Friday, January 31, 2014

30/30: Five Pet Peeves

Welcome to week 3 of the 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge! Today we tackle 5 Pet Peeves- things that really get under my skin. Things that irritate. Like most people, I have an extensive list of things that really get me frustrated and sometimes a bit angry. Many of these are not what I call peeves. They are opinions. It irritates me that people actually cheer for Lebron James- but that's their choice. It frustrates me that people think Kristin Wiig was the greatest female cast member ever on SNL- but they are entitled to their (very wrong!) opinion. There are many politicians that my friends revere, but I find to be total idiots. Again- opinions will differ, even among loved ones. So I want to focus on 5 things that just make me crazy without calling for an opinion. These are just things that happen in life- and shouldn't! So here we go...

  1. Living Space- It makes me nuts when there are two sources of sound being played at the same time in the same space. For instance, both music and a TV show competing for my ears. Or one person talking loudly on the phone while others try to have a conversation. Or someone playing one song on a guitar while people are trying to sing another. It just makes me crazy. I will often leave the room. Ugh!
  2. Words- There is little that makes my brain hurt more than the treatment of the word Liberal. It is mostly used these days as a label for politics and religion, and I dislike labels. But it is the seething hatred the word receives from many that really makes my blood boil. I know people who would prefer being called a blood sucking leech over being called liberal. And it makes no sense- especially in the church. Liberal means to give freely and generously. We want people to be liberal with their love, their time, their finances and their joy. In fact, Jesus commanded those things, and was quite liberal himself when it came to things like forgiveness and grace. So we want people to be liberal. We just don't wish being a LIBERAL on our worst enemies! It makes no sense. And when people use the word like it's as bad as an F-Bomb, it drives me crazy. "He's a stinking, no good liberal!" BONUS PEEVE: I also hate when people curse "wrong." If you must swear, at least get it right. I mean..."What the damn?"
  3. Driving- In the last 10 years they seem to have quit making cars with turn signals here in Florida. Maybe it's just a local problem, but it seems no one remembers how to flick the little switch anymore before they turn- especially if they happen to be turning in front of me. It is my #1 cause of road rage. People need to be more liberal with their use of turn signals. That's all I'm sayin...
  4. Restaurants- I can't tell you how many times either Marilyn or I have ordered a meal in a restaurant, both casual and fancy, that contained the word Spicy in the description- only to have the dish not be spicy at all! But that's not the pet peeve. The pet peeve is that when we ask why it is not spicy, they tell us "because lots of people don't really enjoy spicy foods." WHAT??? If you don't like spicy, why the heck did you order a meal described as spicy and then complain that it was indeed spicy? You're ruining it for those of us who like a kick in our spicy chicken pasta! I mean, seriously. What is the deal people? What the damn?
  5. Social Media - Common courtesy applies when you are online, too. If I say hi, say hi back. If I tell you that I loved your blog post, say thank you. If I send you a hilarious comment (even if I am the only one who thinks so!) then have the decency to shoot me an LOL. It's called SOCIAL media for a reason. If you have no intention of being social, then don't use the media. Unless you post lots of funny pictures. Then I'll give you a pass. :)
As I look at the above list, I can see that these truly are peeves- small irritations that really shouldn't matter all that much. But to me, they do. And we all have them, probably more of them than we care to admit. It always feels good to be able to do a little griping. But it also helps me realize that being a little more liberal with peace, love and understanding instead of focusing on the things that irritate us is what will make the world a better place. See you next week when the prompt is about favorite scripture passages. I can't wait...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Magic Moments: A Myrtle Beach Surprise

On Tuesday of this week I read that it was snowing in Myrtle Beach, SC. That news led me to a Twitter conversation with Jill Gilbreth Bryant and Ashley Goad that brought back this wonderful memory full of Magic Moments for me to share on this particular Throwback Thursday. I'd love to hear from anyone else who was there...

In January, 1992, the Springfield Friends Meeting youth went on a retreat to Cherry Grove, SC (located just north of North Myrtle Beach). We rented a house (not the Betsy B) and had a great weekend, but there are three things I really remember about that trip. Here they are:

* Our program for the weekend was talking about our spiritual journeys, and included things like each student doing a written spiritual history. As part of this exploration, one morning I served Communion (the outward sacrament is not usually practiced among Quakers. For more on this read Communion Confusion) using orange juice and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The experience was was very cool and quite meaningful. It really served to remind us all about the sacrifice of Christ. It's also part of the reason I continue to believe that hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts are the modern version of manna from Heaven!

* That particular group of kids (well, the girls anyway) were obsessed with the movie Grease. We could all tolerate Grease, and at times even enjoy it. But on that weekend someone (in my mind I have always blamed Jill, Erin Moran and Mandy Beggs) also brought Grease 2 (one of the worst sequels ever made!!!) and made us watch it. I wanted to gouge my eyes out. Jill estimates we watched each of the Grease movies 500 times that weekend- which may be only a slight exaggeration! Our greatest Grease moments would come in 1993 at The Beaches and Cream Soda Shoppe at WDW, but that is a story for another day!

* I very rarely lose my temper, but it does aggravate me when people are rude to others. Late one night while on that retreat suddenly my sleep and that of several others was interrupted by lights coming on, people talking and yelling and youth running around the house. I came out of my room screaming for them to get back to bed, issuing all kinds of threats and scaring them half to death. When I finally got around to asking what was going on, Ashley meekly told me "It's snowing, Carl." It was snowing at Myrtle Beach!  Now I was the one running around, looking out the windows, checking the beach, beside myself with excitement. This was something I had often dreamed of seeing! I apologized to everyone and we all stayed up a while, watching it snow. The pictures posted here are of the infamous Springfield blue van and the beach at Cherry Grove, both from the next morning.  It's still the only time I have ever seen it snow at the beach!

We had lots of great moments with lots of great people on trips from Springfield, and more than a few took place at Myrtle Beach. This particular weekend was a classic Magic Moment and a one of my favorite memories.

