Monday, February 28, 2011

"Oh Noooo..."

In most every episode of the classic TV sitcom Friends there is a moment when Phoebe realizes that she has misunderstood something or done something terribly wrong.  As you watch the look of realization come over her face, you always know the words that are going to follow:  "Oh noooo..."

When the students of Wesley Memorial UMC loaded our chartered bus in January of 2002 to head to West Virginia for our Ski Camp, I already knew it was going to be an emotional rollercoaster.  For Ryan & Ashley Sweat (the children of our departing pastor) this would be their "last stand" with the group.  Several youth who otherwise might not have signed up for the trip tagged along just because of that fact.  I had not been around this group long enough to know that there were some deeply seeded issues that separated many of the youth.  I was about to learn a great deal.

You may recall from a previous post that the previous youth pastor had spent a great amount of time and effort seeking to prevent the males and females of the group from "co-mingling."  They had spent months studying the Joshua Harris (don't get me started) book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.  While I have no doubt of the sincerity of the effort, the results had been an abject failure.  There had been so much "underground" dating in this group that there were still many hard feelings.  Even the bus ride up had a few tense moments.  Once we arrived, we checked into our motel and began to settle in.  It only took a couple of hours before the sniping started.  Two of the girls knocked on the door to my room and informed me that two of our students were having sex in one of the rooms.  I immediately ran to the room and discovered a group of about 15 youth sitting, chatting and watching TV.  One of the girls was giving one of the guys a back rub.  This was the "sex."  It turned out that one of the girls who reported the event to me had a long-standing crush on the guy and didn't like the girl.  It was the first of many eye-opening discoveries about the inter-personal relationships I was dealing with.

This was a group of haves and have nots.  Some of the youth were literally outcasts, with no real friends in the group.  Cliques were strong and plentiful.  Feelings were easily hurt.  Attitudes needed some serious adjustments.  A couple of these students had anger issues much more serious than any I had dealt with before.  It was going to take a great deal of effort to overcome the history some of them shared.  Before I could get them to trust each other I was going to have get them to trust me.  As often happens, things would get worse before they got better.  And as happens just as often, I was in the middle of it all- for better and for worse.  Oh noooo...   (Continued on Wednesday)

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, February 27, 2011

So Ananias Went

Congratulations to Cindy Martin, winner of the trivia contest yesterday.  She knew I have no tattoos.  And don't forget- 1 week from today we begin our Lenten devotional journey- The 40 Day Adventure: Sanctuary- at my other blog, http://gracespot-cj.blogspot.com/  I hope you will plan to join in the adventure.  He is risen!

All of us, at some point in our lives, decide that that excellence is no longer needed in some area of life. Whether it be school, work, sports or blog writing, we reach a point when we decide it is OK to "just get by."  We work only as hard as we need to for our efforts to be judged acceptable by those around us.  Doing the best we can seems like a waste of effort.  Our attitudes are like that of the man who was hiking through the woods with a friend.  As they moved into the deep forest, they suddenly encountered a bear. The bear smelled them and the food in their backpacks and began to chase them. After running for a long distance they had not lost the bear.  One man sat down and began to unlace his boots and put on the sneakers from his pack.  The other man looked at him incredulously and said, "Are you nuts?"  You can't out run that bear!"  The first man laced up his sneakers and relied, "I don't have to out run the bear.  I just have to out run you..."

Even when it comes to following Jesus we often seek to do only what is absolutely necessary.  We go to church.  We may read our bibles.  But when the message gets too tough, we find excuses.  When the job gets too complicated, we bail out.  We are like the man who falls off of a cliff, only to catch himself on a tree branch.  He cannot climb up.  The drop would be hundreds of feet.  He cries out to God, "LORD, what should I do?"  A moment later he hears a response- "Let go of the branch."  The man hesitates, thinks about it and then says, "Is there anyone else out there?"   We want to follow Jesus, but we want it to be easy.  And it's not...

In Acts 9:10-17 we read the story of a man named Ananias.  God comes to him and tells him that he has a job for him.  He wants him to go to see Saul, the noted killer of followers of The Way, who has been struck blind on the the road to Damascus and has been given a vision that Ananias is coming to heal his sight.  Ananias responds as we often do- with all kinds of excuses and reasons why this is a bad idea and he is not the right person for the job.  But God says to him, "GO!"  We often hear God say the same to us in a variety of ways.  He tells us to GO!- and repair broken relationships.  He tells us to GO!- and be in ministry to the under-resourced and the lost and hurting.  He tell us to GO!- and be witnesses for Jesus in our world.  And we, like Ananias, find a plethora of excuses.  But there is one main difference between our common response and the way Ananias responded.  Despite all of the whining and the excuses, verse 17 gives us the bottom line:  So Ananias went.  And the Apostle Paul received his sight and set about turning the world upside-down.

And that is what God requires of us.  Not that we be perfect, not even that we be qualified for the work He sets before us.  It is not our own skill and talents that qualify us to serve God- it is His grace, power and love that sends us out into our world with everything we need.  Perhaps, at the end of it all, the greatest thing that could be said about me is not that I have abilities as a teacher or a youth pastor .  It's not to hear others say that I can sing like the angels or preach like Paul.  Perhaps the greatest thing that could be said about me is simply this: So Carl went.  Here's my heart LORD.  Use me. 

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Get To Know Me!


