Tuesday, September 30, 2014

7 Movies You Should See (or see again...)

Everyone has favorite movies, the kind they can watch over and over again. This writer is no different, and there are various lists of movies on this blog that attest to that fact. But today I want to share with you some movies that may not show up on many lists of top picks, but are movies I have either watched again recently or find myself wanting to watch in the very near future. It's a very personal list, and these are suggestions with which I am not asking anyone to agree. If you don't like them, that is your opinion. And you are wrong! :) If you know me at all then you know my sense of humor can be a little "off" and that movies that make me laugh or tell great stories are always my favorites. So with that in mind I give you 7 Movies you should find and watch...or watch again!

  1. Dick Tracy (1990) - This Warren Beatty film about the great comic strip detective (and the first guy with a phone in his watch!) is worth watching just for the incredible water-color backgrounds and sets. But it is also a fun story featuring the kid from Hook and What About Bob? (either of which could have made this list), a lot of famous actors playing the bad guys (including Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman) and even a decent performance by Madonna. It's been years since I saw the entire film; my hunt for the blu ray continues!
  2. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) - One of the darkest dark comedies you will ever encounter. A professional assassin, played by the marvelous John Cusack, returns to his hometown after completely disappearing following graduation for his 10 year high school reunion. He has someone to kill. A very sleazy Dan Aykroyd and several others are trying to kill him. He rekindles an old love which leads to a very unexpected plot twist. Alan Arkin is soooo good as his therapist, and Joan Cusack is wonderful as her brother's secretary. The scene where the convenience blow up is priceless! Told you it's dark...
  3. The Rocketeer (1991) - A wonderfully underrated World War II era story about an Ironman-like hero and his adventures in learning how to use a rocket pack he found and save the world from the Nazis. Alan Arkin is again brilliant as the mentor to Bill Campbell's Rocketeer. And in what was her first major role, Jennifer Connelly is beyond gorgeous. Plus I never liked him as James Bond, but Timothy Dalton makes a really good nasty villain. Like Dick Tracy, an often overlooked Disney film.
  4. A Fish Called Wanda (1988) - Like Blazing Saddles, Airplane!, Ghostbusters and Anchorman, this is one of the movies that makes me laugh just a little bit harder every time I watch it! The cast- including a very sexy Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline (who won an Oscar for his performance), Michael Palin & John Cleese (both of Monty Python fame) is fantastic, the story is filled with adventure, twists, turns and great one-liners. And yes, there really is a fish called Wanda. I seriously LOVE this movie. Now "speak French to me, Otto!"
  5. Johnny Dangerously (1984) - So few people saw this movie in theaters that the night I met its star Michael Keaton (see The Night I Met Batman) he was shocked that I knew of the film. I find it hilarious. Keaton plays a member of crime family, led by the great actor Peter Boyle, that is at war with another mob gang. Danny Devito, Marilu Henner and Joe Piscopo also play key rolls. Will and I quote this movie endlessly. "My mother hung me on a door, Johnny. Once...ONCE."
  6. Arthur (1981) - There was no chance I would see the 2011 remake starring Russell Brand because there was no way to improve on the original. The late Dudley Moore was perfect as the spoiled, often drunk title character who falls in love with Liza Minnelli and stands to lose the family fortune is he doesn't follow through with his arranged marriage with someone else. Sir John Gielgud is perfect as his butler/best friend. A great comedy with great heart. Gotta' love those.
  7. A Bug's Life (1998) - There are so many great Pixar movies that this one often gets overlooked. It has always been one of my favorites. The story of Flik, an ant trying desperately to impress people but constantly falling on his face rings very true to me. The quirks of the other bugs, the importance of the "little people" and the great cast of voice actors (including Dave FoleyKevin SpaceyJulia Louis-DreyfusHayden PanettiereDavid Hyde PierceDenis LearyMadeline KahnBonnie Hunt & Brad Garrett) make this a film I wish ABC Family would show more often- or one that we should buy on a format a little newer than VHS. "And now...FLAMING DEATH!!!"
So there you have it- my suggestions for some movies to be on the lookout for in the days to come. And Will would have my head if I didn't also mention this- Young Frankenstein turns 40 this year, and a new blu ray has been released. It's not only a great comedy, but my son who is headed to film school next year calls it "a perfect movie. Everything works!" I hope most of you have seen the Mel Brooks classic. But if not...do it. NOW! 

Have a great day!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Revisiting My NC Bucket List

In May of 2012 I wrote a blog post about how much I miss the great state of North Carolina, and included with it a Bucket List of things I wanted to do and people I wanted to see when I was finally able to return to my native land. As many of you know I was back in NC in August after my wife's father passed away, but didn't get a chance to check off too many of the items on the list. October 8-13 I will be driving up by myself with the intent of scratching as many of these itches as possible. As I was thinking about this last night it seemed like a good time to revisit my list and see what's changed. So here is my original NC Bucket List. The notes in red indicate changes in what can and needs to be done on this trip. So many people to see...still. Here we go:

  1. Quaker Lake Camp-  There have been so many changes made to the old place since I last saw it in 2006 and I can't wait to see how it looks. My former youth Heather Beggs Varner still runs the place, and she is among the many people connected to camp that I would love to see again. Very high on that list are very old friends like Neal & Susie Thomas, Susan McBane Tuggle, Terry & Leigh Ann Venable, Jay Osborne, Laura Wheeler and Terri Johnson Harris. There are also literally hundreds of former campers and staff I would love to run into...  May just be a drive thru visit, but I do hope to go!
  2. That Old Gang of Mine-  So many of the people I grew up with, and spent untold hours with in high school, college and beyond, are still in NC. Denise, Donna, Tammy & Chuck, Lisa & Dan, Beth & Bob, Carl & Diane, Mark & Liz, Mark & Martha, Alan, Tim and so many more are often in my thoughts and prayers. Now I just need them in the same room.  And I suppose Steve & Kathy could come from Ohio too- I hate to be a friend hog!  :)  I will make it so!!!
  3. Ghassan's, Bojangles and Stamey's-  The best steak and cheese sandwich (that's right, you heard me Philadelphia!), the best spicy chicken biscuit and the some of the best barbecue (or "pulled pork" for those of you who don't speak the NC lingo) can all be found in Greensboro, and I intend to eat my way around the city upon my return! Did Bojangles in August; the other 2 are still high on my list!
  4. Springfield Friends Meeting- We have been away way too long. I can't wait to get back to my "one particular harbor" and see so many people I love. Some of you I talk to regularly and can't wait to see. Others I miss so much. And of course there would be a great party and reunion at the Pizza Inn in High Point! The Pizza Inn party is happening Saturday the 11th at noon. Anyone and everyone are welcome!
  5. The Reep Twins-  Two of my favorite Kissimmee youth, Teresa Reep Tysinger and Cyndi Reep Browning, now live with their families in NC.  I would love to visit them both, but I may have to hurry. I don't know how much longer both of them will be there...  Sadly I am indeed too late for this one. Cyndi now lives in Alabama and Teresa in Texas, so those are adventures still to come!
  6. The Roller Derby Queen- One of my former minions at Springfield, Laurie Rees, is now involved in roller derby down in the Wilmington, NC area. This falls under the category of  "I did NOT see that coming!" Seeing Laurie flying around the ring doing damage ranks very high on the list of things I need to see...and soon!  I believe I am too late once again. Laurie may have "retired" from the rink. Dang it!
  7. The Dean Dome-  There is nothing...NOTHING!...like UNC basketball.  I grew up loving players like Charlie Scott, George Karl, Bobby Jones and Dudley Bradley, and I still love my Heels today. I need to see another game in the greatest venue in college basketball, named after Dean Smith, one of the top 5 coaches ever. I am not even picky about who I see them play. As long as it's Dook... Wrong time of year. My dream was NOT to see UNC play football!
  8. David Bills- He was the pastoral minister at New Garden Friends Meeting when I started attending in 1972. He still is (to the best of my knowledge). He (and many others at NGFM) had such an impact on my life, and I really want to take him to lunch and thank him. He can choose from Ghassan's, Bojangles or Stamey's...   :)  I would also love to see any of my now over the age of 40 former youth from my days as youth leader at New Garden. Just so many people to catch up with...  David finally retired so catching up with him will be much trickier. Would still LOVE to see some of those New Garden folks!
  9. The Blue Ridge Mountains-  There are many lovely things about living in Florida.  But I do miss the mountains, especially in the autumn when the leaves change. I miss the cool breezes and the amazing scenery. I miss the picnics and hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway. And even though we'd have to sneak across the Virginia state line to do it, I'd love to pay one more visit to the Levering's apple orchard. Oh yeah. I'm going  to be there in October. #WIN
  10. Calabash-  Since Myrtle Beach is in South Carolina (and trust me, there is a HUGE difference!), I would want to head to my favorite little coastal village in NC, Calabash.  It is basically a town made up of seafood restaurants. It is the kind of good old fashioned, bad-for-you, fried and battered seafood that is hard to find in Florida. And with LOTS of hush puppies!!!  I may spend a week there, eating in a different place every night!  Checked this one off in August. Doesn't mean it can't happen again!
So there's my list- with a few revisions. NC, I will see you soon. And if you want to hang out, give me a shout (813-919-3755) and get on the schedule. We'll get something to eat.  :)
    Because of Jesus,

    Sunday, September 28, 2014

    Dance Like David

    Recently I took one of those little online quizzes that help you determine things about yourself. You know the ones- What Decade Should You Have Been Born In? or Which Boy Band Best Reflects Your Life? Those things. This particular one was Which Biblical Character Are You Most Like?  Knowing the Bible pretty well and knowing myself very well, I took the test anticipating one of two outcomes. If the quiz leaned towards the New Testament, the answer would be Peter. I'm stubborn. rash when I shouldn't be and timid at the worst of times- but I do love Jesus. If the quiz skewed toward the Old Testament, there was no doubt in my mind the answer would be David. We share far too many things in common. He did some great things in the name of the LORD. He defeated Goliath, was named King of the nation of Israel, was a musician and was called "a man after God's own heart." He also screwed up in some big, big ways and found redemption and solace in God's love and in writing songs. His Psalms are often full of the joy of the LORD; on other occasions they cry out for forgiveness and mercy. The test agreed with me- David was the answer.

