Saturday, April 30, 2011

7 Things: TV Dinner

Rev. Jim
My friend Eric over at had a post the other day which asked readers to submit a list of 7 living people they had never met with whom they would like to share a dinner table.  This started me thinking about other such lists I might want to make (Coming soon- animated dinner guests!), and so today I give you my list of 7 fictional characters from TV shows with whom I would like to break bread.  If you know me at all, then you know that I would invite a group of strange and wonderful folks, some of whom are among the most bizarre figures in television history- because I want a dinner PARTY!  Since I am old and you may not know all of these unique individuals, I will include a word or two of description and the occasional link to a Youtube video.  Enjoy!  And then be sure to leave your own list as a comment. Here we go:
  1. Rev. Jim Ignatowski, Taxi - Played brilliantly by Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown from Back to the Future) Rev. Jim was a washed out, drugged out hippie who became one of the cabbies in season 2.  His signature moment, and one of the funniest scenes in history, was taking his driving test while his friends tried to help him cheat.  You can see it by clicking  here.
  2. Dr. Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory - Jim Parsons is simply amazing in this role.  He would no doubt dominate the conversation and make everyone feel like an idiot, but I love him.  Bazinga!
  3. Phoebe Buffay, Friends - Not only would she provide quirky conversation and refuse to eat most everything I served, but she could provide the after-dinner entertainment.  "Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you?"
  4. Dr. Walter Bishop, Fringe-  How John Nobles has not won an Emmy for his amazing portrayal of both Walter and the Walternate is beyond me.  His love of bizarre foods and eccentric chat would keep things going, plus he would be an intellectual match for Sheldon.  As long as we let him take his tapioca pudding and his LSD...
  5. Sue Sylvester, Glee - Because no matter how smart or how right everyone else at the table thinks they are, she is smarter and "righter."  Just ask her.
  6. Cosmo Kramer, Seinfeld - It would be worth it just to see him make his signature entrance in to the room, but Kramer would also be so random with his thoughts that the course of the conversation would keep changing all evening.  Plus there had to be a representative from Seinfeld, and I am NOT inviting George...
  7. Dr. Johnny Fever, WKRP In Cincinnati - The ultimate radio personality, Johnny once was once fired from a station for saying "booger" on the air.  He is usually totally "out of it" and would be a dynamite fit with this cast of characters.  Actually, I would take most anyone from the cast of WKRP.  See the video below (a 30 second quick cut of their most famous episode) if you are not familiar with them...

So there's my list.  Dinner would never be same.  And after dinner, I'm teaching them to play Cocktail, the best card game ever.  Now ...who's coming to your  party?

Friday, April 29, 2011

An Untold Story

"It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell."  - James 3:5-6  (The Message) 

When I began writing this blog in August of 2009 I did it for several noble reasons. I wanted the discipline of writing everyday.  I wanted to tell many of the old stories of my life in student ministry one more time before senility sets in.  I wanted to reconnect with old friends after a few years of being "off the grid."  And primarily, I wanted to begin to once again lift high the name of Jesus in some sort of public ministry.  Those things are being accomplished here with varying degrees of success, and I am very thankful for the many ways God has blessed my efforts here.

However...  Since the very start of my story-telling there was one particular era of my ministry I was looking forward to writing about.  In the chronology of my time spent working in churches, we have reached that time.  The final year and a half (2004-05) I spent at Wesley Memorial UMC in Tampa played out like a badly written soap opera- with no sex (I told you it was badly written!).  It featured a charismatic leading man who was beloved by all- except those who REALLY knew him.  It featured power-hungry church members who abused their power and leadership roles.  It featured financial intrigue, cover-ups of a Watergate proportion and misleading (and sometimes completely untrue) information given to a congregation.  There were lots of older church members trying to sound the alarm, and lots of others (often including myself) unwilling to listen.   It led to a complete crash of many ministries in the church and a wasting of more resources than you can imagine. It also led to a crushing of my family's spirit in a way that still makes my blood boil.   Yet it is a story almost no one knows.  Telling that story would serve as partial vindication for me, because no one came out of it looking worse than I did.  Much of that was my own fault.  As often happens, however, many of the other "bad guys" got away.  I knew the story because I was the one in the church office every day dealing with the disasters and witnessing the cover-ups.  And once I reached this point in my story on this blog, the truth could be told.  People were going down...

Now that the time has come, I just can't do it.  I must heed the words of James and "tame my tongue." I can't preach about grace and being part of a Jesus Revolution out of one side of my mouth and seek vengeance out of the other.  I have to let it go.  I must offer forgiveness and grace, even to people who do not offer those things to me. I do not want to be the one whose words produce that "smoke right from the pit of hell" mentioned in the scripture at top.   My posts about WMUMC must remain positive and uplifting.  I will seek to praise Jesus for the things we accomplished there, and I will share with you my own personal failures as I have done throughout this blogging experience.  But the untold story will remain untold.

That's the thing about following Jesus.  You don't get to choose who you love or who you offer grace to.  It has to be everyone.  Because of Jesus, I don't get what I deserve; instead I get God's love.  And this story, like everything else in my life, needs to be all about JesusAnd that's all I have to say about that...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Comment Day & Giveaways!!!!

I have once again declared today an official Comment Day for bloggers everywhere!  You can read more about my reasons for doing this by clicking here, but the bottom line is this: I will be reading and leaving comments on as many blogs as possible throughout the course of this day.  I hope you will do the same, because we bloggers do love us some feedback! 

To encourage (OK, bribe!) you to leave me some comments as well today (because let's face, this past week has been PITIFUL!) I am giving stuff away.  The 11th person to comment (not counting anything I might say) on this post will win a copy of The Great Cow-mission (see review below) by Kevin Weatherby.  The 18th person to comment will receive a copy of Deep Like Me by Rick Bundschuh.  And if we make it to 25 comments...well let's just say the prize will be BIG! OK, enough fluff- now on to my review of The Great Cow-mission...

