Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Disney Dash Ice Cream Bash

When we arrived at FUMC-Kissimmee in April of 1994, we had lots to learn about the community and the church.  We had lots to learn about being Floridians.  But we already knew a great deal about Walt Disney World.  It didn't take me long to work the House of Mouse into our youth ministry plans.  And the event that became everyone's favorite was The Disney Dash Ice Cream Bash!

We had first discovered the Beaches & Cream Soda Shop while staying with my parents at Disney's Yacht Club Resort following a cruise we took for our 5th anniversary in 1991.  Beaches (as we still refer to it) had great hamburgers and awesome ice cream creations, and we ate there several times.  Then in 1993 on The Magic Tour (a youth trip from Springfield Friends Meeting) a group of us made a dinner stop at Beaches and simply had a blast (see But Now...).  One of the great joys of moving to Kissimmee was making regular trips over to WDW and visiting some of our favorite restaurants.  I decided to include the youth on a trip to Beaches in the summer of '94.  It became a tradition- and The Disney Dash Ice Cream Bash was born!

The Dash took a variety of forms over the years.  In the beginning, we just went for ice cream treats, like the No Way Jose and the biggest, best Root Beer floats you could ever imagine.  Over my final few summers at FUMC-K we would give away a Kitchen Sink (the "takes at least 4 people to eat it" signature sundae of Beaches) every summer and include the winners in our trip.  Then we would just hang out at the Yacht & Beach Club Resort's amazing sandy-bottomed pool, dreaming of the day we would sneak in and swim there.  Later, when I began doing the Dash with the Wesley Memorial UMC group, we would make a day of it, doing a scavenger hunt at the Disney Village or playing miniature golf.  But the highlight of every Dash was ice cream.

I know that many of my readers have memories of the Beaches & Cream Soda Shop, and I'd love to hear them.  In the meantime, I think I need to plan a trip to Beaches for later in September.  Who wants to join me?  :)

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Happy 25th Anniversary To Us!

This past Saturday night at Bahama Breeze
A quick update- Josephine Naomi Kuramochi was born to Jennifer (Minnigan) & Jun on August 29th at 2:30 PM. She weighed in at a little over 8 pounds and 19 1/2 inches long.  Mom and baby are doing great.  Welcome to our world, Josephine!  There is no truth to the rumor that they will call her Bob...

25 years ago today Marilyn Steele and I stood in the presence of God and before our family and friends and were joined in holy matrimony.  In our vows we promised all of the usual of things (except the obey part- no one promised to obey!).  We promised to love, cherish and support one another.  We promised to do those things in sickness and in health.  We also promised to do those until death parts us.  But there was one phrase we both uttered in our vows that I want to focus on today as I remember 25 years with my best friend.  As we made these promises, we said that we would keep them because we would have "divine assistance."  I firmly believe that willingness to include God in our relationship is why we are celebrating today.

Some of you may not believe this (insert sarcasm here), but I have not always been easy to live with.  Way before I nearly destroyed my family with my sin, I could be a real pain in the butt.  Sometimes I gave the best of myself to the churches I served and Marilyn (and later Will) got what was left over.  Sometimes I was very selfish.  Sometimes I was simply an idiot!  But through it all, we loved each other and clung to each other, because we knew God was in control.   We have not always been "happy."  We have not always had the "tinglies" for each other.  But we have always loved each other with God's love.  And that is why we have reached this milestone today- and reached it with a level of greater love and respect for one another than we have ever known before.

Happy Anniversary, baby!
I had always dreamed of a big party or a big trip to celebrate our 25th anniversary, but finances and my travel restrictions don't allow for that right now.  That day will come.  Instead, this past Saturday night the 3 of us went to dinner at one of our favorite places - Bahama Breeze - and had a wonderful dinner and family time together.  After 25 years of marriage and 16 years of raising a son, we all love each other and enjoy each other's company.   I guess we got to have that big party after all...  I love you, Marilyn, and I still promise that "with divine assistance I will be a loving husband as long as we both shall live."   Thank you for 25 years of blessings and the promise of so many more to come.

Because of Jesus,

Monday, August 29, 2011

10 Things I Don't Miss About Youth Ministry

The part I miss the most- great times with great students!
I spent 28 years in student ministry before losing that privilege in 2007.  If you have read any of this blog in the past, then you know how much I loved my job and how much I still miss it.  Being involved in the spiritual lives of teenagers and their parents, helping them discover the love and grace of Jesus, was a great blessing to me.  However... having been away from it for over 4 years now, I have to admit that there are some things that I do not miss.  Allow me to share a few of those things with you today, in no particular order.  

