Monday, October 22, 2012

Influences- David Bills

David Bills arrived as pastoral minister at New Garden Friends Meeting just slightly before I did in 1972.  It would be several months later before I really came to know him, but there were a number of things about David that stood out to me immediately.  My experience with pastors to that point had been very limited, but the ones I had known had seemed quite serious and even a bit scary.  David was just the opposite.  He didn't tell us to call him Rev. Bills or Pastor Dave or any other formal title- just David.  He was quick with a smile or a joke that really helped put this young teenager at ease as I tried to settle back into "church" after my family's extended absence.  And he really cared about all of us in the youth group.

I remember riding with David on a trip up to Sam Levering's orchards and encountering a car with car trouble.  We stopped and looked under the hood, all of us clueless about what we might be looking for.  David leaned in and said (and 30+ years later I can hear it as clearly as if were yesterday) "I see the problem.  The flange hammer is stuck on the McGuffy box, so your flu-flu valve is not working properly."  We all looked at him and then exploded in laughter, understanding he was saying what we all thought- we would be no help in this matter.  As usual, David put us all at ease.

New Garden Friends Meeting was a very eclectic place, with people of all ages and many places along the theological spectrum.  David always knew how to challenge us all.  He taught us about the Bible, about social justice, about Quakerism and about what it means to truly follow Christ. When people criticized him for allowing his son Jeff to wear his baseball hat in worship, David taught us all by explaining how Jeff would take the hat off himself when he understood he was in the presence of God.  And sure enough, Jeff did just that!  In a place where biblical literacy was sometimes questionable, I remember him delivering a message one Sunday from the book of 2 Heziciah.  Many were surprised at the conclusion to discover there in no such book, and the lesson of how easily the uneducated can be misled in the name of God was not lost on anyone.  I used that same trick many times over my years in student ministry.   In fact, David always encouraged me to think outside the box during my years as youth leader at New Garden.  He supported all of us, and always had my back, even when I was wrong.  He and his wife Jean opened their home for a weekly gathering of Guilford College students, where they fed us and helped us cope with life, and those meals were some of my favorite times with some amazing friends.  Later on he was a strong supporter when I applied for a position in New England Yearly Meeting and when I went to Springfield Friends Meeting.  He was one of the pastors who presided over mine and Marilyn's wedding.  And when we wanted to have a memorial service for my Dad years later, he graciously opened New Garden for us.  He loved me when I was a failure and a success; he modeled the love of Christ for me even before I understood what that was.

But my lasting memory of Dave Bills will always be from our rehearsal dinner.  As the large party set around tables, dressed fairly formally and toasting us with champagne, a commotion arose from David's table.  We looked to see he had a table spoon dangling from his nose.  My Dad followed his example, and before long the whole atmosphere of the room had changed with people trying to dangle spoons from their noses.  David Bills is still pastoral minister at New Garden all these years later, and I would guess he is still teaching, still encouraging, and still finding ways to make everyone feel welcome and at ease.  Pastors can be so pompous and self-important, seeking to separate themselves from the flock they attend.  But just try being pompous with a spoon hanging on your nose!  Thanks David.  You continue to be an influence in my life.

Because of Jesus,

Friday, October 19, 2012

Back to the Beginning

This post originally appeared on August 27, 2009.  In other words, it was post #2.  I thought maybe it was time for a review...

Some of that old New Garden gang, around 1980.
Over my 28 years in youth ministry the number one question I would get from students and their parents was, "How did you get into this anyway?" It's not a short answer, but it's a fairly simple one. I grew up in NC as an only child.  My family was very active in a United Methodist Church until I was around 9 years old.  At that point, their church split over a pastoral change (pastoral changes in Methodist churches have NOT been good to me!) and my parents were caught in the middle. They wound up dropping out of church completely, and really never went back. But that didn't mean they gave up on God.  We still prayed, still read scripture, and still attended Asheboro Friends (Quaker) Meeting whenever we were visiting my maternal grandparents.  My mom's dad, the late Carl Clark, was one of those guys who wasn't doing church right unless he beat the pastor there on Sunday mornings.  He ingrained in me a love of the church- eventually. On the whole I was more than happy to stay home on Sunday mornings and watch Notre Dame football highlights with Lindsey Nelson and Paul Hornung. At this point, sports were my life, especially baseball.  In the summer after 7th grade my new friend Steve Semmler invited me to go to church camp with him at a place called Quaker Lake, but I couldn't because of baseball. Plus, I wasn't ready for the whole "church thing" just yet.

All of that changed once my 8th grade school year started.  Steve kept inviting me to youth at New Garden Friends Meeting, and I kept making excuses not to go.  Finally, in late September of 1972, I relented and went roller skating with the group.  I would love to be able to tell you that Steve's evangelism techniques or a life changing vision from God changed my heart, but the fact is that a girl we'll call Becky (since that was her name!) was going skating too!  And that was all the inspiration I needed. While nothing romantic ever came of my crush on Becky, I was hooked on youth group. I went with them on a couple of trips to the beach and to Sam Levering's apple orchard in VA, and then the following summer I went to Quaker Lake for the first time. I entered high school with the people from that youth group- Steve, Becky, Beth, Tammy, Carl, Lisa, Martha, Andy, Tim, Mary Lynne and others- as the most important people in my lives, and they would remain so for all of my high school years, and for many, beyond. And the youth leaders who shared their lives with us- DB3 and BethLouise, and Rob and Barbie- inspired me greatly for the next 30 years.

