Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Very Best of SNL

There are few shows in the history of television that have been as influential on popular culture as Saturday Night Live!  NBC's Saturday Night (the original title) first hit the airwaves in the fall of 1975.  I was a junior in high school, and the show spoke directly to my generation.  The very first episode was hosted by the late George Carlin, one of the funniest (and often most profane) comedians ever to grace a stage, and he was the prefect choice- because he made people nervous.  For those first few years the show often did the same!  Over the months that followed we met a wonderful cast of characters known as The Not Ready For Prime Time Players. We fell in love with them all, and made Chevy Chase the first break-out star of the show.  And now, 37 years later, SNL is still going strong.  Or at least still going...

A little over a week ago SNL had it's season finale, and with that came the annual departure of some of our favorite actors.  This particular year there has been much fanfare over the departure of Kristen Wiig.  For the past several years she has been the featured player in the cast, seemingly in every skit.  She has had a number of recurring characters and has seemed to be the anchor of the show.  Lately I have read numerous blogs and articles proclaiming her the MVP of SNL and wondering how the show will survive without her.  I have even seen it suggested that she is one of the top 5 SNL cast members of all time. While Ms. Wiig is a very funny lady at times, and has indeed been very important to the show these past years, I feel the need to comment on the suggestion that she is one of the top 5 cast members ever to grace Studio 8-H.  So I will quote the great Wayne Campbell- "Kristen Wiig is superior to most of the actors ever to appear on SNL... NOT!"

It is not an overstatement to say I could get to number 30 on such a list before her name would even come up for consideration.  It is fair to say that women and minorities have not always been given top billing on the show, and she has helped change that perception. But still- I would not even put her at the top of the most recent cast.  Bill Hader has been simply brilliant for several years now.  This is a show that has brought us some of the great characters in the history of TV, and none of them were hers. The list of names that Don Pardo has called out over the years is a "Who's Who" of comedy.  Trying to make a Top 10 list of my favorite SNL players is a daunting task.  I asked on Twitter for people to submit their favorites, and many did. Some of them made my list.  But just think about some of the names they suggested that I am leaving off:  Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Jane Curtain, Joe Piscopo, Dennis Miller, Adam Sandler, Jimmy Fallon, Mike Myers, Amy Poehler, Victoria Jackson, Martin Short, Will Forte, Rachel Dratch, Billy Crystal, Tim Meadows, Kevin Nealon, Molly Shannon, Horatio Sans, Chris Rock, Julia Sweeney, Darrell Hammond, Tracy Morgan, Rob Schneider, Cheri Oteri, Jason Sudeikis, Ana Gasteyer, Any Samberg, David Spade and Maya Rudolph.  Wow!  Do you remember that Robert Downey, Jr, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Paul Shaffer, Ben Stiller, Joan Cusack, Damon Wayans and Senator Al Franken were all once on the show?  Steve Martin got a bunch of votes from Twitter, but I had to leave him off the list because he was actually never in the cast!  That's right- he has always been a guest host, as have Alec Baldwin, Tom Hanks and Justin Timberlake!  To be fair, I must confess the Kristen Wiig did get one vote.  I do this not to bash on her, but to remind us all not to be prisoners of the moment and think that the latest is in any way the best or the funniest- because it is simply not true.  So here's my list.   It is just my personal opinion. and it is based on the show, not on their post-SNL careers. As always, my Top 10 list features 11 names.  Here we go, in no particular order...

  1. Chris Farley
  2. Eddie Murphy
  3. Gilda Radner
  4. Will Ferrell
  5. Dana Carvey
  6. John Belushi
  7. Phil Hartman
  8. Tina Fey/Jan Hooks
  9. Jon Lovitz
  10. Dan Aykroyd
So there is my list. Let me know who you think I am wrong about and who you think needs to be added.  Let the debate begin!!!  And keep thinking, because next week we will list our favorite recurring characters!  Anyone remember Emily Litella or Toonces the Driving Cat?  :)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Remembering Rich

In 1990 I spent a week at a youth conference in NC where I was the music/worship leader.  The speaker that week was a guy named Rich Mullins. The influence he had on my life and my ministry was tremendous.  Along with Mike Yaconelli, Rich was one of the two guys I was ever around who just oozed Jesus.  I find myself thinking quite often lately about what Rich would have to say to the Church here in 2012, because as with most everything Rich said, I think it would be so close to the words of Christ.  Listen to this quote from one of his final concerts: 

"Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken..." 

