Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday Shout Outs!

It's hard to believe 2 weeks have passed and that it is time for another edition of Saturday Shout Outs!  Despite the fact that none of our pregnant folk have had babies yet, it has certainly been an eventful couple of weeks.  Traffic here on the blog has been strange, with high days, low days, and a few days where someone was catching up on a lot of old posts.  I also understand via some posts on Facebook last night that some of you have been trying to leave comments and blogger has not been cooperating.  I apologize for the techno-error, but not sure what I can do about it.  Marilyn and Will are travelling, the country is about to go broke and there is NOTHING on TV anymore.  But I digress...  Here are this week's shout outs!

  • Faithful readers Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi (FUMC-Kissimmee) and her husband Jun had to relocated their sushi restaurant in Clearwater over the past couple of weeks.  They were just moving next door, but as often happens in such situations nothing went as planned and it was very stressful.  It doesn't help that "Bob" is less than a month away from giving birth.  Please keep them in your prayers.
  • Ashley Goad Broadhurst (Springfield Friends Meeting) is headed back to Haiti this week, so be sure to keep her in your prayers.  You know it's a read shame she never gets out of the house...  :)
  • One of my first and most faithful readers, Lauren Carr Cacciatore, will be on vacation this week with her hubby Brad.  Have a great time, Lauren!
  • If all goes well, later today I will be sharing a meal with Wayne and Janet Cook (FUMC-K).  I'm really excited to sit down and visit with these dear old friends!
  • Christie Weatherby (Twitter) wrote this week that I am one of the funniest people she has ever know.  HA!  Take that, all of you who never laughed at my jokes!  And Christie, my should probably get out more often!!!
  • Speaking of Twitter, I tweeted this yesterday in response to our current political mess and it got a huge response, so I thought I'd be brave and share it again:  People who protested Bush's policies were "traitors." People who hate Obama are "patriots." The really smart people are "Canadian."  Send all responses to one of our friends in DC so they can pass it on- like Jacob Lupfer or Todd Willis (both FUMC-K)!!!
  • My wife and son leave Elkin, NC in the morning and will spend the next week in Myrtle Beach.  Keep them in your prayers, and keep me in mind for dinner dates!  Lisa Jewett (Wesley UMC) went above and beyond the call this week, but she is leaving town to go vacation with family in Asheville, NC.  Someone is going to need to step up!  :)  And no one ever does this when I ask, but if you feel so led I'd love to hear something one of you remembers about one of our youth group Myrtle Beach trips in the comment section- if it will work!
  • This comes to us via Dr. Jill WatsonLaura (Drapkin) Croft is also expecting a little Nathaniel on or about August 4. I'm sure she and Charlie would appreciate your prayers.  And so we should pray now!
  • My incredible growing Twitter family seems to be leaving lots of comments these days, including great friends like Amy Nabors, Tracee Persiko, Chris Wesley, Seiji Yamashita  and Cindy Holoman.  Plus old friends like the aforementioned Todd Willis and Jacob Lupfer have been here; Meagan Hill Halquist is back from her baby hiatus (and her blog is back too! ); Cindy Martin and Brook Teoli Phelps (all FUMC-K) keep stopping by; and the great Charles Freedle (Springfield Friends) has been here as well- along with so many others!  I am so blessed!
  • And finally, here's today's interactive section: Where did you go on the best vacation trip of your life (so far)?  Easy one for me- the 1993 trip from NC to Walt Disney World with the youth of Springfield Friends Meeting!  Leave your destination in a comment!
So there we go.  As always, I'd love to know what's going on with you, so if the comments won't work and you're not on Twitter, e-mail me!  Have a blessed weekend!

    Because of Jesus,

    Friday, July 29, 2011

    "I Stand Amazed In the Presence..."

    When you're done here, be sure and visit my guest post over at  It will be up sometime today!

    I am old enough that I have spent more of my life singing from hymnals than from video screens.  I have been in many more church services with organ music than I have with praise bands.  Needless to say, there are many of the great old hymns of the church that are near and dear to my heart.  One of the ones I find myself humming most often begins with the words, "I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene.  And wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean."  In fact, as I sat down to my keyboard to start writing, I found myself humming it again.  And I started to wonder.  How often do we really grasp the amazing love that Jesus came to bring us?  Do we really understand that it is only because of the grace given to us through the love of God whose name is Jesus that we do not remain "a sinner, condemned and unclean?"  How often do we really stand in His presence it total awe of what He has done for us?  For me, the answer is clearly "not often enough."

    So today I ask you this question- when was a time that you stood "amazed in the presence?"  Was there a time when you were overwhelmed with awe and wonder at the majesty of our loving God?  Remember- and then share your experience in the comment section if you would like.  Then join me and sing along with the amazing chorus to this great hymn:

    How marvelous! How wonderful!
    And my song shall ever be
    How marvelous!  How Wonderful!
    Is my Savior's love for me?

    Because of Jesus,

    Thursday, July 28, 2011

    Want Some Cheese With That Whine?

    I'm usually not like this.  I'm a very positive person. Some people see the glass as half empty- some see it as half full.  I think every glass gets free refills.  I'm the guy who irritates the crap out of you because I wake up perky.  I'm the guy who counts his blessings even when life seems to be headed down the toilet.  I don't enjoy complaining or whining.  But today that is exactly what I'm going to do...