Far too often those who write about Christianity go out of their way to make it seem complicated.  They want to use big words and talk about theology in ways that make understanding our faith seem impossible.  But every now and then, someone comes along with a book that actually helps us embrace the things that Jesus taught.  The Great Cow-mission is one such book.  Written by Kevin Weatherby (an actual cowboy, as well as a preacher), this amazing read combines the simplicity of the cowboy lifestyle with Christianity and solid scriptural teaching to create a completely unique experience.  I read it in what felt like 2 hours, finding myself completely mesmerized by Kevin's story-telling and deep insight into the human condition.  I laughed at his slightly off-kilter sense of humor as he tackled such subjects as a cowboy at Olive Garden and his cowboy's guide to fancy church words.  He taught me about the Cowboy Kung-Fu Handbook.  I was moved as he wrote of grace and man's never-ending search for God through letters from Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  I was convicted over and over again of how much there is to be learned about faith and life from the everyday lives of common people.  I also learned that even though I am allergic to horses, I am more of a cowboy than I would have ever guessed...

I don't really have any kind of rating system for books, but if I gave out stars or thumbs up or free pizzas, this little book would get them all.  It is the perfect reminder that our LORD and Savior wasn't a product of academia, he was the son of a carpenter- and he would have made a dang good cowboy.  You can pick up your copy of The Great Cow-mission (if you don't win it here) at, or  And one more suggestion- go ahead and get a couple of copies.  You are going to want to share this book with your friends.

Now go read lots of blogs, leave lots of comments, and let's make this a day to remember.  And if you Twitter, be sure to follow Kevin- @CowboyMinistry  He inspires me every day!!!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Faith, Hope & Love: NYC 2003

Front Row: Ken Jewett, Nina Mock, Rochelle Mock,
Nicole Raymond, Lisa Jewett
Back Row: Stephanie Greife, Bobby Greife, Justin Overstreet, Rachel Ness
Lindsey McHenry, Travis Aiken, Robbie Burke

The gang at Carmine's
 In March of 2003 I continued my tradition of taking groups to New York City for a few days of education, adventure and fun.  This was our first trip to NYC from Wesley Memorial UMC and our group was small but very excited.  We did all of the things that made our New York trips so amazing over the years.  I surprised the group buy having them picked up at the airport by limo (see pic at bottom)- after convincing them the bus we had ordered had stood us up!  We saw the sights (and wondered if Lady Liberty is going commando under that robe), ate incredible food (Carmine's!), took in Broadway shows (Moving Out) and learned a lot about ourselves in the process.  But what made this trip especially memorable was our trip to St. Paul's Chapel.

This was the first time I had taken a group to the Big Apple since September 11, 2001, and the group was anxious to see Ground Zero.  The truth was there was really nothing to see at the actual site.  The wreckage of that day had been cleared away, and construction had yet to begin on the new buildings.  There was a walkway with signs and pictures that told the story of that horrible day, and we we all moved by the memory.  But nothing could have prepared us for our visit to St. Paul's.  This tiny little church had served as the "home" for many of the workers who came from all over the country to dig through the wreckage.  They would work 16-18 hour shifts in the rubble and then head to the church to grab some food, cry over the things they had witnessed and catch a nap on the pews.  By the time we arrived in 2003, the chapel had been turned into a shrine honoring all of those who served and sacrificed so much.  There were letters of thanks, balloons, flowers and thousands of hand written signs posted all around the fence outside, and inside you could see evidence of what had taken place.  Pews were scarred and battered from where firefighters in full gear had sat in them.  A guest book chronicled many of the names of workers who had passed through.  There were video interviews with some of the first responders.  Many of our group were moved to tears, and most of us found our way into the pews for a few moments of prayer.  We were reminded of the words to the Lost And Found song, Lions"O them lions they can eat my body but they can't swallow my soul..."  Jesus was in that place.  It was a deeply spiritual experience.

I was a part of a lot of groups that travelled to NYC over the years (to see a slide show with pictures from many of those trips, click here!) and the city never failed to teach us lessons.  Whether it was inter-acting with the homeless, feeding the poorest of the poor in the lowest levels of Grand Central Station, talking about curing disease and working for peace at the United Nations or simply dropping $1 in the case of a street saxophone player in -25 degree weather, the city is a mission field.  The 2003 trip served as a reminder that the heroic response of so many in NYC to the attacks of 9/11 was never about patriotism.  It was about faith, hope and love1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that no matter the situation, those three things will remain.  A "New York Minute" in a pew in St. Paul's Chapel left that burned on my heart forever.  And I suspect I was not alone.  Sometimes I think we try too hard to make trips about "mission" or "spirituality" when what we really need to do in just get out of Jesus' way and let him change lives.  But that's a rant for a different day. Today, I just praise God for that group and that experience.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Asleep At the Wheel

Every Tuesday of 2011 I have written about my desire to be part of a Jesus Revolution.  Today I want to focus on one of the primary reasons such a revolution is so slow in coming.  It's because we Christians have a tendency to fall asleep at the wheel...

In Mark 14: 32-40 we read about Jesus going to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane.  This was right after the "Last Supper" and just prior to his arrest.  As was often the case at the most important moments in his ministry, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him.  They were his guys- his inner circle.  As Jesus goes off to pray, he asks them to wait on him there.  Three times he does this.  Three times they are asleep when he returns to them.  It seems unbelievable that his best friends could fail him like that- but they did.  Jesus needed them to be there for him- but they simply fell asleep.

In many ways the followers of Christ have been dealing with the same problem ever since.  We know what needs to be done.  We have all of the teachings and theology that anyone could ever hope for.  We read the words of Jesus that command us to love God, to love other people and to carry the message of His love to the world.  We know there are things need to be done.  But we're asleep at the wheel.  Our lives motor down the highway accomplishing "important" things that make us more significant in the eyes of man, but we are fast asleep as we pass the exit signs that say Jesus Revolution.  We tell ourselves that others will take care of that stuff.  We fool ourselves into believing that after we become successful and powerful that THEN we will honor God.  We go to work, we manage our lives, we manicure our lawns and we amuse ourselves.  And then we give Jesus what is left over.  But there seldom is anything left over-  so like the disciples, we sleep.

The institution of the Church (in USAmerica, anyway) is not much better.  We are often so busy with buildings, committees, fundraising and "minding the flock" that ministry to the lost and hurting takes a back seat.  Too many of our churches today believe that the best way to take Jesus to the world is for us all to be "nice."  Christians are nice.  We can do nice in our sleep- and that is exactly the problem!  Followers of Jesus should be loving and respectful, but we should also be RADICAL!  We prefer taking political stances and preserving our "Holy Huddles" to actually taking the risky, radical, world-changing love of Jesus to our communities.  Listen to these words from the late, great Keith Green:

The world is sleeping in the dark, and the church just can't fight
Cause it's asleep in the light, How can you be so dead?
When you've been so well fed
Jesus rose from the grave
And you, you can't even get out of bed

The teachings of Jesus seem wild and sometimes outright ridiculous when compared to the standards of the world we live in.  If your faith and your belief-system make you feel comfortable and safe, then you need to go back and take a look at the things Jesus taught.  You may well be "asleep in the light."  If there is going to be a Jesus Revolution that brings hope, peace and joy to those who are sleeping in the dark, it is going to have to come from those who claim to be disciples of the risen Savior.  If we are to live out Matthew 25 and minister to the homeless, the hungry, the naked, the criminal and the rest of the "least of these," then we are going to have to get off our couches to do it.  If we are going to change this world in His name, then we need to stop arguing politics and theology and wake up to the challenge of sharing God's love with everyone. 

