Thursday, February 28, 2013

Influences: Neal Thomas

Yesterday the Quaker Lake Camp community was rocked by the news that Leah Way, daughter of Martha Thomas Way and granddaughter of Neal & Susie Thomas, had been killed in a car crash.   I heard from numerous old friends (thanks Leigh Anne, Steve, Edith, Susan and others) who wanted to make sure that we got the news way down here in Florida, and we were all devastated.  During my years of involvement at QLC, Neal was my camp director, my boss and my friend. In October of 2009 I wrote of his influence on my life in one of my earliest posts.  It seemed appropriate to share it again today.  Everyone who is part of the Quaker Lake community- and even now, 30 years since I last worked on summer staff, it is still a community I cherish- mourns with the Thomas family.  Our prayers are with them, as is our love.

Neal- always the leader of the band!
Steve Semmler took me to Quaker Lake Camp in Climax, NC for the first time in the summer of 1973, following our 8th grade year. I knew nothing about the place except that my mom had been there years before, and that Steve said it was cool. Upon our arrival, Steve was surprised to discover that Cal Geiger was no longer Camp Director, and that he had been replaced by a young man named Neal Thomas. To be honest, Steve was a little disappointed at the time. It really made very little difference that week, as Wallace Sills directed our camp and Neal was just around, fixing things and helping camp run smoothly. But knowing Neal Thomas would make an enormous difference in my life.

I grew to know Neal over the next few years as I progressed from camper, to Counselor-in-Training to summer staff- on which I served from 1978-1983. In many ways, we were opposites. Neal was always calm,always composed, slow to show emotion and always aware of the big picture. Neal could fix or build anything. I was young, loud, brash and always in the moment, and thought duct tape was a tool. Despite this, I had enormous respect for Neal. He had been a conscientious objector to the draft, and he lived out his "peace testimony" in his everyday life. He loved Quaker Lake and was constantly pushing to improve the facility and the programs. At a time when theology in the NC Yearly Meeting of Friends was about as diverse as you can imagine, Neal always steered QLC to the center. In fact, his talks to the staff on how we had to be the camp for ALL of NCYM, doing nothing to offend either end of the theological spectrum, guided me through many tough times in the large churches I would serve later in my life. He was our boss, but he was also someone we could count on and turn to. And even on days when I did not deserve it, he always supported me and always showed me grace that could only come from a walk with Jesus. Neal Thomas walked that walk, and he shared it freely. It always amazed me that some on the theological "right" in the yearly meeting considered Neal too liberal. That only showed how little they knew him.

That is not to say that Neal was perfect! He was a trained EMT, but if a camper threw up, look out! Neal would be next! Somewhere along life's journey he had picked up the nickname "Quiver Lips." He told us that one Saturday morning when I was a camper after some girls had water ballooned our cabin. In those days the cabins had screens along the top, and they had pounded the screens (and my top bunk!) and soaked us. It would have been a wonderful prank, except for one small issue- the force of the balloons hitting the screens knocked them out. By the time we arrived at breakfast the next morning, Neal was furious, and the lips were indeed quivering. We all got a stern lecture on respecting property (that means you, Tammy!) and then it was all forgotten. It was, thankfully, one of the few times over my 21 years of being around Neal that I saw him really angry. The lesson was profound, however, and over the years I became a fanatic about respecting property and not wasting food or other items. Neal was a sneaky teacher- you often learned without realizing you were being taught.

After I returned from New England to NC in 1986, my relationship with Neal changed. We became great friends. I loved volunteering at camp and serving on the Camp Planning Committee to help hire staff and plan the camp themes each year. We traveled to Indiana for a Conference on Quaker Camping and attended the National Youth Workers Convention together. We would gather at his and Susie's home at QLC and play Trivial Pursuit (no matter what you may hear, the guys always won!). Every time I ever needed a reference or a friend, Neal was there. One of my greatest disappointments in life was that his last summer, 1994, I could not volunteer because it was my first year in Kissimmee. I had been with him his first year; I was sorry to miss his last.

