Tuesday, July 31, 2012

7 Things: How I Would Change the Olympics

The dog and I have been on our own for a full week now, and with 4 or 5 days left to go we seem to be surviving pretty well.  My friends Jerry and Lisa have provided me with so much transportation that I have nothing to whine about! The start of the London Olympics has also helped to occupy a great deal of what would have otherwise been some seriously boring downtime.  When home, I am pretty much glued to the TV. I even have trouble tearing myself away to go to bed at night.  My watching habits are not normal, I freely confess. I don't really care about watching sports that the USA team will dominate.  I prefer some of the lesser known stuff, and I love when underdogs win.  I actually prefer the Winter Olympics in some ways because our USAmerican athletes are almost always underdogs there.  In fact, it would make these games the best EVER if the USA loses a men's or women's basketball game (see below) to a country like Tunisia or Montenegro.  I have always been a huge fan of the Olympics, and that continues to be be true.  However...there are a few changes I would have made if I were in charge this time around.  What are they, you ask?  I am so glad you did!  Here are 7 subtle changes I might suggest...

  1. With these games in London, I feel the organizers missed a great opportunity by not bringing back jousting.  Knights in armor doing serious damage right on the front lawn of Buckingham Palace.  It would have been a ratings bonanza, and would have been less offensive than the reality show NBC keeps plugging that turns war into a reality show.  Plus it might have allowed the host country to dominate a sport...
  2. NBC should ban all political commercials for the duration of the games.  All of them.  Just when I feel my spirits soaring because some woman from Uganda pulled off a stunning upset in table tennis, I am brought crashing back to earth by some voice over yo-yo reminding me that Mitty says ping while Obama says pong.  For these 16 days it should be OK not to care. In fact, it should be applauded!   Thank you.
  3. In basketball, the USA teams are just too good. I think the scoring should be done on a curve to make it interesting again. For instance, the USA should have to win by 25 points or more or they actually lose.  Other teams should get bonus points if they are ahead at halftime. USA players should have to go in a penalty box after fouls so the other nations get 5 on 4 power play situations.  And intentional fouls against LeBron James should be perfectly legal.  And encouraged!  :)
  4. BRAVO is showing nothing but tennis.  Really?  Americans don't even watch Wimbledon anymore.  The NBC family of networks should set aside one channel that shows nothing but volleyball and beach volleyball 24/7. I would never go to bed.  And an all water polo network wouldn't be bad either...
  5. I love the swimming events and the still-to-come track events, but here's an idea to spice up both.  The relays are often the most exciting events, so why not add some coed relays?  Get the best women and men together on some 4x100 relays and see what happens!  I am betting it would be great fun.  And while we are at it, why not coed beach volleyball?  I think I am on to something with this one!
  6. I have always wondered how gymnastics scores would change if the judges had no idea who they were judging.  So here's my thought- make all the athletes wear the same uniform and mix them all together for the prelims.  Have them all wear some sort of mask and a number.  Make the judges deliver scores with no knowledge of who the contestant is or what nation they represent.  My guess is everything would change.  And while we are at it, go back to the old scoring system.  It had flaws I am sure, but at least idiots like me could understand it.  After the men's team finals last night I am more convinced than ever that they are making up rules as they go along.  And what is up with the color thing?  I actually heard an announcer say the other night that "the score is a 13.687, but it is in the yellow zone, so it may be good or it may be bad."  What the @*&% does that mean?  That's like saying someone scored a touchdown, but the ref didn't like his style- so it MAY only be worth 5 points.  Ridiculous.  I want my perfect 10 back. Nadia, where are you?
  7. They keep looking for entertainment pieces to play between sporting events, so here is my suggestion. Ryan Seacrest is working for NBC during the games, and Simon Cowell lives in London. so why not a do an American Idol type show using only the athletes of the games.  Who doesn't want to hear a sing-off between Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps?  My guess is Lochte will talk about how much better he is, but will find a way to not quite win (Cheap shot).  I am available for programming tips as needed, Peacock. 
Judo, badminton, table tennis, water polo, archery, target shooting, equestrian events, diving, fencing, boxing, cycling and weight lifting are just some of the sports I have watched this week that I will not watch again for another 4 years. And many more- including speed skating and indoor cycling- are still to come.  Keep it coming, London 2012! You had me at Bond and the Queen...

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Guitar Man

Over my 28 years of working with teenagers in the name of Jesus many things changed.  There was really only one constant. From my days at Center Friends Meeting in 1978,through the years at Quaker Lake Camp, New Garden Friends Meeting, New England Yearly Meeting, Springfield Friends Meeting, First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee, Union Church of Hinsdale, Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church and Trinity United Methodist Church, there was one ministry tool that was never far from my reach. I always had my guitar. I have been told numerous times over the past few years that my former youth and adult volunteers cannot think of me with out also thinking of my guitar. Singing goofy songs, teaching creative movement, leading worship and singing in church was a part of my life for all of those years. This is the story of those guitars...