It's time to realize that for far too long we have been happy to play church and take our naps.  Nap time is over.  The world needs Jesus, and it is time for some spiritual No-Doze.  Who's with me?

Because of Jesus,

Monday, April 25, 2011

How Can I Keep From Singing?

My life flows on in endless song above earth's lamentation
I hear the real, tho' far off hymn...that hails a new creation
Thru all the tumult and the strife, I hear its music ringing
It sounds an echo in my soul...How can I keep from singing?  - Anne Warner, 1864

The great philosopher Yoda once said, "There is no try...only do."  That sounds good on paper, but sometimes "try" is all I've got.  There are moments in all of our lives when our inclination is to just give up.  Or at least there are in mine.  I have days that are full of self-pity.  I have hours of self-doubt.  On rare occasions, I have moments of self-loathing.  It is at times like these when my faith takes a beating, because I quit trusting God and worry too much about my own abilities to overcome my issues and my sins.  But then there are days like yesterday that make my soul soar and remind me that I am blessed and loved beyond all reason.  At such times I find myself humming a song I learned at Quaker Lake Camp all those years ago- "How can I keep from singing?"

It is hard not to sing when you are sharing the majesty of the Easter story with friends on Twitter on a Saturday night.  It is impossible to keep your heart quiet when you gather with the family of God and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on a glorious Sunday morning.  It is uplifting to know that your family loves you even when you are grumpy and irritable- and you just need to shout for joy.  It is incredible to spend time with old friends who know your faults and failures and invite you to lunch anyway on a Resurrection Sunday- and hymns of praise just well up inside of you.  It didn't take me long to realize that I just needed to get over myself and sing praise to a God who loves me no matter my mood or my insecurities.  Jesus died so that my moments of doubt will not separate me from my Heavenly Father.  He conquered death so that we all might know hope.  Easter is a reminder to all of us that we cannot- that we MUST NOT- stop singing.  We must sing when it's dark.  We must sing when it's raining.  We must sing when this world is kicking our butts.  When the creator of the universe loves us, how can we do anything else? 

I lift my eyes, the clouds grow thin, I see the blue above it
And day by day the pathway clears, since first I learned to love it
The peace of God restores my soul, a fountain ever springing
All things are mine and I am loved...How can I keep from singing?

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, April 24, 2011

He Is Risen!!!


Today I simply praise God for the gift of his Son, and invite you to share in the celebration of the resurrection.  The video below is my all-time favorite Easter song, appropriatly entitled The Easter Song.  I love the original from Keith Green and the classic cover from The 2nd Chapter of Acts.  I loved singing it in various church choirs.  But for me, nothing beats the incredible sound of Glad singing it acapella.  Listen to the song, and then, as scripture commands, "Quickly now go tell his disciples that Jesus Christ is no longer dead!"  He is risen!  Hallelujah!!!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

7 Things: Easter Sunrise Services

As long as I can remember Easter Sunrise Services were a part of my life.  Beginning in middle school our youth group always played a part in the service, and from the time I took over as Youth Director at New Garden Friends Meeting in 1979 they became an important part of our ministry.  Today, with the glorious celebration of Resurrection Sunday awaiting us tomorrow, I give you 7 random Sunrise Service memories from over the years.  Enjoy, and have a blessed Easter.  He is risen!!!
  1. At New Garden we had the service (weather permitting) in the church cemetery.  The cemetery is very old, with graves dating back to the Revolutionary War.  There was something unique about celebrating the empty tomb in a graveyard.  It was a 6 AM service and the youth provided a breakfast afterwards.  I remember picking up hundreds of Krispy Kreme doughnuts one year, and making something called Hot-Crossed Buns another.  Seriously.  Insert bun joke here.
  2. At Springfield Friends Meeting (1986-1994) we tried a variety of services (including another very old cemetery) but finally hit upon one that worked- the Flowering Cross.  Everyone would bring cut flowers from home, and at the conclusion of the service we would turn an "old rugged cross" into something alive.  I usually sang the old Don Francisco classic He's Alive, made famous by Dolly Parton.  I did not do any Dolly impressions...
  3. Not a happy bunny...
  4. While not at a Sunrise Service, I did however, do an Easter Bunny impression one year.  Avis Rees, wife of our pastor, did a resurrection story about an empty egg, and asked me to dress as a bunny for the drama.  Against the advice of her own children, I accepted.  She even made the costume.  I wore it- and many people were never the same.  One of our dear old friends from High Point, Lori Cox, maintains to this day that her family joined SFM because any church with a youth pastor crazy enough to dress like that must be OK.
  5. During my days at FUMC-Kissimmee (1994-2000) we did a 6 AM service down by the Kissimmee lakefront.  It never failed to be an adventure.  The youth group did the entire service, and at 6 AM you just never sure who would actually show up.  It didn't help any that the time seemed to change that weekend every year so we would lose an hour of sleep.  One year we were doing a drama, and the student who was playing Jesus over slept.  Another year it was a young woman who was supposed to sing a solo.  Andrew Lewis and I would be down at Lake Toho around 4:30 on Easter morning setting it all up- and then we would do breakfast afterwards for the church.  It was always just a little insane.  And that's not even counting the year the city didn't turn of the sprinkler system.  We had a mass baptism...
  6. Easter Sunday was spectacular at the Union Church of Hinsdale (2000-2001) but the youth had nothing to do with it- and there was no Sunrise Service.  Yet another bummer for UC.
  7. At Wesley Memorial UMC one year our music director Jason Deese decided to use the Youth Praise Band at the Sunrise Service out in front of the church.  Electric guitars, live drums- the works.  The neighbors (not only of the church, but of my family- we lived right next door!) were not amused at this early serenade, and the police stopped by to ask us to be quiet.  There is no truth to the rumor that my wife made that call...
  8. Easter 2006 found me at Trinity UMC in Waycross, GA, where the "early" service followed a huge breakfast.  It was my first time preaching to that congregation.  You know, if you screw up an Easter sermon you really have no business preaching.  Fortunately it went well, and I got to preach several more time that year.
And I haven't been at a Sunrise Service since.  The church we attend now does three full Easter services beginning at 8 AM.  But my mind is still packed with great ideas for planning a Sunrise Service, and one of these days I am going to unleash them on an unsuspecting congregation.  Because if you can't get excited and have awesome, creative worship to celebrate the resurrection, you have issues. I mean come on people-  He's alive!  Have a blessed weekend!!!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, April 22, 2011