Neal Thomas is Quaker Lake Camp to me. The influence he had on my life cannot be explained in a blog post. My entire ministry was driven by his example and his encouragement. Whenever I doubted myself, I often thought of something he once said to me: "Carl, you have a gift. When you get your guitar and start leading music, even the junior high boys start to sing. Anyone who can get junior high boys to sing has a gift." Moments like that one still move me all these years later. So thank you, Neal, from myself and hundreds of others who were influenced by you over the years. You showed me what it means to walk in Light. You, Susie, Doug and Martha made us all feel like family. Marilyn and I hope you know that you are loved. It almost makes me sorry for the morning we used food dye and made Neal green eggs and ham to test his legendarily weak gag reflex...but not quite! Today, more than usual, the Thomas family is in my thoughts and prayers.  I love you guys.

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nothing But Prayer

I have nothing cute or creative to say today.  Dear friends in North Carolina- a couple that had an immense impact on my life and my ministry- lost their 12 year old granddaughter in a crash last night. Their daughter was injured as well.  I feel so helpless here in Tampa, so far away from these people I love so much.  Any family tragedy is difficult to understand; the loss of a child is impossible to comprehend.  So I have no words today.  There is nothing to do but pray.  Pray for the Thomas family. Pray for all of those who will be touched by this tragic loss.  And pray for me.  Some days faith just takes a beating.  And we are left with nothing but prayer...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Quaker Roots

Yesterday I was digging through a box of old files when I came across a very old folder from my days as a youth leader at New Garden Friends Meeting in Greensboro, NC (1978-1983).  In the file was a sheet that contained some witty Quaker sayings and stories, and it was great to discover them again. Among the gems I rediscovered were these...

  • A Quaker farmer was attempting to milk his cow, but the cow was having none of it. After twice being kicked by the animal, the peace-loving Quaker had just about had it.  He spoke to the cow these words of warning: "I would not strike thee for the world, Friend Cow, but if thou dost not produce thy milk I will sell thee to the Baptist down the road, and he shalt beat the hell out of thee!"
  • "I mind the Light, but I was born to boogie!"
  • "I am a Quaker. In case of emergency, please be quiet."
I enjoyed my reminiscing, and then put the file back in the box.  I was reminded of my Quaker roots and how important the influence of the Society of Friends was on my own spiritual journey.

So it should have come as no surprise this morning that I woke up humming The George Fox Song.  George Fox (see picture; and yes he was the model for the Quaker Oats guy!) was the first Quaker (England, 1652),although he had no intention of founding a new denomination.  Like most great church leaders and denominations fathers/mothers, he was simply seeking Jesus.  He found that to really connect with Jesus, he had to find his way outside of the trappings of the Anglican Church of his day. He was very much a 17th century John the Baptist, right down to the way he looked. He fell in love with the references from John 1 referring to Jesus as "the Light." He came to believe in pacifism as taught by Jesus, and that since we are all created by God that "there is that of God in everyone." Not that we are God, but they we each have a divine spark. He sought to put all else aside and follow the Christ.  When I was a teenager I learned The George Fox Song, and to this day it is still one of the best ways of teaching what Fox came to believe about faith and the church. So today, I share the lyrics and the wisdom of George, and hope that it may inspire you the way it still does me.

There's a Light that was shinning when the world began
and a Light that is shinning in the heart of a man
There's a Light that is shinning in the Turk and the Jew
and a Light that is shinning friend in me and in you

Chorus: Walk in the Light, wherever you may be
Walk in the Light wherever you may be
In my old leather britches and my shaggy, shaggy locks
I am walking in the glory of the Light, said Fox

With a book and a steeple and a bell and a key
they would bind it forever but they can't, said he
For the book it may perish and the steeple will fall
But the Light will be shinning at the end of it all

If I give you a pistol will you fight for the Lord?
No- you can't kill the devil with a gun or a sword
Will you swear on the Bible?  I will not, said he,
For the truth is as holy as the book to me

There's an ocean of darkness and I drowned in the night
'til I came through the darkness to the ocean of Light
Oh the Light is forever and the Light it is free
and I'll walk in the glory of the Light, said he!

Just so you know, I sang those words as I typed them.  I have been away from Friends Meetings since 1994, but it turns out that my Quaker roots run deep- and strong.  And for that, I give thanks.  May today be a day filled with the Light in each of our lives.