Rich didn't just say those words, he lived them. He moved from the music scene in Nashville to Wichita, Kansas in 1991, where he attended Friends University and received a B.A. in music education.  He and fellow Ragamuffin Mitch McVicker (the Ragamuffins were the band he had formed in 1993) moved to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico in 1995 to live among the Native Americans and teach music.  For Rich, "What Would Jesus Do?" was not a bracelet- it was the driving question of his life.  And because I knew that, his music was a moving force and a comfort in my own spiritual journey.  At times when I struggled with my faith his song Creed reminded me "I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am."  At the lowest points of my life, when I had let down everyone who loved me and everyone who believed in me, his words reminded me that "There's bound to come some trouble to your life, just reach out to Jesus and hold on tight..." As I lost so many of the things that had been important to me, I found myself praying his words daily:  "Hold me, Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf.  You have been King of my glory, won't you be my Prince of Peace?"  So many of his words showed me the light of Jesus in my darkest times.  No matter how bad it seemed, I knew I was still in"the reckless, raging fury that we call the love of God..."  Even his final project, The Jesus Record (see picture at top), promised me that "our Deliverer is coming..."

Rich was killed in a car accident on September 19, 1997.  I cried, but Rich himself had already written about going to be with Jesus in his early classic Elijah"When I leave I want to go out like Elijah, with a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire.  And when I look back on the stars, it'll be like a candlelight in Central Park- and it won't break my heart to say goodbye..."  He left such a legacy in my life.  I am proud to call myself a Ragamuffin, a bum who is only important because of the love of Jesus.  And I know that my task is to share that love with our world.  Thanks, Rich- for so many things.  But especially for the music.  What is your favorite Rich Mullins song?  May his music move each of us to let our lives speak to this world about "the reckless, raging fury that we call the love of God..."  

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pharaoh, Pharaoh

In 1989 I began to hear stories about a great new youth group song that was sweeping the nation.  There is still disagreement on just how new it was and as to exactly who wrote it, but in any case it was new to me.  The song was called Pharaoh, Pharaoh, a song about Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt.  It was set to the tune of the old 60s classic Louie, Louie.  I first heard the song at the Youth Specialties NYWC in Orlando that year, and immediately took it back to my students at Springfield Friends Meeting.  We always sang it a bit differently than everyone else, and we always used the words I learned the first time I heard it.  There are many variations; just check YouTube to see what I mean.  Our version was always a bit wilder and a bit more raw than the other versions we heard at the time- less like a Sunday School song and much more like the sound of the original Louie, Louie.  At some point I was inspired to add a section, the now infamous Hang On Pharaoh (to the tune of Hang On Sloopy) bridge.  We were still singing this song on occasion when I left student ministry in 2007.  Below are the lyrics we used and the the only video I could find that was even close to the way we would sing it back in the day.  Few songs could get a youth room hopping quite like Pharaoh...

CHORUS:  Pharaoh, Pharaoh, ohhh baby let my people go (UH!)
I-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi  (Repeat)

A burning bush told me just the other day
that I should come over here and stay
Gotta get my people out of Pharaoh's hands
and lead them all to the promised land!


Well me and God's people comin' to the Red Sea
and Pharaoh's army coming after me
I raised my rod and stuck it in the sand
and all of God's people walked across dry land!


And the Egyptians sang...
Hang on Pharaoh, Pharaoh hang on... (Repeat as often as you like)

Old Pharaoh's army was a comin' too
so what do yu think that I did do?
I raised my rod and I cleared my throat (hbhbbbhbb)
and all of Pharoah's army did the dead man's float!!!


I hope you are enjoying these Tuesday youth group musical flashbacks as much as I am.  These songs were such a big part of my life.  These posts sure makes me want to break out the guitar and get folks singing with me again.  I mentioned that Pharaoh often rocked youth rooms from High Point to Kissimmee, and from Chicago to Tampa.  But nothing...NOTHING...rocked a youth room or the Quaker Lake fireplace room quite like Lahaina!  That memory is coming next Tuesday...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, May 28, 2012


It's Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who have fallen while serving their country.  We will remember these men and women of valor in many ways.  There will be flags and parades.  There will be picnics and barbeques.  There will be endless marathons of war movies and patriotic songs.  There will be time spent with family and friends.  But the primary message of the day, the reason we gather, is to remember.  

As this day passes I hope you will take time to do two things.  One is to pause, be still and silent, and say a word of thanks for all those who have served and sacrificed.  It is their day.  So please, REMEMBER.