I learned to play guitar on my Dad's 4-string tenor guitar (seen here being played by my son Will) in the mid-70's, because in that day and age everyone wanted to play acoustic guitar. I also wanted to learn so that I could someday lead singing and worship at Quaker Lake. When I began working at camp, my guitar was an Aria that I purchased at the Music Barn in Greensboro. I loved that guitar, but it was stolen out of my car one night when I was packing the car to move out of an apartment for the summer. I needed to to replace it quickly for camp, so (not having any money) I bought an Applause. The Applause was a cheap version of an Ovation, with a rounded fiberglass back and steel neck. It was perfect for QLC because it was indestructible. My buddy Jay Osborne once dropped it off the roof of the lodge and did no damage. I also didn't have to worry about it when I traveled. It was, in many ways, a perfect youth ministry guitar. I used it all of my 8 years at Springfield Friends Meeting, and TNT would not have been the same without it. However, it was not a great instrument. 

After my arrival at FUMC-K in 1994, my guitar became more important. I was leading music and worship at youth every week. I was helping lead an alternative worship service on Sunday mornings. I was recording songs with the puppet Hollywood. I wanted a new guitar, but I just could not afford one. Word got around that I needed a new guitar, and one day I found a note and a check in my mailbox in the church office. Sam Lupfer and Craig Lewis (parents of youth) had given me a financial gift with which to purchase a new guitar. It was an amazing act of generosity. I used the gift to purchase a Washburn (at left), a beautiful instrument that could also be plugged into sound systems for use in larger rooms. I was thrilled. The Washburn became my all-time favorite guitar. Leading singing in Kissimmee was a true blessing, and my new guitar became a faithful companion. 

In 2002 I was living in Tampa and decided to get a second guitar, so I bought a Alvarez. I began to use it more and more, and eventually the Washburn became a back-up. I still loved to play it, but it was now second-string. Around that same time I won a Baby Taylor guitar from the Jars of Clay website (it was a collector's item), and it became my travelling guitar. Suddenly, my old friend was third-string. The Washburn sat in its case, unused, for a couple of years.

When my ministry ended in Waycross and we moved back to Tampa in 2007, money was very tight. I took the Alvarez and the Baby Taylor (at right) to the local Guitar Center and sold them. I hated to do it, but it was what had to be done at the time. Once again, I was left with my Washburn- the one that had been such a gift from God back in my Kissimmee days. Once again, my old friend was the guitar that kept me company during some very long days. It is still my only guitar.

That guitar has been with me on sweet summer nights on the porch of the Betsy B; it was with me in Spanish Wells, at the Ocoee Inn and on many a Ski Trip. It was with me every week in the youth room of FUMC-K, leading the glorious singing that took place there. And now it is with me in my home in Tampa, bringing hope, comfort and joy. And now my son has learned to play it, and he plays it better than I do. That old guitar is still a dear friend.

Not many will admit it now, but most everyone from my generation who learned to play acoustic guitar was inspired by the late John Denver. His classic This Old Guitar (see video below) expresses many of my own thoughts, especially this closing verse.

This old guitar gave me life, my living, 
and all the things you know I love to do
To serenade the stars that shine from the sunny mountainside
And most of all to sing my songs for you, I love to sing my songs for you.

In my case, I loved to sings songs WITH all of you and FOR Jesus. Thanks, Sam and Craig. Your gift was far greater than you could ever understand. I was never a great guitar player. But I will always be a Guitar Man. Enjoy the video.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Before You Speak...

I spend a lot of time sharing my thoughts and opinions with the world.  I saw this and thought it should serve as a reminder to all of us who write, preach and pontificate, no matter the forum.

Because of Jesus, 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday Shout Outs!

Greetings and Salutations, citizens of the world!  I am inspired to have a global vision today after watching every minute of the London Olympics opening last night (more details below!).  I hope you are all well today and ready for another edition of the Shout Outs!  Here we go...

  • Marilyn & Will remain in NC on vacation- headed up to Elkin today.  It is interesting to note that my lovely wife, former sun-goddess and professional tanner, traveled from Florida to NC in order to get sunburned- this according to Will.  Meanwhile,  the dog and I are having a good time, but I am so thankful for all of the great friends who have kept me busy and provided me entertainment. Conner takes walks with me and even helped me mow the lawn yesterday, but otherwise, I rely on the kindness of friends.  And as you will see, they are coming through with flying colors!  But don't let up now- I still have a week to go!
  • I cannot tell you how much fun I had Monday and Tuesday visiting with Ashley Goad Broadhurst (Springfield Friends Meeting).  I loved hearing about her work with Solar Under the Sun, talking church politics, old friends and student ministry.  And I can't wait to meet her hubby when they are back in Central Florida in October!!!
  • Ashley was also part of the excitement of the Olympics last night.  She and Ann Saunders Hale (Springfield) were part of a Twitter conversation before the ceremonies began.  Then Lisa Jewett (Wesley Memorial UMC), Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-Kissimmee) and I texted throughout the broadcast.  And Will called to discuss.  Was the Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean)/Chariots of Fire bit the best or what???  And Sir Paul McCartney and 65,000 back-up singers doing Hey Jude was a perfect finish!
  • So many of my readers offered words of encouragement during my 24 hours of uncool.  I mean no air conditioning, The uncool part is still true!  :)  Thanks to all of you who cared.  I wish I could have seen you all to give you an extremely setting hug.  Sorry you missed out.
  • I really, reallly, REALLY wish they would have banned political commercials during the Olympics. It is so hard to celebrate the best in human achievement when it is interrupted every few minutes by stories of how rotten our two potential leaders are.  Two weeks of silence could have been so wonderful...
  • On Thursday, Jerry Hanbery (FUMC-K) came and took me to lunch.  We went to the Hibachi Buffet, and so Jerry joins Ashley, Lisa, Will and I on the list of people who think this is the greatest buffet in history. I many never get him to eat anyplace else in Tampa!  Book your reservations now!!!
  • Among the many people I have shared life with this week include Denise May, Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi, Jeremy Godwin, Todd Willis, Jennifer Wood Jones, Cyndi Reep Browning, Joanne Gastler, Jill Painter Watson and Marie Allen.  And that is not even counting the wonderful friendships of so many people on Twitter who encourage and support me everyday!  As I wrote earlier this week, it is really very cool Being Me.
  • And although I have already mentioned her once, I would be remiss not to thank Lisa Jewett, my personal chauffeur and dinner partner.  She has taken me to dinner a couple of times and even took me grocery shopping yesterday.  And she will help me out even more in the week to come.  Lisa, you are a gem!!!
  • If you are an alumni of the FUMC-Kissimmee group, then be sure and mark your calendars for April 20-21, 2013.  The reunion dates are set.  Another planning meeting will be set for September, so stay tuned!
  • You may have read that I am playing the guitar everyday trying to get my fingers back in shape, and have been playing a lot of classic old youth group songs?  If you were going to make a request, what song would you want me to be practicing?  Text 8139193755!
So there you have it.  I hope to hear from many of you in the coming week as I continue to survive yet another episode of Just Me & the Dog.  Have a blessed weekend!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sing Your Praise To the LORD!