    I got up yesterday and it was raining.  My wife and son are out of town, and I miss them.  I drove across town to my therapy group, where I spent an hour explaining my life to people who don't care and a counselor whose job it is to tell me I am wrong- about my own life!  I came home to discover my newly repaired garage door wasn't working- again.  I began to check in with my online communities and discovered that while people seemed to talking about Comment Day, there was no evidence that anyone was actually doing it.  My own blog, which I thought had some pretty interesting stories of weird youth group experiences, must have been invisible.  My dog threw up on our carpet- twice!   As the day went along I read and commented on over 55 blogs, including a few youth ministry blogs that really hacked me off (People, we don't need better programs, we need more leaders willing to actually invest themselves in the lives of teenagers!).  In the end I commented on 53 blog posts.  My own received 2.  I became frustrated and lost all perspective- I don't do Comment Day to get comments for me, I do it so that other bloggers will feel encouraged.  But yesterday the whole thing left me feeling discouraged.  It was really a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  I considered moving to Australia!  And then my friend Robert tells us via Twitter that Foster's is NOT Australian for beer.  What the heck is going on here?

    So I took a deep breath.  My friend Lisa called and we went to supper and had another amazing visit.  A couple of Twitter friends made me laugh.  Marilyn and Will called from NC.  I had a great walk with Conner the Dog.  And I remembered the truth that awaits me at the end of every day would be there at the end of this one as well.  Jesus loves me.  Even when I look at life and whine about it, Jesus is always there to serve cheese.  Even my worst days end with a party, because every night this prodigal son returns to the Father and says I know I don't deserve your love or the blessings you give me...but thank you.  Knowing that the Creator of the Universe knows my name and loves me reminds me of why I can wake up again this morning smiling and perky enough to make you crazy- because if God loves me, who am I to complain?

    Because of Jesus,

    Wednesday, July 27, 2011

    7 Things: Youth Ministry Is Stranger Than Fiction

    Some things just can't be explained...
    Yesterday I sat in a restaurant and eavesdropped on a conversation between two elderly (read as "older than me") men at the adjacent table.  One was doing most of the talking, telling stories of both current events and days gone by.  The other listened intently, but would occasionally interrupt with his own thoughts.  And his thoughts seemed to be confined to two phrases- "You've got be kidding me" and "Really?"  He clearly was having a hard time buying what his friend was selling...

    I sometimes feel that way when I tell old stories of my days in youth ministry, because when dealing with teenagers truth is often stranger than fiction.  Today I want to share with you 7 moments that fit that category.  The stories you are about to read are true.  The names have been left out for obvious reasons.

    1)  In 1979 I was hired to work part-time at a very small rural church in NC.  I was not quite 20 years old. The couple that had been leading the youth group were really wonderful people, and I knew their children from working at Quaker Lake Camp in the summer.  I found out later that rumor had it that at least part of the reason they wanted me was because they thought I would make a good husband for their (sweet & beautiful!) 15 year old daughter.  There was nothing sinister about it; they had gotten married at 16 and may have been thinking she would too.  I escaped unharmed...
    2)  Sometime in the autumn of 1984 I received a phone call from a terrified youth, saying that her ex-boyfriend (also a student I knew from QLC and various youth events) was drunk, violent and in her yard screaming for her to come out.  She was home alone with her 2 younger sisters, and was mostly afraid that her parents would come home, find the boy there... and kill him!  Even though I was no longer her youth pastor, I drove over and calmed him down, got his cousin to come pick him up, and defused the situation.  But not before he took a few swings at me...  Youth ministry is not for wimps!
    3)  In 1986 I led a retreat for the students of the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends.  At the conclusion of the event, a dad of one of the participants (from New Hampshire) came up to me and proceeded to tell me how much his son had enjoyed the event, and how much he liked me.  After we chatted for a few minutes the man ended our conversation by telling me this: "Keep up the good work.  I should warn you, however, that if my son comes home speaking with your southern accent I WILL have you fired!"  Sometimes you just can't win, y'all...
    4)  Sometime around 1990 one of my students called to tell me she was afraid she was pregnant.  After a lot of talking I convinced her to tell her mom and they went to the doctor; it turned out she was not.  A few weeks later I discovered she had told her friends she had gone for an abortion.  In her fragile teenage mind it was easier to tell her friends she had gotten an abortion than it was to tell them she had been wrong about being pregnant.  Try as we might, we cannot walk in their shoes- so we just have to love them.
    5)  In the late 1990s, while on a FUMC-Kissimmee ski trip, a teenage girl banged on my door late one night and said she needed to talk to me.  I stepped outside and was informed that she had just started menstruating for the first time.  This was not the first or last time I was ever part of such a conversation, but they never ceased being awkward.  This one, however. was particularly strange.  Her father was on the trip as a chaperon and a female pediatrician (one of our Youth Counselors) was in the room next door to her.  When I mentioned this to her, she said she wasn't comfortable telling them.  I was horrified and honored all at once.  BTW- if you can't deal with those kinds of conversations you have no business being a youth pastor.  It's part of the gig.  For another hilarious tale of this sort, see A Strange Night In Atlanta.
    6)  My family was gone on a youth group beach trip one summer and we asked one of our "left behind" youth if he would dog sit for us.  He did.  About a month later we got bills from our Internet provider and our cable company for over $300 worth of porn he had viewed at our house while we were away.  My wife got the costs dropped because of the situation.  He and I had a "Come to Jesus" meeting, but I didn't tell his parents or anyone else.  I hope he passes that grace along at some point...
    7)  In 2006 I was driving a van full of Trinity UMC- Waycross students back from a major youth revival in a neighboring town in south Georgia.  It was very late and we were very hungry.  I said we could stop and asked for suggestions as to what would be open at that hour.  One of the girls suggested a taco place; the name I have long since forgotten.  I said that sounded great and asked where it was.  With a perfectly straight face she responded, "South Dakota."  She was dead serious.  And she was totally clueless as to why the rest of the van screamed at her.  Ahhhh- teenagers!

    It's all true- and I didn't even include the lost bikini tops, insane parent stories, middle school boys gone wild tales and all of the inappropriate questions I was asked over the years.  You'll have to ask if you want to hear those- or maybe I should just do a post called Too Hot For This Blog!  Remember, today is an official Comment Day, so be sure and leave a comment (or a story of your own!) here and on every other blog you read today.  Blessings to you all!