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Prayer Rollercoaster

Praying for a happy and blessed birthday today for my favorite twins, Cyndi Reep Browning and Teresa Reep Tysinger! May your days be full of joy and celebrations. I just wish I could be with you both...

I should begin this post by saying that I believe in the power of prayer. I believe that God hears all prayers and answers all prayers- even if sometimes the answer is wait or no. I pray everyday for the health of my family, and for blessings in our lives and in the lives of our friends and loved ones. I go to God everyday in the name of Jesus and ask Him to intercede in the lives of friends who are lost and hurting, or who have special needs in their lives. I am a pray-er. I believe that prayer changes people, changes lives and changes the one who prays.

But having said all of that, I have a confession to make. There are few things in life as frustrating and confusing to me as trying to determine the hows and whys of when and where God chooses to intercede. I understand that God is in control. I know it is not our place to determine God's plan, but tell me truthfully- doesn't it sometimes seem random to you? Human nature makes me want to have a tried and true method that produces results we can see and understand. Prayer is not always like that. Because of this, it is easy to feel like some days my prayers are changing the world, while other days I feel like quite powerless. It's what I call the Prayer Rollercoaster

My history as a youth pastor and my ministry through this blog and on Twitter has put me in a position where I receive many prayer requests. I do my very best to honor each of them, lifting the needs of others to the throne of the Father. The range of these requests is enormous. Lately, for instance, I have prayed for several friends who needed new jobs and another who was seeking a promotion. There is a young man in prison I have been holding in the Light for several months now. I have prayed for a number of marriages and other relationships that are broken or in trouble. I have prayed for a family to be reunited and for friends who are away from home for long periods of times. I have prayed for youth groups that are struggling and old friends that I miss terribly. There have been prayer requests for those having surgery and those suffering from illness. And last night there were requests to pray for those stranded by winter weather. And always there are prayers for my family and for my own forgiveness. I love my prayer time. But as a real person, there comes a time when I must stop and take stock of the answers received. My heart soared to the top of the roller coaster this week when I learned of new jobs offered and accepted, and promotions received. I felt encouraged as marriages seemed to take on new life and broken relationships became less contentious. But those wonderful moments are so often followed by the plunge. A young woman losing her battle with cancer and passing away. A mother losing contact with her children. A long job search continuing with very little hope in sight. A husband and wife deciding to call it quits. A friend who still has not found the hope that comes from knowing Jesus. Just like with a roller coaster, the big drop is scary and often leaves me breathless. The plunge frustrates me to no end. I prayed hard for those folks, as did lots of others- and yet they are still hurting. Why do some prayers seem to bring positive results so quickly and easily, while others seem - I know they don't, but they SEEM- to fall on deaf ears?  

And at least for me, the answer is I don't know. I know scripture commands us to pray. I know that God is God, and I am not. It is not my task to decide which prayers receive what answer, any more than it is my task to pass judgement on the sins of others. I was taught a long time ago that we are called to faithful, not successful. We are called to trust God, and know that He will act. In other words, prayer is not about me, it is about faith in the One who created me and saved me. So I will keep praying. If there is anyway I can pray for you, please let me know. The rollercoaster may be scary sometimes, but it is also a ride that is not to be missed, and a blessing that is meant be shared. And please- pray for me as well!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

#DangerDays: Amy Nabors' Story

Amy Nabors is a long-time Twitter friend, a blogger, a photographer extraordinaire and a constant encouragement to me. I know you will enjoy her guest post as much as I did! You can find links to her sites at the bottom of this post.

In August of 2011, God spoke to my heart, telling me something that made me laugh.

“You need to visit here,” I heard Him say. Don’t worry. I did not hear him audibly, but enough to know it was him. Because it was not something we would have ever considered. I had not been happy with some things at our church for quite awhile. I laughed at the thought of visiting a church 35 minutes away though.

I had friends who attended other campuses of the church I drove by that day. I knew how much they loved it. They never shut up about it actually. Every other post they shared on Facebook was about their amazing church. I wondered what it would be like to feel that way again.

But it was just not practical. It was crazy. And what would everyone think? And who drives that far to church? (Turns out a lot more people than you think do.) So I pretended I did not hear Him that day.

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

I don’t know why, but I always think of these two lines from Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson when I think of God pushing us in a direction so far out of our comfort zone. We so often question why. Thankfully, His plans do not end as the poem did.

But it often feels dangerous, uncertain, when stepping out in faith. You worry about what others will think. You know others will not agree.

Three months later, after laughing and ignoring His nudge, I knew some thing had to change. We began visiting the nearest campus of the church that my friends could not stay quiet about. The one thirty-five minutes away. We were still going to the church we had attended over thirteen years, but I knew it was only a matter of time. We loved our new church.

I asked God quite often during those first several months “why" when none of it made any sense. Because it didn’t. Yes, everyone thought we were crazy. When you choose to follow God’s leading and it is something others do not understand people will wonder what you are thinking. You may even lose friendships. Some may even be offended because you have not chosen the same as they have. Perhaps it threatens the only way they have ever known.

Very few will understand. It will not make sense, but can I tell you something? It doesn’t have to. What I’m learning is that usually following His direction doesn’t make sense.  And can I tell you something else? The decisions that usually do not make any sense usually turn out to be the best decisions you can ever make. When you know God is leading your steps you have a peace in spite of what others think. It does not mean that the words of others will not hurt you. It does mean that in spite of how you feel He is faithful. It means you can embrace the change even when it is hard.

