means all is well...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hall of Fame: Andrew Lewis


Andrew, Mickey and I at the Grand Floridian
for a Youth Ministry Team Christmas Party!
 It was my pleasure over the many years that I served churches to work with many outstanding and wonderful people. There were great people whose company I truly enjoyed.  There were people of great spiritual depth that taught me so much.  There were people who were gifted and called to their particular ministry in ways that were truly remarkable.  There were those who became dear friends.  But there were only a handful of co-workers who fit all of those descriptions- and one of them was Andrew Lewis.  Today I want to tell you a little about Andrew and welcome him to my Youth Group Hall of Fame!

I met Andrew the day I interviewed at FUMC-Kissimmee in early 1994.  He was on crutches- the result of a youth ski trip accident.  At the time he was the interim youth director, part-time church organist and full-time elementary school teacher.  But I learned very quickly that Andrew's passion was the church and church music.  Within a couple of years of our first meeting he became the Minister of Music at FUMC-K and my best friend in the church.  He continued to be involved with the youth for the 6 years I served that church, leading a youth choir, a praise band and often providing leadership in non-musical ways as well.  We shared many adventures at Disney World, eating lunch with the church's support staff, at Kyoto's, on the One Day Week Long Choir Tour and in the praise choir he began and Marilyn and I sang in, Joyful Praise.

But the reasons Andrew joins the HOF today are the ways in which he prayerfully and creatively encouraged myself and our entire staff to go beyond what we knew and seek God's leading to reach people for Jesus in new and better ways. Even as he directed traditional choirs and handbell groups, he helped push the church towards exploring new music and new ways to worship.  Together we got the staff reading Len Sweet's groundbreaking book SoulTsunami.  Together we started a small group that sought to discover the faith themes in "non-Christian" movies. I especially think of him this time of year, because his creativity always seemed to hit new heights at Christmas (see Only One More Sleep).  He put together special nights of music, drama and cheesecake that drew sold out crowds to multiple performances.  He designed worship services for our 4 Christmas Eve services each year that always left me amazed and blessed.  And when Andrew sang "O Holy Night" on Christmas Eve, you knew it was time to celebrate the arrival of the Christ-child!

Andrew remained at FUMC-K after my departure, but not for long.  The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named convinced the Staff-Parish Committee that Andrew was a problem, and they fired him on a Sunday morning right after worship.  That truth is that Andrew was still trying to follow God's leadings and be creative in an atmosphere where those things were neither desired nor tolerated.  He has since gone on to great success in ministry at other churches.  He is now married, and he and his wife Lynn live in Hickory, NC.  We stayed in touch for many years, always trying to get together around Christmas.  It has been a few years now, and I miss him terribly.  It's a very poor substitute for seeing him, but the least I can do is to take this opportunity to welcome him to my Hall of Fame- the first staff member so honored!  Merry Christmas, Andrew- you're the best!

Jesus- the only hope for me is you...and You alone!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Finding Community

As I mentioned yesterday, the youth ministry of the Union Church of Hinsdale had no sense of true community when I arrived there in 2000. Turning it from a "youth group" into an Acts 2:42 fellowship was high on my list of priorities- although I admit that list was very long.  The more that I became aware that God's purpose for me in Illinois was to Plow the Road, the more important building that fellowship became.  When I started our small group Bible study in the Fall of 2000, I had no idea what God was about to do to my life and that ministry.

The group that was to become the core of our Acts 2:42 project at UC had a lot in common with the disciples of Jesus.  They were a odd collection of ragamuffins, misfits and outcasts.  Many of them didn't own a bible when we started.  Kristen Mann was involved in numerous school activities and never made it to youth group on Sunday.  Greta Staat, though only a freshman, had "leader" written all over her.  One had tried to kill herself twice in the preceding months.  Cara Stevens was much younger than the rest of the group; she was also the furthest along on her spiritual journey.  The three guys who were coming had previously seemed to me like total goofballs.  And almost none of them had strong relationships with one another.  It hardly seemed like a group that could change the culture of an entire church.

But they did just that.  The more we were together, the more they wanted to be together. We were finding community.  We studied the very basics of our faith in scripture.  We prayed together each week- and I discovered only a couple of them had ever prayed out loud before.  We brought in food and occasionally did our study at the Jade Dragon for dinner.  We became a fellowship, sharing life together and learning to lean on one another and on Jesus.  We began discussing life's important issues and how faith could and should be a part of our everyday lives.  It was incredible to watch what happened to that little group in one school year.  And David Knecht- the person to whom I felt God was entrusting the long term care of that ministry- was a part of all of it as well.  When it finally came time for me to leave UC in October of 2001 I had trouble letting to of that amazing, spirit-filled bunch.