Me, 1981. No gray hair- yet!
 Happy Saturday!  I thought that since I have so many new readers via Twitter who may not know me very well that perhaps it was time for some info on the world's most trivial subject- ME!  Some of you will know some of this and some of you will know none of this, but hopefully none of you will know all of this!  Confused?  Good!  And just for fun we'll make it like an old youth group game, 4 Truths and a Lie.  Except there are way more than 4 truths.  If you think you know which of these very unremarkable facts is not true, leave a comment with your guess.  Or you can just choose to make fun of all of them.  The winner, as always, gets a can of SPAM!  Here we go...
  • I was born in Asheboro, NC while Eisenhower was president.  Technically speaking I am in my 7th decade.  Ouch...
  • When I was 4 years old I went on The Old Rebel Show, a local children's show in Greensboro, NC, and won a wild west quick draw contest.  The show was never seen because it was due to air November 22, 1963, and was preempted by coverage of the JFK assassination.
  • I once wore all pink- including pink tights- for my role as Prince Dauntless in the Western Guilford High School (Greensboro) production of Once Upon A Mattress.
  •  The hardest I have ever been hit in my life was by my dear friend Sabrina "Sis" Perry after she found out I had talked my best friend Steve Semmler into asking someone else out, right after she told me didn't care if he did.   Ahhh, high school! 
  • My freshman year in college I helped start a fake fraternity called Omega Zeta- or OZ.  We  joked that we didn't have a president, we had a wizard. 
  • In high school there was a group 0f 7 girls who referred to me as Snow White.  I can't make this stuff up...
  • The first concert I attended was a Jimmy Buffett show with Steve and our dates in an ice skating rink around 1974.  The guy sitting behind us threw up on our dates, so we missed half the show.  Hooray beer!
  • In 1979 I drove across the country with my friends Alan Brown & Carl Semmler.  We were gone a month, made it to Cali, went to Disneyland and never saw the Pacific Ocean. 
  • I saw Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Dominique Wilkins play basketball in person- all while they were still in high school!
  • As a matter of fact I DID have a collection of John Denver albums on 8-track tape...
  • I won tickets from a radio station to see Monty Python's Holy Grail in a sneak preview, two weeks before it actually hit theaters.  I took a date.  We didn't get it.  I now pretty much have it memorized.  Best.  Movie.  Ever.
  • At my first meeting as a paid youth leader, at Centre Friends Meeting, I was still 18.  There was at least one student there who was older than me.
  • During my 6 summers (1978-83) of working on the summer staff at Quaker Lake Camp (and for a few years afterwards) I had a group of female campers who called me Pops.  Pictured are Sharron Tutterow, Mollie Edwards, me, Debbie Tully, Kristin Hayworth,  Laura Wheeler, Jane Tesh & Jane Terrell.  Even at age 20 I was already a father figure- or at least old!  :)
  • At one point I owned over 20 Beach Boys albums.  Those were the big CDs with the hole in the middle...
  • I have a Tigger tattoo on my left shoulder. I got it at Disney on a dare from my long-time Summer Intern, Jerry Hanbery. He got a Goofy...
  • I was in Atlanta at the Braves game the night Hank Aaron hit his 700th home run.
  • Marilyn and I were married on August 30, 1986 in Elkin, NC.  William Joshua was born July 16, 1995.  Conner the Dog was born March 15, 2003.  That's my family!
  • I once attended a Washington Senators baseball game. Yes, SENATORS!
  • Alan Brown and I wrote the song There's A Blue Pick-Up Truck Where My Heart Used To Be after he drove behind a really slow truck while trying to get to my house in the early '80s.  I later performed it at a National Youth Workers Convention and Tony Campolo stood up in his chair and waved a candle (click here for story).
  • My youth ministry career included working with the Quakers, the United Methodists, the United Church of Christ and Young Life
  • I have lost nearly 75 pounds in the last 6 years.
  • While at FUMC-Kissimmee in 1997 I put together a big concert featuring Geoff Moore & the Distance that lost nearly $8000. Unfortunately, this is NOT the lie.  See that story here.
  • I attended a performance of The Lion King on Broadway and sat next to Batman.
  • I have seen Les Miserables 11 times on Broadway- twice from the front row!
  • Places I have lived: Greensboro, High Point, Asheboro (all NC);  Worcester, MA;  Clarendon Hills (Chicago area) IL;  Kissimmee, FL; Tampa, FL; & Waycross, GA.
  • And finally...I led a seminar at the 2004 NYWC in Atlanta called Pagan Eye For the Christian Guy.  CDs are available.  Well, CD.  I think I still have one...
So there you have it.  Lots of random facts, a few embarrassing pictures, and one lie.  It's more than you wanted to know I'm sure, but now you have at least some idea of why I am the way I am!  Hope you enjoyed it and will take a guess at my one untruth.  See you tomorrow with the correct answer!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, February 25, 2011

Do You Manage...Or Do You Lead?

When you enter a new ministry situation and see things that need to happen or that need to be changed, one of the more difficult decisions you must make is, "How quickly do I move?"  It didn't take me long to come to a decision on that question at Wesley Memorial UMC in 2001.  A number of their student leaders had left with an associate pastor just before my arrival. Another very important family had moved away.  We were soon to learn that we were losing our pastor to another church, which also meant losing our youth choir director (his wife) and two more key student leaders.  The time for action was NOW.

I began to roll out some of my plans to our Youth Ministry Team in a November meeting at my home.  Aside from (for the time being) minor changes to the Sunday evening youth group meeting, I had a couple of things I wanted to to do immediately. I wanted to start a bible study group on Wednesday nights.  I wanted to get a monthly SHO-Time (Senior High Only) fellowship night started.  I was going to throw a major Christmas party at my home.  I wanted to plan a Winter Week of Wonder (WOW) for the week after Christmas.  And I wanted to plan a Ski Camp for January of 2002.  My new team of Youth Counselors were supportive of these ideas, as they understood the need to build relationships and excitement levels given all that was going on.  I remember one particular volunteer asking several dozen questions about the value of a Ski Camp and how I would go about planning it.  After a long period of Q & A, Robyn Smith spoke up and said something along the lines of "Look; we went to all of the trouble and expense of hiring a full-time youth pastor (the church's first) with a lot of experience.  He's done this before.  Let's let him do his job."  And that was the end of that discussion.

SHO-Time was an immediate success, giving me a chance to build relationships with the high school students who had already been through several youth leaders and a couple of disasters.  The bible study remained a small dedicated group for my entire tenure.  The Christmas party (see picture at top) drew a huge crowd and got people very excited, and that carried over into Winter WOW (at left).  That first WOW included a round of mini-golf at Disney, followed by lunch at Planet Hollywood.  This would become a tradition.  All of these things helped me "earn the right to be heard" and share Jesus with my new youth family.  And the Ski Camp?  Check back Monday to see what I learned...

Leadership in youth ministry is a tricky thing.  It is important to listen to the students and hear their dreams and goals for the ministry.  Parents must be heard from, although it is crucial to remember that parents usually have hopes and ideas that apply to their child, not to the whole group.   Your pastor should have input.  And the adult volunteers who work with you share in the planning and implementation of your programs and goals.  But in the end (in my opinion- others will disagree) the youth pastor must be a loving and benevolent dictator.  You listen.  You pray hard.  You draw on previous experiences.  And then you make the call.  If you are the youth pastor, then it is as Robyn pointed out- you were hired because they want you to lead.  Are you there to manage a committee that oversees a youth program-  or are you in ministry to help students change the world in the name of Jesus?  Don't pass the buck on leadership.  You will fail at times, but that is nothing to be afraid of.  I know at WMUMC the youth were watching to see if I would be more of the same old thing... or a new kind of leader.  I suspect that students everywhere are asking the same question.  Jesus told his followers to drop what they were doing and go with  Him- wherever that may lead.  We should be just as bold.  Have a blessed weekend.