"O Come and Mourn With Me Awhile"

There are few days darker than Good Friday.  And yet, born of that very darkness is the love that saves us all.  As you remember this day and what Jesus did for you, I invite you to share in this YouTube expression of art from chalk artist Debby Topliff and musical artists Jars of Clay, from their 2005 album Redemption Songs.  On a day in which we all must mourn, let us never forget this ultimate truth- It's Friday, and Jesus is hanging on the cross. But it's only Friday- and Sunday is coming!  Except this invitation, and share in a few moments of reflection of the events of the last week Jesus spent in his earthly body. Thank you, God, for loving us enought to give your only Son...

O Come and Mourn with me awhile, O come near to the Savior's side
O come together, let us mourn.  Jesus our lord is crucified

O Love of God, O sin of man
In this dread act your strength is tried
And victory remains with love
Jesus our lord is crucified

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's All About Soul

Our honeymoon, 09/01/1986
 I try not to complain too much here, but I just have to say this- yesterday was not a good day.  (Editor's Note: This was written before I got a retweet from Jon Acuff on Twitter late last night.  I did The Church Lady's "Superior Dance to celebrateAlso I learned that I get to play "Pinky" in an attempt to try to take over the world.  So the day wasn't a total loss...).  As Colin Mochrie often said on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, "I think it was Rogers & Hammerstein who wrote, 'The hills are alive with the sound of CRAP!"  And that was my Wednesday.  By the time I settled in for a little personal prayer time late in the afternoon, my attitude- for the second time this week- was terrible.  But even in the midst of that, God is faithful.  And I was reminded of a huge truth in my life.

Many of you either know or have seen me write on this blog that four years ago my life pretty much fell apart.  Some days- like yesterday- it's easy for me to feel sorry for myself.  And some days- like yesterday- God takes the opportunity to remind me just how much worse it could have been.  I could have been left alone, broke and homeless.  I could have lost all hope.  My faith in God and my relationship with Jesus kept me going in those early months after my life crashed.  And what kept my faith from faltering?  It was a who- my incredible wife Marilyn.

I know a lot of you guys think you are married to the most amazing woman in the world.  You are wrong.  I am.  The love, grace and support she showed me when no one in the world would have blamed her her for giving up on me still astonishes me.  The care she gives to our son Will is simply incredible.  But it is her faith that sets her apart.  She's not a bible thumper or a group joiner or a blogger or any of the other highly visible things that make people point at her and go, "Now there is a woman of God."  It is her life that points that out ever so clearly.  At a time when most of the world would have been just as happy to see me stay in my room and never come out again, she pulled me out. She loved me like only someone who really knows Jesus can- unconditionally.  When others might have left, she just hugged me tighter.  She SHOWED me Jesus in a whole new way.  And she still does every single day.

Many of you know by now that the Holy Spirit often speaks to me through music.  Before I decided to write about Marilyn, I was listening to to my ipod on shuffle hoping for an inspiration.  I got one.  The Billy Joel song It's All About Soul began to play- and I began to cry.  Billy is Marilyn's very favorite artist, and I know the song well.  But it had never occurred to me before that the song was written about her.  Billy didn't know that, but it was.  I went to YouTube and searched videos for the song, and found one with lyrics.  The video is not much, but it's the words I want you to see.  If you want to know what it's like to be married to the greatest woman in the world, just listen.  It's so much deeper than love.  It's all about soul.  I love you so much, Marilyn- and I am the most blessed man alive.  Nothin' crappy about that...

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Night of Joy, 2003

The group gathered at Disney's All-Star Sports Resort
Sometimes, in student ministry, one event changes everything.  It changes excitement levels, commitment levels and the attitude of the participants.  At Wesley Memorial UMC we survived the low-budget summer of 2003 still expecting great things in our youth ministry.  Graceland was up and running.  We needed a signature event to bring it all together.  That event was Night of Joy.  We had taken a smaller group in 2002 for one night.  For 2003, we were pulling out all the stops...

For those who may be unfamiliar with Night of Joy, let me explain.  For many years now Walt Disney World has hosted a Christian music festival at the Magic Kingdom the weekend (or for part of 1990s, 2 weekends) after Labor Day.  The format in 2003 included concerts on Friday and Saturday nights September 5th & 6th- the weekend BEFORE Labor Day (it just "happened" to be on the weekend our primary high school had a bye on their football schedule).  There would be different artists each night.  I had taken groups to NOJ on a number of occasions, but had never gone for the weekend and spent the night.  As I planned the event for our student ministry, I wanted to make it a weekend to remember.  We would get the two night tickets, and stay 2 nights on site at WDW to enhance the experience.  My youth groups had enjoyed numerous special moments at WDW through the years, and I was counting on this being yet another.  I would not be disappointed.

Almost from the moment I announced what we were going to do, interest in the trip went through the roof.  Some were excited about the artists for the festival, which included great names like Michael W. Smith, Jars of Clay, Switchfoot, Stacey Orrico, Point of Grace, Daily Planet, downhere, Rachel Lampa and the O.C. Supertones.  Some were excited about being able to spend two nights playing in the Magic Kindgom.  And many were thrilled to be spending a couple of nights with their friends at Disney's All-Star Sports Resort. As we drew near to the event, I drove to WDW twice to buy more tickets and add more rooms.  It seemed everyone connected with Graceland wanted to be part of the excitement.  In fact, people were coming to Graceland because they wanted to be a part of the trip.  I was thrilled.  Every open door is a blessing in youth ministry...