Sing to the LORD a new song, for He has done marvelous things. 
 -Psalm 98

Yesterday afternoon I spent another half hour playing old youth group songs on my guitar.  I am sooooo out of "guitar shape." My fingers hurt so bad.  I have trouble remembering the old chord progressions.  But there is something so uplifting about playing and singing those songs.  The remind me what a loving God we serve.  They remind of great people and great moments from my past.  Even just sitting in our living room I found myself singing praise with a renewed gusto and passion.  I love that feeling. I love Jesus.

It has now been over five years since I stood in front of a congregation on a Sunday morning or a youth group on a Sunday afternoon.  There is so much I miss about student ministry;  I miss the relationships with the youth;  I miss the interactions with the youth counselors and the parents;  I miss the trips and the concerts and the programs.  But mostly  what I miss is leading worship with the youth.  I miss standing in front of a crowd with my guitar and leading them in singing praise to the Savior.  There is something magical about choosing a song, playing it, and having a group sing it. The picture at top is of me leading worship at the Kissimmee lakefront one of my very first Sundays there.  I love the picture and I treasure that memory.   When you are up front, the voices come at you like a wave.  You can actually feel the passion.  You look out into a sea of smiles, of raised hands and of prayerful faces.  The music is the medium; but what you feel is a connection to God and to one another.  So often (like yesterday) I remember those feelings, and I pray that God will use them to remind me of the blessings of my life, both then and now.

Of all the songs I have ever led, and all the places I have led them, nothing compares to leading Sing Alleluia with the youth of FUMC-K.  That simple little worship chorus, with the guys singing one part and the girls singing an echo, sounded like a symphony when they would sing it.  We sang a lot of great songs (Sanctuary, Prince of Peace, Lions, Radical Man. Where Justice Rolls Down and so many more) and sang a lot of them very well.  But Sing Alleluia was the song that always made it clear to everyone present that Jesus was with us "in that very room."  When I would quit playing the last time through and the acapela voices would fill the room, I had no doubt that the angels were singing with us.  So today, pause for a moment and remember to "sing alleluia to the Lord."  Lift high the name of Jesus.  And do not take for granted the blessings you have today and every day.

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Being Me

Me & the Washburn, 1997
Thanks to everyone who sent so many "cool" thoughts and prayers yesterday.  By early afternoon yesterday my air conditioning was fixed. But mid-afternoon it was broken again.  And by about 6:30 PM I had a new AC unit installed and so much cold air that the dog was in danger of becoming a "Pupsicle!"  Slept like a hibernating Grizzly last night...

I have to tell you, it is good to be me.  God has blessed me with so much more than I deserve. In the midst of all the silliness and whining yesterday about being hot, I was reminded again that there are people who really care about me.  I continue to discover that 5 years after I thought I was through being in ministry God still uses me every day. Want examples?  Monday and Tuesday I talked for hours with a former youth who is changing the world through her work with missions, and we talked at length about the church and how it needs to make a much bigger difference in lives all around the world.  Yesterday I heard from friends all over the country who wished me well on getting the AC fixed, including my ever-expanding and wonderful Twitter family.  One old friend offered to drive to Tampa and buy me a portable AC unit if needed- and he meant it.  Several of my former youth checked to make sure there was nothing I needed. I spoke at length with a Hall of Fame inductee about college choices for Will, baby-proofing her home and a wide variety of other topics. I visited on the phone with a gifted church communicator (and dear friend) and we talked at length about the difficulties of nurturing creativity in the church.  Another dear friend grabbed some dinner with me. I spent about half an hour playing my old Washburn guitar and singing some of the greatest youth group songs ever written from my little green Songs & Creations book. One of my oldest and best friends texted with me at length last night, as did a former youth who has just recently come back into my life after a nearly 2o year absence. I got a call from my wife and son, currently on vacation in NC.  And my night ended with a text conversation shared with someone who means the world to me.  This is what it is like being me.  It is indeed a wonderful life...