When you spend as many years in ministry as I did, hindsight often gives you surprising answers when you seek to determine the people who had the most impact on your life.  The names you see above would fit that description.  And tomorrow I will induct into my Youth Group Hall of Fame a co-worker from Kissimmee who is always on my mind in the Christmas season and should have made the HOF way before now.  See you then!

Jesus- the only hope for me is you...and You alone!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Do You Do Acts 2:42?

I had a professor at Guilford College who used to always tell us that there are millions of Christians in the world but only a small number who actually understand what it means to be in relationship with the wild, radical, rebellious and loving Jesus that we find in scripture.  We USAmericans don't like our Jesus that way.  We want him to be easy to contain, to define and to follow.  We want to go to church on Sunday and then put Him back in the box until next week.  The professor then pointed out that one way to discover if you were truly in fellowship with the living Christ was to ask yourself this question:  "Do you do Acts 2:42?"   Here is what this very simple description of the earliest church says:

Acts 2:42 (NIV):  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

I tried for many years to use this model of ministry in my youth groups, seeking to keep in mind all 4 aspects of this verse.  Were we devoted to the teachings of scripture and the leaders around us?  Did we spend time together, sharing life and becoming family?  Did we eat together and take time to remember Jesus and his sacrifice?  Were we a people of prayer?  Very seldom were we on target with all 4 at once; but we were always striving towards the goal.

As the autumn of 2000 commenced and I began to try and turn around the student ministry of the Union Church of Hinsdale, I was realizing we were not being very faithful to any of those 4 directives.  I decided to try and form a small group that could serve as a model for the entire ministry- a place where we would seek to live in the true Christian community (Koinonia) described in Acts.  I invited anyone who was interested to join us for a weekly Bible study group that would be very important to the future of our student ministry.  After a few weeks of scattered attendance, a core group began to settle in.  I eliminated the high school/middle school division for this program, hoping to build some bridges in the ministry.  Around 10 students and a couple of other adults became the example of what I wanted to see the entire ministry become- and they were an amazing bunch through whom we began to see God's vision for UC come to light.  More on that tomorrow. 

 In the meantime, check yourselves.  Do you do Acts 2:42?  Are you involved with a group of people with whom you share life and a love of Jesus?  Many are not, and it is one of the reasons young adults often fall away from church after being very active in the youth group years.  They miss the family feel and fellowship.  They miss the opportunity to talk about their spiritual journeys.  They miss the shared meals and the silliness.  They miss prayer time with the gathered community.  Are you missing those things?  It is a question worth prayerfully considering today.  It's what church was meant to be...

Jesus- the only hope for me is you...and You alone!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Exceeding Great Joy

Luke 2 8-18 (The Message): There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."  At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises: "Glory to God in the heavenly heights,  Peace to all men and women on earth who please him."

On the TV show Rules of Engagement this past Monday, one of the main female characters was beginning a new job.  As she visited with friends over breakfast, one of the male leads, commenting on her low cut dress, wondered aloud if her new job was in "the world's oldest profession."  Another male friend, Adam (who is a little slow on the uptake), chuckled under his breath.  He then said, "HA!  He just called you a shepherd..."

Shepherds have long been laughed at.  It has always amazed me that God chose to make His big birth announcement to shepherds.  Uneducated, smelly and all alone out in the fields, loved only by the sheep they looked our for, shepherds were pretty much at the bottom of the social barrel.  It certainly seems an odd choice, and their initial reaction- "they were terrified"- must have had them looking for places to hide.  But it was to them that the angel appeared and explained where to find the Christ-child.  It was to them that the angel choir sang the magnificent words "Glory to God in the highest!"  And it was them who ventured into Bethlehem to worship the newborn King and spread the word of His birth.

But of course God knew exactly what he was doing and chose exactly the right people.  He chose people who were faithful.  They listened to the angels and responded.  They understood the exceeding great joy this announcement would bring to the people.  And perhaps most importantly, they were common, unimportant and needy.  They represented the very people to whom God was sending the gift of his Son.  Jesus did not come just for the rich and the powerful- He was a gift to us all.  The fact that God chose shepherds as his target audience for the only "flashy" part of that holy night speaks volumes.

