Friday, September 30, 2011

Taking the Road Less Traveled

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.  - Robert Frost

Sometimes I wonder.  I wonder what my life might have been like if God had not called me to youth ministry at the age of 18.  I might have taken a standard 9-5 office job and had a much more stable existence.  I almost certainly would have made more money.  I might have been able to maintain better relationships with my friends my own age, who often had a hard time understanding why my life revolved around teenagers.  I would have had to deal with less midnight phone calls, less traumatic family situations and less pressure to appear to live a sinless life- which, as I should have known, is not possible.  I most certainly would have spent less time on the road, sleeping in strange places and trying to keep students out of mischief.  I often think of the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken and realize how little I could see as I looked down the paths of life at the time when I chose to follow my calling.  I was so young and I knew so little.  I know my life would have been very different.  There is no question about that.  The real question is this- would my life have been better?  Sometimes I wonder...

Me and Alex, 2005.  And Stephanie's back, too!
And then I have a day like Wednesday.  I met two former students for lunch here in Tampa.  One of them, Stephanie Greife, I have had several lunches with over the past few months.  The other was Alexandra Smith, who I had not seen in over 5 years.  The two of them had once been very good friends, but had also drifted apart and not seen each other in several years.  Given the years apart and what had transpired in my life during that period, I had no idea what to expect.  It could have been quite awkward.  We met at Moe's at 11:15 AM, and it took about 30 seconds for me to realize there had been no reason to worry.  We began to talk like old friends- actually more like family, because indeed that is what we had been in our youth group days at Wesley Memorial UMC.  Alex was supposed to leave around 1 PM, but she cancelled her appointment.  We talked about struggles, relationships and what had happened in each of our lives since last we had been together.  We told old stories.  We laughed hysterically.  Each of these young women talked about how the memories we share together are among the most important times of their lives, a beacon of hope when things seem darkest.  And at the end of our time together- some 4 hours after we began- we made plans to do it again next week, hopefully with a few more lost members of our family.  My soul was lifted, and I was blessed by their love.  Alex showed me, as so many former students (including Steph) had before her, the true meaning of grace and forgiveness.  And they both reminded me that while my life's work had not been normal, it was significant.  

As I lay in bed that night, my mind racing with so many memories and so many stories, I thought again of The Road Not Taken - and I laughed out loud.  Following Jesus will always take us down a path that others will not understand.  My life's work in youth ministry  brought me (and my family) more love, joy and satisfaction than I could ever begin to explain. There are literally hundreds of former students all over this country who I am blessed to know and love as my extended family.  And we are all connected in the name of Jesus.  If I gave up some money, stability and normalcy to pursue this less traveled path, I was blessed with far more in return.  So to finish Robert Frost's thought:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I- I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.

I am no longer a youth pastor.  But the road less traveled continues on, and I cannot wait to see where it will lead me next.  I just know that I have an amazing extended family to travel with me.  And if you happen to be in the neighborhood of Lee Garden's Chinese Restaurant in Tampa for lunch this Tuesday, come on in.  It's been true with every group I ever worked with and it's still true today- everyone's welcome!  That's the way God's family works...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Opportunity Knocks

Before I start today I just have to say it- HOW 'BOUT THEM RAYS!!!!!  :)

My Dad (now deceased) has two younger brothers, Dick and Gary.  My uncles both grew up to become professional musicians.  Both are bass players.  Gary has spent his entire life playing in unknown bands, spending countless nights playing in small clubs and bars.  Dick played in the U.S. Navy Band, then was offered a gig in Las Vegas back in the 1960s.  He never left.  He played for the hotel chain that included such historic Vegas spots as The Sahara and The Sands. Over the years he played behind pretty much every Vegas legend, from Elvis and Sinatra (both of whom he liked) to Wayne Newton (not so much).  He had an amazing career.  And if you ask my Uncle Dick why he made it, he'll tell you quickly that is was simply because he got an opportunity.  He'll also tell you that my Uncle Gary is a better bass player.  But for Gary, opportunity never knocked.

Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy are both quarterbacks who entered the NFL last season, and the experts had many questions about both of them.  Both had been college superstars.  Both are men of great faith.  And both had played in college offenses that often do not translate well to the pros.  Despite these doubts, both were high draft picks.  Colt is now playing for the Cleveland Browns; Timmy T is riding the bench in Denver.  All of the reasons people doubt Tebow will make it as a pro- bad decisions, poor accuracy, too slow getting rid of the the ball- are problems MeCoy displayed this past Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.  But he brought his team from behind to win the game, just as Tebow did late last season when given a chance with the Broncos.  Both of these men are proven winners and leaders, on and off the football field.  This season, experts have been quick to laud McCoy and condemn Tebow, but the truth is this- Colt McCoy is simply Tim Tebow with an opportunity.  And my personal opinion is I wouldn't bet against either of them.

Opportunities are often difficult to come by.  We are blessed to get one; a second one is rare indeed.  And that is why those of us who are followers of Jesus must not pass up opportunities to share his love with the people we encounter each day.  We are here to be distributors of his love, and when we miss opportunities to share Jesus with individuals we meet, we never know when we will get another one.  Today (and everyday!) make it a point to seek out opportunities to love in the name of Jesus.  Care for a child or an elderly friend.  Help a neighbor.  Forgive an old friend or family member.  Opportunity will knock today.  Are you ready to answer?

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Great Confusion

Anyone who has spent time around a Christian church is most likely aware of something called The Great Commission.  This directive comes directly from the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20, in which he tells his followers to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."  Pretty straightforward you would think.  Go tell everyone.  So why is it we struggle with all 3 of those words.  We don't really want to GO.  We have a hard time discerning what we are supposed to TELL them about our faith.  And quite often we wonder...did Jesus really mean EVERYONE?  Only an institution like the church could turn The Great Commission into The Great Confusion...