Each of us face dark moments in our lives.  We exist in a world in which it is very easy to get caught up with "doing OK under the circumstances."  Many of you know that because of my own failures my circumstances are EXTREME.  I hope this snapshot of my life will remind us all that despite our struggles, we all are blessed.  Jesus does not leave us under the circumstances. He calls us to rise above them.  For instance, I can dwell on the fact that I do not have a job and cannot contribute to my family in any real financial way, or I can celebrate the fact that because I am unemployed all of these amazing things had time and space to happen in my life these past few days. It is all about perspective. Today, take a moment and think about what it is really like to be you.  Celebrate the blessings.  And then thank God for the joy that can be found in simply being you.  I love you guys!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Conner waits and plots his revenge....
I wrote yesterday about my family heading out on vacation, leaving me and our dog Conner to fend for ourselves in sunny Florida.  How was Day 1?  I offer you the following answers...

I got to spend a few final hours with Ashley Goad Broadhurst, sharing stories, Starbucks and countless laughs.  I am so proud of who she has become, and I look forward to seeing her again very soon. I also got to text a bit with my dear friends Teresa and Denise, and to have dinner with my friend Lisa.  Conner and I took a long walk last night, enjoying our beautiful neighborhood.  I talked to Marilyn and Will and found they had arrived safely in Greensboro. These were all very good things.

At some point before Ashley got up yesterday it became clear to me that the air conditioning in our home was not cooling properly.  I did everything I know to do, flipping breakers and pushing reset buttons, but there was no cold air blowing through the vents.  A repairman was called, and I waited for him all afternoon in a very warm house.  Eventually he called to inform me that he was not going to make it to our house yesterday; it would be sometime this morning before he could get to us.  I was not encouraged or happy.  Conner began packing a bag and planning his own trip to a luxury kennel.  If I had a car, I would have gone out and purchased a Slurpee large enough to soak in.  This was bad...

There are few things in life that I hate worse than trying to sleep when I cannot get cool enough.  One of those things is lying in bed sweating all night.  I didn't sleep. Conner didn't sleep well.  The ceiling fans and the floor fan were precious little help.  At one point he began to growl, and I am fairly certain he was calling me names and threatening me.  As the frustration set in, I began to believe that it could not be a coincidence that this was happening just as Will and Marilyn left town.  This was a conspiracy. They were out to get us....and Conner agrees.  Not that I am talking to the dog.  Halllucinations are setting in. Maybe the Zombie apocalypse is here after all...

So that was my yesterday.  I am still out of it this morning, but my plan is to walk to the local Steak 'N' Shake and sit and eat all-you-can-eat pancakes until they throw me out or the repairman calls- in air conditioned comfort.  This is my plan.  Should this be my final post- whether because of the Zombies, the heat, or too many pancakes- make sure they question Will about the AC conspiracy.  Conner says Will is a Beggin' Strip thief, and they cannot be trusted!  Have a blessed day, everyone, and remember....nothing is EVER as bad as it seems!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just Me & the Dog- The Sequel

Yesterday was a great, great day.  Marilyn had the day off, Will was home, and my former Springfield Friends Meeting youth and current hero of Haiti Ashley Goad Broadhurst was at our house.  In fact she still is!  We all spent the day together. We ate too much, laughed too much and had just entirely too much fun telling stories old and new.  After normal people wake up, we will get a little more time together before she flies home to Las Vegas this afternoon.  It is such a blessing to get a day like that with family and friends.  I really do know all the best people!

But life changes fast.  This morning at 5:18 AM  Marilyn and Will took our car and headed off for two weeks vacation.  They will visit her family in NC; her 2 sisters, her niece (and her 3 kids) and her Mom and Dad.  It is a vacation they both need and deserve, and I am so glad they get to go.  It does, however, make for an interesting two weeks for me...and the dog (Just look at him.  Doesn't he looked depressed?).  You may remember that we only have one car.  That means I am car-less for the next 12 days.  My mastery of the Tampa bus system aside (LOL), I will be spending a lot of time around the house.  I have purchased the groceries.  I have toilet paper.  There is plenty of dog food and lots of Beggin' Strips.  I am ready.  Conner the dog is not so sure...

There was a time, just 2 years ago, when this happened before. Two weeks, no car, just me & the dog.  And at that point and time I really was ALONE for those two weeks. Now there are so many amazing people back in my life, people I communicate with nearly every day, that make this seem less like a marathon and more like an adventure.  But still, I will be here alone.

There was also a time, much longer ago now, when life was very busy and full of people who needed things from me, when two weeks of just me & the dog would have seemed like paradise.  Now- well, not so much.  I will miss my family so much- just like I miss all of the students who used to be around our home on a regular basis.  But there are some "silver linings" to this dark cloud.  I get control of the remote from Will, and there will be much watching of my beloved Tampa Bay Rays.  I will stay up for Letterman, and sleep a little later than Marilyn's standard 5:45 AM wake-up alarm.  I can definitely see viewings of Field of Dreams and Grown Ups in my future.  I will cook more, pray more, clean more, walk more, read more and write more.  I will take more time to "be still and know..."  I am going to spend lots of time with my newly re-strung guitar, because there is a reunion coming in April and I need to get ready!  But I will still have lots and lots of free time, so if you have been hankerin' to come to Tampa, this is a really good time for a visit...    And if you want to help keep me entertained, it's a great couple of weeks for texts,  phone calls, comments and e-mails.

