Sunday, September 30, 2012

10 Songs You Might Be Surprised To Find On My I-Pod

I freely admit that when it comes to music, I am, for the most part, an Old Geezer.  Much of what is on my I-Pod (and yes, mine looks exactly like the one pictured!) would not surprise those of you who know me.  There is lots of classic rock, lots of 1985-2007 Contemporary Christian Music, lots of 1970's folk/rock (think James Taylor, Jim Croce, America and Dan Fogelberg), some modern worship music and plenty of Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett and Beatles.  However, one of the leftover habits from all my years as a youth pastor is trying to keep up with new music.  Artists like P!nk, Safety Suit, Of Monsters and Men and 30 Seconds to Mars pop up anytime I hit shuffle.  There are a few songs and artists on my playlist that might make you do an audio double take, and so as a service to you- my faithful readers- today I offer up 10 tunes that you might be surprised to know that I love.  There is even a country song! There is NO hip hop or rap. I do have standards.  In no particular order, here we go...

  1. Everybody Talks- Neon Trees
  2. Runaways-  The Killers  (In fact, I have a ton of The Killers on my play list right now.)
  3. She's So Mean-  Matchbox Twenty  (I LOVE this song!)
  4. Some Nights- Fun. 
  5. Keep Me In Mind- Zac Brown Band  (I know it is country. But I have my reasons...)
  6. Bulletproof Heart-  My Chemical Romance  (My son Will has me hooked on My Chem.)
  7. I Will Wait- Mumford & Sons  (Probably not a surprise that I love these guys, but this new single blows me away!)
  8. Kicks- Paul Revere and the Raiders  (One old school surprise. Very old school...)
  9. (If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To- Weezer
  10. California- Delta Spirit (You may not know this one, but it is one seriously amazing song.)
So there it is.  Maybe later I will list the least surprising songs on my playlist,  But until then, let me know which of these messes with your mind the most. And I 'd love to know what you listen to that might surprise me.  Have a blessed day!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Be the Change

I first read this story a very long time ago and used it in a sermon in 1992 at Springfield Friends Meeting.  I wanted to share it with you today as an encouragement to us all. Too often in today's world we like to complain about the way things are, but we seldom seem to do anything to make things better. This is often especially true in the church.  Jesus doesn't want us to sit around and complain.  He wants us to get out into the world and do something GREAT in His name.  I have no idea if this is true, But it is a great story...

A young boy complained to his father that most of the church hymns were boring to him. They were too far behind the times, with boring tunes and meaningless words.  His father put an end to the discussion when he said, "If you think you can write better hymns, then why don't you?"  The boy went to his room and wrote his first hymn.  The year was 1690; the boy's name was Issac Watts.  Among the almost 750 hymns he penned in his lifetime are When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, O God Our Help In Ages Past and Joy To the World.  Feeling bored?  Do something great to serve God.  Wouldn't it be amazing if we were still remembered for our faithfulness 320 years from now?

Do you love the church of Jesus Christ too much to leave it the way it is?

Because of Jesus,

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Flashback: Old School Youth Ministry

I read a blog post this week that stressed the idea that using youth ministry as a stepping stone to "real ministry" was a dangerous idea.  I couldn't help but laugh a little bit, because I remember well having discussions about that same issue with friends- in 1978!  It is tempting to say that student ministry never changes.  But as you can read below in this vintage post, that is is just not true...

Most of you know (because it says so right at the top of this blog) that I spent 28 years in youth ministry. For the vast majority of the years from 1978-2007 I worked for churches and church organizations. I witnessed a lot of growth and a lot of changes during those years. I was a part of one of the first generations of career youth pastors. Up until the late 1970's, youth work was something you did on your way to something else.  Can you believe that once upon a time people thought the only difference between being a youth pastor and being a senior pastor was age?  Most full-time youth leaders were hired as Associate Pastors or Directors of Christian Education and then thrown to the wolves, regardless of their gifts.  I was around when pretty much the only resources for youth leaders were the Ideas Books.  I was there when youth groups were after-thoughts for most churches, with no budgets and no staff.  I witnessed youth ministry become a priority in many churches, with all kinds of money thrown at the ministry. With one move in 1994 I went from a $800 budget to a $12,000 budget- for almost the same number of youth!  I worked at one church for $50 per month and did not get paid during the summer, because in those early days most student ministries shut down for those months. During those years I worked at a summer camp.  I served as the regional youth ministry resource person and event planner for Quakers in New England in 1985-86, serving over 80 churches, and was paid $14,000 for the year. In 2000 I took a position at a church in Illinois that paid me over $70,000 for doing less work than any other position I have ever held.  And now I am seeing churches cut staff and budgets as the economy impacts ministry.  At least 2 of the positions I once held no longer exist.  We have come full circle.

When I started there were no cell phones,  VCRs,  PCs, cable TV and no copiers (remember mimeograph machines and making newsletters with clip art and rub on letters?).  We did have overhead projectors, CB radios, reel-to-reel movies and film strips.  The only CCM artists I had ever heard of were Amy Grant, Keith Green, Larry Norman and some lady named Evie.  Kids had yet to "want their MTV."  A Praise Band was called a guitar.  I watched as the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention went from a once a year conference with about 600 in attendance to a multiple city event with many thousands of participants.  In those days Doug Fields was just a guy in Jim Burns' youth group, and quite frankly none of us really knew what we were doing.  Later on, we would elevate some of our peers to celebrity status and look to them for methods and models.  When I started, GROUP was a magazine for the students in your youth group- and that was all.  There were no work camps and no magazine for leaders- just a long-since extinct event for students called the National Christian Youth Congress.  I know you are rolling your eyes and thinking this is all ancient history and that everything has changed since those days.  You probably think we had the first SHO-Time at the Brontosaurus Burger with Fred and Barney. There is no truth to the rumor that Moses was in my first youth group- although Duffy Robbins once told a seminar I had been his youth pastor- way back when Duffy had hair!  He also told them I had been his mother's youth pastor.  You get the point- I have seen a lot.  And sometimes I think we have been too quick to discount our own history.