During those years I also became obsessed with working at Quaker Lake upon graduation.  I volunteered pretty much the entire summer of 1977, and then was hired for summer staff in 1978. Towards the end of the summer a local pastor, David Robinson, came to me and asked me if I would consider being the youth leader at Centre Friends Meeting. It sounded like fun to me, so I said yes.  I had no idea that I had just started down a path that would lead me directly into the service of God and into 28 years of amazing people, places and stories. I was 18 when I led my first youth meeting. I might as well have been Peter stepping out of the boat- I had no idea where I was going or how big the waves were going to be, but Jesus had called me, and I had answered. Bring on the tsunami....

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pure Worship

I have written here before (see Missing Silence) of the wide variety of elements I enjoy in a worship service.  Drama, video, music, creative preaching and teaching are elements I have come to enjoy in modern worship.  I am fully aware that my tastes cut across a variety of differing styles, which makes in highly unlikely that I will ever discover a church that "worships" the way I wish they would.  And that's life.

Like many of you I have seen churches struggle over the years with styles of worship.  They want to keep their older members happy, so they continue to have organ music and sing hymns from hymnals.  Three hymns, an offering and a sermon (with perhaps an altar call) all scheduled out neatly in the church bulletin.  For many people my age (53) and older, this is what they expect from a church service.  But church leadership is always looking for ways to attract young families, and for nearly 20 years now they have seen changing worship styles as the way to do that.  Contemporary worship seeks to encourage a more youthful congregation through modern music (often with a band), more creative teaching styles and less liturgy and formality.  Some churches still offer both; separate services, separate worshiping bodies who barely know each other.  Some offer a "blended" service, seeking to appease both groups at the same time.  Churches have split over differences in worship styles.  "Worship" has even become its own genre of music.  In some places, the words worship and music have become interchangeable.  They are not.  Music is an act of worship.  Worship is so much more.  My friends, some of us have lost sight of what worship is.  It's not anything we perform, or schedule.  Worship does not have a style.  So what is worship? 

"Worship is a hunger of the human soul for God.  When it really occurs, it is as compelling as the hunger for food.  It is as spontaneous as the love of a girl or boy.  If we feel it, no one needs to tell us we should worship.  No one has to try to make us do it.  If we do not feel it, or have no desire to feel it, no amount of urging or forcing will do any good.  We simply cannot be forced from the outside to worship.  Only the Spirit within us, the Light within, can move us to it.  - N. Jean Toomer            

You see, worship is much more about what you bring to God than it is about what your church brings to the service.  If your heart is hungry for God, then it won't matter the instruments that are played or the songs that are sung.  You will find the beauty in Amazing Grace, O For A Thousand TonguesOur God Saves or Shout To the LORD.  You will find wisdom in the Word of God, whether read directly from scripture, delivered by a speaker or experienced in a drama or video.  And you will find joy in the presence of God with the family of God as you you all seek Him together.  But you need none of those things. We need prayer.  We need to listen to God- and God often does speak through those elements.  But I can tell you from personal experience that if you are truly seeking God, an hour of silence can be some of the best worship you will ever experience.  When worship becomes about style or elements, then it has become all about us.  All that is required is an open heart and the presence of God.  And God will always be wherever you are.

So if we don't get anything out of worship this weekend, perhaps it's time to quit pointing fingers at the worship team or the pastor and start looking into our own souls.  And if we do, then praise God that that the Holy Spirit is speaking to your hungry heart.  I pray you all have a blessed week.

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mountains and Molehills

Monday was a momentous day here at I'd Laugh.  Maybe you noticed, and maybe you didn't.  It's not like there was a parade or anything.  The post office was open and garbage trucks still picked up.  Schools were in session. Politicians were still annoying.  In fact, I would guess that for everyone else in the world life went on pretty much as usual.  But for me, Monday was a day of change.  And here's why...

On Monday, for the first day since August 26, 2009, I did not post to this blog.  After 1,147 straight days, I took a day off.  In my mind this was a BIG deal.  In my mind, this was like Cal Ripken choosing to sit.  Many of you know I began blogging with a commitment to post for 365 consecutive days.  Once I passed that milestone, it became a point of real pride to keep going.  And this was a good thing- for ME.  But somewhere along the way my thinking shifted. Instead of thinking of myself as the writer of a very small and humble blog (which is what this is) I began to post everyday under the assumption that people would be disappointed in me if I did not.  There are many people who enjoy my posts, but it was time to admit that their importance was becoming exaggerated in my own mind.  In fact, only one person has mentioned to me noticing that the streak came an end. I had worried for a few months about how to end the streak.  It seemed liked a mountain top moment in my life.  Turned out to be just one more molehill.

So one Monday I did not post.  I did not tweet.  I simply let the world carry on without me.  And you know what?  The world did just fine.  As with so many other things in this life, God has a way of reminding us that it is NOT about us.  Whatever good this blog has done, it is because God has used it.  The glory is His for loving me everyday, not mine for writing everyday.  Now don't get me wrong, I will still post most everyday.  I will still seek to share stories of faith, humor, inspiration and connections.  This blog is my ministry, and I will not dessert it.  I just no longer feel the need to keep a streak alive so people will say, "Wow! Look at what Carl did!"  It's not about me...  My sign off line says it all, and that is not about to change now.  Be blessed, my friends!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Happy Birthday, Marilyn!