So today, I count my many blessings and pray for buses that run on schedule.  I pray for my family as they travel.  I am so thankful that unlike 2 years ago when I was last alone and without a car for 2 weeks, this time I know I can count on my dear friend Lisa Jewett to provide me with entertainment and transportation.  I have so many friends with whom I can text.  It's going to be fun! So read along with me and I will keep you updated.  Though I no longer have to survive with just me and the dog. I promise it will still be an adventure...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Only Hope

I came to a realization yesterday while simply reading my Twitter feed.  I know I am not the first to come to this realization; in fact I may be among the last.  You see, my problem is I am an optimist. I tend to believe that no matter how bad things may get, they will turn out well in the end. Reading the tweets of these I follow and those that they retweet yesterday caused me to seriously doubt my optimistic outlook on the future of our world.  This is the realization I came to...it is hard to have hope.

The topic of discussion that kick-started all of this was this weekend's horrible and senseless tragedy in Aurora, CO. Once people got past the condolences, outrage and prayer requests, they begin to speak to their own concerns. Their own emotions. Their own politics.  And in the space of 10 minutes I read numerous tweets from well-meaning, goodhearted people who sincerely believe that things like the theater shootings can only be prevented by getting more guns into the hands of good people.  If only a "good guy" in the theater had been packing, far less damage would have been done.  I confess to being astonished at that particular point of view, being a long time Quaker and pacifist myself.  But these were not politicians or representatives of the NRA out to make a point- these were everyday people like you and me simply expressing their views on the issue. In that same time span I read tweets from those who are outraged that guns are available at all.  Again, these were normal folks expressing their heartfelt opinions. The two viewpoints could not be more opposite. And this is where my optimism took the beating- neither group will ever change the minds of the other. This will be a point of disagreement until the day they die. And because of that, nothing will change

We see this in our society everywhere we look.  Political issues, socioeconomic issues, religious issues, international issues- all of them find us terribly divided and totally unwilling to listen to other opinions.  It leaves us with our hearts and minds closed to change. That leaves us living with the status quo.  And as Ronald Reagan once famously, said, "Status Quo is Latin for this mess we're in now."

But just as quickly as the reaction to the Aurora tragedy pointed out this darkness in our society, an interview with one of the shooting victims showed me the light. I missed his name, but he was a young man wounded early on in the shooting.  I do not have the exact quote, but what he said was something like the following. When asked if he hated the man who shot him, his response was sincere and amazing.  He said he felt sorry for the shooter. He thought anyone carrying around that much hatred and violence in his heart had to be miserable.  He said he would pray for the killer. He then said that there is evil in the world, a real darkness. But there is also a light, and no darkness can ever overcome it (John 1:8).  And suddenly, my glass was way more than half full again.

Psalm 20:7 reminds us that "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God."  You may trust in science, patriotism, gun control,  the church or democracy.  You may trust in wealth, technology, political parties, education or guns themselves.  But understand this- ALL of those things will pass away.  And in the end there is still going to be that one light- "the Light that was shinning when the world began"- that always shines in through the darkness.  And his name is Jesus.  Yesterday, today and forever.  You hope that this world will change?  There is only one way that happens.  Follow Jesus.  Not church doctrine, not political parties, not popular leaders, not ancient traditions. The radical, living, breathing Jesus.  He came to rescue us, and we certainly need rescuing. He is the only hope...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, July 22, 2012

7 Things: Best Movie Series

Today I am once again honored to have my 17 year old son, Will Jones, provide a guest post for this site.  I know of no one else who loves movies and the craft of film making more than Will. I know you will enjoy his take on some great movies. I was a little surprised not to see the Back to the Future or Toy Story trilogies listed. Knowing Will, I was very surprised not so see the X-Men trilogy.  But those omissions were more than made up for by his leaving off The Matrix films. :)  Enjoy Will's post.

The Dark Knight Rises hit theaters this weekend. With it, director Christopher Nolan closes out his Dark Knight trilogy in a full-blown, bombastic conclusion that Batman fans could previously only dream about. To put it bluntly, movies don't get better than this.
Christopher Nolan has always had a knack for taking you on a journey with his films, and the Dark Knight Trilogy is perhaps the most evident example of this. If you've been with the series since Batman Begins, you may very well be holding back a few tears by the time Rises' final credits roll. 

It is a true trilogy, in an almost Shakespearean sense. Batman Begins is the first act, our intro to the world of Gotham and the basis of Batman's (obviously enough) beginnings. The Dark Knight is the second act, where our hero is tested and loses not only the love of his life, but the trust of the very city he was trying to save. Leaving The Dark Knight Rises as the third and final act, bringing a close to the story of Bruce Wayne. 

In this day and age, many, many, many films get sequels. The majority of  them don't deserve them. Many movie series nowadays are chosen... poorly (See Transformers or Twilight). It used to be that sequels were only made if the first film was not only great, but made sequels necessary to tell the full story. Dark Knight is a call back to those times when films were made not just for cash, but for artistic integrity. Here are some great examples of the exact kinds of movie series I'm talking about, some of my absolute favorites.