Slowly, He has revealed pieces of His plan. Almost three and a half years later I look back and see how that one move of moving to a new church was one step in His plans for us that have lead to two major moves we would have never imagined. When we remember His faithfulness and can look back and see His plan unfolding, the next step seems less dangerous than the last.
I shall remember the deeds of the Lord;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all Your work
And muse on Your deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy;
What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
You have made known Your strength among the peoples.
Psalm 77:11-14

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Morning Playlist

I was up around 5 AM this morning. and as usual I was listening to my I-pod while hanging out with the dog and getting ready to drive Marilyn to work before my regular Monday morning trip to the wound doctor. Music is a great way to set the tone for a new week. Great music moves me (The Grammys reminded me last night that terrible music moves me too- but in a VERY different way!). It can change my mood, lift my spirits, make me sentimental and take me to places I have not visited in a while. Music reminds me of people I love- both nearby and faraway. It can also make me aware of the presence of God in my life. It is a language all its own, and it is a language that never fails to speak volumes to me. This morning was no exception. Here are the first 10 songs that popped up on shuffle today, with amazingly (given the odds) no Beach Boys!  Here we go: 

1)  Shameless-  Billy Joel
2)  The Best of You- Foo Fighters
3)  Supernaturaldc Talk
4)  Teach Your ChildrenCrosby, Stills, Nash & Young
5)  Flicker Fade - Taking Back Sunday
6)  My Girl- The Temptations
7)  Thunder IslandJay Ferguson
8)  Hope To Carry OnRich Mullins
9)  CerileneSister Hazel
10) Here With MeThe  Killers

That's what I was listening to this morning. What's on your playlist today?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

How Marvelous, How Wonderful!

I am old enough that I have spent more of my life singing from hymnals than from video screens. I have been in many more church services with organ music than I have with praise bands. Needless to say, there are many of the great old hymns of the church that are near and dear to my heart. One of the ones I find myself humming most often begins with the words, "I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene. And wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean." In fact, as I sat down to my keyboard to start writing, I found myself humming it again. And I started to wonder- How often do we really grasp the amazing love that Jesus came to bring us? Do we really understand that it is only because of the grace given to us through the love of God whose name is Jesus that we do not remain "a sinner, condemned and unclean?" How often do we really stand in His presence it total awe of what He has done for us? For me, the answer is clearly "not often enough."

So today I ask you this question- when was a time that you stood "amazed in the presence?" Was there a time when you were overwhelmed with awe and wonder at the majesty of our loving God? Remember- and then share your experience in the comment section if you would like. Then join me and sing along today with the amazing chorus to this great hymn:

How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be
How marvelous! How Wonderful!
Is my Savior's love for me?
Because of Jesus,

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Twitter, Ministry & the Triple E Theory

Last week I received a note from an old friend asking me how in the world I had built up over 2,400 followers on Twitter. I had to admit I really hadn't thought about it, it had just happened. I began several years ago hoping I might someday reach 50 followers, so it certainly wasn't because of some master plan. I'm not famous. There is nothing of particular interest about me, unless you count the mistakes I've made or my love for Jesus. So why do I have so many followers? More importantly, why have I made so many real friends through Twitter? The more I thought about it, the more I began to see that the things that made me effective over 28 years as a youth pastor are the same things that have made me at somewhat interesting on Twitter. I'm talking about a Triple E Ministry- and no, it has nothing to do with shoe or bra sizes!  :) So here are my 3 Es...

* Engagement - If you have read this blog at all then you know I feel that relationships are at the heart of every ministry. Every relationship has to begin somewhere, and that's where engagement comes in to play. As a youth pastor I had to be willing to risk rejection by putting myself in situations where I would engage the friends of the students I worked with. Your sphere of influence only grows when you risk meeting new people. Whether it was eating lunch at school, hanging out at ballgames, or simply greeting them when they visited youth group, it was important that I initiate the conversation. Sometimes they thought I was weird. Sometimes they didn't really respond. But more often than not they were excited to have someone take an interest in them. And often the great icebreaker is HUMOR. Everyone loves to laugh. Twitter is no different. Making random or comical responses to people who have just followed you or who follow your friends is the initial engagement that can lead to friendships. Some people will never respond. Others will find you interesting and retweet or favorite your words, which gives you an opportunity to engage even more new people. But the key in both ministry and tweeting is to TAKE those opportunities. 
* Enthusiasm - When I worked at Springfield Friends Meeting in late 80s and early 90s, I once had a parent say to another parent who was preparing to help us chaperon a trip, "Good luck keeping up with Carl!" When I was hired at FUMC-Kissimmee in 1994, some of the youth were concerned that because of my age and my large physical stature that I would not be able to keep with them. A few weeks later they confessed that concern to me and begged for mercy, because I was running them ragged! I have always been a high energy person when it comes to relationships, and that enthusiasm has served me well in drawing people in. Whether it is ministry, Twitter or life in general, I believe the rule remains the same- the more energy you put into relationships, the more you get back. Want to know if you are showing enthusiasm to the people you encounter? Here's a simple test: Are you responding to everything you hear from them? Every text, phone message, e-mail,  tweet and Facebook status or comment that is directed towards you deserves a response. This lets people know that they matter to you. If you're attitude is "ho-hum," theirs will be too. That's why I often rage against sameness, tameness and lameness in student ministry. Get excited! In the minds of many people, effort = caring.
* Encouragement - People- all people- need encouragement. If you become known as a person who is always willing to offer words of support, comfort and encouragement, then you will never be at a loss for friends who want to be around you. I once had a group of fellow youth pastors from our community tell me that a number of the students they worked with had visited my group and preferred our youth group to theirs- and they didn't understand why. I knew why. When kids came to any of our programs at any of the churches I served, we learned their names, we talked to them, and we made them feel special. When I would visit with students on their turf (home, school, hangouts) their first question to me was usually, "Why are you here?"  When I would answer, "To see you" there was disbelief in their eyes. They felt loved and encouraged. Do you know how rarely that happens to people in this world? It's the same on Twitter. When people cry out in pain or frustration, or when they share a joy- RESPOND! Let them know they are heard and cared for, even if all you say is "I'm thinking about you and praying for you."  The connection between you will be instantaneous and it will be strong.

