Sunday, June 29, 2014

The First Song I Sing

I woke up this morning with a song running through my head. It was a an old Sonny Salsbury tune (from Yo Anderson's great Songs & Creations song book) we used to sing at youth group and at National Youth Worker's Convention years ago, back when a praise band was a guitar and praise choruses were simple and singable. And as the chorus progresses, each "Praise the LORD" gets higher and higher, so it is a great early morning "warm up" song as well. It seemed an appropriate thing to share today as we celebrate the Sabbath. As you will see, you are encouraged to sing along!  Have a blessed day, my friends.

The First Song I Sing

Let the first song I sing today be praise to You
Let the memory linger all day long
Let a smile and a kind deed show my praise to You
and encourage someone else to sing along

Singing praise the LORD,
Singing praise the LORD,
Singing praise the LORD,
Singing praise the LORD,

Because of Jesus.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday Shout Outs!

Where did June go? It's hard to believe the 4th of July is almost here and that it's time for another of my Saturday Shout Outs! I hope each and every one of you are having a wonderful and blessed summer so far, and that the rest of the season will hold many trips to the beach, visits to the pool and other vacation-type activities! Marilyn and I are excited about our trip to Myrtle Beach (with her family) and to NC to visit friends coming up August 9-23. Book your visit now! :) I have a few things to shout about today, so read on and enjoy!

  • Marilyn and I had dinner in Orlando last night with Millie Simmons (Springfield Friends Meeting), her daughter Amy Simmons Stanley & her hubby Chip as well as their kids Georgia and Connor. Aside from eating enough Italian food to feed a small country, it was so great to catch up with some old friends whom we love dearly. Amy was such an important part of everything we were able to do in the youth ministry at SFM. and Millie was my secretary boss there. As Amy said last night, it is always amazing to sit down with friends you haven't seen in years and pick up like no time has passed at all. 
  • My dear friend Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-Kissimmee) will be traveling to Chicago later today for a much needed weekend with her hubby, Eric, who is there helping prepare a new musical (The Last Ship) for the Broadway stage this October. Eric has been away for over 2 months, reaffirming Teresa's status in my mind as a hero, taking care of Emma and the family home while Eric pursues a lifelong dream. And I know he misses them terribly as well. A few weeks ago Teresa told me that Eric got a bear hug from Sting, who wrote the music for the show. That will pale in comparison to the hug he'll get tonight. Have a great weekend, my friends!
  • Congratulations to Isabelle Davis Randolph (FUMC-K) and her new husband Jerryl! They were married yesterday, with the complete and excited blessings of her mom Debbie, one of my very favorite co-workers ever. Way to go Izzy!
  • Yesterday was the birthday of another of my favorite all-time people, Amber Herrick (FUMC-K). Once one of Carl's Angels, always one. Much love to her as the celebrations continue this weekend.
  • During our conversations at dinner last night, Amy brought up the idea of a reunion of anyone who was connected to the student ministry of Springfield Friends Meeting during the years (1986-1994) that I served there. Marilyn and I will be in NC in August, and we talked about trying to get as many folks as possible together on Sunday night, August 17th. If you have any thoughts on where we should do this (maybe for dinner?) or if you would like to help plan such an event, please let me know. My cell is 813-919-3755. We need to make some decisions quickly and get the word out!
  • Congrats, Ann Saunders (SFM)!!! Out thoughts and prayers are with you as are FINALLY able to move forward. Many blessings to you and your family!
  • I hear from various sources of so many former youth who are dealing with things like broken bones, sickness, loneliness and depression. Please know you are never alone. Jesus loves you. We love you you. Never be afraid to reach out of for a helping hand or a sympathetic ear.
  • And finally- an update on my novel. The writing has gotten a little slower and my access to the computer has been limited by Will's creative writing class, but I am nearing 50,000 words and getting ready to see if this book has an ending. Prayers are appreciated.  :)
That's it for today! Have a great weekend and a wonderful July 4th. And leave a comment today. It's the patriotic thing to do!  Love you guys!

Friday, June 27, 2014

30/30: Three Songs

Today's 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge prompt was to write about three songs that bring back specific memories in my life. I decided as I prepared to write this post that these should also be songs that are still often on my mind. I also came to the conclusion that with the 3 songs I have chosen you really needed videos to help out, because none of these songs are exactly mainstream. So I present to you three songs ands three short stories. Enjoy!

The first song is the 1978 classic My Angel Baby from the ever-popular (Yes, that's sarcastic) band Toby Beau. It takes me back to Quaker Lake Camp, standing around the big industrial dishwasher after meals and singing with Martha Ratledge Farlow while we slaved away on all those dishes. I dearly love this song, but as it is not available on iTunes this video is currently my only way to hear it. And believe it or not, there was once a time when my falsetto could hit the note at the end. Sometimes. :)  So give it a listen...and maybe you'll be "My Angel Baby for the rest of the night..."

My second choice takes me back to my college days. In those days (and maybe still- I really don't know) Guilford College had a big "Spring Fling" weekend every year called Serendipity. One year the big entertainment was a group called The Robbin Thompson Band that none of us had ever heard of- but we went anyway. They were amazing! I bought their album (and now own the CD) that contained this song all about growing up in the 60's and 70's and loving the beach. And girls. Like most guys in their teens and early 20's much of my life revolved around girls, and so does this song. Every time I play it takes me back to Guilford and to many great days and nights spent at Myrtle Beach. I never owned a Candy Apple Red car; my parents did, however, own a Rambler. Not that it ever did me any good...