I used to be a youth pastor, and when you serve the church in that role the task of telling everyone about Jesus takes on a very narrow meaning.  You GO to schools, ballgames, concerts and other places where the students can be found.  You TELL students about the love of God and about your ministry- and then hope your words and their friends will help them show up at church so the conversation can continue.  It seems so obvious that your task is to tell EVERYONE you can.  You stay awake at nights thinking of new ways to engage a larger audience with the gospel.  It's a huge part of why you do what you do.

This is what a pile of  Waycross 7th grade
cheerleaders looked like in 2006...
But the church does not always see it that way.  Oh, they talk a good game, but the fact is they are often threatened by outreach and evangelism.  I was called on the carpet more than once in my career and told that I was spending too much time with students who were not church members.  This seldom came from the staff; it usually came from the parents of students who were church members.  I'll share an example of what I mean from my final stop, Trinity UMC of Waycross, GA.  Our student ministry was rather small when I arrived in 2006, so I began to GO and TELL every chance I got.  As the 2006-07 school year began, I was everywhere, sharing about our church and my Savior.  We had a couple of middle school cheerleaders who were a part of group, and they got excited about inviting friends to our ministry.  Within a few weeks, we were overrun with middle school cheerleaders, most of them 7th graders.  At various points in time over a dozen of them attended our youth group.  I was thrilled at this new growth.  The two sets of parents who went to the senior pastor and complained were not.  When new high school guys began to come be part of our ministry because I let them use our youth house for their rock band to practice, parents complained again- because their kids weren't getting all of my attention.  My pastors supported me, but the conflict remained.  And this was not my first such experience.  I have been told a number of times over the years that, "your first priority is to students whose families are church members.  After all, they pay your salary."  And there it is...

The Great Confusion takes Jesus' command to share his love with the world and makes it all about me.  If we really reach new people, they might sit in my pew.  They might draw attention away from me.  They might take my seat on the Church Council.  Their children might be more talented than mine, and little Bobby and Sissy may not get to sing lead vocals with the youth Praise Team anymore!  We reduce The Great Commission to writing checks for overseas missions and calling it a day, when in fact some of the biggest mission fields are located in our own back yards.  They're called schools.  And right now there are thousands - THOUSANDS! - of Christ-loving youth workers who want to reach those schools with the gospel, only to find that one of their roadblocks is their own church- because church members continue to make the institution "all about me."  Real youth ministry is not about scheduling events at times that are convenient for church members, or about keeping the riff-raff away from "our good kids."  It's about reaching the lost.  It's about loving them in name of Jesus.  It's about equipping "our kids" to care for those who are hurting and are lost.  So c'mon, church!  It's time to get with the program.  GO.  TELL.  EVERYONE.  Let there be no confusion about our mission...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Visit With Dad

Today would have been my Dad's 77th birthday.  He passed away in 2006, and as I have written here before not a day goes by that I don't think about him.  Yesterday, as I was thinking about how I wanted to honor his memory here on the blog, I began to ponder a question.  What would Dad and I be talking about if he were still here?  What were his favorite things? So without further adieu, here are topics that would have filled our conversation today.  I hope they give you some insight into the man I loved so much.

We would have been talking about Walt Disney World.  There is no doubt that we would have met he and my Mom at WDW either this past weekend or this coming weekend, and in any case he and Mom would have been going today.  They would have gone to visit his favorite character, Goofy- and Dad would have been wearing one of his many Goofy t-shirts.  They would have had lunch at The San Angel Inn, Mama Melrose's, Beaches & Cream or one of their other favorite places.  At some point, he would have gotten a beer at the Rose & Crown Pub at the UK Pavilion in Epcot, then settled down to listen to some music across the way in the garden.  He may be doing that anyway- a part of him was sprinkled outside the pub.  And we would have had his big birthday meal somewhere on site.  We loved eating at WDW.  Actually, Dad loved everything at WDW.

We would have been talking about football.  Dad played, coached and watched his entire life, and our conversations were seldom just about who won or who played well.  We talked strategy and the deeper "Xs and Os" of the game.  This particular day we would have been speaking in awe of the Georgia Tech option offense and how it ran all over our beloved UNC Tar Heels.  We would have been complaining about not being able to watch our Tampa Bay Bucs due to the NFL blackout policy.  We would have been thrilled that Tom Brady threw 4 interceptions on Sunday.  And we would have told old war stories about his days coaching the Guilford College Steelers youth footballs teams, and about their 3 city championships.  And when the football talk was done, he would have lamented the plight of his Atlanta Braves, now so close to falling out of the playoffs.  Maybe he can pull them through from his current home...

We would have talked about our favorite TV programs.  Dad loved great sitcoms like Seinfeld, Taxi, Friends, Fraiser and WKRP in Cincinatti.  I have no doubt that he would absolutely LOVE The Big Bang Theory, and that Sheldon Cooper would have joined his pantheon of favorite characters, along with Joey Tribbiani, Dr. Johnny Fever and Rev. Jim Ignatowski.  No doubt we would have recapped last week's season opener of TBBT.

He would have told me where he was playing golf tomorrow.  He played most every Wednesday with a group of guys from his community.  Dad was a pretty good golfer, who did have a hole-in-one in his 60s.  But he just loved to play.  His blood pressure was always lower after a round of golf.

And finally, we would have talked about his only grandchild, Will.  This would have taken a while, because he wanted to know everything, every detail of what was going on in Will's life.  I have written it before, and I said at his memorial service, but it is the truth.  My Dad was a very, very, very good father.  But he was a GREAT grandfather!  I know he is so proud of who the little boy he knew has become as a teenager.

