Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Gift of Leap Day

Holy Schnikes!  It snuck up on me, but tomorrow is the first Thursday of March, which means it is Comment Day.  Read all the blogs you can, and leave a comment on each of them. Be sure and join in the fun!!!!

Today is a gift. I guess in the larger sense every day is a gift, but today is special.  Once every 4 years we get an extra day.  A bonus day. Leap Day!  It should be such an extraordinary day, a day in which we celebrate an extra 24 hours inserted into our far too busy lives.  It should be a day in which we do the amazing and dream about the miraculous.  It is a gift we only receive once every 1460 days.  So why does it feel so ordinary?

Like so many other things, we have allowed this extraordinary day to become ordinary because we are prisoners of our own lives.  Every day comes with an agenda, and the agenda seldom changes.  We are so caught up in our lives that we often forget to actually live them.  We go through the motions.  We will let this gift of 24 extra hours pass without doing anything of note in the name of Jesus.  Remember John 10:10, where Jesus tells us he came to bring us life in the here and now?  We forget so quickly. Today, like so many other days, we will not forgive someone we need to forgive. We will not tell someone special how much we love them.  We will not offer prayers for the lost and the hurting.  And we will not do these things because we are too busy being wrapped up in our own lives.

I know as I begin this day with prayer that there is much reason to stand in awe of what God is going to do today. I have friends who may have a baby today-a rare and glorious Leap Day baby!  I have friends who may sell their home today, and in doing so will embark on a journey they can barely even imagine at this point.  But not every thing that is extraordinary feels that "BIG."  I have several dear friends whom I love very much who will at some point today make my day with a call or a text.  My wife and son will both tell me that they love me. And somewhere today I will have the opportunity to share the love of God whose name is Jesus with a friend or a neighbor. These things may sound commonplace, but they are truly extraordinary.

So here is my challenge to you- and me- today.  What are you going to do with this 24 hour gift that will make it stand out in your own personal history? How will you serve God today in a way that transcends your usual efforts?  Where in your life will you step out of your comfort zone and take a LEAP of faith?  Who is it in your life that needs you to be extraordinary today?  We complain all the time about how busy we are and how we wish there were more hours in a day.  Here are 24 more hours.  What will you do with them?

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Still Missing Silence

This post (now updated) first appeared on September 6, 2009- less than 2 weeks after I began this blog. It is still among my favorites...

Over the years I worked in and attended a wide variety of churches, and I admit that I am a bundle of contradictions when it comes to worship.  I love traditional Quaker worship (about as traditional as it gets!) and I love emergant worship aimed at those who can't deal with traditional- and everything in-between! You see, I want it all.  Anyone who knows me understands how important music is to me, and I love all types of worship music. I can understand what the psalmist meant when he wrote "make a joyful noise to the Lord" because to me they are all joyful noises! I love classic hymns like It Is Well With My SoulCome Thou FountJoyful, Joyful We Adore Thee and Amazing Grace. I love the gospel bluegrass style of When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder and I Saw the Light. I love great modern songs like Awesome GodShout To the LordThy Word and Where Justice Rolls Down.  And I love to rock out with the newest praise and worship stuff from people like Chris TomlinDavid Crowder and Starfield. The opening chords to No One Like You from Crowder lights a fine in my soul.  I loved leading music in church, at youth groups and at Quaker Lake.  Music moves me and is an important part of my worship experience.  Music helps provide the passion in worship.

I also love a good sermon. To be taught new insights into scripture, to be inspired, to be moved by the spoken word is an important part of the worship experience. Listening to Matthew Hartsfield on a Sunday morning or Tony Campolo anytime can really rattle my cage. I also love when pastors choose to communicate in different ways- through drama, video and other creative forms. I love leaving a service feeling inspired and challenged in my walk with Christ.

Marilyn, Will and I currently attend a church where they often do the above things exceptionally well.  Van Dyke Church has tremendous musicians and an excellent group of pastors. At times they can be very creative.  But every Sunday morning I notice the one thing they don't do well, the one thing very few churches do well anymore. They are missing silence.

Growing up at New Garden Friends Meeting (and continuing later at Springfield Friends Meeting) I learned how to "do" silence.  Each week there was a 15-25 minute period of "open worship" or "Communion after the manner of Friends" during which there was silence. It followed the message, and people would often stand and speak to what God was laying on their hearts about the sermon. But even if no one spoke, it was a much needed time of "being still" before God and listening for the still, small voice. This practice continued through my days at Quaker Lake, where on the Vespers Hill and at the Campfire Circle we would center our thoughts in periods of silence, meditation and prayer. We believed what George Fox, the original Quaker, had said in the 1650's-"There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to my condition." So we listened for Him. Many of the great spiritual moments of my life took place in those periods of total silence.

Now, the silence has been replaced by background noise. Even when churches do have times of "silent meditation" it is usually accompanied by music. One time at FUMC-Kissimmee, I had preached the Ash Wednesday service and wanted a period of silent meditation to accompany the implementation of the ashes.  Our Associate Pastor, Rodney, emphasized that while he knew people were not really comfortable with silence, this would be total silence for a few moments. He finished by saying "so as the organ plays, settle into this time of silent meditation."  Too funny.

Silence scares people in the church. It is too intimate. What if God is actually trying to speak to me? Do I really want to hear Him? When we open ourselves to the silence and actually listen for God's voice, we join the ranks of the many biblical heroes who listened- and seldom heard what they wanted to hear! So I have to find my times of quiet and solitude with God outside of Church these days. That is not all bad. But still, I feel sorry for those who don't know how amazing silence can be. And I wonder if God is being heard like He should be in our world today.

So give me a Tony Campolo sermon, a Chris Tomlin worship set and a powerful drama to challenge my mind and my spirit. But please, leave me some time to "be still and know that He is God." I do miss the silence...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sunday Blues

Yes.  This was work!
People tell me all the time that they admire my positive attitude towards life.  In spite of my many ups and downs, I do try to maintain a positive attitude about things.  As I have said here before. I do not see the glass as half empty or as half full.  I see it with FREE REFILLS!  I can find the silver lining in just about any situation. And goodness knows that I know how to put on a happy face in difficult situations.  But having said all of that, yesterday I came to a difficult conclusion.  Sunday afternoons suck.