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Never Underestimate My Jesus"

It's another Contemporary Christian Music Thursday here at "I'd Laugh," and today we continue to celebrate the years I spent at Wesley Memorial UMC, 2001-2005.  Despite some of the early misgivings that I have already chronicled here, I can now look back and see some amazing times shared with some wonderful youth and great adult volunteers. There are a number of songs that were important to us during that time, and I will be sharing some of them over the next few Thursdays.  But none were more significant than For the Moments I Feel Faint.

At some point during the first year I was at WMUMC I discovered the band Relient K.  They were a punk/pop combo whose lyrics seemed to relate to teenagers in a way that very few Christian bands did.  It wasn't long before I had given away multiple copies of their CD Anatomy of the Tongue In Cheek as door prizes at meetings of our student ministry, which had come to be called Graceland (more on that another day).  Soon it seemed that CD was constantly playing in cars, on the church van and at youth.  If it wasn't playing, kids were singing songs like Sadie Hawkins Dance, Pressing On, Maybelline and For the Moments I Feel Faint.  The interesting part is no one ever called the song For the Moments I Feel Faint. It was always identified by the first line of the chorus:  "Never underestimate my Jesus."  It is an amazing little song.  I especially remember Sean Bell singing it in worship one Sunday morning...

The sad part is that during my time at WMUMC, I constantly underestimated Jesus.  I loved Him with my whole heart (though my mind often wandered).  I worshipped him and led others in worship with passion.  But I slowly but surely quit putting my trust in Him.  You know the old Meatloaf song, Two Out of Three Ain't Bad?  It doesn't apply here.  It was bad.  I didn't trust Jesus to bring us the right pastor.  I quit trusting Him with my family life.  I quit trusting Him in my ministry.  I still followed Him, still loved Him, still worshipped Him. I was experienced and very good at my job, and so most everything seemed OK.   But I began to place my trust in myself instead of in God.  And that never ends well...

But today is not about me and my failings, it's all about Jesus and the amazing work He did at Wesley despite me.  The pictures in today's slide show are all from those years, and I think they capture the love and the joy we shared together.  There were so many obstacles we had to overcome and so many times when it would have been easy for any one of us to just give up.  But we didn't.  We carried on.  There were great trips, amazing moments with God and great relationships that I still treasure.  I love the people you will see in these pictures.  And even in the darkest moments, even with my lack of trust, we never lost hope.  And that is the message of the song.  So enjoy the video, and remember that God is always with you in the storm.  "Never underestimate my Jesus.  You're telling me that there's no hope; I'm telling you you're wrong..." 



Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pressing On

In those December days leading up to Christmas 2001, I was scared.  Pastor Jerry Sweat was leaving us.   I could tell you how I had faith that God would send a great person of God to be our next Senior Pastor at Wesley Memorial UMC and that everything would be great.  But I did not have such faith.  I was afraid that things were about to go south again, as they had at FUMC-Kissimmee when John Willis was replaced with The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named.  I was scared that I had left that position, dragged my family to Chicago, dragged them back to Tampa- and all just to end up in another mess.  My faith was wavering.  But as far as the student ministry was concerned, I knew I had to keep pressing on.

I first learned about the importance of attitude and perseverance in ministry while working at Quaker Lake Camp in the late 1970's.  The summer staff (of which I was a part) would work 8 weeks of camp each summer.  We had different kids and different ages each week.  A week or so after our high school camp, one of the female campers who was near and dear to us all was killed in a car wreck.  We were devastated.  Other high school campers just started showing up at QLC so we could all grieve together.  It was great to have the support of such a community of friends.  There was a problem, however.  The camp full of 4th and 5th grade campers didn't know or care about what we were going through.  They just knew that it was their ONLY week at camp.  Our boss, Neal Thomas, reminded us of that, and explained that we owed them our very best even in the midst of our grief.  So we pressed on.  And God gave us strength to help those campers have a Jesus filled week.

The feelings were not as extreme, but nonetheless I realized that losing Jerry was hurting everyone, not just me.  And so instead of sitting back and awaiting what felt like a death sentence, I shifted into high gear with the youth ministry.  I had come to WMUMC to crank up the volume, and if this was a disaster waiting to happen then I was was gonna' go out swinging.  Friday I'll tell you about adventures in planning a Ski Camp, throwing a Christmas Bash at my house and putting together a Winter WOW!  All of that while waiting for the hammer to fall...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"The Jones Memorial Carpet"

From the very first moment I ever heard him open his mouth, I knew that the late Mike Yaconelli was a leader of the Jesus Revolution.  He said things, did things and believed things that made it clear he was no friend to "organized religion," yet he and his ministry partner Wayne Rice were in large part responsible for organizing student ministry as we know it.  You can read more about Yac on my post Influences: Mike Yaconelli.  Today I want to focus more on one of Yac's signature phrases.  It seemed he never spoke about youth ministry without uttering the phrase "the Jones Memorial Carpet."  He was not talking about a specific carpet, or even a carpet at all. He was talking about an attitude of the church. And since I am a Jones...let's just say it has real meaning to me.


Pirate Night @ Wesley Memorial
 Yac generally used the phrase when speaking about how churches want young people around, they just don't want them to act like teenagers.  They want youth ministries to be clean and neat.  Nothing too wild should go on.  Keep the music turned down.  No piercings or tattoos.  And don't spill anything on the Jones Memorial Carpet.  Anyone who knows anything about student ministry knows that is not how it works.  It's messy pretty much all the time- both physically and spiritually.  Yac (and Tic Long) also used to say that if there is not at least one rule at your church that exists because of YOU (the youth pastor), then you are not doing your job.  I have seen those rules.  No playing kick-the-can in the cemetery.  No playing Sardines in the John J. Blair Class- since those "youth" destroyed their coffee pot.  No red Kool-Aid anywhere.  No dodgeball in the Sanctuary (OK- that one is legit) and no pie-throwing in the Fellowship Hall.  To Yac, all of those messes and all of those stains were cause for a celebration- in his words, "WHOOO-HOOO!"  They simply meant you had kids in your church.  But churches seldom see it that way.

