Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"The Hard Is What Makes It Great"

In the movie A League of Their Own, there is a scene near the end in which Jimmy, the manager of a women's baseball team (played by Tom Hanks) discovers his star player Dottie (played by Geena Davis) is leaving the team to go be with her husband Bob, who is just back from World War II.   The following conversation takes place:

Jimmy Dugan: Taking a little day trip? 
Dottie Hinson: No, Bob and I are driving home. To Oregon. 
Jimmy Dugan: [long pause] You know, I really thought you were a ballplayer. 
Dottie Hinson: Well, you were wrong. 
Jimmy Dugan: Was I? 
Dottie Hinson: Yeah. It is only a game, Jimmy. It's only a game, and, and, I don't need this. I have Bob; I don't need this. At all. 
Jimmy Dugan: I, I gave away five years at the end my career to drink. Five years. And now there isn't anything I wouldn't give to get back any one day of it. 
Dottie Hinson: Well, we're different. 
Jimmy Dugan: Sh*t, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I'm in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It's what lights you up, you can't deny that. 
Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard. 
Jimmy Dugan: It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great

I have always loved that quote, because I think it applies to many parts of life. "The hard is what makes it great."  We learn from our struggles.  We grow through adversity.  Our faith is tested when things do not go our way and we learn to persevere.  I was taught over and over again as a child things like "when the going get tough, the tough get going."  "Winners win and losers quit." Even Jesus reminded us that those who suffer for his sake will be blessed.  God could have made our lives simple, but in His wisdom chose to present us with obstacles to  go around and challenges to overcome.

Every day I seek to show the love of Christ to those in my life.  I pray for them.  I try to do the right things keep my loved ones safe and happy.  Some days it is so hard not to be selfish and seek to meet my own needs first- but that is not what Jesus would do. Following Jesus is what gets inside me.  It's what lights me up.  But it is not easy.  Some days it is just very hard.  And the hard is what makes it great...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, April 29, 2013

Let the Day's Own Troubles Be Enough For the Day

Many of you know that Sunday afternoons are still difficult for me. From the time I was 12 until the time I was 47 I spent nearly every Sunday afternoon attending, helping with or leading a student ministry.  Just over 6 years ago that portion of my life came to an abrupt end, and I still miss it nearly every week.  So Sundays can be hard on my normally positive attitude in the best of cases.

Yesterday was NOT the best of cases.  I didn't sleep well Saturday night.  The medicine I am taking to help control my diabetes has some nasty side effects, and yesterday they all seemed to be kicking in at once.  Will's prom Saturday night was just another reminder that life flies by, and it is so easy to miss the good stuff.  I was thinking far to much about a difficult personal situation and a future that I desire but most likely cannot have.  And so I sat, listened to music...and worried.  I worried about my health. I worried about future opportunities to be involved in ministry. I worried about a friend who is struggling. And I worried about my own future happiness.  All of that worry pushed me into a dark place; a sad place.  I am considered by many of my friends to be a master of finding the "silver lining."  Yesterday that lining was very hard to find. Very hard indeed...

Then last night I took out the trash.  That may seem like an odd way to find a little peace on a bad day, but as I emptied one of our small trash cans into the big garbage bin I saw something I did not expect so see.  I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that this surprise made me both gasp and laugh.  I was immediately aware that I had just spent the day wallowing in something over which I had no control.  Life...and my future...will be full of surprises and events that surpass my grandest expectations.  Things I once never dreamed possible have already happened. Blessings from God come every day, just like the sun rise.  And suddenly I was reminded of one of my favorite scripture verses:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes."  Matthew 6:34 (The Message)

So today I am praying over those words of Jesus.  I want to focus my attention on what God is doing right NOW in my life.  And I want to give the future to God.  Is it still scary?  Yes!  But it is so much less scary to know that my future, my life and my joy are in the hands of the Creator of the universe and Savior of humanity. The old cliche says that I may not know what the future holds, but I know who  holds the future. Old cliches are often right.  "Let the days own troubles be enough for the day."  Words to live by on a Monday morning.  Be blessed, my friends.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Playlist

Last night I was (as usual) listening to my I-pod while waiting to hear from Will after his prom. 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).  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. Music moves me.  It can change my mood, lift my spirits, make me sentimental and take me to places I have not visited in a while.  Last night was no exception.   Here's what I heard:

1)  I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore-  REO Speedwagon
2)  Once Upon A Time- Dan Fogelberg
3)  Boulevard of Broken DreamsGreen Day
4)  Famous OneChris Tomlin
5)  Ocean Boulevard - Yellowcard
6)  You're My Best FriendQueen
7)  Little Is MuchDownhere
8)  This NightBilly Joel
9)  Here Is Our KingDavid Crowder Band
10) The Only Hope For Me Is YouMy Chemical Romance

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

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Normal Is Overrated

So many times after tragic or amazing events in our life and in our world, we hear people talk about how nice it will be to "get back to normal."  Today I am overwhelmed with the feeling that "normal" is not all it is cracked up to be.  I tweeted a thought this morning, and as the day has gone along it seems more and more relevant. My past couple of weeks have been filled with amazing events and incredible people.  My often hum-drum existence has been anything but normal. And once again it has become very clear to me that normal is overrated.  I guess it is only right that after a time like this that things get back to the status quo. But it seems to me that once you have experienced the extraordinary, normal sucks. So this morning I lament the norm, and find myself longing for a few more extraordinary moments to come my way.  I pray the same for each of you.  God uses "normal" people to do extraordinary things every day. Here I am, LORD. Choose me.

Because of Jesus,

Friday, April 26, 2013

Flashback Friday: Through the Roof!

