Thursday, March 31, 2011

CCM Thursday: Newsboys Top 10 (Twice!)

Today's Top 10 is a little different. I wanted to honor the great band Newsboys, who had such a huge impact on my youth groups at FUMC-Kissimmee and Wesley Memorial UMC.  But they are an ever evolving band, and have lots of newer music I am not aware of.  In fact, you may not know that they are currently on their third different lead singer (following John James and Peter Furler)- Michael Tait of dc Talk fame!  So I asked my Twitter friend Jennifer Wethington, a self-proclaimed Newsboys freak (her Twitter name is @LuvLibertyDisco) to send me her Top 10 list.  Here it is, complete with explanations!

10)  Take Me To Your Leader- Always reminds me of the good ol' days when Duncan played the keyboards.  (Take Me To Your Leader, 1996)
9)   I Cannot Get You Out Of My System -the music video = awesome  (Not Ashamed-1992)
8)   One Shot -I enjoy the lyrics so much, specifically the Facebook/Twitter part! (Born Again- 2010)
7)   Born Again -I love hearing this song live, and SHOUTING the chorus!! ( Born Again -2010)
6)   Lost The Plot - So passionate. (Take Me To Your Leader- 1996)
5)   Elle G. -It made me cry  (Going Public- 1994)
4)   No Grave -Love the message!  (In the Hands of God- 2009)
3)   Say You Need Love - "Heard it said you're an accident, biological mistake; So you're a love child, who could say it better; a physical grace, a perfect display."  Powerful.  (Love, Liberty, Disco- 1999)
2) Take My Hands (Praises) - This song, no joke, changed my life. It started my love for Newsboys; it started my love for music. (Adoration: The Worship Album- 2003)
1)   Love Liberty Disco - Not only is this my all-time favorite song, it's a part of who I am.(Love, Liberty, Disco- 1999)

An awesome list, Jennifer, and I think you so much for sharing it.  But I have to admit you left off a few that I just have to mention.  So here's how my old school list would look:

10)  Love, Liberty, Disco - I too, love this one- although not as much as Jennifer.  :)  And who could forget the Airdome Tour- with no Airdome!  Right, FUMC-K?
9)  Not Ashamed - First Newsboys song I ever heard.  Awesome message.  (Not Ashamed- 1992)
 8)  Entertaining Angels - This song (and video) gave me hope all was not lost after John James left the group. (Step Up To the Microphone- 1998)
7)  Take Me To Your Leader-  Again, I agree with Jennifer. Also my favorite Newsboys album, and #3 on my CCM Countdown!
6)  Fad of the Land-  A great rocker about steering clear of false idols and fads.  (Thrive- 2002)
5)  Wherever We Go - "Wherever we go, that's where the party's at..."  Great song.  (Go - 2006)
4)  He Reigns - One of the truly great songs of praise ever written.  (Adoration: The Worship Album- 2003)
3)  It Is You-  One of my favorite worship songs in Tampa and Waycross.  (Thrive- 2002)
2)  Breakfast-  I dare you not to sing (and whistle!) along.  Great live.  (Take Me To Your Leader- 1996)
1)  Shine "Make 'em wonder what you've got..."   Loved singing this with youth groups and trying to make all the words fit.  One of the top 5 videos ever!  (Going Public- 1994)  
And the amazing thing is we've still left out a lot of classics!  Did we miss your favorites?  Let us hear about it!  Our lists my disagree, but we totally agree on one thing- Newsboys have made a ton of great music, and they are not done yet!  Thanks again, Jennifer.  I'm off to listen to Born Again!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I have mentioned here before that when I arrived at Tampa's Wesley Memorial UMC in October of 2001 there were some innate problems with the youth ministry.  I moved slowly the first year when it came to making drastic changes and severing ties with the past, but with the huge influx of new 6th graders in August, 2002 (see Monday's post), it was time to start swinging my axe!  Here are 4 of the traditions I found on my arrival that I decided to hack away at in order to take our ministry where I felt God was leading us to go...
    A trust building game in The Overflow.
  1. Meeting space.  We had no space of our own to meet in.  The Fellowship Hall was occupied by our children's ministry (more on that in a few) during the same time period on Sunday afternoons.  There were no classrooms large enough for us.  So for a number of years the student ministry had met in the church sanctuary.  From my first day on the job I was not happy about this set-up.  First of all, the space was too big.  Thirty youth in a room that sits 500 is just not a good match.  No matter how good a crowd turned out, it always felt tiny.  Also, I have always enjoyed wild and sometimes messy indoor games as part of my youth meetings.  I cannot stress enough how much trouble you can get in for throwing pies in the sanctuary.  And finally, it didn't feel like "our" turf.  There was nothing "youthy" about it.  All the pews faced forward, so group discussions were difficult.  It was a beautiful worship space for our church.  As a youth room it had serious problems.  There was, however, a large empty space in the back- The Overflow - that could be closed off from rest of the worship room.  And that became my target area...
    Worship in The Overflow
  3. Worship.  The tradition with the youth of WMUMC was that worship took place in the sanctuary, and it was the first thing they did at youth fellowship each week.  The music was led by a Praise Band consisting of a few students and some adults.  Joining us for this part of our time together were all of the kids and leaders from our children's ministry (they also joined us for snack time).  All of these things were problematic.  I wanted to be able to have worship to close our time together, or in the middle, or whenever.  The Praise Band was so loud and the room so large that you couldn't actually tell if anyone was singing or not.  Having the kids with us must have looked good on paper, but in reality it limited what we could do and it limited our flexibility.  I always (from Day 1 in 1978) wanted my students to arrive at youth asking the question, "What will happen today?"  The way we were set up at the time, the question was moot.  We had to do the same things at the same time every week.  Soooo....   I uninvited the children, with the trade-off that I would bring youth to do worship for their Promiseland Sunday School program every Sunday morning.  We moved to The Overflow, changed worship to the end of the program (most of the time!) and re-imagined the Praise Band with our newly arrived Contemporary Worship Leader, Jason Deese.  For the time being, I would go old school on them and lead music with just my acoustic guitar.  It was awesome- turned out this bunch could really sing!  Did anyone fight me on these changes?  Oh yes.  Did they work?  BIG TIME!!!
    The infamous 4-Way Grinder in action.
  5. Games.  As I have written about far too many times to count, I believe building relationships to be a huge part of student ministry.  So after moving from the sanctuary we began to play.  We continued the pre-youth outdoor football game that was very popular with the males (especially the adult male volunteers!) and added more wild, crazy, unusual group building games to the mix.  I must have had a dozen students say to me in those first few months something along the lines of, "WOW!  I never knew that youth group could be FUN!"  And then, just when they thought they had me figured out, I broke out the 4-Way Grinder.  Things were never sane after that...
    "I'm goin' to Graceland..."
  7. The Name.  The previous youth pastor had tagged the group with the name God's Property after the Kirk Franklin group of the same name.  While there was nothing wrong with the name, it just didn't pass my "WOW!" test.   Rather than change it or drop it right away, I just ignored it.  I never uttered those words in the first year.  They popped up on my office computer everyday (she had left under bad circumstances and taken some passwords with her...) but I just let it ride.  I built a website for our ministry at some point early on, and it was around that same time that I began asking for suggestions for a new name.  I received a number of suggestions, but after talking it over with our Youth Ministry Team and some of the student leaders I decided on Graceland.  I'll write more about that on Friday.
Change is always scary, but it is often the catalyst for growth and new adventure.  Such was the case with these changes, but they didn't come without a price.  There will always be people who oppose change.  But here is my student ministry leadership thought for today- If you are still doing everything the same way, with the same events and programs and the same names as your predecessor, then are you really necessary?  Very seldom can I say this about my life, but looking back at these changes I wouldn't do anything different.  We were ready for some "good times"...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Who Do You Say That I Am?"

