Tuesday, December 31, 2013

3 Quotes & a ?

Happy New Year's Eve! As we come to the end of 2013, my heart has turned more and more to the question of what we in the church are saying to those outside of the church, and whether or not our words and deeds have anything to do with Jesus. Yesterday I told you about a conversation I overheard where many of the things that seem to be high priorities for many Christians were confusing to people outside the church. Today I want to leave you with three quotes and a question, and then leave it up to my readers to fill in the blanks- or not. Tomorrow we will kick-off the new year- a year we will refer to as Year of Living Dangerously! Today's thoughts are primarily to challenge me, but I hope they will lead you to water as well...and maybe even make you take a sip...

Quote #1-  I have used this on my blog before because I think it says so much. When asked his opinion of Jesus and Christianity, Gandhi once said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ." I often wonder if that is how many outside of the church feel about us. If we are not loving people no matter their flaws or their failures, then we are not showing the world who Jesus really is.

Quote #2Micheal McKean, best known for his role as Lenny on Laverne & Shirley and as the lead singer of Spinal Tap,  once retweeted this message from comedian John Fugelsang:"I view Jesus the way I view Elvis - I love the guy, but a lot of the fan clubs freak me out..." I laughed, but it also made me think. If I wasn't already a Christian and heard the words and thoughts of some of the people who speak most loudly about the faith, I am not sure how interested I would be. These "fan clubs" can indeed be a little freaky...and not in a good way!

Quote #3- The late Brennan Manning once wrote, "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” You may also know those words from the prelude to the amazing DC Talk song What If I Stumble? I know my life has been at times the ultimate in hypocrisy. What damage have I done the cause of Christ?

So here's my question. Does my life, even with all of my faults and failures, show the people I encounter each day the real Jesus? Or am I part of the problem? It's a question we must all answer for ourselves. Have a safe and wonderful New Year's Eve, my friends.

Because of Jesus,

Monday, December 30, 2013

How Will They Know?

I was eavesdropping on a conversation in a check-out line at Walmart last week between two 30-something adults. There was headline on a tabloid about the Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty mess and how angry it made Christians- and this couple was discussing it. They were either not believers themselves or were just simply disgusted with Christians despite their own beliefs. While I didn't record the conversation (I'm not THAT tacky!) and I don't claim to have Dr. Sheldon Cooper's eidetic memory, the discussion went something like this...

MAN: Christians get worked up over the weirdest things. Duck Dynasty? Really?
WOMAN: Well they have to defend people who bash gays. It's in their constitution or something.
MAN: Yeah first it was Chick-fil-A and now this. So much for the "love one another" sh*t.
WOMAN: It seems like they are always fired up over some cause that makes no sense to me. They seem to always be boycotting something or somebody. I don't have a clue what a Christian is anymore! 
MAN: Oh that's easy. A Christian is a Duck Dynasty watching, gay-bashing, Chick-fil-A eating, Obamacare-hating republican. Oh and anti-abortion. Just bring up any of those topics and you'll get a sermon for sure.
WOMAN: I thought it had more to do with following Jesus....I guess that's old school.
MAN: Yeah, it's less about religion and more about politics now.

My fellow Christ-followers, we have a PR problem. Certainly some of those descriptions apply to many faithful women & men, including myself. I love eating at Chick-fil-A. But if those are the things that most easily identified us, I believe Jesus is weeping. It's no wonder people are turning away from the church in record numbers. How will people know if we are followers of the Christ? I think I read somewhere (John 13:35), "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus said that. Maybe it's time we started paying attention.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, December 29, 2013


A few days ago I was reminded once again of one of the greatest nicknames in all of human history. In the Gospel of Mark 3, we can read a synopsis of Jesus calling the 12 disciples. If you are like me, the disciple you can relate to the most is Simon Peter- because he was as big a screw-up as we are, yet Jesus built the church on his faith. I would love to be a Simon Peter. But also among the 12 are the brothers James & John, the sons of Zebedee. Let me press pause and say that if the story ended there, James & John would already be awesome, because Zebedee may be the best name ever! I would have fought to name my son Zebedee, but I enjoyed living with my wife and didn't want to spend all of my time praying to the patron saint of lost causes. Still, just being the sons of Zebedee would have been cool enough. But Jesus gave them a nickname that transformed them into rock stars. He called them "Boanerges," which means Sons of Thunder. While no explanation is given in scripture, it is assumed by scholars (and me!) that this nickname was a reference to their bold and zealous personalities - illustrated by a later incident in which they wanted to "call down fire from heaven" to destroy the people of a Samaritan village who had refused to allow Jesus and His apostles to pass through on their way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-56). These guys knew what it meant to be passionate for Jesus. They had the fire in their eyes.

And clearly their Master knew this. James & John were always there (along with Peter) when Jesus needed his "inner circle." James would go on to be the first of the disciples to be martyred (Acts 12:2) and John would write his "revelation" from prison on the island of Patmos. These were men who gave their lives to Christ, not just in word, but in deeds- in big, honkin', passionate deeds. 