The final song in today's trilogy is one that I was introduced to by a friend a few years ago and immediately feel in love with. It's another love song, this time a Sister Hazel tune about never giving up hope and having the patience to wait on the people who are special to you. It makes this list , however, for a different reason. This song is a major "character" in the novel I am currently writing, and from this time forward it will always serve as a reminder of how much I have enjoyed the dreaming involved in putting this particular story to paper. Sometimes you just have to wait for the sun to Come Around...

So there you have it. Three great songs, three great memories. And quite possible my favorite 30/30 post to date. I hope listening will stir up a few memories for you as well. Have a great Friday and a blessed weekend!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

#TBT: One Insane Day in Kissimmee

Summer always gets me to thinking about my various youth ministry adventures over the years. One of my favorite summer events was always our Youth Week, which I began doing back at Springfield Friends Meeting in 1987. I have mentioned on many occasions that youth ministry often causes you to push the limits of sanity in order to increase excitement and attract students.  Over the years many of those days have occurred during the summer, especially during Youth Week. On this Throwback Thursday I want to remember one very wild and wacky day.

Tuesday, July 8th, 1997 was a part of Youth Week '97 at FUMC-Kissimmee which featured the theme It's Good To Be Alive! At the end of this particular day, I might have questioned that! We began the day by meeting at FUMC-K at 9 AM and heading over to Disney's Yacht Club Resort and the character breakfast at the Cape May Cafe (see group picture above). The all you-could-eat buffet featured every breakfast food you could imagine, including Mickey Mouse waffles. One of my favorite parts of the meal was that I could get orange juice, coffee and chocolate milk all at the same meal without paying extra.  Plus, you got to eat with Pluto, Goofy, Chip, Dale and Donald. It was a great start to the day...but it was only the beginning!

We returned to the church around 11:30 AM, where many of the youth just hung out until 1 PM and the next phase of our journey. Others joined us, and we headed to The Florida Mall for another of our famous Mall Scavenger Hunts, including the search for The Pink Panther (for an explanation, click here!). After a long afternoon of invading every store in the mall in search of the answers to trivia questions, we returned to the church around 5 PM and the students went home..for a while. In the meantime, I had more work to do to be ready for the final event of the day.

I had rented a huge, World War II era searchlight to use as part of the grand finale. After the kids went home for supper, we hauled this gigantic light out into a large pasture on the outskirts of Kissimmee and prepared for the big finish. When the crowd returned at 8 PM, we divided them into vehicles and gave them one task-find the giant searchlight. As darkness fell, the light was turned on, and you could see it for miles around. Determining where it was coming from was a bit more difficult. Our original plan had been to have worship at the site of the searchlight, but it was brutally hot and there was thunder and lightning, so as groups found the site they were sent back to the church. Some groups were able to find it fairly quickly; for others, it took a while. Once everyone made it back to home base, we had snacks and settled in for a time of worship. We finished around 10:30 PM and sent everyone home. It was an amazing day. Well over 100 students participated between the three events. The Spotlight Search was another of those weird things we did that had the whole community talking, and had our youth saying once again, "I can't believe we just did that!" And the day ended with dozens of students praising Jesus. It just doesn't get any better than that!

I don't know that any of these events, taken on their own, were particularly memorable to the youth who attended, but days like this were very important to the ministry. I miss those round-the-clock days and the wild adventures of Youth Week. I still think we could do one for youth group alumni that would just rock. My brain is already turning...

Because of Jesus,

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Worthless Wednesday

You know that thing where you wake up knowing you are going to have an unproductive day because both your heart and your mind were somewhere else? Yeah...that...

I think I'll be spending today in North Myrtle Beach. Wanna' join me? 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"You Make Me Brave"

How do we face the #DangerDays- those times when life is overwhelming or new adventures await us? We do it by remembering that we are never alone. That God is always with us. That sometimes we find out greatest joys not in the calm waters of a placid lake, but in the crashing waves of the ocean. I love that God sometimes protects us from the waves, but more often calls us to dive into them. We turn in fear when we should be yelling SURF'S UP! Scripture reminds us  that courage is not the lack of fear, it is the willingness to go on with life in spite of our trepidations. And that kind of courage only has ONE source. The love of God whose name is Jesus is what makes us brave. Enjoy my favorite new worship song, and then read the lyrics and let them wash over you- just like the waves. Be encouraged, uplifted and bold today as you face this often harsh world. "Fear no evil, for God is with you!" ~ Psalm 23

I stand before You now
The greatness of Your renown
I've heard of the majesty and wonder of You
King of Heaven, in humility, I bow

As Your love, in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us, You are not against us
Champion of Heaven, 
You made a way for all to enter in

I've heard You calling my name
I've heard the song of love that You sing
So I will let you draw me out beyond the shore 
Into Your grace

You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves

You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the Love that made a way

You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves

Monday, June 23, 2014

Are You Qualified To Serve God?