Happy Birthday to my lovely wife Marilyn!  We intend to celebrate in style!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Psalm 119

The famous words, "Let the words of my my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer" are found in Psalm 119:14.  I know these words are an important prayer to many believers.  I first learned to sing them at camp the summer after 8th grade, and they have been with with me ever since.  I am sure many of you have them memorized as well. It is a prayer I used to pray before every sermon or youth talk I ever gave, with the added phrase "speak to me and the through me, LORD, that we might all know you better."

But here is the truth about that powerful little verse- if it were just the "words of our mouth," most of us would be OK.  We have figured out how to sound religious.  While we cannot fool God, we can fool ourselves.  We know the big words and the special language that make us sound like God is important to us. We know what not to say to give away our hurts and pains.  We many stumble at times, but if it were just our words we wanted to keep acceptable, we might might not need to worry about this little prayer.

But it's not just the words.  And we do need to worry.  Clean my heart, O God.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Remembering Pizza Inn

OK. so before we go any farther here is an apology.  This week has been a wild one.  Will was sick one day, I was sick, and then for unknown reasons I lost the ability to sleep. My Mom came to visit, and Jerry Hanbery joined us last night to see Will march at the football game. This morning (again, for reasons unknown) my right knee is twice the size of my left knee.  Anyway, the apology is because I have not written much this week and new posts have been in short supply.  The good news that means I get to share a few a my favorite vintage posts.  Like this one...

When chronicling the history of my time at Springfield Friends Meeting, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the impact of Pizza Inn.  I am aware that every youth ministry is impacted by pizza is some way.  I know that food is an important part of most every ministry.  Why do you think churches love potluck dinners so much?  In some ways our attraction to Pizza Inn was not unique.  In some ways, however, it was an amazing part of our success.

The Pizza Inn located in High Point was only about a mile from Springfield (as the crow flies!) and so it was convenient.  They had a wonderful lunch buffet at a reasonable price. The words "all-you-can-eat" are always good to hear when feeding teenagers!  We would go, eat salad, pizza, pasta, dessert pizza and bread sticks. And we would drink sweet tea.  The sweetest sweet tea you have ever tasted.  And we would drink it by the gallon!  In the beginning it was just something we did every now and then as a group for Sunday lunch, and we called it Pizza Break.  Eventually it became the place where groups of us would eat most every Sunday.  During school breaks and summers I would often eat there 4 or 5 days a week, usually with a different person or group each time.  It was such a safe place for all of us.  Some days we would laugh so loudly that we expected to be thrown out.  Some days my lunch partner would share deep pain or hurt, and tears would be shed.  Some days we would just bask in the glow of spending time with people we loved.  In the truest sense of the word, Pizza Inn became the place where we would have Communion. We would pray around the table; we would break bread together; and we would share our lives.  Most of the time is was not "religious," but every time it was special.  When students would go away to college, they would come home and call and want to go to the Inn.  The managers and wait staff knew us and loved us.  It was truly a second home for our student ministry.

Although I shared this experience with many students over the years, when I think of Pizza Inn my mind first jumps to Ken HillTodd FarlowDanny McCorquodale and Jamie Robinson.  We ate there together so many times over so many years, sometimes staying for hours.  I cannot even imagine how much tea we drank or how much pizza we ate.  I do know this- we could all walk into to Pizza Inn today and it would be just like no time had passed at all.  Communion is like that.  It is never ending, not just a sacrament to be shared on special occasions.  It is unfailing.  Because Jesus is the same today, yesterday and forever!  Just like the Pizza Inn buffet...

EDITOR'S NOTE:  I hear our Pizza Inn has been remodeled and that the fake fireplace is gone and the buffet is even bigger.  I look forward to going back someday.  And Jeremy Godwin and I plan to do some serious damage!  :)

Because of Jesus,

Friday, October 12, 2012

7 Youth Ministry No Nos

Adults who work with you should look happy like this...
Youth Ministry is not a science, it is an art form.  There is no one way to do it correctly; it requires constant adjustments and course corrections.  But even with that being said, in my experience there are some things that are absolute "no-nos" when it comes to the day in, day out work of student ministry.  These are right up there with things like"don't take the toaster in the bathtub" and "don't mess with Chuck Norris."  I learned they are no-nos because I did all of them, at least once- and discovered how much damage they can do to a ministry.  So here we go- 7 things that youth ministry leaders should never do...or never do again...
Not stressed & insane like this!