Beginning in January of 2014 I am going to begin a new series on this blog that will focus on what it could mean to our lives to live out that kind of faith. To be bold. To take risks. To pray to be used by God more often than we pray for safety from this world. To understand that following Jesus can lead us in to danger as much at is protects us from it. We are going to explore #DangerDays. We should focus on becoming believers who understand that following Jesus is everything, and who heed the multiple commands found in scripture to FEAR NOT! We need to seek to understand that being a people of love, grace and peace is not a weakness, but a bold stance for our Savior in this world we live in. Being a modern day Daughter of Thunder should create a radical presence for Jesus in our communities, and make us passionate thorns in the side of the institutional church. You see, so many in the church are spending time fighting with our culture that they have forgotten that the real battle is with ourselves. We need to sell out for Jesus! The #DangerDays series (complete with guest bloggers- I'l love for YOU to be one!) will be all about risk-taking and being bold- just like those first disciples. I know I am not alone in my desire to step out in faith in new and exciting ways. Jesus is looking for more folks (male & female!) with the cajones to call down fire from heaven when the occasion calls for it. Making the decision to follow Jesus and not just "do church" is in itself a risk. Your boldness may offend your neighbors and other Christians. The love and grace you offer to others may baffle them. You may be called upon to sacrifice for the cause. You almost certainly will be called upon to love people that others in the church have labeled unlovable. But when it comes to following Jesus, I am ready to take some chances and make some noise. I want to bring the thunder...

So let's make 2014 a year of living dangerously. Let's make #DangerDays not just something we can "deal with," but days where we actively seek risk in the name of Jesus. Let's be radicals for Christ. The 1st century Sons of Thunder helped turn their world upside down. A modern version could do the same. If you're interested in sharing in this adventure (including being willing to write a guest post for the blog series), leave me a comment and let me know. We can pray for one another that God will open our hearts to new risks and new dangers. Seriously. It's going to be a wild ride. And we're going to have AWESOME t-shirts...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sometimes I Feel Like a Sad Song

Winter Week of Wonder, 2001

Those of you who know me know that I am a very upbeat person. Usually my days are full of friends, family, joy and laughter. I try hard not to get caught up in the negative things that often go on around us all. But, as the late John Denver once wrote, "Sometimes I feel like a sad song..."

Not a day goes by that I don't miss youth ministry. Some days I miss the late night phone calls, the romantic dramas and the petty disputes between youth. Some days I miss the energy and the creativity that student ministry brought to my life. Some days I miss the planning and the programs and the events. Most days I miss the teaching, the counseling and the worship. Every day I miss the students and adult volunteers who were such a huge part of my life over the years. I miss something every day. Most days the memories are a blessing. Some days I miss it so bad that it hurts. Today is one of those days. Actually every year at this time I have one of those days.

The week after Christmas was always a big week in my ministry, and as I sit here today with nothing on my schedule, Marilyn gone to NC and Will having to work, I miss it. I think back to Winter Camp at Quaker Lake in the old days. I remember Youthquake '88 in Denver and Youthquake '91 in Vermont. I remember Youth Tremors at QLC on many of the in-between years. I remember ski trips, square dancing, Winter W.O.W. (Week of Wonder), insanely powerful New Year's Eve worship services and spending time with so many special people. Twenty-four  years ago this week a group from Youth Tremors saw The Little Mermaid (in a theater) together; something that simple became a moment I will never forget. Today I remember all of these things, although I would rather not. Tomorrow I can tell you funny stories about ski trips with no snow or miniature golf in a "blizzard" at Disney World- but today it all makes me a little sad.

I'm sad because I cannot have it back. My sins have been forgiven by the grace of Jesus Christ, but forgiveness does not always mean there are no consequences for our sins. Grace is free, but it is not cheap. Jesus died for our sins. There is nothing cheap about that. On days like this I remember the consequences of my own actions and praise God that He chooses to love me anyway. 

Sometimes it's ok to feel like a sad song. We can drawn strength and wisdom from those feelings of pain and loneliness. But the good news- no, the GREAT NEWS- is that every day people sin, and every day those who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior are forgiven. God loves us every single day! And that is really something worth remembering...

Because of Jesus,

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Ultimate #HIMYM Gift Set

I know that there are plenty of people who spend the days immediately following Christmas shopping for bargains. Some of the more advance shoppers will even already be purchasing gifts for the 2014 holiday season. I am not among them! But I do have to admit my thoughts have already turned to what I want for Christmas next year. I seldom have anything I ask for, let alone a list- but I suppose this constitutes both. You see, on March 31st of 2014 my beloved How I Met Your Mother will cease airing new episodes forever. So by next Christmas, there will inevitably be a deluxe edition collector's box set of the entire 9 years of the series, and many extras.  I want it. You may all have to go in together to afford it, but I want it. And as long as I'm declaring my greed, I might as well go ahead and let those in charge of such things know what extras I would like to see included. If you have the power, please make it so...

