Tuesday, January 31, 2012

True Worship

I came to an uncomfortable conclusion last night.  My dog worships me.  Just look at the evidence.  When I am sitting at the computer he lies my my feet, making sure I don't go anywhere without him knowing.  He follows me everywhere I go.  I go the kitchen and he is on my heels.  I go to the bathroom and he comes in looking for me.  I grab his leash and he heads for the door, ready to follow wherever I will lead him.  The neighbors tell me that when I am gone they hear him howling in distress, uncertain what to do without me.  The clincher came last night.  My son Will and I went to get some Chinese for dinner while Marilyn hung out at home.  She told me later that the entire time I was gone he howled and laid on the bed starring out the window, waiting for my return.  I just have to face the facts.  Conner the Dog worships me, unworthy as I am. 

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a great example of true worship it is!  I want to feel that way about Jesus every single day.  I want to long to know where he will take me next.  I want to follow him everywhere he wants to lead me.  I want to feel the need to be in his presence so strongly that when I feel like I have wandered away (because if we feel separated from God, it is us who moved) I howl with grief, hoping he will hear my cries and come rescue me yet again.  I want to be constantly vigilant, following him in the here and now and waiting for the glory of his return.  This is what true worship is- giving ourselves completely to the One we worship.  I want to be like that.  Jesus invites us all, with all of our faults and failures and blemishes, to come follow him.  It is a come just as we are invitation, but it comes with a price- that we take up our cross and follow him no matter what.  I realize now that Conner is not only a faithful dog, he is a walking object lesson.  I want to need Jesus so bad that is hurts.  LORD, I want to howl for you.  I hope you will all join me.  

Because of Jesus,

Monday, January 30, 2012


Today just feels like a Rich Mullins kind of day. A day to forget about the trappings of religion and focus on Jesus.  A day to remember what we believe...  Watch the video.  Soak in the lyrics.  Believe.

CREED-  Rich Mullins 
from the album A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band

I believe in God the Father 
Almighty Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth 
And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, our Lord 
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit 
Born of the virgin Mary 
Suffered under Pontius Pilate 
He was crucified and dead and buried 

And I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am 
I did not make it, no it is making me 
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man 

I believe that He who suffered was crucified, buried, and dead 
He descended into hell and on the third day, rose again 
He ascended into Heaven where He sits at God's mighty right hand 
I believe that He's returning 
To judge the quick and the dead of the sons of men 

And I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am 
I did not make it, no it is making me 
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man 

I believe it, I believe it 
I believe it 
I believe it, I believe it 

I believe in God the Father 
Almighty Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth 
And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, our Lord 
I believe in the Holy Spirit 
One Holy Church 
The communion of Saints 
The forgiveness of sin 
I believe in the resurrection 
I believe in a life that never ends 

And I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am 
I did not make it, no it is making me
I did not make it, no it is making me 

I said I did not make it, no it is making me 
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Happy Birthday, Teresa!
The other day on Facebook I was surprised by the following post:  

I feel a shout-out to my good and faithful friend Carl is overdue and necessary...for being a prefect friend who's gone above and beyond being supportive, fun and encouraging!  Thanks and love you!  :)

This post came from Teresa Reep Tysinger, who is this very day celebrating a birthday.  She is no longer 30; she and twin sis Cyndi (see yesterday's post) and now officially IN their 30s.  Be sure and mention that to her.  :)  Anyway, in light of this special day and her kind words to me, it felt like it was time to say a few things here about my friend Teresa.  Whether she likes it or not...

Most of my posts about former students- and Teresa and I first met at FUMC-Kissimmee in 1994- focus on our past together.  This one is much more about the present.  Between 2002 and 2009 or so we lost track of each other a bit, but over the past few years we had gradually reconnected.  The love and support she showed me as I tried to put my life back together was special and meaningful.  Teresa and I always shared a unique bond.  As we like to say, we "get" each other.  Back in the youth group days she would often be the one who laughed at my jokes when others gave me blank stares. Perhaps more importantly, I laughed at hers!  She was always the first to encourage me when things weren't working the way I wanted them to. She always knew she could come to me with the problems that plague most every teenage girl.  We were close, and she looked up to me and counted on me.  I was afraid the later failings in my personal life would disappoint her too much and that our relationship would never be the same.  I was right.  It is so much stronger...