1)  That Smell - I loved taking trips with my students, but no amount of claiming that there is "joy in the journey" can overcome the stench that begins to overpower the inside of every church van on every youth trip.  Sometimes it was body odor, other times just a collection of smells from various foods and feet.  But most often, it was a blend of all those things combined with a substantial amount of "natural gas."  After one trip I took our van to a professional car wash to get it cleaned inside and out, only to be told, "I don't think that smell is ever coming out..."  I don't miss that smell.
2)  Church Boards & Finance Committees - This one is simple.  Business men rarely understood me, and I rarely understood them.  Plus I hate committee meetings.  If the meetings were not with youth or the Youth Ministry Team (best meetings ever!) then I really wasn't interested.  True story...
3)  Habitually Late Parents - I'm not talking about the parents who get stuck in traffic or forget the time on occasion.  I'm talking about the ones who NEVER pick their student up until at least 30 minutes after a youth event has ended.  Trust me when I tell you that kids who get left like that are seldom the ones you want any extra time with after a full day of work.  One particular FUMC-Kissimmee youth whose parents always left him an extra hour comes to mind, but I'll be nice...
4)  The Blame Game - If something in a church gets spilled, broken, stolen or lost, then it's only a matter of time before someone blames the youth ministry.  At one church I served an 80 year old woman claimed to have left a scarf in a room that we used for a Wednesday night study group.  The scarf disappeared, and she wanted the Senior Pastor to question the kids about who took her scarf.  And that's just one example out of thousands!  Something go wrong?  Blame the youth- or the Youth Pastor!
5)  "We've Never Done It That Way Before" - Also goes by the name, "We don't do things like that here."  Every church has a person, a committee or an adult Sunday School class that responds to every new idea in that manner.  And since student ministry requires new ideas and new methods to stay fresh, there is often constant conflict.  It is a point of great pride with me that I never once yelled at such people, "Will you just SHUT UP!?!?!"  
6)  The 3 Girl Conflicts - I learned from my own experiences as a teenager that anytime you have more than 2 teenage girls attempting to be be best friends at the same time, you have a problem.  I could walk you through each of my stops on my youth ministry trail and give you examples, but that would be cruel.  But looking back, it was always some of my very favorite girls who would end up in these nasty conflicts.  One of the 3 is always left out.  One of the 3 is always angry.  And one of the 3 spends a whole lot of time complaining to the Youth Pastor.  The headache is coming back even as I type...
7)  Recitals - Spending three hours at a dance recital or music recital to see or hear one student do one thing is something I often did, but will never miss.  And I REALLY don't miss beginner violin recitals...
8)  Macho Men - In every group I served there were always a couple of guys who felt like youth group was not masculine enough for them, so they would try to compensate in other ways.  During games, they would play rough and show off.  The would bully smaller kids.  They would disrespect the girls in the group.  And they would not participate in the bible studies or other learning activities.  This type of guy was always irritating to me, and on more that a few occasions I found myself screaming at them.  But I never tossed one out a window.  Ahhh- that was the dream!
9)  Dating Relationships - I never liked it when youth group kids were dating each other, because when they broke up it always seemed like one of them got custody of the group and the other wound up feeling shunned.  Plus, you always had to deal with what was "appropriate behavior" when you had couples at events.  At one point I tried a guideline that said, "Don't engage in exclusive behavior.  In other words, never do with one person what you would not be willing to with everyone else."  I am fairly certain I had a couple of guys in that group who took that a bit too literally...  :)  
10) Saying Goodbye - I was never good at letting go of the students I worked with over the years.  I hated to leave them when the time came to go - I always dreamed of taking all of my students and Youth Ministry Team members with me from one church to the next.  I hated when they left me, even to go to college.  They were all a part of my family, and many of them still are today.  I was never good at letting them go, and maybe I should have been.  But I don't miss saying goodbye...

So there are 10 things I do not miss.  I didn't include "cleaning up the messes we made" because making those messes is one of the things I really miss- so it all evens out!  The lists of things I do miss can be found in the first 730 or so posts on this blog.  Have a blessed day!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sheep Stealers

This past Wednesday I made an evening run to our local Sweetbay grocery store.  As I pushed my cart through the produce section I saw a man waving to me, and I recognized him as someone who had once been a part of the congregation at Wesley Memorial UMC during the time that I served that church.  We'll call him "Roger."  I had run into Roger a couple of times since moving back to Tampa in 2007, and he had always been friendly.  Actually, more than friendly.  You see, Roger is a talker.  Anything under 30 minutes is a short conversation when talking to him. This time, after a quick "hello" and a "how's the family?" Roger got straight to the point.  He asked me where we are going to church now, and after barely waiting for my answer told me where his family was attending.  That information was followed immediately by a barrage of dazzling facts.  Their church was growing at what sounded like an amazing rate.  They have 11,000 members.  They have 4 services in their auditorium that seats 3000.  They have a men's bible study on Tuesday nights with over 250 men.  After each incredible statistic, he told me that this was the church my family and I should attend.  And after each invitation, he mentioned what he clearly found to be the most amazing thing of all- the church has a Starbucks in it.  I stood there a bit dumbstruck at first, but then reminded Roger that we love our church and were not looking to move.  He then began to tell me how many of his mega-church's members had recently left another (even larger) local mega-church to attend his.  This was a point of great pride in his eyes.  In fact, according to Roger, people from all over Tampa Bay are leaving their churches to come to his- and he insisted we should join them.  

I know that there are plenty of valid reasons for people to switch churches.  The fact that another church is larger and has a Starbucks inside is NOT one of those valid reasons.   When I once again pointed out to Roger that my family loves our church, he gave it one final shot- which I am sure in his mind seemed like an offer I couldn't refuse.  He gave me (see picture) a card good for a free cup of Starbucks coffee if I would only give his church a try.  At that point, I kinda lost it.  I complimented Roger on his enthusiasm for his church, but then pointed out that what he was engaging in was not evangelism.  I am already a Christ-follower and already have a church.  Roger (and I am guessing lots of other folks from that mega-church) has been trained in the fine art of Sheep Stealing.  When you focus your efforts on getting people to move from one church to another rather than on engaging new people with the gospel, then you are Sheep Stealing- raiding another flock so that your flock looks more impressive.  Unfortunately, far too often this is how large churches get to be larger.  They are able to build fancy structures and offer programming that make them a sort of Six Flags Over Jesus.  Then they make sure everyone in the community knows that they offer things that a smaller church cannot.  And soon, the sheep began to be lured in.  Throw in a cup of Starbucks, a gymnasium, and a high profile pastor-  and the sheep are hooked...