I have felt this way for quite a while and just didn't want to admit it.  I find myself moping around on Sunday afternoons, not knowing what to do with myself and taking a ridiculous number of naps. I find myself wanting to get out of the house, but not really wanting to go anywhere.  Nothing ever sounds good for dinner. I become sullen and a little difficult to be around.  It doesn't happen every week, but it happens too often.  And the reason is simple...

I miss youth ministry so much.  For so many years, every Sunday afternoon was spent "at work."  Making last minute plans for programs.  Buying eggs and pantyhose for games (ask if you don't know!).  Getting songs ready for music and worship time.  Praying over the evenings activities.  For nearly 30 years every Sunday afternoon was spent getting ready to serve Jesus by serving teenagers.  And though it has been 5 years since the last time I did it, I still miss it every week.  And sometimes it just overwhelms me how much I miss it all.

So if you want to know what a "Crabby Carl" looks like, stop by some Sunday afternoon. I can't promise anything, but the chances of me being grumpy go way up.  But by night time I realize that it is time to get over myself.  I am blessed, God is still in His Heaven, and I am loved by family, friends and a Savior who died for me.  My glass is once again full.  And so often on Sunday nights I pray these words:  "Dear God, don't let my past remind me of what I am not now.  Walk with me into the future."  It's a walk we can all take together.  Blessings to all for a wonderful week!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The LORD Is My Shepherd

The following is an except from the 1969 devotional classic My God Is No Fool, by Lois Cheney.  It is a book I still read on a regular basis, having first purchased it in 1976. This is one of my favorites.  I hope it blesses and challenges you as it does me.

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."  ~Matthew 9:36

Once I was in a car, in a foreign country, and we were driving down a country road, and we came upon a flock of sheep. The shepherd moved to the side of the road, and all, all of the sheep followed him, regardless of whether or not they had to cross in front of a moving car to do so. These stupid, stupid sheep followed their shepherd without any thought at all.  I've since heard that this is always true- that sheep are stupid and easily led- and that they follow wherever the shepherd leads, regardless of whether it sends them into danger, regardless of whether it is the sensible thing to do, even if it kills them.

Since then, I've been very uncomfortable with the many New Testament references to the good shepherd and the fact that we are to follow God like sheep.

I live in an age (and how much more true is this in 2012) that says we must rely upon ourselves.  I have been thoroughly rained and educated to take care of myself.  I believe in a person taking full responsibility for their actions- without apology or phony humility.

As I've been trained to meet problems and essence head on- eye to eye- it has become very difficult for me to bow my head.  It has become more and more difficult to get on my knees. At times I have gotten on knees in solitary prayer; but I wonder if my heart has ever really gotten on its knees.

God asks a great deal.  It is hard, even when you want to, to be a sheep, and to follow Jesus wherever he leads us.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me- 
for in thee my soul takes refuge.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Shout Outs!

Greetings and salutations, friends and neighbors!  It's been an extra long 3 weeks since my last shout outs due to all of the amazing guest posts we shared, so I have a lot to say and lots of people to yell at!  But before I begin, I feel obligated to point out that leaving comments after you read is recommended by 4 out of 5 doctors  HINT HINT!   So here we go!!!

  • Please keep praying for our pregnant couples, including Todd & Kristin Willis, Jerry & Melissa Hanbery and Jacob & Cara Lupfer (all FUMC-K).  All of them are due in the very near future, with Todd telling me this week that Kristin could go in most anytime.  Also, Christy Causey Allen (Springfield Friends Meeting) is already in the hospital, biding her time and waiting for the arrival of her son.  Pray for her, hubby Greg and the doctors looking after them all.
  • Got to share a couple of emails this week with Kristin King (FUMC-K). It was great to catch up with her.  Her courage as she has faced so many surgeries and so many scars after her terrible wreck of a few years ago continues to inspire me.
  • Congratulations to my good Twitter friend Christie Weatherby, who yesterday was recognize as a Certified Christian Counselor.  Can I get a woot-woot?  :)
  • Jeremy Godwin (Springfield) texted me this week that he had injured a tendon in his bicep.  As it turns out, it has pulled away from the bone and will require surgery in a couple of weeks.  Keep Jeremy in your prayers!
  • Speaking of texts, my phone crashed on Valentine's Day (no truth to the rumor that it overheated!) and so I am still trying to re-gather all of the phone numbers I lost.  If you would like to be in my system, just email me your number.  I'd love to stay in touch!
  • Ashley Goad Broadhurst (Springfield) is once again on a mission trip to Haiti.  Keep praying for her and her team.
  • Cindy Martin (FUMC-K), you are one incredible friend and I love you.  You are "moe" special than I can begin to explain...
  • My favorite Tweet of the Week came from Kerry Bural- The words "I was wrong" are pretty much meaningless when followed by "but."  Good, huh?
  • I got a sweet and wonderful email the other night from Edith Shepherd, mother of Katie and one of the first people I remember meeting at New Garden Friends Meeting way back when I was in 8th grade.  Always amazing to hear from old friends.  I really do miss all of my NC Quaker buddies.  Hopefully someday soon I will get up that way again!
  • Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-K), don't go thinking you are better than me just because you got one of them fancy I-PAD do-dads yesterday.  I'm just saying- stay humble! :)
  • I don't know many details, but I have seen on Marilyn's Facebook that simply PiNK, the retail business that Keri Vinson Johnston (Springfield) is part owner of, is undergoing major changes. Please pray for Keri and her partners, and if you know more, please let me know.
  • Lisa Jewett (Wesley Memorial UMC, Taco Tuesdays) and I went to Target yesterday and she did not buy any toys for her grandchildren.  This may well qualify as a miracle...
  • Thank you, Marie Allen (Springfield)!  You know why.
  • And finally, the love and support of my Twitter friends continues to amaze me.  Jason, John, Amy, Robert, Chris, Tom, Jenn, Angie, Stacey, Patti, Sam, Jennifer and so many more continue to inspire and enlighten me.   So many people I have never met; so many people I know I will see someday.  You know what I mean?
So there you have it.  Another shout out in the books!  I hope you all have a blessed day and a wonderful Sunday.  Love you guys!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, February 24, 2012

Flashback Friday: Pops

There are some moments that are frozen in time. You can close your eyes and picture a moment 30 years ago as clearly as if it happened yesterday. For me, one of those moments took place at Quaker Lake Camp after a closing campfire around 1980. Everyone was saying their goodbyes on the softball field, when I noticed a lone camper, standing out by the pitcher's mound, crying. I walked over to her and asked her what was wrong, only to discover she had just been dumped by her camp boyfriend of the week. I knew her name was Laura Wheeler, but I didn't really know her very well. That frozen moment, however, was the beginning of one of the great friendships of my life.