Most of you are probably familiar with the story found in Luke 5:18-26 in which 4 friends carry a paralytic to see Jesus.  Unable to get to him through any normal route, they cut a whole in the roof of the house and lower their friend down to Jesus.  The story had many layers, including the divinity of Christ and the Pharisees complete lack of faith and understanding. But primarily this story is about the faith of a man and his 4 friends- and how that faith led to major moment in the Jesus Revolution. Today, as we continue to seek our own personal revolutionary moments, I invite you to spend some time with these two questions:

  1. Who brought you into the presence of Christ?  This question is not so much about who preached the sermon or sang the song as it is about who dropped you through the roof to get you there.  For me, it was my best friend from 8th grade on, Steve Semmler.  And just like with the friends in the scripture, there were obstacles to overcome.  He had invited me to go to summer camp with him and to attend his youth group, but I kept coming up with excuses.  And he kept asking.  He finally got through to me when I found out that the right girl would be at a youth group skating party.  The mats our friends use to take us to Jesus can take many forms.  I didn't know that Steve was changing my life forever- and I'm not sure he did either.  But he did.  He brought me into the presence of the Christ who would say to me over and over again in my life, "Get up!  Your sins are forgiven."  And trust me, there are still plenty of Pharisees who scoff at that today.
  2. Who is it in your life that you need to lower through the roof?  I was taught a long time ago that it is important to have at least one specific person in your life that you are praying for in the hopes that they will come to know Jesus.  In my youth groups we often spoke of praying for the Empty Chair- lifting up our friends who needed to be there and were not.  And while the praying is important, I think sometimes we let ourselves off the hook too easily.  Sometimes we need to physically bring them to the feet of the Savior.  We need to invite them to church, or to a small group, or a concert, or dinner at our home- someplace where they will encounter the living Christ.  We may need to put them on a mat, or in a car, or on a boat- whatever means necessary- to get them to Jesus.  For the friends in Luke's gospel, it was about having their friend healed.  It is no different for us.  The healing may not be physical.  It may be a relationship.  It may be emotional.  It is certainly spiritual.  They need to see the Great Physician.  They need to experience the Jesus Revolution in their lives.  And it is our task as their friend to make sure they have that opportunity.
Take some time today to be still and think on these questions.  Remember who it was (and it may be many people on more than one occasion) that brought you to see Jesus at a time when you desperately needed Him.  And who is it that God is calling you to bring?  Even if you need to go through the roof...

    Because of Jesus,

    Wednesday, April 24, 2013

    Amazing Grace

    This past weekend I was reminded of what grace looks like when it is practiced as Jesus gave it to us- unconditional and overwhelming love. Thanks so much to those who share that grace with "a wretch like me..."

    In all of Christian music, perhaps no song is more traditional and yet as contemporary as Amazing GraceAmazing Grace is a Christian hymn written by English poet and clergyman John Newton (1725–1807) published in 1779. With a message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of the sins people commit and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, Amazing Grace is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world.

    Newton wrote the words from personal experience. He grew up without any particular religious conviction.  He joined the Royal Navy and became a sailor, eventually participating in the slave trade.  One night a terrible storm battered his vessel so severely that he became frightened enough to call out to God for mercy, a moment that marked the beginning of his spiritual conversion.  This incredible piece of music and theology rose from his personal struggles with sin; struggles that each of experience every day, no matter how strong our faith.

    Yet despite being 231 years old and having survived a plethora of changes in church music, this great song has remained very modern.  Over the years the lyrics have been sung to a variety of tunes to help convey the always contemporary message to new generations.  I first remember hearing it sung to the tune of House of the Rising Sun in the early 1970's.  At Quaker Lake we used to do a song called Calypso, which married verses from Jesus Love Me, O For A Thousand Tongues, Amazing Grace and the Doxology with an easy to sing calypso beat.  Andrew Lewis and I (see picture) used to sing the words to the tune of The Theme From Gilligan's Island, once performing it at a talent show at FUMC-K (I will pause now while you sing it to see if that actually works...pretty cool, huh?).  My son Will learned a version to the tune of Sweet Home Alabama ("Sweet home up in Heaven, where the skies are so blue...") while at camp a few years ago.  No matter the tune, it has always been the message that sets Amazing Grace apart.

    There are two versions (besides the original, which is still my favorite version) that I am particularly fond of.  One is to the melody of the Eagles' great song Peaceful Easy Feeling.  We used that one a lot at worship in Kissimmee and in Tampa, with the lyric to Amazing Grace as the verses and the original "I've got a peaceful easy feeling, 'cause I know You want let me down..." as the chorus.  In a side note, it was also one of the songs our multiple guitar Guitar Choir played in worship at FUMC-K.  That group, featuring Vic Hill, Darin Miller, Pete Lynes, Nate Hill, Jay Lynes, Ben Thacker, myself and others was a much fun as I ever had making music- it was just a lot of work to keep that many amateur guitarists in tune!  When I led the congregation in this version at Wesley Memorial, it was by far the loudest I ever heard that group of adults sing.

    But my favorite remake came in 2006, when Chris Tomlin released his great project See the Morning (#43 on my CCM Countdown).  The final cut on the album was his version of Amazing Grace, which you can hear on the video below.  His added chorus ("My chains are gone, I've been set free...") truly drives home the original message of the song- that God's love is unending, and that through Jesus Christ our sins are erased and forgiven every day.  In a world where so many church leaders mislead us with talk of performance and piety, this amazing song continues to remind us that Christianity is not about what we DO; it is about what Jesus has already done.  That's why we call it the Good News!  God's grace is even enough to cover even a sinner like- and you!  And that, my friends, is pretty amazing!  Enjoy the video, and I will see you tomorrow.

    Monday, April 22, 2013

    Thank You

    Teresa and I Saturday morning,  just before leaving Tampa for the reunion!
    Now that the Kissimmee Youth Group Reunion has come and gone, I wanted to just take a moment to say THANK YOU to a few of the people who made it such a great experience for so many old friends.  In no particular order, here we go!