7.The Bourne Trilogy:
A true film trilogy that grows and strengthens itself with each film. The first one is great, but by the time you reach the third film, Ultimatum, the series has completely outdone itself. Great trilogy.

6.The James Cameron Terminator films
Terminator and Terminator 2. The true Terminator series ended after T2, when original director James Cameron stepped away from the series. Subsequent films(T3, Salvation) weren't bad, its just that the first two Terminator films tell an incredible story that ends with the final scenes of T2. 

5. The first two Alien movies(and Prometheus)
Okay, I have no excuse here, I just like to pretend that Alien 3 and 4 didn't happen. The first two films (Alien and Aliens) are two of the greatest sci-fi films of all time. Aliens completely wraps up the story these two originals told, thus allowing me to pretend that it was the final film. I will throw in an honorable mention to the superbly-crafted Prometheus, and include it in the series.

4.The Orignial Indiana Jones trilogy
Indiana Jones has to be the coolest action hero of all time. And the original trilogy is a collection of three of the greatest action/adventure films ever. 

3.The Dark Knight trilogy
In case you couldn't tell, I love these movies. Christopher Nolan is the boss of current film making and he's crafted one of the greatest trilogies of all time. Easily.

2.Star Wars trilogy
Yes, I mean the original. Not to say that the prequels were bad; actually Revenge Of the Sith is brilliant. But the original three tell the story of the Rebel Alliance and how it overcame the Empire to restore balance to the force and... yeah they're THE science fiction trilogy.

1.Lord of the Rings
Talk about phenomenal. This trilogy of films totals up to be somewhere around 9 hours of film, and it's all incredible. What Peter Jackson did was take one of the great literary trilogies of all time and turn it into one of the most iconic film trilogies of all time. Masterful.

So there you have it- I'd love to hear what you think I left out and which ones you totally disagree with.  Thanks for reading.

Will Jones

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sick Day

For the past two days I have felt like death warmed over. My head has been pounding, I have had chills, and I ached pretty much all over.  I have not eaten anything but plain bagels.  In short, I have been pitiful!

So today you don't really get a blog post. Even though I am feeling much better, I still have a brain cloud. If you don't know what a brain cloud is,then you should find the very underrated Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie Joe Verses the Volcano and watch it.  Then you will know.  In the meantime, I covet your prayers.  And they say in my home state of NC, I will be back with you tomorrow- "Good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise!"  Have a blessed Saturday!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers

My dear friend Ashley Goad Broadhurst will be here to visit me on Monday, and I am super excited!!!  She is currently in Orlando, where she is working a Presbyterian Women's Conference for her ministry Solar Under the Sun.  She is also working in some Disney time! I am not feeling well today, so you get a rerun post from 2010. Enjoy!!!

There were lots of excited students on The Magic Tour '93, but none more so than Ashley Goad.  Ashley was a young woman who had not had an easy life to that point; her parents had divorced, and at various points her relationships with both of them had been strained.  Many of the girls in our group were related to each other and had attended different schools than she did, and they were a very close knit group.  Ashley often struggled to fit in.  But she never gave up on us.  She and I developed a close relationship that included me calling her Prudence Irwina Goad (PIG for short!).  The excitement she had for this trip had very little to do with me, however.  For Ashley, this trip was all about Tigger!

Ashley was completely obsessed with finding Tigger at every park and getting her picture made with him.  She stalked the poor creature all over WDW, and I took a ton of pictures of the two of them. And each time we found the character, the smile on her face brought one to mine.  Unfortunately, I took only slides that week, and those slides are lost forever.  But trust me- there were plenty of pics of PIG and Tigger! 

Ashley and I shared a lot of good times- and some bad.  But we always had Tigger!  We both knew the correct way to spell it- T-I-Double Grrr-er!  We both could sing the Tigger song (see video below).  She was a very special part of that trip and my life.  When we left Springfield Friends Meeting, I worried about her and prayed for her often.  I didn't need to worry; she was in God's hands already.  She is now a youth pastor herself and has changed the life of many a young person through her love of Jesus.  I am so proud of all that she overcame and all that she has become.  Every time I see Tigger, I remember Ashley, and I thank God that I got to be a small part of her life.  Even if she did spend one week as a stalker...   Ashley, you and Tigger are a lot alike-  there's only one of each of you!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Ragamuffin Thought

Feeling discouraged?  Feeling like you have somehow failed in your walk with Jesus?  The great author (and chief RagamuffinBrennan Manning has some words for you today...

“For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Jesus Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change. When Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened," He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love.”  ― Brennan ManningThe Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out

Jesus does not call us to perfection, or to comparison with saints, or to fame and glory in His name.  Jesus calls us to follow.  And as with most trips, there will be wrong turns and bad choices.  Thank God that because of Jesus, we are loved despite ourselves, not because of what we accomplish.  And that love never changes...

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Into Every Life a Little Rain Must Fall"

Over the past week I have been dealing with the sadness and frustration of the passing of my former youth Sally Hollingsed.  Sally lost her battle with cancer at age 31, and it just seems so blatantly unfair that one so young should be taken from us in such a horrendous way.  But we all know people we have lost way before we were ready to lose them.  The emotions I have felt reminded of the following episode in my own life from many years ago...

