Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Celebrate Jesus!

A reminder:  Tomorrow is the first Thursday of December, and therefore the next Comment Day!  Read all the blogs you can and comment on each one. Encourage your favorite bloggers!

Christmas is less than a month away and the season of Advent has begun.  Want to more fully understand what we are actually saying when we say Jesus is the reason for the season?  Check out the song I Celebrate the Day from the band Relient K.  The song is written by Matt Thiessen, and the lyrics and video are below.  For me, it is one of the most significant Christmas songs written in the past 20 years, because it reminds us of who the Babe of Bethlehem grows up to be- and what He would do for us.  May God open all of our eyes so that we may see the gift of the Christ child for what it really was...the gift of salvation!  Our deliverer is coming...

And with this Christmas wish is missed
The point I could convey
If only I could find the words to say
to let You know how much You've touched my life
Because here is where You're finding me,
in the exact same place as New Year's eve
And from a lack of my persistency
We're less than half as close as I want to be

And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize
that You would be my Savior?
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever?

And so this Christmas I'll compare 
the things I felt in prior years
To what this midnight made so clear
That You have come to meet me here

To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me
In the hope that what You did
That you were born so I might live
To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me

And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life
Pray for You to save my life
Pray for You to save my life...

My Deliverer Is Coming...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Tale of 2 Youth Pastors

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  Charles Dickens opens his classic novel  A Tale of Two Cities with those immortal words, and today I want to borrow them for my own purposes.  Over the past week I was reminded that my old profession -youth ministry- is filled with thinkers and stinkers just like any other profession.  It is a job that is not for everyone, and if it is not for you then trying to do it will make you absolutely miserable.  Some youth pastors are creative, gifted and called by God to do the work.  Others...not so much.  This is A Tale of 2 Youth Pastors...

Our first YP finds himself in a bit of a mess, and he does not understand why.  Students should be coming to his youth programs.  After all, he is highly educated, having a master's degree in divinity from a prestigious institution.  His theology is sound.  His personality is charismatic.  He has read all of the latest student ministry books and attends all of the important conferences.  He writes a blog telling other youth ministers how they should approach their own ministries, and many of them think of him as a mentor.  He prays regularly and is confident that his ministry is on the path God would choose.  But yet students are staying away from his ministry in record numbers.  As I talked to him about what is happening, he dwells on things like "imparting systematic theology" and "breaking down the resistance of the students to the Word of God."  He says that his students don't get it.  They are often rowdy and out of control.  He keeps enforcing stricter rules and guidelines, but it just doesn't seem to help.  The kids are driving him crazy!  And as I listen to this fine man of God, I know exactly why his ministry is faltering.  He is scared of teenagers.  Worse yet, he simply doesn't like them- and he has no idea that this is the truth.  In fact, he has no desire to hear the truth.  He is trying to build a youth ministry that will make his students something they simply cannot yet be- adults.  It is the worst of times...

I also talked with some old friends about another YP that I know pretty well.  He has never been published.  He has no advanced degrees.  He is a bit of a redneck, and his personality is not the kind you would expect teenagers to be drawn to.  Heck, he doesn't even play guitar!  His creativity is limited; he still runs the same programs and events that were passed on to him by his predecessor over 10 years ago.  That's right- he's been at the same church over 10 years.  No jumping ship for a bigger ministry, or even making "getaways that gets a raise!"  It is safe to say that he is a dim light in the universe of student ministry.  And yet... the students keep coming.  They show up for fun, for service, for study and for worship.  They show up because this unimpressive man shows up for work everyday because he loves teenagers- and they know it.  Everyday he is changing lives in Jesus' name.   It is the best of times...