    • Thank you, Kelly Jeck Trace, for arranging for us to have the beautiful Osprey Pavilion for our picnic on Saturday. Being that close to the playground was a true blessing for all of the parents. Also thank you for lining up the Broadway Pizza Bar for Saturday night, and for (along with Dwight Oakes) helping to get so much of "our" old music into worship on Sunday morning.  We could not have had this event without you.
    • Thank you, Jill Painter Watson, Cindy Martin and Jerry Hanbery for being so encouraging and supportive over the months of planning this event.  Your never failing enthusiasm kept the spirit of the reunion alive and kicking even when we had no idea if anyone else was coming.  The same is true for Todd Willis, even though he couldn't actually make it in for the weekend. You are all loved and appreciated.
    • Thank you, Marilyn Jones, for helping with publicity and promotion, for being so supportive, and for chauffeuring me back and forth to Kissimmee- twice!  And to Will Jones for hanging in there with for a very long day on Saturday, during which he made almost everyone in attendance feel old!  I am blessed with a wonderful family!
    • Thank you, Jocelyn Sessions Ward, for being the big surprise for me!  I am so sorry it took a family illness to bring you to Florida, but so glad you were able to be a part of the reunion.  It would not have been the same without you!
    • Thank you, Lauren Cacciatore, Matthew Teoli and Lisa Kraus Spires for sharing your babies with us, and to so many others for bringing their kids to the picnic.  We are a family, and it felt like it.
    • Thank you, Courtney Moon, for taking your lunch break on Friday to try and buy a Chicken Head to bring to the reunion just to make us all laugh!  Who new they are impossible to find in Gainesville?  But the effort was greatly appreciated!
    • Thank you, Alumni of the 1994-2000 FUMC-K Student Ministries, for being there this weekend.  The genuine joy on your faces as you connected and re-connected made it all worthwhile.  Hearing you tell stories and relive great moments we shared together brought a huge smile to my face.  And hearing so many of you talk about the trips we took and how they impacted you, as well as how looking back you realize most youth groups never get to experience, made the weekend for me.  We were not normal in so many ways. And we still aren't!
    • And finally, thank you to Teresa Reep Tysinger- for so many things.  For pushing the idea of a reunion in the beginning.  For kicking my butt and MAKING me put something together, and for not making me do it alone. For putting together our group Facebook page, which will remain up as a place for us to stay connected.  For coming early and spending a few days with her old youth pastor, making him feel young and special again.  In other words, thank you Teresa for just being who you always have been- a wonderful friend to myself and so many others.
    Be sure to offer your word of thanks to all of these special people.  And now that the reunion is history - another incredible memory added to a long list-  only one question remains. When do we do we do it again?  I am open to suggestions...

    Because of Jesus,

    Sunday, April 21, 2013

    One of My Best Days

    The reunion of folks from the student ministries of the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee (circa 1994-2000) took place yesterday, and in the words of our old friend Geoff Moore it was "one of my best days." The event actually began for me this past Wednesday with the arrival of my dear friend and "whatever," Teresa Reep (for the purposes of this post, I am going maiden names only!). It continued through brunch on Friday with Jennifer (Bob) Minnigan. And then yesterday we headed for K-town in hopes of seeing a few of the old gang. The event began with a "bring you own lunch" picnic at the Kissimmee lakefront, and almost immediately the surprises and excitement began. Cathy Thacker was there with her granddaughter (and Ben's daughter) Opal. Jill Souther showed up with her family, including her parents. The same was true for Lauren Carr. When Jocelyn Sessions and family made a totally unexpected appearance all the way from Alabama, we knew something big was brewing! I found myself sitting and talking to Hamp Sessions, getting hugs from Jill Franklin, meeting Matthew Teoli's family (his parents also joined us) and getting reacquainted with the Connor Lewis clan. Dr. Jill and Brian Watson were there with the boys, along with Lisa Kraus and her girls. Kelly Jeck and hubby Keith were there, and Jim & Karen Fry as well. Jerry & Melissa Hanbery and family showed up and the party really kicked up a notch! Kay Hill stopped by with her granddaughter Lucy, and Cynthia Landon made a surprise visit. And I am sure I am forgetting someone. Including myself, Marilyn, Will and Teresa, over 55 people were around, many staying until mid-afternoon. It was more than we had prayed for when we began planning last summer.

    Dinner at the Broadway Pizza Bar brought new excitement and another round of surprises. In addition to a number of folks who had been at the picnic, new (and yet old!) faces soon flooded the room! Courtney Moon (with her friend John), Julia Pribyl and Matt Rogers joined us, as did Nate Kern and Bobby Young (with dates). Carol Kraus and Caitlin Esry were there. Cindy & Gill Martin, Michael & Becky McCleery and Mark & Beth McKenna were there helping to represent the old group of Youth Counselors who were such a huge part of those years. Current FUMC-K youth pastor Dwight Oakes stopped in to say hello. Nate Hill joined the party a little later. We had great food and unbelievable fellowship, fueled in part by a photo album I brought full of hundreds of pictures from those glory days. It was quite a night.

    Even in the midst of all the folks who were there, I couldn't help but miss a lot of people as well. Both Colleen Martin and Karen Hall had planned to be with us but family emergencies kept them away. Meagan Hill and Stephanie Potter also ran into conflicts and were missed. Old friends like Jacob Lupfer, Ben Thompson, Brook Teoli, Cyndi ReepTodd Willis and others had expressed a desire to be with us but were unable to make the trip. We talked about people like Chrissy and Tommy Weaver, whom we have all lost track of over the years. We missed Amber Herrick, Matt & Dana Schmidt, Darin Miller, Erin Bay, Josh Fry, Sarah Crudele, Andrew Rogers, Adam Hill and so many others. And my thoughts turned to those who could not be with us- Karen Biddle, Sally Hollingsed and Chico Fry- all of whom have passed away since those days. Even in the midst of such a wonderful family reunion, there were family members whom we missed and longed to see again.