The second thing I ask of you involves LOOKING FORWARD.  Pray for our leaders and our country, that we will take great pause and use better judgement before sending brave women and men into harm's way in the future.  Let us be ever vigilant in praying for the prophecy of Isaiah 2:4- God shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

Because of Jesus (The Prince of Peace),

Sunday, May 27, 2012

I Shot the Bishop

John, Todd, Pat & Keith Willis
Several months had passed after the big visit from our Bishop and the burning of the mortgage on the Administration Building at FUMC-K.  The story of Pastor John Willis mistakenly referring to me as a Mormon to our DS and our Bishop had spread throughout the congregation and had become a huge inside joke for us all.  The youth were sponsoring one of our famous Coffeehouses, which always drew big crowds of church members.  Quietly, behind the scenes and unknown to the rest of the staff, I had been working on a Video the Bishop song- just as Ginny Johns had suggested (see yesterday's post).  While the lyrics had almost nothing in common with the truth, the song is one of my favorites.  And just think how much more memorable that day would have been if it had really happened this way! Here is Video the Bishop;  words and music (which you can't hear) by me.

I headed for the church on a clear winter's day
Hoping to hear what my Bishop had to say
As I cruised through Kissimmee in my old pick-up truck
I was praying that the Bishop might just bring me some luck

You see I'm out of a job and my dog has the flu
And my children belong in the Gatorland Zoo
So I'm hoping for help from the good LORD up above
I want to be famous and showered with love

We arrived at the church, just my pick-up truck and me
The place was so crowded that no one could see
I climbed up on my truck to secure a good view
When a man tossed me a camera and said "Boy, here's what to do..."

Video the Bishop from your pick-up truck
It's your ticket to wealth and fame
You'll probably be remembered in story and song...
As the man who shot the Bishop from the rear of a pick-up truck

The Bish began to speaking and I zoomed in to see
He was making his last statement, he was issuing a plea
I just kept on taping, he never saw me standing there
As he grabbed a piece of paper and waved it in the air

"This is the church mortgage," he said waving it to and fro
"We're now going to burn it 'cause you finally raised the dough!"
He set fire to the paper and put it in the urn
The crowd began to cheer and the flame began to burn

The flame kept getting higher and fear spread all around
It seemed that the Bishop might just burn our building down
And I just kept on shooting as the crowd began to run
Focusing on the Bishop and all that he had done

Video the Bishop from your pick-up truck
 It's your ticket to wealth and fame

You'll probably be remembered in story and song...
As the man who shot the Bishop from the rear of a pick-up truck

So now I'm rich and famous, and it just goes to show
That anyone can win on America's Favorite Videos
Yes, even MORMONS can win, on America's Favorite Videos!

When I finished, the crowd was in hysterics.  John and Pat Willis were laughing so hard I was afraid they would pass out.  I only performed the song twice, and the Bishop heard of it but never got to hear it.  Maybe someday when my album comes out...  I just know that for many, the song was more memorable than the actual day.  It's always nice to re-write history.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Video the Bishop (A Vintage Post)

I blogged this story back in 2010, but it has been on mind again since attending the General Conference of the United Methodist Church here in Tampa a few weeks ago.  I was surrounded by Bishops!  It is certainly worth telling again...

The newest building on campus (about 5 years old) at FUMC-Kissimmee when I arrived in 1994 was the Administration Building.  It housed the offices of the majority of the church staff, the church library, a conference room and a couple of classrooms on the bottom floor.  The second floor contained my office, several more classrooms and the Youth Room (That's the custom-made giant bulletin board I had built for the youth room pictured on the left).  The Youth Room (then known unofficially as the attic; now known officially as The Attic) was a gigantic space, with a pool table, ping-pong table. video games, big screen TV and monster stereo system.  It had a folding wall you could use to cut the room in half (known as the $10,000 wall; anytime it was up I had to threaten the students with an "if you break it you buy it" speech) and plenty of room for games and small groups.  It was a great space with only one major problem.  The youth room was located directly over the church offices, and there was no sound insulation between the floors.  So when we walked in the youth room, they heard it downstairs.  When we played games like the Technicolor Stomp, the whole building shook.  Summers, when we were often up there everyday, were hard times for church staff trying get work done...

Sometime during my first year on staff the church received an anonymous (well, I know who it was, but I'm not telling!) donation of over $600,000 to pay off the debt on that building.  It was an amazing gift that would free the church to spend more on ministry.  It was decided that a Sunday morning would be set aside to celebrate the gift and burn the mortgage on the building, as well as to consecrate it.  The date was set around the schedules of our District Superintendent (DS) and the Bishop of the Florida Conference.  Having been Quaker most of my life, I didn't really understand how significant it was that the Bishop was going to be there, but everyone was very excited.  Looking back now I think it was the only time in my 12 years working at UMC churches that a Bishop visited on a Sunday morning.  One Tuesday in staff meeting we were discussing the actual ceremony, which was going to be held outside the Administration Building.  Pastor John Willis wanted to make sure that the entire thing was filmed, and we began to discuss how we could best accomplish this task.   Someone suggested that we put a cameraman in the back of a truck so he (or most likely she; I am sure Pat Pribyl got stuck with the job!) would be elevated and have a good angle on the Bishop and the flaming mortgage note.  Our church administrator, Ginny Johns, then set in motion events that would change memories of the mortgage burning forever.  She said, "Hmmm... Video the Bishop from a pick-up truck.  Sounds like it ought to be a country song..."  And then they all looked at me...