There are two absolute requirements for being a youth pastor.  Certainly you must love Jesus.  And just as important (or as Jesus would say, "and the second is like it") you must love those wacky, hormonal, semi-crazed people we call teenagers.  Not tolerate, not like...LOVE!  You must love them as they are, not as you want them to be.  If you can't do that, then you need to find another vocation-  because spending time with students and loving on them is the bottom line.  No amount of education, training or coolness will ever change that.  And that's the truth...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday 2011

Today is Cyber Monday, the day when consumers all over the world are encouraged to shop online and when companies offer up great deals and savings.  I was going to write some fresh, new satire for today, but then I realized I never sold any of my merchandise from last year.  You see, while my little blog is not normally a for-profit operation, I wanted to join the rest of the online community in this effort today.  So here it is, my second annual Cyber Monday sale.  The items advertised are all collectors items and available only here- just like they were last year!  To order, just leave a comment and let me know what you want, or call 444-8111.  Call now!   If you want me to write something new next year, you need to shop today!  :)  And be sure to read the fine print at the bottom.  Let's get started!

Item #21560-  Autographed Commodores Album Cover-  Featuring the only white guys ever to sing with the fabulous soul quintet, this collector's item was presented to me by band members Charles Freedle and Mike Mercadante in 1994.  It is the only one of its kind.  The street value is around $5000- but you can get it today for only $2.17!  Also includes an interview with Charles- "My Life With Onell Rich."  Order now!

Item #22098-  Bubba the Mooning Man-  Presented to me after the Myrtle Beach trip in 1999 by some of the girls of Kissimmee, this special little guy will "moon" the person of your choice, and when he shows his butt you see the autographs of such famous youth alumni as Erica SoutherLindsey Lupfer, Rachel Autrey and Sarah Whitman.  Great for long trips and offending your Grandma.  Price- $17.50  $2.01

* Item #21666-  Bubba's Greatest Hits-  The early songs of Carl "Bubba" Jones (that's me!), including the classics that made him famous, likeThe Animal SongWhy? and Mama Was A Rock'N'Roll Singer & Daddy Used To Write All Her Songs.  Also includes the cassette tape of the classicFour Songs, Two Fools project, recorded live atQuaker Lake with Alan "Flash" Brown.  Act now and receive a DVD.  It's blank.  Isn't it amazing how much young Bubba looks like Justin Bieber?  Today only, this box set is priced to move at $20.00 $10.00 Make an offer!

Item #27013-  Coconut Bra and Hula Skirt Combo-  This high fashion ensemble includes everything you need to throw your own Luau!  Worn by the fabulous Jerry Hanbery on many occasions in Kissimmee, this matching set also comes with a Jester hat and a can of Nair, in case you have a need to shave your head in the most painful way imaginable!  Only $250 for the whole set!  Also, for a limited time, you can order your own framed 8x10 copy of this picture, sure to brighten up any room of your home.  

* Item #20734- Pagan Eye For the Christian Guy CD-  The original recording of me presenting my seminar at the NYWC in Atlanta in 2004.  At the time, dozens of copies were made and at least 3 were sold- because I bought them!  Now you can own your very own at the very special price of $0.03 per copy.  Act now- at that price I will sell all 3 of my copies before...well, eventually! 

*Item #1-  The Doggy Alarm Clock-  This cute little dog adds hours to your day by waking you with a yelping, howling alarm at 4 AM- no matter when you thought you wanted to get up!  Also serves as a garbage disposal for leftover food and has been known to tackle an occasional Christmas tree.  Answers to a variety of names and runs on turkey.  Price:  $14.22 or best offer!

Order Now!  Sale ends at Midnight tonight!

*Prices may vary in Alaska and Mississippi.  Offer void in Canada.  Some items do not actually exist.  Why do we park in the driveway and drive on the parkway?  Tim Tebow won again yesterday, so Merril Hoge can EAT it!  Half a bee must also half not be.  Are thongs one size fits all?  Unclaimed items never actually existed.  Santa Claus is watching YOU...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Et Tu, Chick-fil-A?

Surely in this weekend of commercialization that kicks off the Christmas season there must be some last bastion of hope.  In the midst of all the Black Friday muggings at your local Wal-Mart, all the Lady Gaga holiday specials and all of the neighbors trying to make their house look like the home of Clark W. Griswold, there has to be one place we can count on to keep the Christ in Christmas.  The home of all things pure and good.  The home of conservative family values.  The home of Christian Chicken.  Chick-fil-A!