    Because of Jesus,

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    "People is Stupid..."

    Do you have friends?  Do you talk with other people?  Do you read blogs (obviously!) and other types of thought provoking literature?  If you can answer "yes" to any of these questions, then there is no doubt in my mind that you have come across people with whom you disagree.  You may have even found yourself agreeing with the great David Letterman that "People is stupid!"  And you know what?  So what?

    I have known for many years that a great many of the people I know do not agree with me on many of the hot button topics of the day.  Politics.  Social justice.  Theology.  Eschatology.  Meteorology.  The list goes on and on.  I have many friends on Twitter - friends that I pray for on a regular basis- who would just keel over dead if they really knew my thoughts on the USAmerican political system.  I have worked for churches who would have banished me if they had known parts of my theology.  We live in a world where those kinds of differences are often walls that separate people.  But I'm not here to write about the world- I'm here to talk about the Jesus Revolution.  And the revolution says this- it doesn't matter how different (or stupid!) someone may seem, your task is to love them.  Not to convince them of your point of view, not to change them, not to tell them how wrong they are- just to love them with the radical, forgiving and grace-filled love of Jesus.  If our relationships are based in God's love, then our differences will not separate us, they will lead to discussion and healing.  I can disagree vehemently with someone who knows I love them, and in the end the love will remain.  If we spend our lives arguing things we really don't know about with people we really don't know, then we are just bags of hot air wasting our breath. Just like_____________  (insert your least favorite political figure here, because I knew we would disagree!).

    So here's your homework.  Today, whether in conversation or on social media of some sort, when a friend says something you disagree with, simply remind them that you love them. Save the arguments for another day.   If someone you don't know says something you find ridiculous, just think to yourself (or post randomly for no apparent reason), "People is stupid..." And then move on to the really difficult conclusion to that statement- "...and Jesus said to love them ALL!!!"  Actually, to love US all.  Hi, my name is Carl, and I'm stupid...  Viva la revolution!

    Because of Jesus,

    Monday, July 25, 2011

    The Wisdom of Kermit

    Yesterday I shared with the you the ramblings of a dog.  Today I want to let you in on the wisdom of a frog- Kermit the Frog, that is!  All of the following quotes are from his book, Before You Leap- A Frog's-Eye View of Life's Greatest Lessons (Meredith Books, 2006).  I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do.

    • "Dreams are how we figure out where we want to go.  Life is how we get there."
    • "Every journey begins with a single hop."
    • "Only love can make you rich."
    • "Life is great.  But without bad times we wouldn't know the difference."
    • "Always be happy.  When people are in a bad mood the last thing they want to do is hang around with happy people."
    • "You are what you eat, which I guess makes me part mosquito."
    • "It's not easy being green, but green is what I want to be.  Be what you want to be."
    • "Love is a gift.  Don't ask for the receipt!"
    • "Friends.  So much more than an old TV show."
    • "Time's fun when you're having flies!"
    • "Success is believing in yourself, then convincing everyone else that you're right."
    • "Be your own boss.  Give yourself the day off."
    • "When you're young at heart, the rest of you is sure to follow along."
    • "A best friend is someone who makes you laugh, even when the jokes aren't funny."
    • "Follow your dream.  I did, and look what I've done so far..."
    Pretty wise stuff from a frog who's in love with a pig, huh?  Let me know which of these nuggets is your favorite.  Have a blessed day, and keep dreaming.  "Someday we'll find it, the Rainbow Connection- the lovers, the dreamers...and me!"

    Because of Jesus,

    Sunday, July 24, 2011

    #700- A Blog From the Dog

    Greetings, friends of Carl!  It's me again- Conner the Dog.  In honor of my master's 700th consecutive day of posting he has given me the opportunity to share with you for the 3rd time.  3 out of 700.  Oh yeah, I feel the love...

    I wanted to write to you today to ask for your help over the next 2 weeks.  You see, this morning my other humans, Marilyn and Will (grrrrr- Beggin' Strip thief!), are flying to North Carolina to visit family.  They will spend one week in NC and one week at Myrtle Beach.  I hear that this is a big deal, but never having been either place I really can't comment. I'm a Florida Cracker doggie!  Anyway, this leaves me home alone for 14 days with the Big Guy. The good news is this year he gets to keep the car.  The bad news is I am still stuck with him!   If any of you live in or plan to visit the Tampa area over the next couple of weeks, it would be a real blessing if you could take him off my hands for a couple of hours.  If you don't have his digits (yeah, I'm that hip!), you can e-mail him at and he will be thrilled to hook up.   Just have him back by my dinner time. I do not miss meals.

    One more thing.  In honor of day #700 and the fact that this is Sunday (God's day!), I thought it would be cool to share with you one of my favorite devotional posts from way back in in October of 2009.  Just click here and some magical fairy or something will take you back.  I'm not sure I understand this whole Internet thing...

    So thanks for listening.  Come by and see me sometime.  I like most people, although I am still trying to decide about Jerry Hanbery.  Just stay away from my ball and my Chrismoose and we'll get along just fine.  Until then, pray for us.  14 days of just me & the Big Guy.  This could get ugly!

    Because of Jesus,

    Conner the Dog

    Saturday, July 23, 2011

    Youth Ministry Artifact #6- Fleeting Fame!

    Today's youth ministry artifact is a compact disc.  You know you are getting old when a CD is an artifact...