We left after school on Friday and arrived in time to check-in and head to the park for the 7 PM NOJ start time.  We stayed until they threw us out around 1 AM, then went back to the resort for the usual youth group hi-jinks and chasing people back to their rooms.  I remember a couple of the guys (Philip, Ken, maybe Travis?) locking themselves out of their room and needing me to get them a key so they could get back in- which was funny since they weren't supposed to out of the room to begin with!  But we laughed about it, and all-in-all we had a great night.  The following day we slept until 11 AM, all hung out around the pool, got some lunch and made more memories.  At 4 PM we returned to the MK and had another great night with more great music and attractions.  Sunday morning we had a little worship time and then hit the road back to Tampa.  It was just a sensational weekend- with one exception.  I took over 200 pictures with my 35mm camera- and then lost it when we started packing to leave.  The picture at the top is all I have.

That excursion marked the beginning of an absolutely awesome year at Graceland.  Numbers stayed high as students wanted to be part of the excitement.  We were starting to make a real difference in our community.  The new Family Life Center with our new youth room and the gym seemed to be (WRONG!) almost finished.  We had several big moments both before and after, but I still consider Night of Joy 2003 the moment when our ministry came together and began to seek to honor Jesus in a big way.  Looking back, perhaps that would have been the moment to walk away.  But I was still unaware that my own life was drifting into dangerous territory, and I had so much more I wanted to see God accomplish with that group of teenagers. So the story continues...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Survivor: Holy Week Edition

The significance of Holy Week- the week between Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday (Easter) - cannot be overstated.  So much of everything Christ-followers hold dear and celebrate happened in the last week of Jesus' earthly ministry.  In all of the years that I worked for churches it was difficult to understand the importance of these remembrances to the people of the churches I served, because to the church staff Holy Week and Hell Week are hard to tell apart.  There is so much work, so much to do an it all carries a tremendous weight of significance.  It is both a joy and a burden.  Looking back I can see that.  Looking back, I remember how much all of the special events and programs of Holy Week helped connect the congregations I served to the life of Jesus.  But when you are going through it, it is simply a ministry marathon that must be survived- an all-church "lock-in" that lasts a week and doesn't provide pizza.  Here's a look back at the most insane Holy Week schedule I recall from my career- and remember, I (and most of the staff) had some role in every event on this schedule...
  • Palm Sunday- The parade into Jerusalem was re-created at three morning services. In addition to my regular Children's Moment duties with Pastor John Willis & Hollywood (a puppet), I was in charge on getting children and youth to wave palm branches.  Thank God there was no live donkey, or we all know the youth pastor would have had clean-up detail.  Plus we had regular youth group that evening.
  • Monday-  Because the schedule for the rest of the week is insane, Tuesday night choir practice is on Monday.  Also, there is a rehearsal for the Maundy Thursday drama.  And in a stroke of pure genius, one of the committees I meet with declines to cancel their regular meeting.  I think I got home around 10 PM.
  • Tuesday-  To help us understand our Jewish heritage and the Feast of the Passover, we had invited Jews for Jesus to come and do a Seder meal.  It was very interesting, very educational and VERY time consuming.  Another 10 PM night at the church.
  • Wednesday-  At noon, we had the last of our Lenten Soup, Sandwich and Study lunches for the community. I led music.  Any opportunity to reach out was exciting, and we drew pretty good crowds for a weekday lunch time.  Then we had our regular Wednesday night fellowship dinner and programs that evening.  I think at our Wednesday Night Live youth program we studied exhaustion...
  • Thursday-  Our annual Maundy Thursday drama and Communion service.  Always the best attended event of the week, and usually my favorite too.  Except the year I had to play Judas.  Wasn't crazy about that play.
  • Friday-  A relatively small crowd would gather for a traditional Tenebrae Service- a time to remember Good Friday and the Crucifixion of Jesus.  This was a very moving worship experience, where lights are extinguished until you are in total darkness, and where you depart the service in silence.  I always found this to be a very spiritual time for myself personally, after the week of craziness.
  • Saturday-  No events or programs, just hours of preparation for Easter morning.  I think I may have even spent an hour with my wife!
  • Easter Sunday-  6 AM lakefront Sunrise Service, always led by our student ministry.  Most years a key actor or musician over-slept and stressed me to no end- but we always survived. At least until the year the city of Kissimmee forgot to turn off the sprinklers.  And why did this always seem to be the Sunday that the time changed?We usually then served a breakfast between the Sunrise Service and the first (of 3) regular services (in which Hollywood and I led the children on a tour of the empty tomb).  When it was all over at noon, it was time for relatives and a good old fashioned Easter lunch, featuring ham- just like the Jewish disciples would have done it!  Whew...
And it was done.  It was often unbelievably stressful and exhausting, but I never doubted that it was worth it.  If all of that helped even one person connect with what Jesus did for us that week, then it was all worthwhile.  If Jesus doesn't go to the Cross, if Jesus doesn't die for our sins, if Jesus doesn't rise again and conquer death on Easter morning- then there is no such thing as a Jesus Revolution.  And without that revolution, there are no Survivors.  Remember that as you go through Holy Week.  The revolution that began at Calvary still goes on today.  Thank you, Jesus.

Because of Jesus,

Monday, April 18, 2011

Youth Ministry & the Art of Bouncing Back

My friend and former Springfield Friends Meeting youth Ken Hill (class of '87) is running his first Boston Marathon today.  I am excited for and proud of him, and I hope it encourages Ken to know that many prayers are with him!  Press on towards the prize!

Our theme for the student ministries of Wesley Memorial UMC in the summer of 2003 was SHINE!  As was my tradition (since 1988) I published a summer brochure (at left) highlighting all of the amazing adventures we would share. I mailed the publicity in early May to build the excitement, just as I always did.  But this time there was one serious difference.  As I mentioned here last week (Pass the Loot!) the church pulled the rug out from under us in regards to our budget money, and so we had to radically change our two major trips and a few smaller things.  My 24 page guide to summer of 2003 was full of bad information.  But just as in showbiz, the show went on.  We bounced back.  And we had a great summer...

I have often thought that being a youth pastor is a lot like being a cornerback in football.  Cornerbacks cover great receivers and often get burned for long pass plays and touchdowns- and everyone in the stadium can see it happen.  The only way to survive as a quality CB is to be able to completely forget about the bad plays and go forward with confidence.  So it is with student ministry.  Events fall apart.  Relationships sour.  You give someone bad advice.  You sin.  Parents let you have it with both barrels.  Churches take away your budget.  And yet you have to step back on the "field" immediately and try again.  The difference is you do it not because you have faith in your own ability, like the football player- you do it because you have faith in the God you serve.  And you believe the work you do matters.