But wait...  My family went to our local Chick-fil-A on Waters Ave. here in Tampa last night and discovered something awful had happened.  The home of Christian Chicken had succumbed to the evils of a secular Christmas.  There were lights everywhere.  Some of them depicted (GASP!) Santa Claus.  You can see it in the picture above-  Santa, a Christmas tree and the holy Chick-fil-A sign.  All of these pictures were taken as my family wandered with crowds, entranced by the dancing lights.  I was so confused.  If Chick-fil-A had gone over to the dark side of the holiday season, what chance do the rest of us have?  

I hope by now you have felt the sarcasm in my writing today.  It is my firm belief that we can enjoy the trappings of the Christmas season without forgetting Jesus.  In fact, if we are that easily distracted, we need to re-think our commitment to the Child of Bethlehem.  This particular restaurant has done these lights for years, and we went there last night because we wanted to see the display.  I write this today because I hope to remind myself- and all of you- that there is a battle to be fought about remembering the "reason for season."  It's just that the battle is not with stores, restaurants or Santa.  Our struggle is not with those who choose to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."  The fight is not about arguing with the world over keeping the "Christ in Christmas."  The battle is in our own hearts.  Do we live like we know Jesus?  Do we do all we can to let those around us know that "Baby Jesus" grew up to save the world?   Am I living like I understand that this is the season when I prepare myself for the birth of the child who will deliver me from sin and spiritual death?   So enjoy the lights.  Enjoy the music.  Enjoy the shopping.  But WORSHIP Jesus!!!  Advent is here.  My Deliverer is coming!  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.  Even at Chick-fil-A...    

My Deliverer Is Coming...

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Christmas Movie List

Now that Thanksgiving is over (and all of those "Black Friday" commercials will mercifully cease) I can get into the spirit of the Christmas season!  I am a serious Christmas lover in every way.  I love the music, I love the shopping, I love Santa, and of course, I love Jesus!  We always break out the Christmas DVD's and videos on Thanksgiving Day, and we watched ELF last night to get us started!  So today I thought I would share with you my Top 10 "must-see" Christmas movies and specials. And yes, I realize in my Top 10 I have listed 13- but it's MY list!  Not included is It's A Wonderful Life, because it's just so obvious! So here we go:

10)  Four Christmases-There is nothing so funny as other people's families at the holidays...

10a)  Jingle All the Way- A Christmas movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger- what could be cooler that than? Includes the classic Arnold line, "Put that cookie down!"  Awesome!

9)  Christmas With the Kranks- One of the those rare movies that I liked better than the book it was based on, John Grisham's Skipping ChristmasTim Allen is the king of Christmas movies. Free Frosty, Free Frosty!!!

8)  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer- The classic original! It's a great story with great music and Yukon Cornelius and The Bumble- what else could you ask for!

7)  Home Alone 2: Lost in New York-I like this sequel even better than the original (which for some reason we do not own.  This must change.). Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as the "Sticky Bandits" are my favorite part of both movies.

6)  How the Grinch Stole Christmas- The animated version with Boris Karloff narrating is amazing, but we also like Jim Carrey's live action Grinch as well.

5)  Elf- We're just walking around the house saying today saying, "Buddy the Elf- what's your favorite color?" There is also a great message about believing when those around you do not...

5a)  The Santa Claus- I actually liked all three of these, but the first one is still my favorite. You gotta' love the elves!

4)  ScroogedBill Murray is great, Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present just cracks me up, and the story is timeless. A very underrated movie.

3)  Christmas Vacation- I feel a certain connection with Clark W. Griswald. We both manage to screw up most everything, but we mean well! And the lights-  ohhh the lights!

2)  The Toy That Saved Christmas- The first and best of the Veggietale Christmas stories. The Veggie's learn the true meaning of Christmas from Buzzsaw Louie. And after a sledding accident Bob the Tomato gets to utter these great lines: "Mousetrap.  I wanted to play Mousetrap. You roll your dice, you move your mice- nobody gets hurt!"

2a)  A Charlie Brown Christmas- More people have heard the Christmas story as told in the Gospel of Luke from Linus than from any other single media source in history. Think about that...

1)  A Muppet Christmas Carol- Easily number one for all of my family. The music is awesome, the story is terrific, and it has Muppets. What else do you want? We own the VHS, the DVD, and the CD of the music. "After all there's only one more sleep 'til Christmas..." And BTW- we're seeing the new Muppet Movie this afternoon!  I can't wait!