    I first attended the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention in 1982.  I didn't return again until 1987, but from that point on I was a regular attendee until my final NYWC in 2006.  And from '87 on, I always hoped that someday I could achieve the fame and status necessary to be asked to lead one of the seminars at the convention. (OK- full disclosure.  My REAL dream was to be a General Session speaker on the main stage, but I had not written a book and had no significant "story" to tell in those days.  Then my life fell apart, I lost my ministry- and now I have an awesome story to tell!  Ironic, huh?  So Mark Matlock & Tic Long, if you're listening, I'm ready!)  Every few years I would mention to Yac or Tic that I had some ideas for seminars, but it just never worked out.  Then shortly after attending the 2003 NYWC in Phoenix, I sent Tic an e-mail suggesting a couple of ideas for new seminars.  My first choice was a pre-event seminar teaching newcomers how to make the most of the NYWC itself.  My second idea was called Pagan Eye for the Christian Guy, a take-off on a popular TV show of the time.  Much to my surprise, Tic wrote back almost immediately asking me to do the Pagan Eye seminar in Atlanta, 2004.  I was thrilled.  It was a dream come true.  I was going to get paid to attend the NYWC.  This was big time.  Too awesome...

    I had a blast putting the seminar together and preparing the PowerPoint presentation. I had sat through dozens of these things; I knew what was needed to engage the audience and what sort of content they would be looking for.  It would be practical, hands on stuff to help youth pastors reach out more effectively in their communities.  But right from the start I began to realize that being asked to do this had nothing to do with status or fame.  I was not any smarter or more well-known in 2004 than I had been any previous year.  My seminar would take place on the final morning of the event, which any veteran NYWC attender can tell you is a throw away session because everyone is packing before attending the final event in the Big Room.  I was going to be driving to the NYWC with some of the folks from Wesley Memorial UMC- Tampa, and I would be staying with them as well.  No private room or fancy perks ("Is this the Ted Danson jet?  I want the Ted Danson jet!").  I did get a "Speaker" name tag (see top) and this did garner me some attention as I walked around the convention.  I quickly realized that I had become (for a few days) what I had often joked about- I was a Minor Christian Celebrity.  I was getting my 15 minutes of fame- except that no one outside the world of student ministry would ever know or care.  All of those thoughts certainly kept me humble as my peers expressed their excitement over my new found status and their envy over the fact that I could go into the "Speakers Lounge."  

    The seminar went very well.  I actually had a pretty good crowd, and after some issues getting my laptop to talk to their projector, it went smoothly.  The evaluations from the participants were quite kind, and I had hopes of being asked back someday.  My later personal failures made that scenario highly unlikely.  But that really didn't matter.  The lesson I remember every time I look at or listen to the CD recorded in my seminar that day is this:  It was the day-in, day-out relationships built with students over all of those years of ministry that brought me any status or fame that I ever achieved.  And all of the glory for that goes to Jesus!  Being a Minor Christian Celebrity is not all it is cracked up to be.  It was a bit of a ego rush, and the CD is a great artifact.  But the big deal is simply being a Youth Pastor.  Take it from someone who lost that privilege; it is one of the greatest honors you can ever receive in life.  Remember to be thankful for whatever ministry God has given you, and do it with passion.  The only "Famous One" is Jesus...

    OH...autographed copies of the CD are available from the gift shop.  There's nothing wrong with a little bit of fame...   :-)

    Because of Jesus,

    Thursday, July 21, 2011

    6 Months In Limbo (Part 2)

    The great weekend at Night of Joy (see Part 1) brought to a close my time of working behind the scenes to help keep the youth ministry of Wesley Memorial UMC afloat.  A new youth pastor was finally in place, and it was time for me to disappear and let him begin to build relationships with those students that I loved so much.  In the meantime, the Children's Ministry Coordinator from WMUMC (whom you may recall I had hired) had called and invited my son Will (a 5th grader) to be a part of their new ministry on Wednesday nights.  I stayed completely away from the church itself, partly because I had signed an agreement to not talk about the reasons I was asked to leave; plus, I just felt like staying away was the right thing to do.  Marilyn took Will for several weeks- and then we got a call from the church leadership telling us that Will was no longer welcome at that program because of me. They accused me of asking some of the Youth Ministry Team to quit on the new YP- they didn't quit, they had babies and were taking time off.  They had already started before I left.  I was accused of doing things to hinder the youth ministry.  I confessed that I had "hindered" it by planning most of their recent Night of Joy experience free of charge.  This was received as some sort of insidious plot on my part to overthrow the church.  Then I was told that Reverend Not-Appearing-in-this-Blog felt like it was inappropriate for any member of my family to be seen at the church.  Not that he actually called; he had someone else do it.  My family was already attending another church; this was simply my son going to a program he had been invited to by a staff member that included many of his best friends.  They yanked the rug right out from under him, and the Reverend Not-Appearing-in-this-Blog didn't have the cajones to do it himself.  I was livid.  It may well be the maddest I have ever been.  I restrained myself, but I wanted so badly to go nail the scripture from Luke 18:15-17 to the church door as a reminder of just how misled they were.  I made more than my fair share of mistakes while serving WMUMC, and I deserved to be let go.  But even if I had been a mass murderer, no church that claims the name of Jesus has any business turning away a child from its ministries.  Forgiveness took time and some counselling...

    I was also convinced at that point that I never wanted to work for a church again.  I began to apply for all kinds of jobs (The one I really wanted was as customer service rep for Disney, helping people plan vacations.  I never got an interview.)  At first this was exciting.  Then it became depressing.  My 27 years of youth ministry had left me well trained to do...absolutely nothing else.  To lift my spirits, my incredible wife sent me to the National Youth Workers Convention in Sacramento that October with my buddy Tim Vestal.  While there I met one on one with some great mentors and counselors who helped me see that God wasn't done with me yet.  I got home and called a friend who was the youth pastor at the church we were attending and volunteered to help behind the scenes.  In November, he invited me to attend another NYWC in Pittsburgh with a team from Van Dyke Church.  By the time I returned home this time I was sending out resumes and praying for God to lead me to a new church that needed me.  I was fired up.  I was ready.  Little did I know that God had indeed picked out a place for us- Waycross, GA.  That story is yet to come...