    Marilyn and I went to church last night and our pastor is in the midst of a series on Psalm 23- so David was on my mind yet again. The stories of his life kept popping into my mind, and I once again felt a real kinship with the ups and downs of his joy and his agony. One of my favorite David moments was this one, found in 2 Samuel 6:14"And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment." God had made him King, and he was so full of praise for his Heavenly Father that he just had to dance. And while scripture doesn't spell it out for us, he apparently danced with such vigor that he danced right out of that priestly garment. He was totally in the moment with God, praising God's name and not caring who saw or what they thought. And at least one witness found the display disturbing. The scripture continues in verses 20-22 (NIV):
    When David returned home to bless his own family, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him. She said in disgust, “How distinguished the king of Israel looked today, shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls like any vulgar person might do!”
    David retorted to Michal, “I was dancing before the Lord, who chose me above your father and all his family! He appointed me as the leader of Israel, the people of the Lord, so I celebrate before the Lord. Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this, even to be humiliated in my own eyes! 
    And there it was, the question starring me down like a bear in the woods. When was the last time I was undignified before my LORD? As a youth pastor all those years. being foolish in God's name was second nature. But in the years since, there has been very little dancing. Very few undignified moments spent praising God. The love of God and the grace on Jesus still fill my heart on many occasions, but there are precious few times these days I actually shout for joy to the LORD. It's time to change that, to be so full of joy that I become undignified and look foolish. It's time to dance like David!
    Now don't get me wrong- no one wants to see me dance and NO ONE needs to see me come out of my garments! As many of my oldest friends know I have a trick knee (my excuse and I'm sticking to it!) that has kept me off the dance floor since middle school. But my soul can dance- and it needs to be set free to disco the night away. Praising God should not be limited to sanitized moments in a sanctuary. We need to cut loose and let the world know that when we worship God, our hearts, minds, souls and bodies need to dance. And when we think we are looking foolish, we need to remember David's words and be willing to become even MORE undignified! Some will actually dance or give shouts of praise, while others of us will fall to our knees or lose ourselves in deep silence. But we will look strange to the world. Such foolishness...
    If this little devo has hit home with you, that is wonderful. But it's actually just for me. My life is a testament to our ultimate humanity, to following Jesus and to falling flat on my face. But God never leaves us or forsakes us. We are always loved. And that should be enough to make me dance like David.
    Because of Jesus, 

    Saturday, September 27, 2014

    Farewell, Captain

    "Take a good look. This is a baseball player."  -Billy Crystal

    My love for baseball has been well documented on this blog over the years. And like every baseball lover, I was watching the other night to see what Derek Jeter would do for his final curtain call at Yankee Stadium. It seemed obvious something wonderful would happen; it has so often when the moment was big and Derek is involved. If you care at all, then you know what happened. He delivered a "walk off" game winning hit in his final at bat in Yankee Stadium, wrapping up his career with the same type of clutch performance we had seen so many times before. It was so perfect, so in character that upon seeing it all I could think of to tweet were 4 simple words and a hashtag: Of course he did. #FarewellCaptain

    A couple of days before that hit the great Billy Crystal recorded a tribute to his friend The Captain. It is a brilliant and very personal summation of Derek's year and his career. All baseball fans feel like they know Jeter. Personally, I saw him play as a Class A minor league player for the Greensboro Hornets in 1993 and then several tims in Spring Training over the seasons here in Tampa. He makes his off-season home here. Rob Thomson, for many years now an instructor and coach for the Yankees, had a daughter in my youth group in the early 2000s who told me stories about her friend "Jeets." His individual accomplishments are impressive, but he was always about the team and always about winning. He is class personified, both as a human being and as an athlete. I leave you with Billy's tribute and these final thoughts. Derek Jeter is not the greatest baseball player who ever lived. He is not the greatest shortstop ever. He is not even the greatest Yankee of all time. But if you could somehow take all of those "greatest" players and put them all in a clubhouse as teammates, I have no doubt that they would unanimously elect Jeter as their captain. And that, my friends, is what #Re2pect is all about. Farewell, Captain. Baseball will miss you.

    Friday, September 26, 2014

    Quaker Lake & The Arkansas Guarantee

    The Flash & I at work...
    It's a Flashback Friday...

    During my many years of working on the staff and volunteering at Quaker Lake Camp different areas of the campus came to mean different things to me. For instance, the pool was the pulse of the camp, the place where you could get a feel for the excitement level. The lodge was the nerve center (and the stomach!), the place to discover what was going on and get interesting (Tuna Cheesies!) grub. The Vespers Hill and the Campfire Circle were definitely the soul and spirit, the places where we took time to worship God. The softball field was where the action was, and where many a camp week ended in hugs and tears. (In a side note, the softball field, as every Quaker Laker knew, was the place to go if anything at camp caught on fire. This led to the weekly question, no matter the age of the campers, that drove Neal crazy- "Where do we go if the softball field is on fire?" You know, I still don't know the answer...) But for me, in my years at QLC, the heart of the place was the Craft Hut. Every day, no matter the weather, no matter the age group, class after class of campers came to the craft hut to make ceramics (beautiful and hideous!) and various other crafts. And day after day you could find me at the same place- the Leather Tables

    The Leather Tables were a few old picnic tables just outside the Craft Hut. There we would sit and help campers use stamps to pound their names and designs into leather bracelets, key chains, sun visors and more. We would stain them in different shades of brown, green, blue and our favorite, Antique Oxblood! We would polish them with Carnuba (sp?) Cream, which we were delighted to discover contained whale sperm as one of its ingredients! The jokes were never ending. And we would put these trinkets together, pounding cheap little rivets with a wooden hammer, or, once you became a master (lol), with THE hammer. Most days at the Leather Tables were relaxed and lazy. We talked about life, told jokes, and listened to the great music coming from the stereo in the Craft Hut. We would put off actually assembling the leather pieces until the end of each week. And at the end of the class we would offer the campers The Arkansas Guarantee. (Why Arkansas? I was still reeling from a disastrous vacation there, and it just seemed like a place where a lot of things would break...) To the best of my memory, the guarantee was first offered by Alan Brown (The Asheboro Flash) and Bill Terrell when I was still a volunteer. But it was after I started working with Alan at the tables in 1978 that it became a regular event. The Arkansas Guarantee was a sure thing in an unsure world. It simply stated that "in the event that your Quaker Lake leather goods fall apart or otherwise break, you get to keep all the pieces!" It was a helpful promise, because almost every item ever assembled at the Leather Tables did indeed break. Knowing that this was going to happen, and that it was still OK, was somehow very comforting to the campers and staff who had toiled on these exquisite leather goods.