Because of Jesus,

Monday, February 25, 2013

Nothing To Hide

Over the past few days I have had three different friends who have been asking me about how God can love them when their lives are so imperfect.  I have often had that same struggle. Throughout history, great men and women of God have faltered, have failed, and have felt inadequate- yet God has loved and used them anyway.  Geoff Moore said it so much better than I can in his wonderful (if a bit obscure) song Nothing To Hide.  Read the lyrics. And believe...

"Nothing To Hide"
(Words and Music by Geoff Moore and Phil Madeira)

Everybody's thinking about self-esteem.
On talk shows, Oprah knows,
She read it in a magazine.
'Cause we don't like ourselves so much.
We just need to feel the touch,
Of someone who'll accept us in our need.
Nothing I have said or felt or done,
There's nothing that can keep me from God's love.
He will take me as I am,
He's got a thing for runaway lambs,
And there is mercy in His blood.

We've got nothing to hide, nothing to loose,
Nothing to fear, and nothing to prove,
He loves us just the way He made us.
And no matter how high, no matter how low,
No matter how far we still have to go,
He loves us just the way He made us.

Everybody's talking about true success.
Cashing in, psychic friends,
What to eat, how to dress.
But I refuse to play that game,
My rules have forever changed.
I will live in wonder in freedom in His rest.

We've got nothing to hide, nothing to loose,
Nothing to fear, and nothing to prove,
He loves us just the way He made us.
And no matter how high, no matter how low,
No matter how far we still have to go,
He loves us just the way He made us.

He can't love you more, He won't love you less.
Nothing to hide, lose, fear, or ever prove.
Nothing to hide, lose, fear, or ever prove.

Nothing to hide, nothing to loose,
Nothing to fear, and nothing to prove,
He loves us just the way He made us.
And no matter how high, no matter how low,
No matter how far we still have to go,
He loves us just the way He made us.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Do Something Great

I first read this story a very long time ago and used it in a sermon in 1992 at Springfield Friends Meeting.  I wanted to share it with you today as an encouragement to us all.  Jesus doesn't want us to sit around and complain.  He wants us to get out into the world and do something GREAT in His name.  Enjoy.

A young boy complained to his father that most of the church hymns were boring to him. They were too far behind the times, with boring tunes and meaningless words.  His father put an end to the discussion when he said, "If you think you can write better hymns, then why don't you?"  The boy went to his room and wrote his first hymn.  The year was 1690; the boy's name was Issac Watts.  Among the almost 750 hymns he penned in his lifetime are When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, O God Our Help In Ages Past and Joy To the World.  Feeling bored?  Do something great to serve God.  Wouldn't it be amazing if we were still remembered for your faith 300 years from now?

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

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Shout Outs!

Greetings one and all, and welcome to another edition of Saturday Shout Outs! Life continues to be full of excitement here in Tampa and around my little world, so let me share some updates with you.  Here we go!

  • As of 4:54 pm yesterday, our dear friend Lisa Jewett became a grandmother for the third time!  Adalyn Joy Jewett was 7 pounds, 5 ounces and everyone is doing well. Just so you know, Lisa is 5 years younger than me and had blue fingernails. Not your average grandma...
  • Will Jones has been accepted to the University of Central Florida, where he plans to be part of their film school,  We are excited for and proud of him!
  • The plans for the April 20th FUMC-Kissimmee reunion continue to roll along!  People are making plans to come from Texas, California, Virginia- and even foreign countries, like Alabama!  Make your plans, tell your old friends and be sure to let us know you are coming!
  • My old Quaker Lake Camp friend, Susan McBane Tuggle, has been complaining to me lately that she is not in my Hall of Fame.  She is really quite deserving, but still I think she will need to make a full confession on how she tried to drown me in the New River on a staff canoe trip all those years ago before I can induct her. It's time for the truth to be told, Boom Boom! :)
  • Another QLC buddy, Mike Newsome, asked for prayers as his son Jordan, a baseball player, who underwent Tommy John surgery this past week. He came through with flying colors and now faces a long rehab process, so keep praying!
  • I want to say thank you to Joanne Gastler (Wesley Memorial UMC), Millie Simmons and Marie Allen (both Springfield Friends Meeting) for the love and support they give this blog by liking the links on Facebook.  Thanks so much for encouraging me!
  • Spring Training is here!  Wooo hooo!!!
That's it for today!  I hope you have a great weekend, enjoy the Oscars, and leave a comment.  Blessings to all!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, February 22, 2013

