Friday, May 30, 2014

30/30: One Question for God

Today's 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge prompt is a classic- What if you could ask God one question- but only one? What would you ask? What is it that really burns a hole in your soul, that you crave knowledge or wisdom about? There are so many questions I have, so many things I want to know about my life, about history and about the future. There are things I want to know about the true nature of God. Choosing one is a herculean task. But here goes...

Over the last 10 years ago it has become clear to me that the Christian church has made being a Christ-follower way too complicated. We make up our own rules for what it means to be "saved." We put our own issues at the top of the list and claim they would also be the priorities of Jesus. When we can't pull that off, we quote biblical writers, famous authors and well-known preachers who often manage to turn the black and white words of Jesus into something grey and foggy that requires a deep and painfully intellectual theology to understand. And the further the church has sunk into what I consider to be a quagmire of our own making, the more I have pushed back. The more complicated others want to make being a Christ-follower, the more simple it becomes for me. Follow Jesus. Understand that his words and his actions should drive our faith, and that his words and his actions were all about faith, hope, forgiveness and love. He came so that the leper, the tax collector, the prostitute, the betrayer and the rest of the sinners would have a place at his table. And so that we might as well. Theology and debate are fun and wonderful things, but I have come to believe that being a Christian should be all about Jesus. ALL about Jesus! It is my passion and my goal to help those of us in the church simplify our faith with those words so that others may be drawn to the One who saves us. If Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, then why are we so often bogged down in so much other crap?

So with all of that said, I have a pressing question that I already ask God most every day when I pray, and that I would LOVE to get a concrete, holy graffiti, burning bush style voice of God answer to someday soon. And here is it. Am I getting any of this right?  There are times when I wonder if all of the people I think are so confused actually have it right, and I am the one wandering in the wilderness. My prayer is that people might see "the real Jesus" through my words and deeds. It would just be nice to hear  "well done, good and faithful servant" as I carry on with my crusade. So that's my question. Am I getting any of this right? 

But if I was (by some stroke of God's grace) offered a second question, I admit I would go old school- What's the truth about dinosaurs? I gots to know!!! Have a blessed weekend, my friends!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Big Blue Lives!!!

On Monday of this week my family was crashed in front of the TV trying to recover from a busy weekend when Will found a "behind the scenes" special about the making of National Lampoon's Vacation for us to watch. We love that movie and enjoyed the stories the cast and crew were sharing. Of particular interest was how they thought of that horrible pea green car- the Family Truckster- as part of the cast. It was so important to the the telling of the hilarious road trip that makes that movie one you can watch over and over again. It was custom made to be one-of-a-kind, to be ugly, and to be special. And it was.

Those thoughts were still in fresh in my mind Tuesday evening when one of my old Springfield Friends Meeting youth, Michael Mercadante, posted a picture on Facebook and tagged a ton of former students. He had been on the road somewhere in the Archdale/Trinity/High Point area, when he saw this:

Stunned does not begin to describe my reaction! Let me give you a little history. When I arrived at SFM in 1986, they had a small white bus that seated 14. It had no radio, no AC and no power. It was just a basic mode of transportation for a small group, and it was dying. After some (lots) of complaining, using a contact in the used car business and getting some very generous donations for a few key families, we were able to buy a used Dodge Van to replace the bus. After our own Butch Moran lettered it for us and made it official, we felt like the toast of the town cruising around in our fancy new blue van! This was somewhere in the neighborhood of early 1989. And the van was used. So you understand why I was STUNNED to discover it is still on the road some 25 years later. Several Facebook comments from others indicated they see it occasionally in the area. Ryan Simmons ever claimed to be its neighbor. But I had no idea it still existed. 

My second reaction was to feel like I had just rediscovered an old friend- and from the comments it sounded like many of those now 30/40 year old youth felt the same way. I spent the better part of  6 years behind the wheel of that van. I remember trying to clean & deodorize it so that adult classes and senior citizens groups could use it- and I usually drove for them too. It took the youth group on so many adventures, to so many restaurants, movies and concerts. The old beast carried us to serve at the local soup kitchen every week during summers. It helped take groups to Quaker Lake Camp, to Florida (twice) and to Myrtle Beach (at least 4 times) during my years at SFM.It is pictured at left on our infamous 1992 snowy weekend in Myrtle Beach, complete with Butch's original lettering. As mentioned in the comments on Facebook, it often smelled like dirty socks. The back windows barely opened which was often bad for circulation and classic teenage smells, but good for keeping butts from public view. There was nothing fancy about Big Blue. Yet it was, just like the Griswold's truckster, a big part of our story. I remember driving in nearly every Monday night to take kids home after our TNT program. It was part of the community. It was so much more than just a vehicle- it was a tool for ministry!

To be honest, I have no idea how much longer it stayed at SFM after I left in 1994, but long enough that is was re-lettered at some point. The mileage on it must be staggering. The paint has clearly faded. And from what I can tell through the back glass, it appears to be hauling junk now. But trust me when I tell you that old Blue Thunder (as Mike Merc called it on FB) was a key player in a great youth ministry and a wonderful church. So important, in fact, that I am inducting it as the first inanimate object in my Youth Ministry Hall of Fame!  At over 25 years old now, I hope she will soon rest in peace. Or be restored as an antique! Now there's an idea...

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

7 Things I Think I Still Know About Student Ministry

It's been over 7 years since my final day after 28 years as a youth pastor, and like everything else in this world youth ministry has changed a lot in that time. But it is my belief that there are some things that have NOT changed- and they never will! Every so often a young youth pastor will ask my opinion on student ministry, and I always try to be helpful. So today I offer up 7 things I think I still know about youth ministry.
1) Be purpose driven and strategic. I wish I had understood what that meant when I
started, as it would have made my life much simpler.  I am not talking about buying in to the whole Saddleback model; I don't believe any one church or one model has it all figured out. I am talking about knowing what you are trying to accomplish with your ministry and making sure that EVERYTHING you do helps you reach those goals. One of my old Vision Statements is pictured here. Every time our Youth Ministry Team planned an event, we wanted to know what purpose it was going to help us meet. Know what you want your ministry to look like, and plan to get there. 