Back in the late 1960s and early 70s I grew up around a number of people who believed the following:  Jesus was a great teacher, a prophet, and an example of how we should live our lives.  He was a great man.  But that didn't necessarily mean he was the Son of God.  And for a brief period in my teen years I bought into that a little bit.  Maybe they were right.  Maybe Jesus was just a really cool dude.

But then I began to look at scripture and see what Jesus had to say about himself.  In Exodus we learn that Moses is to tell the Hebrew people that God's name is I AMJesus knew that, and used that name over and over again to identify himself to his Jewish audience.  He is especially provocative with this in John 8:58: “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I AM!”   In John 8:12, Jesus once again claims the name of God as his own- "I AM the light of the world."  In John 4:25-26 Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah to the Samaritan woman at the well-  "The woman said, 'I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.'  Then Jesus declared, 'I, the one speaking to you—I am he'.”   Not much doubt there, huh?

When he asks Peter the famous, "Who do you say that I am?" question in Matthew 16:15-16 and Peter responds, "the Messiah; the Son of the living God," Jesus congratulates him on his answer.  Time and again in the gospels Jesus tells the world that he is the long-awaited Messiah, the only begotten Son of God.  He knows who he is and he understands his mission.

So what does all of that mean to us today?  It means that before there can be any Jesus Revolution there has to be a confession of faith.  Who do we say Jesus is?  And from my perspective, here are the choices.  Either Jesus was who he said he was, or he was the crazed, demon possessed wacko the Pharisees thought him to be.  Either Jesus was the Messiah, sent to save us from ourselves and our sins, or he was the most outrageous liar who ever lived.  I have spent a lot of years looking, and I can find no middle ground.  How can someone be a "perfect example of how to live our lives" and go around telling such over-the-top lies?  How can someone be a "great teacher and prophet" if everything he claims to be in untrue?  We are left with a choice.  And before we can be the radical Jesus Freaks that the revolution calls for, we must answer the same question Peter did: "Who do you say that I am?"  And we must answer it for all the world to hear.

As for me, I know that I know that I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and the God incarnate who gave his life to save mine.  Today I invite you to leave a comment and share your answer to the question- Who do you say Jesus is?  Be bold! The Jesus Revolution in your life can start right now...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, March 28, 2011

Transfusion & Transition

Alex, Lexi, Santa and Ariel
 As we began the 2002-2003 school year at Wesley Memorial UMC we welcomed a new group of 6th grade students into the student ministry.  Being a small group, our high school and middle school students were all part of the same ministry.  That was not our problem.  Our problem, as I have mentioned before, is that just prior to my arrival the group had lost a number of high school students who had been important leaders in the group.  Then shortly after my arrival our senior pastor was moved, taking his two very popular teenagers with him.  And finally, two other very established youth (their mom was our children's director) had become so deeply immersed in soccer that after our 2002 Myrtle Beach trip we seldom saw them again.  The remaining youth were having a hard time adjusting to life without all of these departed friends.  Some of the older girls were on the verge of bailing out on me because they no longer had close friends around.  It was tough.  We needed some new blood.

Cullen & Colton
 Enter the new 6th graders.  Lots of them.  As I have mentioned in posts about previous stops in my career, every now and then you can see a class of students coming from a mile away that you know will change your group for forever.  This bunch was clearly going to provide us with the transfusion we desperately needed.  Included in this amazing group were kids who would go on to change that ministry- Zach Wehr, Colton Myers, Skylar Rogers, Cullen O'Brien, Matthew Preston, Alexis Woods, Alexandra Smith, Ariel Ringo and many more.  They hit the ground running and never looked back.  Their presence allowed some of the returning students to assume the role of mentors, and soon I could feel the ministry starting to take off...

But to go along with our transfusion, we also needed a transition.  It was time to cut some ties with the past and head in a new direction.  If we wanted to start hitting on all cylinders, we had to take our Sunday meetings, our Wednesday bible study and our fellowship events up a notch.  We had to change the way we did worship.  We needed to change the space we used for our meetings.  And we needed to refocus our ministry on Jesus.   Come back Wednesday and I'll tell you some of the radical changes that turned that "youth group" into Graceland!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What Quakerism Taught Me