Flashback Friday: How To Be An Atheist

"Everyone is entitled to have an opinion.  It's just that yours is wrong..."
-George Carlin

(This post originally appeared on this blog in 2010)
Every Wednesday morning I board a city bus at 6:10 AM and head to Temple Terrace for a class.  This is not a class anyone volunteers to take, it is one some people are required to attend.  To say that it is a diverse group of people is a major understatement.  The discussions are often quite entertaining for me, and this past week was no exception.  A 38 year old man, when asked what he was doing to meet new people, indicated he was preparing to join an Atheist Club.  The group facilitator, knowing my beliefs quite well by this point, asked me if I thought the guy was an atheist.  I told the group I didn't think so, but for me to explain why I doubted him would take too long.  So today, I offer up my opinion on what makes a good atheist.  I hope you will read it in the spirit it is intended.  So here we go- how to be an atheist:
  1. Believe in something.  Too many people call themselves atheists when in fact they are agnostics.  What's the difference?  An agnostic doubts and denies the existence of God.  An atheist believes there is no god- and everything that goes along with that belief.  They don't answer questions about God with statements like "I don't believe all that stuff" or "I've never seen God."  They answer flatly and with conviction- "there is no god." An atheist believes- they just believe in no god at all.
  2. Understand what it means.  To believe that there is no god has ramifications in every part of your life, just as believing in God does.  A good atheist knows that their belief system means that everything that has happened in all of history was an accident.  Nothing created the universe, it just happened.  Christians may argue about creation theories, but they all begin with "in the beginning God..."  The atheist's universe has no beginning.  People were not designed by a Creator, they just morphed out of slimy ocean creatures or magically appeared one day.  There is no purpose to life, you just do whatever you want to because there is no higher calling to which you should aspire.  And you can't just offer these thoughts as possibilities- you must believe them.
  3. Watch your language.  It is a moral imperative that you quit asking God to "damn" things.  You believe there is no god, and to keep saying this makes you a hypocrite.  Interestingly enough, hypocrisy by Christians is often the #1 reason cited by non-believers when asked why they do not attend church.  Wonder if it keeps them away from the Atheist Club too?
  4. Become lawless and loveless.  A true atheist understands that our laws are based  on the 10 Commandments.  Since God does not exist, those commandments were bogus (despite historical documents that prove otherwise- See Item 5) and therefore the laws of our land are not valid.  Make up your own, or live in the total chaos of a lawless society.  And since our basic understanding of love- the way we treat our fellow human beings and show them respect- comes from the world's religions, you must throw out that stuff as well.  If God is love (and He is!) then love must be totally foreign to you.  You can have all of the sex and lust you want, but the concept of love should be removed from your belief system.
  5. Believe something for which there is no evidence.  It's tough being an atheist.  There are historical documents and confirmed events dating back thousands of years that point to the existence of God.  The miracles and the resurrection of Jesus were reported in many historical documents (not just the Bible) by many different witnesses.  Hundreds of people have spent millions of dollars and their entire lives trying to prove the Bible to be fake or God to be a fairy tale.  Instead, they keep proving the very things they were trying to discredit.  The fact that you got sick on your vacation or that your football team lost by 37 points yesterday is not proof that there is no God.  Many scientists who believe in creation theories like evolution or the big bang cannot get past the question of how those things began.  They are hesitant to say "God created," so they use the phrase "intelligent designer."  Sounds like a creator God to me.  In any case, it is hard to make the case that the universe "just happened."  But that is the case you are left with, so learn to defend it.
  6. Have no hope.  I cannot personally imagine going through life without the knowledge that God loves me.  God's love and grace have lifted me from the depths of despair on many occasions.  Without God, I would have no idea where I would turn for hope.  Both of us have to have faith- the evidence of things unseen.  But for the atheist, your faith is in you.  No one stronger, no one greater, no one who loves you unconditionally.  Just you, with all of your flaws and failures.  You must be much stronger than I am...
Many atheists consider themselves to be intellectuals, above all the "hocus-pocus" of religion.  Consider this intellectual perspective.  Have you ever witnessed child birth?  Have you ever picked a ripe apple from a tree and tasted its amazing flavor?  Have you ever looked into the Grand Canyon or out at the waves on the ocean, or thought about the precision complexity of the human body?  If you can consider these things and still think all of it happened by accident, then you may have what it takes to be an atheist.  But consider this- if you are right and there is no god, then I look foolish, and neither of us have lost anything.  But if I am right, and God created the world and sacrificed His only Son so that we might spend eternity with Him, then there is much to gain through seeking God- and much to lose by choosing to ignore His presence.  If all of that sounds like a case for God, then why don't you look into Jesus?  I know He's got the answers...