2) Youth Ministry is all about relationships. Our job is to connect students with Jesus, with each other, and with adults who love them. The last 2 are often the best way to the first. If your ministry is bringing in students from outside the church walls (and if you are not, turn in your membership card right now!) then you have to work at intentionally building relationships and community. Some anonymous words of wisdom that I love remind us that it is much easier to draw a crowd than to build a family. It takes work, and it is crucial. So many times teenagers find Jesus in the midst of such fellowship. And so many youth have so few positive adult role models in their lives. Find ways to spend time one-on-one with your students. Obey all the safety precautions- but find a way.
3) In your desire to turn your students into spiritual giants, please don't neglect fun.  Teenagers need to learn how to play. They need to learn how to be social in ways that don't involve a computer. And for the sake of Pete (Short Circuit reference!) take trips!  Nothing helps you accomplish community building better or faster, and the memories you make last a lifetime. Look back through this blog and read the comments about our trips from 30, 20 and 10 years ago- those memories are precious to the youth who participated.  Take mission trips, take vacation trips, take mystery trips- but please, take trips! 

4) Be Wholistic (I know it's not a real word!) in your ministry. Teenagers are not just developing spiritually, but mentally, physically, socially and emotionally as well. A great youth ministry will aid in all of those areas. Never assume your youth are being helped with problems, issues and growth anywhere else. You know that Jesus is the answer for all those things- but they probably don't. We should be in ministry to their souls, their minds, their hearts and their physical well-being.

5) Remember who the ministry is for- students! Plan your meetings and events not only when it works for them, but also for their friends. If all of your kids play football, are in the marching band or are cheerleaders, then planning Friday night events during football season is just stupid. I had major programs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays over the years depending on the schedules of my students- and ALWAYS on Sundays. It is very chic these days to not meet on Sunday evenings. If Sunday nights are still the night that most of your students and their friends have available, then meet on Sunday nights! I don't care how inconvenient it is for you or your church. Parents who are really worried about "family time" can make time for that some other day. And for the love of Sheldon Cooper, make full use of summers! Your students are available and bored. We once had 75 days between the last day of school and the beginning of the next year. We had youth events on 72 of them. You need to be there for them- not the other way around.

6) At some point everyone "borrows" ideas from other leaders and other ministries. That's cool- right now someone is probably "borrowing" one of your ideas! Just make sure you only "borrow" from the best. All ideas, programs and events are not created equal- some of them stink! And others were never meant to work in your situation. Be picky.

7) All Christian ministry should be all about Jesus. But more than any other ministry of the church, youth ministry should reflect the radical nature of the Savior. Jesus made the church leaders of His day extremely uncomfortable. A good student ministry will do the same thing.  If your youth room is not occasionally filled with tattooed, pierced, wildly dressed renegades who are still searching for Jesus, then you may be doing something wrong. If some of your events, ministries and music don't rub part of your congregation the wrong way, you may need to take a second look at how you are doing youth work. If you don't periodically ruin the Jones Memorial Carpet because a Jello Night or a pie throwing skit got a bit out of control- well then I just can't help you! Youth ministry should be outrageous- in the way we love, in faith, in fun and in outreach. Remember, Jesus' "church council" didn't like Him either...

So there they are. 7 things I think I still know. I hope they are helpful. Or at least unsettling. Because another thing I know is that no one doing student ministry should ever get too comfortable...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#DangerDays: Rise Above The Noise!

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.  -1 Corinthians 13:1-7  (The Message)

As part of my journey into the #DangerDays, I have been making it a point to chat with pwoplw about their belief systems. Some, of course, don't want to talk about it. I respect that. Others are more interested in the beliefs of their neighbors; we have a Jehovah's Witness family on our circle that many have questions about. But one Saturday a while back I had a chat with a mother of 3 who lived across the street. We talked about her faith history. We talked about her most recent attempts at taking her family to church. It was not a happy story. She and her husband were having trouble finding a way to fit in. When they called the church office for assistance, they were told that their Sunday School class would help. When they responded that they didn't yet belong to a class, they were told to join one. That was the final answer. There was no outreach. There was no love shown to them. And so they gave up on church.  #FAIL

The church is like its members- it will never be perfect. We get it right more often than not. But the one place we should never fall short is in showing love to our world. I have seen more and more examples lately of how the institution of the church seems to be losing touch with the teachings of Christ. As the 1 Corinthians 13 scripture reminds us, without love we are nothing. We are just white noise, becoming more and more deaf to the hurting people around us. How is the church failing to love? Here are just a few of the things I have seen and read recently that make me just a little crazy...
  • I heard from a friend of a youth ministry that requires (at the demand of their pastor) church membership cards before students are allowed to enter the youth room. So much for Acts 1:8, huh?  #FAIL
  • I read about the Westboro Baptist Church, which in its attempts to condemn gays has done greater harm to the way people see Christianity than almost anything else Satan has going on.  #FAIL
  • I saw a church sign that read, "Join us Sunday. We'll scare the sin right out of you!"  Now there's a message of hope and love...  #FAIL
  • I know of a church leader- a man who works for a well-known Christian organization and who teaches classes at a very large church. When he speaks about his faith, many people listen. Yet there is another man who wronged him (and confessed this sin) and whom he sees in church most every Sunday.  He will not speak to him or even look at him. Until he shows grace in that relationship, his words about the amazing grace of Jesus sound hollow and impotent. I struggle with my own feelings towards the man- but is anything harder than forgiving someone who will not forgive? I am telling you, without love, that "professional Christian's" life is just noise.  #FAIL
  • A story was making the rounds this past winter about a small town in New Jersey. It the midst of one of those massive winter storms with temps way below freezing, homeless people were barely surviving. The town has no shelter. And yet not a single church opened it's doors as a place of warmth and love. Not one. #FAIL
Without love, the #DangerDays will wear us out. If all we carry around with us are things like piety, theology and an air of superiority then the church will fail in its mission to bring Jesus to the world. We must be more than noise. We must be better than techno music, throbbing in the background while no one really pays attention- we must offer melodies and lyrics that will soothe and inspire. Christ-like love has to be our calling card, our initial response to every situation we encounter. 1 John 4:7-8 reminds us that if we don't love then we don't know God, because God is love. And if we cannot love each other inside our communities of faith, what chance do we have of showing love to rest of the world? Through the love of Jesus, we are God's Plan A for saving this world- and there is no Plan B. I don't want to be a creaking, rusty gate anymore. I don't want to look like a Christian and sound like a Christian while my actions betray my true beliefs because I do not love. Wanna' make the #DangerDays a little less dangerous for the world around you? Rise above the noise. Love like like Jesus!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Total Blast!