Max Rees & myself-  SFM becomes a state historic site.
 On Friday I tried to give my readers an overview of the mass confusion that is the Society of Friends.  Today I want to share with you the incredible gifts that Quakerism gave to my spiritual life.  I left as the youth pastor of Springfield Friends Meeting in 1994; in the years since I have never moved my church membership.  I am still a Quaker...and here are just a few of the things that being Quaker has taught me:
  • Christianity, at its' root, is all about Jesus.  The theologies, dogma, traditions and language that separate us just don't matter if our hearts belong to the Christ.  Being Quaker taught me to love the Acts church and to understand that we need to strip down our "religion" and get back to radical Christianity- following Jesus.  Quakerism taught me that my entire ministry should be about doing Acts 2:42.  It's probably the most controversial Quaker belief (although being a pacifist isn't all that popular) I still hold dear- that the ritual and traditions of the "church" are not necessary.  Jesus is.  Fellowship is.  Love is.
  • All people are equal before God.  And I don't just mean a human rights kind of equality.  We can all go directly to the throne and speak with our Creator.  We don't need a pastor to intercede because in Jesus we already have a "High Priest" who goes before us.  This applies not only to prayer (which many Protestants believe) but also to worship.  For many years (and in many places still today) Quakers would gather on First Day (Sunday) in silence.  People would rise and speak when moved by the Holy Spirit.  This "open worship" is near and dear to my heart, for it taught me to be "be still and know..."  It taught me focus and about opening my heart to God.  It allows me to worship no matter where I am and no matter who is with me- because God is always there.  Even now as I worship each week in a church with a great band and an awesome preacher, I still miss silence (see a previous post on the subject).  But I will never be without the knowledge that because of Jesus I have personal access to the God of the universe, and that I do not require a preacher or music or anything else to worship my God...
  • Being Quaker taught me to be non-judgemental and open to the fact that it is entirely possible that I might be wrong.  I became a pacifist because I believe that is what Jesus taught, but I don't threaten those who disagree with me.  I learned to accept the opinions of others without condemnation because almost everyone around me had different interpretations of scripture, dogma and tradition than I did.  I learned about conflict resolution and compromise, while at the same time knowing Q's who went to jail for standing up for things they believed in.  But mostly I learned and believed that there is "that of God in everyone."  NOT that everyone IS God, but that each of us is made in the image of God and that Jesus came for all of us (see John 1- the Light is in us all!).  We all have a divine spark- even those who have not yet discovered it.  That belief has governed the way I treat people for most of my life, and it has allowed me to offer grace when others offer judgement.  For that I am eternally thankful.
  • My time amongst Friends taught me a lot about labels.  During my early years in NC I was considered to be (and was) a very liberal Christian.  I had a disdain for the more conservative Quakers and other protestants, and they didn't like me much either.  Then I took the position in New England- and I was suddenly the most conservative Quaker in a six state area.  Nothing about me changed, but my surroundings did- and so did my label.  I came back to NC a year later a changed man.  It was a great lesson in just how ridiculous and dangerous labels can be.  If you ever catch me labeling myself or anyone else, call me on it, because it's wrong.  There are only 2 I allow- we are all sinners, and we are all saved by grace.  Now THOSE are good labels!
  • I decided to leave Quakers in 1994, in part because I was very frustrated with trying to explain Quakerism to the parents of the students who were flocking to our youth ministry from the community.  In my humble opinion, the greatest weakness in the Society of Friends is that they have lost a great deal of their uniqueness and their presence in the community.  Over the years I identified myself as a Q only to be confused with the Amish, the Pilgrims and even the Mormons.  Traditional Quaker "testimonies"- peace, simple living, style of worship, the absence of ritual (and presence of silence) in worship, consensus in the business of the meeting- are issues that divide Quakers rather than identify them.   Some individual churches and meetings have an identity in their communities, but on the whole there are not many qualities for the denomination to hang its' collective hat on .  It is difficult to "sell" anything when you are unable to describe the product.  And as result, an always small movement is becoming endangered.  But that very weakness- diversity and a lack of orthodoxy and dogma- is also an incredible strength.  When surrounded by many differing beliefs you must decide for yourself what is true.  You learn that worship requires participants, not spectators.  You learn tolerance and respect.  I did not walk away from my teen years simply repeating a creed or practicing church ritual- I understood that regardless of your interpretation, Christianity is all about Jesus.  At a young age, my faith was already very much my own.  Remember the old book All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten?  Well all I really needed to know about following Jesus I learned from Quakers.  For that I am forever grateful... 
So Jason (and others), I hope these 2 posts have helped.  If not, feel free to keep asking questions.  Quakers have long felt questions (which they call "queries") are often more helpful than answers- just as Jesus did.  And if you would like to take the time and attempt to dissect the theology of the Q's, feel free to have at it.  It's difficult to tear down or defend an orthodoxy or dogma that really doesn't exist.  But do remember that at my core I am still a Quaker- so in case of emergency, please be quiet...

Because of Jesus (who is non-denominational :P),

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Youth Ministry Artifacts- #2

Today's artifact comes from 1981.  It's a poster that was distributed with the book, Catching the Rainbow: The Complete Youth Ministries Handbook, Vol. 2. 

Professional student ministry was still in it's "toddler" stage when J. David Stone (see Influences) began touring the country with his team from Creative Youth Ministry Models in the late 70s with ideas from The Complete Youth Ministries Handbook- Vol. 1 (best book name EVER!) and changed my life and my ministry forever.  When I first walked into a room as a youth pastor in 1978 I had absolutely no idea what I needed to be doing.  By the time Dave and his gang were finished with me, I had a plan.  And that plan was called Wholistic Youth Ministry.  Wholistic is not a real word, but it was a great idea, and the grandfather of the purpose driven movement of the 1990s.  The concept was simple.   A youth ministry should minister to the whole teenager.  You cannot separate the spiritual life of a student from her/his emotional, physical and social life and expect to have any true impact.  We were challenged to implement programs and events that would seek to minister in each of these areas.  That meant spending time with youth on their turf- home, school and places they hang out.  It meant playing games, having fun and taking trips that allowed you to connect with the whole person.  It meant celebrating the important days in the lives of your students and being there for the bad times.  It meant a whole lot of work for a youth pastor and volunteers- but it was SO worth it!  The problem was, far too many of us were still running around throwing random events at these different areas with no real plan.  That's where the rainbow came in.

The rainbow offered up a three-track process to help us reach "the pot of gold" which was Koinonia- true Christian community as found in Acts 2:42.  The first track was a Leadership Track called "The 4 Phases of Ease" that laid out a basic plan for training students and adult volunteers to help you with this mountain of ministry you were seeking to accomplish.  You can read more about the 4 Phases by clicking here.  Looking back now, the really cool thing about this process is that it is the way almost everyone does leadership training, but we never even know we are doing it.  It was that practical.   

The second band of the rainbow was an Education Process Track.  Too many churches (and this is still true today) thought that if you put young people in a room and told them about Jesus you would build a youth group and discover Koinonia.  The fact was and still is that community and relationships must be intentionally built.  The 4 steps of the track walk you through the process.  Teenagers come to your church from so many different cliques, backgrounds and social groups that it is often difficult for them to make new friends at youth.  So we allow them the opportunity to tell their stories and build a shared history.  Trips, parties, casual get-togethers and even the hated lock-in provide such opportunities- as long as we make certain the events are structured in such a way that sharing takes place not only with established friends but with new people as well.  It is only after this step that students begin to be willing to risk trust, to set goals and to count on one another- and you.  It was my experience that the further along this track you saw students move, the more they became willing to risk following Jesus.  And that rocks.