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Jesus, the Storyteller

Who was Jesus?

He was a storyteller.  He told stories.  He was the world's greatest storyteller.  Ask him a question; he'd answer with a story.  Give him a crowd of people listening intently; he told them stories.  Give him an argument; he'd give you a story.  Give him a real tricky, catchy question; he'd give you a real tricky, catchy story.

Have you ever watched a 7-year-old listening- inhaling- a story?  Eyes wide, mouth slung open, mind churning, he lives, accepts and believes.  He is totally absorbed.

This man-God Jesus.  He was a good storyteller.  He knew what he was doing...

Lois Cheney, from her 1969 book God Is No Fool   Abingdon Press

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Forward Hoooooo!!!

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. - Phillipians 3:12-14 (NIV)

Our pastor at Van Dyke Church, Matthew Hartsfield, gave a great sermon illustration this past Sunday.  He credited it to another pastor whose name now escapes me, but it was a brilliant illustration that I wanted to share with you today.  It went something like this...

God made the human body with the intention that our movement would be forward.  Our eyes are focused to the front. So is our nose.  Our arms work best when we are reaching forward. Our legs have more strength when moving forward or kicking to the front. Our toes point forward.  There is only one part of us that points backwards.  It seems that even as God was designing the human body, he knew there was some crap that would need to be left behind...

Although he used different words, the Apostle Paul said basically the same thing to the church in Philippi 2000 years ago.  Forget what is behind you and press forward.  In the old, seldom seen movie Gumball Rally, there is a classic line where one of the drivers rips off his rear view mirror and says, "That is the first rule of Italian driving- what's behind me is not important!"  We all have memories we love and treasure and baggage that we find difficult to let go, but as the great philosopher Pumbaa once said, "You have to put your behind in the past!"  We have to keep pressing on.

Far too many of us- myself included- tend to get caught up in the failures of our past.  We give lip service to God's grace and forgiveness in our lives, but we don't REALLY believe it.  You see, the opposite of forward thinking and pressing on is not remembering. There is nothing wrong with remembering.  The opposite of forward thinking is backwards thinking.  And that will get us into trouble every time. Backwards thinking attempts to strip God of his power, and makes the work of Jesus on the cross look like a fool's errand. Think about it. Is it ever a compliment to say someone or something is backwards?  No...

I do indeed have "crap" I need to leave behind, even as I keep my eyes focused FORWARD on the prize that is abundant life in Jesus Christ.  My guess is you do too.  If Paul could write that he had not achieved his goal, then it is safe to say we haven't either.  So we keep pressing on.  God loves us. Too much, in fact, to leave us the way we are. Let's start fresh from right now- Forward Hoooooo!!!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, February 18, 2013

Today's Play List

This morning I was (as usual) listening to my I-pod to get myself fired up for a new day. If you are not familiar with my particular I-pod, it is a very old, very low memory hand-me-down (like the one pictured) from my son Will.  It only holds about 230 songs.  I have a lot more music than that in my library, so on occasion I rotate songs, moving out tunes I grow weary of and bringing in songs I have not heard in a while.  Lately I have "had a hankerin" for a lot of the Christian music I listened to back in the day, and I have added many of those classics to my current playlist.  So it was no surprise this morning when my first 10 songs on shuffle were heavily tilted towards that genre.  Here's what I heard:

1)  Consuming Fire-  Third Day
2)  Field of Souls-  Wayne Watson
3)  Roll Away Your Stone- Mumford & Sons
4)  Must Be- Lost And Found
5)  Time Is... - dc Talk
6)  Dive- Steven Curtis Chapman
7)  Undo Me- Jennifer Knapp
8)  The Rising- Bruce Springsteen
9)  Cross of Gold- Michael W. Smith
10) Good Advice- James Ward

That's what I am listening to. What's on your playlist?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

"Come Follow Me"

Matthew 4:18-22 (The Message)

Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass." They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.

A short distance down the beach they came upon another pair of brothers, James and John, Zebedee's sons. These two were sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their fishnets. Jesus made the same offer to them, and they were just as quick to follow, abandoning boat and father.

1)  What have you "dropped" from your life in order to follow Jesus?
2)  James and John left everything, including their father, to go with Jesus.  They were truly living life WIDE OPEN.  What is keeping you from being a fully devoted follower of Christ?  Will you follow where He leads without questioning where you are going?
3)  Are you a "new kind of fisherman?"  Who are the people in your life that you need to introduce to Jesus?

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, February 16, 2013

44 Signs You Were Part of the FUMC-Kissimmee Student Ministry, 1994-2000

For those who may not know, there will be a reunion in April of my youth groups from the First Untied Methodist Church of Kissimmee, where I served from 1994-2000.  We are getting a great response already, but I wanted to help those who may have trouble recalling their teenage years with a few signs that you were a part of that amazing ride. They won't all apply to everyone, but see if any of these ring a bell. They should- I mean unless you thought the blue van and the white van were of equal quality. Then I just can't help you.  I swiped this basic idea from another blog, but as you can see this one is all about us! Let me know which of these resonate the most with you!  Why 44?  Why not?  :)

1) You participated in an Egyptian Mummy Race.

2)  You rode on this bus...
3)  with these guys driving!
4)  You knew a song about Centipedes. You knew the Egyptian verse to Pharaoh, Pharaoh.  And you knew the exact right moments to shout BEEFY CHEESY and SLINKY
5)   You spent hours in the youth room listening to this album...
6) or this album...
7) but mostly to THIS album!
8)  And you just might have owned one of these t-shirts!

9)  You saw the Orlando Solar Bears play ice hockey.
10) You actually understand what this means...
11) You really thought that her name was Bob...
12) and that his name was Chico!
13) You remember playing Do You Love Your Neighbor, Shuffle Your Buns, Pass the Pigs and The Technicolor Stomp...but mostly you remember playing Four Square!
14) Either you or one of your friends (or everyone you knew!) wore one of these for a while.

15) You drank from one of the 10,000 Wendy's cups that were given to us following a train wreck.
16) You spent every Wednesday night at Wednesday Night Live, where you used this Bible...

17) and occasionally attended a LUAU!!!
18) You brought quarters for the Compassion Jar and sponsored kids through Compassion International!
19) You knew a lock-in was really called Rec Around the Clock!
20) And so you only knew how to bowl at midnight...
21) and ice skate at 4 AM!
22) You saw Geoff Moore & the Distance perform live at LEAST once!
23) You know Spanish Wells is in the Bahamas...and it is entirely possible you have been there!
24) You eagerly awaited one of these every summer!

25) There was culture too!  You got to attend some pretty fancy Christmas parties...
26) see the occasional Broadway show...
27) and even take a ride in a limo!
28) You learned how to make Jello the hard way- eat the mix, power slam a bottle of water, and then jump up and down!
29) You ate like royalty!  SHO-Time at places like Rio Bravo, Olive Garden, Planet Hollywood and Roadhouse Grill, and best of all, Kyoto's - where they knew us by name!!!!
30) You remember the magic, the excitement and the sheer exhaustion of Youth Week!
31) You knew that our wild and crazy summers were not officially over until we had a Last Gasp Summer Blowout at Melbourne Beach...
32) and that there was no place more special than the Betsy B at North Myrtle Beach!
33) Lots of you went skiing in West Virginia and North Carolina.
34) You remember calling 847-XLAX.
35) You had many an adventure in Dr. Jill's pool!
36) You know who Spooky Tuesday is, and you may have had a CD or a t-shirt!
37) You may have have survived rafting the Ocoee River- and even more importantly, staying at the Ocoee Inn!
38) You learned the correct way to cross arms, hold hands and twist out of our prayer circle. Even if I never did! :)
39) Besides Spanish Wells (twice), you went on mission trips to Mountain Top, Memphis, Orlando and Nashville.