Lots of the changes have made student ministry much better and helped us have a greater impact in the lives of the youth we serve.  There are under-graduate and post-graduate degrees in youth ministry.  Far more women are serving as youth pastors.  We have learned to use technology in many brilliant ways.  We have created new and better resources and become more focused on ministry, mission and worship.  There are now more conferences for youth pastors than there are youth pastors with soul patches. We have involved more adults in the lives of students.  But sometimes I think we have been guilty of changing simply for the sake of change.  As I wrote here yesterday, new is not always better.  We have bought into new ideas without prayerfully considering their full impact; we have been guilty of being trendy. Let's face it; when we decided it was a good idea to sell youth ministry franchises to churches we may have jumped the shark (or to use the more modern  phrase, "nuked the fridge").  In my humble opinion we have too often chosen program and style over relationships.  By choosing theology over Jesus, we have often paid too much attention to teaching students the answers and not enough to helping them ask the questions.  We have tried to model everything after mega-groups, when in fact the average church youth group reaches about 10 students. And we have, on occasion, sacrificed what is best for teenagers to appease their parents.  I realize in some ways I have no right to say these things. I am no longer a youth pastor; I lost that great privilege in 2007.  But I still have a heart for it and a calling to it.  I have a 17 year old son, and seeing how he and his friends are being ministered to (or in many cases, not) gives me cause for prayer and reflection.  If this post sounds like I am preaching, it is because I am!  Nothing brings out the passion in me more than talking about Jesus and student ministry.  And part of that is remembering the past- both the mistakes (of which there were many) and the lessons learned that can help us be more effective today.  A very wise man (although I don't know who) once said, "History wouldn't have to repeat itself so often if someone would just listen the first time."  Youth ministry, like most other things, has a history that can and should influence the way we do things today.  Ignore it at your own peril.

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Less-Words Wednesday

Many bloggers use pictures on their blogs to have a Wordless Wednesday.  Many of you know that I am not capable of being wordless. So let's try a Less-Words Wednesday. :) Enjoy!

My  17 year old son came home from the local Flea Market on Sunday having paid $4 for the vinyl version of one of the greatest albums of all time- U2's The Joshua Tree.  Above is the inside of the album jacket.  I am so proud on so many levels. It's vinyl. It's U2. It's their greatest album. And he paid $4.  That's my boy...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Those Wacky Quakers

New Garden Friends Meeting, located in Greensboro, NC, is a very distinctive place- even among the very distinctive people called Quakers. It sits across the street from a Quaker college (Guilford) and next door to a large Quaker retirement community (Friends Homes). It is very difficult to say that anything is "normal" among Friends, but for the most part Quaker meetings and churches are divided into two categories- programed (pastors, choirs, sermons and other elements of protestant worship) and unprogramed (no pastor, no music, silent worship broken by people speaking from leading of the Spirit). New Garden was both, choosing to call itself "semi-programed." Among the elements of traditional Quaker worship that New Garden had preserved was the facing bench. In early Quaker worship, there was no pastor to sit "up front" and preside over the Meeting for Worship, so elders would sit there, facing the gathered worship community. They would, among other things, end worship when they sensed it was time by simply standing and shaking hands. New Garden ended worship in that same manner.

One particular Sunday during my time (1979-1983) as a youth minister at New Garden I found myself sitting on the facing bench. It was a very special Sunday, because we were introducing the new President of Guilford College, Bill Rogers, and his wife Beverly. Bill Rogers had come to Guilford from Harvard and was a distinguished educator. Beverly was an elegant and dignified woman who looked the part of a college president's wife- a bit stuffy! As people gathered for worship I introduced myself to them and we all took our seats on the facing bench. I sat next to Beverly, who asked me how often I had to sit up front like this, and I replied "not very often." Another moment passed before she leaned over and said to me "You know what I hate about sitting up front like this? You can't pick your nose!" She immediately returned to sitting up straight and looking quite dignified, leaving me to stifle a loud laugh and try to pretend I was having a coughing fit. I thought I was going to fall off the facing bench! She never even smiled. After worship she thanked me for helping make her first Sunday at New Garden a memorable one, and that was all that was said.