The final track is the Theological Track, contributed to the rainbow by Dr. John Westerhoff, at the time a professor at Duke.  It assumes that most students we work with are at various points of a spiritual journey, and that our task is not to give them our faith, but rather to help them take ownership of their own faith.  To get there, we must allow students to question, doubt, explore and experience.  This is scary.  But if we really believe that Christianity is a life we lead and not just a creed we profess, then this track is hugely important.

So why is this artifact still meaningful?  I believe it can serve as a reminder to youth pastors and churches everywhere.  We live in a time of specialization.  Churches are no different.  Worship leaders are defined by the style of music they prefer.  Pastors have particular preaching styles.  Worship is emergent, traditional, contemporary or primitive, with seldom any crossover.  And student ministry is going down that same road.  Ministries are specializing.  Some groups are all about service and worship.  Others focus on bible study and theology.  Some have abandoned "youth group" all-together in favor of a youth-only worship service (don't get me started- that's a whole different post).  I just hope we remember our example- Jesus the Christ.  He was seriously into Wholistic Ministry.  He healed the sick (physical).  He loved the unwanted (emotional).  He ate dinner with those he wanted to connect with (social).  He taught us a new way to live and to love (theological).  And He died for us (service).  So- youth pastors and those who love the church, hear me well- your students, first and foremost, need Jesus.  They need to study scripture and pray for one another. They also need to laugh and play together.  They need to sit with you and hear your stories and see how much you love your spouse.  They need to share history together through trips and events that will stay in their minds a lifetime. They need to learn to serve "the least of these."  They need to grow into a community that will love and support one another like an Acts 2:42 church should.  And these things will only happen if you are intentional about seeing them happen.  There is nothing- NOTHING- better to me than seeing a youth group reach Koinonia and watching them love Jesus, each other than the world. 

So check yourselves.  Are you being wholistic, or are you becoming a specialist?  Is your ministry taking steps towards reaching the "pot of gold" that is true Christian community?  I pray you are, and that these warnings are not needed.  Don't make me write The Complete Youth Ministries Handbook, Vol. 3.  I'd do a whole chapter on why churches should make lock-ins and beach trips mandatory...   :)

Because of Jesus,

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Query About Quakers

As new folks have begun following this blog through connections made on Twitter I have received numerous questions about student ministry and my advancing age.  People have been curious about my life and my ministry.  But lately, I seem to be getting lots of queries (inside Quaker joke) about my Quaker background.  And this week Jason Huffman just came right out and asked the question I have been dreading: "What's the deal with Quakers?" (OK- so that is how Seinfeld would have asked it, but you get the point).  There is no easy answer, but today (and Sunday) I will attempt to shed some light on the Society of Friends- the people called Quakers.

First of all, let me lay out my qualifications for even attempting this.  I was born a Quaker and attended Asheboro Friends Meeting my first 4 years of life, but I remember very little of that.  After a sojourn as a Methodist, I began attending youth group at New Garden Friends Meeting in 1972.  From that point on, I was very much a part of the Society of Friends.  I would eventually work 6 summers at a Quaker camp; serve three Friends Meetings (15 years) as a youth pastor, serve as the Yearly Meeting (conference wide) youth director for Quakers in New England and serve 5 years as the head of the conference youth activities committee in NC.  I was a speaker and music leader at a couple of national Quaker youth events.  I was also on national boards for camps and missions.  Although I last served with Quakers in 1994, I have been back to NC to speak at a number of camps and conferences.  It's fair to say I know my way around the Q's...

So then why is is this so difficult?  Because in reality, there is no one answer to any question about Quaker beliefs.  There is no orthodoxy among Friends.  It is an individual faith, based on leadings from the Holy Spirit.  The classic Quaker story that best sums up what it is like to make your way through the maze of differing beliefs and practices is this:  One Quaker says to another, "I fear everyone is a little odd except for me and thee, dear Friend.  And frankly, I'm a little worried about thee..."   So as you read my thoughts, do it knowing that there are many life-long Quakers who will disagree with almost everything I write.  Despite that, here we go...

Let's look at some basics first.  Quakers first appeared in England around 1652 when a man named George Fox had a spiritual conversion that led him to believe that it was Jesus, not the organized Church of England, that he should be following.  He wrote in his journal that heard a voice speak to him, saying "there is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to your condition."  He began to preach this "gospel" all over the countryside and it got him arrested.  Among the things he preached were the equality of all people.  He actually had the nerve to preach that all men were equal in the eyes of God- Kings and paupers alike!  These "friends of Jesus" (see John 15:14) refused to take off their hats for anyone but God. believing only God deserved that type of respect.  Fox believed that God could and would speak directly to each of us if we would only stop and listen.  Quakers got their name because as they would wait on God to speak to them they would "quake" in anticipation of that moment.  It was a derisive nickname meant to humiliate them, and it stuck.  Early Quakers came to believe that the sacraments and many other church traditions had lost their meaning and had become empty rituals.  They disliked symbolism.  The sought to strip Christianity down to the bare essentials- and the bare essential was Jesus.  They eventually came to USAmerica, where they encountered mixed results.  William Penn and the Philadelphia experiment was a good thing.  Having 4 of their number hung on Boston Commons- not so much.  Those hangings are still the only public executions for purely religious reasons in the history of our country, even though we weren't a country yet.  Go Quakers!  Quakers are not Amish, although we liked the same hats and shared a fashion sense for a period of time.  Quakers were instrumental in the Underground Railroad that helped end slavery; they were leaders in the equal rights movements and peace movements in most every generation of US history; and they have long been champions of higher education, with dozens of colleges scattered about the country.  It has been written that their contributions to our society have far outweighed their numbers.  You can find Friends Meetings in almost every state, but the largest concentrations are found in Pennsylvania, the Pacific northwest, North Carolina, New England, California and the midwest (Indiana, Ohio & Iowa).  Oh...and Kenya.  Yes, the one in Africa.  There are more Quakers in Kenya than in the rest of the world combined.  Don't ask.  At some point, for a period of time, evangelism was important to Quakers.