Last Saturday my wife Marilyn and I took at trip to Disney's Hollywood Studios for the first Star Wars Weekend of 2014. We had a blast (as was mentioned here this past Wednesday) and especially enjoyed seeing the new late night fireworks show, Symphony in the Stars. Th sky over the Studios was filled with amazing pyrotechnics dancing to the most familiar music from the original Star Wars score. It was far and away my favorite fireworks show at the parks since they discontinued Sorcery in the Sky at the Studios so many years ago. It was a perfect way to finish the day.

We returned home and told our son Will about the wonders of the show and rest of Stars Wars Weekend, and he quickly declared that we had to go back. And so yesterday, we did! Will is 18 now, but he grew up on Disney fireworks. He has seen Illuminations at Epcot dozens of time, and the same for a wide variety of shows at the Magic Kingdom. It would be very possible for him to be a little jaded about their wonder at this point in his life. But I thought Symphony in the Stars would absolutely blow him away. And I was right. He was totally WOW'd, and when the final round of explosions literally shook the entire park, he was grinning from ear to ear. Throw in some great rides and shows and another fantastic lunch at The Beaches and Cream Soda Shoppe and we had a wonderful family day at the park.

For those of you who think that I am rubbing it in that we went back to the Walt Disney World parks yet again (third time in the last month), are right! I hadn't been in 7 years, so cut me some slack and let me gloat just a bit. And I should warn you it is only going to get worse. I am now an annual passholder once again. I'm going to be writing a regular monthly post for a WDW fan website. There are exciting times ahead! So prepare yourselves for a little more of my #DisneySide on the pages of this blog. And if you have a chance to get out to a Star Wars Weekend before they are gone for another year...GO!!!!! 

I hope you all have a safe and happy Memorial Day, and do take a moment to pause and reflect on those who have given their lives in service to their country, their God or their friends. Be blessed!

Sunday, May 25, 2014


Ted & Lee, in their great two-man show Fisheyes, portray the disciples Peter and Andrew as two guys who seldom understood what Jesus was talking about. They had particular difficulty making any sense out of the parables the Master told. We have much in common with them. I am constantly amazed at pastors and others who claim to know exactly what Jesus meant with these sometimes random tales. I am frustrated by those who twist them to illustrate points they are trying to make. Today I will most likely do both- but as usual, I'm charging ahead! 

In Luke 15:8-10Jesus tells the parable of the Lost Coin.  Here it is from The Message:
"Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won't she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she'll call her friends and neighbors: 'Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!' Count on it—that's the kind of party God's angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God."  

Now I don't know about you, but when I first began hearing this one in Sunday School all those years ago, I thought it made no sense at all. I mean really...who in their right mind would spend time looking for a quarter when you still had nine in your pocket? And even if I did find it, I 'm not calling my buddies and inviting them to a party. It sounded like Jesus was hanging out with some crazy old lady to me. I didn't connect at all.

In fact, I'm not sure I really understood the deepest meaning of this parable until about 7 years ago, when the circumstances of my life revealed to me that I was the lost coin. I had once felt shiny and important, part of a coin collection that was worth something. But at some point along the way, I slipped out of pocket and rolled under the couch. I was there for quite a while. I know now that this parable is a reminder that Jesus NEVER stops looking for us. He came so that the lost and sinners would know God's love, and He never gives up on us. The "lost" are not always people who have never bowed a knee to Jesus; sometimes they are people just like me who are playing hide and seek with our Savior. In that game, when people hide too well it is frustrating and we just yell for them to come out and start over.  Our heavenly Father is screaming at us as well- GET FOUND! And when we do come out from our hiding place and confess our lostness, a strange thing happens. Jesus declares us winners, and the angels throw a killer party for us. You may believe in the doctrine of "once saved, always saved," and that may well be true. But I can promise you this from my own experience- you can be saved and lost at the same time. And Jesus just keeps on looking...

You may feel about yourself the way I did about the lost coin when I was younger- that you are insignificant and unworthy of being found. That's just stinkin' thinkin'! The Jesus Revolution is all about grace, and grace is available to everyone- even us lost coins. We become part of that revolution when we jump in the game on the side of Jesus and help people GET FOUND! No matter who they are- thief, gossip, heretic or sex offender- God is looking for them- or in my case, us. "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!  I once was lost but now I'm found..." The party is meant to be for everyone. The question is, are you helping deliver the invitations?

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Saturday Shout Outs!

Welcome to the the Memorial Day weekend edition of the Saturday Shout Outs! Before we begin today, let's take a moment to remember all of those who have give their lives in the service to our great nation, to family and friends and the kingdom of God. "Greater love has no one than to lay down their life for their friends." Jesus said it (in John 15:13) and it is still true today. So remember...

And now on with the shouting!