One church I served, which had a real heart for student ministry and the messes it can create, decided to install new carpet in our youth room.  The old carpet was covered in massive stains and there was money to replace it.  I was excited until I went to a Trustees meeting and began to hear all of the things we could no longer do once the new carpet was installed.  No more food in the room.  Seriously?  No food in a youth room?  We ate supper there every week.  No more messy games.  Really?  No more Jell-O Nights?  No more Honey Bee Club?  C'mon, man!  And the list went on.  When I complained, they asked me for suggestions as to how to keep from messing up what was quickly becoming the Jones Memorial Carpet.  I gave them the following suggestions:
  1. Purchase a carpet that was pre-stained or tie-dyed so no one would ever see the stains.
  2. Forget about carpet and just use drop clothes.
  3. Install tile instead.  Easier to clean, but extremely slippery.  A law suit is better than a stain any day!
  4. Purchase a light colored carpet, then stage a pre-emptive spill with red "Bug Juice" and cover the whole area.  Oops!
  5. Just get it over with and shut down the youth program, because teenagers are just not your thing.
OK, so I didn't actually say any of those things.  But I did remind them that in youth ministry we are always at work in a mission field, and to reach our target audience requires us to be different, messy and sometimes outright revolutionary.  We want to give them Jesus, but we have to have a relationship with them first.  I told them about the Jones Memorial Carpet.  And I gave them a "WHOOO-HOOO!"  The new carpet and some new furniture wound up in THE PARLOR.  I didn't even have a key to that room...

My long-winded point today is this- both student ministry and the Jesus Revolution are not likely to be successful if we only think it terms of "this is how we do it at church."  The people impressed by our "church piety" are already at church.  It's the lost and the hurting we need to connect with and show love to.  And that will always be messy.  It may involve the homeless, the unclean, the HIV positive and the criminal.  It will definitely mean that people who don't know (or care) "how we do it at church" will be coming through our doors.   If they do, I'm willing to bet you they will leave stains on the Jones Memorial Carpet.  And I think you would hear Jesus crying out- WHOOO-HOOO!  Viva la revolution!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sucker Punch

I had a few doubts about taking the Director of Student Ministries position at Wesley Memorial UMC in 2001, but nothing that kept me from accepting their call.  I knew that they were a mid-sized church that their leadership saw as much larger than it really was.  I knew that some of the lay leadership was very possessive of their power.  I knew that space was at a premium and that a building campaign seemed stalled.  But one of the reasons that none of that seemed important to me was the leadership of the senior pastor, Jerry Sweat.  He was young, energetic, innovative and a wonderful preacher.  The congregation loved him, and it was easy to see why.  Marilyn and I quickly fell in love with Jerry, his wife Denise and their 3 kids, 2 of whom- Ryan and Ashley- were in the youth group.  The last question I asked Jerry before accepting the position was a personal one.  I wanted to know if he thought there was any chance the Florida Conference of the UMC would move him the following June.  He assured me he was not going anywhere.

Once I had actually started work at WMUMC I discovered Jerry was not perfect.  He was not much of an administrator.  He was disorganized at times.  Our wonderful secretary, Vickey Paggio, kept a bowl on her desk for him to leave his car keys in so he wouldn't lose them.  He would forget to pick his kids up from school.  He would double book appointments and meetings.  He would delegate tasks that didn't match his gifts and allow people to work.  Sometimes these people needed more direction than he gave them, and this would bite the church big-time later on.  But as a spiritual leader and teacher, Jerry was top-notch.  And we made a good team.  Jesus was leading the way, and after a couple of months on the job I was feeling like we were going places.

And then in early December of 2001, after I had been in Tampa less than two months, Jerry called a staff meeting to announce that he was leaving to accept a position at a huge church in Jacksonville Beach.  Health reasons had forced a pastor to retire early, and they needed to fill his spot.  They could not have chosen a better man.  HOWEVER...I suddenly felt like I had been left high and dry- again!  I was losing my #1 supporter.  I was losing the director of our youth choir (his wife).  Denise was also the leader of the Praise Team that Marilyn was singing with and a key figure in a very fragile contemporary worship service.  I was losing 2 key youth.  After my experience at FUMC-Kissimmee with The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named, I had no confidence in the Florida Conference and who they might send as Jerry's replacement.  They would be with us through January, so we would have some time to gather ourselves, but I was distraught.  It was indeed a sucker punch, and I had no idea how or if I was going to recover from this one.  I would be praying hard that God would give me strength and answers.  In the meantime, there was student ministry to be done.  More on that Wednesday...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"If the Phone Doesn't Ring, It's Me"


Part of the Wesley Memorial "family"
I often speak about how the student ministries I served became family over the years, and this is true in every sense of the word.  There are "kids" I have not seen in nearly 20 years who still call on me for prayer, support and advice.  There were people I had not connected with in 30 years, but because of this blog (which has become a place for my various youth groups to come together in one giant family reunion) I know they have fond memories and strong connections to the things we went through together.  When done well, youth groups become families in God's name, and I treasure all of those relationships.

But I need to acknowledge before God and my readers that like with any family, there are struggles.  I was never perfect; I didn't become a sinner because I sinned.  I sinned because, like everyone else, I am a sinner.  There are people out there- former youth and their parents- who because of my public sin would like to forget they were ever a part of my family.  Because of my failings, it has become painful for them to think about our time together.  Even reading this blog and reliving the wonderful times we shared would be difficult.  I understand this and apologize for it.  I hope they will forgive me at some point- partly selfishly, and partly because I hope I taught them that forgiveness is the business of Christians.  Their feelings do not negate the fact that we shared life together with Jesus and we were important to one another.  That is why I continue to share these stories.  But I know that some of their memories of our time together are tainted.  It's kind of like if I wear a blue shirt everyday, and your knowledge of me is that I am a blue shirt guy.  A good guy.  Suddenly, without warning, I show up in a red shirt- a sin stained shirt- and you're stunned and disappointed.  As time goes by, you might forget about all the good days in the blue shirts and focus on the red one. This has happened with some people I love dearly.  They can no longer picture me in a blue shirt.  It's like I wore red the whole time.  With God, because of grace, the red shirt is gone forever.  With people...hopefully time will heal the wounds that I inflicted.

As a result of those feelings that I know exist in my youth ministry family, there are people I have not tried to contact in a very long time.  There are people I miss terribly, but I am waiting on God to give them open hearts and myself the opportunity to reach out to them.  I certainly do not wish to cause them any more pain, so I will continue to wait on them to take the first step.  In the meantime, I miss them and love them.  I yearn to send them an e-mail or give them a call.  But I can't- not yet.  The great poet laureate of Florida, Jimmy Buffet, wrote a song years ago that expresses a great deal of my emotion.  The lyrics are below.  We can't live in the past, but hopefully we can live through it.  If the phone doesn't ring, it's me.  To everyone who was a part of my youth family over the many years- I love you all, and more importantly, so does Jesus.  A the old cliche says, "I don't know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future."  Jesus does.  And because of that, we will have a family reunion- some day.  Spread the word.