I was reminded that day that God can use anyone or anything to inspire us. Some inspire us to greater faith, some to to greater accomplishments, and still others to greater learning. Bev Rogers reminded me that Sunday morning that God also inspires us to great laughter and greater joy, even in the midst of dignity and seriousness. Thank you Beverly.  And may God grant us all a good laugh everyday as a blessing and a holy moment!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, September 24, 2012


We live in a world that celebrates the powerful.  But we worship a Savior who celebrates the Underdogs.  Witness the following accounts:  

“Yet as I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog.” 
 Philip Yancey

“I have come to know a God who has a soft spot for rebels, who recruits people like the adulterer David, the whiner Jeremiah, the traitor Peter, and the human-rights abuser Saul of Tarsus. I have come to know a God whose Son made prodigals the heroes of his stories and the trophies of his ministry.” ― Philip Yancey

“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 Manning

He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."  --Jesus, Luke 14:12-14

"I'm in this race to win a prize, the odds against me
The world has plans for my demise, but what they don't see
Is that a winner is not judged by his small size
But by the substitute he picks to run the race 

And mine's already won..."  -- Audio Adrenaline

Feeling beat-up?  Feeling broken down? Feeling like the world has your number?  Jesus has a thing for Underdogs like us. After all...he was an Underdog himself.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"If I Stand..."

"The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance
I owe only to the giver of all good things..."

When I was growing up there was a popular religious saying that was almost a mantra in many Christian churches.  It stated that "God loves you, and has a plan for your life."  The first part is certainly true enough- God does love us all.  It is the second part that was a bit misleading.  In fact, it was theological horse poop!  Let me explain.

God does have plans for our lives, the kinds of plans that may be better expressed as hopes and dreams.  God wants what is best for us; God wants us to trust in his Son; God wants us to feel valued and loved.  But when people hear that God has a plan for their life, they begin thinking "blueprint."  They too often begin to believe that God has preordained a certain life path for them in which they have no choice.  It is implied that God chooses for us whether we are to be a CEO or a janitor.  When life goes wrong, when disaster strikes, when tragedy befalls us- "it was just part of God's plan."  Please hear this:  God does not put roadblocks in our lives ("all good things come from God")- He helps us navigate them!  It is also true (contrary to much popular preaching) that being a Christian does not insulate you from pain and suffering.  You still have to live in the real world, even if you are a fully-devoted follower of JesusThis faulty thought process denies the scriptural truth of free will and our ability to make really bad choices;  it refutes the creative role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  In this way of thinking, as long as we do everything we are supposed to, then God will love us and bless us.  As long as we stay on the path, God is with us.  In this theology, it's all up tous to do the right things and be the people God wants us to be.  Sounds like a man-made plan to me.  God's mission statement is found in John 3:16-17 (NIV):  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."  It's not about us- it's all about Jesus!  He IS the plan!  He is our rescuer.

If we could stand on our own (and we can't), then Jesus was not necessary.  He was a fool on a fool's errand.  If we could find salvation ourselves by following some blueprint for success, Jesus didn't need to die for us.  Sin will always separate us from God, and only the living Christ, crucified and resurrected, can bridge the gap.  I cannot stand on my own- I need a Savior!  The late Rich Mullins wrote a song called If I Stand (see video at bottom) that addresses that very topic.  Think about these words:

So if I stand let me stand on the promise
 that You will pull me through
and if I can't let me fall on the grace 
that first brought me to You...

That's pretty much the whole story.  We either stand because God is holding us up, or we fall with the unfailing knowledge that God will forgive us.  You want to see a plan for your life, some burning bush or holy graffiti that will show you exactly what God has in store for you?  Good luck with that- the disciples certainly never got one.  They seldom knew where they would spend the next night.  The Apostle Paul never had a clue what was coming next- including shipwrecks and prison time.  They just stood on the promises of God, tried the best they could to follow Jesus, and then fell into His loving arms when they failed.  Sounds like a pretty good plan to me.  It's called being saved by grace.  And that, my friends, is God's plan.  Give your heart to Jesus, and then enjoy the wild ride that follows.  We are called to follow Jesus, even if we seldom know where that will lead us.  Get caught up in "the reckless, raging fury that they call the love of God..."  Enjoy the video and have a blessed Sunday!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Very Animated Dinner

Back in 2011 I wrote a post in which I talked about 7 characters from TV shows past and present I would love to have to a dinner party.  In that post I mentioned that "coming soon" would be a similar post with animated dinner guests. I don't know if a year and a half counts as "coming soon" or not- but in any case, here is my list of cartoon guests sure to make for a fabulous dinner party!  These all come from TV as well, and a few of them will remind you that I am old.  I was very picky about who to invite. For instance a number of superheroes were left out simply because no one wants Aquaman at a dinner party.  You can't serve seafood!  I also left out characters who were primarily from movies.  They will have to wait for their own list. With some of the more ensemble 'toons (think Rugrats, Peanuts, Tailspin, The Flintstones) I couldn't decide which character to invite, so I invited no one. And they must be able to carry on a converstaion, which accounts for the astonishing absence of any Pokemon.  So here is my list.  Get ready for random...