Over the past couple of months we have found ways and excuses to talk, text or email almost every day.  I find her to be a heroic woman.  Her wonderful husband of almost 10 years, Eric, has been working away from home for the better part of the last year, pursuing his dream of being the stage manager for a Broadway show.  Teresa holds down a job, takes care of the house, is a wonderful mother to her 3 year old daughter Emma, and offers support and encouragement to her hubby- all while missing him terribly.  She is a gifted writer, a professional graphic design artist and a most creative cook.  My wife Marilyn said yesterday that she wished "that Teresa would slow down, because she is making the rest of us feel lazy!" As we reconnected in a big way after I joined the world of unlimited texting, I saw my task as being someone who was glad to listen when she needed to talk.  The truth is, we needed each other.  We talk about everything.  She lives in Greensboro, NC, only minutes from my childhood home and the schools I attended, so we talk often about the city.  She works for a UMC, and we share stories about working for a church- both the blessings and the horrors.  We talk about our day in, day out lives- our frustrations and our joys.  We both have excellent taste in music, and we love to swap songs.  We remember the great times we shared in places like New York City, Myrtle Beach and Spanish Wells.  We ask and answer questions and share hopes and dreams.  And quite often we make each other laugh hysterically.  After all of these years we still "get" each other.  Some people wander through life without finding anyone with whom they truly connect. The two of us are blessed to have wonderful spouses.  We are also blessed to have each other.  It is a rare and wonderful friendship, and I praise God everyday for returning Teresa to my life.

One final, sort of funny note about all of this.  Teresa and I have decided that the word "friend" just doesn't quite do justice to the relationship we share, and neither does anything else we can think of.  So we have decided that we are "whatevers."  The kind of friend that you can count on whatever the situation, whatever the time, whatever the problem.  Whatevers.  I may not quite know what a "whatever" is, but I sure don't plan on ever being without one again.  Happy birthday, Teresa- and thanks for everything!  I love you too!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hall of Fame: Cyndi Reep

Cyndi at the Betsy B!
It's been a while since I inducted anyone into my Youth Group Hall of Fame, but today the time is right.  Tomorrow my favorite twins from my Kissimmee days, Cyndi Reep Browning & Teresa Reep Tysinger, celebrate a birthday.  Teresa is already in my HOF.  Cyndi is long overdue for induction, and today we remedy that situation!  Because even in my HOF this truth is eternal- you can never have too many Reeps!  :)

As I mentioned when Teresa was inducted, in my earliest days at FUMC-Kissimmee I had a hard time telling the twins apart.  They were in the 7th grade, and I often avoided calling them by name for fear I would get them mixed up.  But soon it became clear that they were very different people, and I came to know and love Cyndi as a very special young woman.  She was a leader in our group, someone who participated in almost every youth activity. She was one of the student leaders of our Youth Service Opportunity Project, which scheduled and planned the children's programs during one of the Sunday morning worship services.  She loves to sing and was part of the youth choir.  She became involved in the Chrysalis program.  She missed out on some of our trips because of her dedication to marching band, and we always missed he when she couldn't join us.  Perhaps most importantly, she was a special and important friend to many of the students in our ministry.

But never let it be said that Cyndi was all work and no play!  We harassed her to no end about the number of boys who seemed to always be after her. We gave her a hard time about how gullible she could be, always allowing a few extra minutes for jokes to sink in.   When I left FUMC-K, I was given a picture of her running around the hall of a motel on one of our trips wrapped in only a towel, having just been defeated in a game of Spoons.  It is a constant reminder to me of how much fun and laughter Cyndi brought to the group and to my life.  I was going to use that picture today, but decided to save it for some future special occasion.  Like when her son Grayson is old enough to be embarrassed by it...

Cyndi now lives near Cary, NC with her hubby and son.  It has been my pleasure to reconnect  with her in recent weeks and to remember what an important part of my Kissimmee years she was. So Cyndi, welcome to the Hall of Fame!  You are now entitled to all of the perks and privileges of membership.  Don't know that those are?  Call me sometime when you've got 5 minutes (that is a TOTAL inside joke)!  Happy birthday tomorrow, and many blessings for the future.  You are loved! 

Because of Jesus,

Friday, January 27, 2012

Flashback Friday: The Orange Jacket

My Orange Jacket, 1981
Every professional golfer dreams of winning The Masters. Winning that tournament once makes your entire career a success. Money, fame and glory are yours. But ask any pro golfer what really matters about winning the Masters and they will all tell you the same thing- the green jacket. The green jacket is unique. Only Master's winners can wear them. After one Masters champion wore his jacket on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno several years ago, Jon Stewart was quoted as saying "that's the first piece of original material on The Tonight Show since Johnny left!" The green jacket is special, and if you aspire to golf greatness you aspire to wear the green jacket.