We talked a long time that night, and in the months that followed wrote on occasion. By the following summer I couldn't wait until she came to camp. She and her cabin mates- Kristen Haworth, Jane Terrell, Jane Tesh, Debbie Tully, Angie Swaim, Mollie (Zowie! It's Mowwie!) Edwards and later, Sharron Tutterow, became "my girls." Kristen and Laura started calling me Pops ( I was all of 21!) and it stuck. That whole group eventually called me Pops, and we not only hung out at camp, but got together for dinner in the off-season and even had a Christmas party together. For the first time (but not the last) I became too attached to youth I worked with. When Debbie had surgery, I was there. When Laura became very sick, her parents called me and and I spent time with her at the hospital. I watched her suffer, struggle and recover, and we became incredibly close. These were not students in my youth ministry, but they meant the world to me. We shared great times and great sorrows, and I learned what it means to really be in ministry with a group of kids. It takes everything, just like Jesus said it would. I was no hero and I made plenty of missteps along the way, but I gave them everything I had, and they did the same. They gave me a Pops sweatshirt that I loved dearly. When it looked like we would not have any more time at QLC together, I wrote a song for them. We actually had a another year together, but the song remained meaningful for them and lots of other campers. I called it Leaving...But Not Really:

We’ve all come so far so fast,
becoming such close friends
And now that our time together has passed
Is this where it all has to end
Friends we go on living
So friends let’s go on loving
We may all think our time’s at end
But this is where we begin
To be friends

We’ll soon be many miles apart
With other people we need
But just because we’ll be apart
Let’s don’t give up what we’ve received
You don’t love friends with your eyes
It’s really your heart that cries
Love is friendship caught on fire
And love is what we require
From our friends

Friends, I will remember you
Think of you, pray for you
And when another day is through
I’ll still be friends with you.

The Family
And while I haven't seen them in many years, they are often on my mind and in my prayers. I hope that they have beautiful families and people in their lives who can love them the way they loved me. I write a lot about relationships and student ministry on this blog, and so much of what is near and dear to my heart I learned from these girls who cared so much about me.  Quaker Lake was never about the camp. It was always about the people. And for this "Pops," those people were some of the best.

A side note...Debbie called me one day when she was a senior in high school and told me that she had used the lyrics to the above song for a creative writing project.  She apologized and hoped I wasn't angry about it.  I just wanted to know her grade.  We got an "A!"

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Liver & Lima Beans Again

For the first time in several years I will not be doing a day-by-day Lenten blog at another location.  However, my good friend Jason Huffman is, and I encourage you to visit his blog every day for a dose of inspiration!  

The 40 days of Lent (actually 41 this year) are analogous to the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert fasting and resisting temptation (see Matthew 4:1-11).  Many Christians choose to "give up" something for Lent as their way of seeking to commune with the Christ.  You may have given up Starbucks, chocolate, soda, TV or something else that you feel is a sacrifice.  Then at the end of the season we go right back to the things we give up.  This is fine, but...

This year I hope to allow the scripture at the top of the page (2 Corinthians 6:11The Message) guide me through the desert.  The apostle Paul is telling us that Jesus wants us to live a WIDE OPEN life!  Don't be fenced in by the standards of the world around you; go for the gold.  For many years I joked that every year for Lent I would give up liver and lima beans.  And I never cheated on that promise.  It was easy- I HATE liver and lima beans!  This may seem like a terrible way to approach Lent, but in some bizarre way I was on to something. Liver and lima beans are not a part of my life.  This year, in addition to whatever you have chosen to sacrifice, consider this:  Give up something you never want to take back again.  Give up your anger towards another person.  Give up a sin that you struggle with.  Don't be fenced in; don't think small.  Pray today about opening up your life to Jesus.  What can you let go of and give to God that you never want to see again?  Jesus came so that we would have life- and not just any life, but ABUNDANT life (John 10:10)!   I will check in every Thursday during Lent with a thought on how these days can be life-changing.  It's time to do a little spring cleaning...

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It's Time To Bother Jesus

Zacchaeus shouts at Jesus
Stop me if you have heard this one-  "Christians are nice."  For many people in the 21st century, "nice" has become the defining characteristic of the followers of Jesus. People who are wild, different, rude or aggressive can't possibly be Christians.  Christians are polite, and that is what sets them apart in this rude world we live in.  When did this happen?  When did followers of Jesus quit being wild-eyed, radical, world changing and dangerous disciples and start being "nice?"  And more importantly, how do we fix it?

In Luke 8:40-56 you can read the story of the Jewish leader Jairus and his daughter who is on the verge of death.  He goes to see Jesus, to ask him to come to his home and heal his daughter.  Jairus has great faith that Jesus will make her whole again. As Jesus begins to follow Jairus home they are interrupted by a bleeding woman who also seeks healing from the teacher. After the delay, as they are about to continue their journey, word comes that the daughter is dead.  The messenger ends his statement with these words (Luke 8:49): "There is no need now to bother the teacher."  It is a message that we modern believers have taken to heart.

I believe that we have quit being world changers in great part because we have decided not to bother the Master.  We concentrate on doing things we might can do without him- like being nice.  After all, the Creator of the universe doesn't really have time for our petty needs and prayers, does he?  My pastor, Matthew Hartsfield, has been pointing out in his current sermon series that not only does Jesus not mind being bothered, he LOVES it!  Think about some of the people in scripture who went out of their way to bother Christ.  Blind Bart.  The leper at the gate.  Zacchaeus. The friends who lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof.  Mary and Martha when Lazarus was dying.  Nicodemus. The bleeding woman who grabbed hold of Jesus' robe.  Jairus and his daughter (she lived!).  None of these folks were polite.  None of them waited their turn.  All of them practically screamed at Jesus for help.  And he did miraculous things in every case.  Each of them decided that bothering the teacher was the only option they had left, that Jesus and ONLY Jesus could help them.  And help them he did...