So my question to you today is this- when was the last time you invited someone to go to church with you who doesn't already have a church home?  Jesus told us that he came for the lost and the sick.  We spend too much of our time giving band-aids to people who already know where the hospital is.  Sheep Stealing is easy.  Sheep Making- now there's a challenge that can only be met by leading people to the Good Shepherd.  Let's get busy with the business of Jesus.  And "Roger," if you're family doesn't drink coffee.  Put in a Slurpee machine and we'll talk!  :)

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lists of Memories

Great times with the FUMC-Kissimmee guys in NYC!
In the two years I have been writing this blog I have made several lists of some of my favorite memories from my days in youth ministry.  Today I present a list of those lists- in case you missed them the first time.  Just click on the links and take a trip back in time, while I get a partial day off!  :)  Two quick prayer requests- Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi is scheduled to be induced tomorrow if baby Josephine has not yet made her appearance, and Nate and Amanda Hill have announced that they are expecting as well.  So add them to the list that also included Erin Augenblick Shannon, Lindsey Joiner BennettLisa Kraus Spires and yet another unspoken, as yet unannounced pregnancy I know about.  The babies are on their way!!!  Now enjoy these youth ministry flashbacks...

That should be enough to keep you busy reading on Saturday- especially if Hurricane Irene has you trapped indoors!  Stay safe and have a blessed day, and be sure and join me tomorrow for a rant about Stealing Sheep!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, August 26, 2011

Happy 2nd Birthday, Blog!

"You, with the past at your back and the future unsure
asked for the chance to try love once more.
Well aware of the consequences should your dreams fall through
You threw down your last defenses wanting to try something new..." 
- Lessons Learned   (Dan Fogelberg)

On August 26, 2009 I gave birth to a blog.  At the time I had spent the better part of two years off the grid, completely out of touch with the many friends I had made over my previous 49 years of life.  We had only just begun to reconnect through Marilyn's Facebook page.  I began writing as a way of expressing my appreciation for the great times we had shared over those years, but with the expectation that few would ever read those stories.  Soon after, I discovered that people were reading (and even enjoying) the old stories - even people who knew my story of sin and failure that ended my days in youth ministry.  The song lyric at the top kept coming to mind as I wrote each day.  I was hoping to reconnect with old friends and "try love once more."  And I was well aware of what the consequences could be if those old friends no longer had a place in their hearts for me...

Now it's two years later, and I can safely say that this blog has been a blessing from God in my life.  The discipline and commitment of writing every day for what is now 731 consecutive days has given me new life, new energy and new friends- and I am so thankful for all of that.  Along the way I have learned a few things, and I thought to celebrate this "blogiversary" I would share a few of those lessons with you.  Here we go...
  1. I had always heard it said that optimists see life's glass as half full, while pessimists see it as half empty.  Over the past few years I have learned that followers of Jesus understand that the glass comes with free refills!  No matter who you are or what you have done, because of grace there is always more!
  2. People like to read their own names here.  My Saturday Shout Outs are quite often my most visited posts, and I think it's because of all the names.  Every now and then people get excited about seeing a picture of themselves as well.  To see LOTS of pictures from all my years in student ministry click here to watch The Great Adventure slideshow.
  3. Every post (like this one) seems better when I quote either Rich Mullins or Dan Fogelberg.  In fact,  I quoted Dan in my very first post, as well as one year ago on this blog's first birthday!
  4. A few people like to leave comments- most do not.  My favorite example was a post I made earlier this year that received 341 hits in a 24 hour period and got no comments.  You get used to it, but I have to tell you- nothing brings a smile to a blog writers face faster than a comment.  Just so you know....
  5. My lovely wife Marilyn did a Facebook survey a couple of nights ago asking which of her "friends" had ever read this blog.  Not only were we surprised by some of the names who responded, we were excited by the diversity.  There were people from my Quaker Lake days, New Garden Friends Meeting, Springfield Friends Meeting, FUMC-Kissimmee, Wesley Memorial UMC and even Trinity UMC of Waycross.  To my knowledge, no one from the Union Church of Hinsdale has ever read my blog.  :)
  6. It has been said that Facebook is often a place where you are friends with people you know and never really liked, while Twitter is a place where you really like people you have never met. I can't speak about Facebook, but I do know that the love and support I have been given from my Twitter followers have kept me energized during the past year, and I thank all of them for that.  New inspiration is always good.  And I really hope we can fix that "never met" problem some day soon...
  7. When I wrote my personal confession and about the circumstances that ended my ministry and changed my life forever a few months back, I had no idea what the response would be.  What I discovered is that I have the best friends anyone could ever have, and that they still loved me despite myself.  When most of the world was shooting at me, you guys joined me in the foxhole, and I will never forget that.  If you are still reading this blog today while knowing everything about me, then you are a living, breathing example of grace, and I am blessed to have you in my life.  Thank you.
So Happy Birthday, blog!  I don't know exactly where we will go from here, but I do know that this has been an important part of my life and an exciting new beginning.  I can't wait to see where Jesus takes me next...
    Because of Jesus,

    Thursday, August 25, 2011

    5 Shining Moments

    730.  Perhaps a strange number, but today a very significant one.  As of today I have posted to this blog 730 consecutive days.  That's 2 full years of blogging each and every day- and on 4 of those days, blogging twice!  Today, as we prepare for tomorrow's 2nd anniversary celebration, I want to look back at 5 special days from my life and ministry that I shall never forget.  I also want to wish a very Happy Birthday to two of my favorite people in the whole world- Heather Beggs Varner and Jill Gilbreth Bryant.  It still amazes me that two of my Hall of Fame students share a birthday!