I do need to confess something- the 3 Es come easily to me. Encouragement is one of my strongest spiritual gifts, and I love using it. Some of you will have to work really hard at this and step outside of your comfort zones. But you need to do it. Not because it might get you a few more Twitter followers, but because relationships are at the crux of serving Jesus. So get out there in the real world and the digital one and engage people with enthusiasm. Encourage them. Be the light in this world that Jesus calls us to be. Oh- and if you don't already, follow me on Twitter.  I'd love to get to know you and share life's journey!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, January 24, 2014

30/30: My First Job

It's week 2 of my 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge, and this week's topic is Your First Job. One of the advantages of making up your own list of prompts for a blog challenge is that you get to decide exactly what YOU meant by each topic. There are any number of ways I could go with this. The first time I got paid for doing work was while I was in high school, and my youth pastor hired a few of us to help him move rented furniture in and out of apartments and to help set up rooms in a new retirement facility. But that was very sporadic. I spent much of the summers after my junior and senior years in high school volunteering at Quaker Lake Camp, so no real money changed hands. For three weeks at the beginning of the summer of 1977 (after graduation) I was hired to clean stalls and feed some champion show horses by a family friend. Seeing as how it was only temporary, and I don't want to spend today writing about shoveling horse poop (cool as that was- and I did have some good times on that job!), I won't count that one either. My first real, full-time employment came when QLC hired me for the summer of 1978. But I have written so much about camp in this space that I am skipping that one as well! My first youth ministry position (1978), which was very important in my life as it led to my career working in churches, only paid $50 a month, so it doesn't really count either. Which brings me to my first regular, name tag wearing Joe Job. And that's the one I chose to write about today.

Sometime in the late 1970s there came a point when I had to have a little more income than my lucrative youth ministry positions had to offer. I was sharing an apartment with some friends, and that required money. I was planning a cross country adventure with friends in May of 1979, and that would require lots of money. So I got a a job at the local Pizza Inn as a waiter. Pizza Inn was a big deal in Greensboro, North Carolina at the time. There were 4 in town, and another (later to become legendary in my life) in High Point. When I was hired, I knew two things about PI. First, they had an amazing all-you-can-eat buffet every day at lunch. And secondly, on Friday nights after football games the place would swarm with students from my old high school who wanted a place to hang out- and who seldom spent much money. I was trained as a waiter (that took about an hour!) and began working both lunch and dinner shifts several days a week. I discovered that waiting tables at PI included busing them as well- and washing the dishes on many occasions. Like many first jobs, the work was hard and the pay was terrible. But there was pay! And slowly I discovered the keys to success as a waiter at Pizza Inn...

Lunch was always a buffet. People do NOT like to tip well when they are responsible for getting their own food. So you had to do two things to improve your chances. You had to be memorable. I tried to make them laugh, suggest new pizzas to try, ask them if there was any special pizza they wanted and bring it to their table first instead of straight to the buffet- anything to make them feel special. And most importantly, you kept their drink classes full. ALWAYS! If a customer had to ask for a refill, I had failed. They were getting their own food. Drinks were MY thing. Dinner was an entirely different matter. There was serious money to be made at dinner. There was a very popular restaurant in the area called Darryl's that was more upscale than our little pizza place- think Applebee's or Red Lobster prices. Darryl's had great beef ribs and steaks, as well as pizza and other things. What most people were just discovering at the time was that PI was owned by the same parent company, and that the steaks and ribs we served were the exact same ones as Darryl's- but at much better prices! So the dinner crowds got bigger, and the tips got bigger! And on Mondays, we had an all-you-can-eat-ribs night.  If you kept patrons plates full of ribs and their glasses full of sweet tea, the tips were often very, very good. I always worked Monday nights. Those tips eventually paid for a month on the road to California and back. It was a good first job.

I eventually was promoted to cook and offered a spot in management training, but I was still taking summers to work at QLC and Sundays for youth ministry, plus taking classes -so I had to pass. But I do have some great memories of fun times with co-workers, interesting customers (like the lady who came in every week and ordered her steak cooked rare- and she meant it. If it was too warm she sent it back!) and lots of mishaps and laughs. And then there was the night I gave free beer to future major league baseball stars Otis Nixon and Don Mattingly (currently the manager of the LA Dodgers) along with a number of other Greensboro Hornets. But that's another story...

My first job was a good one. I learned many valuable lessons about serving people, listening and being attentive that served me well over my years in ministry. I made some money. And I had some fun. Not much else you can ask for in a Joe Job, is there? I'd love to hear about your "first" jobs today too!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Magic Moments: SLINKY!!!

Today's Magic Moment is a more recent one in my youth ministry career, going back only 12 years to a wonderful night in Tampa (It was a Thursday night, making this a legitimate Throwback Thursday!). As I approached the end of my first year at Wesley Memorial UMC in October of 2002, it was clear that it had been a very difficult year, with lots of changes in the student leadership and an unwanted pastoral change as well. We had struggled, but it felt like we were turning a corner and many of us were excited about the future of the student ministry. I wanted to do something big to mark the occasion, and my first choice was to host Michael Bridges (guitar, lead vocals) and George Baum (keyboard, slinky, recorder, vocals) for a concert at the church.  George and Michael are better know as the great two-piece band, Lost And Found. I had seen them at many National Youth Workers Conventions, had hosted them at FUMC-K in 1999 (and been the keeper of their van for a week) and had spent time with them in Chicago in early 2001. I knew they would provide us with the kind of big event we needed to keep our momentum going. It turned out they were flying to the Tampa area for a weekend confirmation retreat with a local Lutheran church, and we could get them on a Thursday night. (Side note: I didn't know this until later, but those guys are royalty among Lutherans. They even wrote a song about Lutherans, listing famous Lutherans much the way Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song lists famous Jews.) So on October 10th, exactly one year after my first day in my office at WMUMC, we hosted Lost And Found.