There are oceans of feelings between us
Currents that take us and sweep us away
That's why we seldom have seen us
In the light of the cold, hard day
Lots of new friends with the same old problems
Open your eyes you might see
If our lives were that simple we'd live in the past
If the phone doesn't ring, it's me

If the phone doesn't ring you'll know that it's me
I'll be out in the eye of the storm
If the phone doesn't ring you  know that I'll be
Where someone can make me feel warm
It's too bad we can't turn and live in the past
If the phone doesn't ring, it's me

I've had good days and bad days and goin' half mad days
I've tried to let go but you're still on my mind
I've lost all the old ways, been searching for new ways
and putting it all on the line
Lots of new friends with the same old answers
Open your eyes you might see
If our lives were that simple we'd live in the past
If the phone doesn't ring, it's me

If it takes all the future, we'll live through the past
If the phone doesn't ring, it's me...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Shout Outs! (Everyone's Pregnant Edition)

It's hard to believe it has already been 2 weeks, but here we are at another edition of Saturday Shout Outs!  I hope you all had a happy Valentine's Day, a great State Fair Day (Tampa), a killer Rodeo Day (Kissimmee) and that you are looking ahead to President's Day (most everywhere else!).  Here's what I'm shouting about this week!
  • If you are female and were a part of the FUMC-Kissimmee youth ministry between 1994 and 2000, then be careful.  We have an outright epidemic of pregnancies!  Here are the ones I know about: Jill Souther O'Brien, Erica Souther Davis, Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi, Erin Augenblick Shannon, Lindsey Joiner Bennett and one more I am not at liberty to identify yet.  I'd say there is something in the water in Kissimmee, but NONE of these ladies still live there.  Please keep all of these dear friends in your prayers- and if you know of others, please let me know!
  • I continue to have great interaction with Brook Teoli Elaine (FUMC-K) and Ashley Goad Broadhurst (Springfield Friends Meeting) via Twitter.  I also hear from Caitlin Esry (FUMC-K), Jamie Robinson (Springfield), Connor Lewis (FUMC-K) and a few others.  We'd love to have you join in the fun. If you are on Twitter, follow me @Youthguy07.  And you guys would love many of the over 800 people currently following me- it's turning in to another family of faith!  Lots of people with big hearts for Jesus...
  • Cyndi Reep Browning and Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-K) turned 30 on January 29.  I don't really have a point here, I just wanted to type that sentence!  :)
  • My new friend Jason Huffman wrote a great blog post the other day about one of the most common questions asked of youth pastors.  The question is, "What do you do all day?"  How many of you remember asking me that one?  Check out Jason's blog at http://jasonbhuffman.wordpress.com/  The funny part is NOW that would be a legitimate question to ask me...
  • If any of you are coming down to Disney anytime soon, let us know.  We'd love to meet you over that way if we can.
  • Ann Hale (Springfield) and I had a Twitterfest last night using lines from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  I love the movie, but still think Ferris treats Cameron like dirt.  "Let my Cameron go..."
  • Will has passed his tests and gets his permit next week.  You know, the one that lets him DRIVE!  Pray.  Pray hard!
That's it for today.  Hope you all have a wonderful weekend.  Be sure to come back tomorrow and learn why "if the phone doesn't ring, it's me..."

Because of Jesus,

Friday, February 18, 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten (Disney Memories)

I first fell in love with Walt Disney World when Marilyn and I spent a few days there following our honeymoon cruise on The Big Red Boat (now defunct) in 1986.  The love affair got really serious when I brought my first youth group there in 1987, and became an obsession when we (along with my parents) got our first annual passes in 1992.  Since that time I have spent so many wonderful hours in the parks of WDW, and adding my son to the mix in 1995 only increased our love of the place.  And we all still love it.  Yet...often now when I think of WDW am I more saddened by the things that are no longer there than I am excited by the things that are.  So today you get to share in my sad memories.  Here are just a few of the things that I really miss:
  • Eating breakfast at Tony's Town Square in the Magic Kingdom before the park was actually open for the day.  Great food, and it was always amazing to see the MK so empty.  They don't serve breakfast anymore.
  • Mr. Toad's Wild Road.  Best cheesy ride ever.  Bring it back now!
  • The Sorcery In the Sky show at the Disney/MGM (now Hollywood) Studios.  Vincent Price narrating, great movie music, choreographed fireworks and Mickey the Sorcerer's exploding finger. Epic!
  • Ariel's Restaurant at Disney's Yacht & Beach Club Resorts. It was our favorite restaurant on property.  It was always packed (reservations required) yet was shut down without notice.  The space is still empty some 15 years later. Argggggg... I want my blackened scallops!
  • I'm dating myself big time now, but I loved the live shows in Mickey's Toontown (now closed) featuring the characters from Tail Spins, Chip & Dale's Rescue Rangers and Darkwing Duck.  I also miss those cartoons.
  • I miss coming in the "back door" of EPCOT early in the morning, grabbing breakfast at the little bakery at the French Pavilion, and then having World Showcase to ourselves for a couple of hours before the tourists made it past Spaceship Earth.  And speaking of Spaceship Earth, I REALLY miss Walter Cronkite's narration and the closing song, Tomorrow's Child
  • River Country.  I was only there twice, and once was a private party for the National Youth Workers Convention- but I loved that place!
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame show at the Studios.  Total awesomeness!!!
  • Pleasure Island is all gone now, but I had already missed The Fireworks Factory Restaurant for years before they started tearing down such great memories as 8 Tracks, The Adventurer's Club and The Comedy Warehouse. Loosing 8 Tracks officially puts an end to my dancing days...
  • Climbing aboard the Walt Disney World Express (MK train) and hearing the song begin: "Rolling, rolling on the Express..."
  • Superstar Television at the Studios.  They picked audience members to be in the show, and over the years I played at least 5 different parts, including the "news anchor" at least 4 times.  When they closed that show it felt like my showbiz career went with it.
  • Knowing that a cast member- ANY cast member- would know more about WDW than I did.  That is very seldom true anymore...
  • And finally, EPCOT in general.  The whole atmosphere is so different now.  I miss World of Motion, Horizons, Cranium Command. Figment and Listen To the Land.  I miss the Kitchen Cabaret show featuring Veggie-Veggie-Fruit-Fruit.  And I miss being able to watch Illuminations from the patio behind the pub at the United Kingdom Pavilion.  That's only for VIPs now.  And I haven't been in a while now, but if the changes recently made to the San Angel Inn (restaurant at Mexico) are too drastic, I might just cry.  So many great memories there.
  • I surveyed some of my Twitter friends to share some the things they miss, and by far the top answers were Horizons and The Tomorrowland Skyway. Also receiving mention were Alien Encounter, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the original Imagination Pavilion, The Tapestry of Nations and the great Handwiches they used to serve at the food court in The Land.