  1. The Blu-ray discs themselves should include the normal outtakes and interviews, but should also include some special bonus features. There should be at least 2 (Let's Go To the Mall & Sandcastles In the Sand) full-length Robin Sparkles videos. There should be a 1 minute history of the Slap Bet. Perhaps an alternate ending to Karate Kid where William Zabka whips Ralph Macchio. And most importantly, there needs to be a full-length, uninterrupted version of Marshall Vs. the Machines. There's lots more, but I don't want to seem too needy!
  2. There needs to be an unabridged copy of the Bro Code. In addition, it would be nice if Barney could select his 10 favorite plays from the infamous Playbook and include them as well. It would also be nice to include a visual aid to help us keep straight how many times Ted & Robin broke up, got back together, and broke up again, as well as an illustrated chart of all of Ted's girlfriends through the years.. And finally, give each hardcore fan a copy of of one of Lilly's painting. Dogs everywhere need their soothing influence!
  3. My big idea is to include a a set of collector's edition Christmas ornaments with each purchase. There are so many things that could be done with this idea, but here are a few of my suggestions: A talking Barney ornament with catch phrases (Have you met Ted? and more!), a blue French Horn, a yellow umbrella, a cockamouse, a model Fiero with sound ("And I would walk 500 miles..."), a pineapple, red cowboy boots, a storm trooper, a Canadian flag, a Minnesota Vikings jersey, the phone booth, Marshpillow and a tiny bottle of Glen McKenna 30 year old scotch. Just as a start...  :)
  4. Even if it's only for me, I would ask for one more video clip. An alternate ending. I know that Ted and the as yet unnamed "Mother" go on to a very happy life together. But yet I wonder...was Robin really the one? So give me an alternate ending. What would life have been like for soulmates Robin and Ted if they had finally given in and held on to each other forever? You know what- forget that idea. The ending will just have to be the ending. I'll just be happy for Barney & Robin (assuming they really get married) and for Ted & the Mother. Any alternate ending will just have to be the one in my dreams. 
  5. And finally...a poster of the gang sitting at their booth in MacLaren's Pub. This is where life happened for them, where they met so many nights to relive adventures and share good times. They've laughed there, cried there, fought over ducks and bunnies there and shared the kind of love we all hope we find with our own friends. The heart of this show has never been the search for the Mother; the heart of this show has always been friendship. And that's why I will miss it so much.
So now you all know what to get me next Christmas. It will be legen-I have to wait for it because Christmas is a year away-dary! And if that seems like a bit too much, just remember that a fruit basket makes a lovely gift. Have a happy day!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Twas the Night After Christmas

Last night, after a full day with family and friends, a day full of wonderful texts and conversations with people I dearly love, I found myself alone in a quiet house and began to listen to one of my great gifts I received yesterday- a Beach Boys 50th anniversary tour live double CD set. The Beach Boys have long been one of my favorite bands, and we have a lot of history together. As I listened I was taken on quite a journey. So with apologies to real poets everywhere, here are a few thoughts that came to me late...VERY LATE...last night.

Twas the night after Christmas and all through the house
the only sounds were the dog and the click of my mouse
Marilyn was headed for good old NC
For a well-deserved break and to see family
With Will at Michelle's and the dog at my feet
I sat by the computer with popcorn to eat
I reflected back on a blessed Christmas day
With family and friends and Jesus' birthday
I texted some texts and tweeted some tweets
I had me some egg nog and sneaked a few sweets
And just when I thought I might doze off and snore
I opened a gift- and it was yesterday once more
Michelle had given me a wondrous CD
of the Beach Boys on their 50th anniversary
As their classic old tunes my headphones did fill
the harmonies and memories gave me a chill
I couldn't help but think of so many old friends
when the song urged us to "Do It Again"
Over and over the music took me away
to warm sunny beaches and times gone astray
I thought of loves I was once certain were true
as they sang "God only knows what I'd be without you"
And when the Boys finished with "Fun, Fun, Fun"
the smile on my face was as bright as the sun
We can't live in the past, I know this to be true
but I learned something last night that I'll share now with you
We will not know when and we may not know why
it will seem like our lives are passing us by
And a memory will remind us of something so sweet
of people and places and loved ones we meet
Christmas is a time of peace and of love
of remembering the gift God sent from above
But it's also a time to reach out to a friend
with a hug you can give or a text you can send
We can all make the world a bit warmer place
by putting a smile on a dear old friend's face
So I'll face the world today with new expectations
of sharing anew my own "Good Vibrations"
And I have this to say before I turn out the light
Christmas day was great- but so was the night!

I hope you all had a wonderful and blessed Christmas! Now let's keep the Light shining!!!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

One Solitary Life

Today we celebrate the coming of the Light into a world filled with darkness. Jesus came to us as a baby, but it was his life, death and resurrection that would forever change us all. This Christmas day I invite you to a tradition on this blog and at celebrations throughout the world. Read these words of faith, adopted from a 1926 sermon by Dr. James Allen Francis, and consider the full meaning of Christmas and who the babe of Bethlehem would become. Not a myth. Not a legend. The savior of the world. Merry Christmas to all!

He was born in an obscure village, the son of a peasant woman.  He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter's shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he became a wandering preacher. 

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn't go to college. He never visited a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of those things one usually associates with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through a mockery of a trial. He was executed by the state. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. 

Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind's progress. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that One Solitary Life. 

My Deliverer is Here...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It Feels Like Christmas

"It's Christmas Eve! It's... it's the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we... we... we smile a little easier, we... w-w-we... we... we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be! "  
~From the movie Scrooged

My son Will (after listening to me make up a song during a commercial on TV) remarked  once that "no one in our family is normal- and that's a good thing." Nowhere is the unusual nature of our clan more clear than on Christmas Eve. Here's a quick look at Christmas Eve with the Jones family...
  • I have to go shopping.  For as long as I can remember it has been a personal tradition for me to go out and purchase at least one present on Christmas Eve.  It used to be I had to go to the mall; now I buy very little at the mall, so I just go to Walgreen's or Big Lots or whatever- but I have to get something for Christmas on Christmas Eve.  It's a moral imperative...
  • The family (including my Mom) heads out to the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at Van Dyke Church. It's just not Christmas without proclaiming Jesus is LORD!
  • Then we head home for a traditional Christmas Eve meal- Hot Dogs!  Yes, hot dogs! Since we began doing it at my Grandmother Dot's house when I was a little boy for the purpose of ease of preparation, hot dogs have become our meal of choice on Christmas Eve. But we are natives of North Carolina, and so we are not talking about a wiener and a bun here. A REAL hot dog has chili, slaw, onions, mustard and ketchup. This is a Carolina Dog, and there is nothing that compares- and I've tried Chicago Dogs and everything else! My mouth is already watering...
  • The family part of our evening wraps up with a viewing of The Muppet Christmas Carol (see video at the bottom). It is our absolute favorite, and always our last activity before bedtime on Christmas Eve. What better way to remember "there's only one more sleep 'til Christmas..."
And one more thought from the Muppets. One of the big songs in the movie reminds us that "wherever you find love. it feels like Christmas!" What a great reminder that tomorrow morning we will celebrate the coming to this world the love of God whose name is Jesus! When we love one another, when we seek to share God's love with a hurting world, we bring Christmas to life. And it doesn't have to be a one day thing. Listen to the lyrics:

It is a season of the heart, a special time of caring, the ways of love made clear
It is a season of the spirit, the message if we hear it is make it last all year

Some talking heads believe there is a war on Christmas. When love is present, there is no war. Many of the "secular" things people rail against- the lights, the presents and Santa- are redeemed when we love. The lights reminds us that the Light of the world was born. The presents remind us of the greatest gift of all. And Santa represents the spirit of giving and service that Christ came to bring the world. If you are willing to look for it, Christmas is everywhere- and it is not seasonal! "In all the places you find love, it feels like Christmas!" And if you find it, you will not want to let it go! So enjoy your Christmas Eve and your traditions. And prepare your hearts for tomorrow. Love has come for the world to know- and his name is Jesus!!!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

God Noticed

In the first chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, there is a tiny little verse hidden away. Actually it's not even a whole verse, it's a phrase. As we arrive at this final Sunday of Advent, I would suggest that it is a phrase around which the whole Christmas season should revolve, and to which we should pay great attention. Stay with me for a few moments and see if you feel the same way...

The phrase is found in what is known as the Magnificat, Mary's response to her cousin Elizabeth's confirmation that Mary was pregnant with a holy child. In Luke 1:48 the good doctor records the words, "for God took notice of His lowly servant girl..." And isn't that what Christmas is all about? Remembering that God took notice of us and sent His Son Jesus to save us all from ourselves is at the heart of the holiday. And God did this not because we earned it, not because we had somehow been cheated of the opportunity before, and not because we are important. God took notice of us and showed us His love because He loves us! John 3:16 does not say "for God so loved the good people, the important people or the rich people that He sent his Son." It says that God so loved the world- and that is why Christmas happened. We needed to be noticed, and God reached out in love.

We need to do the same. The Jesus Revolution calls on us to reach out in love to those around us, but it also calls on us to do more. Who is it you need to notice this Christmas season? Who in your life needs to know that they are loved, not because they have earned it but simply because you want to share God's love with them? There have been few people in history less significant than the young girl from Nazareth we know as Mary, but even fewer have played a larger role in God's plan. God notices the insignificant, which is great news for you and for me. The true meaning of Christmas is that the love of God whose name is Jesus came down so the world would understand that God is indeed love. So take notice of those around you. This Christmas season, give them the same gift God gave us all on that first Noel. Give them Jesus.

Jesus- the only hope for me is you- and YOU alone!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Celebrate the Day

Christmas arrives in 4 days and many of us are in full panic mode. We have shopping to do, food to prepare,parties to attend and relatives to see. It is easy to get so wrapped up in Christmas that we miss it. Want to more fully understand what we are actually saying when we say Jesus is the reason for the season?  Check out the song I Celebrate the Day from the band Relient K. The song is written by Matt Thiessen, and the lyrics and video are below. For me, it is one of the most significant Christmas songs written in the past 20 years, because it reminds us of who the Babe of Bethlehem grows up to be- and what He would do for us. May God open all of our eyes so that we may see the gift of the Christ child for what it really was...the gift of salvation! Our deliverer is coming...