I don't know about you, but I think it is time to bother Jesus. It's time to pray big prayers and dream big dreams.  It is time to return to the faith of those first followers of Christ, who knew that in order to change the world they had to be radical believers.  If we want to be like the church found in the book of Acts and turn this world upside down, then we need to quit being so polite. I want to treat people with love and respect, but I don't want to be known for being nice.  Nice is not a fruit of the Spirit.  We cannot change the world on our own.  It is time to bother Jesus.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

One Last Hurrah

Ski Trip, 2007- at Cracker Barrel
When I began work on the full-time summer staff of Quaker Lake Camp in June of 1978, I was 18 years old.  I had no idea that nearly 30 years later I would still be doing youth ministry.  But in February of 2007 I was still at it, and on February 19 of that year my group from Trinity UMC of Waycross, GA returned home from a ski trip.  In many ways it was just like the hundreds of other youth group trips I had been part of over the many years.  In at least one way it was like no other.  I didn't know it until a few days later, but it had been my last hurrah in student ministry.

The story of the trip really begins a year earlier when I arrived at TUMC.  I wanted to change the culture of the youth ministry to reach out to more students in the community and to make our church "the place to be" in Waycross for middle school and high school students. Part of that plan included more trips and more big adventures.  In the summer of 2006 we took a mostly successful mission trip to Chicago with the Center for Student Missions.  In September we attended Night of Joy at Walt Disney World. By then, we had already announced the ski trip, and excitement was building.  We would go to West Virginia and ski Winterplace the week after Christmas. 

As often happens with youth trips, life got in the way. The church van broke down coming home from a Christmas outing to a Japanese restaurant in Brunswick (an hour away).  Repairs would be major, and I was left scrambling to find a rental van for those days after Christmas.  In the meantime, there was no snow in West Virginia and it was too warm to make any.  Winterplace was not even certain they would be open.  At the last second, I called and moved our reservations to President's Day Weekend, 2007.  This caused much confusion and chaos, but since it was youth ministry, no one really noticed.  :)

Let it snow!
By the time we actually took the trip, our van was fixed.  But the parents who had planned to go along as chaperons had to back out, and no one stepped up to replace them.  So my brave wife Marilyn and I took them ourselves- as we had done so often back in the day.  I drove the van and she drove our station wagon.  We went up on Friday, and any worries about snow were put to rest as soon as we arrived in Virginia. It was snowing like crazy.  By the time we arrived at the motel, conditions were tricky.  For the students who had never really seen it snow big time, it was amazing.  They were all psyched about skiing. It was going to be a great couple of days of he slopes.

My son Will ready for the slopes!
In the middle of that night Marilyn (who never gets sick) became as sick as a dog. By morning it was clear she was going nowhere.  So we left her at the motel, loaded up the van, and headed up the mountain to Winterplace. And it was indeed a great couple of days of skiing.  By the time we were ready to head home on Monday morning, Marilyn was fine.  One of the girls, however, was not.  Kendall would spend the entire trip back asleep in the back seat of the station wagon, leaving the van a bit more crowded.  It snowed more on the way home.  But eventually, we arrived safely in Waycross, and I was able to write a safe and successful ending to yet another youth trip.

Meagan & Marilyn in the ski lodge
I was excited for the future of the student ministry of TUMC.  Nearly half of the students on that trip had never been to church at Trinity when I arrived a year before.  We were growing.   The community was buzzing about us. I was already working on an amazing summer schedule for 2007.   Two nights later I led our Wednesday night bible study.  That would be my last official act as a youth pastor.  Hidden sins caught up with me, and the church had no choice but to ask me leave.  My life would change forever.  After nearly 30 years in ministry, after hundreds of trips, countless programs, thousands of games and more wonderful relationships than I can possibly count, I was suddenly- and I knew quite permanently- finished as a youth pastor. Five years later I am still recovering.  I have experience the grace and forgiveness of Jesus in new ways.  I have been loved and supported by family and friends (and a whole new community of grace-filled folks from Twitter!) in ways I never expected.  I have even found new ways to continue to be in ministry with some of the now adult youth I served for all those years. But as I look back today, I see that final trip, and thank God for it- and all of the amazing adventures He allowed me over those many years.  My life has been so blessed.  But still...I really miss those trips. Crank up the Bohemian Rhapsody and let's go!  :)

Because of Jesus,

Monday, February 20, 2012

Faith, Hope & Spring Training

My friend Ashley Goad Broadhurst is on her way back to Haiti today in her never ending quest to build wells to provide fresh drinking water for the people there.  As always, I am honored to serve as her prayer partner on the first day of her journey.  Join with me in praying for Ashley, her team and the people they will serve.

Despite the fact that my dear friends to the north got hit with a snow storm yesterday, Spring Training is beginning here in sunny Florida!  The Yankees are here in Tampa; the Phillies are in nearby Clearwater; the Braves are at Disney World; the Astros are in Kissimmee and other teams are spread out all over the southern half of the state. The local papers are full of stories about the Tampa Bay Rays  and their chances for success this season.  I have always enjoyed spring baseball, especially back when my Dad and I had season tickets to see the Braves at Disney back in 1997-98.  Everything feels so fresh and new in the spring.  Players are friendly and laid back.  And most importantly, every team has hope and faith.

You see, during spring training every team is 0-0.  No wins yet, but more importantly, no losses.  These groups of professional athletes gather with eternal optimism.  No matter how bad they were in the previous season, they have HOPE that this will be their year.  No matter how many years (or centuries, Cubs fans!) it has been since they were last champions, spring training is a time for fans to have FAITH in their team.    And no matter how bad they may be this year, next spring the same hope and faith will be present.