    Even as I write this morning, we are not quite finished yet. A group will gather to worship together at the 9:40 service at FUMC-K, where the music will feature some of our favorite youth group songs from the 90's. And then we will finish the reunion weekend with lunch at the Kissimmee institution, Fat Boys. Worship is a fitting way for all of this to end, because it was Jesus who brought this group together; Jesus who carried us through so many trials and tribulations; and Jesus who bonds us together today. I cannot express the blessings of yesterday to my life- words are totally inadequate. I can only say that it was indeed "one of my best days..."

    Because of Jesus,

    Friday, April 19, 2013

    A Vintage Post: Radical Man (Beefy Cheesy!)

    The FUMC-Kissimmee Reunion is tomorrow- but I am already enjoying it!  Teresa has been her a couple of days and we are having a blast, and this morning we are meeting Jennifer (Bob) Kuramochi for brunch!  Here's another vintage post to keep you going while we have TOO much fun!

    My youth group at FUMC-K loved to sing.  In any youth ministry you always have those who love to sing for fun, another group that loves to sing for worship, and a group that doesn't really care for singing at all.  In Kissimmee we had all of those, but I was also blessed with a large group that simply loved to sing, no matter the time or the occasion.  And since I loved leading them in song, we had some amazing times together just singing.  On Ski Trips, on the porch of the Betsy B, or in the Youth Room, we sang our hearts out.  As I look back, we sang many classic youth group songs, and sooner or later I will blog about some of our favorites.  But today I want to focus on a song from the Youth Group Jukebox of Cheese (see also One Tin Soldier) - a youth group novelty song that we loved to sing and that is a nice follow-up to yesterday's post on Radical Christianity, which I hope all of you will read.

    Yohann Anderson (YO to his friends, and I am proud to count myself among them) was one of the great pioneers of using a wide range of songs in student ministry.  His Songs book and his Songs and Creations publishing house were staples of the youth ministry scene until the advent of praise bands and contemporary worship music in the late 1990's.  His book gave us everything from Proud Mary and Pharaoh, Pharaoh to Sing Alleluia.   He also taught me a philosophy of group singing dynamics that I used my entire career.  In fact, it was on his advice that after finding our singing to be disgustingly unenthusiastic at Wesley Memorial in 2002 that I ditched our praise band and went back to simply leading with guitar, and got fantastic results.  In 1992 he wrote a funky little song called Radical Man about the life and teachings of Jesus.  We started singing it in Kissimmee around 1995, and for several years it was one of our favorites.  There was a pause in the chorus, during which it had originally been YO's intent for the singers to yell, "YES!"  I gave my group the freedom of yelling other things, and very quickly the phrase of choice to yell became, "BEEFY CHEESY!"  I have no idea why (the who may have been Connor Lewis) this started, but it caught on and quickly became a tradition.  But the song was more than just a goofy youth group song; it had a message about the nature of Christ that was (and is) important.  Check out the lyrics to Radical Man; if you are feeling really brave, click the video below and you can hear me sing it...

    CHORUS:  Well they called Him the rebel-rousin' Radical Man.
    loved a party, loved his friends
    Laughed with joy, surprised the sad, made all the self-righteous people mad
    Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh...(BEEFY CHEESY!)
    The rebel-rousin' Radical Man, oh yeah, the rebel-rousin' Radical Man

    Healed the sick, raised the dead, irritated people with the truth He said
    Upset their religious plans, painted God with a human hand
    Said "Outside things will pass away, concentrate on what will stay
    Love your enemies, feed the poor," Radical Man said "I'm the door..."

    "Do to others what you want from them, forgive each other, don't condemn
    A greedy attitude will never last, the Kingdom of God is for those who ask"
    "People come before material things, we're not puppets on anyone's strings
    Live like a child, by my side, come be happy no need to hide..."

    "Love your neighbor as yourself, don't hoard money for power and wealth
    First look at your own mistakes, not the speck in another's face"
    He gave His body and gave His blood, stirred us up to feel His love
    "Whatever you do, you do to Me, celebrate life, you are free..."

    If the students in my youth group in Kissimmee learned NOTHING ELSE in my 6 years, I could live with them just knowing the truths contained in that silly little song.  Jesus is indeed the Radical Man, and if we truly follow His teachings and His example, we will be radical too!  Who knew that one of the signs of being a Jesus Freak was knowing when to yell "BEEFY CHEESY!"   Thank you, YO, for so many things, but especially for Radical Man

    One final note:  I tried this song with a couple of groups after leaving Kissimmee and they just didn't get it... Radical Man is exclusive to Kissimmee!

    Because of the Radical Man,

    Wednesday, April 17, 2013

    7 Things: The Last Gasp Summer Blowout!

    With the reunion just days away (and Teresa Reep Tysinger arriving at my house today!!!) I am going to offer up some great Kissimmee memories between now and Saturday.  Most have appeared previously on this blog, but it seem seems appropriate to share them again!  Enjoy!