So Happy Birthday, Dad!  I love you and miss you, and I miss talking with you about life.  I know everyone has a different idea of what heaven is like, but for you I have a feeling there's an Irish Pub with lots of big screen TVs.  Celebrate in style today.  And if you can pull any strings up there, could you arrange for the Orioles to finish sweeping the Red Sox and change the NFL rules back to a time when hitting the QB was legal?  I'd appreciate it.  :)  

Because of Jesus,

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Prayer of Submission & Hope

Congrats to Erin Augenblick Shannon (FUMC-K), hubby Brandon, kids Cade & Chloe and Grandma Jill on the arrival of Carter Willis Shannon yesterday morning.  He was a whopping 10 lbs, 7 oz.  No truth to the rumor that the Univ. of Michigan already offered him a football scholarship!

When Moses asked God who he should say sent him to save the people of Abraham, God responded tell them "I AM" sent you.  Yahweh is the "I AM," the God who was and is and is to come; the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  I am none of those things, and neither are you.  We are but tiny parts of God's plan, like so many before us.  When John the Baptist was asked if he was the promised Messiah, he replied, "I am NOT...but there is one who will come and reveal everything God has promised."  We, like Moses and John and Peter and so many other giants of our faith, are NOT.  But we know the great "I AM."  As you go through your day, be WIDE OPEN to the fact that God is God...and you are NOT.  Open your hearts that God might use you so His will can be accomplished on this earth.  Submit yourself so that Jesus might have His way with you and that you might quit trying to have your way with Him.  Only then can His light shine its brightest.  Only then can Jesus truly be the hope of the world.  I hope you will join me in this prayer:

Loving God, today I turn my life over to You.  My skills, my failures, my sin and my joys all belong to You.  I recognize that my life is not about me, but it is all about You.  I realize that I sometimes like to play god, but that I am NOT..You ARE!  Help me to understand that Jesus did not die on the cross so I could accomplish some political agenda or achieve some lofty position on this earth.  Jesus died for my sins, because I am a sinner.  Jesus gives me grace so that I might offer love and forgiveness to others, especially to the "least of these brothers of mine" who are in need, and to the lost who think themselves to be beyond His grace.  In the words of King David, himself a sinner of great magnitude, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit with in me, so that I might serve You."  Use me, and I will give you the glory.  Remind me daily that I am NOT...but I know I AM, and that together we can offer hope to a hurting world.

In the name of the great I AM,

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Sign of the Acpocalypse

My life has changed in a lot of ways over the past few years, but this is one change I never saw coming.  Certainly there was nothing in my history to suggest it was a possibility.  This was something I have loved since I was young, something that has always been a major part of my life.  There was a time when I seldom went a day without it.  But I have to face the facts.  I have to accept the truth.  After almost 52 years of life it has finally happened.  I am tired of pizza.

Long gone are my teenage years when I could sit down to a large, thin crust Pizza Hut pizza and eat the entire thing.  Gone are my days living in High Point, working at Springfield Friends Meeting and eating at Pizza Inn several times a week.  Gone are my days serving FUMC-Kissimmee, when parents bringing snack supper to youth group seemed to alternate between Domino's and Papa John's for our meal each week.  I remember the beach trips and ordering 15 pies from Little Ceasar's, meaning we actually got 30 pizzas.  I can barely remember my 18 months in Chicago- CHICAGO! - and falling in love with deep dish pizza from places like Giordano's and Home Run Pizza.  As Will grew older and pizza became his favorite food, I was right there with him, visiting buffets at Cici's and "The Hut" and giving a new meaning to "all-you-can-eat." Over the past few years we have eaten a lot of carryout pizza, and recently discovered the wonders of The Mellow Mushroom.  Life was good.  Pizza was good.

But over the past few months there has been a change.  When someone suggests pizza for dinner, I suggest something else.  Instead of me eating an entire large pizza, my family now orders just one.  Just last night, with Will gone to the Blink 182/My Chemical Romance concert, Marilyn suggested wings or pizza.  My immediate response was, "Not pizza."  I have to face the facts- my life-long love affair with pizza has come to an end.

Let me explain why this is more serious than you might think, why this is indeed a sign of the apocalypse in my life.  Even with everything I have been through these past years, even though I will never be a youth pastor again, I have always felt like one.  It's just ingrained in me, a real part of who I am.  And in my slightly demented mind, this is what I know to be true- you can't be a youth pastor and not like pizza.  It's just not possible.  I mean I am sure there are plenty of excellent youth workers who don't eat pizza, but in my mind it just seems so wrong- like living in Hawaii and not liking the ocean.  And maybe that's the point.  Maybe my change in appetite is God's way of finally moving me towards a more adult oriented ministry.  They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach; I'm sure God is fully aware of that truth! :)  Whatever the case, it makes me a little sad.  So many of my best memories are wrapped in cheese and tomato sauce.  And now it is time to let go.

I will still eat pizza with my family and friends- I just won't love it anymore.  I will always be a youth pastor- I just can't cling to it anymore.  I've got to keep seeking the will of God in my life, and I've got to keep moving forward.  Speaking of which- have I told you about my addiction to Chinese food?  Have a blessed day, my friends!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, September 23, 2011

Waycross Friday Night Football

Perhaps my favorite days during my time at Trinity UMC of Waycross, GA were Friday nights during football season.  In south Georgia, football is a religion, and every home game Friday night the entire town of Waycross would gather to worship together. The "temple" was this amazing stadium (see picture), much nicer than many of the stadiums at some of the smaller colleges I have visited.  It even had a "Diamond Vision" style replay screen.  You could actually buy reserved seats.  It astonished me.  As a youth pastor, it was always a great night- I could see every kid in town all at the same place.  We would sit near the band, next to the section where all of the middle school students would hang out.  Students would parade in front of us all night, often stopping by for a quick visit or to ask me if I would take my shirt off so they could paint something on my chest.  The answer, in case you are wondering, was always NO!  I would also get to chat with parents, other church members and most every other youth pastor in town.  In fact, if you were a youth pastor in Waycross and were not at home football games, you weren't doing your job very well.  It was your chance to connect with the entire town at once.