In the Spring of 1989 a group of us including myself, MarilynJeff Byrd and Doyle Craven got tickets to see Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith in concert in Chapel Hill, NC.  Amy was featuring songs from her Lead Me On album, while MWS was touring in support of his i 2 (Eye) project.  We were all so excited to go.  Plus, Doyle had a brand new Ford Probe he was dying to show off...

Our excitement turned to sorrow very quickly when we received word on the day of the show that our dear friend Penny Thomas had passed away.  Penny had worked at Quaker Lake Camp and had been very active in the youth programs of NC Yearly Meeting of Friends.  She had also worked with chronically ill children on the pediatrics ward at Duke Hospital. Penny had been very sick for a long time, and only a few days earlier we had been to Duke to see her.  Her passing was not unexpected, but it still hit us all very hard.  She was so young, so faithful and such a blessing to be around.  Her laughter was contagious, and she was loved by everyone who knew her. Doyle and Jeff had both been especially close to her.  We debated whether or not we should attend the concert, eventually deciding that there was nothing we could do at that point, and that Penny would want us to go. In so many ways, she went with us that night.

Even in our melancholy state of mind, the concert was excellent.  We all knew the music of the two artists so well, and we all shared one unspoken thought as the night went along.  One of the songs on Michael's most recent CD was called I Hear Leesha.  The song was about a young girl who had passed away, and it mourned her loss.  It also spoke of the hope Christians share that there is more to life that what we have on this earth.  The chorus says, "I hear Leesha singing in heaven tonight.  And in-between the sadness, I hear Leesha, telling me that she's alright."  I think secretly we all were praying that he would not sing it.  But he did.  As we looked at each other with tears flowing, I knew it was one of those moments in which Jesus was working in each of us.  I knew it was a feeling I would never forget. The song still gives me goosebumps...

A few days later I attended Penny's funeral.  Jeff Byrd sang at the service, and I have always thought it was one of the bravest things I have ever seen anyone do.  He was hurting, he was saddened, and he didn't really want to be doing it.  But he knew he had to.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, he sang beautifully and with passion, sharing both his love for Penny and his faith that Jesus had indeed "prepared a place for her."  

Being a follower of Christ is not all flowers and rainbows.  There are struggles, tragedies and moments of doubt and fear.  Every time I listen to I Hear Leesha I am reminded that "into every life a little rain must fall, and losing one you love is like a storm." I am also reminded that in the midst of the darkest parts of life, Jesus is there to give us light and life. The storms do pass.  And our loved ones- people like Penny and Sally- find comfort in a far better place. Thanks be to God...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One Insane Day in Youth Ministry

I have mentioned on many occasions that youth ministry often causes you to push the limits of sanity in order to increase excitement and attract students.  Over the years many of those days have occurred during the summer, especially during Youth Week.  Today I want to remember one very wild and wacky day.

Tuesday, July 8th, 1997 was a part of Youth Week '97 at FUMC-Kissimmee which featured the theme It's Good To Be Alive!  At the end of this particular day, I might have questioned that!  We began the day by meeting at FUMC-K at 9 AM and heading over to Disney's Yacht Club Resort and the character breakfast at the Cape May Cafe (see group picture above).  The all you-could-eat buffet featured every breakfast food you could imagine, including Mickey Mouse waffles.  One of my favorite parts of the meal was that I could get orange juice, coffee and chocolate milk all at the same meal without paying extra.  Plus, you got to eat with Pluto, Goofy, Chip, Dale and Donald.  It was a great start to the day...but it was only the beginning!

We returned to the church around 11:30 AM, where many of the youth just hung out until 1 PM and the next phase of our journey.  Others joined us, and we headed to The Florida Mall for another of our famous Mall Scavenger Hunts, including the search for The Pink Panther (for an explanation, click here!).  After a long afternoon of invading every store in the mall in search of the answers to trivia questions, we returned to the church around 5 PM and the students went home..for a while.  In the meantime, I had more work to do to be ready for the final event of the day.

I had rented a huge, World War II era searchlight to use as part of the grand finale.  After the kids went home for supper, we hauled this gigantic light out into a large pasture on the outskirts of Kissimmee and prepared for the big finish.  When the crowd returned at 8 PM, we divided them into vehicles and gave them one task-find the giant searchlight.  As darkness fell, the light was turned on, and you could see it for miles around.  Determining where it was coming from was a bit more difficult.  Our original plan had been to have worship at the site of the searchlight, but it was brutally hot and there was thunder and lightning, so as groups found the site they were sent back to the church.  Some groups were able to find it fairly quickly; for others, it took a while.  Once everyone made it back to home base, we had snacks and settled in for a time of worship.  We finished around 10:30 PM and sent everyone home.  It was an amazing day.  Well over 100 students participated between the three events.  The Spotlight Search was another of those weird things we did that had the whole community talking, and had our youth saying once again, "I can't believe we just did that!"   And the day ended with dozens of students praising Jesus.  It just doesn't get any better than that!

I don't know that any of these events, taken on their own, were particularly memorable to the youth who attended, but days like this were very important to the ministry.  They were days that Jerry Hanbery and I looked forward to every summer.  The great Tony Campolo once wrote a book entitled The Kingdom of God Is A Party.  I hope we communicated that feeling in our ministry, and in those wild, wacky days.