    Every church I ever served as Youth Pastor, it always seemed there was one annual trip or program that became the signature event at that location.  At New Garden Friends Meeting it was our Marathon Lock-Ins.  At Springfield Friends Meeting it was TNT.  At the the First United Methodist Church, I believe it was the Last Gasp Summer Blowout.  Each of my six summers in Kissimmee we took a weekend trip to Melbourne Beach (technically Indiatlantic Beach) for a time of sun, fun, fellowship and worship.  These were some amazing weekends, and today I present another of my lists of 7 Things, this time about those Blowouts.  Enjoy!
    1. The first two years (1994, '95) we took this trip in mid-August.  The other 4 were held Labor Day Weekend.  The first year we actually drove back on Sunday morning and did a Youth Sunday where we led worship that we had planned during the weekend.  Not sure whose idea that was...
    2. Once we quit the bonehead Youth Sunday planning idea after 1994, every year had a theme.  In chronological order they were:  Love One Another Hitting a Home Run in Our Spiritual Lives;  Consuming Fire Crossing the Line;  and Into Jesus
    3. We stayed at the Quality Suites in on the beach for all but one of those years.  The Suites had received major hurricane damage and we had to say at the Sheraton.  Our one year there we had a meeting room on an upper floor (great room with an incredible view), and after worship one night we celebrated a birthday (I believe Lauren Carr's) with cupcakes.  When I left the room that night, I found cupcake debris everywhere; there had been a food fight.  The elevator down to my room was covered in icing.  We cleaned it up and the culprits were taken care of in proper fashion.  I have been prejudiced against cupcakes ever since. But not Coopcakes. Meagan. I know I will love Coopcakes!
    4. The rooms at the Quality Suites had oceanfront balconies, and in one of the early years (maybe the first) some of the guys took to throwing ice at some of the girls out on their balconies.  Erin Auginblick got hit by a piece, and we decided to make a point about the ice throwing.  She came down to our next meeting having been made up (I seem to recall Brook Teoli doing the make up, but that may be wrong) to look like her eye was all black and blue, and we made the guys feel like dirt for throwing the ice.  Later, when the scam was revealed, everyone had a good laugh and my point was made.  Every now and then you get one right...
    5. The beach in that area was very rocky, and it seemed like every time we were there the riptide was really bad.  So we spent most of our beach time in the pool.  I have great memories of that pool, including tossing my very young son Will (born in July, 1995) up an catching him.  He loved it, except for the one time I dropped him and he went under...but that was not so bad either!  We also had some massive "chicken fights."  I also remember having some great discussions and fellowship times in the jacuzzi by the pool, which we took advantage of quite often, even very late at night.
    6. In 1998 (I think) our worship leaders for the weekend were our old friends from Hawaii, the band Spooky Tuesday (at right with Darin Miller).  By then they had done two concerts for us in Kissimmee and we loved them.  I remember two things about them being with us:  they rented a surf board from a local shop and somehow broke it.  And at some point that weekend, they taught us a new song called Prince of Peace.  Jessica & Kevin (far left) later e-mailed me the chords and lyrics and it became a signature song for our student ministry.
    7. The closing worship services for these weekends became legend (wait for it...)ary.  The year of the cupcakes I did a dramatic story about a young woman who gave up on herself.  I used a clay statue of a girl to illustrate the story, pouring different color paints on her to represent her moods and feelings.  When she reaches her lowest point and is considering suicide, I pulled out a hidden hammer and SMASHED the green ware.  Pieces went everywhere, and the group was stunned.  I then brought out another, new replica statue and talked about how Jesus can restore us and heal us even in our darkest hours.   It was an awesome night.  But it was not the best closing worship in Melbourne.  That would be the year I told the story of the Warm Fuzzies.  Everyone was given colored fluffy balls to share with their friends as they told them how much they meant to them.  Connor Lewis made us all cry, and then the spirit just spread around the room as every one shared their feelings.  It was one of the best nights of worship I have ever been a part of, and it is representative of how special all those Last Gasp Summer Blowouts were. 
    Those are some of my favorite memories of the Last Gasp.  If you were ever a part of those epic adventures, I would love to hear yours.  Be blessed, my friends!

    Because of Jesus,

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013

    Don't Give Up Faith

    As the tragedy in Boston unfolded yesterday afternoon, my Twitter feed just blew up with people offering prayers and support to the injured and the dead.  The outpouring was heart-warming in the midst of such horror.  But there was another response as well.  People seemed to be giving up.  The world is too dark a place. How could God allow such misery and evil?  Faith seemed to be taking a beating.

    As I read this hopelessness being given voice by so many, I was reminded of some things.  The first is that too many Christians have grabbed hold of some really rotten theology.  We have become convinced that if we believe in Jesus and try to live a good life, our lives will somehow be spared the kind of turmoil we all experienced yesterday.  This is simply not true.  Jesus himself told us is John 16:33 that "In this world you will have trouble." It is a promise that needs no explaining.  We know this to be true.  But Jesus went on to say, "But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  For Christ-followers it is never about "doing OK under the circumstances."  It is about OVERCOMING the circumstances because of our faith in God.  Remember the promise from the scripture at the top- darkness CANNOT overcome the Light. It may temporarily stun us, as it did yesterday.  But in the end, God wins.

    Secondly, I immediately found myself singing the great Third Day song, Don't Give Up Hope.  I wrote a bible study based on that song a couple of years ago, so I know it inside and out.  Take a look at the first verse and the chorus.  You will understand why it came to my mind...

    This world just keeps on getting crazier and crazier everyday
    You're so afraid 
    Sometimes it feels like it's chasing your sanity away
    And you start to break
    Let me help you find your way

    Don't give up faith
    Don't give up hope
    There's always something better
    Waiting around the corner
    Don't give up now
    Please, don't let go
    What can feel like the ending
    Could just be the beginning
    Don't give up hope

    Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  No act of terror or evil can separate us from his love and grace. While days like yesterday will always test our faith, they should never defeat, because we are promised that God will never forsake us.  So today, as we mourn with and pray for those in Boston, let us be careful not to give in and lose hope.  God is still in control.  Don't give up faith! And if you need a little kick in the butt today, play the video. You will be inspired. Have a blessed day!