    1)  My Wedding Day -  On August 30, 1986 Marilyn and I were married.  Those of you who can do math will know our 25th anniversary is coming up next Tuesday.  Back in 2009 I posted some memories of that wonderful day, and you can read them by clicking here.  I cannot imagine my life without Marilyn (and Will); she is a gift from God and a shining example of what the love and grace of Jesus should look like when lived out here on earth.  This was a great day...
    2)  A Star is Born - On July 16, 1995, William Joshua Jones was born at Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando.  It was an amazing and stressful weekend of false starts, broken promises and on exhausted mother-to-be, but in the end it was a glorious adventure that produced a now 16 year old son that I could not love more.  You can read more about that day by visiting this vintage post - The Best Night Ever!
    3)  The SAD Man - In the summer of 1983 I was hired for my sixth summer of working full-time summer camp staff at Quaker Lake- but for the first time, I would not be a counselor.  I would instead be the first ever Crafts and Special Activities Director (later shortened to simply, "SAD Man").  It was an amazing summer.  On Thursday night of that week we began a tradition that as recently as 2006 was still going strong- a themed banquet during high school camp week.   We did a luau (a theme I would repeat many times over my years in youth ministry) and had a great night.  Many of my all time favorite campers are pictured here enjoying that night.  Awesome stuff.
    4)  Disney VIP Treatment -  My commitment to student ministry and my love of Walt Disney World came together on one night in a spectacular fashion in 1993 during a youth group trip from Springfield Friends Meeting to Orlando.  Through a series of most fortunate events our large group wound up having one of the most amazing evenings of dining and entertainment at Pleasure Island you could ever imagine.  It was such an incredible night that it took 2 posts- about The Fireworks Factory and The Comedy Warehouse - to tell the tale completely.  Best. Youth. Trip. EVER!
    5)  My 50th Birthday - On October 6, 2009, I turned 50 years old, and a group of old friends from our days in Kissimmee joined us for a special evening on the Saturday before the big day  to celebrate with my family.  We went to our favorite Tampa Japanese steakhouse- KADO- which has since closed down.  It was a great night full of excellent food and lots of laughter that came at a great time for me, and was one of those moments that reminded me that despite all of the turmoil I had been through, it was still "well with my soul."  You can read more by clicking here.

    So there you have it- 5 Shining Moments.  I hope that all of you will join me tomorrow to celebrate the birthday of this blog- and maybe even leave a comment or two!  :)

    Because of Jesus,

    Wednesday, August 24, 2011

    "Back Home"

    Most of this post originally appeared in October of 2009.  I repost it today because many have never seen it, and it speaks to the amazing influence of Quaker Lake Camp in my life.  Remember, this blog turns 2 on Friday!

    "Back home, I spend my summers; Back home, I spend myself...

    Winter Camp 1981
    In my late teens and early 20's Quaker Lake Camp was not just a place I worked in the summer; it was a place of sanctuary for me and my friends.  When life was stressful and we needed to "get away" we would call camp director Neal Thomas and ask if we could come down and spend a night or two.  When the forecasters called for a big snow, we would drive the 25 miles to QLC hoping to get snowed in there.  There were times when I would drive down and just walk around by myself, exploring the woods and visiting the Campfire Circle.  In many ways, Quaker Lake was home.

    In 1982 the politics and turmoil that was the North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends came to Quaker Lake the week after Christmas for the annual Winter Camp. I was nervous.  And I was not alone.  There was great debate at New Garden Friends Meeting as to whether or not we should even take our youth.  But we did.  And while the program and speakers were very different than what we were used to, it was still a good experience- until the last night.  The speakers/musicians they brought in spent an hour telling us all we would burn in hell if we didn't respond to their invitation to give our hearts to Jesus.  It seemed to be less about our faith and more about them.  Many of us came from backgrounds that taught us that following Jesus was a life long spiritual journey, not a pressured, spur of the moment decision.  We were not even given any time to sit in silence and pray about our choice.  So we didn't raise our hands.  And the leaders became angry.  They again reminded us that if we didn't act at that moment, hell awaited.  I was distraught; the 14-17 year old students from a similar background were horrified.  I wrote a song late that night that tells the story; few have ever heard it, but I share it with you now. The opening tag is at the top of this posting, the rest is below.  It's called Back Home.

    As evening fell one winter night, I sensed that something was not right
    with the people and the place that I had come to know so well
    I looked for faces that I knew as shadows crept across the room
    I looked up and it seemed as if no one I knew was there
    and I bowed my head in prayer

    The question they shared in the end asked if Jesus was my friend
    but the answer didn't matter, 'cause I would not raise my hand
    I felt that eyes were now on me, and what I feared had come to be
    Outcasts in the place we loved, in the place we called our home
    and we felt so all alone

    Chorus:  But we know, yes we know, that our friends aren't far away
    And we know, yes we know, that no matter what these people say
    the LORD will find His way...

    I sat still in deep despair of all that they were saying there
    trying to get my courage up and say, "that's just not true"
    As I reached out for the Light, I knew could guide me through this night
    it seems I finally understood what it really means to pray
    for the LORD to show the way


    A dim fire gave me just the light to see if what I feared was right
    to see if all was really lost, and we had to leave our home...
    But instead we reached out on that day and without a sound began to pray
    and with that bond of unity we would not be denied
    you see the LORD was by our side!     -C. Jones  (1982)

    That moment- when the crowd was breaking up and many of the youth gathered around me, could have been a time to complain or give up.  But in that moment, God moved in us, and I knew just what we needed.  We gathered silently in a circle and began to pray.  As we held hands and prayed silently, our emotion was every bit as intense as the evangelical fervor of the speakers.  Our leaders could see that, and they left us alone to pray.  There were only 6 0r 7 times over the years when I felt like Jesus just stepped in and took over, joining groups in a tangible way.  This was the first of those times- He was in the circle, holding our hands- and spiritually, I was never the same again. That night I went from being a Youth Leader to being a Youth Minister.  The struggles over theology and style would continue (and still continue today), and New Garden sent a strongly worded letter to NCYM asking for more balance in programming.  But for those of us who had been in that circle, we knew we had encountered the living Christ amidst the struggle, and it would not seem so scary anymore.  Once again, Quaker Lake had become a sanctuary to me...and it was still home.