So there's my list. I know many of you would include A Christmas Story but I don't share your love of that one. What else would you add? Let me hear from you. Enjoy your favorites, but don't let the reason for the season slip away from you. Listen to Linus- the little dude with the blanket knows what he is talking about!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Psalm 100 (The Message)
A Thanksgiving Psalm

On your feet now—applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter, 
sing yourselves into his presence. 

Know this: God is God, and God, God. 
He made us; we didn't make him. 
We're his people, his well-tended sheep. 

Enter with the password: "Thank you!" 
Make yourselves at home, talking praise. 
Thank him. Worship him. 

For God is sheer beauty, 
all-generous in love, 
loyal always and ever. 

Today, I encourage you to act on the words of the old hymn:  "Count your many blessings, name them one by one; Count your many blessings, see what God has done..."
(For more thoughts on Thanksgiving, check out my guest post over at )
Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

7 Things I'm Thankful For

Here on this beautiful day before Thanksgiving, I wanted to share with you a list of 7 things for which I am thankful.  There are many more, but I'll stop at seven.  Not included is the radical, overwhelming and amazing grace and love of Jesus Christ, which makes all the rest of this possible.  Thank you Jesus!  Here we go:

1)  Every day I thank God for my wife Marilyn and my son Will.  Not just because they are my family, but also because they are my best friends and the people who taught me what real grace looks like when you put skin on it.  I love you guys!
2)  I am thankful for food.  I love to eat, and I really enjoy the communion of sitting around a table sharing a meal with family and friends.  I especially enjoy Taco Tuesdays at Tijuana Flats with our dear friend Lisa Jewett. It's often the highlight of the week!  And tomorrow, with my sister-in-law Carol and her hubby Bill here, and my Mom here to cook, the meal will be one of the highlights of the year!
3)  I am thankful for the home we live in and the neighborhood (Key West Circle) in which that home is located.  You don't know much how it meant to us to find a place where we are accepted and treated like part of the neighborhood, and now over 4 years later to feel like we have good friends here.  Given my circumstances, to able to say all of that is somewhat of a miracle.  Praise be to God!
4)  Words cannot express how thankful I am for all of you who read this blog.  With nearly 110,000 hits in just over 2 years, it has been such a blessing to me.  I am so thankful for all of my old (and by old I mean former, not OLD) youth group members who keep showing me love even though I don't deserve it, and to all of my newer Twitter friends who frequent this site quite often.  I am especially grateful for my surrogate Twitter family- Christie Weatherby, Jason Huffman, Jenn Ganley, Angie Battle, Robert Damron, Stacey Rocque, John Claybrook, Tracee Persiko and so many more- and the love and encouragement they give me each and every day.  You guys rock!
5)  I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to be in the picture you see here.  Being part of this amazing wedding on 11/11/11 reminded me of how much I love and miss ministry in general and sharing in the spiritual lives of friends.  Plus, this is about as much of me as I like to see in a picture.  The top of my head looks GREAT!  :)
6)  I have lots of great friends I am thankful for, but my old buddy Jerry Hanbery is something special.  I am blessed to have him in my life after all of these years.  And as I have said before, his wife Melissa is a candidate for sainthood.  Marilyn, Will and I are so glad they are part of our family.  
7)  And finally, I am thankful for music.  We live in a world filled with noise, but nothing can can bring peace to my heart and mind quite like a great song.  We may differ on what constitutes a great song, but there is some truth to the old saying, "Music makes the world go 'round!"  Every day as I listen to my I-pod and let some of my favorites wash over my soul, I am reminded what a gift it is.  So add some music to your day.  It's so cool that we can use sounds to block out the noise.  Deep, huh?

So there's my list.  What are you thankful for?  