  1. Never be on time.  Yes, you read that right.  If you are the leader- the head honcho, the main man, the big dog, numero uno- then you need to be on site and ready to go at least 30 minutes before anything is scheduled to start.  Why?  Because you know kids will show up early, and they should ALWAYS have a safe and friendly face waiting to greet them.  I liked to be an hour early so I could get a little prayer time in before stuff started, but that's just me.  I always thought that if I wasn't 30 minutes early, I was late.  Believe it!
  2. Do not have double standards.  The same rules and standards need to apply to everyone involved- and that includes the adults.  When I worked at camp back in the late 70s, the counselors and the campers were not allowed to have soda all week.  The staff (lifeguards, cooks, etc.) had a refrigerator full of the stuff. It was so flagrant we all called soda "DS"- double standard.  Make everyone live by the same guidelines. If you are having an "electronics free" retreat, then the adults need to turn off their phones too.  Double standards can destroy the community you are seeking to build.
  3. Do not cancel an event due to low attendance.  This one makes me crazy.  Over and over again I have seen and heard of youth pastors having only a couple of kids show up for an event, and then sending them home.  What kind of message does that send?  We're telling teenagers that the event was what was important, not them.  If you had a 3 team relay race planned and 2 students show up, then yes- you will have to change your plan.  But do not send them home as if their presence is not enough to validate your ministry.  I always tried to do something special for them, like take them out to dinner, so that everyone who missed the event would think twice about missing again!  But that's just me...
  4. Do not automatically choose a youth's point of view over that of their parents.  We want to be advocates for the youth we serve, and it is so very tempting to always take their side in skirmishes between them and their parents.  Often their point of view is the only one we hear.  We are not being faithful to our calling if our actions and words drive a wedge between parents and students.  Listen to your students, but don't assume that you are getting the full story or that they are right.  Be an advocate for the family, not just the student.
  5. Do not talk smack about your Senior Pastor in front of your students.  I know that on occasion youth pastors and senior pastors have been known to disagree (major understatement!).   I worked with 2 pastors I disrespected so much I have refused to type their names when writing about them in this blog.  But publicly, you need to support your pastor.  Yes, you need to vent your feelings and express your emotions.  But your students are the wrong crowd.  Period.  I wish I had learned this one BEFORE I met The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named...
  6. Never expect the worst from a student.  If you do, that is exactly what you will get.  You cannot get respect and trust if you never give it.  Youth ministries that attempt to legislate spirituality with 10,000 rules and adult sponsors who act like a S.W.A.T. team create an atmosphere of distrust that can destroy community.  I'm not saying be naive and let them get away with murder; I'm simply suggesting that the rest of society assumes teenagers cannot be trusted.  We need to be different.  I once had a group on a Ski Trip, and we shared a floor of the motel with another group.  The amount of rules and restrictions this group operated under boggled the mind, yet they were still wild.  I invited them to join us for our late night worship, and the youth pastor said no.  He was afraid they would be too disruptive.  He didn't understand that the way he treated them actually bred their behavior.  After they went in their rooms at night, he would put tape on the doors so he could see if anyone tried to sneak out.  When we left very early on our last day, we took all the tape off the doors.  It was our own little act of civil disobedience.  If you have that little trust in your students, then either don't take them on trips or find another profession.  Thus endeth this rant.  :)
  7. Don't forget why you do what you do.  Never forget that amidst all of the programs, events, trips, fundraising, relationship issues, parents, church committees and everything else, youth ministry is first and foremost all about Jesus.  'Nuff said.
Those are a few of things I consider to be no-nos.  Please feel free to add to the list.

    Because of Jesus,

    Thursday, October 11, 2012

    I Learned the Truth at 53

    Less than 60 hours after my 53rd birthday my body fell apart.  I had massive headaches, cold chills, vomiting and became extremely light-headed.  I could help but wonder if this was the line in the sand for me. 53 years is where it all comes crashing down.  I certainly hope not, but for the past few days it has certainly felt that way.  Forgive my whining; I am a pitiful patient.  And I do feel somewhat better today.

    In the meantime I feel led to remind those of you who read yesterday's vintage post that it now seems downright prophetic.  Last night's baseball games in New York and Oakland had amazing, once in a lifetime finishes, again reminding us all that "baseball is boring...until it isn't."  If I have to be sick, I can be thankful that it is on days with lots of baseball to watch.

    I hope you all have a blessed day. Prayers are appreciated.

    Because of Jesus,

    Wednesday, October 10, 2012

    The Magnificence of Baseball

    This vintage post was originally posted in Octover of 2011.  It is reposted here today in part because I am sick, and in part because there are 4 playoff games on TV today- so it just felt right.  Enjoy.

    "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.  America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray.  It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again."  Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams

    Fenway Park, Boston
    I love baseball.  I realize this puts me in the minority among USAmericans, who (as George Carlin would say) prefer the violence and land acquisition of football to a sport where the ultimate goal is to "run home."  But I do love baseball.  I love how green the fields are, and the amazing textures of the infields and the outfields.  I love the crack of the bat and sound of the ball hitting a leather glove.  I love the strategies and the cerebral nature of the game, yet I also love the silly rituals and ridiculous superstitions.  I still wouldn't step on a baseline when crossing from the field to the dugout.  I love that there in no clock- you simply play until the game is over.  It is a beautiful game.

    I love the history of the game, and my history with it.  I was at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in 1973 the night Hank Aaron hit his 700th home run.  I saw Reggie Jackson hit a home run off Tom Seaver at Fenway in 1986.  I have a Cal Ripen, Jr. autographed baseball from after The Streak.   I get jazzed knowing that no hitter has won the Triple Crown since Yaz (I wore #8 in Little League because Carl Yastrzemski was my favorite player) did it in '67, and wondering if this might be the year (Editor's Note: 2012 WAS the year- congrats Miguel Cabrera!).  I once saw Dale Murphy slam a pinch hit home run off Doc Gooden to win a game- with a broken bone in his hand!  Legendary!  I love the details, like knowing that when I was 13 I hit a home run with a Ralph Garr model bat I got at a Braves game on Bat Night.  And it saddens me that most of you don't know who Ralph (the Roadrunner) Garr is...  Because the game never changes- 9 innings, 3 strikes, 3 outs, 90 feet between bases, 60 feet, 6 inches from pitcher's mound to home plate- it is the one sport where you can legitimately argue about who was better, Honus Wagner or Derek Jeter (it's Wagner, by the way) because the era doesn't matter.  I love that baseball is still better on radio than it is on TV.  I love that I can still look at a box score (if I can find one anymore) and tell you all about a game I did not see.  I love this game, and I treasure this time of the year- the playoffs and the World Series.  It's Francisco Cabrera/Sid Bream time (or the Tiger's Don Kelly on Thursday night, or the Brewer's Nyjer Morgan last night), when role players become heroes never to be forgotten.  It just makes me smile.