The Sunday morning came and went without a hitch.  The note was burned, we had wonderful worship services, and the DS, the Bishop and their wives had lunch at the parsonage with the Willis family.  At some point during the post-meal conversation, John remarked that the staff at FUMC-K was really coming together, and that they might be interested to know that the new youth pastor was a MORMON.  Not Quaker, but MORMON.  John's son, high school senior Todd Willis, heard his dad's mistake but decided it would be more fun NOT to correct it (if the story I was told later is accurate).  Apparently both the DS and the Bishop along with both of their wives turned pale, and someone asked, "Really?  A Mormon?"  John still didn't hear his faux pas and began to tell them all about me.  Finally the truth came out, and everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief.  The DS said later that he was ready to schedule a meeting with John to talk abut his future- and mine!  I have always thought that John did me a favor- by the time they found out I was Quaker that seemed fairly normal.  It was something we could laugh about later.

So the debt was paid, the building was dedicated, the note was burned and we moved on from the Mormon incident.  But there was still the matter of the song...  Join us tomorrow for the rest of the story!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, May 25, 2012

Summer 101: The Whole Enchilada!

Over the past few months as I have shared my thoughts on summer youth ministry in this Summer 101 series, I have had more than a few people ask me how many of these events I might do in any given summer.  The answer, of course, is ALL OF THEM!  For me, summer was always a time to go absolutely crazy and give yourself as many opportunities as possible to build relationships and expose the students of your church and your community to the love of God whose name is Jesus.  So to wrap up the series and answer the question "What exactly did a Carl planned summer ministry look like?," I will share with you The Whole Enchilada!  Hang on...and remember, summer ministry is not about who can't and won't be there.  It's about all of those who can!

Beginning in 1987, every summer began with the publication of a summer booklet (you can see 3 covers on this post; note the fancy rub-on lettering on the 1989 verison) with a theme and a calendar. The calendar was mostly for parents; the booklet described events in detail and had contests and a lot of silliness. I would usually get it in the mail a month before school let out.  I would begin to advertise on the Youth Group Hotline, or in the later years have the website ready for summer at that time as well.  Of course publicity and sign-ups for the big trips would have already happened, but the bulk of the summer ministry would be announced in the booklet.  Here is a brief synopsis of everything we did in an average summer. This listing is out of the 1999 booklet from FUMC-Kissimmee, my last summer there.  Links are provided to help you understand my personal glossary of terms. The specifics changed from year to year, of course, but this will give you the general idea of how my summers went for nearly 20 years...

* A kick-off Progressive Dinner to welcome our new middle school students.
* The annual Chain of Prayer.
* Our Schoolzout Blowout trip to Atlanta for Six Flags and a Braves game.
* Wonderama, featuring a live band, Gladiator Jousting and a Velcro Wall.
* The Great Race, with the winning team earning a Kitchen Sink on the Disney Dash Ice Cream Bash coming later that summer.  (For perspective you should note that all of the other events listed above took place the first week of summer vacation!)
* Middle School Madness, 3 separate events for middle school students only.  In 1999 this included a Video Scavenger Hunt and a Mall Invasion!
* SHO-Time at the All-Star Cafe, Macaroni Grill and Roadhouse.
* Wednesday Night Live!  This was our weekly mid-week meeting. The first hour was bible study, which in 1999 featured the theme Sold Out For Jesus.  The second hour was for playing games, hanging out and occasionally hula dancing. But mostly 4- Square- the old school version.
* Our summer Mission Trip was a 6 day adventure to Nashville to work with the Center for Student Ministry.  An awesome trip, by the way.
* We also had local mission projects.  We spent a morning picking up trash in our church's neighborhood.  We worked to raise money for Graciela, the little girl from Bolivia we sponsored through Compassion International.  We volunteered a day at the Orlando Second Harvest Food Bank.  And every Sunday morning for the 8:30 worship service a team of our students taught Children's Church for 5-8 year olds.
* Almost all of our youth served as teachers and helpers at Vacation Bible School.
* The annual Youth Week was one of our biggest ever. To read specifics of that week, click here!
* We had both Babes Night Out (females only...although the guys would try to crossdress and tag a long!) and Dudes Night Out.
* Three days were set aside to do One on One, where students could sign-up for an hour of my time and we would grab a coke or a milk shake and just hang out. These were very popular days, especially for the kids who signed up first and got the breakfast and lunch appointments!
* There was a "Carl's going to a movie" Night.  I announced I was going, told anyone interested to meet at the church at a certain time, and then we went.  I did not tell them in advance what we were seeing.  A Mystery Event!
* We had a small group, overnight spiritual growth event called The Radical Sabbatical.
*  Our Sunday night UMYF continued to meet each week for worship, study and fellowship.
* On 2 Sundays we would stretch our UMYF time out and do what we called SNAC- Sunday Night After Church!  One night we did a movie (Short Circuit) and world's largest bowl of popcorn; the other night was the famous Disney Dash Ice Cream Bash
* There was, of course, a Movie Marathon!  In 1999 it featured movies from Outer Space!
* Each summer we would set aside a night for a large group to go eat at our favorite Japanese restaurant, Kyoto's.  1999 was no exception. 
Myrtle Beach, 1999
* 45 of us participated in Myrtle Beach Days, a week-long excursion to the Betsy B.
* We did one day at Walt Disney World and another day at Cocoa Beach. (If you are keeping score, there were 75 days of summer vacation that year, and we had some sort of youth event on 70 of those days...)
* And even though technically it was after school started back , our summer ended as it always did in those years- with the Last Gasp Summer Blowout at Melbourne Beach.