1)  Bugs Bunny-  An easy choice. Bugs would keep the conversation lively and most likely cause a bit of trouble.  Plus all you need to eat are carrots and he is happy. It would be impossible to have a dull dinner party with Bugs Bunny a a guest. Plus if Bugs is there, you know that Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd are not far behind. "Rabbit season!" "Duck season!"  And we have our entree...
2)  Timmy Turner-  Not only is Timmy quite a guy, but his Fairly Odd Parents would tag along!  If things got slow, Timmy could just wish things to be better and Wanda and Cosmo would get this party started!  Or wreck it. Just a risk you have to take.
3)  Scooby Doo & Shaggy-  The master and his mutt would be there to tell stories of ghosts and ghouls and to eat everything in sight.  Those two had a permanent case of the munchies and no one seemed bothered by that.  Bonus points if they bring the Mystery Machine!
4)  Johnny Bravo-  One of the coolest guys ever, Johnny had a way with the ladies- he chased them all away.  That works well for this party as it seems unlikely any females will make this list.  His Elvis-like voice was awesome, and his signature line- "Ohhhhh mama!"- is still a favorite.  Plus my Dad just loved the guy.   And the party could go all night just listening to him talk to...
5)  Foghorn Leghorn-  "I say, I say BOY!"  This rooster never shuts up, and is forever causing trouble.  And all-time classic.  Just have to remember to keep chicken off the menu.
6A)  Pinky and the Brain-  Because someone needs to be in charge of this get together!  "What are we gonna do tonight, Brain?"  "The same thing we do every night, Pinky- try and take over the world!"  And at this party, only Cosmo and Wanda could stop them!  Unless these two show up....
6B)  The Wonder Twins-  Part of the classic Super Friends cartoons of the 70's, these 2 teenagers could fist bump and change their forms simply by saying, "Wonder Twins powers- ACTIVATE!"  Then Zan (the guy) could turn into any form of water while Zayna (the girl) could become any animal.  Talk about an entertaining dinner show!
7A)  Bullwinkle and Rocky-  Moose and Squirrel would make excellent dinner guests unless Boris and Natasha find them first.  Plus, more entertainment!  "Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat! Nothing up my sleeve- PRESTO!"
7B)  George of the Jungle-  George of Jungle (original 1960's version) make excellent party guest. George like to show off and swing on vine. George also bring ape, named Ape.  Ape can teach other guests to speak Latin and play chess. George love party!

So there you have it, a VERY random list if ever there was one!  I expect no one to agree with me ("How could you leave off Jimmy Neutron, Goku, Yogi Bear, Space Ghost & Darkwing Duck?"), so leave your choices in the comment box below.  Make a really good suggestion and maybe you will get an invitation.  Sorry about there being no female characters, but I just couldn't think of one who belonged with this crowd. It's a shame Jessica Rabbit was in a movie and not on TV...

Friday, September 21, 2012

People of the Second Chance

Those who know me well know of my obsession with the musical Les Misreables. I love the story, the settings, the music- I love it all.  But at the heart of the show for me is an intense spirituality.  When Victor Hugo wrote the novel, he wrote for those who felt repressed and hopeless.  In the story a man named Jean Valjean breaks a window and steals a loaf of bread to help feed his sister's starving children.  He is arrested and spends 19 years working on a chain gang.  When he finally receives his parole, he is given a slip of paper that he must carry for the rest of his life. This identifies him as a felon.  He is treated like an outcast by much of society. No one will hire him, and he is hungry.  Eventually he is offered bread and wine at a church, and they offer to let him spend the night.  During the night, he steals a silver goblet and some silver candlestick holders, and takes off into the night. He is captured by the police who bring him back to see the Bishop at the the church. When the police present the evidence to the Bishop, they say that Valjean claimed the silver had been a gift.  The Bishop backs up his story and Valjean goes free.  Before letting him go, the Bishop tells Valjean that he must use the silver to change his life and help humanity.  In the musical he sings, "I have bought your soul for God."  And Jean Valjean does indeed change his life and live in service to others.  A second chance made all the difference.

On Twitter I have become involved with a group of folks who call themselves the People of the Second Chance (@potsc).  They preach grace and forgiveness, and create an atmosphere of love for those who feel like failures in the eyes of the world- or of God.  These people are lover and encouragers in a big way (you can read more about them on their website).  I feel very connected with them, because for a short period of time in my own life I felt no one could ever forgive me.  This, of course is "stinkin thinkin."  The band Stellar Kart once sang, "There will always be second chances, and you will always be on your first try."  God's grace is bottomless, and God's love is endless. But sometimes, the culture we live in does not give those second chances or that forgiveness.  We tend to be much more in tune with revenge or retribution.  As with Jean Valjean and the Bishop, it takes someone special- someone who understands Jesus and what grace is really all about- to offer unconditional love and grace in this world. Martin Luther King once said that "forgiveness is not an act- it is an attitude."  It can be hard to come by, even in the church. I know at times it has been for me.

And yesterday it just hit me.  I'm Jean Valjean.  For the rest of my life I must carry my piece of paper. There will always be people who see me as evil and unredeemable.  But there have been people- so many people- who have shown me grace. And because of them and a Savior who died that I might live I have been given a second chance. A second chance to be a better husband and father.  A second chance to be in a new kind of ministry online.  A second chance to make a difference in the lives of people I love.  I understand now that we are all people of the second chance. We all need forgiveness, and we all need to give it.  We all need Jesus.  

Sometimes it is easy to forget who we are and whose we are.  Today I know. "Who am I? I'm Jean Valjean!"  Let's us go forth and share our second chance with others, always remembering that "to love another person is to see the face of God..."

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, September 20, 2012

NYWC Legends

The answer to yesterday's trivia game was tricky- I have only stayed at 7 Walt Disney World resort hotels, not 11 as stated.  No one got the answer without a lot of help, so we will try again soon to give away the prize!