I suppose I was about 15 when I became obsessed with the Orange Jacket. I was serving at Quaker Lake Camp as a Counselor in Training (later to be called Counselor Assistant) when I became aware of the prestige of it. On Friday night, when it came time to walk to the Campfire Circle, the QLC summer staff almost all wore their orange windbreakers that said Quaker Lake Staff Camp. It was actually a circle that said Quaker Lake on top, and Camp on the bottom with Staff in the middle. But when you looked at it, it seemed to say Quaker Lake Staff Camp. In any case, they were cool. And the ONLY way you could have one was to be one of 14 people hired to be full-time summer staff. I knew I wanted to work at QLC someday. The staff there were the coolest people in the world in my eyes, and I longed to be one of them. And I worked hard to get to that point. I volunteered every chance I got, went to all the camps and events I could, and made sure I had a good reputation with the people in charge. The first year you are eligible to work staff is the summer after your high school graduation, and so I applied. Everyone thought I would be hired, but all four boys counselors- Bill Terrell, Alan Brown, Roland Pugh and Joseph Neal- returned from the previous year (Not only do I remember who they were, but I believe I have them in order, cabins 1-4! But I can't remember what my wife told me to get at Wal-Mart today...). So I didn't get a job, even though they should have hired me as the Assistant Cook (would have saved a lot of "Robin Pots").  Neal Thomas told me I could volunteer any week I wanted to, so I was there 6 out of 8 weeks that summer. I loved it, and I felt like part of the staff.  But I didn't have an Orange Jacket...

I was hired the next summer for the first of my 6 years as summer staff, and the highlight came early, when Lewis Farlow came from Beeson's in High Point and I could get my Orange Jacket. This was real. This was amazing. I had achieved my goal.  I was special.  I was the counselor in Boys Cabin 1 (later in my career I moved to Cabin 4). Even though the jacket was paper thin and no help in the rain, and made me sweat like a pig, I wore it every chance I got. And I knew that all the campers who aspired to do the same, to have their own Orange Jackets, looked at me with awe and envy.

The trouble with all of that was this- wearing an Orange Jacket, or working at QLC, did not make me special. When you are a camper, you believe every counselor is a hero and a saint. When you become a counselor, you wonder "how can they hire someone like me?"  You continue to fail and make mistakes.  As the years have gone by many of my former youth have gone on to work at camp, and I happen to know none of them are perfect!  Heather Beggs Varner, the current Camp Director, is featured in many stories on this blog that will make you laugh! I loved my years working at camp, just like I loved my years in student ministry, but I have to tell you- you'd better love those jobs to do them, or you will be miserable.  Anyone who worked at camp for the glory and admiration of the campers was in for a long summer.  Anyone who did it for the money in those days- well, they were just stupid!  You put up with the heat, the long hours, the rotten campers (no one likes to talk about them, but they exist!), the outdoor toilets and the total lack of sleep because you felt like you were doing something tremendous, something amazing for the kids each and every week. Every week you faced a new group of campers, and every week you had to give them all of your energy and love, with no holding back for the weeks still to come. You have to do work like that because you love it and because God has called you to it, or it will eat you alive. You see, it's not Quaker Lake Staff Camp. Camp (and student ministry) is all about the campers- and if you don't get that, then no Orange Jacket can save you.

I don't remember exactly when the staff quit wearing Orange Jackets, but it has been a very long time. Today I think they have staff shirts, but I am sure the feeling is the same among campers- I want to wear one of those someday. And that is awesome! I just hope they all learn, like so many others before them, that working at QLC does not make you great.  You working at QLC helps make camp great. Billy Joel once wrote, "I never claimed to be a hero and I never said I was a saint.." If I did either of those things I apologize. But how smart were we in those days, anyway?  After all, we wore Orange Jackets in public!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Life Is Hard

In the movie A League of Their Own, there is a scene near the end in which Jimmy, the manager of a women's baseball team (play by Tom Hanks) discovers his star player Dottie (played by Geena Davis) is leaving the team to go be with her husband Bob, who is just back from World War II.   The following conversation takes place:

Jimmy Dugan: Taking a little day trip? 
Dottie Hinson: No, Bob and I are driving home. To Oregon. 
Jimmy Dugan: [long pause] You know, I really thought you were a ballplayer. 
Dottie Hinson: Well, you were wrong. 
Jimmy Dugan: Was I? 
Dottie Hinson: Yeah. It is only a game, Jimmy. It's only a game, and, and, I don't need this. I have Bob; I don't need this. At all. 
Jimmy Dugan: I, I gave away five years at the end my career to drink. Five years. And now there isn't anything I wouldn't give to get back any one day of it. 
Dottie Hinson: Well, we're different. 
Jimmy Dugan: Sh*t, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I'm in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It's what lights you up, you can't deny that. 
Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard. 
Jimmy Dugan: It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great

I have always loved that quote, because I think it applies to many parts of life. "The hard is what makes it great."  We learn from our struggles.  We grow through adversity.  Our faith is tested when things do not go our way and we learn to persevere.  I was taught over and over again as a child things like "when the going get tough, the tough get going."  "Winners win and losers quit." Even Jesus reminded us that those who suffer for his sake will be blessed.  God could have made our lives simple, but in His wisdom chose to present us with obstacles to  go around and challenges to overcome.