Ahh... SUMMER!  The absolute best time of the year for youth ministry.  Most churches, youth pastors and student ministries are probably neither prepared for nor interested in doing The Whole Enchilada.  But I do hope maybe this bit of madness will inspire you to kick your summer up a notch.  Blessing to all, and have a wonderful weekend!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wake Up Rastus

Congratulations to Phillip Phillips, the new American Idol.  I may have mentioned that I predicted he would win the night he auditioned back in January.  It is so nice to be right once every 5 years or so...

My Grandpa Jones (who died in 1983) was a working man, a truck and boat mechanic in eastern NC.  He told me a joke over and over again when I was a child, and I have never forgotten it.  The names used were the names of 2 of his best friends, both truck drivers.  My friends and I often used the punch line to describe dire situations.  It goes like this...  

A man named Sam was applying for a job as a truck driver. He had passed the driving test and been through several interviews, and had arrived in the office of the "big boss" for one last sit down.  The boss said he had one final scenario to present to see how Sam might handle pressure.  He described the following situation: "You are driving on a steep mountain road.  There are only 2 lanes.  On one side of the road is a sheer rock mountain.  On the other side is a 500 ft. drop. As you go around one of the big curves, you suddenly see another truck coming at you in your lane. What will you do. Sam?"  Sam scratched his head and thought for a minute, and then asked, "Where's Rastus?"  The boss asked him who Rastus was, and Sam replied that Rastus was his partner.  A little annoyed at the question, the boss blurted out that Rastus was asleep in the back of the truck.  Sam nodded, and then sat quiet for a moment.  Then he gave the boss his answer- "I'd wake up Rastus."  The boss was dumbfounded.  "What possible good could that do!  Why would you wake up Rastus?"  Sam smiled at the man, laughed and then replied, "Because he ain't NEVER seen a wreck like this!"

A friend of mine asked me the other day my opinion on the current state of the Church in USAmerica.  His query came from having just read articles proclaiming both Rob Bell and Rick Warren as heretics.  His concerns came from watching the squabbling and in-fighting over issues such as homosexuality and abortion, not as sin issues but a political issues.  It arose from seeing his own church rewrite the answer to the question once asked of Jesus"So who is my neighbor?"  My friend has a point.  Things are not good at many levels of the Christian church in our nation.  In fact, it often seems as if it may be time to wake up Rastus. The church seems to be on a collision course not with culture or with sin, but with itself.  And if we do crash and burn, it will be ugly.

Jesus made following him so simple (not easy, but simple), and yet we insist on complicating it.  When asked the greatest commandment, he responded, "Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself."  When asked who our neighbors are, his answer was a resounding EVERYONE!  Christianity was never meant to be based on personal theology, politics or denominational values. It was meant to be based on loving one another, caring for one another, enabling one another and making peace with one another.  I believe God is in control.  It is not too late for us to figure this out, to get the message across that the Church is here and ready to love everyone.  It is not too late to let go of our own pettiness and power struggles and turn the Church of Jesus Christ back over to the big boss- Jesus himself!  If we will stop leading and start following, then we can let Rastus sleep.  If we insist on doing this our way, then we better go ahead and wake him up.  "Because he ain't NEVER seen a wreck like this..."

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Main Thing

While I am proud I have been posting here for over 1000 days now, there is one problem that is becoming a concern.  I can't remember everything I have posted anymore.  I don't mind intentionally re-posting on occasion, but I would like to know I am doing it.  Between the sheer number of posts and the fact that my mind is over 52 years old, I am realizing I have to pay close attention to anything that feels a little too familiar.  Today was one of those days, and as I looked back through some my earlier posts, I was reminded of just how often I have written about the importance of relationships and fellowships in youth ministry.  And you know what?  I am going to do it again...