The only thing most of the students knew about the band was that they were the guys who sang Lions, a song we often did at youth group. They loved that song and loved yelling "SLINKY!" at the appropriate times. To further prepare my students I began telling them stories about some of the songs they would hear. I told them how requests could be made to the "Panel of Judge" (George) but were not likely to be played in the order approved. They learned all about great songs like Baby, Used To Be, Saskatchewan and Slide Girl. As a result of the Slide Girl stories (the video below contains an explanation from Michael so I won't bother here), many of them showed up for the concert dressed in blue, with blue hair or other assorted tributes. Although the crowd was smaller than I had hoped (about 300, and a third of them were local Lutherans!) we had a great night.

Lost And Found recorded that performance at Wesley, and the song below is the version of Slide Girl recorded that night. Since the song changes each night to include people from the audience, it is a treasured memory and a true Magic Moment. You will hear them mention Lenny, one of our guys who dyed his hair blue. They refer to Rebecca, Stephanie and Ashley, three more of our folks who made their very own t-shirts with a slinky attached to the sleeves. And you will hear them sing about my one year anniversary.  It was the kind of exciting, memory making night that you pray for as a youth pastor. The band would be back to WMUMC two years later, but by then things were very different. Enjoy the song below. It is a classic moment captured in time...

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Can Youth Pastors Learn Anything From Barney Stinson? PLEASE...

(Spoiler Alert! If you are a fan of HIMYM and have not watched this week's episode, this post does contain a spoiler. Just so you know...)

Wisdom and inspiration can often come from the strangest of places. On this past Monday's installment of the TV show How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) yet another long hidden secret was revealed. Barney Stinson (played by the amazing Neil Patrick Harris) finally (under very bizarre circumstances) had to tell his friends what he actually does for a living. It it well known that Barney works for Goliath National Bank; it was unknown as to what he does to earn the "16 crap-loads" of money they pay him each year. For years anytime he has been asked what his job actually is, Barney would smile and say with a pleasant dismissiveness- "PLEASE." There had been zero hints about what that meant until this past Monday night, when it was revealed that P.L.E.A.S.E. was in fact an acronym used to disguise the fact that he was in charge of signing documents of questionable origin and intent to protect the bosses at the evil empire of a bank that employs him. Literally, his job is to PLEASE...

I spent a lot of years working for churches, and I can tell you that quite often Youth Pastors feel like their job is to PLEASE. You often want to please the youth, their parents, your senior pastor, the church custodian, committees you may work with and your family- and if you're not careful you find yourself trying to do things to PLEASE God as well, instead of simply giving Him glory, honor and praise. These desires can often control the way we do ministry, and not in a good way. But as I thought more about the HIMYM episode and that acronym. it occurred to me that the selfish, womanizing Barney Stinson might have come across a way to help those in ministry PLEASE in a good way. It seemed like an odd revelation. After all, Barney wrote The Bro Code and The Playbook, not 6 Easy Steps To a Successful Youth Ministry. But there was something there. So try this acronym on for size...

* P is for PRAY. Youth Pastors should be praying for students, their families and for God to move in their lives every single day. Scripture says to "pray without ceasing." True story.
* L is for LISTEN. Most teenagers need adults to talk to, adults they can trust, adults they believe care about them. There are very few people who take time to listen. Everyone in ministry needs to be on that list. 83% will not cut it...
* E is for ENCOURAGE. All youth pastors should be cheerleaders, helping to build up their students in the body of Christ. Always encourage; never tear down. They get plenty of that already. Students need to know that they are loved, and that Jesus can use them to do legendary things...
* A is for ACCEPT. Teenagers are often brutally unaccepting of one another. Those in ministry need to be for them like Jesus is with each of us, accepting them for who they are while loving youth too much to leave them where we find them. And that acceptance needs to be unconditional, or it is NOT the way of Jesus
* S is for SERVE. Ministry in the name of Christ is, at its heart, a service industry. Jesus charges each of us to feed his sheep, to care for the the lost, the lame and the hurting and to wash each  others feet. We should not approach ministry with the attitude that we are the educated, spiritual giants who have so much to offer our young apprentices. Ministers should be the very people modeling service and humility to those we have the privilege of impacting.
* E is for EVANGELIZE. Not in the "beat a kid over the head with a 10 pound bible" kind of way- not that I know anyone who has a 10 pound bible- but in the true sense of the word! Our words and our lives should constantly reflect the Good News of who Jesus was, what he did, and what that can mean in each of lives. Students need to know there is a reason WHY you do those first 5 things on this list. My go-to scripture verse for my ministry was always 1 Thessalonians 2:8 - "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share not only the gospel with you, but our very lives as well, because you had become so dear to us."  Is there any better definition of ministry?

It is my belief that if more youth pastors understood that their real job description is to PLEASE, their impact on the students around them would by greatly multiplied. I've said it here 100 times before and will continue to preach it until my dying breath, but ministry to students is not about programs, sermons, games or trips. All of those things are means to an end. And that end is relationships with other students and with caring adults that lead to a better understanding of what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. And this Barney Stinson inspired acronym is a great place to start.

So youth pastors and others in ministry, the next time someones asks you the infamous "What do you actually do?" question, just smile at them, shrug playfully, and say "PLEASE." It's gonna be a thing...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

#Danger Days- Jason Huffman's Story

Today's #DangerDays guest post is from my Twitter "brother from another mother" Jason Huffman. I am so excited to have Jason share his thoughts with you today! You can check out Jason's wonderful blog by visiting and you can find him on Twitter @jasonbhuffman. Thanks for sharing, my friend!

Logo Designed by Teresa Tysinger
To most people I probably seem like a somewhat boring person.  I have no tattoos, piercings, or military history. My nights and weekends are filled with time with family and church events. When I do get time to get away for myself, it's usually spent in the great outdoors. No wild nights rubbing elbows with celebrities getting into all kinds of trouble. You know, just ordinary. But when Carl asked for people to write guest posts for his #DangerDays series, I got excited. Because Danger Days was about taking risks.  And while I've never moved across the country with just the clothes on my back or done anything drastic like that, I did have to step out and trust God at a major juncture in my life, and it's a story I love to tell.