    Because of Jesus,

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    6 Months In Limbo (Part 1)

    Will & Marilyn
    After finishing up with Youth Week and saying farewell to the kids, I was dismissed from Wesley Memorial UMC- Tampa in June of 2005.  For the first time since October 1, 1986 (and only the 2nd time since September of 1978) I was not employed by a church.  It had been equally as long since Marilyn and I had not lived in a house provided by the church that employed me.  We knew we wanted to live in the same general area we had been in our previous 4 years in Tampa so that Will (preparing to enter the 5th grade) could finish elementary school at the one he had been attending.  We found a nice 2 bedroom apartment we could afford only about a mile from the church and moved in quickly.  Thus began a most interesting summer...

    No one knew exactly what the church was going to do about replacing me, but it was clear it would take them a couple of months to bring anyone in.  I told the youth in my last address to them that while I was no longer their youth pastor, I would always be their friend, and they could call on me any time.  And they did.  All summer long.  Groups and individuals would call me and want to have lunch.  They would come by the apartment and spend the afternoons hanging out and swimming with Will.  They would call when they needed someone to talk to.  One young woman called me one night to come pick her up when she was locked out of her home in a battle between her divorced parents- and I went.  The Sunday meetings and hectic summer ministry schedule were gone, but I still felt like a youth pastor in many ways.

    Another reason I felt like I was still doing youth work was that I was helping plan an event for WMUMC as well.  Lisa Jewett, who had been such a help to me as a volunteer, was now pretty much leading the entire ministry- just as I had predicted.  Lisa wanted to make sure the group got to attend Night of Joy at Walt Disney World in September, and asked me to help her put it together- behind the scenes, of course.  I gathered the information, made some phone calls and helped her set up registration for the students.  I was glad to do it, and Marilyn, Will and I decided to attend the weekend as well- just not as a part of the group.  By the time Night of Joy weekend arrived, a new youth pastor had been hired, but the trip went on as planned.  It was a great weekend.  Some of the group got lost on their way to WDW, and one of my former youth called me on my cell so I could guide them to the hotel.  I felt so useful!  I got to hang out with Lisa, some of the students and some of the other adults from WMUMC.  We spent an afternoon in the hotel pool at Disney's All-Star Music Resort (3 hours or so which the new youth pastor missed completely- RELATIONSHIPS, dude!) and just generally had an amazing time. 

    Summer was over, Will was back in school, and it was time for me to start looking for a job.  It seemed like we had survived the turmoil of my forced resignation and moved on with our lives.  Sometimes things are not what they seem... (To Be Continued...)

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Building the Perfect Christian

    Everyone knows the Frankenstein story, right?  A mad scientist seeks to create a perfect human being by reanimating body parts gathered from dead people- and it all goes wrong.  Suppose you could take the DNA from some of the greatest Christians you know in a quest to build a perfect Christian.  What traits would you want to include?  There would need to be solid theology and a commitment to the spiritual disciplines.  Certainly you would want the knowledge of a great Biblical scholar, someone who not only knows scripture but is fluent in Greek and Hebrew as well.  You would want the gift of evangelism from someone like Billy Graham, whose heart is broken by the lost.  You would want the golden voice of one of the great communicators of the faith who could speak words of encouragement and wisdom to everyone they encountered.  Perhaps a gene for counselling should be included, along with the gift of song to help the world sing praise to the LORD.  I would include a desire to care for the downtrodden and impoverished just as Jesus did.  And the wisdom of Solomon would be a welcome addition as well.  This lab creation, a sort of Christian Frankenstein, would be the ultimate leader in our search to complete the Great Commission.

    One of my very favorite movies is Young Frankenstein.  In that flick, the man becomes a monster because Igor brings the his boss the brain of "Abby Normal" instead of the brilliant brain he requested.  Our creation would fare no better.  You see, scripture tells us that if we created a specimen with all of the attributes listed above, it would be a failure.  Even with all of those gifts, all of that knowledge and wisdom, it could not communicate the true nature of Jesus to this hurting world.  Why not?  Because we left out the one ingredient that our creation cannot survive without.  I'll let Paul tell you...

    1 Corinthians 13: 1-7 (The Message)- If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love. 

    So here's the deal- we can know more, experience more and be gifted more than any other Christian walking this planet, but if we don't have the overwhelming, radical, passionate and forgiving love of Jesus in our hearts, then we still don't get it.  We are indeed like Frankenstein, imposing and overbearing, with nothing real to offer the world.  Theology and public piety will not win hearts for Christ.  Love will.  There is no such thing as a perfect Christian.  But a reflection of God's love and grace in this hurting world?  Yeah...we can do that.

    Because of Jesus,

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Acoustic Worship

    I attend a church that has an incredible praise band.  We have a song leader who could easily be a recording artist.  One of the guitarists has played behind some big names, and could be working full-time in Nashville.  There is a young drummer who is absolutely amazing- in fact, on the weeks he plays you simply can't take your eyes off of him.  Every single Sunday the band rocks the house with some amazing music.   And you know what?  I'm a little tired of it.

    I miss the intimacy of acoustic worship.  Some of you may remember the days when contemporary worship music was led by one guy/gal with an acoustic guitar. This particular style (in my opinion) puts the emphasis on the singing of the gathered crowd rather than on the praise team.  An acoustic guitar and a solo voice cannot (and should not!) drown out the voices of the congregation.  As someone who led many such songs over many years, I can tell you that there is nothing quite like standing in front of a people gathered to worship and hearing them sing their hearts out.  You can feel their passion for Jesus.  You can hear their hearts cry out.  