So there's some history- let's move on to some beliefs.  Based on what you just read, you know that Quakers are Christians.  Except for the ones who aren't.  There are places where Quakerism has become more eastern mysticism than Christianity.  There are places where you find Friends who have adopted a strictly social gospel, usually associated with working for peace.  They consider the historical Jesus (and his teachings on non-violence) to be important, but downplay the Messiah aspect.  There are other Friends who no longer wish to be associated with the traditional peace testimony of early Friends.  And somehow each of these contrary positions quote George Fox when defending their beliefs.  All of this diverse thinking has lead to all kinds of splits and confusion over the years, leaving most people with the guy on the oatmeal box as the only Quaker they know anything about.  It also has left us with many very confused Quakers.  For instance, many Friends believe that the denomination does not believe in baptism or communion.  This is wrong.  Most meetings and churches do not practice the outward symbols of those sacraments.  The belief is that we are baptised by the Holy Spirit (as Jesus said we would be) and that we should be in constant communion with God.  So most Q's believe but don't practice. Some don't believe. Others do practice.  Man, this is even more confusing than I thought...I think my brain is going to explode!

Quakers do believe in the divine inspiration of scripture.  Except for the ones who don't.  Friends meetings (the church is a building; the gathered body is a meeting for worship - but some still call themselves a church) have pastors, sermons, choirs and music.  Except for the ones who don't.  Some worship services are spent in contemplative silence, waiting on God to speak.  Others resemble traditional protestant worship.  I have met charismatic Quakers as well- and the Kenyan Q's will just blow your mind!  Pretty much any style, any belief or any practice you can think of, I know a Quaker who fits it.  And therein ( in my humble opinion) lies their greatest strength- and their biggest problem.  Sunday I will wrap this up with a look at my experience and how my time spent amongst Friends shaped my faith in so many ways.  Come back for the good stuff.

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, March 24, 2011

CCM Thursday: Extreme Days

At some point in my first year or so at Wesley Memorial UMC we got really into Toby Mac's (of dc Talk fame) first solo project, Momentum.  The first song I ever remember hearing and playing around the youth group was the song Extreme Days.  It is a killer tune that talks about how the world is an extreme place that requires an extreme faith.  This was around the same time that every youth ministry started putting the word extreme in their name or on their t-shirts- or both.  Extreme was in.

Shortly after discovering the album, we came across the movie Extreme Days and watched in at youth.  It is the story of college students travelling across country, exploring faith, relationships and extreme sports.  It has great paintball fights and a great sense of humor, and it does not seek to be heavy handed in its approach to faith questions.  The characters struggle just as we all struggle. The film also taught us a new way to play "Spoons" that we used as a gag for about a year on anyone who had never seen the movie.  To see that scene, click here (it's about 3 minutes into the clip).  It takes a few minutes, but I promise you will laugh!  It quickly became a group favorite that we watched on several occasions. It was so popular, in fact, that someone (I'm looking at you, Christine Gastler!) borrowed my copy and I never got it back- suffering the same fate as several hundred tapes and CDs from over the years!

The soundtrack for the film was primarily cutting edge Christian music, including Toby's title track.  I have included the video below.  With everything that is going on in the world right now, we Christians need to realize that we are more than ever living in extreme days.  But we have the cure- the amazing, outrageous and radical love of Jesus Christ.  Share it!  Have a blessed day!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hall of Fame: Travis Aiken

Future HOF member Justin Overstreet gives Travis a lift!
Some of you may be a bit confused about what it means to be inducted into my Youth Group Hall of Fame.  It would be easy to assume that the students who make such a prestigious list were the absolute cream of the crop, the teenagers who really "got it" and did great things in Jesus' name.  And many of my inductees fit that description. But what gets you into my personal HOF is the relationship we had with one another.  These are the students who I wish could have been a part of every group I ever led, because they brought something special and amazing to the table.  It's been a long time since the last induction, but the time has come to add my first Wesley Memorial UMC student to the roll.  And that person is Travis Aiken.

Travis was one of the guys I met during my interview process with WMUMC, and I remember him so well.  He was wearing a t-shirt, baggy jeans with chains on them and had a colored hair dye in his shaggy do (red or blue I think?).  He looked pretty radical, but I could tell from his questions and body-language that the youth group was important to him.  Over the next 4 years we would share some incredible moments together.  There were lots of highs and a couple of crash landings.  Want to know about life with Travis?  Here are a few stories...
  • We were stopped at a gas station on our way to Myrtle Beach in 2002 when Travis revealed to me one of his goals in life.  He wanted to "moon" someone in all 50 states.  And a nun.  He then informed me that while I was pumping gas he had crossed Georgia off the list...
  • We shared a floor in a small room on our mission trip to Spartanburg, SC in 2003.  Late one night we wrote a song together.  I have no memory of what it was about or what any of the lyrics were, but I do know we called it Toxic Penguin.  Travis and I shared a strange sense of humor.
  • He called me one day to tell me he needed my help breaking up with his girlfriend, who was also a member of the youth group. They had already broken up once, and he was afraid she would leave the group if it happened again.  While he was on his way over, she called and told me the exact same story.  She was afraid he would quit.  Bottom line was they both wanted to break-up.  Easiest counselling session ever- and our friendship continued to grow.
  • We had some of the deepest spiritual conversations I have ever had with a student- in part because Travis never felt obligated to agree with me.  I always wanted our youth to find their own faith, not just parrot back what I believed.  Travis struggled with his faith- and it was real.
  • Travis in action.
  • I cannot count the number of hours we spent together at Lee Garden's Chinese Restaurant, eating from the buffet and talking about life.  Travis was somewhat of a tortured soul; a true artist at heart.  He always felt he could come to me with anything, and I was so thankful for that.  Even when things got bad for him at the church (because of a girl), our relationship stayed strong.
I could go on, but the point is this: Student Ministry, to me, is all about sharing life together.  The good and the bad.  And in the midst of sharing real life, you get a chance to share the real Jesus.  Travis and I got to do just that.  He was always there to help me when I needed his leadership.  He was deeply loved by the other youth, and they would always follow his lead.  He traveled with us to New York, Spartanburg, Myrtle Beach and more, and anytime he wasn't with us I wished he was.  