In the years before my arrival at Trinity UMC it had been a tradition to have a youth gathering at the The Vine (the TUMC youth house) following home games.  It was supposed to be an outreach event, but had been mostly Trinity kids coming just to hang out.  And there had been some problems with drugs and alcohol.  Among my priorities as I began to plan for the 2006-07 school year was to crank that idea up a notch while making it a safer environment.  I went to a local eatery called Dick's Wings & Grill, a favorite among my youth.  I asked them about hosting The 5th Quarter, an after-game gathering on home game Friday nights.  It would mean keeping their doors open a little later than usual, and total chaos as hungry teenagers descended on their restaurant- but they agreed to do it, and to offer half price appetizers so the students could actually eat!  The location secured, I then purchased an ad in the most widely read magazine in Waycross- the Ware County High School Football Program.  I also sent e-mails to all of the other churches in town letting them know they were all invited.  The program was a hit from the very beginning, as the food and fellowship were a perfect combination to draw students.  As the weeks went by, we added door prizes, a karaoke machine and some other goodies to keep new people coming in- and they did.  I met a ton of students this way, and cemented our growing reputation as one of the hot student ministries in town.  And my own students loved it and took great pride in hosting the event.   They even did two stories on the program in the local paper.  We were a hit.

Among my many regrets about having only served one year in Waycross was that I never got a chance to build on that first year of success with The 5th Quarter.  The whole story reminds me of the many advantages of small town youth ministry, and the opportunities that exist in those situations to change a community in the name of Jesus.  And wherever WCHS is playing tonight, I can only say "GO GATORS!"  And eat some of that deadly hot Dick's Secret Sauce for me...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, September 22, 2011

CCM Thursday: Third Day Top 10

Way back in 1996 I sat in my office at FUMC-Kissimmee and opened my latest box of goodies from Interlinc, the great music ministry that I always counted on to keep me up to date with the latest in Christian music and videos.  Every time I received a box from them it was like Christmas morning had arrived early.  On this particular occasion, one of the CDs I received had a picture of a bus on the front, and the words Third Day.  Something about the cover art caught my eye, and I immediately popped this unknown band into my office stereo system.  The first song grabbed my attention.  The second song- Forever (see video at bottom) - just blew me away!  I was hooked on Third Day, and I have never looked back.

Over the years I have seen Third Day perform live on several occasions.  I once sat on stage while they performed at a National Youth Workers Convention (bring back the "Peanut Gallery," YS!) and guitarist Mark Lee and lead vocalist Mac Powell came over and visited with us.  I later ate lunch with them in Pittsburgh- well, we ate in the same restaurant!  :)  But mostly, I have loved their music, and used many of their songs for programs and lessons.

So here are my choices for a Third Day top 10. There are so many great songs to choose from;  I feel certain I will have left out some favorites.  There are 4 songs on the list from their first album- and there could have been more.  It's one of my favorite albums ever!  Please feel free to add yours in the comment section.  I didn't include any songs that were not originally done by the band, such as God of Wonders and songs from the 2 Offerings projects- even though I love those songs so much.  From their early "hey they sound like Hootie & the Blowfish!" days to their current status as CCM royalty, their faithfulness to making great music in the name of Jesus has never waivered.  We "Gomers" thank you very much.  Now let the debating begin!

10)  40 Days  (From the 2001 album Come Together) - Classic southern rock with a message.  One of my "go-to" pull me out of a funk songs.
  9)  Thief  (From the 1996 album Third Day)  - One of the great Good Friday songs ever written, told from the perspective of one of the thieves crucified with Jesus.  Awesome.
  8)  Don't Give Up Hope (From the 2010 album Move) - "Don't give up faith, don;t give up hope, there;s always something better waiting around the corner..."
  7)  I've Always Loved You (From the 1999 album Time) - They've always had the unique ability to write songs from the perspective of Jesus.  Love this song.  
 7+)  My Hope Is You (From the 1997 album Conspiracy #5) - A simple truth told in song.  My only hope is Jesus.
  6)  Revelation (From the 2008 album Revelation
  5)  Show Me Your Glory  (From the 2001 album Come Together) - How can you listen to this song and not want to worship God?  "Send down your presence, I want to see Your face..."
  4)  Love Song  (From the 1996 album Third Day)  - Hearing Jesus sing, "Just to be with you I'd do anything; there's no price I would not pay" still brings tears to my eyes.  A beautiful, haunting love song from our Savior.
  3)  Consuming Fire (From the 1996 album Third Day) - "1,2,3,4,5,6..."  Chill bumps every single time.  My favorite Third Day song to hear live, and one of the great modern worship songs.  There's an awesome live rendition on Offerings 1.
  2)  Forever (From the 1996 album Third Day) - My very first favorite Third Day song is still might close to the top of my list.  Check out the lyrics on the video below.  Incredible.
  1)  Cry Out To Jesus (From the 2005 album Wherever You Are) - An amazing song that speaks to everyone.  No matter how dark the night, no matter how deep the valley, Jesus is always there.  As hard as it was to pick a Top 10, picking #1 was actually pretty easy for me.  A brilliant song.