40) You often stopped by my office, sat on my sectional sofa, listened to my music and ate all my candy!
41) It is possible that you learned how to hunt for Pink Panthers at the Florida Mall.

42) You had the best group of volunteer Youth Counselors- EVER!!!
43) You gathered every Sunday evening to Sing Alleluia and to learn more about Jesus!
44) And finally...for reasons unknown, you followed these two yahoos everywhere they went!  Even with our flaws and failures, we were a family- and we still are!  That's why we are having a family reunion on April 20th!

I hope you enjoyed this little romp through history!  Use the comment box below to share your memories, and let me know what I left out.  Have a blessed day!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, February 15, 2013

Flashback Friday: February 15, 2006

Will, Baloo Bear & Dad

The day had arrived for me to leave for a new youth pastor position in Waycross, GA- February 15, 2006.  I had taken most of my office stuff up when I had driven up a couple of weeks earlier, so this time my station wagon was packed with clothes and a few other things I would need for my six months of living alone.  Leaving was hard.  I was going to miss Marilyn and Will so much.  Plus, another complication had arisen over the previous few weeks.  My Dad had gotten very sick.  He was 71 years old and had always been one of the most vibrant and active people anyone could ever know.  He still played golf, softball and tennis. He rode his bike.  He and my Mom spent lots of time at their favorite place, Walt Disney World.  And then in the blink of an eye, he became weak and frail, and a battery of doctors could not seem to figure out why.  I had driven up to Leesburg, FL to see them a couple of days before my departure for Georgia.  Dad was in the hospital and seemed to be getting worse, and the doctors had finally decided it was a blood-based cancer that was tearing him down.  It was so sad to see him like that.

I headed out of Tampa around 10 AM and stopped at the Tampa Christian Supply to pick up a few more things that I thought I might need as I began my new adventure at Trinity UMC. I was shopping when my cell phone rang.  It was my Mom calling to tell me that my Dad had just passed away.  I was dumbstruck.  Here I was, leaving town, leaving my family behind and heading out to a new and somewhat scary place, and now my Dad- without a doubt the most important influence in my life- was gone.  My head was spinning.  I could not imagine how we were going to tell Will.  This was not just his grandfather (Paw-Paw) who had died- this was his best friend.  My 10 year-old son was hardly ready for this.  I was hardly ready for this.  I called Marilyn and told her the news and that my plans had changed.  I called Trinity UMC and told them I would not be arriving that day, or anytime that week.  All of the energy and excitement that had been building in me for this new opportunity and this new ministry was drained in one 5 minute phone call.  I was very frustrated with God's timing, and I told Him so.

My Dad had wanted to be cremated, and we honored those wishes.  Mom didn't really want to do any kind of formal service, but after some convincing she agreed to a memorial service in North Carolina that May so that all of our extended family and friends could remember my Dad, who through coaching and chaperoning youth trips had been a huge part of so many lives. I eventually made my way to Waycross on February 22nd.  My usual positive attitude, however, would lag far behind.  Instead of hitting the ground running and getting off to a flying start, my energy would now be invested in just trying to survive and advance.  Fortunately, even when we doubt, even when we are frustrated, even when we feel all alone- God is faithful.  

As I remember my Dad today (hard to believe he's been gone 7 years already) I think of the amazing relationship he had with my son Will.  A couple of years back I put together this little slide show of pictures of the two of them, set to Steven Curtis Chapman's Remembering You.  Will actually sang this song at the memorial service.  I can think of no better way to celebrate Dad's memory than with pictures of he and Will. I hope it will give each of you a small glimpse into the joy and vigor of a great man. Today- just like every other day- I miss you Dad.  Have a great weekend, everyone.