And with this Christmas wish is missed
The point I could convey
If only I could find the words to say
to let You know how much You've touched my life
Because here is where You're finding me,
in the exact same place as New Year's eve
And from a lack of my persistency
We're less than half as close as I want to be

And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize
that You would be my Savior?
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever?

And so this Christmas I'll compare 
the things I felt in prior years
To what this midnight made so clear
That You have come to meet me here

To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me
In the hope that what You did
That you were born so I might live
To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me

And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life
Pray for You to save my life
Pray for You to save my life...

Jesus, the only hope for me is you- and YOU alone!

Friday, December 20, 2013

7 Questions Every Student Ministry Should Ask

Curious about this picture, aren't you?
We're coming to the end of another year, and the week after Christmas is a great time to do a little assessment of your youth ministry. Although I have been out of the "business" for a while now, much of my adult life was spent working in student ministry. I was employed by a church to work with teenagers when I was still a teen myself, and for the next 28 years that was my life. I loved it. But having said that I should also point out that success in youth ministry can be very difficult to judge. Youth Pastors are always seeking out new ways to measure their effectiveness and help make sure they are on the right path. Today I want to help. Here are 7 questions that may be a little different from the standard "How am I doing?" checklist. In fact, you may have never considered some of these questions to be an indication of anything positive. I am quite certain these are questions you will never be asked by your church board or HR committee. I simply invite you to answer them honestly for you and your ministry, and then think about the implications of your answers. It may change the way you see success.  Here we go...
  1. When was the last time you had an all-out debate about a hot topic that is impacting the church today?  Not a program that informed students what they should believe, but a chance for them to talk about what they DO believe! Not a controlled, reasonable discussion, but a flat-out debate, with no holds barred. Remember, if you tell a teenager often enough that "we don't talk about that here" then pretty soon they won't talk about anything. And we want them to develop their own faith, not just be able to mimic ours. I can promise you that if you do this, I already know your answer to #2...
  2. How long has it been since a parent complained about what you are teaching?  Obviously, there are standard things we should be teaching to our youth.  But far too often parents (and church leaders) want us to sanitize the Gospels. Following Jesus is messy. It often goes against what the world teaches. If we really teach that Jesus is the way, then we will occasionally be saying that parents are wrong. Oops. Consider the importance of money and material possessions, for instance. Or loving their neighbors- including the one whose dog keeps pooping in your yard.  BONUS: If you don't also occasionally give your Senior Pastor pit strains then one of you doesn't grasp the situation very well...
  3. When was the last time you tried something that failed?  Whether a program, a trip, a mission project or a lesson, teenagers thrive on being challenged! If everything you do is safe and comfortable, with no risk of failure, then you are missing a chance to meet them where they are in a profound way. Use your God-given creativity. Believe all those hats and t-shirts that say, Fear Not! Step out in faith. Do something wild and woolly! And if you fail, simply get up and try again. Jesus will always be with you!
  4. Does your church have a rule in place because of you? This was one of the late Mike Yaconelli's favorite questions for youth pastors. Have you been so creative that the church trustees have met just to figure out how to stop you? Have you tested the limits of the church buildings, the church grounds and the church vans? Not because you have been thoughtless or reckless, and not because you lack respect- but because you know and love teenagers and keep discovering new ways to keep them involved. In my case, one of my favorite rules was the banning of playing Kick the Can in the church cemetery. Seriously. That was on me...
  5. When was the last time you made your students uncomfortable?  We all want our youth ministries to be a safe haven for students in so many ways. But we also need to remember that following Jesus will ALWAYS take us outside of our comfort zones. We need to do ministry in neighborhoods that may not feel safe. We need to talk about subjects that our youth would just as soon ignore. And we need to take mission trips to places where our youth will encounter "the least of these." If your kids have not been uncomfortable lately, they are missing out. 
  6. Do your youth know that you are real?  Your students do not need to know if you are having marriage problems or have a secret addiction. They do not need to know if you dislike your pastor or really can't stand the new worship leader. But they do need to know that you have frustrations and problems. They need to know that you are a real person. Part of youth ministry is being a model of Christian living for the students you serve, and a real model has flaws. You and I are not perfect. Students need to know that. Be honest when you mess up a program or hurt someones feelings.  Be real about frustrations. How can we teach about the amazing grace of God if we spend our lives pretending we don't need it because we have out acts together? It's time to get real.
  7. How much ministry time are you spending outside of your office?  How many students who don't attend your church have you met recently?  I have written entire posts about this subject, but it remains a key question. If you are not out meeting students where they are and building relationships with youth throughout your community, then your ministry is missing a key element. If meetings and paperwork have you trapped behind a desk, change something. Doug Fields once moved his office to a Taco Bell for after-school hours so he could be available to students and away from the "busy work" of the office setting. What do you need to do to make meeting students on their turf a priority?
So there you have it- a list almost guaranteed to get you in trouble with the local Pharisees! It is also a list that will help you seek out new ways to bring the teenagers you serve into a deeper relationship with Jesus. I have one more suggestion that is sure cause a little commotion. Share these questions with the Youth Ministry Committee, your church staff or anyone else you feel is appropriate. Seek their input and guidance. Maybe...just maybe...such discussions can lead to a little more organized chaos in your church. I will say it again- following Jesus is messy. Has your ministry become a little too "sanitized for your protection?" Finally, that ridiculous picture at the top makes a little sense...  Blessings to you as you serve in the name of the Babe of Bethlehem who would become our Risen Savior! Only 5 more sleeps 'til Christmas!!!
    Because of Jesus,