So instead of our planned trip to the Big Stuff Camp at Panama Beach, we went to Six Flags in Atlanta, as well as a Braves game.  Instead of Nashville, our mission trip was to Spartanburg, SC.  We stayed in a rehab center and helped serve meals, sort clothing and a variety of other tasks.  It was practically free, which was good, and our group had a great time and grew much closer.  It turned out that we were all crazy (like a fox...OHHHH! - inside joke) and loved finding ways to serve others while laughing the day away.  We toned down our annual Youth Week, but still hosted Curt Cloninger for a night and had a marvelous Rec Around the Clock lock-in.  We did away with a few other planned events, but still managed to pull off all of our smaller gatherings and all of our ministry team events.  And thanks to some behind the scenes fundraising and an incredible deal from the band, we closed the summer with a concert from the then red-hot band The Swift.  A group of us shared dinner with them at Chili's after the show and made more memories.  It was a wonderful summer.

It is my personal opinion that if you're in youth ministry and haven't had a program that failed or an idea that got you in trouble in the past year, then you are not doing your job.  If we don't push the limits and show kids the radical nature of Jesus, then it is unlikely anyone else in the church will.  We all get knocked down.  That is not a big deal.  The question becomes this:  What will you do when you get back up?  I always took my answer from the late singer/songwriter Keith Green.  In one of his songs he wrote, "So just keep doing your best, and pray that it's blessed, and Jesus takes care of the rest."  Bouncing back is pretty simple when Jesus is in your corner.  I learned that in a big way in 2003.  Coming up Wednesday- Night of Joy 2003 and the big Graceland explosion!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Youth Ministry Artifacts #4- Gumby

Today in my 600th consecutive day of blogging on this site, and I have to say I have never been more exhausted after writing a post than I was after writing yesterday's.  Or more excited.  If you missed Follow Jesus- I Dare Ya! then check it out.  It may kick your butt just like it kicked mine...

So today's artifact comes with a mystery.  You see, as keenly as I remember so many details from 30 years ago, I do not remember at all the exact how or why the Gumby you see pictured here came to be in my possession.  I know it was the late 1980s, during my time at Springfield Friends Meeting,  and I know that it was given to me by Shelley Godwin and Heather Beggs.  I know that because their initials and a message- "Gumbys live forever!"- are on his tag.  I also remember that it was Keri Vinson who first turned his rainbow colored belt into a hippie-style headband.  But as far as details, that's all I've got.

So why even bring Gumby up today?  Because his presence in my offices over the years always served as a reminder of something important.  I have gone on and on here concerning the need to be intentional about building relationships with students and how important I believe that to be in student ministry.  As our TNT program took off and we began to reach more and more students from the community, this became a real challenge at SFM.  As incredible kids like Shelley and her twin brother Jeremy, Heather and Keri became involved in our ministry, I wanted to make sure we stayed connected and that they knew they were loved individually- not just because we liked having a large group.  So I turned to one of my mentors, J. David Stone.  He had written a book in 1985 for GROUP Books called Spiritual Growth in Youth Ministry, and one chapter contained a plan for a different type of outreach that would change my ministry forever-  24 Weeks of Caring.

The plan was so simple, yet totally brilliant.  You would chose 4 groups of a specified (I eventually settled on 6 after trying 8) number of youth with whom you wanted to build a better relationship- a total of 24 students (using 6 per group- HA!  I did math!).  I would begin the program by sending all 24 teenagers a letter informing them that they had been chosen for this special event, and that nothing was required of them.  It was just going to happen to them.  Each group was given a designated communication category for a specific number of weeks (again I chose 6, so at 24 weeks I could do the program twice in a year.).  For the first 6 weeks, I would pray every day for one group and send them a note each week reminding them that I was praying for them, and asking for prayer requests.  During those same 6 weeks I would give the members of the second group a phone call once a week.  The third group received a weekly personalized post card in which I said nothing about our youth ministry- it was all about them.  And the final group I promised to see once a week- outside of church.  Sometimes it was over a milk shake, sometimes at school, sometimes at a community event.  At the end of the first 6 weeks, you simply rotate the groups.  When you complete the 24 weeks, you have connected every week with all 24 students in 4 different ways- and your relationship with all of them will be different...

Obviously it could be updated to fit today's high-tech culture, and you could use Facebook, Twitter, texting or e-mail to replace some of "mailing" that I did.  The last time few times I did it I used e-mail instead of writing the post cards.  No matter, the point remains the same- letting youth know they are important and they are loved- and that NONE of that is based on how many times they show up for church.

So why does Gumby remind me of this?  I'm not sure I can explain it.  But just maybe it's because that at Springfield we reached so many students whose families were not a part of that church, and because of efforts like the 24 Weeks of Caring they became a huge part of OUR family.  I look at Gumby and remember that I have seldom had better relationships (or more fun) with students over the years than I had with Heather, Shelley, Keri, Jeremy and so many other TNT survivors.  Gumby reminds me that praying for them is crucial.  But he also reminds me that those kinds of relationships don't just happen- they require work.  Even now that I am out of the professional ministry, it's still an awesome reminder.  In fact, I could start up the program right now using blog readers and Twitter friends. Hmmm.   Interested?  :)  See you tomorrow for Palm Sunday!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, April 15, 2011

Follow Jesus- I Dare Ya!

Yes...Monks on a Rollercoaster
A scene from the 1989 movie, Parenthood:
GrandmaYou know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.
GrandmaUp, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!
Gil: What a great story.
GrandmaI always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing.  I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it...

Among the life-altering things I remember reading in Leonard Sweet's 1999 classic, SoulTsunami, was a section about what it is like to really follow Jesus.  There is nothing risk-free about following the Christ.  Yet so many pastors (especially those appearing on TV) seem to teach that the quickest path to the "good life" is becoming a Christian.  They make it all sound so predetermined and orderly.  Follow Jesus and you will quit sinning.  Quit sinning and God will bless you.  When God blesses you, life will be full of rainbows and unicorns.  It's as simple as that!  Well,'s not.  There is nothing orderly about following Jesus, because in fact, the Good News is chaos!

I have checked the gospels pretty thoroughly, and I can say with some confidence that Jesus never said any of the following:

"Come follow me, and I will give you perfect health."
"Come follow me and I will give you power and wealth."
"Come follow me and I will put a steak on your grill and a Jacuzzi in your backyard.  OH- and a beach volleyball court!  Everyone loves beach volleyball!"