Those of us who follow Jesus should know exactly what this hope and faith feels like.  We have access to it every day.  No matter how bad the situation, no mater how tragic the circumstances, no matter how deep the sin, we need to understand that through grace we can start our "season" anew by simply turning it all over to Jesus.  Unlike baseball, when Christ-followers fail we can have a total "do over."  Unlike Cubs fans, Christ-followers can go through life with the knowledge that in the end, God wins!  Our hope and faith are not in the things of men or in our own abilities, but in the love and grace of God.  We never have to leave spring training- our record is back to "even" every time we confess our sins.  It's really an amazing thing...

Maybe this will be the year that the hope and faith of Cubs fans will be rewarded.  Maybe it is the year my Rays return to the World Series!  Either way, isn't it great to know that the hope and faith of Jesus fans are rewarded everyday?  No one is a loser when they are following the Son...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

And Finally...My Own Best Day

My last night at Springfield Friends Meeting
Today I mark the end of this remarkable series of guest posts about great days in ministry by sharing my one of my own best days.  In some ways, me trying to share a "best day" on this blog is really quite redundant.  For the past 900+ days I have been sharing with my readers the ups and downs, highs and lows of being in ministry. I have shared with you many of my very best days, both from my years as a professional youth pastor and in the nearly 5 years since that part of my life came to an end.  There have been and continue to be so many amazing days with so many amazing people.  I considered following the examples of Ashley and Shae in their guest posts and doing a list of some sort.  I considered writing about great days still to come.  But after thinking about it for 2 weeks now, I have a brief, seemingly unimportant story to tell about a day that could have easily been forgotten...but never will be.  

That's the bride, top right-
 with a bunch of cousins!  1987
Sometime back in the early 2000s Marilyn and I flew to NC to be at the wedding of one of former students from Springfield Friends Meeting.  Erin Moran was one of our favorite people and her parents were some of our dearest friends, and we were excited to go.  Since many of the youth from those days were in some way related to to Erin, we also knew we would see lots of people we loved at the the event.  I had last worked at Springfield in 1994, and so many of the people we had shared life with when they were "youth" were now married with families of their own.  It was a wonderful day, and we did indeed get to see a lot of people we loved.  After the wedding we all headed downstairs to the Rees Fellowship Hall for the reception, which to us felt a great deal like a homecoming.  So many old friends to see and catch up with.  Seeing them all was such a wonderful reminder of the 8 great years we had spent in ministry at Springfield as a part of their families and the family of God.

That's Jill in the middle!
But none of that is what made this a day worthy of being called a "best day."  That moment was provided by Jill Glbreth, Mandy Beggs and some of the rest of the cousins of the bride.  You need to to know that down the hall and around the corner from the Fellowship Hall at Springfield is the dungeon we called a youth room, a place that held so many memories of so many great moments together.  Jill and the gang, all dressed for the wedding, many of them with their own small children in tow, came to me with a request.  They were joking (sort of) but at the same time it was heart felt.  They wanted to know if we could go around to the youth room and play our favorite game, Sardines. And then they wanted to know if I had my guitar.  In the middle of a wedding reception, these young adults wanted to go relieve their youth group days. They wanted to play.  They wanted to sing. They wanted to worship together as we had so many times almost a decade earlier. We knew we couldn't really go do it (and although it may surprise some of you, I don't actually carry my guitar EVERYWHERE I go!) but the sentiment moved me deeply.  It was one of those crystal clear moments when I KNEW that God had indeed used me to make a difference in the lives of the students I had served.  And when youth ministry has been your life, that is indeed a great day.

I hope that this series has inspired you as much as it has me.  The lessons are many, but I hope if nothing else has been clear that this has been- great days in ministry are not always BIG days in ministry.  Most of us will never have Billy Graham moments where we lead thousands to Christ. Most of us will never sing to the multitudes.  But all of us- every single one of us- can have great moments serving God and serving others.  And that is what ministry really is.  Thanks again to all of my guest writers.  Have a blessed Sunday!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, February 18, 2012

My Best Day in Ministry: Shae Pepper

The final guest post in our series is yet another with international flavor.  Shae Pepper is a Professional Youth Worker and has been for the last seven years.  She was also a Volunteer Youth Worker for seven years. She has a Master’s in Youth Work and Community Development from DeMontfort University in Leicester, England. Shae has provided training for youth workers in England, the USA and Rwanda. She has worked with young people aged 8-21 in England, Rwanda, the USA and Thailand.  She, and her husband, recently started Youth Workin’ It, a consultancy service and blog designed to equip and support youth workers and youth organizations around the world. This supports her personal and professional goals to provide better services and programs for young people worldwide.

“My best day in youth ministry.” I have been ruminating over this one for over a week now.  Talking about it with my husband, thinking about it while driving, while eating, while working out…my conclusion: is it possible to pick just one?!  I LOVE working with young people.  It is one of the main reasons I get up each day and one of the main things I enjoy most about my life.  It is exciting, funny, serious, crazy, weird and wonderful all in the same session

Although I’m not a parent, often I feel what I think most parent’s feel- joy and satisfaction when a young person learns something new, makes their best choices, follows their dreams and shows appreciation.  As someone without kids, I feel like this is how I’m fulfilling the whole ‘go forth and multiply’ part of the Bible.  When people ask if I have any kids first I say, ‘no’ then I say ‘actually, yeah, hundreds’ and then go on to tell about my various young people who I’ve seen grow and change during the time I worked with them. 

I’m sorry Carl, I tried so hard to get it down to just one day that was my best in youth work.  But I couldn’t.  There are just too many good stories (you did the right thing by making this blog to share all of yours), too many positive changes, too many games, scavenger hunts, fundraisers, smiles, tears and one-to-one chats to just pick one day.  And so, here are my top five days or moments in youth work and ministry:

5.  Youth Participation in Action- In that first youth group that my husband and I worked in together in the UK, we empowered the youth to do their own youth service.  They were excited, planned it all, did talks, special dance, planned and led the worship… everything!  In the end, the 8 of them got 80 (!!!!!) of their friends together for a youth service.  I love that they were motivated to take the lead, and used the experience of supportive adults, to make something happen for their friends that was awesome. 