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Past & Present

On November 22, 1963, a happy little 4 year old boy went to a "Wild West Day" taping of The Old Rebel Show in Greensboro, NC.  This classic of local TV children's programming was a big deal in those days, and I was dressed in my best cowboy outfit, ready to enter the quick draw contest that was the highlight of Wild West Day.  The show was taped in the morning and the broadcast in the afternoon, by which time I would be with all my friends at Mrs. Poe's daycare.  One by one the competition was eliminated and I was named the champion of the quick draw contest.  I was given a  badge and a few prizes, and I left the studio bursting with pride and joy at my accomplishment.  I couldn't wait for my friends to see me in action.  The appointed time arrived, and Mrs. Poe turned on the little black and white TV she had so we could all watch.  But The Old Rebel Show was not on.  Something strange was happening.  For some reason, the news was all that was on that day...

It seems that in far away place called Dallas, another man had been playing with guns that day and had done something awful.  Our president, John F. Kennedy, had been shot and killed- and coverage of that story was all that was on TV.  I was 4 years old.  I didn't understand what an assassination was, or who JFK was.  I just knew The Old Rebel was not on.  I cried and cried.  In fact, as the next few days unfolded and our country fell into a time of unbelievable grief and pain, the coverage of the event just went on and on.  And my moment of glory was never aired.  It seems so insignificant now, but to a 4 year old it was a really big deal.  48 years ago today a part of our nation's hope and future died in Dallas.  48 years ago today a part of my childhood died in NC.  After all,  you only get one shot at winning a quick draw contest on TV.  After all, you're only a kid once...

Or are we?  Even at my rapidly advancing age, there are still moment that make me feel like a 4 year old again.  Every time I walk down Main Street at The Magic Kingdom.  Every time I watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Tomorrow, we all get a few days to honor the child that still lives in us all.  The Muppets arrives in theaters.  Do not miss this chance to remind yourself and your family of what simpler times and true joy feels like.  Do not miss this chance to let your inner child come out and play!  If you need any more incentive to get your family and friends out of the house and into the theaters this weekend. here it is...

We often talk about "the good old days" as if they were all peaches and cream and today is all dark and scary.  Sometimes it is the other way around.  Be thankful today for the blessings of your world.  Enjoy every moment.  Don't let your inner child become sad and bitter like a 4 year old whose big TV moment just passed him by.  It still hurts a little bit to think about, because I have to tell you- I looked GOOD in my cowboy costume.  Thursday I will watch the parade and feel the rush of childhood excitement.  This weekend I look forward to letting Kermit, Gonzo, Piggy and the gang help me get a piece of my childhood back.  However you choose to do it, I hope you will all do the same.  "...and have faith like a child."

Because of Jesus,

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Chair

If you have ever walked into my office (or the office of any other youth pastor) then you have been one of the people who sat in "The Chair."  A youth pastor deals with a wide variety of people and issues during the course of any given day, and the results are often funny and never boring.  I have wanted to post this video here for a long time; I finally found this version through my friend Patti Gibbons blog (  It's sort of long for a blog post (16 minutes), but coming from the brilliant minds of The Skit Guys it is sooooo worth the watch.  It is a wonderful & hilarious illustration of why youth pastors do what they do- and why I did what I did for 28 years.  Enjoy.  And for all of my youth pastor friends out there, never forget how important you are in the lives of so many young people.  I know that none of you will ever forget anyone who sat in "The Chair."

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Jesus Is the Rock...and He Rolls My Blues Away!"

Hamp, Connor, Jacob, Scott, Jerry,
Nate & I- NYC, 1997
Pardon my language, but sometimes being out of youth ministry just plain sucks.  I always get a little melancholy when this day rolls around each year, and with good reason.  For the biggest part of my adult life, the Sunday before Thanksgiving meant I was on an adventure- and an adventure that I dearly loved.  I was either in New York City with a group of students or at the National Youth Workers Convention with some of the best (and craziest) people I knew.  In fact, I know people who are doing both of those things even as I write this post, and it makes me sad that I cannot be there.  It makes me angry that I threw away that part of my life.  And it makes me sentimental about all of the times I shared those experiences with people I love.  It's almost enough to make a man depressed.

Tim, Me, Yac & Jerry at the NYWC in 1996.
Almost.  I am able to stare into the face of these feelings and overcome my sadness, anger and sentimentality through no power of my own.  I can survive this day the same way I have survived every trial and bit of turmoil that has come in to my life- Jesus.  We used to sing a song at youth group that simply said, "Jesus is the rock and He rolls my blues away."  Amen to that.  If you are staring into the face of sorrow on this day, don't let those simple words pass you by.  Jesus has your back.  Always has...always will!  Have a blessed day.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Shout Outs!