  • Holly Harward Yandle (Springfield Friends Meeting) gave birth to a baby girl this week in Wilmington. Emma Joy Yandle was born May 21 at 7:03 pm. She was 7lbs 13oz, and 19in. long. Holly, daddy Marc and all the little Yandles are fine. My FUMC-Kissimmee friends may remember Holly as well. She lived with us the summer Will was born- 1995!
  • My dear friend Denise welcomes home her daughter Kate today after a semester spent in Wales. What a great adventure for Kate, and what a blessing for Denise to have her home!!!
  • The grandfather of Mike Spires, hubby to Lisa Kraus Spires (FUMC-K) passed away on May 17. Continue to keep that family in your prayers.
  • To all of my school teacher friends who are nearing the completion of another year- hang in there, bite the bullet, count to 10 and finish strong! Or at least without completely losing it! You are heroes to so many!
  • My Twitter buddy Robert Damron sent best wishes to a few friends with the following tweet yesterday- Have a great Friday and may your enemies swim with the fishes  Yes, these are my people!
  • Ashley Goad (Springfield) is headed back to Costa Rica (first time since 2010 she tells me!) today with lots of friends old and new on another mission trip. As always, keep Ashley, her team, and their work in your prayers. 
  • Welcome home Evan Ayers!!!
  • My favorite tweet of the week came from @MikeFoster - i luv that Jesus was more interested in the common man than the religious. he talked about lilies and birds. not dogma and churchiness. Amen & AMEN!
  • Marie Allen Duke and Kelly Allen Olmeda (Springfield) lost their great uncle Phillip yesterday. Sympathy to the entire Allen family, including Roger Dale and Gail. Love you guys.
  • Will Jones has given thumbs up reviews to summer movies Neighbors and Godzilla, and cannot wait to see the new X-Men flick Days of Future Past on Monday. More reviews to follow!
  • I saw a picture of Keri Vinson Johnston (Springfield) with her recent high school graduate daughter Savannah on Facebook yesterday. Twenty years later and Keri looks exactly the same. And her daughter looks just like her! My former youth continue to find new ways to make me feel OLD!
  • Remember, if you're coming to Walt Disney World or the surrounding area this summer we want to know about it! We'd love to meet you at the parks, or for lunch, or whatever! Just give us a little warning!
  • If you missed my blog post from Wednesday - The Howarts School of Youth Ministry- then check it out now. Inspired by the words of Jenninfer Minnigan Kuramochi (FUMC-K), it is a reminder of how much each and every one of the youth ministries I served was blessed in so many ways, with a few reminders of some the amazing things we got to do over the years. Plus, you really need to check out the comments at the end of the post. Apparently I'm going to hell!
  • And finally... this is SO COOL!  Martha Godwin, grandmother to Jeremy Godwin and Shelley Godwin Kirby (Springfield) is now in the Guiness Book of World's Records for having played the organ at Macedonia UMC in NC for 73 years! Absolutely amazing!!! Imagine all the people who have lifted praise to God with her at the keys...what a blessing!
Best wishes for a great holiday weekend to one and all. Be blessed!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, May 23, 2014

30/30: My Top 5 TV Shows...EVER!

Today's 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge is to list my favorite TV shows of all time. And only 5. No ties allowed. I have to admit that this one is like having a day off for me. It's just not that difficult. There are very few television series that I have truly LOVED in my 54 years, and pretty much all of them were situation comedies. For the purposes of this prompt I have chosen to not include any show that is still on with first-run episodes, which is why The Big Bang Theory is not on this list. It will be here someday. The only question is how high up the list it will climb! But for now, here are my top 5 TV shows...EVER! I know my list is unique to me and includes none of the trendy dramas so popular over the last decade or so- because I have never watched any of them! So educate me- what are YOUR favorites?

  1. How I Met Your Mother
  2. Seinfeld
  3. M*A*S*H*
  4. Cheers
  5. That 70's Show
Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Psychological Sit-Ups!

A Typical Night at TNT
We always tried to keep the fun in youth ministry, using silliness to fight the 3 mortal enemies of working with teenagers- tameness, sameness and lameness! Every now and then when you're trying to be crazy you lose control of a situation. In my case, it was usually my own fault. But sometimes circumstances just surprise you. Here is one such story!

One of the reasons our TNT program at Springfield Friends Meeting became so popular among students was our willingness to be goofy and daring with our programming. It helped that we had goofy and daring students on our ministry,too! We often did stunts that ended with someone getting wet or receiving a pie in the face. Our favorite way of delivering the whipped cream pie was a stunt I learned in my Young Life days called Psychological Sit-Ups. It worked like this: I would announce that I had acquired a Spock-like power of pinching a nerve in a person's neck and rendering them paralyzed. It required an elaborate set-up for me to accomplish this, and I would ask for a volunteer (actually chosen in advance and in on the stunt) to help me demonstrate. I would blindfold them, cover them in towels and sheets, and lay them on a table. I would apply the pinch as the crowd began chanting "you can't sit can't sit can't sit up..."  The chant would grow louder and louder until I would scream SIT UP! The person on the table would be unable to move- because they were in on the stunt. After two such performances, it was easy to find a third volunteer who didn't know the trick and was eager to prove me a fraud. We would go through the whole show a third time, only this time, the over zealous victim would sit straight up- into a waiting pie held by another student. It was a classic stunt that I used for many years. And it almost always worked.

And sometimes the pies got me...
One night at TNT we were had a number of new people (which of course is the only way it worked- once you saw it, you had to be pretty stupid to fall for it...) and so we broke out the pie. Things were going along just fine, and the victim was a Trinity High School girl whose name escapes me (Lynn Prevette, maybe?). As we got into the stunt, the pie appeared as usual, and was handed to another girl, Pam Collins. Pam was friend of our Amy Simmons and, we thought, of the victim. What I didn't know was that on that very Monday they had gotten into an argument over a boy, and tensions were still running high. So when the victim sat up, the pie was not just waiting for her- the pie was SMASHED into her face with great force! I thought for sure it broke her nose. There were gasps from the gathered crowd as I moved in to try and ease her pain and clean her up to make sure she wasn't injured. It was one of those thousands of youth ministry moments that is funny now...not so much then.