Back on May 30, 2010, I wrote a post called Uncredited Glory.  In it I quoted the great Maya Angelou- "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."  Over the past two and a half years I have continued to discover that this is absolutely true about student ministry.  I have reconnected with dozens of students who have so many kind words for me, and almost none of them involve what they learned or what we studied.  They can remember trips and retreats, but what they remember about them are the people they shared them with.  They remember worshiping and singing together. Together!  What they really remember, and what they always say to me, is that they felt loved. They felt loved by me and by the other adults who served in ministry beside me.  They felt loved by one another and built some amazing, lasting relationships.  And most importantly, they felt loved by Jesus.  And all of these years later, those things remain.  When you remember that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, youth ministry works.  It's not rocket science.  It's relationships.

Out of all of the kind words, encouragement and loving support that has been shared with me in the comment section of this blog, I have to admit there is one that brings tears to my eyes every time I read. It was left on that May 30, 2010 post by someone with the initials KW.  I confess I do not know who that is.  If it was true for even a small percentage of the students who passed through my ministries over the years, then I did my job.  The writer said, "I never entered a room you were in when I did not feel loved. When you are 13-17 years old and don't really like yourself, that is an amazing thing. Thank you, CJ!"  Isn't that the main thing in youth ministry- to insure that those often hard to love creatures we know as teenagers know the love of God whose name is Jesus, and that they experience that love through relationships with us and through each other?  It has been said that "Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship."  We need to start doing ministry like we believe that!  Only then will the youth we serve find way to pass that love on to the world.  Let me close with this paraphrase of Paul from his first letter to the church at Corinth: "Love never fails.  True friendships and relationships based in the love of Jesus shall not falter.  Theological knowledge and church doctrine will come and go. Great sermons will be forgotten.  Ski trips and locks in will pass. Soon the egg and armpit relay will be no more.  The things we learn as children often disappear as we become adults.  But these things never change and always remain- faith, hope and love.  And the greatest of these is love."  

I remain convinced that the best way to lead students into a relationship with our Savior is to simply show them his love through relationships you build with them and their friends.  Because it is true- The main thing is keep me the main thing the main thing. Or in other words, "It's all about Jesus..."

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Create In Me A Clean Heart, Oh God..."

One of my very favorite youth group worship songs was a little chorus called Create In Me.  I often used it to close out singing and worship times, because it was such a simple prayer.  This was yet another song I learned from the godfather of group singing, Yohann "YO" Anderson, the man behind the Songs & Creations songbooks. It was written by Mary Rice Hopkins, who went on to become a very popular writer and singer of children's songs. I was blessed to hear her sing it in person once in the middle of the exhibit hall at a NYWC.  Even in the midst of that chaos, the song created a sacred space. It is based on Psalm 51:10-12 which reads:

Create in me a pure heart, O God
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
Do not cast me from your presence 
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation 
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Psalm 51 is a song of David.  David is one of the great men of the Old Testament.  He slayed Goliath.  He became King of the people of Israel.  He led his people through many difficult times and many terrible battles.  He was called "a man after God's own heart."  He wrote many of the Psalms.  He also committed adultery and had the husband of the woman killed.  In other words, David was like us.  Sometimes a sinner, sometimes a saint.  And that is what makes these words so special.  David knew he needed his heart cleaned- just as we all do!  And we know we cannot do it on our own.  We need Jesus.

I don't know that I ever played and sang this song without getting at least one tear in my eye.  Most often I was looking out at a youth group singing along with me, and I could not help but sing this song for the students that I knew were lost and hurting.  Over the past few years, it has become a daily prayer for me.  "Create in me a clean heart, O God, that I might serve you..."  Enjoy the song, as performed by Mary.  I invite you to pray this prayer with me today and every day.

Because of Jesus,

Monday, May 21, 2012

1000 Days

Today is my 1000th consecutive day of posting on this site.  1000 days is a long time, and a milestone I never expected to reach.  Readers like YOU are what has made this worthwhile for me, and I wanted to take this chance to thank you all, and to share these thoughts...

On August 26, 2009, I decided to start a blog.  The decision was not inspired by any awesome revelation from God, or by any encouragement from family and friends.  It was inspired by a viewing of the movie Julie & Julia with my wife.  After seeing the impact blogging had on the life of the Julia character (a true story, by the way) I decided that perhaps it was time for me to get busy with making something of the rest of my life- and a blog seemed like a good place to start.  Who knew that Amy Adams would change my life?!   By August of 2009, it had been over 2 years since my life had fallen apart and I had ceased to be a youth pastor.  I had spent a lot of that time secluded, afraid of how old friends and former students would react to the things I had done. It was becoming clear to me that I needed to forgive myself (which is still an ongoing struggle), to let go of my past and see what God had in store for my future.  I felt like it was time to tell my story and face whatever lay in front of me.  And that is what I have attempted to do for these past 1000 days.