We often say that we will be happy to serve God just as soon as we are "ready." What we often mean by those words is that as soon as we feel educated enough, blessed enough, happy enough or qualified enough we will will allow God to use us in areas we feel good about. If you think God is waiting for you to be qualified, you have not paid much attention to scripture. Take a look at the two items below. The first I saw on Marilyn's Facebook. The second is a devotional I have used here before from my favorite little book, God Is No Fool. Soak in them, and remember this truth- we are often called to join God in ministry where He is already at work, not invite God to join us in places we want to go. That was a very tough lesson for me to learn. God needs us all now. People who love God and live lives that share the love of God whose name is Jesus are God's Plan A for saving the world. There is no Plan B. God will use you right now, no matter your weakness, no matter your faults. Just surrender. It' not about what you can do. It's about what God can do with you!

Lois Cheney wrote:
Moses said, "Oh come on now!  Be sensible!  Not me! I'm a terrible speaker.  They'd never listen to me."  And God said, "Oh for crying out loud!  OK, I'll use your brother to help with the speaking."  And Moses led God's people out of disintegration.

Jonah said, "Oh come on now!  Be sensible!  Not me!  I'm not the type."  And after a rather unexpected vacation in a fish, just thinking things over, he talked to God's people and led them God's way- even though he wasn't happy about it.

And Zacharias said, "Oh come on now! Be sensible!  Not me!  My wife and I are too old to have any kids."  And God said, "Oh shut up!"  And he did shut up- for nine months.  And John was born, and the way for the Christ opened up.

And I heard a child say
"I can't serve God, I'm too young."

And I heard a boy say
"I can't serve God, I'm not good enough."

And I hear a woman say
"I can't serve God I'm not skilled enough."

And I heard a man say
"I can't serve God I'm not pure enough."

I wonder if God ever gets any new problems...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Happy Sunday! I just wanted to take a minute today to thank everyone who offered such kind and encouraging support to myself and my family upon reading yesterday's post. Despite the occasional setback, I continue to know that I am blessed beyond measure to have such a wonderful family and such amazing friends. God is still good all the time. And these words are seldom more appropriate in my life than they feel today:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye Heavenly Hosts;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost

Have a blessed day, and live knowing you are loved!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, June 21, 2014

To Whom It May Concern

Many (if not most) of my readers know of my downfall over 7 years ago. The story has been very public, including posts here on this blog. From the very beginning I confessed my crime and my sin and have tried to do everything asked of me to put it in my past. I served 49 days in the Ware County jail and 7 years of probation. I was in therapy and counseling for nearly 5 years of those years. I was a model probationer, never having any issues and being told by 3 different officers that they really felt no need to check on me. My final PO was even responsible for me applying for the early termination which allowed me to get the final 3 years of my 10 year sentence removed. I have lived with the shame of the label I was given and tried to live my life in the years since my offense to restore my reputation and bring honor and glory to Jesus. And on April 2nd, 2014, I was given my freedom from probation. I could resume my life, see people I wanted to see and do things I wanted to do. I knew there would still be some fallout, like my name being permanently on a list, but I thought I would finally have a chance to be normal again. In at least one instance, I was wrong. Terribly wrong.

If you follow my posts here you know that one of my first adventures after being released from probation was to go to Walt Disney World with family and friends. We bought me a 3 day pass, which we upgraded to an annual pass before my third day in the parks, so we had used my annual pass once. On June 7th Marilyn and I ventured to Epcot for the day. We had fast passes and dinner reservations- a whole day planned. Upon arrival, we were told that my pass was blocked for some reason and I was sent to guest services. After a bit of stalling, I was sent back to an office and was greeted by WDW security. At that point I was told that since my name is on a list because of my offense in 2007, I'm not welcome on Disney property. Not in the theme parks, not at Downtown Disney, not on the golf courses. I am simply not welcome. This is not a stated WDW policy; it is something they do behind the scenes. Officially, I was issued a trespass warning for having committed "conduct not welcome at Walt Disney World" and told that if I ever come back I will be arrested. I was allowed to go to Downtown Disney or the miniature golf courses and meet friends while on probation; now even that was gone. They took my Magic Band, my annual pass and asked me to leave. Walking back to our car in the Epcot parking lot was surreal. This was the LAST time I would ever be at WDW.  My disappointment at that moment is very difficult to describe.

I do not write this today to debate the policy or to cast dispersions on the Disney company. They are trying to protect their customers, and they see this as a way to keep out some riff-raff. I do have a problem with the bigger picture. Eliminating an entire group of people because they have been lumped together on the same list with no regard for individual circumstances and no chance for appeal is not right, yet Disney is far from being the only company to have these sorts of policies. Forget about my situation for a moment and consider this scenario. A 19 year old man and his 15 year old girlfriend have consensual sex. Her father discovers this, is outraged, and presses charges- as is his right. The man is convicted of statutory rape and is placed on the list for the next 25 years. This happens far more than you might think. He serves his time and is released from legal restrictions- given his freedom. Yet because of his actions at the age of 19, WDW will never allow him to visit. He will not be able to see Mickey with own children until he is 45 years old and his name goes off the list. The patrons of WDW deserve to be protected from sexual predators. They need no protection from that young man or many others in categories very much like his. The "net" of offenses used to put people on the list has gotten so big that it has become impossible for the general public to separate the sharks from the minnows. I have many thoughts from "the inside" about the flaws inherent in the system and how laws intended to protect are actually creating more problems, but those will have to wait for another day.