After that, only students I knew well got to hold the pie. And we moved on to another pie delivery stunt- Speed Kissing.  But that's for another day!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

#DangerDays: A Guest Post From Jason Huffman

My dear Twitter friend and brother-from-another-mother Jason Huffman is back with another great guest post. I suggest you strap in and hang on. Just treading this post is dangerous!  

I’ve been enjoying my friend Carl’s series of posts hashtagged #DangerDays as he and others have shared stories about trusting God in the face of adversity. Lately it seems that we as a people, American Christians that is, are all living in #DangerDays.

In America, we are proud of our God and our religious freedom. When I was growing up, the three most spiritual days of the year were Christmas, Easter, and July 4th. Ok, so I am exaggerating a little, but not much. Sitting under the banner of the old red, white, and blue, I could be thankful that I lived in a country where I had religious freedom to worship how and where I wanted. After all, I was endowed by my Creator with certain inalienable rights…right? The Spirit of God had been personally ushered into my zip code when the Republic of Texas was annexed into the United States in 1845, thus giving me and other Texans those Creator-endowed inalienable rights. It’s a pretty swanky set-up if you ask me. It is good to live in a Christian country where our buildings, our pledge, and even our money acknowledges a higher power, even if they leave the specifics of who that higher power is up to us.

We are not the first “Christian society”. The first attempt at a Christian society came with the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, who subsequently decided he would make Christianity the official religion of Rome. It was from this political maneuver that we got the Nicaene Creed and the Roman Catholic Church became the institution it was (pretty much the only church around) for the next 1100 years or so…not too shabby for one guy. At that time Christianity was an understood cultural norm and remained so up through the Reformation and even later into the colonization of America. After that, our colonies broke from British rule and established their own government on Christian principles continuing this tradition of a Christian society-what many of us call “Christendom”. (For a great read on living in a post-Christendom culture, I recommend “Resident Aliens” by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon.) America remained a fairly Christian culture until somewhere in the mid twentieth century when attending church on Sundays was no longer an expected practice. Stores and restaurants began to open on Sunday. Little league sports and other programs began having practices, games, and meetings on Sundays. And church was no longer the center of our lives, but only a part.

But the greatest “threat” to our faith wasn’t Sunday ball games, or the lifting of Blue Laws. In the late twentieth century there was some discussion of making our country more inclusive. Rumors spread that certain courts wanted to take “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance. The Ten Commandments being posted on a courthouse was considered to be potentially offensive to those who may not believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. High schools were reprimanded for having prayers before football games and “moments of silence” became the norm. Some schools decided they could pray as long as they did not end with “in Jesus name” while others gave the powers that be a piece of their mind by advertising and publicizing the public prayer as an act of defiance to the godless government. And thus, American Christians found themselves living in #DangerDays. Just like the children of Israel who had been captured and carried off to Babylon, we were prisoners in our own land. We hung our harps on the poplars as our captors chided us saying, “Sing us a song of Zion”. But how could we sing the Lord’s songs in this strange, foreign, godless land where our religious freedom had gone from freedom of religion to freedom “from” religion? It really was depressing. Not only was somebody was going  to take “God” out of the pledge of allegiance but to top it all off, there was an increase in violence, drugs, abuse, divorce, cycles of poverty, suicide, and all sorts of other crime. How could this be?

Well, I want to bring you some encouragement. On the surface, it looks like as soon as we got more open-minded about the wording of some of our sacred documents and about the role of prayer in our schools, all this other bad stuff began happening. But I want to submit to you an alternative view. Maybe “taking God out of the USA” was a symptom of the problem, not the cause. But the timeline is pretty close, right? As soon as the government lost its affinity for the divine, all this other junk started happening. But what about this? What if the spirit of God was here before our government made it a thing? Before the first explorers and the first colonists came attempting to establish a Christian society, what if God was here? And what if the spirit of God is still here regardless of what happens in our government? I mean seriously. To know what sin is and the capacity our human hearts have for evil and to know the strong bonds of abuse, poverty, addiction, and violence in our culture, are we seriously na├»ve enough to believe that if some suits in Washington fall on their knees and seek God’s face, sign some papers making it cool to pray in public, that our godless culture is automatically going to become a Christian nation again? I hate to be doom and gloom, but I don’t think so.

We need to quit letting Washington DC have access to the shut-off valve to the movement on God in the USA. Some legislators make some motions. So what? The ACLU comes down on a school for praying or a courthouse for having a nativity scene? Big deal. THE GOVERNMENT AND OTHER MAN MADE ORGANIZATIONS ARE NOT BIGGER THAN GOD! Do you want to know what is more powerful that the US government? Do you want to know what’s stronger than any suit-clad government lobby group? Do you want to know what is stronger than the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence? Get ready for it…..The church! How do you like them apples? The church has been around since about 30AD- about 1984 years-yet we let the decisions of a 238 year old government dictate what we think and believe about God!

Folks, we are living in #DangerDays. The enemy is alive and well in America. There are cycles of sin and oppression that exist and we truly are living in a foreign land. But let’s give credit where credit is due. Sin, oppression and violence didn’t get in through Washington DC. It wasn’t some elected officials that left the door open, exposing our country to godlessness. Likewise, God didn’t come in through Washington, either. God didn’t wait until 1776 to show up in the good ol’ USA. He was here before, and will continue to be here until his return. As believers, we need to quit letting the government determine what we think, believe, and understand about God and keep doing what Jesus called us to do by being his witnesses in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (that’s us). Let government be government. What is God doing in your community that isn’t posted on a building or spoken over a PA at a sporting event? Where is God at work? What are you and others doing to break cycles of violence and oppression besides getting upset that there is no prayer over the intercom each morning at your son’s middle school? As we live in #DangerDays, it’s up to us to be the church, not the government.

Editor's Note: I don't usually comment on a guest post before I publish it, but...AMEN & AMEN!!!