    In many parts of my life I am a progressive, someone who enjoys and embraces change.  When it comes to baseball, I am a purist.  I have never liked the DH.  No baseball team (including my beloved Rays) should play in a dome unless it has a retractable roof.  It is criminal- CRIMINAL! - that there were two playoff games in Tampa this past week with the temperature at 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, and they were playing baseball indoors.  I believe that anyone who suggests tearing down Wrigley Field or Fenway Park is guilty of treason.  Those are the 2 "sanctuaries" of baseball.  I have attended several games at both, and they were among the most special days of my life.  I believe that middle schools/junior high schools should teach students the mathematical equations for ERA (earned run average) and batting average as part of the curriculum.  And I believe that hitting a baseball in the single most difficult task in all of sports.  The very best fail to get a hit 2 out of 3 tries.  I love this game.

    Ralph Garr, 1973
    I know that many of you will say that you find baseball to be boring.  I read a statement recently from a baseball writer who said he never argued with people who thought that way, because baseball is boring to the casual fan.  Until it is not.  No other sport (with the occasional exceptions of college basketball and playoff sudden-death ice hockey) provides the kind of dramatic, climactic moments that baseball does. Only in baseball- after 130 years or so of professional games- does something happen almost every night that has never happened before.  Only in baseball does a team get the chance to complete a magnificent comeback (like being down 7-0 to the Yankees in a must win game) every night, because the clock cannot expire.  You play until the 9 innings are over- and then you play again tomorrow.  Only in baseball can you say at the beginning of September "there are no playoff races left" only to have the last day of the regular season be one of the most spectacular, meaningful days in baseball history.  Baseball may be slow.  It may seem to lack action on occasion, because the intricacies of the game are lost on so many these days.  It may even be boring.  Until it is not.  And then it is simply magnificent!

    Have I convinced you yet?  :)  

    Tuesday, October 9, 2012

    Remember Who You Are

    Sometime following the release of the great Disney film The Lion King on VHS back in the 1990s I did a program for the youth of FUMC-Kissimmee using the clip you see above.  From the first time I saw the movie at the midnight show on opening night at the Pleasure Island theaters, I absolutely loved this scene. It seemed to have so much to say about life, and specifically, about our spiritual journeys.  I wanted to use the message that Mufasa gives Simba to help our students remember that they were each called by God.  I would later use the same program at a couple of other churches.

    It is so easy for each of us to forget that God is not just some nameless, faceless deity in the sky- God is our Abba Father.  He cares for us. He looks after us. He gives us love and grace when we don't deserve it.  But we humans get so comfortable relying on ourselves. We forget that we are a part of God's plan for saving the world.  We believe the lie that we are not good enough for God to use. We dwell in the past.  We forget who we are-  and whose we are.  We stop believing in the power of God to use us, transform us, and forgive us. But just like Mufasa, God is always there to call us back. To remind us that He will never forsake us, and that we have work to do as a part of the family of God. We may not be kings like Simba.  But we all can serve the Prince of Peace.

    So today I remind myself and all of you to REMEMBER.  Remember that you were created in the image of God.  Remember that Jesus died on the cross to save YOU, and that he rose on the third day so that we might have all that power (Ephesians 1:19).  Remember that you have been gifted by God to serve him here on this earth.  You are a chosen, holy and loved child of God.  So when fear, guilt and sin seem to have you crushed, listen to old Rafiki.  The past can hurt. You can either run from it, or learn from it.  Remember who you are...

    Because of Jesus.

    Monday, October 8, 2012

    Amazing Grace

    I talk a lot on this blog about God's amazing love and forgiveness, because without it- and without the examples of them so many of you have shown me- I wouldn't be writing at all.  Today I want to share two verses from Romans 5:6-8 that help remind us just what grace really is:
    You see, at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us in this; While we were still sinners Christ died for us.

    Jesus came to save the lost.  He doesn't require us to "get found" before He takes us in His arms.  He died for the ungodly; He died for sinners;  HE DIED FOR US!  Do not beat yourself up for the sin in your life, even as you seek to get rid of it.  God knows it is there, and He loves us anyway.  Confess your sins, repent (turn away from) of your sins and know that we are loved by a God who forgives and forgets.  Quit worrying about how badly you have messed up, and start serving God and loving people.  We can't be perfect; trust me, I know what I am talking about here!  Surrender to Jesus and be free of your baggage. Because we do have work to do.  The old song We Are the Family of God reminds us of our task:  "He brought us together to be one in Him, that we might bring Light to the world..."   It is time for each of us to let our lights SHINE!!!  Have a wonderful week!

    Because of Jesus,

    Sunday, October 7, 2012

    By Our Love...