It's the time of year when my mind starts to turn to how much I miss the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Conventions.  They were such an important part of my ministry through the years, and the people I encountered there changed the way I thought about and DID student ministry. Today I want to give a few shout outs to some of the people who made my 18 conventions so special.  Some were speakers, some musicians, some artists and some just people I came to know and love.  I miss them all!
  • Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice, the co-founders of YS, who had me hooked after attending my first NYWC in Dallas, 1982.
  • Tic Long, who never failed to greet me with a smile; who gave me my chance to lead a seminar; who waived my fee for the the 2005 Pittsburgh convention (since I had already paid for Sacramento); and whose work with YS makes him one of the true legends of youth ministry.
  • Dennis Benson, who in 1982 opened my eyes to using culture to teach, not to promote fear.  "In it, not of it, wasn't that what I said?" 
  • James Ward, who for so many years was the guy who got the convention singing, and whom I got to hang out with a few times over the years.  "Ain't no rock gonna' shout in my place..."
  • Tony Campolo.  Everything I ever heard him say moved me in some way, and I still listen to his talks and read his books on a regular basis.
  • Dan Kimball, who in a Critical Concerns Course helped me understand what it means to move outside old models and deal with a post-modern world.
  • Noel and Kyle Becchetti, who through their ministry with the Center for Student Missions provided great mission experiences for my groups from 3 different churches to 3 different cities.
  • The great people at Interlinc, who provided me with great music, great videos, and most recently a chance to write Bible studies for youth pastors.  Plus their booth in the exhibit hall was always the most fun!
  • Todd Temple, whom I first met in the late 1980's when he was leading events for YS (Anyone remember Grow For It?) and who later was the founder of MediaShout.  He never failed to greet me warmly and sit and chat, even if I did like to remind him that he used to look like Fabio...
  • Laurie Polich, who whose seminars on small groups were practical and awesome.  She literally wrote the book on the subject. 
  • General Session speaker Stephen Glenn, who in Chicago in 1988 taught me the 7 questions to ask if I never wanted students to tell me anything meaningful:  "Did ya? Can ya?  Will ya?  Won't ya?  Don't ya?  Can't ya?  Aren't ya?"  The only answers they can give are a hrumph, a grunt, a shrug or a whatever.  I never forgot the lesson.
  • Tiger McLuen, who taught me so much about how to train the Youth Ministry Teams that I worked with...
  • Louie Giglio, whose I AM NOT general session message (Phoenix, 2003- I think?) not only became a theme in my teaching, but inspired me to write a song of the same name.
  • Doug Fields, who as a seminar leader and a General Session helped us all understand what being purpose driven could mean to a student ministry.  The fact that Doug is now in leadership at YS is an encouraging sign.
  • Rich Bundschuh, Jim Hancock, Rich Van Pelt, Jay Delph, Duffy Robbins, Efrem Smith, Jim Burns, Mark Ostreicher and so many others who always made me feel like family year after year.
  • Debbie Morris, whose general session talk on Forgiving the Dead Man Walking showed me a deeper grace than anything I had ever seen from another human.  When my own life crashed, thinking of her words so often gave me hope that people (I already knew God would) might be able to forgive me too.
  • Andy Stanley, Phil Vischer, Will Willimon, Brennan Manning, Steve Taylor, Philip Yancey, Chris Hill and Mike Yaconelli- general session speakers who were so good that I bought the CD (well, mostly tapes actually.  I'm old...).
  • Curt Cloninger, Lost And Found, The Skit Guys, Ted & Lee, CPR and Geoff MooreNYWC performers who became my friends over the years.  With the exception of the The Skit Guys, I hosted all of them at my churches at least once.
  • Les Christie.  Despite the fact that he led the same 2 seminars-Incredibly Hot Games and Dealing With Obnoxious Students- at every NYWC I ever attended, I never once sat in on one of them.  It was comforting to know he was always there, and we had fun combining the 2 titles into How To Play Games With Incredibly Hot Obnoxious Students...
  • And finally- J. David Stone, without whom I might have never known that student ministry could be a life-long calling, and whose seminar on Creative Movement was the first one I ever attended.  "Do ya, do ya, do ya wanna dance..."  Thanks Dave!
I could go on and on and on. I know the NYWC has changed a great deal since my final one in Charlotte, 2006.  Leadership has changed and so has some of the focus. It is no longer the YS of Yac, Wayne, Marko and Tic.  But the impact continues to be strong. And the influence it had on my life will never be forgotten.  The students I served all of those years owe much to the wonderful folks at Youth Specialties.

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Get To Know Me- The Sequel!

Back in February of 2011 I wrote a post called Get To Know Me to help you, my beloved readers, understand a little more about the weirdness that is me.  Today I bring you the sequel, with even more fun facts abut my life.  Again, in traditional youth ministry fashion, we will do this as a game.  Hidden in the following list of facts is one false statement.  Post your guess as to which one is the lie in the comment section and I will draw a winner from among the correct answers.  What will you win? How about the latest Newsboys CD, God Is Not Dead!  Pretty cool, huh?  So here we go...