4.  World Travelers Loving the Lord- My husband and I worked with a group of youth when I first moved to the UK.  He’d been working with them for years and knew them well, I was the outsider.  But over time I got to know them.  Although I still feel like ‘step-youth-worker’ to them, because he was the one who built all the relational capital with them over the years, I love them all just the same and want the very best for them.  Two young ladies from that group have served or are serving in a missionary capacity overseas.  I love that they learned to love Christ through their time in our youth group and took that love to others around the world- not being afraid to go and tell.

3.  Sharing Hotel Rwanda- I showed Hotel Rwanda to a group of youth during a World Awareness session, at which time we discussed global issues and what happened in Rwanda in 1994 (most of the youth in the room were only 1 or 2 when that happened, and it’s not exactly on every school curriculum in the UK or US).  The next week ‘John’ a 15 year old boy, came back to tell me that he’d rented it and watched it with his aunt and told her all about what happened.  I couldn’t believe that a teenage boy would take the time to do all that, based on the session.  He was really touched by the message and internalized it so much he shared it with others.  I love that he shared what he learned with an adult he cared about.

2.  Seeing Salvation & Baptism- One of the young ladies from #4 made a decision to follow Christ during our time with that youth group.  And the other young lady in that story, was instrumental in leading her toward Christ.  Seeing her make such a radical decision and then a few years later seeing her go public with that decision through baptism filled me with such pride.  I love that she is still radically excited about what Christ did for her on the cross and that she shares it so openly with others, at home and abroad.

1.  One-to-one chats- This is more than one day or moment, but really any time I get one-to-one time with young people, or even just 2-3 of them together it makes my day.  I can remember a grocery trip with ‘Amber,’ where the clerk asked if she was my daughter (I replied, ‘not naturally but in my heart, yes’ – we were group home parents at the time for five teenage girls).  Or the time where I took ‘Olivia’ to Chipotle and we talked about family and how boys should treat girls in a relationship.  Helping ‘Sarah’ with a job hunt at a hair salon, walking up and down the high street (which was on a steep hill so it was quite a feat!) collecting and returning applications and then stopping for a muffin and a cocoa.  There was ‘Tim’ who wanted to be a plumber and shared about his desire to open his own plumbing business one day.  And ‘Kevin’ who was a refugee from Zimbabwe, who shared about his experience having to leave his home in just three days.  Or ‘John’ who shared about his experiences in the Rwandan Genocide.  Not to mention last night when I talked about Lebron and Kobe with ‘Wes’ and ‘Tom’ who had nowhere to be but outside on a cold, rainy night in a rough neighborhood.  I love spending time with young people, hearing their stories, their likes, their dislikes, what’s most important to them (even if it’s not what’s most important to me), their dreams and goals and their interesting and often funny way of viewing the world. 

So there it is- my top five.  I probably could sit and write pages and pages of how much I enjoy my vocation and the young people I get to spend my time with.  In my opinion, it’s the best ‘job’ in the whole world.  These memories, probably like the ones you have from your time in youth work, mean more to me than a paycheck, a nice car or new clothes- they overshadow the long hours, the time away from friends and family as well as the mental, physical and emotional exhaustion that sometimes creeps in.  I encourage you to think of your own ‘best days’ and try to make each day with your youth ‘the best day in youth ministry’ ever!

~Shae Pepper

Friday, February 17, 2012

My Best Day in Ministry: Gary Bott

Today's post from another Twitter pal, Gary Bott, makes this series officially international- and not just North American!  Gary is married to Katie and they have 3 lively boys!  Gary oversees the children’s and youth work at Billericay Baptist Church in the UK and is passionate about seeing them discipled into an active relationship with Jesus Christ. He enjoys working with young people and being able to help them through life’s struggles. Gary recently received an MA in missional leadership and is committed to seeing the church engage with the community. He has a love/hate relationship with Tottenham Hotspur and loves American Muscle cars. In his spare time he can be found chilling with a cup of tea amongst the chickens he and Katie care for on their 'Funky Chicken Farm'.  Follow Gary on Twitter @RevBott

Hi all, I thought it would be good to shed some light on the UK youth scene by sharing my greatest day in youth ministry.

I’ve never been to the US (one day!) and I am sure there are certain differences between the youth in the UK & US, but its probably not too different! Teen angst, deep questions, parental issues, discipleship, mentoring and copious amounts of Pizza and Coca Cola!

I’ve been at my post for nearly 9 years in employment but have been involved in youth work for decades and many others who have written on this subject have summed it up for me; I don’t think I have had a best day – yet! There have been some amazing moments in this ministry, from seeing young people make commitments to Christ, getting baptized, understanding a deep theological issue, beating one of them in an eating contest, not being sick on a roller coaster ride, as well as numerous camps and trips out where relationships are built. All of these are great times and at the end of each day, you could easily say – “That was the best day” However, each time a new thing comes along it’s like a ‘best day’!

Two of the most memorable days recently were seeing my son get Baptized last year at the age of 12 – that was a great day and last week when one of my youth sent me a facebook message saying she had witnessed to a friend at school who was now interested in God! That was a great day! To see her joy in the words she wrote was uplifting and she is really showing signs of great evangelistic work!

However, I think the best days are yet to come! When I first came to this church one of the elders asked me if I would go on to do “proper adult ministry?” I bit my tongue and informed him that my heart was to be involved with youth work all my life, to which he replied – “there aren’t many 60 year old youth workers” to which I replied – “maybe that’s what’s wrong with youth ministry?” You see I have a firm belief that when you are called, you are called, until God says otherwise. I feel called to long-term youth ministry! People who have inspired me are Mike Yaconelli, Mike Pilavachi and Fuzz Kitto. All in youth ministry at older ages, with Mr. Yaconelli probably now heading up the youth ministry in glory!! 

For Mike and Fuzz, they would be able to give numerous ‘best days’ but they would still say they are yet to come! As we grow in ministry and walk with those we minister to, the more we are going to see these little acorns grow into mighty oaks! More and more we will see spiritual fruit develop in their lives and the more we will know our lives have touched their lives!

So I believe the best days are yet to come, I’ve had some good ones, but I want to see better ones and with Christ’s help, I believe they will come!

Blessings from the UK

 PS – happy to visit the US whenever you want me!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Best Day in Ministry: Tim Ghali

Here's another great guest post, this one from my Twitter friend Tim Ghali.  This
series continues to be everything I prayed it would be, and we still have three says
left!  I am thankful to have Tim share with us all today!