    John 13:34-35: (Jesus said) Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples—when they see how you love one another.

    The other day I came across a pamphlet from a group called The Christian Coalition.  It was designed to be handed out at churches and to tell us who we should vote for in the upcoming election.  It told us of the evils of those running against "God's candidates" and suggested that voting for anyone not chosen by them could result in apocalyptic consequences, or perhaps even having your salvation revoked.  Even apart from my belief that such political things have no place at a house of worship, this really ticked me off!  Then a few days later I saw a tweet saying that women have no place in church leadership.  REALLY?  These things reminded me that many of the things that THEY say in the name of Christianity do not represent me and have little to do with Jesus. Who are THEY?  I don't really know, but every day on Christian radio, TV, in blogs and on websites THEY certainly have a lot to say.  What are THEY telling the world about the best ways to identify a Christ-follower?  Things like this:

    THEY say people will know we are His disciples by which church we attend and which translation of the Bible we have collecting dust on our end tables.

    THEY say people will know we are His disciples by our doctrine and the ways we keep riff-raff and ragamuffins out of our churches.

    THEY say people will know we are His disciples by our knowledge of scripture- and the way we use it to make others feel small and stupid.

    THEY say people will know we are His disciples by the things we don't let people see us do, such as smoking, drinking, gambling and sexual promiscuity.

    THEY say people will know we are His disciples by the things we are against, like abortion and homosexuality.

    THEY say people will know we are His disciples by the amount of money we make, because God blesses the faithful with wealth.

    THEY say people will know we are His disciples by the bumper stickers on our cars and the t-shirts on our backs.

    THEY say people will know we are His disciples because we are patriotic and worship the flag.

    THEY say people will know we are His disciples by the way we point fingers, judge people and tell them that they are sinners.  You can't be a good Christian if you haven't told someone they are going to hell!

    THEY say people will know we are His disciples because we understand this to be true:  God is good, and you are not, so try harder!  We can save ourselves, because this world is all about us!

    THEY say people will know we are His disciples by our intolerance of other religions, other races and anyone who disagrees with us.  Also the way we ignore the homeless, the poor and the different.

    That's what THEY say; what do I say (and more importantly, do)?  Do I represent God with love and grace, or do I too enjoy pointing fingers and making my own words more important than His?  Do I remember that whoever THEY are, I must love them too, because in Jesus we should be "one in the Spirit."  As my friend Ashley Goad Broadhurst likes to say, "It should be simple; love God, love people."  Why do we make it so complicated?  I have to believe that God is shaking His head at the nonsense that comes out of His church.  We may fool ourselves, but God is no fool. His word is the truth. You cannot focus on being anti-anything if you become pro-love.  God's word says that there is only one way the world will know if we are followers of His Son:  "They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they'll know we are Christians by our love..."  We need to get out there and love each other before THEY convince this world that Jesus is who THEY say He is.  Have a blessed Sabbath, everyone!

    Because of Jesus,

    Saturday, October 6, 2012

    29 Again!

    Today is the 24th anniversary of my 29th birthday, and in celebration of this special day I am taking a break from serious blogging.  In lieu of reading a post from me, I suggest that you turn your attention to Florida/LSU at 3:30 PM and USC/Georgia at 7 PM.  Wouldn't want you to get bored!  :)  

    See you tomorrow!

    Friday, October 5, 2012

    7 Things: Politics Gone Wild!

    The following is political commentary. As always, it is entirely possible that I am completely wrong...

    On Wednesday night I confess that I watched half of the Presidential debate on TV, the other half on Twitter.  It worked out well for me, a political agnostic.  By the time I got to Twitter I knew why everyone was tweeting about Big Bird and the moderator (Jim Leher) being like a replacement referee in an NFL game. I didn't really need to read the comments from those that I follow who actually care about politics- the Romney fans thought he was brilliant and the Obama fans were certain their man was in control.  I myself chose to be snarky, tweeting that I would watch no more until Ron Burgundy was made moderator, and nominating Sheldon Cooper for President.  But in the middle of all the fun I did have a few serious questions about the political process, and today I share them.  I don't mean to endorse anyone here- I have declared myself a PURPLE state. I am not hating the players, I am hating the game!  So here are 7 random thoughts...