*  I was once part of a Womanless Beauty Pageant at Springfield Friends Meeting, entering as the fabulous Carlita.  I finished dead last. I was one UGLY woman!  All pictures have been destroyed.
*  I have written or co-written close to 200 songs. Some of the silly ones are quite famous in certain circles.  Some of the more serious ones I have sung in a few places (like Quaker Lake Camp) for small audiences.  Some of the best ones have only been heard by one person.
Conner Dog
*  My first dog (and only dog until Conner came along many years later) was named Tippy, because he had a tip for a tail.  Tippy was a "Heinz 57"- a mutt, who only had one eye due to an accident he had when he was 6 weeks old.  He died with his head in my lap on our way to visit my grandparents.  To this day whenever something goes missing or I forget to do something, I blame it on Tippy.
*  I cannot read music.
*  My mother was one of 5 sisters, yet I have only 3 cousins on that side of the family.
* Eating lima beans will make me barf. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Ware, did not believe me.  She does now.
The Caribbean Beach Resort
*  I have stayed at 10 different Walt Disney World resort hotels.
*  I once performed an hour long concert in the Pioneer Family Restaurant in Archdale, NC, under the stage name Bubba.
*  At various points in time I coached youth football, youth basketball and Little League baseball.  Just to be clear, at no point in time did I ever coach youth soccer.
*  I have seen both Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow live in concert. 
*  Among my 2290+ Twitter followers are at least 10 former youth group members.
*  In high school, as part of a Yearbook assembly (I was editor), I once danced to Rock Around The Clock in front of the entire student body.
Myabi Kyoto's, Myrtle Beach
*  In 28 years of student ministry, not once were we ever asked not to come back to someplace we were staying or dining.
* I was once on stage with the band Third Day.
*  I once sold steak knives door-to-door in North Carolina.
*  My first girlfriend was Susan Kochel- in 5th grade. She dumped me on a field trip to Old Salem.
*  I once took a group from FUMC-Kissimmee to Atlanta for a Braves game and it was delayed for a few hours. But not by rain. Because the stadium caught on fire.
*  In 1988 I was featured in a brochure for YouthQuake, a national Quaker youth conference. Everyone agreed that my picture looked like a young Hitler.
*  My youth ministry career spanned 8 different churches in 4 states; one camp, one para-church organization, and one denominational position.
Long time ago...
* My wife, whom I have known for 30 years, has never seen me in person when I did not have a moustache.
*  And finally, the first new car I ever bought for myself was a 1984 Renault Encore. It was wrecked by an unnamed youth who drove it less than 2 miles one Sunday afternoon.

So there you have it.  Lots of random facts, a few pictures, and one lie.  It's more than you wanted to know I'm sure, but now you have a little more idea of why I am the way I am!  Hope you enjoyed it and will take a guess at my one untruth.  See you tomorrow with the correct answer...and the winner!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Equipping the Called

Some days I feel totally unworthy of talking to other people about Jesus. You know what I mean?  Who am I to offer anyone spiritual guidance, or even to talk about youth ministry?  After all, I blew it.  I sinned big time. I lost my ministry. I left people disappointed. I am a mess! I should be that last person God would call upon to write a blog and talk about about faith with an ever-growing audience. It seems to me that I am ill equipped to serve the Creator.  I mean, who am I?  And then I read my bible...

  • Noah may have been the "one righteous man" God found before destroying the Earth, but that didn't stop him from drinking himself into a naked stupor in the days after the flood. (Genesis 9 :20-25
  • Moses went on and on and on about how how he couldn't speak well enough to be God's messenger in Egypt.  Later he lost his chance to see the Promised Land by disobeying God. Yet he is among the giants of faith for leading the children of Israel out of captivity. (Exodus)
  • David was called "a man after God's own heart." He wrote many of the Psalms. He also committed adultery (and perhaps even a sex offense) with the grandaughter of a trusted adviser, and then conspired to have her husband killed in battle. (2 Samuel 11)
  • Jeremiah complained that he was too young and not fit to be a prophet. God told him to get himself ready, and he eventually led the nation of Israel to repentance. Not bad for a young whippersnapper who didn't want to go...
  • The birth of Jesus was foretold to Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah by the angel Gabriel.  Zechariah doubted Gabe, and was made mute for the next 9 months or so.  He messed up- but he was the father of John the Baptist.  Still, you should never doubt an angel.  (Luke 1:5-22)
  • Mary was just a teenager, and not even a very special teenager, engaged to a carpenter, when she was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus.  As the song says, What a strange way to save the world!
  • Simon Peter was a...well, he was an idiot! He got so many things wrong, was rebuked by Jesus on several occasions and denied even knowing him on three. And yet Jesus knew all along that "upon this rock I will build my church."  And he did. The idiot came through when it really counted.  Peter is the patron-saint of screw-ups like me.
  • Saul killed Christ-followers.  That was his job, and he loved it.  But an encounter with the Risen Christ gave him a new name (Paul) and a new calling, and he became one of the most important men in history, spreading the gospel all over the known world.  
Now I am in NO WAY comparing my accomplishments and contributions to the world of faith to any of these great people.  I will however, compare all of us to their weaknesses and failures. None of them were anxious or ready to serve God, and many of them felt ill equipped to handle the work given them.  But they did.  One of my favorite little stories in scripture concerns a man named Ananias.  In Acts 9:10-19 he is told to go find a man named Saul of Tarsus (killer of Christians- see above) and restore his sight.  When Ananias points out that Saul is not a nice man, God says GO!  And so Ananias went. It wasn't reasonable. Ananias had no special training. Ananias did not want to go. And yet, Ananias went. He just went.

And so I sit here writing with the realization that while I am not ready, not trained and far from perfect, God can and will use me anyway! I don't know who said it first, but it has been said many times that "God does not call the equipped; He equips the called."  It is not about ability, it is about availability.  It is not about skill, it is about faith.  And if God can still use a mess like me to make difference, just think what he could do if we in the church would let go of our own issues and simply GO...and DO!  Something to ponder, isn't it?

Because of Jesus,

Monday, September 17, 2012

Winter Camp, 1982

"Back home, I spend my summers; Back home, I spend myself..."