    What are some of the things you miss at WDW?  Do you have memories of the things mentioned above? I may be stuck in the past, but cut me some slack.  Every thing I mentioned has at least one story that goes with it, and it's hard to let go.  But the memories are awesome- and the best part is, sooner or later I'll get to make some new ones!  Have a blessed weekend!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

CCM Thursday: Michael W.Smith Top 10

From time to time over the coming months I am going to be picking one of my favorite Christian artists and sharing with you my favorite songs from their catalogues.  We will kick it off today with the one and only Michael W. Smith.  This can be fun, but only if you, dear readers, will argue with me!  Leave comments letting me know which choices you loved, which ones you hated, and what I left out.  My favs from MWS are older (like me), so I would especially like to hear from you about some of your more recent favorites.  You will also notice the absence of songs from his live Worship albums.  Those songs are mostly covers of songs from other artists, so they were not considered, even though I love those albums.  If you prefer to communicate through Twitter or e-mail (Youthguy07@aol.com) that's cool too.  So here are my Top 10 Smitty favorites!


10) Old Enough To Know (1986)
  9)  Emily  (1987)
  8)  Missing Person  (1998)
  7)  I'll Lead You Home (1995)
  6)  Pray For Me  (1988)
  5)  Rocketown  (1986)
  4)  Place In This World  (1990)
  3)  This Is Your Time  (1999)
  2)  Secret Ambition (1988)
  1)  Friends  (1983)   (What?  You were expecting Lamu?  :)  A no-brainer!)

So there you have it- now tear it apart!  What's missing? I look forward to hearing from you all!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It's A God Thing


dc Talk- Michael, Toby & Kevin
 In my career as a youth pastor it seemed that at every stop along the way there was a moment, early on in my time at a church, that set the tone and opened the door for special relationships and bigger things to come.  At New Garden Friends Meeting in the late 70's it was a trip to Myrtle Beach and the I've Got This story.  At Springfield Friends Meeting in 1987 it was The Super Bowl Surprise.  At FUMC-Kissimmee in 1994 it was our Mountain Top Mission Trip, also known as The Best Worst Week Ever.  Even the Union Church of Hinsdale had a moment- April Fools Day on our mission trip to Dungannon, VA in 2000.  Each of these stories describe what I call a God Thing; an unplanned happening that allowed my relationships with the students I served to move to a new level.  In October of 2001, God had such a moment planned for the youth of Wesley Memorial UMC.  This is that story.

Pastor Jerry Sweat came through on his promise to get us a 15 passenger van within a couple of weeks of my arrival at WMUMC.  It was very used and pretty beat up, but after some repairs and a new paint job it was ready to go.  We decided to break it in by going to a concert in Lakeland (about an hour away) to see a lot of bands we didn't know much about- and dc Talk.  The concert was at Carpenter's Home Church (kind of a pretentious name, huh? Jesus' home church...it is now defunct...), a 10,000 seat building and home to many of the great concerts we saw during my Kissimmee days.  I was already well aware that we were in the final days of dc Talk as a group.  In fact, the day before the concert I learned that Kevin Max Smith, one third of the trio, would not be in Lakeland.  Even so, a dozen of us (I was the only adult) headed out for an adventure.

I remember very few details about the actual concert.  I do remember that it went on forever.  Band after band took the stage and rocked the place, but I have no memory of who those bands were.  We we ready to see what Toby and Michael would do to wrap the show- and we were not disappointed.  They each did solo stuff, and then they did a set of dc Talk classics, finishing with Jesus Freak.  It was awesome.  By the time we left the church it was well past 11 PM, so I had all the students call their parents and tell them that I would just deliver them to their homes.  I scored big points with the parents for that offer.  More importantly, the ride home turned out to be the best part of the night.

As we travelled we talked about the recent history of the youth ministry at Wesley.  We talked about music.  We talked about relationships.  We stopped for Slurpees to wake everyone up, and we talked some more.  As we arrived back in northwest Hillsborough county, each of them began to help me map out a route to get everyone home.  I had only been in Tampa about 2 weeks; I didn't know where anyone lived or how to get anywhere.  My students gave me a guided tour of the area and discovered where their friends lived.  We stopped at beat up old homes and in gated communities.  It was quite an education.  By the time I got back to my house it was well almost 2 AM.

The next day at church I was no longer just the new guy.  I had built relationships with a small group, and they were telling everyone they knew that I was OK- maybe even cool.  I had stayed out late with them and bought them Slurpees.  And I knew every dc Talk song.  God had used the van, the concert and the trip home to accelerate the community building process in ways I could have never accomplished on my own.  Just a few weeks in and I was so psyched.  But we were all about to be sucker punched in a way we could not have imagined.  That story next Monday...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The 12th Man

Five years ago today my Dad passed away after a brief battle with a rare blood cancer.  Not a day goes by that I don't miss him, and I know that my son Will misses him just as much.  As I have said before (check out See You Tuesday), he was wonderful father, but he was a GREAT grandfather!  But today is Tuesday, and on Tuesdays in 2011 we talk about the Jesus Revolution.  What does my Dad have to do with that?  Let me tell you.

Dad was a huge part of my childhood, and not just in the usual ways.  He played ball with me in the yard most every day.  He instilled in me my love of music and taught me my first ukulele chords.  He coached me in football, basketball (which he knew nothing about) and baseball.  The picture at the top is of the 1972 Guilford College Little League All-Stars.  Dad is at the far left; I'm the gawky 12-year-old in the green hat, middle of the back row- the only Yankee in a sea of Red Sox!  In high school, my parents were always the ones our youth group wanted to chaperon trips.  Dad was always there for me, and I loved him.

Later on, after I aged had out of youth sports, he became a legendary youth football coach in Greensboro, NC, for 8-10 year olds.  His teams were always among the best, and they were always the best prepared.  I helped him with a number of those teams, and there was something unusual about his coaching style that I want to focus on today.

My parents left their church over a nasty pastoral move (my history with the UMC and pastoral moves will be documented in detail soon) in the early 1970's and never really came back.  They would come to the churches I served from time to time, and always came to hear me preach.  But on the whole, they were not a part of a worshipping body.  I wish they had been, and still wish my Mom would find her way back to church.  But not being in church in no way diminished my Dad's faith.  And it was on the football field where this was most obvious.  At the end of every practice, and before and after every game, Dad would gather the team around him and pray. He would pray for the safety of the players and for the joy of the game. And he would always introduce the prayer time by telling the team to take a knee, because "the 12th Man is joining the huddle."  Praying in such a manner, and so often, raised more than a few eyebrows even in those days.  Technically it was forbidden by league policy.  Dad didn't care.  It was that important to him.  And to make matters worse (or better!), these weren't generic prayers.  He always closed with, "In Jesus name...Amen."  More than once parents questioned him about the praying, and more than once he simply refused to give in to any pressure.  He was going to pray, and the only way to stop him was to ask him not to coach anymore.  And that never happened.