In the beginning, my modest goal was to blog every day for one year.  I just wanted to tell stories about the people and places who had made my life so special.  I wanted to tell the stories of faith that made me who I am.  I wanted to tell the stories of my failures.  And I have done all of that.  In the process, I discovered a whole new ministry of encouragement with friends old and new.  God has used the blog to renew my soul and my spirit, to reconnect me with people I love, and to get me back in the game of life in big way.  It has been more than I could have ever hoped for.  I have written about spiritual things, humorous things, old friends, youth ministry, movies, baseball and so much more. I have built my own Youth Group Hall of Fame. I have learned just how precious and valuable a comment is, a fact which prompted to me start #CommentDay. There have been over 30 guest posts and more than a few rants.  I have shared the stories of some great triumphs, and of my own personal abject failure.  But right from the very beginning, my great hope was that these posts would, in their own ways, always point to Jesus.  I am so blessed to have had so many of you share in this journey, and I would love to hear your thoughts on your favorite moments from these first 1006 posts and first 1000 days.  To close, I would like to share a few excerpts from the very first post. It reminds me of where I came from, and excites me about where I hope we are going.  That first post was called So Here's the Deal...

Walt Disney once famously said about the company that bears his name "never forget that it all started with a mouse." The life/ministry story that will be shared through this blog, that of Carl Jones, might be summed up by saying it all ended with a mouse- and a keyboard. But life, and faith, are not about the destination. They are all about the journey. And the journey can be very messy. There are roadblocks and detours, and bridges that wash out along the way. Everyone has struggles and failures. The late Dan Fogelberg wrote:
"Along the road your steps may stumble
Your thoughts may start to stray
But through it all a heart held humble
Levels and lights your way..."

For those of us seeking to be disciples of Jesus, the Christ, this is particularly clear when we look at the lives of the disciples. They often stumbled. They seldom knew what Jesus was talking about. And they sinned, despite walking daily with the Son of God. But they persevered, and in the end they changed the world in the name of Jesus. And thus it has been for me. My life had been filled with enormous successes and happiness as well as miserable failure. But through it all, the light of Christ has illuminated the path.

So I begin this story by telling you that I am secure in my destination. I know that I know that I know that through grace I have been saved. This blog will be about the journey. It's about finding joy in the journey, and understanding how God works among us. And most importantly, it's about how the overwhelming, ridiculous grace of Jesus Christ is available to even the chief of sinners like me. The stories I will share here are true.  I hope they will make you think and make you smile, for many of them are humorous.  After all, no matter how you look at it, life is funny.  I mean I'd laugh- but all this happened to me!

Yesterday I read somethings that really resonated with me, and I will close with it: "When you stumble, just make it a part of the dance."  I have often stumbled over the past 1000 days, but I have loved doing the dance.  Thanks for dancing with me.  May we always allow the LORD of the Dance to lead us...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Home Where She Belongs

Last Sunday on Mother's Day I told you about my "other" mother, Gene Semmler, and her battle with cancer.  Gene passed away yesterday afternoon.  Her son, my long-time best friend Steve, called me from NC with the news last night.  I immediately texted the news to a couple of other old friends, Beth McGalliard and Denise Langley, that I knew would want to know.  While we were texting, Steve called them as well.  We all talked about our connections and our love for one another, and for Gene and her husband Hank.  I hate that I cannot be in NC to be with my friends- and especially Steve and his brother Carl.  If my situation were different, I would be hitting the road first thing this morning. I want to be there so badly.  But my situation is what it is, and I cannot go.  And that (pardon the expression) sucks.

Steve's words to me last night when he called was that Gene's passing was "neither unexpected nor unwelcome."  I remember those feelings well from seeing my own father so sick in his last days.  As I thought and prayed last night, I was reminded of a song I had not thought of in a very long time.  Another friend of ours from that same high school/college period of my life, Alan Brown, was asked to sing the song Home Where I Belong at a funeral once, and I remember how emotional the song made me.  Suddenly last night, 30 years later, the lyrics came flooding back to me and I was comforted once again.  Gene has gone home.  She will not suffer anymore, and she is safe in the arms of a loving God.  I will always remember all that she and her family meant to my life, and I will mourn her passing.  But I know that this is not good-bye, it is only "See you later."  My prayers are with Steve, Carl and Hank as they face this together.  Enjoy the song. Pay close attention to the lyrics on the video.  Celebrate with me the life of Gene Semmler.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Saturday Shout Outs!