Following Jesus is what gets inside me.  It's what lights me up.  But it is not easy.  Some days it is just very hard.  And the hard is what makes it great...

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Compliment or Insult?

I spend a great deal of my life these days with words.  Between writing this blog, writing countless emails and texts and speaking with people, I am constantly trying to craft words so that they will convey what I mean.  I, like many others, do not always succeed. Sometimes my words fail to make my meaning clear. Over the past several days I have heard or read a number of statements that left me wondering- had I just heard a compliment, or an insult?  I would love to know your thoughts on these.  Italics indicate that the word was emphasized when spoken.  So how would you take if someone said to you...

  • Wow.  I have never seen anyone do it that way before.
  • Do you understand what he is saying?  Because you'd have to be smart to understand all of that...
  • You're amazing.  You'd make a perfect boyfriend for a nun!
  • No, it's ok.  I have seen you do it once before.  I don't need to see it again.
  • That pie has a most unusual flavor. Did you make it?
  • She's prettier than a sunset over Newark.
  • I have met a lot of people, and there is no one else quite like him! He is so special!
As a people, we are so often quick to offer criticism and insults and very slow to encourage and compliment.  Choose encouragement.  Don't leave people wondering what you meant- use the language of love.  Help makes someones day.  A special thanks to the people who do that for me every single day.  Life is much better because of you.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Psalm 51

Some of you know that one of my biblical heroes is David.  The shepherd boy who slayed the giant.  The boy who became a king.  The king who became a sinner of outrageous magnitude.  And the sinner who became known as "a man after God's own heart."  No other Psalm speaks to me in quite the same way as this Psalm of David, shared here from The Message. I hope it will give you the same feelings of forgiveness, hope and the glory of God that it gives me every time I read it.  Enjoy, and have a blessed day.

Psalm 51

 1-3Generous in love—God, give grace! Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record. 
   Scrub away my guilt, 
      soak out my sins in your laundry. 
   I know how bad I've been; 
      my sins are staring me down. 

 4-6 You're the One I've violated, and you've seen 
      it all, seen the full extent of my evil. 
   You have all the facts before you; 
      whatever you decide about me is fair. 
   I've been out of step with you for a long time, 
      in the wrong since before I was born. 
   What you're after is truth from the inside out. 
      Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life. 

 7-15 Soak me in your laundry and I'll come out clean, 
      scrub me and I'll have a snow-white life. 
   Tune me in to foot-tapping songs, 
      set these once-broken bones to dancing. 
   Don't look too close for blemishes, 
      give me a clean bill of health. 
   God, make a fresh start in me, 
      shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. 
   Don't throw me out with the trash, 
      or fail to breathe holiness in me. 
   Bring me back from gray exile, 
      put a fresh wind in my sails! 
   Give me a job teaching rebels your ways 
      so the lost can find their way home. 
   Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God, 
      and I'll sing anthems to your life-giving ways. 
   Unbutton my lips, dear God; 
      I'll let loose with your praise. 

 16-17 Going through the motions doesn't please you, 
      a flawless performance is nothing to you. 
   I learned God-worship 
      when my pride was shattered. 
   Heart-shattered lives ready for love 
      don't for a moment escape God's notice. 

 18-19 Make Zion the place you delight in, 
      repair Jerusalem's broken-down walls. 
   Then you'll get real worship from us, 
      acts of worship small and large, 
   Including all the bulls 
      they can heave onto your altar!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, January 23, 2012

Unrealistic Expectations

Yesterday my family and I attended worship at Van Dyke Church here in Tampa Bay, just as we do most weekends.  We have been attending there for the better part of 5 years now and we enjoy it.  We find the pastor to be encouraging and challenging, the music to be excellent and the worship planning to be creative.  We often feel the Holy Spirit at work during worship. And yesterday was no exception.  The sanctuary was full.  The new sermon series was called Shouting at Jesus.  Matthew was ON.  The worship music was good, and the praise team performed a re-written version of the old Tears For Fears song Shout to lead into the sermon.  It was a fine Sunday morning.  So why did it feel like a bit of a disappointment?