    I love rockin' out in church.  But I do miss singing the classic praise choruses and older songs that simply don't go well with electric guitars and drums.  I miss singing song like Majesty, Thy WordSing Alleluia To the LORD, Seek Ye First and Sanctuary with the strum of a single guitar.  I loved doing things like singing Amazing Grace to the tune of the Eagles' Peaceful Easy Feeling or being Spirit-led to lead a song that no one else knew was coming.  And in the deepest depths of my old heart, I even occasionally miss singing classic hymns (Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee, It Is Well With My Soul) with the piano and organ.  Most of us listen to a wide variety of music in our lives.  Praising God through music should take many forms as well...

    So what about you?  What are your favorite songs to sing in worship?  What style do you prefer?  I'd love to hear from you.  The acoustic guitar pictured above is mine.  It's all tuned up and ready to go.  Let's sing praise to the LORD!!!

    Because of Jesus,

    Sunday, July 17, 2011

    The Parable of the Grape

    Jesus told some amazing parables.  This is clearly not one of his...

    Once there was a head.  It was just a Head- it had no body, no arms, no legs, no feet.  It was simply a Head.  This Head felt left out in a world full of bodies.  It was often sad and quite lonely.  Day after day the Head would roll to work, roll to lunch and roll home.  Each day the Head would look longingly at the woman who worked at the desk next to his, but he could never work up the courage to speak to her- because who would want to talk to a Head?  Finally, late one night in the darkness of his bedroom, the Head could no longer contain his agony.  He cried out, "God, please help me.  I want to be different than the way you made me.  I want to be ANYTHING but a Head!"  God heard his cry, and when he looked in the mirror the next morning he was amazed to discover he was no longer just a Head.  He had transformed into a Grape.

    He was thrilled.  "Now I can really do something with my life," he thought as he rolled out his front door, "because everyone loves grapes."  He decided to roll to the house of the woman from work and ask her out.  He bumped against her door until she answered.  She opened the door, but seeing as how she had legs and he did not, she looked out over the top of the Grape and did not see him.  She retreated into her home.  The Grape, however, refused to be denied.  He again rolled up against the door until she responded.  This time she opened the door, and again seeing nothing, stepped out the door to look around.  As she did, she stepped directly on our hero- and squashed him into a tiny grape flavored puddle.  The End

    So many times we spend our lives wishing God had made us differently.  We want to be better looking.  We wish our personalities were different.  We want different gifts.  Pro athletes long to be musicians; musicians want to actors; all of us desire to be significant.  It is an endless cycle.  We forget the words of Psalm 8, which tell us that "God made us a little lower than the angels and placed a crown of glory and honor on our heads."  In the words of the old southern evangelists, "God don't make no junk."  I try each day to pray for God to use me just as I am- flawed in so many ways- so I may serve Him and do the things He created me to do.  Perhaps we should quit praying for God to "make us special" and simply be the people we were created to be.  Want to feel special?  You were made by God.  It doesn't get more special than that...

    By the way, this parable (as most parables do) has a moral. And here it is.  Ready?  Quit while you're a head.   :)  Don't worry so much about becoming something you are not, but instead feel God's glory in your soul by being who you were created to be.  Have a blessed Sabbath and I'll see you tomorrow!

    Because of Jesus,

    Saturday, July 16, 2011

    Saturday Shout Outs!

    Greetings and Salutations (or as we say in good ole NC, "Howdy Ya'll!") and welcome to another edition of Saturday Shout Outs!  We've got lots of ground to cover and a lot of people to shout out at to, so let's get started!

    *  Today is my son Will's 16th birthday.  Hard to believe, huh?  He and his mom went to Disney World yesterday to celebrate, and today he is practicing with his high school drumline all day.  For those who haven't heard, he made snare drum for this upcoming season.  We'll do a big dinner tonight and see Harry Potter 7.5 after church and Moe's tomorrow, so we're just making a weekend of celebrating!  Please feel free to leave him birthday wishes in the comment section at the bottom of the page.  He's a great kid and I could not be more proud of him!!!
    *  Amber Herrick (FUMC-Kissimmee) is the proud new owner of a house in the Nashville, TN area.  The date for the house warming party to which we will all be invited has yet to be set...
    *Ashley Goad Broadhurst (Springfield Friends Meeting) began a new chapter in her life this week as she took over as the administrator of Solar Under the Sun, a ministry of the Presbyterian Church.  To learn more abut what Ashley is up to, check out their website at or follow them on Twitter @solarundersun.  Most importantly, being praying for Ashley and this great ministry.
    Lisa & I in NYC, 2003
    *  Marilyn and I have had a blast over the past couple of weeks reconnecting (and eating!) with our dear friend Lisa Jewett (Wesley Memorial UMC).  It was 5 years in-between visits, but it's like nothing ever changed.  I am SOOO happy to have Lisa back in my life, and so thankful to have so many friends who love us no matter what!  You guys are the best!
    *  Keep praying for all of our pregnant youth group alumni!  Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi, Lisa Kraus Spires, Erin Augenblick Shannon and Lindsey Joiner Bennett (all FUMC-K) would appreciate it! And if you know of others please let me know!
    *  I've passed 1,525 Twitter followers now, and I have met some great people along the way.  I'm talking about you, Jason Huffman and Angie Battle!
    *  I have started messing around with the new Google+ social network and have already hooked up with friends like Jamie Robinson (Springfield), Brook Teoli Phelps (FUMC-K), Christie Weatherby, Cindy Holmon and Eric Hendrickson (Twitter).  If you are giving it a try, look me up.  I go by the alias "Carl Jones."  Tricky, huh?  :)
    *  I've been trying to make lunch plans with Travis Aiken (Wesley Memorial) and maybe even Philip Meile (also WMUMC, and I'm guessing at his last name- never did learn how to spell it.  He even goes by Philip M on Facebook.  Maybe he doesn't know either...).  I do love connecting with former students!
    *  It sounds like I will get to visit with Wayne & Janet Cook (FUMC-K) in a couple of weeks when they come down to St. Pete for some vacation.  Wayne pastors a church up in the Panhandle these days.  Always love to talk "church" with Wayne...
    *  And finally, I'm taking a little survey.  What is your favorite animated Disney film, not counting the Pixar stuff?   Mine is The Lion King.  Please leave yours in a comment!