In 2004, I went through a divorce that changed the course of my life.  I had been serving in a Baptist church and the divorce was a time for me to take a break from ministry and a time for the church to try to find someone new to fill my position.  the divorce came at exactly the same time I was finishing my masters degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, specifically, my wife moved out the week of graduation. So embracing the opportunity for a change of scenery, at the age of 27 I moved back home with my parents   like a scared dog.  I didn't have the desire or energy to do ministry and after a three-month job search I got a job selling insurance which I would keep for two years. You can smell the danger in the story, right? I know the cliffhanging drama just makes the hair stand up on your neck, right? Well, it does get better.

After two and a half years out of ministry, I missed this job I had grown to love so much. And while my insurance job afforded me a good paycheck and a regular schedule of hours with nights, weekends, and holidays free, I had no passion about the job. Sure I was providing a service and helping families get the coverage they needed, but I missed teaching the Bible and helping youth become disciples of Jesus. I had gotten involved in a great church and had even helped their recently-hired youth minister get settled into his first ministry position, and this only made me miss it more.

So on a Tuesday afternoon, after a less-than-successful insurance appointment, on a whim I drove to First United Methodist Church. I was not Methodist. Actually I was far from it. Over the last few weeks I had been sending resumes to Baptist and other evangelical churches looking to get back into church work, and wasn't getting any call backs. The only connection I had to the Methodist church was that two years prior, the pastor at FUMC had wanted me to consider doing youth work for them. It was right on the heels of my divorce and I just knew it would not have been the right time for me or the church. So I politely declined. But two years later, the idea was a lot more appealing.  Before I knew it, I was sitting in the pastor's office talking about the possibility of doing youth ministry again. As I sat and visited with the same pastor I'd declined two years earlier, I thought to myself, I don't know anything about John Wesley. I don't know anything about infant baptism. I don't know anything about liturgical calendars. etc.  But as I sat and argued with myself, I told myself and the pastor that I knew about Jesus and I knew about the church.  And fear turned into peace. A week later, I had a job that would go from a lay staff position to eventually becoming a member of the United Methodist clergy and I still have more work to do.

The reason this boring guy can talk about Danger Days is because if fear of unchartered waters had won out, I would have missed a great opportunity.  I had a lot of misconceptions that had really weighed on me.  And while this story seems plain and simple, trusting God was at the heart of all of it.  There are a number of coincidences in this story that I left out for brevity.  The fact is that God was working in me and the church at the same time bringing it all together.  So really, to me, Danger Days is not really about jumping out of airplanes or running down speeding trains. It's about trusting God, and for me, sometimes, that can seem pretty dangerous.

Jason Huffman

Monday, January 20, 2014

Remembering Dr. King

Today is a holiday that we too often remember only because we get a day off from work or get to do something fun. I do hope you and your families have a special day and enjoy whatever time off you may get. But do not forget the man and the life that today is set aside to remember. A man who changed history. A man who reminded us that the way to revolution and real change is the way of Jesus- strength through non-violence. And a man who gave everything for a cause he believed in. Not a perfect man. No one God chooses ever is. But a man whom God used to do great things. Remember.

In honor of the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Plow the Road

In November of 2000 I attended the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta. This was my first convention as Youth Pastor of the Union Church of Hinsdale, and I accompanied by David Knecht. David, some of you may recall, was the head of the search committee that brought me to UC. He was a man in his forties who had built and sold a computer company, and now had lots of time on his hands. He was giving that time to serve God, and especially the youth of UC. I liked David a lot and was glad he was going to his first NYWC. Funny story- we were to stay at a Marriott in Atlanta for the convention, and when the former CEO of Marriott, who was a member at UC, found out he wanted to upgrade us to a luxury suite. I said no thanks, explaining to him that youth workers staying in a luxury suite would be the targets of many jokes and quite possibly an investigation...

As David and I flew to Atlanta, settled in to our meager accommodations (HA!) and begin to explore the NYWC, a question that had been nagging me through my first 8 months at UC came to the forefront of my mind. Why had David not applied for the job I now had? He knew the people and culture of UC that so frustrated me; he was one of them. He clearly loved Jesus, students and student ministry. At the convention he was like a kid in a toy store; everything amazed him! I recognized it in him because it had been true for me for so many years. He soaked up everything. I introduced him to many of the legends of youth ministry, and he was a little starstruck. He loved the seminars, the speakers, the music- everything! And to complete his experience, I made sure he got his first ever Chick-fil-A sandwich. David. like so many before him, was now addicted to the NYWC.

At some point during that week I had a chat with an old friend, who had knew me well and who had been in ministry a long time. I shared with him some of my frustrations, and specifically my thoughts about David being the right person for the job I currently had. As we talked, Todd reminded me that 15 years earlier I had taken a job with the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends. After a short time at that ministry I had similar feelings about Chris Jorgensen who had volunteered years with the youth there, only to see me get the job she wanted. I realized when I left NEYM that God's purpose for me there had been to prepare things for Chris. I was there 9 months, and then she got the job and served them brilliantly for many years. Like a snow plow on the highway, sometimes our ministry is just to plow the road and clear the path for someone else. John the Baptist did it for Jesus. I had done it for Chris. And now, my wise friend was saying, maybe I was at UC to get everything set up and ready for David to succeed. It was, in many ways, a hard pill to swallow. I had moved my family thousands of miles so I could be a "star." I had gone to UC to be a closer, not a set-up man. But those were my reasons. Perhaps God had a different design in mind. 