    My life has not been much different than those leather wrist bands I used to hammer together. I know I am going to break things, because I always do. I know even the simple things can get complicated. But fortunately, life comes with its own Arkansas Guarantee. His name is Jesus. When life falls apart, when things break down, we can turn to Him, and he helps us keep all the pieces...and even better, put them back together! In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." I know Jesus was a carpenter by trade, but somehow I can see him hanging out at the Leather Tables, under the shade tree, offering the guarantee to any camper who needed it. And we all need it.

    So next time you feel "broken," go to the One who was broken for you. There you will find rest for your weary soul...there you will be made whole. But if you find the softball field on fire, I guess you are on your own...

    Because of Jesus,

    Thursday, September 25, 2014

    The Vatican Rag

    It's a Throwback Thursday, and today I am gonna' go WAAAAY back- all the way to 1965. The great Tom Lehrer recorded a live album called That Was the Year That Was, an album full of satirical songs about the big news stories of the day. As you see in the accompanying quote, Tom's music was a great inspiration for older artist like Ray Stevens and current heroes like Weird Al. Now before you get carried away with the old jokes, I was only 6 and don't remember any of his music from when it actually happened. I was in high school when Hank Semmler (the father of my friends Carl & Steve) introduced me to Tom's music. And I LOVED it. I memorized every song on the album, eventually bought the CD, and still have it on my iPod. Even as outdated as the actual news stories on which the songs are based are, many of the underlying principles behind the songs (while in many cases now considered politically incorrect) are still very relevant today. And most every song- no matter how many times I hear them- makes me laugh. But there is one song in particular that literally cracks me up every single time it plays- and that's the song I want to share with you today. It's called The Vatican Rag.

    Let me begin by saying that this song does poke a little fun at the faith and practices of the Catholic Church in 1965, but that is not what makes it funny. I have Catholic friends for whom I have a great deal of love and respect, and they find the song hysterical too. In fact, if the entire Church wants to follow the lead of Pope Francis by actually believing the teachings of Jesus, then perhaps we would all be better off being Catholic in our own way! What makes this song so hysterical to me is not the Catholic part- he could just have easily have joked about Methodist or Lutheran rituals. The thing that makes me laugh is the way Tom lampoons the idea of our need to make church "relevant"  and to "sell the product." Remember, 1965 was before anyone had ever heard of things like seeker worship, contemporary Christian music or praise bands. The Catholic church was just beginning to allow languages other than Latin to be spoken in Mass. They were allowing new kinds of music, including some songs played on guitar. The humor here comes from Tom's suggestion that if the Church really wanted to connect with the world, then we needed to go all in and get serious about using popular music and embracing the culture in our worship. He then offers "a modest example." You can hear it below.

    He may not have meant it to be, but the the song was pretty prophetic. In the years since we have indeed introduced modern music and practices into worship. Much of it is beautiful and very appropriate. Some of it has been just as silly as The Vatican Rag. The real question behind anything the Church does to be "relevant" is this: Do we do it to draw people closer to God, or do we do it to "sell the product?" In the nearly 50 years since this song was written, the answers have been decidedly mixed. But let's not over think this. Primarily this song is meant to be funny, And it is! I hope you enjoy it. And if you love it like I do, be sure to check out more of the album. I would especially recommend National Brotherhood Week, Pollution and Who's Next?  Hope you all have a great Thursday!

    Wednesday, September 24, 2014

    Ignoring the Warning Lights

    I heard a story recently that seemed to be worth sharing. A friend of mine (we'll call him John, 'cause that's his name!) was driving across Tampa when a light came on in his car warning him that there was a problem with his brakes. He had major work done on the braking system less than a year earlier, so this little light really irritated him. The further he drove the more irritated he got. Finally, he folded up a piece of paper until it was just big enough to cover up the warning light, and he positioned it so he would no longer see the light. Feeling much better, he continued his journey. For the next 3 days he drove with that piece of paper covering the warning light. Then last Tuesday as he started out for a meeting, John stepped on the brake- and discovered that it no longer worked. He was able to avoid traffic and use the emergency brake to stop the car, so no one was hurt. But it really put the fear of God into John as he hopelessly swerved to a stop. His car now has new brakes.

    Life comes with warning lights. If we have health problems our body will signal to us that we need to see a doctor. If we have weight problems our clothes cease to fit, indicating that we need to change the way we eat and exercise. If we offend our friends and neighbors the sudden lack of communication from them often serves as a warning light. We see these signals. We know what they mean. Yet we often choose to ignore the lights. We find our own little pieces of paper and cover them up..  

    For Christ-followers it is no different with sin. When we are tempted and when we face sin in our everyday lives, we are aware of what is happening. The Holy Spirit (ever the Gentleman) gives us little nudges like our own Jiminy Cricket. Before we ever offend that person, say those words, look at those pictures or covet our neighbor's wife, we think about it. We feel the Holy Spirit flashing the warning light. And then we make a decision. Am I going to stop right now and repair this situation? Or am I going to cover up the warning light and proceed on my own?