    Thursday, December 19, 2013

    Magic Moments: Santa Carl

    Today's Magic Moment is a vintage post that has become a Christmas season tradition on this blog because it is so full of great memories for me. I hope it brings back a few for many of you as well. Only 6 more sleeps until Christmas...

    This blog has grown so much in the past four years that sometimes I forget that in the beginning my only readers were former members of my various youth groups. The posts were more often about old stories of great memories, and were here for their reflection and enjoyment. Today is another one of those posts, although my newer readers are more than welcome to enjoy it as well! About 3 years ago I put together a little slideshow featuring pictures of kids from the various youth ministries I served over the years and jolly old Saint Nick. Most of these pictures were taken at youth group Christmas parties. Some of the "youth" in these old photos are over 40 now. Many of them have children of there own.  Others are still in college. The point is, I can look back at these pictures and remember all of the love and Christmas cheer we would all share this time of year and it is very special to me. For you see in every single picture in this slideshow, I am Santa. It's me under the beard. I always loved doing the Santa thing, and looking back at these memories is great fun.

    I chose the song I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday from one of my favorite old-school bands, All Star United. This song is full of energy and joy, but it also carries an important message. How much better would this world be if we were the people all year long that we try to be at Christmas? Enjoy the slideshow. And if you happen to be in it, thank you for some unbelievable memories.  I would love to hear from you all.

    Wednesday, December 18, 2013

    "I'll Have What He's Having!" (A Vintage Post)

    (Originally posted 02/28/2010) - and Happy Birthday Lisa Jewett!

    One of the great stories told about the late Rich Mullins in the book  An Arrow Pointing to Heaven concerns his time in the pubs of Ireland. Rich loved Ireland, and loved to spend his evenings mixing and mingling with the people at their local watering holes. Irish pubs are famous for their vitality and hospitality, but there was one odd thing about Rich enjoying them so much. He was a teetotaler- Rich did not drink alcohol at all! But still he would be in the pubs, telling stories and laughing with the people. And almost every night, according to author James Smith, Rich would be honored with the ultimate pub salute- patrons yelling out, pointing to him and saying, "I'll have a pint of what he's having!" They could see that Rich was overflowing- with the love of Jesus.

    Over the years my youth groups were often accused of being the "life of the party." We were always very visible; we were often very loud. There was never any doubt that when we were together, we were having fun. Other youth groups were often jealous of the joy and freedom we shared. People we didn't know often weren't sure what to make of us- we never seemed "pious" enough to be a church group to them. We seldom had rules and regulations; we had a shared respect born from a love for one another. This often freaked parents out, but it made our ministry special and different. And people saw this difference in us. Every motel and every restaurant we ever booked invited us back and commented on how much they enjoyed having us- even the ones that were scared to death of teenagers! It's not that we were angels; I made bazillions of mistakes and we did not always represent Christ as we should have. When we did fail, we would address the mistakes, forgive each other, and move on. The band Stellar Kart once described grace with the words,"There will always be second chances and you'll always be on your first try." We tried to live out that kind of love. We were far from perfect, and we were sometimes obnoxious. It's just that we were Jesus Freaks, full of life, love and joy. We knew how to SHINE (Make 'em wonder what you've got, make them wish that they were not on the outside looking bored. SHINE, let it shine before all men, let 'em see your works and then let them glorify the LORD- Newsboys)!

    There are so many people who have a view of the church as boring and joyless. It is my prayer that from New Garden to Springfield, on to Kissimmee and Chicago, Tampa and Waycross, that people who encountered my groups in restaurants, malls and everywhere else found themselves wondering where our joy came from. The answer, of course, is Jesus.  I hope that after they encountered me, surrounded by teenagers and singing Lean On Me in line at Disney World that people young and old looked at each other, smiled, and said, "I'll have a glass of what they're having!" - and that through our actions. silliness and love for one another Jesus was glorified! "They will know we are Christians by our love..."

    One last thought- if you think that following Jesus is boring, I suggest you try reading your New Testament one more time...

    Because of Jesus,

    Tuesday, December 17, 2013

    Schooled By My I-Pod

    My regular readers may remember that my I-Pod is a an older, vintage model with very little memory (just like the one pictured at right). I have many more songs in my library than fit on the device, and so I constantly changing songs in and out for variety. A few weeks ago I uploaded near 50 Christmas songs on a Christmas playlist and have been listening to little else since- except for Christmas CDs in the car on our trip to Disney this past Sunday. I have been overdosing on Christmas music I love, but as with most addictions, I was not really aware that I was over-doing the whole Christmas thing. So this morning as I was enjoying some tunes I decided to leave the Christmas playlist and get a little variety in my life. After all, with nearly 50 of the 230 songs now being Christmas songs, I was bound to get a holiday jingle thrown into the mix somewhere...right?