    Because of Jesus,

    Monday, April 15, 2013

    Remember Who You Are- & Who You Are Not

    When Moses asked God who he should say sent him to save the people of Abraham, God responded "tell them I AM sent you. Yahweh is the "I AM," the God who was and is and is to come; the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I am none of those things, and neither are you. We are but tiny parts of God's plan, like so many before us and so many around us. When John the Baptist was asked if he was the promised Messiah, he replied, "I am NOT...but there is one who will come and reveal everything God has promised." We, like Moses and John and Peter and so many other giants of our faith, are NOT. But we know the great "I AM." As you begin a new week, be WIDE OPEN to the fact that God is God...and you are NOT. Open your hearts that God might use you so His will can be accomplished on this earth. Submit yourself so that Jesus might have His way with you and that you might quit trying to have your way with Him. Only then can His light shine its brightest. Only then can Jesus truly be the hope of the world. I forgot this for a period of time and made a huge mess of my life.  I don't intend to ever let it happen again.  A sign I used to have up in my office said The Main thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main thing!  I pray this prayer everyday in the hope that it will keep me focused on the things that truly matter, because trust me folks- I falter most every day.  I hope you will pray along...

    Loving God, today I turn my life over to You. My skills, my failures, my sin and my joys all belong to You. I recognize that my life is not about me, but it is all about You. I realize that I sometimes like to play god, but that I am NOT..You ARE! Help me to understand that Jesus did not die on the cross so I could accomplish some political agenda or achieve some lofty position on this earth. Jesus died for my sins, because I am a sinner. Jesus gives me grace so that I might offer love and forgiveness to others, especially to the "least of these brothers of mine" who are in need and to the lost who think themselves to be beyond His grace. In the words of King David, himself a sinner of great magnitude, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit with in me, so that I might serve You." Use me, and I will give you the glory. Remind me today that I am NOT...but I know I AM, and that when I serve You we can offer hope to a hurting world.

    In the name of the great I AM,

    Sunday, April 14, 2013

    Remembering a Ragamuffin

    Brennan Manning passed away yesterday.  I was fortunate to hear him speak on several occasions and to have read several of his books, including The Ragamuffin Gospel, which remains one of the most important books I have ever read.  It changed many lives, including that of the late, great Rich Mullins. More recently, I hear from my old friend Todd Willis about how the book had transformed his small group. I wrote this post back in 2010, and I share it again today to honor Brennan.  Actually, to allow Brennan to honor Jesus.  Because Brennan would wonder why anyone would want to pay any attention to a ragamuffin like him...

    Perhaps the greatest theological truth ever written is this:  "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so..."  It is a love we cannot earn and do not deserve; it is a love we simply have to accept.  Yet I am not so sure we really believe that.  I am not certain we understand the concept of grace.  We are too busy trying to EARN God's love; we are too involved in being against things and declaring our point of view to be correct.  We are missing the point.  We are all ragamuffins who fall short of living without sin, yet Jesus loves us anyway.  Today I want to share with you some excerpts from the first chapter of Brennan Manning's classic book The Ragamuffin Gospel (1990, Multnomah Press).   I hope these words will offer hope and clarity to you as you worship God on this Sabbath.

    Something is radically wrong.

    The Christian community often resembles a Wall Street exchange of works where in the elite are honored and the ordinary ignored. Love is stifled, freedom shackled, and self-righteousness believed. The institutional church has become a wounder of the healers rather than a healer of the wounded... Put bluntly the American Church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice.

    Our culture has made the word grace impossible to understand. We resonate with slogans such as:
    "There's no free lunch."
    "You get what you deserve."
    "You want love? Earn it."
    "You want mercy? Show you deserve it."
    "Do unto others before they do it unto you."

    Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if it is only personal discipline and self-denial that will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing.

    Our approach to the Christian life is just as absurd as the enthusiastic young man who had just received his plumber's license and was taken to see Niagara Falls. He studied it for a minute and then said, "I think I can fix this."

    We believe that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps- indeed, we can do it ourselves. Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency. Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut.

    It is time for us to realize that if we can earn God's love by our beliefs and actions, then Jesus was not necessary.  His coming to earth was a fool's errand if we can bridge the gap that sin creates between ourselves and God by our own efforts.  It is time our theology got back to the basics.  Sing the truth to yourself today and everyday, and feel the power of God's love.  "YES- Jesus loves me!"

    Because of Jesus,

    Saturday, April 13, 2013

    Saturday Shout Outs: REUNION!!!

    The reunion of the 1994-2000 student ministries of the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee, Florida, is happening one week from today, and the excitement is building! I wanted to take this opportunity to make sure everyone is up to date on the details, to share another video slideshow of great old pictures, and to thank a few people who are making this great event happen.  So let's get started!

    First of all, I need to say a big THANK YOU to Teresa Reep Tysinger, Kelly Jeck Trace and Dwight Oakes who have all been working to help make next weekend special.  I appreciate all of their efforts so much, and I hope everyone will be sure to thank them for their efforts.

    The schedule for the weekend is set now.  Saturday (April 20) at noon there is a picnic at the Wayne Crotty Shelter (NOT the actual name; I keep forgetting to ask Kelly which shelter we reserved. Stay tuned to Facebook for that detail!) on Lake Toho. This is a chance to bring the entire family and just hang out and have fun.  Remember this is not a Potluck; bring whatever you want for your family to eat and drink or you will be OutOfLuck! :)  No reservations are needed, and if you find yourselves available at the last minute, come on out!  There is no truth to the rumor that Jerry Hanbery will be performing live at this time.  Maybe at dinner...

    Speaking of which, after an afternoon break we will gather again around 6 PM at the Broadway Pizza Bar, located on Broadway a short distance from the church. This gathering is for adults, and we would love to know if you are coming ahead of time so we can let the restaurant know a number. HOWEVER- we're not turning anyone away, so come if you can!  As of this time it looks like there will be around 35 of us for dinner, although that number will likely go up. In addition to whatever food and drinks you choose to partake of (and pay for- dining and dashing are frowned upon!), there will be lots of time to hang out, get reacquainted and tell old war stories that may embarrass you.  We may even sing a song or two if the spirit moves us.  And there will be name tags in case some of us don't look quite as young as we once did.  Not me, of course...I was always old!  Stay as long as you like, or until we get thrown out!