    Sin is very seldom about "the devil made me do it!" Certainly Satan provides us with a myriad of temptations, but in truth sin is more often a decision we make even as the Holy Spirit reminds us of whose we are. We choose to cover up the warning lights. My question for us today is this: What is it we are using to block out the warning lights in our lives? If we know and understand our own thinking, we might be quicker to heed the warnings. Maybe you minimize"Look at how much worse HIS sin is than mine!" And we hide the light. You might feel entitled"I work so hard for my church, what difference will this one little sin make?" And we hide the light. We may feel discouraged and full of self-pity"I have already screwed up so badly- what difference will one more sin make?  Nobody really cares what I do..." And we hide the light. After a while we forget the light is even there and our lives spin completely out of control. I've been there. It's a very scary thing. Life is much better when we heed the warning lights. The abundant life comes when we listen to the gentle nudges and the swift kicks in the butt of the Holy Spirit.

    But when we do ignore God and we do sin, we must remember that there is one Light that cannot be hidden. John 1 tells us that the Light (Jesus) came into the world and the darkness cannot overcome it. There is no sin we can commit that will block out Jesus. There is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from the grace of God. We will, on occasion, yield to temptation and choose to sin. We will have all sorts of excuses and reasons as to why we made those decisions. But in the end, the Great MechanicJesus the Christ- is always there to repair our broken lives. He does great work that gets us back on the right path. And the best part? It's not cheap, but it's always free.  Jesus already paid for it.

    Because of Jesus,

    Tuesday, September 23, 2014

    Random Ramblings: Football 2014

    Baseball is my sport, and the very best time of the year- October! - is upon us! Playoff baseball will soon take over my TV viewing time. I do admit that I have been watching a lot of football over these first few weeks of the season, of both the college and professional varieties. Football has been a part of my life since I was about 6 years old- first as a fan, then playing in the yard with neighborhood kids and my dad, then as a player and later as a coach. I understand the game. And while I prefer Saturdays over Sundays during football season (see 7 Reasons College Football is Better than the NFL) I tend to watch it all. With all of the off the field news these days, it just felt like a good time to write about some on the field trends. So here are some very random ramblings from this season...so far!

    • Many of my friends who are Florida State fans were quick to credit their team with "coming together in adversity" in their victory over Clemson the other night. To their credit, the Seminoles did keep fighting and never give up. But let's be real here. Clemson should have won that game by at least 2 touchdowns. They gave the game away. FSU did not "persevere and win." The Tigers LOST. I'm happy for the Seminoles, although losing that game might have been the ONLY way to to teach Jameis Winston a lesson.
    • Through the first 3 weeks of the NFL season, Tom Brady has looked like a very, VERY average QB and the Patriots in general, although 2-1, look very beatable. These things make me very, VERY happy!
    • I am no Alabama fan (Nick Saban is forever on my bad list) but Amari Cooper, the wide receiver for the Crimson Tide, looks like a man playing amongst toddlers on Saturdays. He should win the Heisman (Quarterbacks Only) Trophy, but he won't. If he is not one of the first 3 players taken in the next NFL draft there should be an investigation.
    • The Jacksonville Jaguars are awful- perhaps the worst team in the NFL. Unless that the dubious distinction belongs to my Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Neither team will win many (if any!) games and both of their stadiums will feature thousands of empty seats this year. I don't know if anyone could save the teams, but everyone in Florida knows who could still fill the seats. #TebowTime  
    • It is entirely possible that the SEC West is the most dominant collection of college football teams we have ever seen under one banner. Any of 4 teams- Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas A&M or Alabama- could win the national championship. Mississippi State just beat then 8th ranked LSU in Baton Rouge. Any of those 6 teams could go unbeaten in the Big 10 11 12 Whatever Conference. If one of them goes undefeated in that division they should get to skip the new playoff and play the winner in one final game for the championship. 
    • My early Super Bowl picks- Philadelphia Eagles vs. Denver Broncos. Peyton gets his second ring.
    • Will Muschamp has kept his job at Florida because he is supposed to be a defensive genius. This past Saturday proved he is not. He also keeps hiring offensive coordinators who are the wrong kind of offensive. Once again this year, another new coordinator, same boring offense. From a school that gave us the creativity of Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, boring is unacceptable. And btw...I LOVE me some Steve Spurrier!!
    • And finally...the Dallas Cowboys need to slow down. They're 2-1. If they win many more games early on they are going to have work hard the second half of the season to finish 8-8. And we know they will!
    That's what I'm rambling about today. See you tomorrow!

    Monday, September 22, 2014

    10 Mission Trip Memories

    I have written often lately about serving God by loving others, which has had me thinking about some of the great mission opportunities my youth groups had back in the day. Here's a vintage post featuring 10 thoughts about the various mission experiences we were involved in over the years. Are they random? Oh yes! Do they have meaning to me? Of course! So here we go:

    10)  In the late 80's and early 90's the Springfield Friends Meeting group spent a lot of time serving at Our Father's Table, a soup kitchen in High Point. We usually prepared a basic soup and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I remember one week we had lots of leftover food from Furniture Market caterers that we served the patrons- really quality stuff. They couldn't eat it. It was too rich for them. They asked for more PB&J's...

    9)  I think the hottest place I ever been in my life was inside the Orlando Second Harvest Food Bank warehouse on our middle school mission trip from FUMC-K in 1994. We also worked in another 2nd Harvest in Nashville in 1999, and it was not much cooler. But those places provide amazing support to the communities they serve in the name of Jesus.