    Because of Jesus,

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    7 Things: Growing Up In Youth Group

    I have spent a lot of time on this blog telling stories of my days as a youth pastor.  But I would have never become a youth pastor without my own youth group experience as a teenager.  Between 8th grade and the end of high school (1972-77) I was a part of a very special youth ministry at New Garden Friends Meeting.  You can read about how I wound up being part of the group in the 2nd post I ever made here, called Beginnings.  Today I remember some of the great people and few of the random events that still stick out in my mind some 35 years later...

    Becky, Tammy, Lisa & Beth
    1)  Our group was never huge, but we did have a fairly large group of people who passed through during those years.  My best friends were Steve & Carl Semmler, Beth Vestal, Tammy Doggett, Becky Meredith, Lisa (Ram-It!) Ramos, Tim Vail and Martha Ratledge- but there were so many more who made that group special.  I wrote about Andy Maynard yesterday, but great people like Julie Oden, Jeff Vestal, Melissa Meredith, Roy Parkhurst, Jane Reynolds, Joe Willlingham, MaryLynne Burris, the Ossman family and more were all part of the fun.  And we had incredible leadership from David Brown III, Beth Phillips, Rob Mitchell, Barb Brown and Louise Critz.  They all made an impact on my life.
    2)  There was this kid named Gurney Kaufman who was also part of the group early on in my time there.  On one of my first trips with the group, to Camp Pla-Mor in Myrtle Beach, Gurney shot bottle rockets at unsuspecting civilians and threw a smoke bomb in Jeff Vestal's shower stall.  Somehow he was still alive when we returned home.
    3)  For reasons I do not remember, at some point DB3 had us making up our own musical version of Julius Caesar, set in Rome, GA.  We all used our worst southern accents to day lines like, "Tis I, the sooth sayer!  And the sooth sayer say...Beware the Ides of March!"  At some point a couple of us had a scene where we skipped long singing, "Hanes makes me feel good all under..."  Thank God that there is no video of any of that...
    4)  Every autumn we would go up into the mountains and spend a few nights at Sam Levering's apple orchards, just hanging out under the stars together.  Those were amazing times.  If I recall correctly, the evenings usually ended with us guys giving some of the girls back rubs, with a promise of reciprocation.  I am pretty certain I am still owed a TON of back rubs...
    5) In addition to Sam's Place, Myrtle Beach and Quaker Lake, a number of us went with a group to New York in November of 1976.  I remember 2 things about that trip.  One, while we were there the Guyana Jonestown Massacre (in which cult leader Jim Jones poisoned hundreds of his followers with Kool-Aid) took place, and was a major item of concern at the United Nations.  Secondly, Lisa Ramos and Dan Moran met for the first time.  They are still married today.
    6)  Roy Parkhurst had a friend named Annette Wells (I think?) who had an absolutely beautiful singing voice and wrote a haunting song about a female race horse named Ruffian who broke a leg and had to be put down.  Always wondered what happened to her...
    7)  I learned everything I know about great games like Sardines, Secret Documents and Kick-the-Can (in the Graveyard!) from my days in the New Garden youth group. I learned to play guitar from Martha, Rob and Steve.  I learned to hold doors (and many other good manners) from Beth, Becky and Tammy.  I learned how to be both youth pastor and friend to students from DB3 and Rob.  I understood how to make bible study and programs fun and educational because I saw it modeled every week- by college students who were paid next to nothing for their work.  I could not have had better teachers.

    There are so many stories to tell.  The night we carried a sleeping Carl Semmler out of a cabin at QLC without waking him up.  The afternoon at Sam's when Becky was sleep talking about saving a tree.  The New Year's Eve square dances and our wild rendition of the Virginia Reel. So many memories.  I love those people, and I still miss them. Outside of my parents, nothing had more impact on my life in those important years than the youth group of New Garden Friends Meeting.  I thank God that he placed them in my life.

    Because of Jesus,

    Monday, August 22, 2011

    Characters I Have Known: Andy Maynard

    Andy Maynard, Steve Semmler, Unknown, DB3 & Me
    The 2 year anniversary of this blog is Friday.  Join me all week for some special looks back!

    I first met Andy Maynard when we were both in Cub Scouts, sometime in the late 1960s.  His mom was one of our "Den Mothers," and I remember really liking him.  I knew that he was the youngest of several children, and the youngest by a long shot.  In fact, his father had coached my Dad in college!  Andy was a year younger than me, and after Scouts I lost track of him for a couple of years- until Steve Semmler talked me in to going to youth group with him at New Garden Friends Meeting when I was in the 8th grade.  Andy was a part of that group, and over the next several years he became a dear friend and one of my favorite all-time characters. I should preface all of these tales by letting you know that the young man I knew grew up to become Dr. Andy Maynard, getting his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Texas.  But back in the day- well, I'll let the stories speak for themselves!  Here are just a few of my Memories of Maynard...