So there you have it.  Enjoy the video, and let me know which of your favorite songs I missed.  Blessings to you all!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

If I Was Not Here...

I used to ask in staff meetings and church board meetings a question meant to prod the congregations I served into retrospection and action.  The question was, "If our church was not present in this community, would anyone notice?"  I wanted us to think about whether or not we were making a difference in the name of Jesus to the people outside of our walls.  It often created discussion and raised questions that needed to be raised, and helped us reassess our mission and our purpose.

This morning I find myself asking a similar question- "If I was not here (in my church, in my community, on the Internet, etc.) what difference would it make?"  Is my life, my testimony, this blog or anything else lifting high the name of Jesus, or is it just a lot of noise? This is NOT a question I am asking you- it is a question I am asking myself.   It is difficult to compare my life now with the very visible impact I had during my 28 years of professional ministry.  But that is no excuse for not being faithful, and for not serving God through serving others.  I need to become more engaged with my community and my church.  My past has been so blessed, and my future is secured.  It is the present I must focus on.  

My prayer today is this:  LORD, take my life and use it to bring glory to you.  It's that simple.  Through my words and my actions, I want to be someone whose life SHINES with the love of Jesus.  I pray that for you as well, because sharing that love is how we change the world.  Have a blessed day.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Chat With Jesus

Want to really understand the Jesus Revolution?  Take time today and have a heart to heart chat with Jesus.  Sometimes we wonder if God hears us, or if Jesus has time for us.  In fact, it's just the opposite.  God is waiting to hear from YOU.  Jesus is ready to be your friend. You just need to give Him your time.  Pray to be closer to Him.  Pray for wisdom and strength to let Him be in control in a world that demands that you take the power.  Understand that your relationship with Jesus is not based in anything you do, but in His grace and forgiveness.  Be WIDE OPEN to not only talking to Jesus, but to listening for "the still, small voice of God" in the silence.  Prayer is a conversation. It requires taking time to listen, which in this case means taking time to be quiet.  Don't let your prayer time become something you do only at meals or bedtime.  I'm guessing you set aside time for exercise, or reading, watching TV or shopping.  Shouldn't we be setting aside time for prayer?  If we want to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to spend time in prayer.  If we want to be part of the Jesus Revolution, we must be connected to Jesus.  Not just in an "I go to church" way, but in a "Jesus is my best friend" way.   Don't fall into the trap  I was in for a few years.  I worked for a church, tried to lead people to Christ, tried to be a spiritual leader- but I lost touch with the Savior.  Go to Him.  He's waiting for you.  And be sure to praise God for the blessings you see in your life everyday!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hall of Fame: The Godwin Triplets

Back in the late 1980s our award-winning TNT program at Springfield Friends Meeting brought in all kinds of students from all over High Point, Archdale, Trinity and beyond, and helped turn our youth ministry into "the place to be."  Many of them attended other churches on Sunday morning, but found a second home with us for youth events and trips.  Among my favorites from that category were a set of twins- Shelley & Jeremy Godwin.  Today I would like to give them a long overdue welcome to my Youth Group Hall of Fame.

Shelley in NYC telling me NOT to take her picture!
Shelley was a part of the "terrific trio" that also included fellow Hall of Fame members Heather Beggs and Keri Vinson.  Shelley joined us for many youth events over the years, and traveled with us to New York, Walt Disney World and various retreats at Quaker Lake.  But far and away her most memorable adventure with us was the 1989 trip to Myrtle Beach, SC.  She was already at the beach with her family the week before our trip.  Our rental of Betsy B began on a Saturday, but we could not leave until after church on Sunday morning.  So my wife Marilyn drove down on Saturday, met Shelley, and the two of them spent the night in the Betsy B by themselves.  Two of them in a house that sleeps 45.  I am certain there are stories about that night I still don't know (or want to), but I do know that Shelley ranks high the list of my wife's all-time favorite youth.  As that week moved along, Shelley etched herself into youth group history by coining the phrase "Total Babe."  Discovering who was (and was not!) a total babe became the overwhelming theme of the week.  She also developed the character of Dori, the gnarly cousin of our resident valley girls and boys.  After being rudely awakened early one morning she assassinated Mike Mercadante with a squirt gun.  I have all of this on a video tape that will one day have everyone involved begging me NOT to show it to their kids!  Just that trip alone would be enough to get Shelley in the HOF, but there was so much more.  She was a huge part of our youth family, loved by everyone.  Shelley Godwin Kirby is most deserving of a spot in my Hall of Fame.  I'm betting she's a Hall of Fame wife and mother as well.

Jeremy at Myrtle Beach
Jeremy was never around quite as much as his sister, but his impact was great.  I have written here before that watching him win the NC state heavyweight wrestling championship his senior year is the single most exciting sporting event I have ever seen in person- to this day!  He traveled with us to Atlanta for a Braves game.  He (along with Shelley and few others) joined Marilyn and I at a Billy Joel concert in Charlotte.  After graduation, he helped chaperon a Myrtle Beach trip.  But Jeremy's signature trip was the 1990 Floridays trip to WDW.  One of my favorite moments ever was riding Mr. Toad's Wild Ride with Jeremy over and over again just before midnight, our two giant bodies crammed in a single car as the cast members laughed hysterically.  It was also the trip where he, Ken Hill, Danny McCorquodale & Jamie Robinson managed to produce the worst smelling room I have ever encountered- and I've encountered a lot!  I saw Jeremy last year when he was in Florida on business, and it so good to visit with him again. His wife, Laura, has a blog that has quickly become one of my favorites.  I love following the exploits of his family.  Jeremy, welcome to the HOF.