    1. Experts say that the debates are designed to change the minds of undecided voters.  I would submit that the only thing most voters are undecided about at this point is whether or not they are going to vote at all.  I just don't see their purpose in this day of unlimited information and 24 hours news cycles. We have heard it all before.
    2. If we are going to be subjected to these 90 minute gab fests, then PLEASE- quit telling me what the other guy is doing or is going to do WRONG and tell me what you are going to do that is RIGHT- and why.
    3. In DUH News, we do realize that the real issue here is not Romney or Obama, it is the fact that we continue to elect congressmen/women and senators who do everything in their power to fight for their party and almost nothing to represent "we the people"- right? When the goal of our elected representatives becomes keeping people from the other party from being elected rather than working for the good of the country, the system is badly broken. Both parties share equal blame, and both have a lot of people who need to be sent home from Washington. Permanently.
    4. In words I thought I would never, ever say, I find myself agreeing with Rush Limbaugh (wow, that really hurt) on this one thing- if the President is re-elected, the Republican Party may be in serious trouble. I am not sure why "The Big Bag of Wind" said that, but here is my historical reasoning.  In 1980 we began 12 years of a Reagan/Bush presidency. Few remember this now, but Ronald Reagan created the first deficit in history in order to repair a horribly damaged economy.  In 1992 Bush #41 was defeated primarily because the economy was a mess and we had the worst deficit in history.  In his first 4 years Bill Clinton was able to do little to fix it, but in his 2nd term the economy turned upward, the deficit was wiped out and he turned over a budget surplus to W. Eight years later the economy was in shambles again and we had our first trillion dollar debt.  The first 4 years of an Obama administration have seemingly done little to fix the problems.  But here's the deal (in my feeble mind)...if he is re-elected (a big IF) and if his plans to fix the economy and begin to reduce the debt work (another big IF) then I don't see how the Republicans come back from that.  To quote Bush #43, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...well...I won't get fooled again."  Or something like that.  The Red State guys need a win or an Obama fail- or it could be all over.
    5. Speaking of 43, I think I would vote for any Republican candidate at any level who would be willing to admit that this financial crisis we are in is NOT Obama's fault. He may not have fixed it, but he certainly didn't invent it. Spin it any way you want to, much of the blame lies with the previous administration.  And Republicans, while blackballing W. from the convention and pretty much everything else, just refuse to claim their part in this mess. I will have unending respect for anyone who does.
    6. Liberal Democrats seem to be afraid that if Obama is given a second term that he may dessert them and move more to the middle of the political spectrum in order to get things done. Romney is a middle-of-the-road Republican who has abandoned many of his own beliefs to appeal more to the Tea Party and the conservative wing of his party. Wouldn't it be awesome if the third debate was them telling us what they really think instead of what they think we want to hear?
    7. And finally, I am sick to death of both sides trying to claim high ground on the issue of faith. Stop it. Here's what I see. I read tweets from both sides slamming the candidates and people who believe in them with harsh words and vitriol, only to tweet the next morning about how we should all love one another.  I heard both candidates talk about saving the middle class, but I heard nothing about reaching out to "the least of these"- as Jesus commanded.  There was (and will be more in the next debate) talk of military power and and shows of strength, but little thought given to peacemaking and the Prince of Peace. They spoke of Big Bird, but there was no mention of Bert & Ernie (if you catch my drift), ignoring a part of the population that has been bullied and persecuted for years.  The Evangelical Church backs Romney because he is a Republican and despite the fact that they consider his Mormon faith an abomination.  Half of the country still believes Obama is Muslim.  Romney said "we are all children of the same god" but we have no idea which god that might be.  Neither of these men and neither of these political parties comes close to representing Jesus and the things he taught. The question becomes less about who is President and more about who has control of our hearts. Who are you going to follow?
    So that what I've been pondering these past couple of days. What say you?

    Thursday, October 4, 2012

    Random Ramblings: Quaker Lake Camp

    Greetings! I have been thinking so much about Quaker Lake Camp this week and going through a few hundred old slides to see what I have. Hopefully you will see them too in the days to come.  But for now, here are some random ramblings and flashbacks from QLC. I posted much of this in 2009, and it got exactly 13 page views.  Times have changed! :)