    Then for those who will be around on Sunday morning (and that includes me!) Kelly has invited us to join her at the 9:40 am service at FUMC-K.  It is a more contemporary service, and she and Dwight have been working so the congregation might sing a couple of our old songs during worship. For anyone who can, it will be a great chance to worship together again!  And then to wrap up the weekend, we will head over to Fat Boys around 11 am for lunch together.  Sounds like the perfect way to wrap up a weekend in Kissimmee!

    I hope that some of you are as excited about this as Lauren Carr Cacciatore, Teresa, Jerry, Lisa Kraus Spires, Cindy Martin, Dr. Jill and myself are.  I can't wait to see everyone.  It is always tempting when planning such an event to lament all of the people you would love to see but are unable to attend.  And we have alread heard from folks like Matt & Dana Schmidt, Ben Thompson, Jacob Lupfer, Erin Augenblick ShannonCyndi Reep Browning and a few others that they are unable to join us. But way back in the youth group days I always planned our crazy summer schedules thinking that it was not about who couldn't come; it was about the folks who showed up.  And thus it will be next weekend.  People will be missed, but those who can join us will celebrate with each other the bond we share and the stories we lived through.  If you can come out, please do.  We'll be waiting for you! 

    And finally, here's another little slide show of old pictures and music to help remind us all WHY this reunion is a good idea.  Life has certainly been better for me Since I Met You!   Enjoy, and have a wonderful weekend!

    Friday, April 12, 2013

    Flashback Friday: 1994 Mid-High Mission Trip

    The FUMC-K Reunion is only 8 days away! Wooo Hooo!  Here's another vintage post from those glory years...

    One of the things I knew I wanted to do in the summer of 1994 was to put together some sort of mission opportunity for the middle school youth of the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee.  Having arrived there in April, I was too late in the season to plan any major trip, so I focused on what we might could do in Orlando.  I discovered the Second Harvest Food Bank, and found that they had lots of work for a group of teenagers, sorting food and packing boxes for delivery to shelters and soup kitchens.  We decided to keep it short to keep the cost low and encourage more students to participate, and so June 26-29 we were off to O-town!

    Our small group stayed at a Days Inn on International Drive, down near Wet'N'Wild in southwest Orlando.  We were in the middle of a huge tourist area, especially popular with foreign tourists at the time.  This was made even more interesting by the fact that the Citrus Bowl, located just down the road from us, was hosting the opening rounds of the 1994 World Cup soccer tournament.  Every where we looked we saw fans of Ireland and Mexico.  We spent the mornings working at Second Harvest.  I remember the big deal about driving from the motel to food bank was going to down the Orange Blossom Trail.  I learned why the OBT (where I had stayed with youth groups on two previous Disney trips) had such a shady reputation with the locals.  It seemed like we passed a strip club about every 100 yards or so.  And every time we passed one, Nate Hill was there to point it out to us, like a tour guide on a bus!  It became a tradition.  We arrived to work at 8 AM each morning.  We didn't work all that many hours at Second Harvest, nor was the work all that hard.  But it was hot.  Brutally hot.  Just imagine being in a warehouse with no AC, in late June in Florida.  When we left at noon, we were drained.

    We spent the afternoons goofing off an getting to know one another.  I learned a great deal about the youth who were along for the journey.  We ate lunch one of the days at an all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut buffet, and the late James (Chico) Fry ate all any of us could eat-  I stayed at the restaurant with him for 15 minutes after everyone had walked back to the motel.  There were girls fighting over a guy- and two of them (Hello Erin and Jen!) were cousins.  We spent one afternoon and evening at Wet'N'Wild and had a great time, including several of the students riding what ever that thing is that Erin Augenblick is riding in the picture at the top.  In short, we worked hard, we played hard, and we built community.  In my mind it was a very successful little trip, that paved the way for future mid-high adventures.  What I don't remember is who else was on that trip, although I am fairly certain Kay Hill was the other adult.  If you have knowledge of other people or stories from those 3 days, I would love to hear from you.  Comment here or e-mail me at Youthguy07@aol.com

    Trips were crucial to the building of what to become a life-changing student ministry for all of us who were involved.  Even this short, simple trip had lasting implications. I hope you have enjoyed this flashback!

    Because of Jesus,

    Wednesday, April 10, 2013

    Our 1st Big Night in Kissimmee

    The first official youth event that Marilyn and I took part in after arriving in Kissimmee was a "welcome aboard" dinner and pool party at the home of Dr. Jill Painter.  It was a great night and a wonderful opportunity to meet and greet many of the youth and adults who would be a huge part of our lives in the day ahead.  There was lots of food, lots of fellowship, and a few unforgettable moments.

    I learned very quickly that Dr. Jill (in picture at right with Philip Christian, Brian Watson, Ben Thacker and a reclining Todd Willis) had a unique relationship with many of the students at FUMC-K, both past and present.  Several of them treated her very nice house like a second home- because it was!  They raided her refrigerator, went from the pool to the house while still wet and just generally behaved as if they lived there.  I could tell Jill loved every minute of it.  And the kids certainly loved Jill.  This was the first of many parties and meetings that took place at her home during my years in K-town, and the first of MANY amazing times that Marilyn and I spent with the good doctor- including the night our son was born.

    I remember spending a great deal of the evening trying to put names and faces together, and trying to put all of that with the letters I had received from many of the youth before my arrival.  It was memory overload, but it had to be done.  I remember sitting in Jill's living room and just soaking in the conversations around me, trying to get a feel for this new group of youth, and feeling very much like an outsider.  I had just come from a place where I knew the lives of the students so well; I knew every inside joke; I knew who could be picked on and who was extra sensitive;  I knew it all!  Now I was starting all over, and feeling just a little scared about it all.  Maybe I wouldn't fit in.  Maybe I was in over my head.  I just didn't know.