Since well before Christmas the congregation at Van Dyke had been bombarded with announcements and mailings reminding us that this sermon series was on the way.  On more than one occasion we were told during worship that this would be the most significant sermon series Pastor Matthew has ever preached.  The previous week Matthew himself told us he had never been more excited about preaching a series, one he said had been brewing for nearly 7 years.  Almost every day last week I received an email from the church reminding me that it was almost time to "shout at Jesus."  As my family discussed the upcoming event, we all agreed on one thing- this worship service would have to be absolutely amazing to live up to the hype.  There was so much build up, so many expectations, that disappointment was pretty much inevitable.  There was a good sermon and wonderful music.  To live up to the build up, I would have needed to hear God speak directly to me.  I needed to see signs and wonders.  Or at least a light show to rival Pink Floyd.  The hype built up such unrealistic expectations that a really good worship service felt disappointing- and that is a shame.

Our lives are often governed by unrealistic expectations.  We expect perfection from imperfect people.  We expect greatness from average situations.  And when we don't get what we expect, we feel let down and disappointed.  It has been my experience that the problem is more often with our expectations than with the actual outcome.  

Where are unrealistic expectations causing pain and frustration in your life?  How do we temper our hope for the miraculous and the wonderful with the recognition of reality?  Our answers to these questions say a great deal about where we are on our faith journey.  My prayer today is that I (and you) will place my faith in the things of God, knowing we will never  be disappointed by His love.  We know he will care for us each and every day, even when things do not seem to be going our way.  That is both a miracle and a totally realistic expectation.  Have a blessed week, my friends!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Ragamuffin Thought

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.” 
― Brennan ManningThe Furious Longing of God

'Nuff said.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Shout Outs!

Greetings from Tampa, and welcome to another edition of my Saturday Shout Outs!  I am so glad you have stopped by to enjoy some good news and read about some special people.  In a world dominated by stories about people named Mitt and Newt, I can promise that you have arrived in a very happy place!  Now on with the news!

  • Congratulation to Nate (FUMC-K) and Amanda Hill on the birth of their daughter Lucy on January 12.  This couple is very special to me, having officiated over the wedding a few years back.  I am sure that first time grandparents Vic & Kay Hill are just beside themselves.  Welcome to the world, Lucy!
  • Happy 26th birthday today to Jennifer Gastler (Wesley Memorial)!  I know your mom is coming to Tampa and that your family will celebrate in style.  Has WOB been warned?  :)
  • Ashley Goad Broadhurst (Springfield Friends Meeting) still has another week left on her current mission trip to Haiti, so keep her and her team in your prayers.  You can also lift up her mom, Jan, whom I have talked to several times this week and who is always on edge while Ashley is away.  It is always so great to be in touch with old friends.
  • My family is having lunch tomorrow with Jennifer Minnigan Kuramaochi (FUMC-K) and hubby Jun at Red Robin right after church. Yum!  :)
  • My Twitter friends Kevin & Christie Weatherby had a really rough week at their home in Colorado.  I won't share the details, but just ask that you join me in praying for protection over their home and family.  Thanks gang!
  • I got to take a rare road trip last Monday with Marilyn, Will and Lisa Jewett (Wesley Memorial)  over to Downtown Disney and we had a really fun day.  Yay for me!  
  • My world was turned upside down last week when one of my oldest friends, Carl Semmler (New Garden Friends when we were the youth!) sent me an email containing the MP3 of a song from a band called Storyhill.  I opened it with great trepidation, and much to my surprise it was REALLY good!  Carl is not known for his musical taste.  :)  Google them and give them a listen.  It's good, folksy music.  Thanks, Carl!
  • I have a series of guest posts coming up here on the blog in early February on the topic of My Best Day in Ministry.  Among those who are sharing are old friends like Darin Miller (FUMC-K) and Lisa Ramos Moran (another very old friend from my youth group days!).  Also on board are some great Twitter friends, including Jason Huffman.  It's not too late for you to be part of the series- do you hear me Teresa Reep Tysinger, Tammy Doggett Foster and Denise May Langley?  :)    Just give me a shout and I will give you a date!
  • Just a reminder- I would love to be sharing texts with all of you.  Email me your number and we'll get the conversations started!
  • And finally, a reminder to all of my Tampa friends that you can join Marilyn, Lisa and I for Taco Tuesdays every Tuesday night around 7 PM at Tijuana Flats in Westchase.  The chocolate chip cookie dough flautas are on me....
So that's it for now.  Be sure and leave a comment just to let me know you stopped by- it makes my day to know who reads these posts.  Hope you all have a blessed weekend.  I know so many who are struggling in so many areas of life, and please know I am praying for you and that no matter how alone you may sometimes feel, as the Stellar Kart song says "you've got me and Jesus."  Take care!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Flashback: A Memorable Retreat