    • During the height of the Jaws phenomenon back in the late '70s, it was common place for people to put their hand on their hip and stick their elbow out of the water as if they had a fin.  The crowd would laugh and sing the Jaws theme music as these "attacks" took place.  Maynard took this to whole new level.  One year at high school camp at Quaker Lake he began to attack in the pool with great frequency, but he added his own touch to the performance.  Andy began to actually bite people!  On the leg, the arm or whatever was available.  He became known as Shark for his prowess in the pool- and he always came up smiling!
    • Sometimes when the conversation would get deep, Maynard would look someone straight in the eye and ask, "Have you ever really considered helium?"  Never failed to crack everyone up!
    • One summer our youth group was coming back from a Myrtle Beach trip when we stopped for lunch in Rockingham, NC.  Andy was someone who tanned very well (and this was back when we put on oil to attract the sun, not lotions to repel it!) and after our trip he was very dark.  McDonald's was in the midst of an advertising campaign for a new Banana Milk Shake, and several of us were excited to try one.  Maynard took off his shirt, put on his dark sun glasses and wrapped a bandanna around his head, then headed for the counter of the very crowded restaurant.  He stared in to the face of the young woman at the cash register for a moment, and then with his best Caribbean accent said in a very loud voice, "I want...BANANA!"  She jumped back from him, and half of the crowd moved away as well.  Our group was laughing so hard we couldn't see straight.  I could never go into a McDonald's on a youth trip without telling someone that story...
    • I do not remember the circumstances under which it was first asked, but another famous Maynard query was this- "Have you ever considered a horse as a sphere?"  Makes no sense, but always made us laugh!
    The group of people that comprised the youth group of New Garden Friends Meeting during my high school years is in large part responsible for most of the good qualities I have today.  Andy Maynard may have been the most unique member of the group, but he was not alone in his influence on me.  More on that tomorrow.

    Because of Jesus,

    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    Pray For Our Teachers

    Here in Tampa school starts back on Tuesday.  Many school systems are already back in session, while others will start a bit later- but soon enough everyone will be back in school.  Today I want to list some of the educators who are a part of this blog's extended family, and ask that we all pray for them very intentionally this week.  Ask God to use them to educate, motivate and love the students they encounter.  And please, if you have names to add to the list, e-mail me or leave them in a comment and I will make sure they get added.  Have a blessed Sunday, everyone!  Please pray for:
    • Jennifer Gastler
    • Lauren Simpson
    • Ken Hill
    • Gilly Hill
    • Angie Battle
    • Caitlin Esry
    • Lisa Kraus Spires
    • Janet Cook
    • Todd Farlow
    • Jill Franklin
    • Marie Allen Pleasants
    • Debbie Davis
    • Dana Schmidt
    • Linda Wehr
    • Lisa Jewett
    • Brian Willeke
    • Beth Brown
    • Pat Pribyl
    • Julia Pribyl
    • Carlene Heck Skiles
    • Karen Hall Gould
    • Josh Fry
    I'm sure I have missed a bunch, so be sure and send me names.
      Because of Jesus,

      Saturday, August 20, 2011

      Saturday Shout Outs- HOF Edition!

      Yesterday's induction of Keri Vinson Johnston into my Youth Group Hall of Fame brings the total of HOF inductees to around 100.  I say "around" because since I have inducted a few whole graduating classes and families, it means the actual number is hard to define.  One thing is for certain- every single person included in the HOF is someone who had a great impact on influence on my life during their days as a part of the various student ministries I served.  I encourage you to visit the HOF page on this site and read all about these amazing friends.

      Today I want to talk to you about a group of people who are being added to a special wing (maybe 3rd floor, one of the big bedrooms) of the Betsy B whenever we get around turning it into the HOF.  This special edition of Saturday Shout Outs is dedicated to people who have earned a special place in my heart (and the HOF) in the almost two years since I started writing this blog.  All were part of one of my youth groups at some point in time, and they were all special then.  But over the last couple of years their love and support has given them a special place in my heart- and in the Hall of Fame!  Many of those already inducted (Teresa Reep TysingerJerry Hanbery, Charles Freedle, Lauren Carr Cacciatore, Jocelyn Sessions WardJamie Robinson, Lisa Kraus Spires, Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi, Zach Wehr and many more!) could be on this list as well, but they already know how important they are to me.  I also didn't include two very old friends (I mean we have been friends a long time- not that they are very old- although Steve is older than me!), Steve Semmler and Susan McBane Tuggle, because they were never in a youth group I lead.  But their support has meant a lot to me.  Here's who I'm shouting at today...

      • Cindy Martin - I'll never forget the day Cindy brought her daughter Colleen to my office at FUMC-Kissimmee for the first time.  Life was never the same- and in all good ways!  Cindy became part of our Youth Ministry Team and a dear friend.  But all of that was just a prelude to the love and support she has shown me since I started writing this blog.  Her encouragement has kept me going on many a "dark" afternoon, and words cannot express my love for Cindy and her family.  Can't wait to see them all soon!
      • Ashley Goad Broadhurst - The artist formerly known as "Prudence Irwina" in her youth group days at Springfield Friends Meeting is now an amazing woman, serving Jesus all over the place and currently living in Las Vegas.   Her love and support over the last 2 years have been steadfast, and I am so proud of who she has become.
      • Brook Teoli Phelps - Brook was a junior in high school when I arrived at FUMC-K in 1994, so I didn't get all that much time with her in our youth ministry.  But whether it has been on this blog, on Twitter or on Marilyn's Facebook, no one could be more encouraging and supportive than Brook has been- all the way from Sacramento!  It is safe to say there were times in the beginning of this blog when I was pretty certain only 5 people were reading- but I always knew one of them was Brook.  I truly hope to see her soon when she comes to visit her family here in Florida.
      • Caitlin Esry - Another one of my heroes, Caitlin is living in Kissimmee and teaching these days- but she always takes time to read this blog, and been over to have lunch with my family on numerous occasions, along with her sister Bethany and the great Julia Pribyl (all FUMC-K).  Their support and especially Caitlin's prayers have meant a great deal to me.
      • Ann Saunders Hale - Ann was a part of the Springfield Friends Meeting crew back in the day, but it is her great spirit and ability to make me laugh on Twitter and this blog that get her on this list.  She a very brave mom and wife, and I am honored to have her as a friend!
      • Todd Willis - OK, this one is technically cheating (how appropriate- Todd cheated at every youth group game he ever played!), because Todd is already in as part of the FUMC-K class of '95, but he and his wife Kristin deserve special recognition for being faithful readers and great friends of ours through thick and thin.  Looking forward to meeting Kristin someday soon...
      • Meagan Hill Halquist - Another FUMC-K alum who has provided great encouragement to me- while bringing a beautiful baby boy into the world at the same time!  She and Kelly Jeck Trace made me laugh so hard with some of their comments on my Kissimmee posts!
      • Lisa Jewett - A member of the Youth Ministry Team at Wesley Memorial UMC (she also had two sons in the youth group), Lisa is now one of our best friends in Tampa and an avid blog reader.  She also won the 6 String Rocketeer trivia contest from Thursday!  She may never really understand how much her love and support means to me.
      • Wayne Cook - Rev. Wayne is one of the people (along with Cathy Thacker and lots of my Twitter friends) who has reminded me that God is not finished with me yet.  I have very much appreciated his two visits to Tampa and his prayers.  
      I could go on and on (and at some point I just might!) but for now, I welcome everyone mentioned here to this very special wing of my Hall of Fame.  I can't wait for the grand opening.  The party will be amazing...