    * This picture is from 1988 when I was volunteering as Camp Pastor. I am front right; with me are Jennifer Bills, Beth Phillips Massey, Scott Smith, Jason Dewar, Jay Wilkins, Anita Swaim, Rebecca Howard Jackson and lots more of my favorite people!
    * When I first attended camp in 1973, there was no pool, no Jericho Road, no Rappelling Tree, no Crafts Hut (just the Quonset Hut), no paved basketball court and no Crafts and Special Activities Director. They were all there 10 years later, my last summer on staff. Thanks, Neal Thomas.
    * I was the very first Crafts and Special Activities Director in 1983.
    * One of the assistant cooks in the mid-70’s, Vickie Casey, was a vegetarian. One night each week we had either vegetarian lasagna (excellent) or spaghetti (BEANS=YUCK!).
    * My first counselor was Richard Shimaka, a Guilford College student from Kenya.
    * The most famous QLC ghost stories were Red Eye Dick, The Quaker Lake Hand, and Nancy Nurse. And no one ever told them better than Ricky Sessoms.
    * Neal Thomas used to like to hide on the roof of the lodge and pour water on people as they came out the back door to the kitchen- I have pictures somewhere of him getting Gail Steelman and Susan McBane. This is a pic of Gail getting him. :)
    * David Fields and Paul Routh were both in my cabin as very young campers. Between the 3 of us we have spent at least one full lifetime at QLC!
    * We once sent a staffer the emergency room with a sprained ankle and an insurance form. The form asked how the injury had occurred, and the answer was “injured while being stuffed in the pot sink.”
    * Assistant Cooks didn’t last very long in those days.
    * Room #2 in the lodge was nicknamed The Ghetto during the years Alan Brown and I used it as our home base.
    * My first year as a camper, Team Competition included individual sports like tether ball, ping pong (single and doubles) and badminton (singles and doubles). I still have my blue ribbon for going undefeated in singles badminton.
    * The only bad part of being Crafts and Special Activities Director my last summer was that I had to play on the hated staff team in the Staff vs. Counselors volleyball game every Friday night.
    * The skit where God interrupts a person praying the Lord’s Prayer and talks them through it has been done at Vespers since the dawn of time, along with The Giving Tree and Barrington Bunny.
    * The late Doug Morse, who volunteered for years at Senior High Camp, loved to ring the bell every morning. He often would ring it 100 times or more. Several mornings he was almost the only volunteer ever assassinated by the staff.
    * Building a cross of candles on the softball field was nice, but to me nothing was better than seeing everyone’s candles floating on the lake after the Campfire Circle.
    Alice Carroll wrote a lullaby she used to sing around the campfire in 1978. I can still play and sing that absolutely beautiful song.
    * The greatest song ever used in a Quaker Lake slide show was Dan Fogelberg's To the Morning, which Paula Teague used in 1976. Unless memory fails me, she recorded that soundtrack on an eight track tape. Go listen to that song, think about QLC, and tell me I am wrong...
    * Marshmallows, which can be so good on s'mores, are instruments of Satan in the hands of 4th and 5th grade campers on campouts.
    * Lifeguards used to wash all the dishes. They needed something to do while the counselors were doing the REAL work…
    * Jay Osborne once dropped my guitar off the roof of the lodge. I just can’t bring that up often enough!
    * Mark Farlow built campfires so big that airplanes used them as landing lights.
    * Some of the best meals I ever had in my life were potluck dinners served in small Friends Meetings after the staff would sing on Sundays at worship.
    * Secret Documents was a game I brought to camp in 1983. We used to play it growing up at New Garden. The game that later campers know as Secret Documents has almost nothing in common with the original version.
    * Some of my favorite memories are of washing dishes and singing in the kitchen with Martha Farlow.  Can you believe My Angel Baby is not available on I-Tunes?
    * I saw all 3 of the original Star Wars movies with QLC staffers on Saturday nights in 1977, 1980 and 1983.
    * The first ever Senior High Camp Banquet was in 1983, it was a Luau, and it rocked!
    * QLC once owned an Earth Ball– until it crushed some campers.
    * In 1983 we had the first (and as far I know only!) Mr. & Ms. Quaker Lake Pageant during Sr. High Camp. One of the female contestants (I know who, but I'm not saying!) came out in a bikini, with her body fully oiled, and the the pageant came to a stop. That was one of the times I almost lost my job...
    * Terry Venable and Leigh Ann Everhart came to my house after they got engaged, hoping I would notice the ring. I did not. They had to tell me.
    * One summer the lake turned red. I kid you not…
    * Homemade Orange Sherbet always rocked my world.
    * I will never, ever, ever drink red kool-aid again!
    * Did I mention that Jay Osborne let my guitar slide down the roof of the lodge?

    So there you have it. Flashbacks are a wonderful thing. Old friends are even better.  Until tomorrow...

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    Don't Tiptoe

    "All around you, people will be tiptoeing through life just to arrive at death safely.  But dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or  dance- just don't tiptoe."  ~ Shane Claiborne

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012

    "I'm Sorry, Facebook"

    Let's start with this admission- I don't do Facebook.  I have never had an account and I am not likely to anytime soon.  Marilyn (my wife) has had one for almost 4 years now and I keep up with most anyone I care to keep up with on her account.  She loves it, especially seeing the pictures of all the babies being born to our former youth group members all over the country and keeping up with her hometown friends from Elkin, NC.  But for the most part, when I check out her page, it just aggravates me.  I love my Twitter, and often find myself in agreement with those who say, "Facebook is where you "like" people you know and wish you didn't. Twitter is where you follow people you don't know but wish you did."

    Then this past weekend Facebook threw me a curve.  Mike Newsome, an old friend that I worked with at Quaker Lake Camp back in the late 1980s, discovered this blog. As he read some of the Quaker Lake stories here he began to search for old friends on Facebook. In the process he discovered some old QLC pics that had been on Marilyn's page for a couple of years now and began tagging people and making comments.  For the rest of the week, there was an explosion of activity from people I had not seen or heard from in many years on my wife's page.  These old friends, many of whom were instrumental in the path my life took both as a person of faith and as a youth pastor, were suddenly back!  It was incredible.  There were even people I didn't even know commenting on 35 year old pictures and talking about all the memories they brought back.  This ancient 1978 QLC summer staff picture got the most attention:

    Staffers, relatives of staffers and people who had barely met these staffers stopped by with "likes" and comments on this and other pics.  It didn't take long for talk of a reunion to pop up.  Seeing that folks like Mike (back left), Lynn Farlow Ossman (striped shirt) and Alice Carroll (front row, third from left) had stopped by was just so exciting.  And Susan McBane Tuggle (front right) kept the conversation going with comments all over the place. It was simply wonderful. This blurry staff pic from 1980 (which apparently I took, since I am not in it) also got lots of attention, and had many of us asking the "Whatever happened to ?" questions about so many.  It also made me miss so many other NCYM Quakers who I have not seen in years in a big way.

    And then this great pic of Martha Ratledge Farlow taking part in an old school QLC tradition- being stuffed in the pot sink (by Carl Semmler among others)- was visited and commented on by her sons Carl and Jacob and her sister Nan.  The fun just kept on coming!

    So I am left with the realization that perhaps Facebook can make a positive contribution to society after all. Maybe it is not just endless memes, outlandish drama and uninformed political commentary.  Perhaps there can be more to Facebook than meets the eye.  I always try to admit when I am wrong, so I want to issue an apology. "I'm sorry, Facebook, for all of the mean things I have said about you. Thanks for a wonderful weekend with old friends."  But I am still not opening an account...

    Because of Jesus,