    So there we go.  Hope you are all well and that you have a great weekend.  See you tomorrow when I tell you the Parable of the Grape...

    Because of Jesus,

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    "They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract..."

    The only thing I ever got to use the FLC  for-
    a group picture.
    I promised in a earlier post that I would not use this forum to tell everything I know about my final days at Wesley Memorial UMC- Tampa in 2005.   My forced resignation in June of that year was brought about primarily by my own actions, and though it was handled very poorly, it was the right thing to do.  But I do want to recall one story today that lets you know the state of things at WMUMC at the time of my departure, especially when it came to finances.

    In late 2004 our pastor and the Staff-Parish Committee of the church came to me with an offer. They wanted to increase my responsibilities within the staff and place me in charge of both our part-time Children's Ministry Coordinator and our very part-time Pre-School Ministry Coordinator. In fact, my first task would be to fill those positions.  This increase in responsibility was matched with a large salary increase and a discussion of what my role at WMUMC might be if I ever decided to stop doing youth ministry full-time.  Their plan was to work with my job description to keep me around for a very long time.  I was excited.

    At the same time, the church was finishing construction on a new million dollar Family Life Center.  On the surface, there was great excitement.  Behind the scenes, things were a disaster, and the church was getting ready to be in great financial distress.  A total lack of leadership had led to the building be built without a loan actually being secured and without the required sprinkler system (as a side note, I never got to use that building.  It finally opened 18 months or so after I left and the sprinklers were installed).  Our ministry budgets were stripped away, leaving me to find creative ways to finance previously planned events- like our March, 2005 trip to New York.  Just prior to the event, we received a $2000 gift from a church member to use at my discretion.  I went to the Finance Committee chair, and asked if instead of taking the cash to NYC I could just use the church credit card and then pay the bill from our money.  With the pastor standing right next to me listening to the entire conversation, he said "yes."  Several weeks later, after our trip, I was called into that same pastor's office and absolutely destroyed by that same man for using the credit card without permission.  When I implored both men to recall the previous conversation they looked at me like I was speaking Swahili.  Everything went downhill from there, and most of it was my fault.  But NOT the finances.  They came to me in mid-May and told me to resign, effective immediately.  I convinced them to let me stay through our planned Youth Week the first week in June. I told my family Memorial Day weekend at Walt Disney World that we had to be out of our church-owned home by June 15th.  It was a nightmare.

    I can look back at my 4 years at WMUMC with fondness because of the opportunity I had to serve so many great students and to work with an amazing group of adults on the Youth Ministry Team.  I enjoyed working with many of the staff members.  We accomplished a lot in the name of Jesus, and Graceland had become a place of refuge for students from all over northwest Hillsborough county.  I am very sorry that my time there ended the way it did, and that I hurt and disappointed people along the way.  I am also sorry that the church used my departure as an excuse for another budget cut, having not paid a youth pastor a living wage since.  So as I bid farewell (at least temporarily) to my stories of our Wesley years, I'll use the words of the late, great Jimmy Valvano to sum up my final year at WMUMC- "They gave me a lifetime contract...and then they declared me dead."  But praise God, we are a Resurrection People, and many of our wonderful friends from those days are coming back into our lives, and our story together continues.  As the scripture says in James 1:2, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds..."

    Because of Jesus,

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    CCM Thursday: The Late Great PFR

    Back in early 2010 I did a countdown for this blog of the 50 Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) projects that had the most impact on my life and ministry (through 2007).  You can see that list here.  When I began the countdown I decided to leave off live albums and greatest hits collections.  In doing so, I chose to leave off one of my all time favorite projects, The Late Great PFR.  Today I want to share this classic collection with you.

    PFR is a band that began as the group Pray For Rain in 1991, only to discover that an instrumental group already had claimed that name.  They shortened their name to PFR and became one of the most influential Christian bands of the mid-1990s.  I first encountered them at a National Youth Workers Convention in Nashville in 1995 and was blown away by their creative lyrics and awesome arrangements. I quickly bought all of their CDs and became a big fan.  In 1998 they announced they were breaking up and issued a greatest hits collection.  It is still easily one of my top 10 listened to albums.  It contained 13 classics and 3 brand new songs, and I love them all.  Songs like Great Lengths, Pray For Rain, AnythingWait For the Sun, Fare Thee Well and the classic Goldie's Last Day are staples on my I-pod.  For me, their vocal blend and creative songs made them the Beatles of CCM.  You can hear their biggest hit, That Kind of Love, by watching the video below.  If you don't know PFR, then you are missing out on some amazing music. They have gotten back together a couple of times since 2000, and still perform together.  But they will be hard pressed to ever top the songs featured on The Late Great PFR.  Here's the playlist:
    1)  Great Lengths                              9)  Pray For Rain
    2)  Pour Me Out                               10)  Wonder Why
    3)  Name                                           11)  The Love I Know
    4)  Walk Away From Love              12)  Do You Want to Know Love
    5)  Forever                                        13)  Merry Go Round
    6)  Anything                                     14)  That Kind of Love
    7)  Spinnin' Round                           15)  Wait For the Sun
    8)  Goldie's Last Day                        16)  Fare Thee Well

    Have a blessed day, everyone- and don't forget to "pray for rain to come and wash away what has made you numb!"