The third Advent candle we light today is the candle of Joy.  Once they got past being terrified, the shepherds certainly felt great joy.  And today, those who understand the gift we were given that night so many years ago know that joy as well.  We live in what is so often a joyless world.  To know Jesus is to understand that we can find joy even when we don't know happiness.  To follow Jesus is to understand that there is joy in the journey.  As you go through this week, remember that the message of the angel's visit to the shepherds is that no matter how unimportant, powerless or smelly you feel, Jesus came for you.  Despite my sin and failures, Jesus was born so I could know God's love.  Talk about exceeding great joy...

Jesus- the only hope for me is you...and You alone!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday Shout Outs!

It's baby week on the Shout Outs!  Seems like every time I turned around this week there was news about babies being born or getting close to arrival.  So today (among other things) I'll take some time to catch you all up on the baby news.  But first, by popular demand (OK, so two people on Twitter asked for it) here is my recipe for Sausage & Cheese Balls.  They are a breakfast staple at the Jones' house, and especially popular this time of year.  All you do is mix 3 cups of Bisquick, 2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and one package of hot sausage (Tennessee Pride if you can get it) in a mixing bowl.  Then just get in there with your hands and mush it all together until you have one giant ball.  Tear off pieces and roll them into small balls, place on a cookie sheet and bake for 13 minutes at 350 degrees.  They are best when eaten straight out of the oven.  Invite me over if you need a tester!  OK, on to the shouts:
  • This week on Facebook there was a "numbers game" making the rounds, as well as mass confusion over whether changing your avatar to a cartoon character was honoring a charity or helping pedophiles.  In response to all of this nonsense, Kelly Allen Olmeda (Springfield Friends) posted the following message: "So be careful guys...pretty soon we may learn that the whole NUMBER GAME was a plot started by terrorist pedophile tree monkeys plotting to invade our homes and steal the cookies and milk left out for Santa on Christmas Eve, using the numbers as some sort of code.  Just sayin..."  Too funny.  Kelly you are hilarious, and Tyrone is a liar...  (Inside joke- see Floridays 1990 post for details!)
  • Congratualtions to Sara Thacker Reiter (FUMC-K) and her hubby Mark on the birth of Sadie Virginia Reiter.  She was a month early, but everyone is doing fine.  Congrats also go out to Uncle Ben Thacker & Aunt Dani, grandparents Rusty & Cathy Thacker, and might-as-well-be aunt and uncle Jerry & Melissa Hanbery.  Sadie is a very lucky girl to be born into such an amazing family!
  • Also welcomed to our world this week was Jeffrey Clifford Bard, son of Carrie Lewis Bard (FUMC-K) and husband Wesley, and grandchild of Craig & Joanne LewisUncle Connor Lewis is bursting with joy as well as he and his wife are expecting another child in 2011!
  • Johnny Depp was on Letterman this week, and he told a joke he learned from Al Pacino "A skeleton walks into a bar, and orders a beer...and a mop."  Think about it.  Apparently Al find it hysterical...
  • Jason & Kass Fry (FUMC-K) are closing in on the birth of their first child, and we will keep you posted.  Or you may just hear Grandpa Jim and Grandma Karen yelling all the way from St. Cloud.  And staying in the family, Sarah Crudele-Fry had a birthday this week.  I hope she and Josh celebrated in style!
  • Meagan Hill Halquist (FUMC-K) continues to roll on towards her due date.  She and hubby Rich are making preparations for the arrival of Cooper, and you can read all about it at her very entertaining blog
  • And finally, our old friends Ray & Katie Luther (Springfield Friends) received an answer to the long-standing prayers of many this week when the child they have adopted, Carson Nehemiah Luther, was born in Kissimmee.  They were down for the birth and should be home by now.  For those who don't know, Ray followed me as youth pastor at Springfield and then moved on to become Senior Pastor there- a position he still holds.  He and Katie were unable to have children of their own, and this story of adoption has several miraculous turns.  The birth mother, a single mom of 4, went to have an abortion, but could not go through with it.  Later on she had a vision of what the woman who would be her child's mother would look like.  When she leafed through the adoption book, she saw Katie's picture and knew it was her.  God is truly amazing.  And one final cool thing for Marilyn and I- he was born in Osceola Regional Hospital, less than a mile from FUMC-K and our old house in Kissimmee.  Go God!
That's it for today.  As always, thanks to all of my readers. I hope you are feeling the spirit of this holiday season and remembering that the birth of Jesus was gift of the grace that saves us all. 

Jesus- the only hope for me is you...and You alone!