    8)  Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi (FUMC-K) told me once that she was a little embarrassed to admit to the youth pastor at her current church that her high school mission trip was to the Bahamas- twice! We did good work on those trips, but we didn't exactly suffer for it...

    7)  Although we sent a small group (see picture at right- and no, I don't know why Ben Thacker is scratched up!) and I didn't go, the Service Over Self trip to Memphis in 1996 was a tremendous mission experience that did great things in service to the people of the inner city in that poverty stricken southern town.

    6)  The previously mentioned 1999 Nashville trip was the first time I partnered with the Center for Student Missions (CSM). It was an amazing experience. We worked our rears off in 100 degree heat and 200% humidity, slept on the floor, and had about 75 people sharing one shower (with a strict time limit!). It was awesome!

    5)  I had only been at the Union Church of Hinsdale about three weeks when we departed on Work Tour 2000 (see picture) to Dungannon, VA. That trip has several posts of its own, and the poverty we encountered there was incredible. We actually built a wall inside a mobile home to split a bedroom in half. It was a week full of adventure...

    4)  The following year we went to Tijuana, Mexico and worked at an orphanage. The children there could recite entire chapters of scripture in English and Spanish. Some of our teenagers couldn't even recite John 3:16. Plus those smart little kids conned us into eating habanero peppers and almost dying! UC's traditional Work Tour closing ceremony, called Candle, took longer than the rest of the trip- or so it seemed!

    3)  The group from Wesley Memorial UMC headed to Washington, DC to work with CSM in the summer of 2002. We spent a fair amount of time building bunk beds for future groups to sleep on, so we made a long-term contribution to that ministry. We also delivered meals to AIDS patients. It is the only trip I ever went on, mission or otherwise, in which this peace loving Christ-follower almost killed a student. Several times. Thank you, Chris Morneau, for being one of a kind...

    2)  In 2003 we went to Spartanburg, SC and served for several days with a variety of ministries. I especially remember sorting hundreds of pounds of clothing into gender and size specific piles, and then throwing them all back together in another room. Seemed pretty pointless, but it was what we were  asked to do. We also slept over a homeless shelter. Each night they locked us in and told us NOT to leave.  It was a little scary...

    1)  In 2004 with WMUMC (see picture) and in 2006 with Trinty UMC we served with CSM in Chicago. Both trips were amazing, but the 2004 trip featured us gutting the inside of an unused Jewish synagogue to make way for a new church in a poor area of town. It was very hard work, and I still wonder how the church is doing now. That was also the trip with one of the most amazing youth worship times ever.

    Great memories and great trips. I'd do it all over again if I could. We never go to work with CSM in Toronto, even though I planned it 3 different times. But serving others in the name of Jesus was - and is - a great thing!

    Because of Jesus,

    Sunday, September 21, 2014

    "All we are saying..."

    In the vast majority of USAmerican churches, the fact that today is the International Day of Peace will go unnoticed. In this crazy world we live in, somehow the concept of working for peace has become a "secular" movement in which the church has abandoned it's historical role of leadership. Never mind that the whole concept of "secular" is not biblical- "all good things come from God." I worked in churches for many years, and generally speaking we are quick to find reasons to celebrate special days. Many churches have Memorial Day services, Labor Day services. Veteran's Day services, Valentine's Day and any other "day" they can find- but have no special events planned for today. Peace is not a popular issue in the 21st century western church, because it is not a popular issue with modern Christians. And it is my personal belief that when we abandon working and praying for peace, we in some way abandon Jesus. Why would I say such a thing? It' simple, really...

    There used to be a popular bumper sticker that said, "Jesus said, I believe it and that settles it!"  The life and teachings of Jesus should be EVERYTHING to Christians- but we often tend to ignore the really hard teachings or the things that seem out of step with the world we live in. What did the Christ have to say on the topic of peace? In addition to the Matthew verse you see above, he said things like...

    • Love your enemies
    • Pray for those who persecute you
    • Turn the other cheek
    • Walk the extra mile
    • Peace I leave with you my friends
    We live in a world in which peace is not easy. There are threats all around us, and it is now ingrained in us to respond to violence with violence. We neither seek nor find our safety and peace in the arms of our God; we seek those things by building bigger bombs and making bigger threats. We do not seek restoration in broken relationships as often as we slam those we disagree with on social media. We do not search for healing in our families as often as we just walk away from troubles. Domestic violence is currently a hot topic- it is also, at it's core, an issue of peace! Feeding the hungry. clothing he naked, taking care of the sick & providing shelter for the homeless are issues of peace. Peace doesn't just HAPPEN. It must be something we are forever working towards, in our lives and in our world. And if we really want to be followers of Jesus, Christians need to take the lead in a Christ-centered peace movement that will change our culture. There need to be sermons preached on days like this honoring those who sacrifice for peace the same way we honor those who sacrifice in war. We are called upon to lovers of this world. Love and violence are not good partners.

    Working for peace, praying for peace and seeking peaceful solutions for problems large and small may not be popular (and certainly not easy) in the modern church. But we are called to be peacemakers by the Prince of Peace himself. That's good enough for me. I guess really all I am saying is... give peace a chance. Hmm...I think I've heard that somewhere before...

    Because of Jesus,

    Saturday, September 20, 2014

    Saturday Shout Outs!