So why do I share this today? Simply to say to the dozens of friends who have been so excited about the possibility of going to Walt Disney World with the Jones family that I will not be able to join you. Many of you deserved to hear this from me one on one. But to be honest, telling the story exhausts me, and the thought of telling it 20 times was a bit more than I could handle. So please accept my apology and please know how deeply disappointed I am that I cannot share what will always be one of my favorite places on earth with you and your families. Please keep Marilyn and Will in your prayers, as this has been very difficult for them to deal with as well. Sin comes with consequences, and I accept that. Accepting that some of the consequences are never-ending is a much tougher thing. Grace is often hard to find in the real world- which is one more reason I will continue to cling to Jesus. Thanks for listening.

Because of Jesus,

Friday, June 20, 2014

30/30: One of My Best Days

That's Erin, top right-
 with a bunch of cousins!  1987
Today's 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge prompt asked me to write about one of my best days. There were many to choose from. It would have been easy to pick my wedding day, or the day Will was born, or the day my probation ended. But here's the one that I am remembering today.

Sometime back in the early 2000s Marilyn and I flew to NC to be at the wedding of one of former students from Springfield Friends Meeting. Erin Moran was one of our favorite people and her parents were some of our dearest friends, and we were excited to go. Since many of the youth from those days were in some way related to to Erin, we also knew we would see lots of people we loved at the the event. I had last worked at Springfield in 1994, and so many of the people we had shared life with when they were "youth" were now married with families of their own. It was a wonderful day, and we did indeed get to see a lot of people we loved. After the wedding we all headed downstairs to the Rees Fellowship Hall for the reception, which to us felt a great deal like a homecoming. So many old friends to see and catch up with. Seeing them all was such a wonderful reminder of the 8 great years we had spent in ministry at Springfield as a part of their families and the family of God.

That's Jill in the middle!
But none of that is what made this a day worthy of being called a "best day." That moment was provided by Jill GlbrethMandy Beggs and some of the rest of the cousins of the bride. You need to to know that down the hall and around the corner from the Fellowship Hall at Springfield is the dungeon we called a youth room, a place that held so many memories of so many great moments together. Jill and the gang, all dressed for the wedding, many of them with their own small children in tow, came to me with a request. They were joking (sort of) but at the same time it was heart felt. They wanted to know if we could go around to the youth room and play our favorite game, Sardines. And then they wanted to know if I had my guitar. In the middle of a wedding reception, these young adults wanted to go relieve their youth group days. They wanted to play. They wanted to sing. They wanted to worship together as we had so many times almost a decade earlier. We knew we couldn't really go do it (and although it may surprise some of you, I don't actually carry my guitar EVERYWHERE I go!) but the sentiment moved me deeply. It was one of those crystal clear moments when I KNEW that God had indeed used me to make a difference in the lives of the students I had served. And when youth ministry has been your life, that is indeed a great day.

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, June 19, 2014

TBT: My Night With Barney Fife

One of the interesting things about living across the street from Springfield Friends Meeting for 8 years had to do with the church's alarm system. Each evening either Max Rees (the senior pastor who also lived across the street from the church) or myself would set the alarm using a key pad. This system would sound a very loud siren if anyone opened a door or if motion was detected in certain areas inside the facility. More nights than I can recount, usually around 2 AM, the alarm would go off. Over the years we determined it was often set off by mice in the building. Regardless of the reason, anytime the siren sounded Max and I would respond. Strangely enough answering middle-of-the-night security alarms was in neither of our job descriptions, but we always responded. We would turn off the alarm and wait for the police to respond. They would check the building, find nothing, and we would reset the system and go home. 

One particular night I responded to an alarm by myself and awaited the High Point Police Department. Two very young deputies arrived and were determined to search the building from top to bottom. I went with them to show the way, since they seemed determined NOT to turn on any lights. As we headed down the first hall towards the worship room, one of them thought he heard something- and pulled his gun. I could almost hear him saying "this is bigger than big Andy- big ain't the word for it!" They told me to stay in the hall and they proceeded to check out the noise- and "Deputy Fife" had his gun out the entire time. They found nothing, and as they came out and continued to search I asked if the gun was really necessary. I explained it would be much easier to tell the congregation about a stolen VCR or a broken window than to explain a shooting or a blood stain in a Quaker meetinghouse. Despite my protest,the gun remained out.

We headed downstairs and into the Youth Room. Shining a flashlight and holding a gun, "Deputy Fife" led us through the old kitchen and pushed open the swinging doors that led to our basement space. Suddenly he screamed "FREEZE!" and was down on one knee, his pistol pointed towards the far wall. He told me to hit the lights, so I did. As the lights came up, we discovered our overzealous deputy had gotten the drop on a life-size cardboard stand-up of Christian musician Michael W. Smith. Fortunately he didn't fire, and since MWS was unarmed, the episode ended peacefully. The search was discontinued and the HPPD officers left without much conversation. "Deputy Fife" never responded to one of our alarms again, at least not while I was at Springfield. Perhaps, like the character on The Andy Griffith Show, they had to take away his bullet...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Novel Notes

Many of you of you have been kind enough to enquire as to how my novel writing project is coming along, so I thought I'd give you a quick update. Even without getting much writing done Sunday (Father's Day) or yesterday (all I could think of to write was "I'm HOT!") I have passed the 43,000 word mark on my way to between 50 and 60 thousand. More importantly, I actually LIKE what I have written so far! Usually when I start one of these projects I get to around 20,000 words, re-read what I have written, decide it is all crap and just quit. So a brand new challenge lies ahead of me now- coming up with the right ending and actually finishing this thing! It does finally have a working title, but you don't get to know that just yet. I know- I'm such a tease! :)

I am sure as this process continues I will have many more things to add to this list, but today I would like to share with you 3 things I have learned about myself as I seek to write this book. None of them are mind-blowing or earth shattering, but they are things that smack me in the face every time I sit down to write this particular story. 