    Apparently, I did not take into account that my I-Pod was weary of Christmas music. About 7 songs into the morning shuffle, I realized I had not heard a Christmas song. I made it through 13 before I had to move on and do something else. 13 songs, no Christmas music.  Here are the 13 I heard...

    1. Yer So Bad - Tom Petty
    2. Drift Away - Dobie Gray
    3. It's OK - The Beach Boys
    4. Come Around - Sister Hazel
    5. Red Rubber Ball - The Cyrkle
    6. A Dustland Fairytale - The Killers
    7. The Logical Song - Supertramp
    8. Tangled Up In Blue - Bob Dylan
    9. Hopeless Wanderer - Mumford & Sons
    10. Peanut Butter Conspiracy - Jimmy Buffett
    11. Sister Golden Hair - America
    12. Run To Me- The Bee Gees
    13. Can't Get It Out of My Head- ELO
    Not only is there not a single Christmas song on that list, but I have over 100 songs by contemporary Christian artists on my I-Pod right now- and NONE of them made it either!  Jesus may be "the reason for the season," but apparently my device has no use for him today. I have no idea what all of that means in the big picture of life. Probably nothing other than "Carl...DUDE!...lighten up on the Christmas music!" But you have to admit it is a weird coincidence. Have a blessed day, and remember...only 8 more sleeps until Christmas! With or without the music! :)

    Jesus- the only hope for me is you- and YOU alone!

    Monday, December 16, 2013

    The Deliverer Is Coming

    Mark 8:1-8
    John the Baptist Prepares the Way
     The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,  as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
       “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
       who will prepare your way”—
     “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
    ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
       make straight paths for him.’”
     And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.  John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

    John the Baptist knew the deal from the very beginning. He would preach repentance and salvation. He would have many followers. But he was just a messenger.  He was NOT the man. He knew, and lived so that others might know, that the Deliverer (Jesus the Christ)  was on the way. Today it is my prayer that I will live in such a way that others will understand that the Messiah came to deliver us from sin and death. The Messiah came to bring peace to our hearts and to our world. This is our season of anticipation. Our Deliverer is coming! It is up to each us to prepare the way of the LORD this Christmas season. The celebration of the coming of the Babe of Bethlehem is only 9 days away. Let's get busy, so that the world may know!

    Jesus- the only hope for me is you- and YOU alone!

    Sunday, December 15, 2013

    A Smelly Way To Save the World

    It's the third Sunday in Advent, and I have come to a realization. I am obsessed with shepherds...

    Each year at Christmas one of the grand traditions of the Church is to read the birth story of Jesus from Luke 2. I have read it so often (and heard Linus recite it so many times on A Charlie Brown Christmas) that I pretty much have it memorized. Some of it almost seems normal now, when in fact there is not a single normal thing about the story. And the part that always gets me is when the angels appear to the shepherds. The big announcement that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords was coming to earth was delivered in a field outside of a no-name village to a bunch of stinkin' sheep-herders. Absolutely ridiculous.

    I mean, if God really wanted to make a splash with this birth you would have thought the angels would have appeared to the Roman rulers or the Jewish high priests. He might have tried a huge fireworks display and sky-writing event over downtown Jerusalem. That would have gotten the word out big-time. That could have made the rich and the powerful head for the stable that night, bringing honor and glory to the newborn King. Heck, they probably could have even gotten Joseph and Mary a room! But shepherds? Scripture tells us that they were "abiding in the fields" when the Heavenly Host (Is it just me or does that sound like a jazz band to anyone else?  Gabriel on trumpet, of course...) showed up. Of course they were! You know why? Because they smelled so bad no one wanted to be anywhere near them. Shepherds weren't even allowed in the temple in those days, because they were too nasty to go through the ritualistic purification required to worship there. They spent all of their days and nights in the field with sheep because no one else would have them! But when it came time to announce to the world that He was sending His only Son to save us, God turned to this smelly bunch of uneducated Hebrew rednecks. And they obeyed. They went to find the baby in a smelly barn, surrounded by smelly animals and laying in a disgusting manger- no doubt with animal slobber all over it (as a side note, I hope moms everywhere will note that Jesus and millions of other kids lived very healthy lives BEFORE the invention of the disinfectant wipe.  I'm just sayin...). And in the midst of all of this smelliness, hope was born. The world was saved, though no one knew it yet. When those stinkin' sheep-herders bowed to worship that baby, they represented us all. We are all totally unworthy of being in the presence of God, and yet because of the man that baby became we are all invited. How ridiculous!