What he did say was to leave everything behind, take up your cross, and follow Him.  The notion that your life will be all peaches and cream once you follow Jesus is just total BS.  If you follow the living God, you will be tested.  There will be risk.  Just think about some of our Old Testament heroes and what they went through.  Jonah was tested with a vacation in a fish.  Noah had to build an ark ("What's a cubit?") while his neighbors laughed at him.  Joshua marched around Jericho (Thank you, VeggieTales, for always making me think of French Peas pouring slurpees on them as they march...) for no apparent reason.  Joseph was ambushed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of hitting on Potiphar's wife and thrown in prison (not to mention losing a technicolor dreamcoat in the process) just to prepare him for what God actually had in mind for him.  Easy street?  Low risk?  I don't think so...

Jesus often taught that in order to make things right, we must first turn them upside down.  He wants us to turn the first into the last, the weak into the powerful, the lost into the found.  But all of that starts with the things we do with our own lives.  If we really want to follow Jesus, we are going to have to get a little WILD!  Psalm 115:3 reminds us that "our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases."  We sing "our God is an awesome God" and then proceed to try to confine God with our own limitations.  His creativity and unpredictability are beyond our comprehension.  Remember Isaiah walking through town naked (Isaiah 20:2-3)?  That was God's idea.  Remember Saul struck blind on the road to Damascus?  God again.  Sacrificing his only Son so that we might live in community with Him?  Only God. 

All of this leads me to wonder about my own life.  I had always prayed for safety, comfort and low-risk opportunities to serve my Savior.  In fact, to be a Jesus Freak is to pray for the opposite.  It is to pray that God would turn my life upside down and lead me to risk everything in the name of the One who saved me.  It is to welcome the trials that God will send my way.  The last 4 years of my life have been such a trial in many ways, and have shown me much.   I believe more and more that the invitation to follow Jesus comes with an "I dare ya!"  They are dares because when we truly follow His example, the people around us will look at us like the boy at lunch who used to eat bugs on a dare.  Jesus dares us to love the way he loved.  He dares to us share meals with the most offensive people around us.  He dares us to believe that all things are possible with Him by our side.  And Jesus dares us to follow- really follow- by taking up our crosses and following Him where He leads instead of constantly begging Him to join us where we are.

Most of us do not hesitate to get on a rollercoaster that travels 90 mph down an 85 degree slope and flips us upside down and corkscrews all around.  We love it.  It excites us.  And once we've experienced it, the merry-go-round does seem pretty lame.  Thus it is with becoming a radical follower of Jesus Christ.  Get risky and try it- I promise you'll never want to be just a "church member" ever again.  Get WILD with Jesus...I dare ya!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, April 14, 2011

CCM Thursday: Audio Adrenaline Top 10

Few bands had the impact on my student ministry that Audio Adrenaline did.  From the minute I heard Big House right up until today, the boys of Audio A have both inspired and entertained me.  At FUMC-K (and other places) we sang Get Down, Hands & Feet and of course Big House in our youth meetings, and Darin Miller did a beautiful acoustic version of Walk On Water in worship there.  Underdog served as an inspiration for some students who were gymnasts at the Union Church of Hinsdale and would listen to the song just before each competition.  We used their great high-energy songs Worldwide and Church Punks as discussion starters at Wesley Memorial UMC, and Blitz was FUMC-K's theme for the rocking summer of 1998.  I can count at least 7 times a group of mine saw them live (they just OWNED Night of Joy), and they NEVER disappointed.  As you can tell, limiting myself to 10 songs from this group will be tough.  But here we go...

10)  Never Gonna' Be As Big As Jesus  (From the album Bloom; 1996)
  9)  Dirty  (From the album Worldwide; 2003)
  8)  Underdog  (From the album Underdog, 1999)
  7)  Good People  (From the album Bloom; 1996)
  6)  Rejoice  (From the album LIFT; 2001)
  5)  Chevette  (From the album Some Kind of Zombie; 1997)
  4)  Get Down  (From the album Underdog; 1999)
  3)  Ocean Floor  (From the album LIFT; 2001)
  2)  Big House  (From the album Don't Censor Me; 1993)
  1)  Hands & Feet  (From the album Underdog; 1999)

So there you have it. I left out some classics, including We're A Band, My GodMighty Good Leader, Beautiful, DC-10 and Leaving 99.  Which of your favs didn't make the list?  Let me hear from you!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

PTL! (Pass the Loot!)

In 1977 I was a freshman in college near Charlotte, NC, and one of the big news stories of the day was the crash of Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker's PTL (Praise the Lord) Club for financial wrong-doings.  A local radio personality who went by name of Murphy in the Morning did a scathing parody of the Bakkers on a daily basis, featuring a pastor/used car salesman/strip club manager named Brother Bill and his PTL (Pass the Loot!) Club.  These parodies were both hilarious and sad.  Even today, people still list "being asked for money" as one of the top 5 reasons they don't attend church.  Money is a big deal.

There is very little that is more frustrating in ministry that to pray big honkin' prayers, dream big honkin' dreams and not be able to pay for any of them.  More pastors and churches wind up in trouble over money (Pass the Loot!) than almost any other issue.  Since the dawn of time (or at least since the publishing of the first Ideas book!) youth pastors have struggled with budgets.  In the beginning the conflict was very simple.  Churches did not like designating budget money for youth ministry, while youth ministry, by nature, is an expensive undertaking.  As time went along it became more complicated.  Today I want to share with you a little of my own history with budgets, and how all of this brought me to great grief at Wesley Memorial UMC in the summer of 2003.

I don't remember even being aware of any budgeted money for student ministry until 1980, when I discovered that the Youth Council at New Garden Friends Meeting had a whopping $100 to spend each year.  When I arrived at Springfield Friends Meeting in 1986, there was $800 per year designated for youth work.  By the autumn of 1987, we had started our nationally recognized TNT program, where we were spending an average of $30 per week on food, resources and door prizes.  At roughly 40 meetings during the school year, that meant that we were spending $1200 of our $800 budget just on TNT.  That's without mentioning the retreats and massive summer schedules we had.   Since even my math skills could figure out that is not possible, the extra money had to come from somewhere- and that somewhere was my wallet.  Over the years that followed I never hesitated to supplement the budget with personal funds- even when my family didn't really have a surplus.  It was not a smart thing to do, but I did it.