Hall of Fame youth group careers are not always an indicator of how life will go after graduation.  Travis has not had an easy life, and with my issues he and I (like most of the students from the WMUMC years) are out of touch right now.  But I know his heart, and it's a good one.  And I know this- if you gave me a list of the hundreds of former students I have led over the nearly 30 years I spent in youth ministry and told me to pick some names to start a group, I would always pick Travis.  To me, that just screams Hall of Fame. Welcome aboard, Travis.  If I could remember any of Toxic Penguin I'd sing it to you...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Big Honkin' Prayers

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.  -Ephesians 3:30 (The Message)

Over my years in student ministry one thing I was never afraid to do was dream big.  When I first began working at New Garden Friends Meeting in 1978 I asked God to help me transform the youth group from baby-sitting teenagers into a true ministry, and that was a huge dream.  And God did not fail me.  When I arrived at Springfield Friends in 1986 I began praying that God would make that little church the center of youth ministry in our community- and a few years later God did just that.  And the list could go on through most every stop I made.  I had faith that God could and would "work within me" to accomplish things I could never do on my own.  And I prayed often that my ministry would touch people in ways I could not imagine.  For many years we dreamed big honkin' dreams and we prayed big honkin' prayers- and we believed God would answer them.  And amazing things happened.

Four years ago yesterday my life changed forever (For those of you who don't know what happened, I will get to that story in due time. Thanks for being patient with me.).  My ministry was gone.  As I sought to recover from the sin in my life and the disappointment of the people around me,  I lost all faith in myself but never doubted God.  There was no doubt that Jesus was with me in my darkest hours, and I leaned on Him.  I never worried about forgiveness and grace, because I knew that God would not forsake me.  But I did quit dreaming those big honkin' dreams.  I quit believing that God still wanted to use me.  I quit praying big honkin' prayers that asked Jesus to walk with me into situations that could not be handled alone.  The "dream stealers" of our world began to influence me more than the wild, radical love of Christ.  I went into "safety mode."  I prayed for God to protect me and my family.  I prayed for God to maintain the status quo in our lives.  No longer did pray bold, outrageous prayers- I just wanted to stay out of trouble.  And there was a void in my soul, because God wants us to pray big honkin' prayers

Think about some of the audacious prayers in scripture.  Joshua praying for the sun to stand still.  David praying for strength as he faced Goliath.  The prayer of JabezMoses keeping the faith as the Red Sea parted.  Peter praying for boldness, not safety, when facing the threats of the Romans in Acts 4:29- "Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”   Those are some big honkin' prayers.  And they all have one thing in common- they all involve people doing what is possible and trusting God to handle what seems impossible. 

Part of the reason I began thinking about starting a Jesus Revolution in 2011 is that I knew I needed to get back to praying big honkin' prayers and dreaming big honkin' dreams.  It started with a small enough thing- this blog.  Through what has happened here God began to restore in me the idea that I can still serve Him in ways big and small.  Now through Twitter,  God has "expanded my territory" in ways I could not have imagined.  He has given me a new, audacious, big honkin' dream to pray about.  And that dream is the Jesus Revolution.  That prayer is that is that God will use me to help remind a very confused Church what Jesus taught about love and grace.  I cannot do this alone.  Actually, I can't do it at all.  But God can do more through me than I can request in my wildest dreams.  And He can do the same through you...but only if we pray and dream BOLDLY!  None of this "if it be Your will" hedging of your bets.  Get that weak stuff outta' here.  Pray like the saints- with power and conviction!

So what is your big honkin' dream?  Are you praying that God will lead you forward with "great boldness?"  I'd love to hear what's on your heart so we can pray about it together.  God is ready for a Jesus Revolution.  Are we ready to pray for it?

Because of Jesus,

Monday, March 21, 2011

Night Of Joy 2002

Night of Joy, 2002
The student ministry of Wesley Memorial UMC had some definite momentum as we exited the Summer of '02.  Our mission trip to DC, our Myrtle Beach trip, our Youth Week and all of the little relationship building events had created a sense of community and some real excitement.  Our next big event, Night of Joy at Walt Disney World, seemed to pulling it all together.  We were only going for Saturday night, and we had way too many youth signed up for our van, so I chartered a bus.  We left mid-afternoon on the 90 minute ride over to WDW and were in the Magic Kingdom at 7 PM when the gates opened.  Our group was excited for a variety of reasons.  Some were psyched to hear artists like Audio Adrenaline, Jacquie Velasquez, Plus One and Michael W. Smith.  Others were more interested in Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and the other attractions of the MK.  And the high school guys...well they were just excited about Ed's Sister.

Let me bring you up to speed.  Ed Smith (along with his wife Robyn) was a part of our Youth Ministry Team, and he was with us on this adventure (that's him squatting in the front of the picture).  Ed had a lovely 20-something sister named...well, no one could ever remember.  I didn't know her.  The older guys guys, for whom Ed was the small group leader,  just knew her as Ed's Sister.  And they were all "in love."  When word leaked that Ed's Sister (front row, far left) would be joining us at Night of Joy their excitement levels went through the roof.  There was one (actually lots, but for the purposes of this story, one) major problem.  Ed's Sister would be joined on the trip by her boyfriend, Ed's Sister's Fiance.  Nonetheless, we invaded the park with great energy and enthusiasm and had a marvelous evening.  As we chatted and caught up on everyone's evening in the park on the bus ride home (around 2 AM), I was reminded of an essential truth of student ministry.  An important part of building relationships is a shared history.  Nothing gives a group more of teenagers more shared memories than a trip.  Every trip is a completely unique experience, because that particular group of people will never be together in that place again.  Every person is important to the event.  The memories you create are special to that group and help create a bond that cannot ever be removed.  This trip helped to cement the relationships that had begun to bloom that summer.

A couple of years later we would return to Night of Joy from Tampa with a huge group, staying 2 nights at Disney's All Star Sports Resort and having an amazing weekend.  But the roots of that story (to be told later) could be found in this simple little bus trip from 2002.  And while I like to think my creative planning was the key to the whole thing, I know this to be true- it wouldn't have been the same without great people like Ed Smith... and Ed's Sister!  Every person counts.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Relationships Are Job #1