        Because of Jesus,

        Friday, August 19, 2011

        Hall of Fame: Keri Vinson

        Doug Thomas, Keri & Heather @ QLC, 1987
        The late 1980s were a wild time for the youth ministry of Springfield Friends Meeting.  Our TNT program was bringing in students from all over the community for our Monday night fiesta of fun, and a number of the youth were becoming more and more involved in our ministry.  One such student was Keri Vinson.  Keri began attending events shortly after my arrival at SFM in 1986 with her best friend (and fellow Hall of Fame inductee) Heather Beggs.  Like many other TNT students, Keri's family attended another church, but she became an important part of our youth ministry.  Today I recognize her contributions to those amazing years by making Keri an official member of my Youth Group Hall of Fame.

        Andy, Keri and friends
        There are so many stories I could tell about Keri, and many were featured on this blog during the period when I was writing about my days at Springfield.  You can see her here stopping by our house in High Point on the way to the 1989 Trinity High School prom.  Her date was (I believe) Andy; the other 2 were just along for the ride (A side note:  Does this picture capture the 80s or what?  Hair, fashion, the whole bit.  Makes me want to rent a pink tux and go to a prom myself!).  She was victimized in a Gorilla Kidnapping; she called me at 1 AM to ask the name of a song she had just heard on the radio (see my post The Best of Bread); and I have a VHS tape featuring hours of she and Heather entertaining us on our 1989 Myrtle Beach trip at the Betsy B.  We had an amazing time on a New York trip and on a couple of retreats.  But the two stories I want to share today are new to this blog, and I think will help you understand why Keri is a Hall of Fame youth.

        The first story is pure silliness. Heather and Keri had stopped by my office one day for reasons I do not remember.  At some point during the visit, they began to make-up a story about two men.  One was named Fred, and he was from Georgia.  The other was named George, and he was from Fredia.  For an hour or so they told this tale, and it was one of the funniest things I have ever heard in my life.  I remember nothing else about it, except that there I have been times in my life when I wish I could have heard it again because it made me laugh so hard.  I always found Keri to be hilarious.  But she also had a very serious side, and often came to me to talk about issues, faith and pretty much anything else that was on her mind.  I have often said that there were certain people in my student ministries about whom I knew way more than I wanted to.  Keri fell in to that category.  One night, on a retreat at Quaker Lake, I said some things without thinking as part of a program that really hurt Keri.  She wrote me a very angry letter.  She doesn't know it, but I kept that letter for all of the years that I was in youth ministry, as a reminder that I was never speaking to a "group;"  I was always speaking to individuals with their own personal stories.  She eventually forgave me.  After she got married and moved away, we lost touch, and didn't connect again until she discovered this blog and Marilyn on Facebook.  I keep threatening her with old pictures; the prom pic was my final blackmail leverage.  She is safe now- at least until I figure out how to convert VHS into a file I can use on this blog.  Then it's on! :)

        In the end, my fictional Hall of Fame is all about enshrining great memories, and few students can stir more memories than Keri Vinson Johnston.  She simply belongs.  With her loving spirit, big heart and infectious smile, she continues to have a great impact on all who know her- and that includes me.  Welcome to the HOF, Keri!  Or as you would have said back in the day- "HIIIIIEEEEE!"

        Because of Jesus,

        Thursday, August 18, 2011

        CCM Thursday: 6 String Rocketeer

        Today I want to share with you one of the great "One Hit Wonders" of Contemporary Christian Music.  The band Daily Planet was only together for one album, but on it they produced one of my all-time favorite songs- Six String Rocketeer.  The song is about dealing with family issues by allowing yourself to become lost in your favorite music.  I never had those problems; my parents were wonderful to me and to each other.  But I did often retreat to my room as a child and lose myself in my favorite songs. I would crank up the stereo, break out my tennis racket/guitar and BECOME my favorite rock stars!  That music helped me overcome heartache, depression and many other issues, and much of that music still moves me to this day.  This song is a reminder of all of that.

        So today, in addition to sharing a wonderful and seldom heard song with you, I want to play a little music trivia.  The bridge to this song contains slightly veiled references to a number of classic recording artists of the 60s, 70s and 80s.  Do you know who Daily Planet was referring to when they mentioned Sgt. Pepper, Mudslide Slim, Rocket Man, Gordon Sumner or any of the other references?  For your chance to win a $20 Barnes & Nobles gift card, identify as many of them as you can and e-mail me your answers.  I'd also love to hear some of the songs and artists that help you "blast off" and lose the worries of the day...

        Music has always been an important part of my life and my ministry.  I hope this little homemade video will remind you of some precious ways music has impacted your life.  Enjoy this amazing song.