    The Jesus Revolution was going on right from the very beginning. God used a no-name girl from the least respected town of a pitiful little province to bring His Son into our world. He had him born in the most humble of circumstances, and sent His angels to the least likely witnesses anyone could think of. Before ever speaking a word, Jesus told the world that everything was about to change. Power, wealth and prestige were going to give way to the weak, the poor and the smelly. And yet so many of us have still not heeded that message. I encourage you today to be willing to get a little smelly for Jesus. Find ways to connect with those who are "abiding in the fields" and are being ignored by our society. They have much to teach us. For the Jesus Revolution to take hold in this world, we all need to be more like the shepherds. My friends, it is time to get out there and stink, because God has shown over and over again He will use the smelly to change the world. How totally ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as sacrificing your only Son to save a bunch of sinful humans...   Amen and Amen.

    Jesus- the only hope for me is you- and YOU alone!

    Saturday, December 14, 2013

    Merry Christmas from the Jones Family!

    A post-graduation portrait
    A number of years ago it became quite popular among many families to send out a family Christmas letter along with (or instead of) Christmas cards during the holiday season. Such letters often include a family picture, information on each family member's life during the previous year and a Christmas greeting of some sort. We never really got into that tradition, but today I would like to offer up a digital version of the Jones Family Christmas Letter. I threatened on Twitter this week to make it fictional and test who has been paying attention for the past year, but that idea was shot down. So here's the real scoop...

    Will & Michelle- Prom Night!
    Let's start with the big events of 2013. Will graduated from high school with honors and has now completed his first semester at St. Pete College. Between school, working at Chick-fil-A and maintaining a growing relationship with his girlfriend Michelle, his life is quite busy. He continues to love movies (even as you read this we may be at The Desolation of Smaug, and we cannot wait for Anchorman 2!), writing and music, and half of his Christmas list is made up of vintage albums (actual vinyl!) because he loves the classic sound. He just may be my son! :) The highlight of my year was the reunion of the FUMC-Kissimmee youth family in April and a chance to catch up with so many old friends. Officiating at Jen Gastler Chan's wedding and getting to spend time with Hal, Joanne and Christine was also a real joy. I had more surgery in July, and I am still in wound care every Monday waiting for a chance to be able to wear a real shoe on my right foot again. But I feel great, and have been able to resume some of my work as a domestic goddess (under my secret identity as Agnes) here at our home in Tampa. I have started volunteering a bit with the technical arts ministry at our church. I also continue to write (this blog continues to be such a blessing to me!) for anyone who asks me to and enjoy conversations with friends from all over the country through the wonders of technology. Marilyn...well all she does is hold it all together! She continues her work in a downtown law office and continues as supermom to Will and as my wife of 27 years now. Watching Will graduate was a little hard on her, but having him still around has been a blessing to us both. Most Sunday mornings you can find us at Van Dyke Church, and we still love to gather around the TV for The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother and Modern Family- among others. Our extended family- my mom and Marilyn's family- continue to be an important part of our lives, and Michelle and Lisa Jewett are like family to us as well. As with any family, we have our struggles. But through faith and a willingness to count our blessings and live ABOVE our circumstances instead of under them, we are surviving quite nicely...

    King of the Beasts
    But to be honest, it always feels like my family is MUCH larger than mentioned above. We receive words of support and encouragement so often from friends who have been a part of our various youth ministries from through the years. Many of my oldest friends- and by oldest I mean I have known them the longest, not that they are old, because if they are old so am I - continue to check on and support me. I'm talking about you, Tammy, Steve and Denise!  I would also be remiss to not mention Sabrina Perry, James RobinsonTeresa Tysinger, Todd Willis, Susan McBane Tuggle and Jerry Hanbery and the many others who so often light up my life and lift my spirits. Ashley Goad, Marie Allen Duke and Jennifer Wood Jones also check on me and keep me going. We often dine with friends at our local Chilis, where we have our own personal waitress- and Kelly is part of our family too! My Twitter family is still growing and still amazing, showing me grace and support at every turn. Jenn, Robert, Tina, Jason, Johnny, Amy, Liza, Pam, the entire POTSC (People of the Second Chance) community and so many others are always there to bring a smile to my face. And no list of family members would be complete without mentioning Conner the Dog. Our 10 year old cocker spaniel is my constant companion. Which most of the time is a very good thing. As you can see, my family is large- and it is quite a blessing.

    The FUMC-K Family Reunion
    So what does 2014 have in store?  It is our prayer that my legal matter will be brought to a conclusion sometime early in the year, freeing me to travel and to seek new ways to be in ministry. It would be so amazing to meet some of the people I have grown to love through Twitter. I hope to take the best of the nearly 1400 posts to this blog and put them in some sort of book form. It would thrill me to begin talking about a reunion of folks from my days at Springfield Friends Meeting (assuming I can travel again) and a follow-up to the FUMC-K event of last spring. And I want to pray for YOU. I love getting prayer requests and being able to go to God on the behalf of the people I love. It is an honor and a blessing to me. More and more I want to live my life in a way that shows others the love of God whose name is Jesus and the true meaning of GRACE! I ask for your prayers as we face this new year together.

    We hope you enjoy the holiday season and that it is full of blessings and joy. From my family to yours, have the merriest of Christmas seasons! After all, there's only 11 more sleeps 'til Christmas!  Much love to you all!

    Jesus, the only hope for me is you- and YOU alone!