Stinky leaves comments- how about you?
So who is the third Godwin triplet?  There was a reason that bad smells seemed to accompany Jeremy everywhere he went- and that reason was Stinky the Pootapotomous.  This little stuffed beast traveled with Jeremy, and took the brunt of the blame for every bad odor that befouled those vans and motel rooms.  Stinky became a legend, and he still lives with the Godwin family today.  I got see him when Jeremy was here.  Jeremy's wife Laura provided me a current picture; as you can see he has EXCELLENT taste in blogs.  I could not let this opportunity pass without giving Stinky his own very (and heavily perfumed!) spot in my Hall of Fame.

So there you have.  One family, three different paths to my Hall of Fame.  Thanks for the memories, Godwins.  Know that you will be forever in our hearts- or in Stinky's case, our noses...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Smell the Color 9

"I would take no for an answer, just to know I heard You speak..."

Lately I've been praying some pretty specific prayers about what God wants me doing with my life and how He wants me to go about it.  I'm praying to feel the leading of the Holy Spirit.  And to be completely honest, I'm just not getting any answers- that I'm aware of.  Now I spent enough years teaching and preaching about prayer to know that God answers all prayers.  I am fully aware of the sermons that teach us that there are 4 answers we may get.  I believe they all follow this basic format:
1) NO- Sometimes God just says no, and we have to get over it and trust that God knows best.
2) SLOW- Sometimes God wants us to be patient and to wait on whatever it is we are asking for.
3) GROW- Sometimes God has areas of of our spiritual life that He wants to see mature before giving us what we ask for.
4) GO-  Sometimes God simply says YES!
It is entirely possible that I am getting the SLOW or GROW answer from God and that I just don't want to hear it.  But what it feels like to me is that God is backed up with prayer requests and that mine is not getting past the secretary.  Anyone else ever feel that way?  

"Now I'm not looking for burning bushes or some divine graffiti to appear..."

I know better than to expect God to spell it all out for me.  Jesus' disciples never had a clue what the plan was for them- why should I be any different?  God likes to make us search, because there is much to be learned in the process.  It's  just that sometimes in my life- like right now- I want answers.  More specifically, I want God's answers.  Sometimes I wish He was a CEO, so I could file a plan and He could accept it or reject it.  Or maybe just send God a text to make sure I'm going the right way.  But that's not how it works.  God wants me to discover what He has coming up next in my life, not file my plan with Him.  And no matter how hard I search, I cannot find the home office.  I know that Jesus is all the proof I should need that God loves me and will take care of me, but I struggle with wanting more.  It's like Chris Rice wrote in his amazing song (all the quotes in this post are from it) Smell the Color 9:

"Cause I can sniff, I can see, and I can
count up pretty high; but these faculties
aren't getting me any closer to the sky,
but my heart of faith keeps poundin' so
I know I'm doin' fine but sometimes findin'
You is just like tryin to smell the color nine."

You know what?  I lied.  I do want a burning bush.  I want to know God's will in my life, and I want to know it now.  I want a return text message from God giving my life direction.  But I'm not going to get it.  There is a great mystery to following God and putting our lives in Jesus' hands.  Is it in many ways a trip into the unknown, one of the scariest places there is for human beings.  That's why we call it faith- the evidence of things unseen.  We want control and we try desperately to hang on to it.  But in fact, real prayer is about letting go of control and trusting God totally.  So I'll keep praying, and trust that the answers will come.  Until then, I'll just keep trying to smell the color 9...
"Nine's not a color, and even if it were you can't smell a color
No, that's my point exactly..."

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday Shout Outs!

Hakuna Matata, and welcome to another edition of my Saturday Shout Outs!  Today we feature a strange mix of shout outs, a little pregnancy news, a trivia question and a flashback to 1994.  Whew!  We'd better get started...
  • I discovered through Facebook that Danny & Missy McCorquodale (Springfield Friends Meeting) are not only expecting, but already at 38 weeks.  This will be their second child.  I also learned that Christy Causey Allen (SFM) is expecting.  They join Erin Augenblick Shannon and Lindsey Joiner Bennett (both FUMC-Kissimmee) on the pregnant list.  Plus, as usual, I know something you don't know!!!  More details soon.  If I am missing anyone, please let me know! 
  • Lots of great contact with lots of old Quaker Lake Camp friends yesterday after posting some very old pictures (many already seen here) on Marilyn's Facebook.  People seemed fascinated by my short shorts and the amazing pranks the QLC cows played and blamed on innocent staff members.  Great memories of great times!  We'll post a few more old pictures there later today.
  • Matthew Rogers (FUMC-K) was married last weekend to Candace.  Older brother Andrew Rogers and cousin Kelly Jeck Trace seem to be holding up well.  :)
  • My Twitter friend Christie Weatherby is taking ice fishing lessons to prepare for the upcoming season.  I guess moving to Colorado does strange things to you...  
  • Since no one volunteered (not even Teresa, whom I volunteered myself!) after the previous Shout Out request, I will be contacting some of you and asking you to write a guest post for this blog.  Beginning October 9, I want to feature a week of actual memories from actual former youth.  Or you could still volunteer and save me some trouble.
  • Kudos to ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning for having the wisdom (HA!) to read one of my tweets and mention my name on national TV this week.  Plus, my tweet (which suggested that Mike Golic was hating on Tim Tebow) made Golic mad.  BONUS!!!!
  • Over the course of the week spanning August 31 to September 5, Robin Simmons Loker, Traci Whitaker Lane and Todd Farlow (all Springfield) each turned 40.  That makes me feel old, but at least I have company!  I'm just saying...  :)
  • Congratulations to Page HS (Greensboro, NC) coached by Andi Brooks Gillespie's (SFM) hubby Kevin (with a little help from Jeremy Godwin) on defeating my alma mater last night.  OK Pirates- now it's on to an undefeated season! 
  • Earlier this week on Twitter I said I was so excited about seeing The Lion King 3D this weekend that I might dress in drag and do the hula.  In the movie, who utters those famous words- "What do you want me to do; dress in drag and do the hula?"  If 25 different people leave the correct answer as a comment on this post, then I will actually do it and post pictures.  There is your challenge for today!
Before leaving you this week, planning to go see The Lion King 3D in theaters takes me back to 1994, when Natalie Whitaker, Mandy Beggs and Erin Moran  (all Springfield, and I may have some of the wrong people) were visiting us in Kissimmee and we went to see The Lion King on opening night at Pleasure Island. We went to a late show, and the theater was packed with WDW cast members.  It was the most "alive" crowd I have ever shared a theater with, and we loved it.  Has any movie studio ever had a better 4 movie run than Disney did with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King?  I think not.  Have a blessed weekend, answer the trivia question, and come back tomorrow as we attempt to smell the color 9...