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, February 14, 2013

That's Just Foolishness

"Charlie was a fool, did you hear what he went and did?
He quit his job, threw it away, gave his life to a bunch of kids
He said he was in love with Jesus
But his friends called him a fool..."  -Geoff Moore

A few days ago I was in a drug store standing in line to pay, and in front of me was a man and little boy, who I assumed were grandfather and grandson.  The little boy was maybe 4 years old and was rather rambunctious, and the grandpa had put up with all he was going to take. He finally grabbed the boy by the arm and said these words: "Will you quit acting the fool, for christ's  sake!" I was immediately struck by the irony of those words.  Let me tell you why.

I knew a guy back in 1980s who graduated with honors from a fine institution of higher learning in North Carolina.  He went on to get his master's degree in engineering, and could have had his pick of prestigious, high-paying jobs.  Instead, he answered the call of a small Quaker church that needed a youth pastor. His parents and friends were stunned.  Giving up all of that money to be a youth pastor.  Seemed foolish to them, but he heard the call of Christ.  He served that church for several years, eventually going back to engineering.  But to this day he is still a volunteer youth worker at his church.

I knew a school teacher who was sitting in worship one Sunday morning when she heard a voice speak to her, telling her to go to Belize and be a missionary.  She had never considered mission work, and had no idea where (or even what!) Belize was.  Seemed like a very foolish idea.  So she went.

I had a friend who was the general manager of a large car dealership. She was very successful and very good at what she did.  She began teaching bible study and volunteering with the youth ministry at her church, and began to feel Jesus pulling on her heart, calling her to do something that seemed foolish to so many around her.  She eventually quit her job, went back to school, and took a position on staff at the church. She is now an ordained United Methodist minister, a Senior Pastor who LOVES her work and her congregation.  

I met a guy in the mid 1990s who was in central Florida supervising the installation of the industrial sprinkler system in a new Walt Disney World resort hotel.  He was the chief engineer on the project, and was making the big bucks. He also was a great volunteer with our student ministry.  He left when the job was done, but returned to the area soon afterwards to do similar work at Raymond James Stadium here in Tampa. A bit later the pastor at his home church asked him if he would be interested in becoming their full-time youth pastor.  Seemed like a foolish question to ask.  And "yes" seemed like a foolish answer.  But when Jesus calls you, it is not about being normal- or even sane.  It's about following him.

We love in a world where most people seek to live normal lives.  They want regular jobs that pay as much money as possible.  They want 9-5 hours and pension plans and health insurance.  Why would people like the ones above give up security and normalcy for lives that seem to be a step down to much of society?  Why would they make changes that cause friends and family to question their sanity?  Why would we follow Jesus and love everyone including our enemies, turn the other cheek and care more about others than we do about ourselves?  To do that, you'd have to be some kind of fool... for Christ's sake.

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the traditional beginning of Lent and a time during which Christians everywhere dedicate themselves to the last days of Jesus.  Today, in churches of many denominations all over the world, believers will gather in somber recognition of the sacrifice Jesus would make for us.  Many will mark the occasion by having ashes rubbed on their foreheads in the shape of the cross. The ashes are often palm branches from the previous year's Palm Sunday that were burned and saved. In many cases the minister will remind us that "from dust we came, and to dust we shall return."  The entire service is a call to repentance.  If you are able to attend an Ash Wednesday service at your place of worship, please do.  It will provide a moving start to your Lenten adventure.

If you are unable to attend a service, then take time today to focus on being WIDE OPEN to the meaning of Lent. I call it being Crosseyed- keeping yourself aware of the cross of Christ and the resurrection that would follow.  Assuming you don't have any ashes handy, I suggest that you take some sort of marker and mark yourself with the cross.  Pray about the things in your life that you need to let go of- the things you REALLY need to repent of.  Look at the mark of the cross on your body.  Do people see the mark of Jesus on you everyday?  What do you need to do over the next 40 days to make your life a testimony?  Praise God for Jesus, and for the journey his church is about to begin to take together!