So what's my point?  Simply this- the Jesus Revolution will not be led by people sitting in church pews or standing in pulpits.  It will be led by people who are willing to take on the culture and confront it with Jesus.  It will be led by people willing to live out their faith outside the walls of the church.  The world can be changed by people standing firm in their faith and acting out of love.  I know for a fact (some of his players were eventually in my youth group at New Garden Friends Meeting) that my Dad's prayers had a huge impact on the lives of some of those young men.  They began to see prayer as an important part of life.  They saw God (the 12th Man) as a friend and a comforter, not as some sort of cosmic killjoy.  And they learned the name of Jesus.  Every revolution begins with a spark...

So Dad, today more than most, I miss you terribly.  Thank you for all of the things you taught me, both by word and by example.  I didn't always understand it at the time, but I was living with an agent of the Jesus Revolution.  I pray now that the "12th Man" will give me the courage to carry on with your legacy...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Lay of the Land

Happy Valentine's Day!

I began work as the Director of Student Ministries at Wesley Memorial UMC on October 10, 2001.  As you know, anytime you begin a new ministry (or any new job) it takes a little while to get "the lay of the land."  It didn't take long to put together a list of things that were in good shape in the youth ministry department.  It took even less time to see some of the challenges.  Here's what I was looking at as I began:

The Good Stuff
  • There was a good group of adults (see above picture) who had been serving as small group leaders on Sunday evenings under the previous regime, and they seemed anxious to continue.  I wasn't crazy about the small group set-up, but it would work for a while.
  • The senior pastor, Jerry Sweat, had a serious heart for youth.  He had 2 youth of his own, was often at the Sunday evening meetings and taught the high school Sunday School class in his office. He was ready to see the ministry become something special.
  • Denise Sweat (Jerry's wife) had a wonderful ministry going with a youth choir and drama ministry they called Antioch.  The group had performed in church and had taken tours the previous two summers. It met right after youth on Sunday nights, and seemed more important to many of the kids than youth group.  I decided I would be a part of the group, singing and lending any help I could.  It seemed like the strongest link in the entire student ministry.
  • A great deal of prayer, effort and resources had been poured in to the children's ministry, Promiseland.  There were many opportunities for teenagers to get involved teaching and sharing in worship.  I was very excited to have such an excellent feeder program in place.
  • The group of active students was small, but excited, and I really liked them.  This was going to be fun.
The Challenges
  • There was no youth room.  In fact, there was no room for much of anything. The youth group (called God's Property by the previous YP; that was a name that I never uttered out loud and changed fairly quickly) met in the Sanctuary.  It was a beautiful room, but it was WAY too big for our little group.  When we sang with the existing Praise Band, you could not hear anyone singing but the kids on microphones.  All of that had to change.
  • The worship time was shared with the elementary school program.  I didn't like that at all because it seriously limited what we could do with music and worship.
  • They were accustomed to having the YP "preach" on Sunday evenings, then breaking into small groups for discussion.  I wanted to use more creative ways of teaching and not use small groups every week.  Plus, the small groups had been decimated by all of the families leaving the church with the previous associate pastor- so they mostly just sat and stared at each other.
  • There was no van or bus.  Jerry promised me we could fix that pretty quickly, and we did.  But in the beginning it was a definite disadvantage.
  • I was going to have to "fire" the middle school Sunday School teachers.  They were a great couple and very helpful, but they thought they were teaching seminary and the kids tried to hide from them every Sunday morning.
  • There was almost no history of summer ministry or youth trips (besides the choir tours).  I would be starting from scratch.
As you can see, I had my work cut out for me.  Fortunately, as almost always seems to happen, God used a simple little road trip only a few weeks later to start us on our way to becoming family.  That story is Wednesday.  The Jesus Revolution continues tomorrow!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, February 13, 2011

@%$#*&! (A Rant)

Last week I observed a conversation on Twitter that simply amazed me.  A minor "Christian Celebrity" had used the word "ass" in a tweet- and he didn't mean donkey.  This drew a number of responses.  Some just laughed.  Several people jokingly chastised him.  A few others lightly reprimanded him.  And then came the doozy.  He was asked if he was still a Christian- because as the writer pointed out, "Real Christians don't curse."

Really?  So that's what it comes down to?  That's what our faith is all about?  We believe that God sent His only Son to live among us, to teach us how to love, to bring us a new covenant, to die for our sins and to rise from the dead so that we could live out this eternal truth among our fellow human beings- "Real Christians don't curse."

There are words that I find terribly offensive, and I very seldom use them.  They are words that humans choose to give a special foul significance to, for there is no biblical list of banned words.  When Jesus commanded us to "Swear not at all" He was speaking about always telling the truth and not swearing on the Bible or your first born son.  The 3rd Commandment tells us not to take the LORD's name in vain, but as the late Rich Mullins used to say what that really means is to not take the meaning out of God's name.  That's what "in vain" means.  If Rich was right, then a "GD" is no more offensive to God than an "OMG."  Either way, we are using the name of God without meaning.  But this post is not a referendum on cursing and swearing (or cussin'- I'm from NC ya know!), and if you think that is the issue here- well, you are just proving my point that we are missing the point. 

"Real Christians don't curse."  How did we arrive at this?  What was the historic moment when our faith became about the things we don't do?  I am so tired of reading about the things that Real Christians avoid.  They don't drink.  They don't gamble.  They don't support gay marriage.  They don't dance.  They don't vote for democrats.  They don't serve those little wafers for Holy Communion because they are nasty.  They don't curse.  To the people who espouse such philosophy, Christianity is nothing but a list of laws that can be used to judge others.  Another group once did that.  They were called Pharisees.  Or as Jesus liked to call them, "a brood of vipers."  Certainly, there are things that scripture commands us not to do.  But Jesus came because we were not capable of keeping the law.  If we could have done it on our own, Jesus would not have been necessary.  So despite our efforts, we sin.  "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak..."

I despise the phrase Real Christians, but there is a biblical definition.  Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.  It's found in Matthew 22:36-40, and it's very clear.  These are things Christians do.  Wouldn't it be awesome if the news was filled with stories (and there are plenty of these stories to tell) of Christians taking care of the homeless, feeding the hungry and loving those who differ with us- instead of the usual *^&# about who we are against and what we are protesting?  Because here's the deal- not doing things others may see as outwardly "sinful" and protesting the things that people who think like us are against is much easier than loving your neighbor.  And Real Christians love.