Winter Camp, 1982- The Barrington Bunny gang!
In my late teens and early 20's Quaker Lake Camp was not just a place I worked in the summer; it was a place of sanctuary for me and my friends.  When life was stressful and we needed to "get away" we would call camp director Neal Thomas and ask if we could come down and spend a night or two.  When the forecasters called for a big snow, we would drive the 25 miles to QLC hoping to get snowed in there.  There were times when I would drive down and just walk around by myself, exploring the woods and visiting the Campfire Circle.  In many ways, Quaker Lake was home.

So when all of the politics and turmoil that were the North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends in 1982 came to Quaker Lake the week after Christmas for the annual Winter Camp, I was nervous.  And I was not alone.  There was great debate at New Garden Friends Meeting (where I was a part time youth leader) as to whether or not we should even take our youth.  But we did.  And while the program and speakers were very different than what we were used to, it was not awful- until the last night.  The speakers/musicians they brought in for the evening spent an hour telling us all we would burn in hell if we didn't respond to their invitation to give our hearts to Jesus.  Many of us came from backgrounds that taught us that following Jesus was a life-long spiritual journey inspired by the Light - the Holy Spirit. This was a pressured, spur of the moment decision that seemed more about the leaders than it did about Jesus.  We were not even given any time to sit in silence (as was our habit) and pray about our choice.  So we didn't raise our hands.  And the leaders became angry.  They again reminded us that if we didn't act at that moment, hell awaited.  I was distraught; the 14-17 year old students from a similar background were horrified.  I wrote a song late that night that tells the story; few have ever heard it, but I share it with you now. The opening tag is at the top of this posting, the rest is below.  It's called 
Back Home.
As evening fell one winter night, I sensed that something was not right
with the people and the place that I had come to know so well
I looked for faces that I knew as shadows crept across the room
I looked up and it seemed as if no one I knew was there
and I bowed my head in prayer

The question they shared in the end asked if Jesus was my friend
but the answer didn't matter, 'cause I would not raise my hand
I felt that eyes were now on me, and what I feared had come to be
Outcasts in the place we loved, in the place we called our home
and we felt so all alone

Chorus:  But we know, yes we know, that our friends aren't far away
And we know, yes we know, that no matter what these people say
the LORD will find His way...

I sat still in deep despair of all that they were saying there
trying to get my courage up and say "that's just not true"
As I reached out for the Light, I knew could guide me through this night
it seems I finally understood what it really means to pray
for the LORD to show the way


A dim fire gave me just the light to see if what I feared was right
to see if all was really lost, and would have to leave our home...
But instead we reached out on that day and without a sound began to pray
and with that bond of unity we would not be denied
you see the LORD was by our side!     -C. Jones  (1982)

That moment- when the crowd was breaking up and many of the youth (and not just my own from New Garden) gathered around me, could have been a time to complain, stomp out or just give up.  But in that moment, God moved in us, and we knew just what we needed.  As we held hands and prayed silently, our emotion and fervor was every bit as intense as that of the speakers.  Other adults from NCYM could see that, and they left us alone to pray.  There were a dozen times over my years in student ministry when I felt like Jesus just stepped in and took over, joining groups in a miraculous, tangible way.  This was the first of those times- we could feel the Holy Spirit in the circle, holding our hands- and spiritually, I was never the same again. The struggles over theology and style would continue, and New Garden sent a strongly worded letter to NCYM asking for more balance in programming.  But for those of us who had been in that circle, we knew we had encountered the living Christ amidst the struggle, and it would not seem so scary anymore.  Once again, Quaker Lake had become a sanctuary to me...and that would never change.  Everyone needs a place to call home.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, September 16, 2012

My College Football Bucket List

I love watching college football on Saturday afternoons and I always have.  When I lived in North Carolina, I got see games at Duke, Wake Forest, UNC, NC State and Appalachian State.  For 2 seasons I was the official scoreboard operator for the might Guilford College Quakers.  But like any fan, there are certain games and certain stadiums I have always wanted to see in person.  Watching the Florida/Tennessee game last night reminded me of some of those places.  So today I share my ever-changing College Football Bucket List (in no particular order) with you.  Let me know when you get us tickets!  
  1. Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee- I am not a Volunteers fan, but I do love this venue.  It's on the river, and people can arrive by boat. There are over 100,000 people in the stadium, which is an ocean of orange.  Rocky Top is played ever few minutes.  We almost moved to Tennessee when I was in high school, and going to a game in Knoxville was the only part I was sorry to miss out on. 
  2. Texas/Oklahoma in Dallas-  I grew up loving the Oklahoma Sooners and their wide open wishbone offense. I was actually in Dallas for the NYWC in 1982 the weekend after the Red River Rivalry and hated the bad timing.  Played in a stadium split down the middle by fans of both teams, with the Texas State Fair going on just outside the Cotton Bowl for all those years, this was a game I always wanted to see. And to see the Sooner Schooner make an appearance would be just totally awesome!!!
  3. Death Valley at LSU- We almost moved to a church in Baton Rouge in 2001, and Bengal Tiger games would have been one of the real draws. But only at night. The atmosphere there seems just amazing at night.
  4. Auburn/Alabama in The Iron Bowl-  It always seemed like these 2 played amazing games on a neutral field every year, and I love watching. As long as Alabama lost...
  5. Florida/Georgia- I have been to a SEC game at The Swamp in Gainesville, and I have seen a SEC game Between the Hedges in Athens.  Both were awesome experiences.  But I have never been to Jacksonville to see these 2 play each other in The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.  And that needs to change!
  6. Notre Dame Stadium- Another place so full of tradition and stories, and I just want to see it all once.  Plus, I need to see Touchdown Jesus before I die!
  7. Ohio State/Michigan-  The Big Game.  I would need to see this once twice, once at each team's home.  Strange part is, I can't stand either team.  But I love the rivalry and history of this game.
  8. USC- I would love to see Southern Cal play UCLA or Oregon at the incredibly historic Los Angeles Coliseum. But I would go just for their fight song.  I do love that fight song. 
  9. Clemson-  Another version of Death Valley. To see the Clemson players enter the stadium, touch the rock and take the field would be quite the sight.  Plus I love orange. I just can't help myself.  This one gets bonus point if I can see them beat Miami or Maryland.
  10. THE USC- That would be the University of South Carolina.  On Saturdays the over 100,000 people in Williams-Brice Stadium makes it one of the largest cities in SC.  The place rocks.  And Steve Spurrier is the coach, so anything can happen.  I actually like Spurrier.  No accounting for taste, huh?
So there is my current list.  Let me know what I missed, or if you have been and found any of my choices to be overrated...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday Shout Outs!