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Name's the Thing

Many times over the years church members came to me and said something along the lines of the following: "I love reading your articles in the church newsletters and the bulletin, and I love trying to keep up with what our youth are doing. But it's like you people speak speak a foreign language! So many weird titles and abbreviations. I just can't keep up!" They often looked like the man pictured at right, confused and afraid (That man is actually Pat O'Brien, a member of our YMT at WMUMC, and that picture was taken on a Myrtle Beach trip- so he WAS confused and afraid!). So today, for those who read this blog and wonder "What does that mean?" I offer a partial glossary of terms and acronyms I used through the years. As you will see, I LOVE abbreviations. Here's a bit of what our parents and students had to put up with over the years...

YFYF-  Young Friends Youth Fellowship. This was my name for our primary Sunday evening programs at both New Garden Friends Meeting (NGFM) and Springfield Friends Meeting (SFM). We never said each letter individually- it was always pronounced "Yuf-Yuf." Also see UMYF (United Methodist Youth Fellowship).

SCUBA-  Spiritual Concepts and Understanding Biblical Approaches. This was a bible and book (such as The Screwtape Letters) study we did at NGFM on Wednesday nights, trying desperately not to make it sound like a class. It was just much cooler to say "I'm going to SCUBA tonight- wanna' join me? Plus the name was an inside joke to our group at the time.

2nd Heziciah-  A fictional book of the bible, the use of which was taught to me by my pastor at NGFM, David Bills. It served many purposes over the years- to fool people and thus encourage them to learn more about actual scripture; to give emphasis to wise sayings and truths that are not actually from the bible; and to make fun of my own "wise" sayings.  For instance, I might offer my opinion on a song, and then say "Blessed is he who changes the radio station when rap music is heard- 2 Heziciah 4:12." 

Burger Doodle-  Any fast food place within a short driving distance of the church. We used to go eat once a month following YFYF at NGFM and SFM, and we always went to Burger Doodle!

TNT-  That New Thing or The Next Thing or whatever I decided it meant! It was our award winning outreach program at SFM; I also used the name later on at the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee (FUMC-K) and the Union Church of Hinsdale (UC). 

SHO-Time-  Senior High Only Time. This was a night out at dinner for high school students, begun at SFM and perfected at FUMC-K. This ministry was great for relationship building, and I used it at UC, Wesley Memorial UMC (WMUMC) and Trinity UMC (TUMC) as well.

ICU-  Intensive Care Unit. Based on an idea found in the book Spiritual Growth In Youth Ministry by J. David Stone, this was a leadership team of students who were charged with taking the pulse of our youth ministries and serving the students who attended- or in some cases, no longer attended. I began trying this as far back as NGFM, and tried it at many other stops along the way. It worked for a while a SFM & WMUMC, and worked best at FUMC-K. It never quite became what I wanted it to be, but when it functioned properly it was an awesome ministry!

YSOP-  Youth Service Opportunity Project. This was a youth-led service project we started at FUMC-K. The youth took over the nursery during the 8:30 AM Sunday worship service, providing lesson plans, teachers and helpers. Cyndi Reep and Jill Souther were the first youth to direct the program; others followed. Then name was "stolen" from a New York City Quaker ministry I once worked with. That just proves the old saying:  "A youth pastor is only as good as the people they steal from..."

Blizzard Run-  Any trip to Dairy Queen. We started doing these as official events on Sunday evenings after UMYF in Kissimmee. Fifty or so of us would storm the local DQ and eat many blizzards. In Tampa, we went to Baskin-Robbins instead because it was much closer. In Waycross, it was back to the DQ. Free blizzards made very popular prizes in my various contests, and you could always claim your prize at a Blizzard Run!

Rec Around the Clock-  An all-night "Lock-In." Another stolen title (thank you, Tom Klaus!) that is still is use at various churches I served, this was a totally different type of church lock-in. Mostly because for the majority of the night you were actually locked OUT! A few of my favorite things we ever did at RAC include seeing Laser Led Zeppelin at the Orlando Planetarium; 3 AM picnic in a Krispy Kreme parking lot in High Point; 4 AM Laser Tag in Kissimmee, joined by half of the local area drug dealers; 4 AM ice skating (sleepy ice skaters are hilarious!) and early morning shopping cart races in the K-Mart parking lot. We also often finished with breakfast at Shoney's or Denny's- and once at an IHOP in Tampa, where they took 3 hours to feed us all. Strangely enough, I really miss this event...

Happy Hour-  An afternoon of fellowship at the local Sonic Drive-In.  Sonic began advertising an afternoon special called Happy Hour in Tampa, where drinks and milk shakes were half priced. I co-opted the idea and the name for our program, and during the summer we would gather from 2-4 PM at the local Sonic and just hang out. We would play cards, eat, drink and be merry! Some youth would drop by; others came and stayed. It was another great relationship builder in both Tampa and Waycross. 

Radical Sabbatical-  An overnight spiritual growth adventure. A small group would gather on a Friday night and spend the next 24 hours together exploring the scriptures and other spiritual disciplines. We did this several times at FUMC-K, including one very memorable experience with a guided meditation where the students walked with Jesus in their mind's eye. We had a number of excellent experiences, including one on sharing your faith called Live the Life and one where we took a road trip to Jerry Hanbery's apartment in Gainesville. We also did a couple of weekends at WMUMC.  I would love to do these for adults some day, if that is somewhere God leads me.

One On OneI would meet with a student- 1 on 1! Several days each summer, from 1987 through 2006, I would set aside a whole day to meet with students one at a time for an hour at a time. We would usually go grab a milk shake and just talk about whatever was on their minds. The 9 AM appointment got breakfast and the 12 noon got lunch, so those were highly coveted time slots! There were some youth who made an appointment every time I offered it. This was always a very valuable ministry.

So there you have it- just a few examples of ways I tried to create a unique culture for our students at the various churches I served. And there are more- but I think you get the idea.  If not, then you can sign-up for the Disney Dash Ice Cream Bash, the Timothy Club or Super Service Saturday (SSS) by visiting the Super Summer Sign-Up Center in the youth room or on the website. Sorry- old habits die hard! 