    At some point during the evening everyone gathered in the house and John Willis made an official introduction.  Several little speeches were made about how happy we were to be there and about how happy they were to have us there.  John was talking about new beginnings and new excitement, but as often happens with a group of teenagers they had fallen into their own little conversations.  John's son Todd Willis, a high school junior at the time, was chatting with his good buddy Matt Wheeler about something as John welcomed us to Kissimmee.  Just as John was introducing Marilyn and I to the group, Matt said something Todd found difficult to believe, and Todd yelled out, "Get outta' town!"  Since it all happened at once, it sounded to everyone like Todd's response to his dad's welcome was to ask us to leave.  It was hilarious, and we roasted Todd unmercifully.  For the first time that night, it felt like home.  Somehow, with that one off-hand comment, Todd had broken my tension and reminded me that youth are youth no matter where you go, and that as long as I stayed faithful I was going to be just fine. 

    Almost 20 years later, I still love hearing from Todd and discovering what is going on in his life. And on April 20th, I will be gathering with with a number of friends from Kissimmee for a little youth group reunion.  The group that I once felt uncomfortable with is now a group of some of my favorite people in the world.  It makes me very glad I didn't take Todd's advice and "Get outta town!"  

    Because of Jesus,

    Monday, April 8, 2013

    Surfer's Paradise

    "And the junk's all free at the 7-11,
    catch a perfect wave it'll take you to heaven
    Bring your girl, bring your guy, 
    make it on down to Surfer's Paradise!"

    Welcome to Obscure Music Monday #4!  As I continue to take a look back at songs from Christian artists that stay in heavy rotation on my I-pod but that you may not have heard before, today we dig really deep!  The song is called Surfer's Paradise, and it was featured on a 1998 compilation album called Surfonic Water Revival.  The album was a tribute to the great surf music of the the 1960's, honoring artists such as The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, Dick Dale, The Safaris and many others. The album was put together by the great Terry Scott Taylor, who also wrote the majority of the songs. It was dedicated to the late Beach Boy, Carl Wilson.  Artists appearing on the project included Smalltown Poets, The Insyderz, Plumb, Chuck Girard, Skillet, Plankeye, Daniel Amos, Randy Stonehill and more.  But our obscure song for this week was done by the pop/rock band All Star United and the legendary guitarist Phil Keaggy. I knew it would be my favorite track on the album before I ever heard it... 

    If you don't know Phil Keaggy, you should.  He was a guitarist for the great blues/rock band Glass Harp in the late 60's and early 70's before converting to Christianity and focusing on the early years of what would become Contemporary Christian Music. How good of a guitarist is Phil Keaggy?  His 7 Dove Awards for best instrumental album aside, his name often comes up along with Clapton, Hendrix and others in discussions of the greatest guitar players EVER.  Ted Nugent once said, "I don't know what happened to that guy Phil Keaggy. He could have saved the world with his guitar."  Actually Ted, that was EXACTLY what Phil wanted to do- use his music to help people discover Jesus. Using Phil to play classic surf riffs and pairing him with the classic "beach party" sound of All Star United was brilliant, and the song just soars.  I was working in Kissimmee when Interlinc introduced me to the album, and I wound up buying numerous copies because youth kept stealing mine! The concept is simple- if you were a surfer who is also a Christ follower, then perhaps this is what your favorite beach in heaven might be like.  Perfect waves every day. There's no closing sign, and your tan never fades.  Surfing utopia. 

    So today, take a little trip with me. Let's hit the beach. catch a wave, and remember that the God who created the oceans and the waves loves you and me.  Let's thank God for that- and for Phil Keaggy.  He's still out there trying to help save the world...

    Because of Jesus,

    Friday, April 5, 2013

    Flashback Friday: My Ultimate Youth Group Song List

    Music has always been an important part of my ministry.  I was fortunate enough to learn the art of leading group singing from Beth Phillips Massey and Martha Ratledge Farlow at Quaker Lake Camp.  The skills I learned there were then fine-tuned by lessons I learned from Young Life,  J. David Stone and the great Yohann (YO) Anderson.  You don't just randomly select songs to sing; you choose songs in an order and of a variety that will lead the group where you want them to go.  I became quite adept at moving groups from wild, crazy songs into deep worshipful music without them ever being truly aware where they were going.  And I loved every minute of it!

    Several years ago I was asked about my song-leading style, and in the course of my explanation I was asked a most interesting question.  If I was given the opportunity to lead music for a group of teenagers that knew every song that I had ever led a group in singing (a list of over 300!), which songs would I pick- and what order would we sing them in?  It was a wonderful hypothetical query that I had no answer for at the time.  Today, however, I am going to take a shot at it!  So here it is- my Ultimate Set of Youth Group Songs.  I have chosen 25 (and a bonus or two- you know me and lists, I always cheat!), which would be over 90 minutes of singing.  That might even wear out the Kissimmee gang, and they did love to sing!  Here they are; if you find yourself singing along, I understand...
    1. Lahina
    2. Lean On Me
    3. Pharoah, Pharoah
    4. Big House
    5. Eat Right!
    6. Shine
    7. Let Me Be There
    8. Undignified
    9. I Want To Know You (In the Secret)
    10. He's Alive!
    11. We Are the Family of God
    12. Ain't No Rock
    13. The All Day Song
    14. Radical Man
    15. The Happy Song
    16. Lord I Lift Your Name on High
    17. Blessed Be the Name/Holy Is the Lord
    18. Awesome God
    19. Peter, Peter
    20. My Glorious
    21. Hope Set High
    22. Create In Me
    23. Prince of Peace
    24. It is You/ Oh God, You Are My God/Seek Ye First/Sanctuary
    25. Sing Alleluia To the Lord
    So how did I do?  Which songs were your favorites?  Which songs did I leave out that you would have chosen?  I would love to hear your opinions, because there were few things that connected us more- with God and with each other- than music!  Now I think I will break out my guitar and sing a few of these.  But it won't be the same without you to sing along...

    Because of Jesus,