In January, 1992, the Springfield Friends Meeting youth went on a retreat to Cherry Grove, SC (located just north of North Myrtle Beach).  We rented a house and had a great weekend, but there are three things I really remember about that trip.  Here they are:

*  Our program for the weekend was talking about our spiritual journeys, and included things like each student doing a written spiritual history.  As part of this exploration, one morning I served Communion (which is not usually practiced among Quakers.  For more on this read Communion Confusion) using orange juice and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  It was very cool and quite meaningful.  It really served to remind us all about the sacrifice of Christ.  It's also part of the reason I continue to believe that hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts are the modern version of manna from Heaven!

*  That particular group of kids (well, the girls anyway) were obsessed with the movie Grease.  We could all tolerate Grease, and at times even enjoy it.  But on that weekend someone brought Grease 2 and made us watch it. I wanted to gouge my eyes out.  Worst sequel ever!!!  Our greatest Grease moments would come in 1993 at The Beaches and Cream Soda Shoppe at WDW, but that is a story for another day!

*  I very rarely lose my temper, but it does aggravate me when people are rude to others.  Late one night while on that retreat suddenly my sleep was interrupted by lights coming on and people talking and yelling and youth running around the house.  I came out of my room screaming for them to get back to bed, issuing all kinds of threats and scaring them half to death.  When I finally got around to asking what was going on, Ashley Goad meekly told me "It's snowing, Carl."  It was snowing at Myrtle Beach!  Now I was the one running around, looking out the windows, checking the beach, beside myself with excitement.  I apologized to everyone and we all stayed up a while, watching it snow.  The pictures posted here are of the infamous Springfield blue van and the beach at Cherry Grove, both from the next morning.  It's still the only time I have ever seen it snow at the beach!

Retreats are a great time for students to grow in faith and commitment.  They are also a great time to make memories that will last a lifetime and keep you connected forever.  Students who went on trips with me were often reminded that each trip would be the only time that particular group of people would ever be gathered in that particular place- so make the most of it!  And so often they did just that.  The memories will indeed last forever!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Golden Ticket

I have a confession to make.  Like most everyone, I have guilty pleasures in my life that I seldom talk about but really enjoy.  Last night, one of my favorites returned.  American Idol is back.  My family and I will watch pretty much every minute of the show this season, just as we have for the past 5 years.  But it is the beginning of each season- the auditions that determine who will get the opportunity to become famous as the the actual contest begins - that I really love.  I love hearing the folks sing who truly believe they are good, but aren't.  I love hearing the enthusiasm and love of family and friends as their loved ones take their shot at greatness.   I love hearing amazing performances from people who deserve the opportunity to share their God given gifts with the world.  I love the stories of redemption and courage.  I am a sucker for the narrative of American Idol.  I love to see those Golden Tickets handed out as hope lives on for those who head to Hollywood.  

The world was given a Golden Ticket some 2000 years ago.  God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to save the world, and to save us.  And just like with Idol, the real blessing of a life lived following Jesus is found in the narrative.  The day in, day out stories of people living life in a manner that brings glory to God.  We are often off-key (I myself am quite often "a little pitchy...dog!") and seldom as important as we think we are.  But our stories help lift people from the depths of depression and show them how much Jesus loves them.  If all following Christ means to you is winning (making it to heaven someday) them you are missing out on the really good stuff right now.  There are adventures to be lived and stories to be told.  We all know John 3:16 and its promise of eternal salvation, but don't forget John 10:10- that Jesus came to give us an abundant life RIGHT NOW!  Our Golden Ticket doesn't insure us of fame, fortune and the easy life any more than those Idol tickets insure those contestants a chance of winning.  But following Jesus offers the opportunity for a truly abundant life, right here on old planet earth.  And opportunities should not be wasted.

So live the adventure.  Tell your story.  Share Jesus with the world.  And watch American Idol just to hear the stories of faith, perserverence and redemption.  The contest doesn't matter.  Especially this year.  If you watched last night,  then you already know...Phillip Phillips is going to win the whole thing!  :)  You read it here first...

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wowless Wednesday

Today I want to talk with you about...nothing.  That's right, I've got nothing.  It's weird, because I have a lot on my mind- but none of it is stuff I want to share with the world.  I thought about doing posting a picture and doing a Wordless Wednesday, but I couldn't even find a picture I wanted to use.  So it's not wordless....but it is wowless.  A Wowless Wednesday.