It's time for the pre-Thanksgiving edition of Saturday Shout Outs! We've got lots of ground to cover, but before I get started I would like to again say how blessed I am to have so many folks who read this blog and tell me how much they enjoy it on a regular basis. I am honored!  Now on with the show...

  • It is a moral imperative that you all get out and see The Muppet Movie next weekend.  Show the world that great family movies can make money, and that felt covered puppets are better than computer generated aliens and pasty vampires.  Just an opinion.  BTW- this Kermit lives in our house! :) 
  • My Mom and Marilyn's sister Carol (along with her hubby Bill) are going to be with us here in Tampa all next week for the holiday.  We're excited to have the company, which raise the following question:  When are YOU coming down? :)
  • I had lunch again this past Thursday with Stephanie Greife Owens (Wesley Memorial UMC).  As always the conversation and the company were great.  Love you Stephie! 
  • I am truly sorry I can't be in Greensboro, NC next weekend.  First, on Thanksgiving Day Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-Kissimmee) is going to be walking a 5K race, and I would love to be there to taunt her from the sidelines.  Then on Friday night there is a party of a group of some of my favorite people in the world- the youth group I grew up in!  Steve Semmler, Carl Semmler, Andy Maynard, Beth McGalliard, Tammy Foster and who knows who else are getting together, and I hate to miss it.  Someday soon I'll be back up there.  That's a promise!
  • Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi (FUMC-K) has started her own blog!  You can read "all about Bob" by visiting  Go now!
  • Many of my favorite people and Twitter friends are gathered in Atlanta right now at the National Youth Workers Convention.  I really miss those amazing events.  Pardon me while I pout....
  • Congratulations to the Page High School Pirates (Greensboro, NC) on a big come from behind win in the against the defending state champions in the football playoffs last night! Head Coach Kevin Gillespie and his wife Andi Brooks Gillespie along with assistant coach Jeremy Godwin (all Springfield Friends TNT folks!) are undefeated and headed towards the state finals.  Co Pirates!  Arrrrrgggggg!
  • Twitter is an wonderful thing.  Every day I am blessed through communicating with a family of friends (way too many to mention) that I continue to grow closer to...but for the most part have never met.  Plus it's a great way to harass old friends (Am I right Ashley, Brook, Jamie and Jackie?) as well.  If you tweet and we aren't connected, follow me @youthguy07.  It's very cool!
  • Marching Band season is finally over for Will, so our house returns to some semblance of normalcy- just in time for the holiday season.  It's just exhausting!  
  • I believe most every situation in life corresponds to a moment for a Seinfeld episode.  I am beginning to believe the same is true for How I Met Your Mother.  Will agrees with me.
  • As you may have heard I am now available for text messages.  Give me a shout if you want my number- would love to hear from you guys in a whole new way- for me, anyway!  
And finally, my favorite Tim Tebow stats of the week (see picture).  This is for the benefit of a ll my Florida Gator friends and especially Ashley Goad Broadhurst (Springfield Friends Meeting), a huge Tebow fan!  It's official.  He's better than John Elway (sarcasm intended).  But it is pretty amazing!  That's it for now.  Take care, and remember this is a week to be thankful for the many blessings in our lives.  Know that I am thankful for each of you, and if you are traveling, be safe.  Much love!
    Because of Jesus,

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Words I Wish I Had Written

    The following lesson comes from the ragamuffin soul of the great Brennan Manning.  I believe that you- just like me- will be able to see yourself in these words.  Have a blessed weekend.

    “Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last 'trick', whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school. 

    'But how?' we ask. 

    Then the voice says, 'They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.' 

    There they are. There *we* are - the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to faith. 

    My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.” 

    ― Brennan ManningThe Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out

    Because of Jesus,

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    The Legend of The Country Quakers

    As I mentioned yesterday, the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention is in Atlanta this week.  I attended several conventions in Atlanta, but there is always one moment that stands out in my mind above all others.  This is that story.