You can build relationships in the strangest places...
This past week my Twitter friend Danny Ferguson (@proyouthworker) asked myself and a bunch of other youth pastor types to define the purpose of student ministry in 140 characters.  My answer, of course, was building relationships- student to student, adult to student, and everyone to Jesus.  I see people argue all the time that our youth ministries have too much fluff and don't have enough depth- and there is no doubt that is sometimes true.  But the older I get- and the further removed from being a youth pastor I am- the more I believe that after everything else has passed, relationships are what remain- but only if you seek to intentionally build them.  Events and programs and studies are easy.  Relationships are hard work.  Sometimes they become the things with fluff and no depth, and that is a tragedy.  I have been out of student ministry for over 4 years now, but here's a recap of what the relationships built over the years mean to me and some of my former students- just from the past couple of weeks...
  • Earlier this week I got a phone call from Stephanie Greife, a young woman who was a part of the Wesley Memorial UMC group (2001-2005).  She recently moved back to Tampa and was calling to get together and talk, which we hope to do very soon.  She called because she knows that the relationship we built during our years together is not fake or built on sinking sand.  It can withstand hardships. It's real.  I love that.
  • Marilyn and I ate lunch yesterday with Todd Willis, a regular reader of this blog.  Todd was part of the FUMC-K family (1994-2000) and we had not seen him since he and Adam Spafford visited us in Chicago in 2001.  We talked family, religion, politics, old friends and the future.  Todd knows my story and loves me anyway.  Being together after 10 years was no different than seeing him every week.  That's the kind of relationships we ought to be building in youth ministries.
  • Upon my return from lunch I had a tweet from Connor Lewis (FUMC-K) saying that his family would be in Tampa in 2 weeks and wanting to get together.  We haven't seen Connor since his wedding several years ago.  And yet seeing him in 2 weeks will take precedence over anything else on our calendar, because he is that important to us.  Real relationships have real meaning.
  • Lisa Kraus Spires is pregnant, making her one of about 6 former FUMC-K students in that situation.  She is 12 weeks in; I had the honor of praying for her for several weeks while she told no one else in case something went wrong.  All because of the relationship we built 15 years ago when I was her youth pastor.  In a few weeks, Lisa, Caitlin Esry, Bethany Esry, Jerry & Melissa Hanbery and hopefully a few others ( anyone else who will be in Tampa April 9th!) are going to have lunch together over a decade after we went our separate ways.   The relationships are stronger than the years.
  • Ann Saunders Hale and Jamie Robinson from my group at Springfield Friends Meeting (1986-1994) always make me smile on Twitter.  I haven't seen either of them in many years, yet as soon as we found each other through this blog and on Twitter it was as if no time had passed at all.  And I continue to be a prayer partner for another old Springfield youth, Ashley Goad Broadhurst, as she helps build water supply systems in Haiti.  If the relationship was strong, old quickly becomes new again.
I could go on and on.  I am so blessed to have so many of these amazing people still in my life.  I often refer to myself as a former youth pastor, but the fact is that's a lie.  The "life together" we built together in the past means that I will ALWAYS be their youth pastor and their friend.  And they know that too.  So if I had it all do do over again I would change a few things, but the one thing I would never change is this- building relationships would still be job #1.  I have said it before and will do so again- "The miles may separate as life rolls along, but the bond between friends will remain ever strong."  Especially when Jesus is the glue..

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Youth Ministry Artifacts

I was digging through some boxes the other day looking for something completely different when I came across this...

It's my admission ticket for the 1982 Wittenburg Door Banquet, which in those days was the "big finish" to the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention.    That Dallas convention changed my life and ministry in so many ways (you can read more here), but it was the Door banquet that just blew me away.  The speaker for the evening was Dick Gregory, a radical African-American activist and comedian.  His speech that evening was a bit controversial.  It was the the 1982 equivalent of Rob Bell reading from his new book and punctuating his theology with "F-Bombs."  In reality it probably wasn't that bad, but in my memory nearly half the audience got up and left- and this was an event we paid extra to be at!  I was a 23 year old radical Quaker youth pastor, so he was right up my alley.  But I will never forget how strange it felt to me to realize that even in a room full of people who were so much like me- youth pastors who loved Jesus and wanted to bring students into relationship with Him- that we had so many differences.  Nearly 30 years have passed, and the debates may have changed- but they still rage on.

So how do we get past all of the "mess" that sometimes accompanies ministry and focus on what we are here for- connecting students to each other, to caring adults and most importantly to Jesus?  A wise man once said that history wouldn't repeat itself so often if we would just listen the first time.  Though I am no longer an active youth pastor, I still have a great affinity for the great work so many of you are doing, and I want to help.  I hope that you will join me on Saturdays for the next few weeks as we dig into a little student ministry history, exploring some of the things that got us where are and seeing if we are learning from our past.  There is much to discover.  I look forward to looking back together.  :)

Because of Jesus,

Friday, March 18, 2011

Warning Lights

I heard a story this week that seemed to be worth sharing.  A friend of mine (we'll call him John, 'cause that's his name!) was driving across Tampa when a light came on in his car warning him that there was a problem with his brakes.  He had major work done on the braking system less than a year earlier, so this little light really irritated him.  The further he drove the more irritated he got.  Finally, he folded up a piece of paper until it was just big enough to cover up the warning light, and he positioned it so he would no longer see the light.  Feeling much better, he continued his journey. For the next 3 days he drove with that piece of paper covering the warning light.  Then this past Tuesday as he started out for a meeting, John stepped on the brake- and discovered that it no longer worked.  He was able to avoid traffic and use the emergency brake to stop the car, so no one was hurt.  But it really put the fear of God into John as he hopelessly swerved to a stop.  His car is getting new brakes even as I write this.

Life comes with warning lights.  If we have health problems our body will signal to us that we need to see a doctor.  If we have weight problems our clothes cease to fit, indicating that we need to change the way we eat and exercise.  If we offend out friends and neighbors the sudden lack of communication from them often serves as a warning light.  We see these signals.  We know what they mean.  Yet we often choose not to see the lights.  We find our own little pieces of paper and cover them up..  

For Christians, it is no different with sin.  When we are tempted,when we face sin in our everyday lives, we are aware of what is happening.  The Holy Spirit, (ever the Gentleman) gives us little nudges like our own Jiminy Cricket.  Before we ever offend that person, say those words, look at those pictures or covet our neighbor's wife, we think about it.  We feel the Holy Spirit flashing the warning light.  And then we make a decision.  Am I going to stop right now and repair this situation?  Or am I going to cover up the warning light and proceed on my own?

Sin is very seldom about "the devil made me do it!"  Sin is more often a decision we make even as the Holy Spirit reminds us of whose we are.  We choose to cover up the warning lights.  My question for us today is this:  What is it we are using to block out the warning lights in our lives?  If we know and understand our own thinking, we might be quicker to heed the warning lights.  Maybe you minimize: "Look at how much worse HIS sin is than mine!"  And we hide the light.  You might feel entitled"I work so hard for my church, what difference will this one little sin make?"  And we hide the light.  We may feel discouraged and full of self-pity"I have already screwed up so badly- what difference will one more sin make?  Nobody really cares what I do..."  And we hide the light.  After a while we forget the light is even there, and our lives spin completely out of control.  I've been there.  It's a very scary thing.  Life is much better when we heed the warning lights.  The abundant life comes when we listen to the Holy Spirit.