But you know what is never wowless?  Scripture.  And so today I will share you what has been my life verse in ministry for over 30 years in the hopes that it will remind us all of the community, fellowship and love we all share- even on days when we cannot talk about it.  Here it is:

We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel, but our very lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.  ~ 1 Thessalonians 2:8

No day can be truly wowless if it is spent serving the One who invented WOW.  No day can be wowless when you are blessed with the family and friends that I have been blessed with.  Nothing is ever wowless with Jesus.  Our God is indeed an awesome God...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Curt Cloninger: Tasting By Memory

Today I am praying for my dear friend Ashley Goad Broadhurst as she begins another mission trip to Haiti to provide clean water for the people there.  Please join me.

Yesterday I received an email from my old friend Curt Cloninger.  If you don't know Curt, he is an Atlanta based Christian dramatist who has shared in ministry with thousands over the years, including at the Youth Specialties conventions and at three different churches I served.  His one man show Witnesses is still one of the powerful statements on the life of Jesus that I have ever had the privilege to see.  To learn more about Curt, visit his website at www.curtcloninger.com  These words spoke to me in so many ways, and so I re-print it here for my friends to enjoy. Thanks Curt- and not just for these words of inspiration.  You have inspired me so often through the years.  Blessings to you and Tish!

My wife, Tish, has, over the last few years, lost her sense of smell.  That’s not the worst thing in the world.  It even has a bit of an upside.  She can’t smell our wet Springer Spaniel.  She can’t smell ... well ... me, after a dinner out at Armando’s, our favorite Spanish restaurant.    Her life is in no imminent danger because of her loss of smell. 
But, her loss of smell carries with it an unspoken tinge of sadness. She can’t smell the clean sheets, or a fine spring morning, a good cup of coffee, or her favorite perfume.   Probably most disconcerting of all, she can’t smell food.   And, because she can’t smell food, she is unable to really taste food   For her, there is no subtlety, or variety, or nuance in what she eats.  It’s all just ... food. 
I’ve tried to persuade Tish, when we go out to eat at Armando’s, to order, say ... just rice and beans, instead of the more expensive Seafood Paella.  After all, to her, it all tastes the same, and would save us at least $20.   She refuses.   When asked “why?” she simply replies, “Because, in my mind, I remember what it tasted like.”   So, we order the incredibly seasoned Paella for Two, and my job becomes assuring Tish that it still tastes as good as she remembers.  It’s actually a delightful assignment.  I get to eat fabulous Paella.  I get to be with my wife.  And I get to stretch my communication skills (I don’t have the most sophisticated palette.)   All of this because my sweet wife is determined to “taste by memory”. 
The poet David once encouraged me to “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” which is fine ... except when my ability to smell is damaged, or when my palette is skewed.
Here’s the truth:  sometimes I can’t even come close to tasting the goodness of God.  Life is stale, boring, with all the excitement of a bowl of white rice.  That’s when I find it’s important for me to have a “Taster”.  Someone, like the poet, to help me “taste by memory”.  (The guy also wrote, “Why are you so downcast, Oh my soul?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him.”)    
This year, if, for you, life has lost its’ savor, don’t despair.  Find yourself a Taster.  Someone to remind you that God is good, and that you will yet praise him.  And, this year, if, for you, life is tasting particularly full and rich and sweet, make a point to be the taster for someone else.  It’s a delightful and important job.  And, frankly, it’s not even all that important that you have a very sophisticated palette.  (Trust me.)  ~ Curt Cloninger

Because of Jesus,

Monday, January 16, 2012

"In the Name of Love"

Today is a holiday that we too often remember only because we get a day off from work or get to do something fun. My family and our good friend Lisa Jewett will be spending the day at Downtown Disney having fun. I hope you and your families have a special day as well.  But do not forget the man and the life that today is set aside for.  Remember.

In honor of the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Prayer For Today

Today,  For what I am that I ought not to be,
Forgive me.
For what I am not that I ought to be,
Forgive me.

Be with my mouth in what it speaks.
Be with my hands in what they do.
Be with my mind in what it thinks.
Be with my heart in what it feels.

Work in me,
   Through me.
and in spite of me.

And I will give you the praise...
From the 1969 devotional God is No Fool by Lois Cheney.  Abingdon Press

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Na Na Na Na Na Na..."