So next time you feel inclined to make an ass of yourself because another believer called someone an ass, go read John 8:1-8.  Then lay down your stones, walk away without judging, and go share Jesus' love with that person and the world.  There are times when we have to go to a neighbor and confront their sins, but it must be done in love.  If we all did that when we encounter struggling and hurting people instead of passing judgement on whether their faith is real or not, our churches would not be able to hold the crowds that would show up on Sunday mornings.  They would be so ready to meet the Jesus they had seen in our lives.  And people whose lives reflect the radical love of Christ- those are the Real Christians.  It's the @#*! truth!  :)  Have a blessed Sabbath.

Because of Jesus, 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

17 Things About Seinfeld

Today it's time for a bit of frivolous fun!  Many of you know of my love for Seinfeld.  For a show that was supposed to be about nothing, they sure talked about EVERYTHING!  Nearly 13 years have passed since the final episode (which was brilliant, by the way- haters never really understood how perfect it was!) and yet the show comes up in conversation almost daily.  As individuals Jerry, George, Elaine & Kramer were selfish, rude and not the type of people I would want to be friends with.  As a unit, they were as funny as anything that has ever been on TV.  My 15 year old son shares that love now through the wonder of TBS reruns.  He even has "The Kramer" poster in his room.  I thought you might find this as much fun as I did, so I have shared it for your enjoyment.  Leave a comment remembering your favorite Seinfeld character or moment, and have a blessed day!

17 Things You Didnt Know about Seinfeld
Via: Online Schools

Friday, February 11, 2011

Until the World Ends...

In August of 2001 I informed the Union Church of Hinsdale that I had accepted a position with Wesley Memorial UMC in Tampa, effective October 1.  At my previous two stops along my journey, Springfield Friends Meeting and FUMC-Kissimmee, I had worked 60 day notices because I had so much I wanted to say and do with my students before leaving them.  At UC, I was pretty much ready to get out of Dodge.  I would miss many of the people.  I would miss my little bible study group terribly, and they were the ones who would really miss me.  I was leaving behind some disappointed adults, who felt like the church had invested too much in me to see me leave after only 18 months.  But the road was plowed.  David Knecht was quickly hired as their new youth pastor, and I thanked God that I had been able to play a positive role in the future of the ministry- by leaving!

I did my best to keep functioning and help David during the "lame duck" period before I left, and one Tuesday morning I was driving into Hinsdale from my home in Clarendon Hills for our weekly staff meeting.  On the short drive I was listening to a cassette tape in the car, one that I had made for myself.  One of the last songs I heard before going in was an old Three Dog Night tune- Until the World Ends.  Among the lyrics are the words, "Daylight always follows the night.  Looking at life as it's always been, it will be that way again...until the world ends."  Those words would come back to me over and over again in the coming weeks.  I entered the church to find everyone gathered in the conference room in front of a TV, watching the footage from New York.  It was September 11, 2001- and the 2nd place was just about to hit the Towers.

Marilyn had taken the train into Chicago as usual that morning, and she arrived at her office to find total chaos.  They were close enough to the Sears Tower that there was fear that they were in a target area for another attack.  Will was in first grade; they were not told anything, but they didn't get to go outside all day.  In those few minutes that morning, the world changed.  My last few weeks at UC would be spent dealing with fear, anger and bigotry.  There are a lot of Muslims in Chicagoland.  Being in crisis mode for most of the last month helped to say good-bye by actually being in ministry to the families of UC, something I had not really felt like I had done much of over the previous 17 months.  Meanwhile, we still had to prepare to move to Tampa.

On September 13, 2001, Marilyn was supposed to fly to Tampa to finally get to see inside the house we would be living in and to register Will for school.  We debated cancelling her trip, but decided it was important to keep going forward.  I felt then, and still feel today, that the most significant victory we could give the terrorists would be to significantly alter our way of life. Our faith was in God, and that didn't change.  So she was among the first to fly after the horror of 9-11.  She had a great weekend in Tampa and came back really excited about the move.  We were going to move.  We were going to begin a new ministry.  Life would go on.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since those days.  The tragedy of the attacks was compounded by poor political and military decisions.  We have given up many freedoms in the name of preserving freedom.  USAmerica became an angrier, less trusting nation.  The world did indeed change that day.  But one thing did not.  God is still in control.  I was reminded of that during a WMUMC youth trip to NYC in 2003 and a visit to St. Paul's Chapel at Ground Zero (see picture at top).  The stories of God's grace and mercy in the face of such tragedy moved me to tears on several occasions.  Lots of people found a temporary refuge in Jesus during those scary days, and then walked away again when things felt "normal."  But Jesus never- NEVER!- walks away from us.  He is always faithful, and never more so than in the midst of the storm.  And that was what I walked away from UC with- the knowledge that following Jesus may take me places I never imagined and into circumstances I do not understand- but He will always be with me.  Until the world ends...and beyond!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, February 10, 2011

CCM Thursday- "God's Own Fool"

Welcome to another CCM Thursday!  Over the years I have often talked about the disciples and other first generation Christians and their inability to understand what Jesus was trying to teach them.  I usually end up saying something along the lines of, "Jesus walked with them on earth, and they STILL didn't get it!  It's no wonder we struggle."  But actually, I have had it all backwards.  We may not get to physically walk with the Christ, but we have 2000 years of church history, written documentation and the full canon of scripture to guide us- in addition to the Holy Spirit!  Those first followers had none of that.  They gave three years of their lives to following the son of a carpenter from Nazareth.  Nothing good ever comes from Nazareth!  They left their jobs and their families and put their lives on the line to follow a man who said somewhat ridiculous things to people He shouldn't have even been speaking to.  No wonder most of the world- and some of the disciples- found the whole adventure a bit foolish.

Michael Card, our featured artist today, is one of the great songwriters of our time.  In addition to writing El Shaddai and I Have Decided (both made famous by Amy Grant) he has recorded a number of albums, including 1985's Scandalon (which somehow is not included on my Top 50 Countdown.  This was a bad omission).  Scandalon featured the song God's Own Fool (a song which got him into quite a bit of trouble at the time he wrote it) in which he uses scripture to remind us that those who follow Jesus are not the only ones who look foolish- Jesus himself did as well.  Let these lyrics wash over you as you think about what it must have been like to be a fully devoted follower of Christ.  "So come lose your life for a carpenter's son; for a mad man who died for a dream. Then you'll know the faith His first followers had, and you'll feel the weight of the beam."  And then think about what it means to follow Jesus in our world today.  I don't now about you, but I am ready to be more foolish.  I am ready to follow God's own fool.  I hope that you will "believe the unbelievable, and come be a fool as well..."