  1. I am writing fiction, yet so many of the people, places and stories in my novel are very real. I have taken the best (and occasionally the worst) things about many of the people I know and combined them to make interesting characters. The lesson to me has been the reminder that I have lots of wonderful friends and that I have lived a very interesting life. In fact, my life has already been a great adventure! It's fun to get to celebrate that without gloating or naming actual names. OK- who's getting a little nervous now?  
  2. I love writing and story telling. It lights me up inside to be able to delve so deeply into the lives of my characters and use my extensive vocabulary to paint pictures. My grammar skills are rusty, but I'm working hard at fixing issues with sentence structure and other such 9th grade English class types of issues. But what I have I really learned about such things is this- I HATE punctuation!!!  As the Waterboy's mama might say, "Punctuation is of de debil!"
  3. This is not a "Christian novel." I say that in the same sense many people would say that U2 is not a Christian band, despite the obvious influences their personal beliefs have on their music. This novel is not explicitly about religion, and the characters are often not angelic in their behavior. But this is very much a story about faith. It's a story of failure, grace and redemption. The characters lift each other up and love one another in ways the church would be wise to emulate. It is highly unlikely this book will ever be published, but if it were to be, I am quite certain it is not the kind of thing that would be sold in Christian bookstores. But maybe it should be. Real faith is messy. I am learning both as an author and as a human being that when we share the mess we also share our belief in the One who picks us up when we fall and when we fail.
So there's my update. Thanks to the many of you of have been asking how things are going and have bee praying for this process. I'll try to keep you posted from time to time on my progress. In the meantime, I'm off to Lakeland today to have lunch with Lisa Kraus Spires and her girls. I hope your day is just a s full of adventure as mine!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, June 16, 2014

Happy Father's Day to Me

Yesterday was a wonderful day for me. I went and got the entire family biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Will and Marilyn gave me a new iPod Nano for my Father's Day gift. It will hold literally 10x the number of songs my old classic did, so I can actually keep all my music in one place now. And finally the three of us had an amazing dinner at Bahama Breeze, topped off by a decadent piece of key lime pie. It was a great day, and spending so much of it with my son Will was a true blessing. Everything was was just splendid...UNTIL...

We got back from dinner and our AC had quit working. It was over 80 degrees in the house. Ceiling fans and opened windows helped some last night, but living in Florida with no AC in June is just not a good idea if you have a choice. I barely slept. So if you encounter a member of the Jones family today and we seem a little cranky, it may be from lack of sleep. Or it may be that the repairman hasn't shown up yet. In any case, prayers are appreciated. A hot, sweaty Monday is not the best start to a week. I guess it just goes to show me that I should always treasure the blessings, because you just never know what trials wait around the corner.  I hope your day is MUCH cooler than mine!  Be well, my friends!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I Choose Jesus


Have you ever had someone ask you why you chose to become a Christian? I always tell them I didn't. I chose Jesus, not some religion. They usually get frustrated with me and say okay- then Why Jesus? I usually manage to make them even madder by then telling them that actually Jesus chose me. But I digress. How did I come to be a Christ-follower when there are so many options to choose from in this world? I thought I would tackle that very question here today. My initial thought was to go all theological on you, but then I remembered how much I hate theological arguments and how seldom they convince anyone of anything. So instead, let's look at these three things that have impacted my faith in Jesus.

The first factor is history. Because his life was recorded in so many different places in so much detail by so many different witnesses, even the staunchest of atheists cannot argue that Jesus never existed and taught. His death by crucifixion is a historical fact, which proves his teaching had aggravated the leaders of the day, be they Roman or Jewish. And there were hundreds of people in Jerusalem who claimed to have seen him AFTER he was supposed to be dead, and who witnessed the ascension. We know that he was here. The question then becomes whether or not we believe he was the Son of God. I grew up in a church in which many people believed that Jesus was an awesome teacher, a great man- but not necessarily the Messiah. I know now that that those beliefs cannot be accurate.  Jesus was either who he said he was- the Son of God - or he was one of the greatest liars in all of history. And I believe history itself shows him to be the Holy Lamb of God, sent to save me from my sins.

Secondly, Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise that God would never stop loving his people. The entire narrative of scripture, from the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the New Jerusalem in the Revelation of John, is about God's search to connect with his creation. In every other religion, the story is about man's search to find a god. It's about trying to be good enough to deserve a god. You can earn your way to god. Jesus came because humanity had proven over and over again that we were no good on our own; we needed a savior. Yaweh came looking for us. Other religions ask, "what have you done for me lately?" In Christianity, Jesus announces from the cross that "it is finished" It's done. I took care of it for you. God has found YOU. Awesome.