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday's Song: Amazing Grace

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 235 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) of which I am particularly fond. One is to the melody of the Eagles' great song Peaceful Easy Feeling. We used that one a lot at youth 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 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 as 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 "a wretch like me." And that, my friends, is pretty amazing! Enjoy the video, and have a blessed Sabbath.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, May 17, 2014

My Saturday Playlist

I was up early this morning (preparing for a day at Disney's Hollywood Studious!) and as usual I was listening to music on my I-pod. If you are not familiar with my particular I-pod, it is a very old, very low memory hand-me-down from my son Will (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. My tastes lean toward classic rock and great singer-songwriters. 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. Today's list contains a great many flashbacks, songs that are old EVEN for me. Every now and then my I-pod seems to develop a mind of its own and I can see a trend in the music it chooses for me. This morning was one of those times. Here are the first 10 songs that popped up on shuffle today. Do you sense a theme?

1)  Here With Me-  The Killers
2)  Time In a Bottle- Jim Croce
3)  Wouldn't It Be Nice?The Beach Boys
4)  If You Leave Me NowChicago
5)  Just Give Me a Reason - P!nk featuring Nate Ruess
6)  MoonshadowCat Stevens
7)  Gone, Gone, GonePhilip Phillips
8)  Run To Me - The Bee Gees
9)  My GirlThe Temptations
10) Come AroundSister Hazel

And btw- song #11 was Drift Away by Dobie Gray. Almost as if I needed a song to sum it all up or something...

That's what I was listening to this morning. What's on your playlist today? Enjoy your Saturday, and go wherever the music takes you my friends!

Friday, May 16, 2014

30/30: One Big Regret

One Big Regret. If you know me or have read along this blog for any period of time, then you know my biggest regrets. I regret ever becoming in Internet chatting. I regret an instant message conversation that changed my life and the life of my family forever. And I regret losing my ministry with youth as a consequence of all that. Those are major regrets. And if you know me at all, you know I have spent the past 7 years trying to move past those regrets and back into living my life. Dwelling on regrets accomplishes nothing. But we all have them.

For today's 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge, the prompt says to share one big regret. Like most of us, I have a long list to choose from. There are regrets from past decisions, relationships and actions- and I would love if they all came with do-overs! But as some wise person once wrote or said, it seems we regret the things we don't do more than the things we do. And my one regret I'll share today is about an opportunity lost; a chance not taken in the days of my youth.

I was never in a band.

Oh sure, I played in praise bands at church for a number of years- but that's not what I'm talking about. I played guitar and sang at clubs, open mic nights and bars by myself when I was younger. I entertained at special events at churches many times over the years. And all of that was very cool. But I never got the chance to stand in front of a real band, with drums, bass and blaring guitars playing for a loud and rowdy crowd in some smelly bar- and just ROCK the house! There were chances along the way, but I missed them- and at age 54 I'm not sure "rock star status" is waiting for me in the years to come. And while there are more serious regrets I could burden you with today, this is the one I am going with for the purpose of this post. I regret never being in a real band. 

And that's all I've got say about that. :) .

Thursday, May 15, 2014

If I Won the Lottery...

Wednesday morning I was awakened around 5 am by the howling sound of my very own Doggie Alarm Clock, Conner- who of late seems to be having serious trouble sleeping again. After letting him out to take care of business, I settled into my recliner and dozed off. I have discovered that in those early morning hours after being rudely awakened that if I go back to sleep I often have very vivid dreams. This was one of those times...and this one was simply nuts!

I dreamed that I had won a $100,000,000 lottery of some sort. Right off the bat this is odd, seeing as how I do not actually play the lottery- but what the heck, it's a dream. The second odd thing was that neither Marilyn nor Will were anywhere to be found in the dream, leaving me to assume they had dumped me before I hit the jackpot! So as the dream proceeded I was thinking of what I was going to do with all that money, and I began to think of charitable organizations to which I should make donations. After writing checks to the usual suspects (my church, cancer research, diabetes research and so on) I began to think about other places my new money could be a big help. I wrote a $250,000 check to Springfield Friends Meeting to help them refurbish the building, specifically the old youth room and kitchen in the dungeon. I wrote another $250,000 check to FUMC-Kissimmee to seed a new outreach ministry led by their new pastor, Wayne Cook. And then I found myself wondering what to give to one of my favorite places on earth, Quaker Lake Camp. That's when the fun started!

The next thing I knew I was sitting at a large conference table with what I can only assume was supposed to be the QLC Board of Directors. Leading the group was a man named Jerry Booth- who is from the church I served here in Tampa and has absolutely nothing to do with QLC. But again, it's a dream! I told them that I would like to donate a lot of money to help build the gymnasium/theater that has been dreamed about at camp for years, but they immediately begin to bicker over what the money should be spent on. One woman- who shall remain nameless here, but her initials are Boom Boom- was insisting that the donation be used to build a boat dock and buy boats for water skiing- and most of the board agreed. Now if you've ever been to Quaker Lake you know how asinine that idea is. The lake is barely big enough for a dock. There is no way you could ski there- by the time a boat got up to speed it would be crashing into the shore on the other end of the lake! But they were insistent. So I tried to bribe them. I gave this big speech and told them I would give them $100,000 and they could use it however they wanted to. OR...they could agree to build the gym and I would give them 1 million dollars! Plus I added one more catch to the deal. They new facility had to be named after Neal Thomas, my old camp director and friend who made QLC so much of what it has become today. I thought I had them in my sights. I was wrong. They rejected my deal, saying they could buy their boat with the 100 grand I was giving them anyway, and that boats were cooler than gyms. I was stunned.

But it was the end of the tale that left me laughing. I was suddenly standing on a big platform with one of those giant checks- for $100,000,000. I was denouncing Quaker Lake, saying that it was no longer my camp of choice, and saying that the best camp in the Two Pines area (I have no idea where that is; QLC is in Climax, NC) was now Camp Northstar. Yes. Camp Northstar. The one from the movie Meatballs. The next thing I knew I was presenting the check to camp director Morty (Hiiiii Mickey!) and Tripper (Bill Murray himself). They promised to use the donation to "bring more hot girls to camp" and to "install Hibachi tables in the dining hall." And I seemed just fine with that. That's all I remember.