September is half over, the baseball pennant races are hotter than ever, football season is in full swing and in places other than Florida the weather is beginning to cool. It's a great time of year, and a great time for another edition of my Saturday Shout Outs! Strapped in? Then here we go...

  • Today is Bethany Esry's (FUMC-Kissimmee) wedding day!  Our thoughts are with her (along with sister Caitlin, Julia Pribyl and others) on the beach in South Florida today!
  • Next up, some birth news!  Justin Whitaker (Springfield Friends Meeting) and his wife Erin welcomed baby boy Riley to the world on September 12. At 10 pounds, 2 ounces he was the exact same weight as Will Jones, and at 22 inches only one inch shorter!  Prayers and congratulations to the whole Whitaker clan, including grandparents Denny & Brenda, aunts Traci & Natalie and uncle Jeffrey.
  • Speaking of Will Jones, he has finally been dragging kicking and screaming into the world of Facebook by his friends.  Feel free to send him a friend request, but I can make no promises. Marilyn is not on that list just yet.  Lisa Jewett, however, has been accepted- and she won't top bragging about it!  She's so special...
  • We are still trying to put together another Reunion Planning Meeting for the alumni of the FUMC-Kissimmee group.  It will need to be on a Saturday in October, and the 20th is out.  I would love a suggestion from someone- the reunion is coming April 20-21, 2013!  And it really needs to be at a time when Kelly Jeck Trace (also known as the Queen of Kissimmee) can join us with her wealth of information.  So everyone, check with Kelly, and then tell me when!  :)
  • More birth news!  Hamp Sessions (FUMC-K) & wife Laura welcomed Henry Hampton Sessions to Florida on September 10.  Aunt Jocelyn is apparently doing well...
  • Tomorrow is the birthday of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Beth Vestal McGalliard. She graduated high school only one year behind me, but strangely is still just now turning 29 years old.  I wrote a post about her and some other high school friends from New Garden Friends Meeting 3 years ago, and you can revisit it by clicking here.  Love you, Beth!
  • Speaking of old friends, I continue to have a blast catching up with Jennifer Wood Jones (Springfield Friends Meeting) via texts.  She and her family have really lousy taste in sports teams (they cheer for Duke...ugh!), but otherwise it has been a real joy to hear all about what they are up to and revisit some great old times with Woodhead.  This text messaging stuff is pretty cool.  :)
  • Jennifer (FUMC-K) & Jun Kuramochi, it is time for some Red Robin. Pick a date. Let's do this thing!  
  • Did you read my John Denver post this week? If not, check it out here and then tell me- what is your favorite JD song or memory?
  • For those of you who are afraid I might be growing up, I should tell you that I cannot wait to see Finding Nemo 3D tomorrow!!!
  • I haven't mentioned it lately, but we continue to observe the Taco Tuesdaze holiday every week at the Tijuana Flats in Westchase. Lisa, Marilyn and I usually get there between 7:15 and 7:30 pm.  If you live in Tampa, are vacationing in Tampa or would like to drive to Tampa, come join us!  All are welcome!!!
  • Yesterday I named Drew and Andrea Ward as the Best Couple on Twitter.  It was just something that had to be done.  I love social media. I just declare it, and it is so.  How cool is that!!!
  • It has been an amazing few weeks here on the blog. I've written posts that stirred up arguments about barbecue, sports and politics. I remembered the great trip from Wesley Memorial UMC to Ground Zero as we honored the fallen heroes of 9/11.  I wrote about the one thing I really know anything about- youth ministry.  And with each of these posts I continue to be astonished at the the number of people reading.  Even after 3 years of blogging every day, I still love it!
  • Twitter continues to play an important role in my life as well.  I get so much encouragement and support from my friends there.  And even though I have met only a few of them, I do consider them friends- or in some cases, family.   I am so blessed!
  • And finally, Ben Thompson (FUMC-K) was married to Rachel last weekend in Pennsylvania. We think. I mean we know they were married, we think it was last weekend.  Ben was not very forthcoming with details on Facebook.  But anyway, congratulations Ben and Rachel and we look forward to seeing you here in Florida before too long.  Because eventually, everyone comes to Florida...
That's the news and I am outta here!

Because of Jesus,