Finally- and most importantly- I choose Jesus because I KNOW him to be real. He's not just a character from an old book, he (in the form of the Holy Spirit) walks with me every day.  I speak with him often. And he talks back. Not in a booming voice or through burning bushes, but through the silence and the people in my life.  He saved my life through his redemptive love and amazing grace. To quote the band Newsboys"that's why Jesus is the final answer to who I want my God to be." So why Jesus?  Because- that's why! Blessings to you all!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, June 13, 2014

30/30: If I Had $100,000...

OK, so I have to start today with a confession. This prompt- which I must remind myself I wrote back in December so I have no one to blame but me- does not excite me at all. But I have committed to this 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge, and so write this post I must. But my heart is not really in it.  

There are a variety of things I would do if I suddenly came into that much money. Here's a list of things I could do and still stay within the $100,000 limit.

  1. Pay off all of my medical bills and other debts.
  2. Take my family on a really nice vacation.
  3. Rent the Betsy B for a week and invite 40 of my closest friends to join us.
  4. Buy Will a car.
  5. Travel the country seeing old friends.
Or, if I just wanted to blow it all at once I could hire a high-powered lawyer for a big lawsuit I have in mind. But you can read more about that in the days to come. I hope you all have a great weekend.

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Moons Over Myrtle Beach

I've still got Myrtle Beach on my mind, so today's Throwback Thursday takes us back to a post from June of 2010 and some adventures with youth group from FUMC-Kissimmee. Enjoy!

Mooning- the art of dropping your pants and showing people your rear end- has been around for a very long time. It is a staple of teenage rebellion, a tradition that dates back at least as far as my parents' generation. There is just something exciting about surprising someone with your bare bottom, and yet it truly harms no one, even as it offends many. We have all seen bums before; as far as I know most of us have one of our own! Over my years in student ministry I saw many a moon. Some came from our youth; others came from teens who were mooning our kids. I have known habitual mooners, guys who would drop their pants in most any situation if given the slightest encouragement. Four young men from Kissimmee once mooned Jerry and I as we entered our hotel room in New York; there is photographic evidence of this event, taken by Andrew Rogers (that picture will not be seen here, now or any other time!). I once had a young man in my group in Tampa who proudly announced his intention to moon someone in all 50 states, and at least one nun. Love it or hate it, mooning is a part of the adolescent culture. My only rule was that it not be done from the church van or bus with our name on the side. Even youth pastors have standards!

There was one occasion on which I had to intervene in an episode involving mooning. In 1999 the group from FUMC-K was spending a week at the Betsy B in Myrtle Beach. The Betsy B was an oceanfront house, with a small bridge leading from the house through some sand dunes and onto the beach. I began to hear reports that at night, as people headed out to walk on the beach, they were getting mooned by our own group. The report that I received indicated that it was two of our young women who were in charge of these ambushes. This seemed odd to me, as I had not encountered that many female mooners. I went out to see for myself what was happening, and sure enough- Colleen Martin (bottom left) and Chrissy Weaver (top right) aided and encouraged by a few others, were the offenders. They were having so much fun that they seemed a bit out of control, as if they would have shown their butts to anyone who happened by! I knew I needed to say something.

I pulled Chrissy aside (maybe Colleen too, but I specifically remember Chrissy) and began to explain some of the logic of mooning as I understood it. Guys liked to moon other guys to surprise them and gross them out. Guys liked mooning girls because it made them blush and scream things like, "GROSS!" I told them I did not know how females felt when mooned by other girls. But there was one thing I was certain of- when girls show their bottoms to guys, guys are not embarrassed or grossed out. Guys do not run away. When girls moon guys, GUYS LIKE IT! This piece of ancient wisdom seemed to do the trick; the mooning slowed was down after that. Sometimes our knowledge of the strangest things can come in handy...

A year or so later, outside of Chicago, I was mooned by a bunch of teens riding a bus; there must have a dozen butts sticking out of the windows at once. It was then, as I was being mooned by the youth group of the St. James Presbyterian Church, that I realized my rule forbidding mooning from the church bus had been a good one indeed! I offered a prayer for their youth minister...and I laughed. Every moon reminds me of those moons over Myrtle Beach!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

As a huge Monty Python fan who is currently trying to write his first novel, I have not been able to get this classic Python recording out of my head over the past few days. So you must suffer with me! Enjoy. And please note the last 50 seconds or so of the audio has nothing to do with the novel writing sketch. It's just typical Python goofiness.

Happy Hump Day!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Missing the Myrtle Beach Pavilion

Many of you know that I am in the process of writing a novel. The events of the book take place almost exclusively in present day Myrtle Beach, SC. As I write, I find myself wishing over and over again the the Myrtle Beach Pavilion, site of so many adventures for myself and my friends as well as for many youth groups I served, was still standing in downtown MB. It would be another "character" I could add to the cast. Because the sights, the sounds and the people made the Pavilion quite a character indeed...

It's sometimes difficult to believe how many trips, retreats and conferences I took part in over my 28 years in youth ministry. There is something special about getting away together that bonds a group in a way no "group building exercise" could ever do. While the list of places we traveled to is quite long, there were only a few places we returned to over and over again; places that became iconic to the groups I served. Quaker Lake CampNew York City and Walt Disney World were among our favorites. But no place received more visits from me, as a family, as a youth youth and as a youth pastor, than Myrtle Beach, SC. We stayed in a variety of places over the years, mostly in North Myrtle Beach; Camp Pla-MorThe Ponderosa Campground, the Betsy BThe Spinnaker and others. We even took a "Mystery Trip" from Kissimmee to downtown Myrtle Beach one weekend, spending more time in the vans than we did at the beach! No matter where or how long we stayed, there were always three constants about MB- the Atlantic Ocean, Jungle Golf and the Myrtle Beach Pavilion!