When we moved to FUMC-Kissimmee in 1994, one of the reasons was their financial commitment to youth ministry.  The budget was $12,000 when I arrived, and over $16,000 by the time I left in 2000.  And yet somehow we were always able to spend it all!  The church's Financial Secretary once told me that she was certain that it must be in the church by-laws that the student ministry must not only spend their budgeted funds, but also any money that is unspent by any other ministry.  I am sure it seemed that way- our program there was massive!  I then moved on to the Union Church of Hinsdale, where money was pretty much unlimited (although very hard to get;  putting in a check request was like filing your taxes), but we seldom needed it.  We just didn't do that much.  So I arrived at WMUMC with this as my budget history.

The one thing that had been constant through all of those years was this- no one ever tried to tell me how to spend the youth ministry budget money.  They told me how much to spend.  They told me when to slow down.  They told me when we were broke.  But until WMUMC, no one had ever said to me anything like the following: "Carl, there is still $3000 is your budget, but you can't spend any of it this summer."  And yet, as we approached the summer of 2003, I was told just that.  I was not to spend any budget money on "worthless" items like taking students out to lunch or buying them milk shakes at our One on One times.  I was not to spend money on games of other "silly" purchases.  We had made a large deposit for a group to attend the Big Stuff Camp in Panama Beach.  We had a reservation to work with the Center for Student Missions in Nashville.  And we had to cancel them both.  The chairman of the church Finance Committee would not approve the funding (from our budget!) we had planned on.  I got precious little support from my boss, who preferred to stay out of such problems.  In what was the first (but unfortunately, not the last) bizarre decision handed down by our financial folks, we actually lost more money (our forfeited deposit) than we need approved to be able to take the trip.  It was all tied into the money being raised for the new Family Life Center.  With double the fundraising going on (Pass the Loot, Pass the Loot! It sounds so nice when you say it twice!) things got really tight.  And yes- that is the same building that I wanted built so badly.  Irony hurts.

The good news was that we went ahead and had a couple of great trips that summer, to Atlanta and to Spartanburg, SC (a very interesting mission trip).  We charged ahead with our usual wild summer ministries (which I will write about more next Monday).  The bad news was I paid for most of it and didn't tell anyone.  Most people didn't know that the church budget was a mess.  Even fewer people knew that the building program was a disaster waiting to happen.  And no one knew that as all this went on around me, my personal behavior was falling apart.  That story is still to come...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jesus Revolution- The New Math

The great singer/songwriter/comedian Tom Leher (Before my time, so WAAAAY before most of yours!) wrote a song around 1965 about a new method of teaching mathematics that was referred to as The New Math.  In his introduction to the song on the live album, That Was the Year That Was, he points out his frustration with this new method.  He says, "The purpose of the new math is to make sure you understand what you're doing- rather than to get the right answer!"   Sometimes I feel like the Church has adopted the same system.  Let's take a look at Church Math...

If you grew up in the mainline or evangelical protestant church in the in the 1970s, 80s or early 90s then chances are that you were taught (although you were probably unaware of it) 3 essential truths about Christianity.  Here they are:
  1. Knowledge is the basis of faith, and the scriptures are the basis of that knowledge.
  2. The writings of the Apostle Paul explain what it means to live the Christian life.
  3. If you love the Church, and give your time, talents and money to your church, then you love God.
Over my 28 years of working for churches I came across person after person who had been indoctrinated with these teachings and were trying to live them out in their lives.  I hear them being promoted (though seldom spelled out) in blogs and on Twitter on a regular basis.  The problem is, there are not three essential truths, there is one. Check my math...

1)  Knowledge is not the basis of our faith, a relationship with Jesus is!  The scriptures inform us, convict us and guide us as we seek to grow closer to the living Christ, but primarily they are a record of God's attempts at relationship with humans.  Jesus was the final attempt and the final answer.  Answer this: If all of the bibles in the world were to suddenly disappear, would the love and grace of God in our world be rendered moot?  Of course not, because Jesus would have still died for our sins and left us with the Holy Spirit.  Knowledge is a great, wonderful and powerful thing.  But when it comes to our faith, a relationship with Jesus is the true essential.
2)  The writings of Paul are extremely important to Christianity.  His letters to the churches found in the New Testament encourage us, warn us and give us hope in all things.  Paul was certainly one of the most important Christians who ever lived.  But we do not worship Paul.  He is not part of the Holy Trinity (last time I checked).  So why is he quoted more often than Jesus?  Why does seemingly every major argument about our faith begin with the words, "Paul wrote..."  People will tell you that Paul was simply trying to elaborate on the things Jesus taught.  If that's true, then where is his detailed explanation of the Sermon on the Mount- especially the Beatitudes?  Where do we read his deeper exegesis of the parables of Christ?  He would have been the first one to say, "It's not about me, it's all about Jesus"- and yet we so often make it all about him.  Paul was a great writer and committed follower of Christ whose writings have much to offer and much to teach us.  But he is not the essential example of how to live the Christian life- Jesus is. 
3)  The third teaching is very important as well.  We should love the Church, as it is "the bride of Christ."  When we give of ourselves to our churches we help to further the Kingdom.  But...when our giving becomes more about building new buildings and getting the pastor a book deal, then we may have lost sight of what's essential.  Jesus commanded us to love God and to love each other.  I think that sometimes loving our church gets to the top of that list.  We think, "If I love my church, then my church will love the least of these."  The great commandment was not issued as corporate doctrine- it is up to each of us to love as Jesus taught.  We should be able to see this quite easily in our world in 2011, where so many are offended (and not in a good way) by the politics and in-fighting of the church, but still long to feel the love of Christ in their lives.  Church is a great thing, a fellowship of believers that can and should change the world.  Jesus is essential.

So there you go.  It seems in the new math, 1+1+1 does not equal 3.  It equals 1.  And that one essential, the one thing that no Christian can be without, is Jesus.   It's simple, but it's not easy.  Head knowledge is always easier to acquire than real relationship.  It's much easier to argue about gay marriage than it is to "turn the other cheek" and "pray for those who persecute you."  And going to church is a breeze when compared to loving your neighbor as you love yourself.  But we must understand and we must articulate that there is only one essential of the Christian faith- and that essential is Jesus.  This is what the Jesus Revolution is all about.  Theology, dogma and doctrine are wonderful things to know about and seek to understand.  But they are not more important than getting the answer right!  My prayer today is that I will remember that Jesus is THE ONE THING, and everything else is secondary.  I hope you will join me in that prayer...

Because of Jesus,