Know that I am honored to guest-post here.  So a little context  - I'm Tim, I'm 
35, husband to Susan for 12 years, father of 3 (oldest is 3, youngest is 5 mos) 
and I served in youth ministry vocationally for 11 years.  Though I would say I 
am enjoying many parts of the story of my life, very little has gone as planned.

I honestly believed that I would be in youth ministry for about a decade longer.  
I really enjoyed working with youth, especially high school students … most of 
the time.  But as we all learn in life, doors close, doors open, and we find 
ourselves praying the Lord will give wisdom and discernment. It's in that 
mindset that this post is written from.  

While picking the day that brought me most enjoyment in youth ministry was a 
difficult task, I think I got I one - June 26, 2011.   It was a Sunday, 
Graduation Sunday to be exact and I was privileged to give the Sunday message 
and to honor our high school graduates.  I had arrived at this church when the 
class of 2011 was in 8th grade.  In so many words, they were my first real class 
to go through their high school experience with me.  

They were a pretty large class for our mid-size church.  They always attended, 
always shared their gifts and of course, always complained and debated with me.  
"Listen Tim, this is cool and all but it doesn't work for some of us and if you 
really want to connect with the kids who aren't here …" and "You're crazy - 
soccer is much better than football!"  I think it's fair to say that in my 11 
years, this was the class that I interacted with most and like all things in 
ministry, it was bittersweet.

By their junior year, we found our rhythm.  They had bought and added on to our 
vision and hope of our ministry.   Between a solid core of students, amazing 
leaders, new students, prodigal students, our group felt to be clicking.  The 
only glitch was that it looked like our season was ending in this church.  It 
would take more than a year for it to be actual and while nothing was decided by 
June 26, 2011, it seemed likely that seasons would change.  

Each year, we had what was called the "Senior Sneak."  We would take that year's 
graduating class on an incredible celebratory trip.  For all the years, we made 
them endure generic soda and chips, we were breaking the perfume bottle and 
showering their feet.   Living outside New York City, we always had options.  
Previous years had included seeing Brian Regan, the Fray, and Seinfeld and 
enjoying cities like New York, Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore.  

These trips always included a good amount of deception because high school 
students with expectations are really intuitive.  So we would create false 
itineraries and accidentally leave them out (and the itinerary always sucked).  
This year I told them because of budget cuts, we had to cancel the Senior Sneak.  
Though they were sad, one senior came up afterwards and said, "That seems to be 
the right thing to do in light of the circumstances."  A good youth pastor would 
have been proud of her sacrificial nature (which I guess I was) but what I was 
really thinking was, "YES, this plan is going to work!"

So June 26th was coming and I needed their parents' involvement to secretly pack 
an overnight bag for a series of events that I could not tell them about.  I 
trust parents less than I trust that shady 15 yr old couple who always find the 
darkest part of the room/church/mission trip to cuddle together.  But the 
parents came through.  While I will spare you the details of the deception, 
there we were in the church van driving north when we drove past the sign that 
said, "Boston".  

The theme was "Saying Good-Bye to High School" which I was able to weave through 
Sunday's message, that night's Owl City concert and Monday's sightseeing.  After 
the Freedom Trail, we found a quiet spot in the Boston Commons Park and talked 
for 2 hours.  There was a lot of affirmation, a lot of tears, confession, not 
confession of sin mind you, but confession of souls that were well, further 
realizing that everything was changing.  It was pretty incredible.  (You can 
read a little more at

It was tough for me too, because I knew that soon, I too would be "graduating" 
from this church.  I looked around our circle remembering all our moments 
together.  The girl who swore she'd never come back was there.  The guy whose 
parents thought I was a heretic loved his youth group experience (and they came 
around to loving me too.  Maybe their theology got better but what I really 
think is that we found community together).  There was the girl that gave upon 
her baptism, shared with the church that being encouraged to confront her doubts 
was the game-changer in her faith.  I could go on and on but you get the idea.  
We closed our time in prayer, frantically searched for bathrooms, hopped in the 
van and said goodbye to Beantown.  

We sang, laughed and reminisced all the way back to Jersey.  I looked in the 
rearview a few times, sad that was over, excited that it happened, overjoyed for 
these moments of the journey of life and excited for what was ahead for all of 


A special thanks to Carl for letting me guest post here.  Feel free to visit me 
over at my blog, Black Coffee Reflections or follow me on Twitter (tg24) - would 
love to connect.

Bonus Post: Old Friends

We are having a few technical difficulties getting today's guest post on My Best Day in Ministry up and running, so until then here is a little something I have been wanting to share all week...

This past Sunday night I had one of those surreal moments that modern technology sometimes provides in life.  My family was waiting amongst the multitudes for a table at the local Red Lobster.  It was chilly (for Florida) outside and so Marilyn and Will decided to wait inside.  It was too crowded for my taste, so I went outside to an empty bench and had a seat. To kill time, I sent my old friend Denise May Langley a text just wishing her a good week.  She immediately texted me back letting me know that I must have ESP, as she was about to sit down and have a visit with our mutual friend (and one of my oldest and best friends) Beth Vestal McGalliard, who I have not talked to in quite a while. While shooting a text back to Denise telling her to give Beth a hug for me, I received a notice on my phone that I had a direct message on Twitter from another old friend, Lisa Ramos Moran, who was writing a guest post for this blog for the very next day.  Lisa is also from that same period of my life (high school and college years) and has always been one of Beth's bet friends.  The irony of hearing from so many old friends at once just struck me as a very special moment.  Then I received a text from an unknown 336 area code number asking me when I was coming to pick them up and take them to Krispy Kreme.  Only Beth and Denise would have thought of that, as when they were in college and I had a car I got that call on many a night.  After exchanging a few more texts with both of them, they settled into their evening together reminiscing and catching up. I really hated not being there.  In fact, this whole thing of not being able to travel to NC is really starting to piss me off...