And that is exactly the way things turned out. Less that a year later I left Union Church and without even forming a search committee the church gave the position to David. He served there for a number of years, doing wonderful things with the youth and the community. It is so tempting to look back on my days in Hinsdale as a failure. But it is also a wonderful thing when you know you have been used by God for His purpose. And that is my prayer on this Sabbath day- that I be open to whatever God has in mind for me next. Whatever the road that needs to be plowed, I want to be the instrument Jesus can use to get it done. I hope that you will pray along with me.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Saturday Shout Outs!

We are already over halfway through the first month of 2014. Can you believe it? I am so excited with the direction this blog is headed this year. Between the #DangerDays posts, Magic Moments and the 30/30 Vision series it feels like we are off to a great start. I hope my readers agree! But because time is flying it's already time for another edition of my Saturday Shout Outs! Jump in and hang on!!!

* For reasons known only to God and Captain Internet, yesterday my Hall of Fame page received a ton of visits. My post yesterday had me thinking about my time at Springfield Friends Meeting, and between those 2 things I began to do an inventory of Springfield folks who had been previously inducted. I realized immediately I am guilty of at least 3 big oversights. So without any further delay, I want to welcome 3 new faces the my Youth Ministry Hall of Fame. There may well be more to come!
Stacy, Natalie & HOF member Holly Harward Yandle
Stacy Gilbreth Sponseller -I cannot remember a trip, adventure or Sunday afternoon youth meeting that Stacy was not a part of after aging into the youth group. There were so many classic moments (I will never forget her float with the hole in the crack at Myrtle Beach!) and so many laughs. Stacy also had the privilege of being the second owner of the first car I ever bought- my 1984 Renault Encore. She drove Frenchy until it died. Or was killed. I'm fuzzy on how it ended! The group would not have been the same with Stacy, and neither would I!
Natalie Whitaker Thorne - Natalie transformed right in front of our eyes from a shy, often homesick middle school student to someone who couldn't wait to go with us everywhere we went! She was quiet, but oh so sneaky- and we loved her oh so much. Nat was also among the crew who came to see us in Kissimmee a few times after we moved. Like Stacy, she should have been inducted to the HOF a long time ago.
Kelly in all her glory!
Kelly Allen Olmeda - Even if Kelly had never done anything else as part of our youth ministry (and she did lots) she would deserve HOF recognition based only on the 1990 trip to Walt Disney World. Her tales of Tyrone Mouse and her playing of Who Has the Hat? remained legendary stories told over and over again on every youth trip I took from 1990 forward. I have known lots of teenagers in my life, and very few have ever made me laugh as hard as Kelly did- and on a regular basis! Welcome aboard, Lucretia Soul Disney Murphy Johnson!

* Congratulations to Meagan Hill Halquist (FUMC-Kissimmee), hubby Rich and big brother Cooper on the birth of Colton Stephen on January 13. He was 7 pounds, 11 ounce and 19 inches loong. Everyone is home and doing well!!!

* Eric Tysinger, husband of Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-K), had his wisdom teeth out Thursday. From all reports Eric is doing quite well- he just can't get Teresa to stop laughing at his drug-induced loopiness! Keep them both in your prayers.

* Zach Wehr (Wesley Memorial UMC) and Jacqui Haney were engaged on December 30th! Zach (himself a HOF member) is a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. We also had the pleasure of meeting Jacqui once, and she is a sweetheart. Best wishes to the happy couple, and congrats as well to Zach's parents, Tom & Linda! Zach is seen in this picture (at right) dominating Dance Dance Revolution at Myrtle Beach in 2004. Just one of his many talents...

* I totally missed that Matt & Kristin Landry Lupfer (FUMC-K) are proud first-time parents as well. Their son Alexander was born back in October, I believe. Someone with more details than I please leave them in a comment!

* The next 2 Tuesdays will feature #DangerDays posts from my Twitter friends Jason Huffman and Amy Nabors. February will kick-off with Teresa Tysinger, who designed a great logo for me to use with these guest posts. Thanks, Teresa! And if you want to get involved, I will be looking for writers all year. Come be part of the excitement!

* Please be praying for Ashley Goad (Springfield) as she continues her mission work, this time in Uganda. Our little Prudence Irwina is all grown up and changing the world! Also be praying for my dear friend Denise and her daughter Kate, who is about to leave for a college semester abroad. Exciting times! And finally, please be in prayer for all of those who are sick and battling this nasty strain of influenza that is sweeping the country. It's dangerous. Be careful out there!

That'll do it for today. Now get out there and hug someone! There are so many who need one today. Thanks for reading along, and as always, feel free to leave a comment here, e-mail me or text me at 813-919-3755. There's not much better than hearing from friends!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, January 17, 2014

30/30: One Particular Harbor

It's week #1 of my 30/30 Vision blog challenge, which will feature a post every Friday for the next 30 weeks. To see the list of topics, click here. Today's subject- Where is home? 

Home is an interesting word. We often refer to the buildings we live in as home. There are many people who think of the community they grew up in as home. Some think that it is the presence of family that turns a house into a home. Many of us have visited unknown places and felt so comfortable there that we announce that it "feels like home!" All of these thoughts were a part of my process as I prepared to choose one place that I consider to be home for this post. But in the end, it seemed the thought that made the most sense to me was the old cliche "home is where your heart is." Old cliches get to be old for a reason...

Much like this weekend's NFL playoffs. my choice came down to a final 4. I grew up in the Guilford College community of Greensboro, NC- and I have great memories of wonderful times and wonderful people there. The house I grew up in, my elementary through high schools, my closest friends and my first youth ministry position at New Garden Friends Meeting were all in Greensboro. There is certainly a great feel of home to Guilford College for me. Option #2 would be High Point, NC- just a few miles from Greensboro but a very different era of my life. Marilyn and I spent the first 8 years of our marriage living in HP and serving Springfield Friends Meeting from 1986-1994. It was there that I learned much about life, marriage and ministry. Choice #3 would be Kissimmee, FL, where I served the First United Methodist Church from 1994-200o, and where Will was born. So many people who are still valued in my life today come from my years there, and are such a blessing to me even now. Amazing stories and incredible years! And finally, there is my current home of Tampa. No doubt it is home to Will. We have been here almost 13 years, with a quick side trip to Georgia in the middle. We love it here, and expect to be here a while longer. Four choices. Four homes. But the idea here is to choose the ONE place that is truly home. And so I shall...