I can only hope that the QLC board named the boat after Neal. Or even better, called it The Susie! The moral of my dream? I should never be allowed to have money...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Summer Youth Ministries: The Whole Enchilada!

Summers Always ROCKED!!!
I suppose this counts as a rant...

Every year around this time I begin to see links on Twitter to articles and blogs proclaiming that it is in the best interest of your student ministry (or at least of the youth pastor) to cut back on the schedule of activities for summer- and every year I think my head is going to explode!!! I have been out of youth ministry for a while now, and maybe everything has changed since I left. But somehow I seriously doubt it! Summer is not a time to slow down- it is a time to crank it up! Why would you slow down during a season when many students actually have spare time, are bored and are searching for activities and ways to connect with one another? For me, summer was always a time to go absolutely crazy and give yourself as many opportunities as possible to build relationships and expose the students of your church and your community (because their friends are just as bored as they are!) to the love of God whose name is Jesus. So today I will answer the question "What exactly did a Carl planned summer ministry look like?" You may not believe we really did all of this, but every summer I believed in giving students The Whole Enchilada! And for many of them, their best memories of youth group are rooted in our summer ministries. So enjoy, hang on...and remember, summer ministry is not about those who can't and won't be there because of vacations and camps. It's about all of those who can- and who need a place to belong! 

From 1987-2006 every summer began with the publication of a summer booklet with a theme and a calendar. The calendar was mostly for parents; the booklet described events in detail and had contests and a lot of silliness. I would usually get it in the mail a month before school let out. We would begin to advertise on the Youth Group Hotline, or in the later years have the website ready for summer at that time as well. Of course publicity and sign-ups for the big trips would have already happened, but the bulk of the summer ministry would be announced in the booklet. Here is a brief synopsis of most everything we did in an average summer. This listing is out of the 1999 booklet (pictured at right) from FUMC-Kissimmee, my last summer there. Links are provided to help you understand my personal glossary of terms and to let you read about the specifics of any events that interest you. The details changed from year to year, of course, but this will give you a general idea of how my summers went for nearly 20 years. And if I were still in ministry, I would do it all again this summer...

* A kick-off Progressive Dinner to welcome our new middle school students.
* The annual Chain of Prayer.
* Our Schoolzout Blowout trip to Atlanta for Six Flags and a Braves game.
Wonderama, featuring a live band, Gladiator Jousting and a Velcro Wall.
Winning the Great Race with a team pyramid!
The Great Race, with the winning team earning a Kitchen Sink on the Disney Dash Ice Cream Bash coming later that summer. (For perspective you should note that all of the other events listed above took place the first week of summer vacation!)
Middle School Madness, 3 separate events for middle school students only. In 1999 this included a Video Scavenger Hunt and a Mall Invasion!
SHO-Time (Senior High Only!) at the All-Star CafeMacaroni Grill and Roadhouse.
Wednesday Night Live! This was our weekly mid-week meeting. The first hour was bible study, which in 1999 featured the theme Sold Out For Jesus. The second hour was for playing games, hanging out and occasionally hula dancing. But mostly 4- Square- the old school version.
Jason Fry doing lawn work at a Nashville Orphanage
* Our summer Mission Trip was a 6 day adventure to Nashville to work with the Center for Student Ministry. An awesome trip, by the way.
* We also had local mission projects. We spent a morning picking up trash in our church's neighborhood. We worked to raise money for Graciela, the little girl from Bolivia we sponsored through Compassion International. We volunteered a day at the Orlando Second Harvest Food Bank. And every Sunday morning for the 8:30 worship service a team of our students taught Children's Church for 5-8 year olds.
* Almost all of our youth served as teachers and helpers at Vacation Bible School.
* The annual Youth Week was always a big event. In 1999 it was HUGE! To read specifics of that week, click here!
* We had both Babes Night Out (females only...although the guys would try to crossdress and tag a long!) and Dudes Night Out.
* Three days were set aside to do One on One, where students could sign-up for an hour of my time and we would grab a coke or a milk shake and just hang out. These were very popular days, especially for the kids who signed up first and got the breakfast and lunch appointments!
Hamming it up at Kyoto's!
Each summer we would set aside a night for a large group to go eat at our favorite Japanese restaurant, Kyoto's. 1999 was no exception.  
* There was a "Carl's going to a movie" Night. I announced I was going, told anyone interested to meet at the church at a certain time, and then we went. I did not tell them in advance what we were seeing.  A Mystery Event!
* We had a small group, overnight spiritual growth event called The Radical Sabbatical. One of my very favorite things ever.
*  Our Sunday night UMYF continued to meet each week for worship, study and fellowship.
* On 2 Sundays we would stretch our UMYF time out and do what we called SNACSunday Night After Church!  One night we did a movie (Short Circuit) and world's largest bowl of popcorn; the other night was the famous Disney Dash Ice Cream Bash
* There was, of course, a Movie Marathon!  In 1999 it featured movies from Outer Space!
Myrtle Beach, 1999
* 45 of us participated in Myrtle Beach Days, a week-long excursion to the Betsy B.
* We did one day at Walt Disney World and another day at Cocoa Beach. (If you are keeping score, there were 75 days of summer vacation that year, and we had some sort of youth event on 70 of those days...)
* And even though technically it was after school started back , our summer ended as it always did in those years- with the Last Gasp Summer Blowout at Melbourne Beach.

Ahh... SUMMER!  The absolute best time of the year for youth ministry. Most churches, youth pastors and student ministries are probably neither prepared for nor interested in doing The Whole Enchilada these days. I get that. But I do hope maybe this bit of madness will inspire you to kick your summer up a notch. But whatever you do, please- don't neglect your students this summer. You don't want to have my exploding head on your conscience, do you? :)

Because of Jesus,