    Alan & I at QLC
    In the late 70's or early 80's (those years really run together in my mind!) Alan Brown showed up at my house one day having written most of a song about a blue pick-up truck. It was the type of song where heartbreak is all around- a true parody of country music.  I helped him finish it, and it became legendary around Quaker Lake Camp and NC Young Friends events.  As time passed, Alan was not around those events much and I took to singing it by myself.  In 1986 I sang it at New England Yearly Meeting and it killed.  It seemed that people everywhere could get into this song.

    At the 1987 National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta there was going to be a "talent show" at the annual Wittenburg Door Banquet.  I had brought my guitar with me, and at some point Terry VenableRay Luther and I decided we would audition for the banquet and sing Blue Pick-Up Truck.  The three of us had never performed the song together before, but we woould be bound together by history.  Ray would follow me as Youth Pastor at Springfield Friends Meeting, and they would follow Terry as Senior Pastor. He is still Pastor there today.   Ray was by far the best singer of the group; I knew the verses; Terry was there for moral support!  We auditioned under the name The Country Quakers.  They let us sing part of the song and then told us we would get a call letting us know if we were in.  The call came, and we would make our debut in front of 800 or so youth workers.  

    The Wittenburg Door Banquet was a wild affair each year, and 1987 was no different.  We were sharing a table with some Mennonites who were wearing hotel shower caps.  People dressed crazy, acted crazy and had lots of fun, all without the benefit of alcohol!  Wayne Rice did his Sinatra impression ("I did it His way...") and Mike Yaconelli made fun of everyone.  Before we knew it, it was our time to take the stage, one of the final acts of the night.

    I introduced the song in my usual way- "How many of you like country music?"  After the cheer went up in response, I would say, "Well then you will hate this..."   We got a good laugh and started the song.  The first verse and chorus passed with some laughter, but we had no indication of what was about to happen. People began to clap along with the music.  After the second verse, as we started the chorus again, I jokingly yelled out, "Sing it if you know it!"  To our shock, they did!  The place was now rocking, and we were really getting into it.  Everyone in the room was standing and clapping along.  The room itself was pretty dark, with candles on every table.  Sometime during the final verse we noticed that someone at one of the front tables was standing in a chair and waving a candle.  Others began to copy him, until he and some of the crowd were actually on the tables singing and waving candles.  We couldn't really see at the time, but when the lights came up we discovered it was Tony Campolo, world renowned speaker and teacher, who had been our biggest fan!  We received a huge standing ovation, and Wayne Rice told me he thought we might be the biggest hit in the history of the banquet.  Tic Long, who selected the acts for the night, told us later he had chosen us because he thought we would get booed off the stage; we were supposed to have been the "Gong Show" act of the night!    I just hate that this was before the days of video phones; I would love to have a tape of it all.  But trust me, the song is EPIC!  I will consider recording the song to publish here on the blog- if enough of you request it! :)

    The next day we were full blown celebrities.  Everyone wanted to say hi and offer congratulations.  Yohann Anderson wanted to publish the song.  Tony himself stopped me in the hall to tell me how much fun it had been for him.  The Wittenburg Door Banquet changed and then was discontinued, so that was my one and only bit of  NYWC fame.  It was also the one and only performance of The Country Quakers.  Always leave 'em wanting more, right?  

    Because of Jesus,

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    My First NYWC- Dallas, 1982

    In honor of the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention beginning today in Atlanta, I am sharing this vintage post (with a few changes) that originally appeared here October 15, 2009.  Blessings to all of my friends who are attending this week- do something wild & crazy for me!

    1982 was a very pivotal year in my life and in my ministry.  Somewhere along the road of this most interesting year, David Stone (see Influences: J. David Stone) suggested to me that I attend the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC).  I knew ofYouth Specialties (YS) from their series of Ideas books and a few other youth ministry resources, which were really just starting to be published at the time.  I had never heard of the NYWC, and neither had anyone else I knew, but David made it sound like a place that I needed to be, and he was leading some of the workshops.  So I made plans to go by myself to Dallas in November of 1982.  I was 23 and venturing out on my own, and I had my doubts.  It turned out to be a  very good decision plus I came home with awesome belt buckle seen above.  Thanks Wayne Rice!