As many great memories, friends and moments as I have in all of those places (and just so you know, Quaker Lake Camp could have easily made the list as well) there is only one that is my One Particular Harbor. It's Springfield Friends Meeting. Yes, my home is a church. For 8 wonderful years the people of that church and that community were our family. They took care of us. They were more than friends. We lived in a house- a beat up, tiny, old house- that they provided for us diagonally across the street from the Meeting. It was also across the street from our senior pastor Max and his lovely wife Avis- and they were GREAT neighbors. It was, without much competition, the worst house I have ever lived in. There was no space, no central AC in the summer, an ancient oil furnace (that blew up once and left everything covered in black dust) and a goofy little bathroom. Most of the windows would not open, having been painted shut over and over again long before we moved in. I replaced the kitchen floor myself, and actually made it better in doing so- which if you know me tells you a lot about what it looked like when we got there. So suffice it to say that it wasn't the house that made Springfield home. But that house was often full of people we love. Youth, church members, our friends from other places and
"Family" on my 30th birthday
family made that house feel warm and cozy instead of stuffy and tiny. There were Christmas parties, Super Bowl parties, chili cook-offs and more. We were also often in the homes of church members, celebrating special events and milestones with them. We experienced true koinonia at Springfield, and that is a rare and wonderful thing. We've been gone almost 20 years now, and many of those relationships are still strong. God blessed us with a home.

And in return for the love we received from that church family, we were blessed by God to be able to build a student ministry that changed the community. Much of what I did as a youth minister in the much larger churches to follow those years was birthed at Springfield. And so many of the students we attracted and shared life with have gone on to do amazing things as adults. It still makes my heart jump to hear from any of them, to see pictures of their families on Facebook and to read of their accomplishments- they are truly my extended family. One day soon I will be able to travel again. And when I can, there WILL BE a reunion. I miss those folks so much.

But the thing that makes Springfield my definitive One Particular Harbor is the criteria I mentioned at the top- "home is where the heart is." And so often my heart aches to be with the people I know and love through my years at Springfield Friends Meeting. Every Christmas Eve, every time they advertise a ham & egg supper or a fish fry, every time there's a Friend Day, every time an old friend passes away or a former student has a major life event- I LONG to be there. My heart- and Marilyn's heart- are often there in spirit. We are blessed to have so many friends from so many places in our lives, including many of our very best friends who are not from that era. But for me, after a lot of soul searching, I can tell you that Springfield is still home. As Jimmy Buffett once wrote:

"There's this one particular harbor, sheltered from the wind
Where the children play on the shore each day
and all are safe within.
A most mysterious calling harbor, so far but yet so near
Where I can see the day when my hair's full grey
And I finally disappear..."

Home is where you feel safe, loved and needed. I have identified my home. Where is yours?

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Magic Moments: Pops

The Family
One of the great things about being in ministry with students is that you just never know when you will make a connection that will change their lives...and yours. Today's Throwback Thursday post is another in my series of youth ministry Magic Moments, and it features a group of girls who changed the way I saw ministry during my days at Quaker Lake Camp. They adopted me, and I them. And it was one of the best things that ever happened to me!

There are some moments that are frozen in time. You can close your eyes and picture a moment from 35 years ago as clearly as if it happened yesterday. For me, one of those moments took place at Quaker Lake after a closing campfire. Everyone was saying their goodbyes on the softball field, when I noticed a lone camper, standing out by the pitcher's mound, crying. I walked over to her and asked her what was wrong, only to discover she had just been dumped by her camp boyfriend of the week. I knew her name was Laura Wheeler, but I didn't really know her very well. That frozen moment, however, was the beginning of one of the great friendships of my life.

Tesh, Tutterow, Tully & Wheels
We talked a long time that night, and in the months that followed wrote on occasion. By the following summer I couldn't wait until she came to camp. She and her cabin mates- Christen Hayworth, Jane Terrell, Jane Tesh, Debbie Tully, Angie Swaim, Mollie (Zowie! It's Mowwie!) Edwards and later, Sharron Tutterow, became "my girls." Christen and Laura started calling me Pops (I was all of 20!) and it stuck. The whole group eventually called me Pops, and we not only hung out at camp, but got together for dinner in the off-season and even had a Christmas party together. For the first time (but not the last) I became too attached to the youth I worked with. When Debbie had surgery, I was there. When Laura became sick, her parents called me and and I spent time with her at the hospital. I watched her suffer, struggle and recover, and we became incredibly close. These were not students in my youth ministry, they were "one week a year" kids from camp- but they meant the world to me. We shared great times and
Extended Family at Winter Camp
great sorrows, and I learned what it means to really be in ministry with a group of kids. It takes everything, just like Jesus said it would. I was no hero and I made plenty of missteps along the way, but I gave them everything I had, and they did the same. They gave me a Pops sweatshirt that I loved dearly. I stayed connected to a few of them after those camp days, and all of them 
are often on my mind and in my prayers. I know that some have beautiful families of their own and people in their lives who love them the way they loved me. Quaker Lake was never about the camp. It was always about the people. And for this "Pops," those people were some of the best. I still text with Laura on occasion, and I would LOVE to hear from any of the rest of the family...

Some Magic Moments last a few seconds. Others last for years. The very best ones never leave you. This goes on the short list of the ones that have never, ever left me. The relationships we built and shared shaped my ministry over the following 2o+ years and made me a far better youth pastor than I would have ever been without them. Thanks girls. And I am FINALLY old enough to really be called Pops now...even though you're no spring chickens yourselves!  :)

Because of Jesus,