But even in our sin, we must remember that there is one Light that cannot be hidden.  John 1 tells us that the Light (Jesus) came into the world and the darkness cannot overcome it.  There is no sin we can commit that will block out Jesus.  There is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from the grace of God.  We will, on occasion, choose to sin.  We will have all sorts of excuses and reasons as to why we made those decisions.   But in the end, the Great Mechanic- Jesus the Christ- is always there to repair our broken lives.  He does great work that gets us back on the right path.  And the best part?  It's not cheap, but it's always free.  Jesus already paid for it.

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

CCM Thursday: dc Talk Top 10

A while back on this very blog I did a countdown of the 50 contemporary Christian albums (1972-2007) that had the most impact on my life and ministry.  As I struggled to rank the projects from #50 down to #1, the only spot that was never in question was #1.  It would be Jesus Freak from dc Talk, and it was a no-brainer.  Two other dc Talk projects- Free At Last and Supernatural- also appear in that countdown (click here to see it in its entirety).  In the 1990s no song had the impact on youth groups across USAmerica that Jesus Freak did.  So my list of the Top 10 dc Talk songs is really more about numbers 10-2 than it is about #1. 

Although I had heard a few of their early rap songs (Nu Thang), I first became really aware of dc Talk when I saw them open for Michael W. Smith around 1992.  They were playing stuff from Free At Last, and I could not believe how good they were.  I gave away tons of copies of that cassette tape at Springfield Friends Meeting back in the day.  Many songs from Toby, Mike and Kevin had a huge impact on my youth group at FUMC-Kissimmee from 1994-2000.  Some of my guys made a music video featuring Lean On Me.  One of my really intelligent high school guys had always really struggled with his faith until the song Mind's Eye explained his own feelings to him.  We sang In the Light, Colored People, Lean On Me and Into Jesus at youth.  I used Since I Met You for my FUMC-K slideshow on this blog.  We attended the Jesus Freak Tour and the Supernatural Tour.  And we used curriculum form Interlinc to host a special Jesus Freak event.  I think half of the students had Jesus Freak t-shirts.  It's no exaggeration to say that dc Talk was an important part of that ministry.

So here we go.  My favorites, plus a couple that received Twitter votes that I might not have otherwise included.  Your favorite not here?  Comments and complaints are welcome...

10)  Consume Me  (From the 1998 album Supernatural)   
  9)  My Will  (From the 1999 various artists album Exodus)
  8)  Time Is...  (From the 1995 album Free At Last
  7)  Lean On Me  (From the 1992 album Free at Last)
  6)  What If I Stumble?  (From the 1995 album Jesus Freak)
  5)  Luv Is a Verb  (From the 1992 album Free At Last)
  4)  The Hardway  (From the 1992 album Free At Last)
  3)  Supernatural  (From the 1998 album Supernatural)
  2)  In the Light  (From the 1995 album Jesus Freak)
  1)  Jesus Freak  (From the 1995 album Jesus Freak)
  Honorable Mention:  Colored People;  Mind's Eye;  It's Killing Me;  Red Letters;   Like It, Love It, Need It;  My Friend (So Long);   Jesus Is Still Alright   

So there you have it.  I tweeted Toby, Mike and Kevin and asked them for their favorites, but I never got any responses.  So it's up to us!  What did I miss?  Let me hear from you!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Abreadcrumb & Fish

In July of 2002 the student ministry of the Wesley Memorial UMC headed out on their first trip to North Myrtle Beach, SC.  We had a great group of kids, some outstanding adult leadership (Hal & Joanne Gastler)  and lots of genuine excitement.  To make things even better, 3 of my favorite FUMC-Kissimmee youth- Adam Hill, Josh Fry and Sarah Crudele- joined us.  I was excited to have them along to help show my new youth group "The Carl Way."   The Betsy B was no long available, so I found another Ocean Drive beach house to rent.  It was brand new and had many more amenities than the Betsy B, but it was not oceanfront.  We had a great trip with lots of great moments.  But it was very different because of how nice the house was.  Sound odd?  Let me try to explain...

North Myrtle Beach is a very special place to me.  My family would camp there for a couple of weeks each summer when I was a kid.  I travelled there with friends as a high school and college student.  My youth group took trips there.  When I started as a youth director at New Garden Friends Meeting in 1979, we started taking trips to NMB.  For the next 20+ years I often spent at least one week every summer there with youth groups and my family.  For all of those years the main attraction was always the beach.  Wide, sandy and beautiful with just the right amount of waves, we would be out on the beach or in the Atlantic for hours every day.   And we loved it.

Sean Bell & Nina Mock enjoy the pool table.
In 2002 we stayed at the beautiful new Ocean Surf Club (see picture at top).  We had TV and stereo in the house.  We had use of golf carts we could use to explore the little village of Ocean Drive.  We had a billiards table in the house.  And we had to cross Ocean Blvd. to get to the beach.  All of those things, plus a bit of rainy weather, turned the group into land-lovers.  They just didn't go to the beach.  They watched movies, played pool, explored the local shops and hung out.  A couple of the guys (Ken & Philip?) got pulled for illegally driving a gold cart on the street (it wasn't their fault; the realtor had told us it was OK).  We played mini-golf and went to the Pavilion.  We ate great food.  They had a great time.  But it all seemed so odd to me that I wasn't convinced they were having any fun.  Finally toward the end of the week it got warmer and sunny and we spent more time in the ocean.  The trip accomplished much of what I wanted it to- relationship building and gaining the trust of the students.  I just wasn't sure they thought the trip was great.  And I wanted it to be great.  I needed it to be a culture changing event for our youth ministry.

A few weeks later at our regular Sunday evening youth fellowship I was presented with a gift.  The students who presented it said it was a "thank you" for taking the group on that trip. It was a t-shirt that read, Abreadcrumb & Fish- He Still Works Miracles.  The scripture from Matthew 15:36-38 was also included.  Those youth will never know how much that meant to me.  No one had had ever given me a gift simply for planning a trip.  They fact that they had spent their own money to buy it while we were in NMB made it even better.  After being in Tampa for 9 months, I finally felt like I was a part of the family.  Acceptance is a wonderful thing.  At last, things in the student ministry were getting ready to take off.  Graceland was coming...

Because of Jesus,