    Is is just me, or is the world just totally out of whack these days (Just out of curiosity, what would mean if we said the world was "in whack?" Would that be better or worse? I have no idea...)? Every time we turn around there is more violence, more scandal, more sadness and more stuff that I could fix if people would just let me!  :)  So into the mess that is Planet Earth in 2014 I inject the peace, love and humor of my Saturday Shout Outs! Along with a complaint or two.. Here we go!

    * This morning, perhaps even as you read this, Marilyn and I are having brunch with Jennifer Wood Jones (Springfield Friends Meeting) and her hubby Brian here in Tampa. They are leaving on a cruise from the local port later today and we are thrilled to get to see them. Jennifer was one of the first inductees into my Youth Group Hall of Fame and is famed in story and song as Woodhead - a shy teenage girl until the fateful day she beat Jamie Robinson over the head with a Bible at youth group and became a legend. It's been way too long since I have seen her, and I am excited beyond words to get a chance to visit with her and Brian this morning!

    * I got to eat some pizza and have a nice long visit with Wayne & Janet Cook (FUMC-Kissimmee) on Thursday night after driving Will and company to a concert in Orlando. It s so exciting to hear the plans and dreams Pastor Wayne has for my old church, and my prayers are certainly with him (and Janet) as he faces the challenges and struggles of pastoring. We intend to head over soon and hear him preach- and see lots of other old friends as well.

    * The box set featuring all nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother is being released this Tuesday, September 23rd. Many of you know of my fondness for the show, and while the set will not have all of the extras I asked for on this blog last Christmas (see The Ultimate Gift Set) I am still very excited about it. And my birthday is coming soon! I was a little disappointed to learn it will not be released on blu ray- it's dvd only- despite the fact that the entire series was shot in high definition. I tweeted the other morning asking if anyone knew the reason for this, and heard back directly from none other than Carter Bay, co-creator of the show and the man on whom the character of Ted was based. He was disappointed too, but pointed out it will still be in widescreen format so it should be fine. I got 4 tweets from him that morning. I just might be cooler that you...   :)

    * It looks like I am going to be driving to GreensboroNorth Carolina (by myself) October 8th and driving back on the 13th. I have a few plans, but I am trying to leave my schedule pretty wide open so I can see as many people as possible. If you would like to see me during my visit give me a shout. I can't wait to finally get in some visiting in the Tar Heel state!

    * The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are an embarrassment to their fans, their city, and everyone who ever wanted to be a pirate with their poor play on the field. The NFL in general is just an embarrassment. Period. Apparently the only people players are not allowed to hit are quarterbacks during games. The league is just a disaster- and Roger Goodell (at right) must go! And while I'm at at it- YO, Jameis Winston! Get your act together and please JUST. SHUT. UP.

    * ICYMI, yesterday's blog featured a game of I Have Never in which one of the things I listed was a lie. Here's the truth...and please don't hate me. I have watched Dance Moms. Oh the humanity! The circumstances elude us both now, but my friend Lisa Jewett (Wesley Memorial UMC) somehow talked me into it. I feel great shame. Beware the power of Lisa!

    * Lots of prayers going up these days for dear friends. I'm praying for Cyndi Reep Browning (FUMC-K) as she searches for a new job, and her sister Teresa Tysinger as she deals with the excitement and stress of having her hubby work on Broadway while she and Emma live in Texas. From that same group I remember Lisa Kraus Spires as she struggles potty training her daughter Abby; Lauren Carr Cacciatore & family as they start fresh with a move to Pennsylvania; and Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi who had been dealing with a herd of sick family members! Jerry & Melissa Hanbery are remodeling their home, and apparently the port-a-potty in the front yard has worn out its welcome. Ashley Goad (Springfield) is off to South Africa and then back to Haiti for more mission work. Erin Moran Hill (Springfield) and Stephanie Potter (FUMC-K) have been on my mind as well. And my old friends Beth & Bob McGalliard are leaving soon for France! Pray with me, won't you?

    * And finally...it looks like the people who were backing out of buying the house on our circle because I live in the neighborhood were convinced to purchase anyway. I'm happy for the sellers and glad they buyers listened to reason. Thanks for all of the warm thoughts so many of you shred with me as I struggled with another face smack from reality. God is good. ALL the time!

    Have a blessed Saturday, dear readers. And remember, tomorrow is the International Day of Peace. Find peace in your hearts. Seek peace in broken relationships. Pray for peace in our world. Shalom, my friends,

    Because of Jesus,

    Friday, September 19, 2014

    Never Have I Ever...

    Did you ever play the game I Have Never...? We used to play it quite often in some of my youth groups. There are probably some of you who read that last sentence and are feeling a bit of moral outrage, because for many people Never Have I Ever (the other name it is known by) is a drinking game- quite unsuitable for middle and high school students! The concept of the game is simple. Each player receives an equal number of shots beers M&Ms, and then every person gets a turn. You go around the group and everyone says something that they have never done, and each person who HAS done that particular thing must do a shot....or in our case eat some candy. For example, if someone says "I have never gotten a tattoo" then everyone present with a tattoo must eat one M&M. The last person with candy remaining wins. It's a fun game, although playing with teenagers required some specific guidelines so as not to create too much embarrassment. You were not allowed to say anything of a sexual or illegal nature when we played, or to say things that you knew applied to only one person in the group. But it was a great way to learn new things about the people in the group.