Because of Jesus,

Monday, July 16, 2012

Happy Birthday, Will Jones!

Celebrating with Marilyn and the Hanbery family at Mama Melrose's yesterday
Today my son turns 17.  Before you ask, let me tell you a few things. No, I can't believe he is 17 already.  Yes, I do feel a little old.  And no, I could not be more proud of him.

Will has led a far from normal life.  His actual birth was more of an adventure than anyone can believe (click here for that story).  As a child growing up, his father (that would be me) was a youth pastor.  The cool part of that was growing up hanging out with some outstanding teenagers who loved him and taught him a lot about life. He got to do a lot of great things many kids never experience.  But he also had to move a lot. When he was 4 he moved from Kissimmee to Chicago, leaving behind friends and a set of grandparents who loved him more than anything.  Only 18 months later he was uprooted again, this time moving to Tampa.  Four years later a pastor with no heart and no guts fired his dad (deservedly) but then cut him off from all of his friends at the church by refusing to let him continue in the children's ministry. In that same year his very best friend, my Dad, passed away.  He finished 5th grade in Tampa, but then relocated again to Waycross. Georgia.  That year, while in so many ways a disaster in our lives, remains special to me, because is was to be the only year I was his father and his youth pastor.  After I messed up our lives completely in 2007, we moved back to Tampa. It occurred to me the other day that Will has now lived in this house for 5 years, longer than he had ever lived in one house before in his young life. He has had to put up with a whole lot of crap because of me. It would have been easy to become bitter, cynical and hard-hearted after all he has been through.  But instead...

Will is the best son ever. There I said it. The rest of you just have to get over it!  :)  His attitude towards life is both honest and refreshing.  He treats people both young and old with respect. He speaks his mind. He is a leader among his peer group and among his high school marching band. He is a great student. He listens to great old music (Springsteen, The Beatles, Andy Williams...yes, THAT Andy Williams!) on vinyl while introducing me to great modern bands like Fun and My Chemical Romance. He loves the same classic comedies (Young Frankenstein, Airplane) that I do, while having his own strong opinions about the movies of today.  He wears Ferris Bueller and Anchorman t-shirts. We can (and do) sit and talk forever about movies, music, TV and even politics.  Our family loves to eat together, laugh together, watch The Big Bang Theory & American Idol together-  and to worship together.  In short, we are blessed. And Will is a huge part of that blessing.

Will got his birthday celebration off to a great start this past weekend as he and Marilyn spent  time in Orlando with our great friends Jerry & Melissa Hanbery. They visited a couple of colleges, went to the Disney Hollywood Studios and had a great meal at Mama Melrose's Italian Restaurant. Today, he and I will no doubt have lunch at the Hibachi Buffet, and tonight his closest friends are throwing him a party.  There is no question in my mind that he will have a great day, because he refuses to let anything keep him down.  Ever!

Happy Birthday, Will Jones!  You are a great son, a great friend, and an outstanding young man.  I know God has great things in store for you, and I am so blessed to be a part of your life.  Enjoy your day.  And never forget this one basic truth- Jack Nicholson was the best Joker. I love you, buddy!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, July 15, 2012

7 Things: My Favorite Books

I love to read, and I always have.  I was one of those annoying kids in high school who actually read the assigned books and didn't buy Cliffs Notes. I firmly believe no movie can ever be better than the book it is based on- even The Lord of the Rings movies that I love so much!  In my adult life I enjoy a wide variety of styles, from action/adventure (Lee Child's novels featuring Jack Reacher are awesome- I just can't believe they cast Tom Cruise to play Reacher in the first movie, One Shot. Terrible choice!) to mystery to biography/history to spiritual growth. But as with most people who love to read, there are certain books that I will occasionally return to and re-read even for a third or fourth time.  Those are the books that I would have to qualify as my favorites.  Here are 7 books (actually 10, but I am counting a series of 4 books as one) that I have read at least 3 times, and will probably read again at some point along the way.  Each book has influenced me in some way, and I often return to their pages for inspiration and guidance. Number 1 would of course be the Holy Bible, but I assume you know that about me, so I left it unstated.  Here is my list of 7, narrowed down from my original list of 29.  It was really tough to leave out Tony Campolo's The Kingdom of God Is a Party, pretty much every book ever written about The Beatles and C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters.  And now I haven't! :)  

  1. The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Toilken
  2. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
  3. Soul Tsunami by Leonard Sweet
  4. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  5. And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts
  6. Real Christians Don't Dance by John Fischer
  7. What's So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey
Most of my choices are well known to a general audience, but some of you may not have heard of And the Band Played On. It is the true story of the earliest years of the HIV/AIDS crisis and the Gay community in USAmerica, and how hatred, bigotry and politics turned a disease into an epidemic. It is a huge book that tells a huge story.  Anyway, that is my list. Gimme yours!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, July 13, 2012

#$@&*%# (A Vintage Post)

The following post (with minor edits) first appeared on this blog in February of 2011. This week I encountered two blog posts that indicated that the world will know we are Christians by the language we use. I remembered this post and felt led to repeat it.  I hope it still resonates with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because of Jesus,