You never know what might trigger the idea for a blog post in the bizarre world known as "Carl's Mind."  :)  Friday morning Marilyn was driving me to an appointment (so I would only have to take the bus one way.  My wife- I think I'll keep her!) and the local classic rock station began playing the old Journey song "Lovin, Touchin and Squeezin."  I suddenly had a flashback to a moment on a youth trip in the late 1980's.  The group from Springfield Friends Meeting was at the Betsy B at North Myrtle Beach late one night, and several of us were sitting around listening to music when that song came on.  And we began to ask this question: How many "na-na-na-na-nas" are there at the end of that song?  So Kelly Allen, Jennifer Wood, Wendy Mattocks and I sat there and counted. Every last one of them. Forever it seemed.  And in the end, we knew.  We actually knew how many times Steve Perry and friends uttered the phrase "na."  There was an actual number. It was a moment of intense silliness and great accomplishment all at the same time.  It was a great youth group moment, the kind that could never have been artificially created.  It was real.  And it was shared with some people I really cared about.  THAT was a great night...

I realized yesterday as I heard the song again that I have forgotten that number.  I no longer have that incredible piece of trivia at my disposal.  I am in touch with so many of my former youth, but Wendy and Jennifer are not among them.  So that means it is up to Kelly to recall the results of that night so many years ago.  Either that, or it is time for a new group of friends to sit and count the "nas."  But I do need to know.  Because great moments..no matter how mundane, no mater how silly, no matter how random....should always be remembered.  They are one of a kind.  Have a blessed Saturday!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, January 13, 2012

SWSWCCC- The Beginning!

Kathryn, Beth, Darth & Terri
Traditions are interesting things. Some are developed over many years, while others come from random acts that are later on very difficult to pinpoint. I cannot remember many details of the first time one of my youth groups began yelling "sand, water, sand water, crab, crab, crab" (To save time and typing errors, this will henceforth be shortened to SWSWCCC). I do know that it would remain a tradition for many years, and that it never failed to strike fear in the hearts of its intended victims! Today I will attempt to give you an idea of how it came to be so feared. One summer in the late 70's or early 80's my New Garden Friends youth group was camping at the Ponderosa Campground in North Myrtle Beach, SC. The Ponderosa land is now luxury condos, but back in the day it was a huge campground. It was only a short walk to the ocean, a game room, a pier and many other things we enjoyed. As you walked to the ocean, you crossed a bridge over what was known as The Swash. It was an inland waterway just the campground side of the sand dunes from the ocean. When the tide came in, The Swash would fill with ocean water, and people would play in it (My best friend Steve and I once saw a drunk man drive his car into it late one night when we were in high school!). When the tide was out, it would be almost empty, and you could see little fiddler crabs running everywhere along the banks. One night, after going for a walk on the beach, we returned to the edge of a very full Swash. It is at this point that my memory is very cloudy, but someone- I am guessing a guy, probably Dick LeeBruce Reynolds,Tommy or Freddie Hollowell, a Newby or Marshall Ratledge- decided one of the girls should go swimming. Fully dressed, of course! The young lady who was chosen as a victim- I am guessing Kathryn BurrisBeth Edgerton or Terri Johnson (all pictured at top) because it was always them- was not going silently. Others joined in, and the victim was grabbed by her feet and wrists, rolled in the sand, and then dipped in The Swash. This was then repeated, all the while reminding her of the crabs we (yes, we- I was part of this too) had seen there before. And finally she was tossed into The Swash. Thus the chant SWSWCCC became a means of striking fear in the hearts of our group that week.

Late one night we were once again nearThe Swash when the guys decided the victim would be Ling Lee. Ling was a beautiful high school girl (pictured at right) who could not have been more quiet or shy, and the guys wanted her to feel included. As the SWSWCCC chant began, an interesting thing happened. Ling wrapped herself around a nearby picnic table...and the guys could not pry her loose! They pulled and yanked, but every time they would get a leg free, she would tighten her grip. When her hands came free, she wrapped her legs so tight she could not be moved. This went on for quite some time, until, as I remember it, the guys had to give up. In any case, Ling became part of the legend that was SWSWCCC!

The Swash has been gone for years, but SWSWCCC never went away. Many groups and many victims have been part of the tradition over the years. In later years, the THREAT of the event was more prevalent than the actual performance, but the words never quit striking fear in the hearts of fully clothed youth walking down the beach- especially at night.

You may have more information on the actual events of that first SWSWCCC, or you may have your own story to tell. I would love to hear them, and I am sure others would as well. In the meantime, I encourage you to carry on the tradition with your family, your friends, and any groups you may travel with. SWSWCCC should live on- even if it's only as a threat! And if you ever get a real crab to grab a victim, PLEASE send pictures! That's one thing I never did see...   (Re-posted from 09/13/09)  

Because of Jesus,