Hi Ho, boys and girls, and welcome to another edition of my Saturday Shout Outs!  If you are looking for the news, views and who's whos then you have come to the right place- as long as you re interested in people I know and love. Because that is what the Shout Outs are all about- keeping up with the incredible people who have been and are part of my life!  As long as your expectations are low, I will try to live up to them.  :)  We've got a lot to cover, so here we go...

*  My Twitter buddy John Claybrook wrote a blog post this week about a special song he has written called Free To Breathe.  The song is about his cousin Kara who died at age 20 of Cystic Fibrosis. It went on sale on I-Tunes yesterday for 99 cents, and a portion of the proceeds will go to CF research. Please check out his post, then go buy the song.  John is a part of a very special group of friends, including Christie Weatherby, Jenn Ganley, Stacey, Robert Damron and Jason Huffman, who are known as the #StraightJacketMafia.  We are all currently sporting hooded, sunglassed pictures as out Twitter avitars.  Here is mine.  Jamie Robinson (Springfield Friends Meeting) tweeted than my pic is "Awesomeness!"  I think maybe goofiness is a better word...   :)
*  Please continue to keep the Semmler family and my friends Steve and Carl in your prayers.  For more on this, check out Mother's Day Prayers.
*  We also want to lift up Sally Hollingsed (FUMC-Kissimmee) and her battle with cancer.  To ready her story and contribute to the fundraising project to help her receive further treatment, click here.
Todd (right) with Heather Beggs 
*  We are very excited that we might get to see Todd Farlow (Springfield), his wife Meleah and their family this summer when they come down to visit WDW!  It is always so great to catch up with old friends. When are YOU coming to Florida?
*  To my dear friend Denise May Langley...there is only one like you, and YOU ROCK!  And remember, the fortune cookie has spoken!!!
*  Last weekend Lisa Kraus Spires (FUMC-K) and her hubby Mike celebrated 11 years of marriage.  I remember that day as well, as I took off from O'Hare Airport in Chicago, flew once lap around the city and landed again- because our plane was on fire!  By the time we go a new plane and I arrived in Orlando and took a cab to the church, it was show time.  I put my luggage in Jill Augenblick's office and grabbed a seat.  I wouldn't have missed Lisa's wedding for anything.  Happy (belated) Anniversary, Lisa & Mike!
*  This morning at 7 AM I was part of a chain of prayer that is praying that the United Methodist Church can use Twitter to help change the world!  You can be part of this effort too!  Visit to sign up, or follow along at #CtWTweets.
Ashley & friend!
*  Our dear friend Ashley Goad Broadhurst (Springfield) has been to Haiti, Las Vegas, NC, VA, Texas and Arkansas just in the past few weeks.  It's hard to remember where she lives, but here is the only important part- she will be in Florida this summer, and I will get to see her!  Whooo-hooo!
*  Got to talk for a few minutes this past week with my old New Garden Friends Meeting youth group friend, Beth Vestal McGalliard.  We hadn't spoken in several years.  It felt like it had been 5 minutes.  True friendship lasts a lifetime.
*  For those who may not have heard, Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-K), Eric & Emma have been successfully transplanted to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area of Texas!  There is no proof of the rumors that Teresa already has big hair, cowboy boots and has started wearing those puffy square dance dresses. There is also no proof she hasn't...
*  Who knows why the number 1000 will mean something special on this blog on Monday?  Correct guesses could win a can of SPAM!!!
*  On this past Wednesday two of my very favorite people - Nina Mock and Zach Wehr (both Wesley Memorial UMC)- celebrated birthdays.  May 16 is indeed a special day!  Happy late birthday to both!
Dreaming of an FUMC-K Reunion...
*  Upon her induction to the Hall of Fame this past week, Jill Painter Watson suggested I plan a reunion ski trip for the FUMC-K crowd.  I was talking with Cyndi Reep Browning on Thursday and she was also talking about a reunion.  The subject just keep coming up. I think it is time to get serious.  Tampa has already hosted the UMC General Conference and will soon host the Republican Convention- so our reunion weekend should be a piece of cake. I nominate Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi to serve as head of the host committee.  I would also like to appoint Jill W, Cyndi B, Lisa S, Teresa T, Cindy MartinLauren Carr CacciatoreNate HillKelly Jeck TraceTodd Willis, Caitlin Esry and Josh Fry to the planning committee, along with any other interested parties.  Declining such a prestigious assignment is not an option...   :)
*  For anyone who watches American Idol, I would like to remind you that I picked Philip Philips to win the contest the night I saw him audition back in January (You can read my prediction here. Just scroll to the bottom of the post.).  He is now one of 2 finalists.  I may have a second career as a talent scout...

So that's it for now.  Leave comments, call, text, email or just shout really loud- I would love to hear from you!  See you soon!

Because of Jesus,