Over the following couple of days Steve Semmler left a comment on Lisa's post and I received an email from Carl Semmler once again berating my taste in music. All of these folks were some of the most important people in my life 35 years ago or so.  I find it incredible how much they still mean to me today.  Thanks guys, for the blast from the past!  And Denise, you owe me BIG TIME for the pictures of you that I did not use today.  Trust me!  :)

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Best Day in Ministry: Ashley Goad Broadhurst

Ashley Goad Broadhurst is one special human being.  I have known her since before she was old enough to be in a youth group.  I knew her when she was a part of the my youth ministry at Springfield Friends Meeting.  At some point in our relationship I renamed her Prudence Irwina Goad (P.I.G.) and still refer to her as Prudence whenever the mood hits me!  :)  She has been a very special part of my life for a very long time, and I am thrilled to have her share with us today.  You can find her on Twitter @broadhurstag, and read more about her current ministry @solarundersun.   Go get 'em Prudence!

When Carl first asked me to write about my “best day in youth ministry,” of course I jumped at the chance. As my youth pastor, Carl meant the world to me, and as a friend, I appreciate the support and prayers he offers me on a daily basis. After all, it’s easy to write about the best days, right? …

Until I sat down at a computer, however, I had no idea how hard of a task it would be! Just one day? My best day? How can I possibly narrow it down? I have served three amazing churches – Pine Hill Friends Meeting (NC), ChristChurch Presbyterian (TX), and Herndon UMC (VA) – and at each church, God blessed me more and more.

Thus, in the spirit of a Carl Jones blog, here is a tribute to my top ten days in youth ministry, in no particular order!

10.  HUMC Louisiana Mission Trip, June 2010
“Out of Chaos, Hope.” Flying from DC to New Orleans with a group of 30+ teenagers. Sleeping in “pods” designed by the Canadian army to hold heat IN. Working with a bunch of Presbyterians on disaster relief. Performing the “Box of Sin” skit for the first time. Taking a group of teenagers to Bourbon Street. Eating beignets at Café du Monde. These are the weeks youth pastors dream about. Making memories and solidifying relationships…all while loving God and serving others.

9. Any given Monday morning at 6:30am in 2003 & 2004…
The Pine Hill kids would meet me before school in the Fellowship Hall, where I would have a homemade breakfast cooking! While we were eating, we’d write prayer requests for the week on our designated page in the Youth Group Prayer Journal. One kiddo would then take the journal home and pray over us the whole week. These mornings were priceless, and I will cherish them forever. The youth group that prays together stays together!

CCP Mission Trip, Newport, TN
8. Thursday Night of CCP Mission Trips, 2005, 2006, 2007 & 2008
Our group loved working with Youthworks! Every Thursday night, to end the week of serving the community, we would gather for a final worship service and footwashing. The Youthworks staff would wash the adult leaders’ feet, and the adult leaders would then wash the feet of the youth and pray over them specifically. Kiah Townsend & Todd Horst, male chaperones extraordinaire, and I did this for four consecutive summers. God worked miracles on those nights. Tears, vulnerability, closeness, love and forgiveness… He taught us so much on those nights.

HUMC "Bible Study" Meeting
7. HUMC Monday Bible Studies, 2009 & 2010
If any of my HUMC youth read this, they will immediately laugh. Rarely did the Bible get studied during these Monday afternoon session. However, for a year and a half, this was the afternoon I looked forward to every week. Sitting around the table. Playing Phase 10. Talking relationship problems. Writing letters to Moises, our Compassion-sponsored child. Sneaking out for smoothies. As Carl would say, youth ministry is all about relationships, relationships, relationships, and this was our bonding time.

6. Campfire Sunday, Pine Hill Friends Meeting, 2004
Because two of my best friends were serving as youth pastors, we often had our groups gather for various events – lock-ins, trips to Carowinds & DisneyWorld, and an occasional PIG tournament. This Sunday, we invited the groups up to Ararat, NC. The bonfire was built, a band joined us to lead outdoor worship, hot dogs were roasted & s’mores were made… God was present, and I didn’t stop smiling for days.

1st CCP Beach Retreat
5. CCP Dr. Seuss Beach Retreat, June 2007
The Sneetches. The Lorax. Yertle the Turtle. Horton Hears a Who. Who better than Dr. Seuss to turn teenagers back into children and talk about the tough issues?! Combine this with a beautiful beach house, The Seabiscuit, an Iron Chef competition with mushrooms as the theme ingredient, strategic tanning and a sandcastle building contest the likes of which you have never seen… It was a week to never forget…and one we recreated each summer and winter thereafter.

4. Goin’ Bananas For Jesus, HUMC College Mission Trip, May 2010
Words cannot adequately describe this amazing week in Costa Rica. Sure there were challenges – lost passport, key team member arriving late due to said lost passport, running out of gas on the side of a dark mountain, and more monkeys than people. But our nightly devotions were based on the Fruit of the Spirit, and God worked overtime to create a loving atmosphere and friendships that turned into family.

CCP Youth in Matamoros, Mexico
3. Mission Trip to Mexico with ChristChurch Presbyterian, June 2006
I had been going to Matamoros, Mexico for years with North Carolina Yearly Meeting. Living and serving in Houston, TX, I could not wait to take the CCP Youth to meet Pastor Jorge Reyes and lead VBS. The kids, used to assisting with VBS at their home church, planned the entire event themselves – Bible stories, songs, games, crafts. As a youth pastor, I have never been so proud of a group.

2. Interns
Is there anything better in ministry than interns? When you Google “best interns,” you will find the pictures and bios of Claire Sparks (CCP, 2007 & 2008) and Sean Devolites (HUMC, 2010). They embodied servant leadership, their hearts were full of love for the youth they empowered, and on a daily basis, they made my life easier. They were youth who turned into interns who turned into colleagues who turned into friends. Again, how lucky am I?

 Interns Claire (left) and Sean (right).

1. Phone Calls, Text Messages, Office Chats and Skype Sessions
Though I’m not in youth ministry professionally anymore, not a day goes by that I do not hear from several students. So many have grown up, graduated high school and college, and many of them I consider amongst my closest friends. I cannot tell you how much that warms my heart. God knew exactly where to place me. He fostered the relationships, and allows us to continue to grow together and grow toward Him. It really is the best JOB in the world filled with too many “best days” to count!

~Ashley Broadhurst