My relationship with the Pavilion goes back to my childhood, when my family would camp at Lake Arrowhead or The Ponderosa for a week or two each summer, and one of the highlights of the trip was traveling downtown one night to visit the Pavilion. Actually, the term "Pavilion" came to mean much more to us than the actual building (with its' arcade games, food, and magic mirrors) and amusement park. It meant everything in downtown Myrtle Beach.  The T-shirt shops, the arcades, Castle Dracula, the Gay Dolphin (for years billed as the "worlds' largest gift shop") and the miniature golf courses were all part of the Pavilion in our thought process. And every year we could not wait to go! I rode my first roller coaster at the amusement park; I played "Pong" for the first time at the arcade; I made stupid jokes with my friends about the Gay Dolphin; and I walked the boardwalk, looking at the moon and the stars and dreaming of romance and the future. The passing of the years and my becoming a youth minister changed almost none of that. The rides still seemed cheesy, the arcades fell a little behind the times and the Gay Dolphin lost its' luster, but still the Pavilion called to us all. Each summer we were at the beach major planning went into which night we would go to The Pavilion. Part of the allure of the place (most of it, in my case) was simply watching the people, wandering around the park, the stores and cruising on Ocean Blvd. Our teens were usually quite normal, so if they were going to be in contact with that many other people their age, they wanted to look GOOD! Wardrobes were planned, hair was done, showers were taken all in preparation for that one night.  In later years there was even a dance club for those 17 and under called The Magic Attic, and some would partake of that excitement. I remember on one of the earliest youth trips with New Garden taking Kathryn BurrisBeth Edgerton and Terri Johnson to Castle Dracula, only to have the "monsters" try to pick them up!  I remember some of the guys from Springfield falling in love about every 5 minutes with some beauties they had spotted by the Swiss Bobs ("Do you wanna' go faster?  Do you all wanna' go faster?  SWISS BOB!"). I remember taking Jim Fry from Kissimmee to get a hot dog at the Corner Bar on the beach and getting him hooked on chili and slaw footlongs. I remember students going into the t-shirt shops to buy shirts featuring their favs, just like I had done when buying Beach Boys and Chicago shirts years before. But mostly I remember walking around, seeing the students I loved with huge smiles on their faces as they ran from ride to ride or from game to game, knowing EXACTLY how they felt because I had felt the same things!

I was last at Myrtle Beach in July, 2004, with a group from Tampa, and we once again visited the Pavilion. The summer of 2006 wound up being the final year of the place, as much of downtown Myrtle Beach was sold so developers could build high rise condos. Marilyn and Will got to see it one more time before it was leveled; I am left with hundreds of great memories.  And as always, the memories have less to do with the place than with the people I shared them with.  I treasure both. There have been many Myrtle Beach stories told in the pages of this blog.

One final story- in June of 2009 I walked into our local Papa John's Pizza to pick up an order, and while waiting another customer entered. She was wearing a bright yellow t-shirt that said Myrtle Beach Pavilion: The Final Summer 2006. I asked her about it, and she said she had been there for a family reunion and had seen the beginning of the destruction. She left, and as a thousand memories flooded my mind, I shed a tear or two for the old place right there in Papa John's. The Pavilion was an iconic place for teenagers when my mother was that age. I am so sorry that Will and other members of future generations will never again ask the question, "So are we going downtown tonight?" You are still missed, old friend.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, June 7, 2014

I'm Glad That You're My Friends

Family & Friends are the best!
You may have noticed that I am obsessed with the topic of friendship this week. There are several reasons for this. My new freedom to travel had me itching to see lots of old friends, but I haven't actually gotten to do much of that yet.- which makes me miss them even more. The novel I am trying to right is all about old friends and relationships that stand the test of time, and the grace that comes though those friendships. So yes- it is fair to say my mind had been totally immersed in thoughts of old friends this week.

Inspiration can come in strange places at strange times. Our maid Agnes (Who is actually me. For those of you who don't know, Agnes is my alter-ego. I turn into Agnes whenever I am house cleaning!) was cleaning one of our bathrooms yesterday afternoon and thinking about how blessed I am to have such wonderful friends, and what a technological miracle it is that I can stay in touch with them on a regular basis these days. It never fails to light up my life to get a ping on my phone indicating I have a new text message, or to find I have a new Twitter mention from one of my buddies there. This past week I wrote about the benefits of friendship and heard from numerous people on the subject. And then yesterday I got a phone call from a friend I have known over 40 yeas that put the sunshine back in what had been a very "down" day. These events remind me that there are people who care about me, and are reminders of the power of friendships old and new. There is a calligraphy hanging on the wall of that bathroom that has a lot to say about the blessings of friendship. So rather than bring all of you to our bathroom, I share it here for you.

Sometimes I view the pattern of my life and say a prayer
A prayer of thanks for many things I see so lovely there
And woven into this pattern is a shining golden thread
Reflecting something kind you've done or something nice you've said
And so I want to tell you that the peace and joy you lend
Can make one's life so rich and sweet
I'm glad that you're my friend.