    The NYWC in 1982 was not the same beast it is today.  Dallas was the only location, and there were only around 800 of us there, compared to the thousands they draw to multiple locations today.  It was held in a hotel ballroom with very limited sound equipment and no big screens or projectors.  And it was wilder- MUCH wilder!  Those were the days when YS was a stand alone company, not yet a part of the Zondervan (or any other) conglomerate, and they were much bigger risk takers.  I was clueless as to what to expect, but the opening general session told me all I needed to know- this would not be like any other "church" event I had ever atended!  Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice, the two head-honchos of YS, did a welcome and orientation, during which they roasted many of the denominations represented at the convention.  The barbs went something like this:

    • How many Southern Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?  Just one- and it doesn't even matter if the light bulb needs changing!
    • Pentecostals, the hotel pool is NOT available for mass baptisms!
    • Episcopalians should note that hotel bar closes at midnight...
    • There will be an all-night meeting of the Committee of Methodists in room 806 to determine if that committee needs to meet again tomorrow!
    • Sorry, Lutherans, but the revolving restaurant at the top of the hotel is NOT available for a potluck supper on Saturday night...
    They then did a "roll call" of denominations, and I was surprised to find out that there were a few other Quakers in attendance, all from Iowa, including my future friend Tom Klaus.  There were not, however, enough of us to qualify for an insult from the stage!

    The next few days were among the most exciting, draining and educational of my life.  The workshops were amazing, with people like Yac, David Stone, Dennis Benson,Tony Campolo and Jim Burns opening my eyes to what student ministry could truly be.  Tony led a workshop called Issues that Divide the Church, and focused on the sacraments, abortion and homosexuality.  As you can see, we have made SOOOOO much progress over the last 27 years!  Jim Burns 2-part Advanced Youth Ministry seminar became the basis of almost everything I did for the next 10 years (I finally got to thank Jim in Pittsburgh in 2005!).  In those days, the general session speakers YS chose were there to challenge you to think.  No matter your theology or your politics, there would be at least one main speaker who would really tick you off!  The whole thing was like drinking from a fire hose- totally overwhelming!  And then there was The Wittenburg Door banquet.  The Wittenburg Door was a magazine published by YS that featured satirical humor, generally making fun of the excesses of the church.  It's now just The Door and YS let it go years ago, but at the time it was quite a thorn in the side of the mainstream church.  For their banquet in 1982, the speaker was Dick Gregory, the radical, outspoken African-American comedian who was not known for his religious views or church language.  He held nothing back as he spoke about our responsibility as Christ-followers to feed the world and take care of the broken and outcasts.  It was amazing, and I was among those who gave him a standing ovation.  Many had walked out far before the end.  My eyes were opened in a whole new way for about the 34th time that weekend!

    It was also at this event that I met James Ward for the first time.  James was a featured musician at the convention, who came out looking like James Taylor- a skinny white guy in a white shirt and loose tie.  He say down at his piano and began to play, and JT disappeared and Stevie Wonder popped out!  He was incredible, and our paths would cross a number of times over the years.  His album Good Advice remains one of my very favorite contemporary christian recordings, even if it is on a cassette tape!  I also met and got to play guitar with Yohann Anderson (just YO to his friends!), the founder of Songs & Creations.  The Songs & Creations song book was the standard for youth group singing from the 1970's until the praise and worship movement of the 90's, and YO was the man behind gathering so many great songs in one place.  He led all the group singing at the NYWC until praise bands were discovered...

    It would be 5 years before I returned to the NYWC (an event I would eventually attend 15 times, and speak at once) but the lasting impact of that first time would be difficult to overstate.  The lessons I learned and the connections I made would last the length of my ministry and beyond.  You will read many more NYWC stories as time goes by; you will hear some of these names again as well.  I returned to New Garden Friends Meeting more fired up than any $100 a month part-time youth leader ought to be, ready to make the student ministry there all it could be.  How could I not be excited, with the words of the greatest speaker I have ever heard, Tony Campolo, still ringing in my ears:  "You are thinking the world is too big, and one person can't change it.  Well you CAN change it!  YOU can make a difference!"  I was certainly going to try...

    Because of Jesus,