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    7 Things: Wesley Memorial Edition

    Though it did not end well,  the time I served Wesley Memorial UMC in Tampa (October 2001 - June 2005) is very special to me.  Lots of amazing students, parents, events and moments stand out in my mind, but today I want to remember 7 Things that will always be special to me about those years.  Not included but ALWAYS remembered are the 2 Lost And Found concerts, the trips, the dozens of lunches at Lee Garden Chinese Restaurant and the many dinners at Kado Japanese Steakhouse.  They were all magical.  Here we go:

    1. My interview for the job, when student Kyle Bell asked me, "How do you feel about dating?" - and I answered, "I don't know, we just met..."  It turned out the previous YP thought dating was evil, and Kyle was just making sure of my position!
    2. The Sunday afternoon in 2005 we took a group out to a local beach and filmed our very own music video for the Ian Eskelin song Save the Humans. We had a great time, got lots of odd looks from other beach-goers, and eventually Pat O'Brien made a very cool video out of the footage.  Like so many other things I have, it is still on VHS.  Maybe someday I'll get it transfered into a digital format...
    3. A Youth Ministry Team Christmas party at Bahama Breeze, an incredibly popular restaurant in Tampa.  We somehow managed to squeeze 20 of us around a table for 12 as all kinds of people we didn't think could make it showed up- and we had an amazing meal anyway.  It was always very important to me to take care of my volunteers.
    4. Walking to the Virgin Megastore in Times Square on our 2005 NYC trip with Nina Mock, Justin Overstreet and others at 2 AM.  It was just one of those great moments of indescribable fellowship that I will always treasure. Sticking Virgin price tags to Nina (Virgin SALE: $9.99!) was just the icing on the cake!
    5. Leading a prayer service for Robin Smith, one of our volunteers, as she prepared to go in for a last gasp artificial insemination for she and her husband Ed.  The pastor couldn't be there, so I led her co-workers from the church's preschool in a laying on of hands.  It was a powerful prayer time, and her beautiful twin girls are a testimony to God's faithfulness.
    6. The night I drove Jacquie Thomson home from a youth event and she began to cry as she told me how fat she felt.  Jacquie was one of the smartest, talented and most beautiful young women it was ever my pleasure to have in a youth group, and to hear her in such pain over the ridiculous expectations of others just tore me up.  We talked a lot that night, and later on she remained a faithful part of our ministry long after most of her friends had moved on.
    7. The final week.  I especially remember the great day we had at DisneyQuest before breaking down on the way home and having one of the students- Ryan Dittmar - save the day!  I remember the moment I realized that one of our newer Youth Ministry Team members, Lisa Jewett, was going to be the person to lead the group forward while they searched for a new YP- and I was so right.  She would also become one of my closest friends.  And I remember loosing Kevin Cook.  We had one final Rec Around the Clock, and an hour after everyone went home and I locked up the church, Kevin was reported missing.  After a quick search, we found him asleep on the front pew in the sanctuary.  Ahhhh...youth ministry!!!
    So many memories, so many blessings.  I'll wrap up the tales of my years at WMUMC on Friday with a look back at how it all ended.  Until then...

    Because of Jesus,

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    How Do You View God?

    I have always believed that how we picture God has a tremendous impact on our faith.  Whether it be through bad teaching, bad theology or simple misunderstanding, many of us see God as having attributes that simply do not exist.  We talk about the "God of the Old Testament" as if God has a split personality, failing to realize that Jesus is the New Covenant who changed everything.  This is crucial, because the way we view God influences the way we think God views us.  Take a look at the list below and see if any of these "personas" of God have ever found their way into your thinking...

    God as Darth Vader - Do what God tells you to do and everything will be cool.  Lose one rebel ship because it jumped to light speed and feel the cold hand of doom on your shoulder.  God does not like failures...
    God as Genie - Your wish is God's command!  Some people call this prayer, but we all know it's all about telling God what you need want and waiting for Him to deliver.  Plus, there is none of that silly 3 wish limit stuff!
    God as Judge Judy - Break a law and you will pay.  There will no mercy for law breakers, especially if it happens to be one of the Top 10.  If God catches you coveting your neighbor's key lime pie, you might as well pack your bags for hell...
    God as Grumpy Old Man - God is not actually in control of things anymore.  He just sits in the recliner and complains about the state of things on earth and how no one listens to Him anymore.  Occasionally yells at the young folks to "Get off my lawn!"  
    God as Bartender - God is always there to listen, to ease your pain, and to give you a little something to take the edge off.  But He's not really gonna' do anything about it.
    God as Cosmic Killjoy - Does something look like fun?  Then God doesn't like it.  He wants you to be solemn and miserable.  Everything that sounds like a good time must be against His rules.  That's why soccer, rap & disco succeeded- absolutely nothing fun about those things.  :)
    God as Financial Advisor - We should give freely to our churches and TV evangelists, not because we want to give back to God but because if we do He will make us wealthy beyond our wildest dreams!  So you don't forget, order your autographed Last Supper Menu before midnight tonight and you will be blessed!
    God as Life of the Party - You hang with God, and life will be all sunshine and parties.  No sadness, no struggles and no worrying about people who might need your help.  God will keep you smiling and smelling good!

    Do any of those sound familiar to you?  Or do you have your very own view of God?  Before you answer, here's one more I left out...

    God as BFF - Need to be held accountable?  God can do that.  Need someone to lean on when the world has got you down?  God is always there.  Need to be convicted of your sins?  He's the One for the job.  Need to be loved unconditionally?  God is the ONLY one who will do that.  In John 15:14-15  Jesus says, "You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends..."  The great worship band Delirious expressed it like this:  "What a friend I've found, closer than a brother. It would break our hearts to ever lose each other...Jesus, friend forever."  God came to us in human form so that we would know how much he loves us- and that's what the Jesus Revolution is all about.  You want to know how much he cares about you?  Read Luke 12:6-7.  He knows everything about you and loves you more than you can imagine.  The creator of the universe (YAWEH) loves us like a daddy (ABBA).  How amazing is that...

    So let me ask you again- How do you view God?

    Because of Jesus,