Because of Jesus,

Friday, September 16, 2011

Alpha & Omega

Happy Birthday, Beth Vestal McGalliard!  Love you and miss you!!!

Even though I attended and volunteered at Quaker Lake Camp for a number of years before 1978, that was my first summer of working on the full-time summer staff and thus in my mind the official beginning of my QLC career.  And even though my last summer of being full-time staff was 1983, I always felt a huge part of the camp right up until my final week of volunteering in 2006.  Today, as I wrap up Quaker Lake week, I want to remember 2 very special weeks- one at the beginning, and one at the end.

When I think back on the summer of '78, there is one week that stands out.  It was my first junior high camp, and I was blessed with a great cabin of boys with whom I quickly bonded.  We spent the week playing pranks on the girls, including stealing all of their luggage and putting it out in the cow pasture.  They also spent the week falling in "camp (expires at the end of the week) love" and doing the brilliant Little Theater production of The Ozard of Wuz, featuring Jay Osborne's (as the Tin Man) famous line, "I'm melting...uh, rusting!"  You can read more details of that week by checking out my vintage post, The Empty Cabin.  A cross-section of the gang is in this picture- over 30 years old and taken with my Polaroid.  I remember all of the guys- Paul Farlow, Leslie ?, David Farlow, Jay Osborne and Joey Gardner.  The girls I am less clear about.  That's Jennifer poking her head through, and Robin Davis standing on the right end.  I can never forget 2 out of 3 in front- Cynthia Davis (left end) and Leigh Ann Everhart (right).  I thought Cynthia looked just like a girl I had a crush on in high school, so I gave her lots of attention (and most of my snacks!) that week, and we became close friends.  Leigh Ann became a dear friend who eventually would marry my good friend Terry Venable, and I was in their wedding.  This was the first group of campers that I ever fell in love with and couldn't wait to see again.  Unfortunately, most of us would see each other very soon- for a very lousy reason.  A few weeks after this week of camp, Robin Davis was killed in an auto accident.  Many of her friends came to camp to be with the staff and grieve her loss.  I was one of the representatives from the staff who went to the funeral with them.  We would never forget how we leaned on each other, hugged and cried with one another, and carried each other through that tragedy.  It was unlike anything else I would ever experience at QLC.  It was the Alpha Week...

A very young Heather & fellow HOF
member and legendary QLC staffer Todd Farlow
Fast-forward to 2006.  Heather Beggs Varner, who had been a Hall of Fame part of the youth group at Springfield Friends Meeting in the late 80s and early 90s, as well a part of the famous Buggars (my team competition team at a junior camp in 1987) at QLC, was now the camp director.  She called me in Georgia and asked me to return to my role as camp pastor for senior high camp, and I could not say no to Heather.  It had been 13 years since I last served at QLC for summer camp, and I was a little little nervous.  I didn't need to be.  It really was like riding a bicycle.  I loved every minute of that week.  But there was one thing I hadn't counted on.  I knew I was teaching Discovery (bible study) and leading Vespers (evening worship), but Heather had a surprise waiting for me.  She asked me if I would be willing to take the lead with all of the music.  It turns out that my music leading skills had become somewhat legen- (wait for it!) dary over the years, and her guitar players were a little in awe of me.  I found this to be hilarious, but I was glad to help out.  I asked them to play with me, and we had a killer week leading music together.  I was amazed to find that much of the staff that summer were the children of people I had gone to camp or worked with, and getting to know them made the week awesome.  But mostly, I had an amazing week with Heather.  We found time to talk about the old days, about her work at camp, about her family and about how hard it is to balance ministry and life.  At the closing campfire circle she said some very nice things about how I had impacted her life and ministry, and one last time I found myself shedding tears at the final campfire.

I left camp and headed back to Waycross rejuvenated and inspired.  I had no idea it would be my final time there; Heather had already invited me back for the following summer.  A few weeks later I received a picture in the mail of the 2006 summer staff, signed by each of them, and thanking me for being there for the week.  Much to my chagrin, in the turmoil that surrounded my leaving Trinity UMC a few months later I lost that picture.  It was a loving reminder of the Omega- my final week at Quaker Lake Camp.  Thank you, Heather, for sending me off with such an incredible memory.

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"It Just Doesn't Matter"

From Left:  Laura Wheeler, Marty Bray, Kim Haynes, Me, Angie Swaim,
Marshall Ratledge, Marnee Larkin, Jay Osborne, Sabrina Perry, Lisa Wilkins

Front Row:  Rey Iglesisas
One of my favorite parts of junior and senior high camps at Quaker Lake was the Team Competition portion of the schedule.  Beginning with my first summer as a camper- in which I went undefeated as a singles badminton player and won a blue ribbon- I always enjoyed playing the games.  Win or lose, my teams always had fun.  But there was one glorious high school camp where my team was amazing in so many ways that the group of people pictured at the top of this page became one of my favorite camp memories.  I share it with you today.