Thanks be to God for filling my life with people who make me smile, bring me encouragement and make this world a far better place than it would be without them. And yes- I mean YOU! I hope you have a blessed and wonderful weekend! 

Because of Jesus,

Friday, June 6, 2014

I'm Taking the Day Off

I am not showing up for work today. At least not this job...blogging. This week's 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge post will just have to wait. But I didn't want to just not be here at all, and it seemed to me like I should probably offer an excuse for my absence. So to borrow the classic Irish bar song Why Paddy's Not At Work Today, here's why I'm not here today...

Dear Sir I write this note to inform you of my plight 
And at the time of writing I am not a pretty sight 
My body is all black and blue, my face a deathly gray 
I write this note to tell why Carl's not at work today 

While working on the fourteenth floor, some bricks I had to clear 
And to throw them down from off the top seemed quite a good idea 
But the gaffer wasn't very pleased, he was an awful sod 
He said I had to cart them down the ladder in me hod. 

Well clearing all those bricks by hand, it seemed so very slow 
So I hoisted up a barrel and secured the rope below 
But in my haste to do the job, I was too blind to see 
That a barrel full of building bricks is heavier than me. 

So when I had untied the rope, the barrel fell like lead 
And clinging tightly to the rope I started up instead 
I took off like a rocket and to my dismay I found 
That half way up I met the bloody barrel coming down. 

Well the barrel broke my shoulder as on to the ground it sped 
And when I reached the top I banged the pulley with me head 
I held on tight, though numb with shock from this almighty blow 
And the barrel spilled out half its load fourteen floors below 

Now when those building bricks fell from the barrel to the floor 
I then outweighed the barrel so I started down once more 
I held on tightly to the rope as I flew to the ground 
And I landed on those building bricks that were scattered all 

Now as I lay there on the deck I thought I'd passed the worst 
But when the barrel reached the top, that's when the bottom burst 
A shower of bricks came down on me, I knew I had no hope 
In all of this confusion, I let go the bloody rope. 

The barrel being heavier, it started down once more 
And landed right on top of me as I lay on the floor 
It broke three ribs and my left arm, and I can only say 
That I hope you'll understand why Carl's not at work today. 

I hope your Friday will be much better than that! See you here tomorrow. Oh...and for those of you who care, the novel passed 18,000 words yesterday. Woohoo!  Be blessed, my friends!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Throwback Thursday: A Youth Ministry "Oops!"

Let me begin by saying that it seemed like a good idea at the time. Simple, innocent and funny is what we were going for. In retrospect, it was probably doomed to disaster from the very beginning. This story is true, although my memory may be faulty. If you were there, please comment with your additions and corrections!

David Tebbs, the Youth and Christian Education Director of North Carolina Yearly Meeting in the mid 1980's was leaving that position at the end of the 1987 FUM Triennial Sessions. After a rocky start, David was someone I had come to like and respect a great deal. He was a strong Christian and someone who had brought great spiritual depth to the youth programs of NCYM. David was also someone we loved to harass. His shy, conservative demeanor and his appearance reminded us of the great Pat Boone (without the white shoes!), and he embarrassed and blushed quite easily. It seemed to us that we needed to give him a proper farewell at the end of Triennials, and if we could see that famous blush, so much the better!

The "we" in this case consisted of Tom Klaus from Iowa Yearly Meeting and Brent Bill from Western Yearly Meeting- and myself. Both Tom and Brent held the same position as David in their respective Yearly Meetings, and both were published writers who held a level of respect among the Quakers gathered in Greensboro that week. I was just hanging out with them because I had known them for a while and because we had way too much fun when we were together. The three of us brainstormed what we could do to "get" David, and somehow, at someones suggestion, decided to bring a belly dancer into one of the final sessions of the event. My memory is that Tom made the call (and since I know Brent reads this on occasion, I will place the blame on Tom) and ordered the dancer. He explained that this was for a pastor, in front of a couple of hundred young people, and that it was imperative that she be a G-rated belly dancer. It was all set, and we were excited to see just how red David's face could be!

We met the dancer backstage and she looked great- a true belly dancer with all the bells and whistles!  We again confirmed who she was there for and that it needed to be a conservative performance. We sat David in a chair, made some sort of introduction, and brought her out. There were hoots and hollers, and David turned bright pink before she ever started. But then she began to dance- and our jaws dropped. If this dance was G-rated, we DID NOT want to see PG!  She was all over David, and the atmosphere became very tense. From off stage the three amigos began sharing with each other how much we had enjoyed youth ministry and discussing what our next careers might be. It was awful. We looked out at the crowd, which was divided into three camps. The youth were loving it. The adults who had come over for this special occasion were mortified. David's wife was ready to faint. As it all ended, we considered making a break for it before the lynching started, when a small miracle saved us. David's father, Jack, a well respected pastor himself, was standing, laughing and clapping. Others who had been planning our demise also began to smile. Even David's wife was laughing. Our jobs (and lives) were spared!  We were forgiven to the point that Brent came and spoke for the youth of NCYM that August, and I went to Iowa to speak the following summer. But for a few minutes, we thought it was the big OOPS...  As it turned out I had years to go and many smaller "oops" to experience before the big one. And to David Tebbs, wherever you are, I hope someone is reading this to you and making you blush!

Because of Jesus,