        Wednesday, August 17, 2011

        Attitude Adjustment

        Upon my arrival at Trinity UMC-Waycross in February of 2006, I started making changes.  I changed the format and content of the Sunday evening UMYF meetings.  There would be more interactive programming, more singing, more audio-visual content and more games.  Lots more games.  Because for the previous couple of years there had really only been one game.  It involved dodge balls, people getting smashed in the face, and the word "kill."  It was not difficult to understand why many of the high school girls had lost interest in youth group.  It had become completely testosterone driven.  This had to change.

        I had discovered at my interview with youth and parents back in January that there was a small group of parents that had exercised a tremendous amount of control over both the youth ministry and the youth pastor.  When I had shared stories of some of the mission trips and other events I had led in the past, the "ring leaders" of that parental group had explained to me in no uncertain terms that "they didn't do that at TUMC."  The best I could tell, they seldom traveled outside of Georgia, and it was explained to me that I would never be able to get parents to chaperon trips like I was talking about.  I think my response that "maybe parents shouldn't be the chaperons" almost cost me the job- but it was worth it.  The attitude had to change.  By the time I actually arrived in late February, I already had two trips in mind.  We would take a summer mission trip to Chicago with the Center for Student Missions, and then in September we would take a group to Night of Joy at Walt Disney World.  I announced these ideas rather quickly, and they were met with almost unanimous approval and excitement.  Almost.  I was told by the "parental powers" that Chicago was too scary, and that no one would go.  I was told again no parents would chaperon.  Immediately, two TUMC staff members stepped up to help lead the trip, and a core group of 10 students were fired up and ready to go.  The Night of Joy trip would go on to be one of the biggest groups TUMC had taken on a trip in years.  Like it or not, they had hired me to be a leader- and I was going to lead!

        Thus began one exciting year of student ministry in Waycross.  We'll come back to some more of those stories later on, but for the next 10 days or so it's time to get ready for the 2 year anniversary of this blog (August 26) with some special posts.  I hope you will join us!

        Because of Jesus,

        Tuesday, August 16, 2011

        "Come Follow Me"

        Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass." They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.
         A short distance down the beach they came upon another pair of brothers, James and John, Zebedee's sons. These two were sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their fishnets. Jesus made the same offer to them, and they were just as quick to follow, abandoning boat and father.  -Matthew 4:18-22 (The Message)

        We want it to be so easy.  Sign up for a membership class. Memorize a couple of verses.  Learn a few good words like sanctification, justification and righteous indignation.  Get splashed, sprinkled or dunked.  Just go through the right process and you can get the stamp on your forehead- congratulations, you're a Christian!

        Jesus had something else in mind.  Something much simpler, yet not nearly so easy.  Drop everything.  Leave behind everything you thought was important.  Follow Jesus.  No questions.  Just drop everything and and follow.  My heroes James & John (The Sons of Thunder!) left their boat and their dad and went with this strange man.  There was no ritual and no initiation.  It was all about following.

        I've been writing about the Jesus Revolution since January 1, and maybe I've been making it more complex than it needs to be.  If we want our communities and our world to know the real Jesus, we need to do these three things every single day- Follow, Love and Forgive.  These things will set up apart from this world.  They will identify us as Christ-followers.  And they will turn people on to the radical, ridiculous love of Jesus.  It's simple.  But it's not easy. Because it requires that you give everything.  Think about these questions and see what might be standing in your way...
        1)  Is Christianity a label or a lifestyle for you?
        2)  James and John left everything, including their father, to go with Jesus.  What are you hanging on to that is keeping you from being a fully devoted follower of Christ?  Will you follow where He leads without questioning where you are going?
        3)  Are you a "new kind of fisherman?"  Who are the people in your life that need to meet Jesus?

        Jesus is calling us to follow.  If we drop our "nets" and leave our "boats" then the revolution will truly be unstoppable!  Have a blessed day.

        Because of Jesus,

        Monday, August 15, 2011

        A New Beginning

        When I finally arrived at Trinity UMC- Waycross in February of 2006 I was hit with several immediate realities.  The first was the little house on church property that I would be living in until Marilyn and Will arrived that summer.  It was a bit run down, it smelled funny, and the walls in every room were painted a different bright color.  It quickly became known as The Skittles House.  It had been furnished with some very formal, uncomfortable chairs from the church and a bed donated by one of the members.  Plus, the youth families had given me a "shower" and provided me with kitchen and dining equipment.  I had every thing I needed, except a TV.  A quick trip to Wal-Mart took care of that.  Ahhhh- home!

        The next reality was that I was "single" again.  With no family responsibilities, I had lots of time to work.  I went to every ball game and every school event I could find out about.  I went to every church meeting and every church softball game.  I accepted every dinner invitation.  I cleaned, rearranged and decorated the youth house.  I built my office from scratch.  I often worked until midnight.  I was able to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time, and it helped me get things up and running.

        A third reality was that I only had two high schools and two middle schools to connect with- and that they WANTED me to connect with them.  Being in a small southern town meant that most everyone had some sort of church connection, and a religious presence was welcome in the schools.  I was quickly asked to speak at FCA meetings at both high schools and one of the middle schools, and found myself meeting regularly with some other local youth pastors.  And showing me the ropes of all these things was our Associate Pastor, David White- or as the kids knew him, UBD (Uncle Big Dave!).  UBD was an amazing resource, and made the learning curve in Waycross much simpler.  He showed me the pitfalls, the restaurants, how to avoid the ten thousand trains that pass through Waycross each day, and helped me understand Trinity UMC.  He was a great mentor.  

        There were some issues to overcome, including some parents who were huge proponents of the "we never did it that way before" school of youth ministry.  How did I get passed that attitude?  That tale will be told Wednesday...

        Because of Jesus,