I an not certain exactly which year in the early 80s this tale takes place but whenever it was  I found myself in charge of dividing the campers into teams, which also would serve as our small discussion groups for the week.  Having such a responsibility was always a temptation.  I knew these campers very well, and giving myself the best team was always a possibility.  On this occasion, I decided instead to give myself an awesome discussion group and forgo choosing the camp "studs" for my team.  My co-leader for the week would be my dear friend and "Sis" from high school, Sabrina Perry- who I had conned into volunteering for the week.  Everyone else was someone I knew well and loved, with the exception of Rey.  He had come to us from Miami with a group of Hispanic Quakers and was in my cabin, so I claimed him as well.  Marshall and Marnee were both in my youth group at New Garden Friends Meeting.  Jay, Laura and Angie were among my all-time favorite campers.  Kim was the little sister of the girl I was dating at the time, future staff member Donna Haynes.   I had known Marty and Lisa for a couple of summers as well.  As an example of how well I knew them all and how important this group would become to me, I can tell you that as I looked at the picture I identified them all from memory, some 30 years later.  We were all excited to be together, and it was an awesome small group for prayer and discussion.  But we also realized that we seemed to be a bit short of athletic talent.  So I decided to give them a pep talk, basically telling them that we should just have fun because winning was a real long shot.  I cannot remember what name we chose for out team, but I will never forget our team cheer.  It (and my pep talk- I thought I was Bill Murray) was taken from the the greatest camp movie ever made, Meatballs.  We were determined to have fun, win or lose.  So our cheer became "It just doesn't matter..."  (Watch this awesome video clip to learn more!)

To make a great story short, we were unbeatable.  We didn't lose all week, pulling off a few miracle wins in softball and volleyball along the way.  To paraphrase from the clip, "we played so far over our heads that our noses bled."  It was amazing.  And we just kept chanting that it didn't matter.  The other teams were stunned.  The rest of the staff questioned my objectivity in picking the teams.  And we became a true family.  I learned a great deal about building community in youth groups from those people.  Laura, Marshall, Lisa and Jay would all go on to work at camp in the years to come.  It was one of the last times I would ever hang out with Sis.  It was truly a blessed week- one of my best weeks ever.  Tomorrow I will wrap up this week of camp memories with stories of 2 more great weeks- the beginning and the end.  Don't miss it!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

QLC Musical Moments

"Music makes pictures and often tells stories
all of it magic and all of it true
All of the pictures and all of the stories
all of the magic, the music is you..." - John Denver

Singing on the Vespers Hill @ QLC
Right from the very beginning, music was at the center of my life at Quaker Lake Camp.  In 1972, my first summer as a camper, I remember doing group singing with Beth Phillips, who was the guitar player and music leader at the time (and she was about to become one of my youth leaders at New Garden Friends Meeting).  I still love to sing some of the songs we sang that summer- Seek Ye First, Pass It On, Simple Gifts, All My Trials and of course, The George Fox Song.  I also remember sitting and talking to Beth about music, and her encouraging me to learn the play the guitar- especially if I wanted to work at QLC someday.  I loved the music.

That same summer I took a class at camp taught by the camp pastor, whose name was Gene. We memorized a bunch of scriptures by singing them, and I have never forgotten them.  I know Ephesians 4:32, 1 John 4:7-8, 2 Corinthians 5:17,  parts of Psalm 119 and others by heart because I learned to sing them almost 40 years ago.  Music invades the heart, the mind and the soul.  Music changes you.

I eventually learned to play the guitar, and QLC played a part in that as well.  People like Darrell McBane, Alan Brown and Martha Ratledge helped me learn to play camp songs- up until then pretty much all I knew was John Denver.  I eventually helped Martha lead music at 2 of the most special times of the day at Quaker Lake- evening vespers and the late night Music & Meditation.  And then after Martha left the staff, I took over.  Many of my memories of camp involve my guitar and singing with and to campers.  I helped write and re-write a number of songs that we used in a variety of ways, both to entertain the campers and to bring added impact to important spiritual moments.  I often sang at the closing campfire circle.  But it was at the late night sing-a-longs where I perfected my style of leading music with youth groups, beginning with wild and crazy stuff before gradually leading them into slower songs and a attitude of worship.  When I would return a few years later as a camp pastor, my song leading skills were still very much in demand.  I didn't realize it, but by 2006 they had become legendary.  But that is a story for another day.

Another place where music invaded camp was my 2nd home, The Crafts Hut.  I would bring my stereo (complete with turn table and 4 speakers!) and records every summer, and music- Paul SimonThe Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Styx, Dan Fogelberg, The Beach Boys, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac (you know-real music!)- would fill the air as kids worked on leather and ceramic crafts.  A number of my albums were ruined in those years by ceramic dust.  I also remember when a fellow staff member named Carla Garrett, who was a few years younger and much "hipper" than I, began to introduce me to brand new groups like Duran Duran, Culture Club, The Police and U2.  Music was and is a huge part of life.

The picture at the top is of myself and Donna Haynes leading music on the Vespers Hill.  Chances are good that we were singing The All Day Song, which at camp in those days we sang so often that we called it "The Everyday Song."  That song is a reminder that no matter how long or how dark a day may seem, God still loves us and will never leave us.  Music has always been a reminder of that truth in my life.  I'd love to know- which songs always bring you back to the love of Jesus in your life?  Have a blessed day, and tomorrow we'll revisit some great moments in my QLC history- the humorous kind!

Because of Jesus,