    Today I thought it would be fun to combine I Have Never with another great youth group game, 4 Truths and a Lie. I will list a number of things that I have never done, and you can play along and see how you would fare if you had to do a shot every time I say something you have done. And just to spice it up, one of the things I list will be a lie- something I HAVE done. So play along, let me know how you did and your guess for the one lie. And if you do actual shots, please send me the video! Here we go...

    • I have never been to San Francisco
    • I have never watched Dancing With the Stars
    • I have never had coffee from Starbucks
    • I have never hunted any living thing with a gun. Just SPAM
    • I have never watched Dance Moms
    • I have never eaten duck
    • I have never owned an Apple phone, computer or pad
    • I have never milked a cow
    • I have never been to Spain. But I kinda like the music...
    • I have never jet skied
    • I have never watched Grey's Anatomy
    • I have never owned an electric guitar
    • I have never been to Idaho
    • I have never watched Survivor
    • I have never drank a Red Bull
    • I have never seen U2 live in concert
    • And yes...I have never gotten a tattoo!
    There's my list. Leave your own I Have Never in the comments, guess the lie,  and let's have some fun! Happy Friday, everyone!

    Thursday, September 18, 2014

    Throwback Thursday: Remembering Charlie

    The Guilford College Yankees, my 12 year old season. 
    My Dad is directly behind Charlie in the gold shirt. 
    Can you guess which one is me?  :)
    Today's #TBT post takes me all the way back to Little League- but begins with a more recent memory. Several years ago I remember watching in awe as the now disgraced Oscar Pistorius, a double leg amputee from South Africa, ran the 400 meters with the able-bodied runners of the world at the London Olympics. It was an amazing moment, but even more amazing to me was the fact that many people considered his disability and the fact that he ran on "cheetah legs" to to be an unfair advantage to him. The runner once said that he "has never considered his disability to be a disadvantage." That statement brings to mind someone from my distant past who could surely identify. His name was Charlie King.

    When I was growing up in the Guilford College community just outside of Greensboro, NC, you could not help but know Charlie King. He owned and operated a Texaco gas station and a fuel oil company. He was a regular attender at Guilford Baptist Church. He owned and operated an insurance company. He was the manager of the Guilford College Yankees, a dynastic Little League team in the community. He was often seen driving around in this custom-built vehicle. Charlie was one of the pillars of Guilford College. You see, he had an unfair disadvantage. Charlie had been born without the use of his arms of his legs. His wrists worked, and he had some movement in his ankles and neck. But for the most part, Charlie, back in the 1960's, was supposed to be a burden on society. He never got that memo.

    I knew of Charlie from the age of about 6, but I really got to know him when he selected me to be a Yankee in the Little League player draft when I was 8. I spent the next 5 summers learning baseball from a man who had never played. But he knew it all. So much of what I know about baseball and so much of my love for the game came from Coach King. He turned me into a good player, with lots of help from my dad and the other coaches. But baseball was not all he taught me. He taught me so much about overcoming obstacles and ignoring pessimists. The first time I ever water skied, Charlie was driving the boat- a custom made made boat with a stick for a steering wheel that only Charlie could drive. He had simply never considered saying "I can't." And it showed in every aspect of his life.

    You see, Charlie King took his disability and turned it into an unfair disadvantage. He was never able to take anything for granted. He always had to work harder than able-bodied people who were trying to do the same things. Like Oscar Pistorius, he inspired others to greatness, and also like Oscar his success brought criticism and petty jealousy. Because of my relationship with Charlie, I have been a life-long believer in the power of positive thinking. I have always believed all things are possible if you have faith. I want to leave you with my one, signature enduring memory of Charlie. There was nothing...NOTHING...I have ever witnessed quite the equal of an umpire missing a call, seeing and hearing Coach crank up his motorized wheelchair, and watching him drive from the dugout to home plate to "discuss" things with the ump.  The little man in the little chair could strike fear in their hearts. It was an honor to play for him and an honor to be his friend. I know Guilford College is not the the same without him. My question to you all today is this- Who is it in your life that has demonstrated that they have an unfair disadvantage?

    Because of Jesus,

    Wednesday, September 17, 2014

    Love Like Jesus

    "We are the world..."

    Don't worry.  This post has nothing to do with the 1985 USA for Africa song. No video, no more quoting of lyrics. I wouldn't do that to you- today. Even though the sentiment of the song holds so true for followers of Jesus Christ- the world is our family. All people are God's people, even if some of them are completely unaware of that fact. This post is a little bit about that, but it is mostly about a very important if somewhat controversial part of the Jesus Revolution. Stay with me...

    One of the real misconceptions of the 21st century Church is that Christianity is still centered in USAmerica. Nothing could be further from the truth. The church is shrinking in our country. It is booming in places with names we can't pronounce. It is growing by leaps and bounds in countries where worshipping Jesus is illegal. The Jesus Revolution lives; I am just not sure it lives here. All of the efforts of many our politicians to legislate Christianity into a "national religion" are back-firing. We are alienating people at a faster rate than we are attracting them. The attitude of the Church quite often does not reflect the teachings of Jesus. The world looks at us and they don't see a people of grace; they see a people who are not very different from the world around us. People outside the Church question our purpose, they question our politics and worst of all, they question our willingness to love. My non-Christian talk about how it sometimes feels like Christians seem more concerned with the way they vote than with the way they live. And too often they are correct. Historians note that when religion and patriotism (no matter the faith and no matter the country) become too tightly intertwined, bad things happen. The kingdom of God knows no earthly boundaries. The only flag the Church should ever fly is the flag of Jesus.

    There is a truth that Jesus tried to share with us 2000 years ago that we desperately need to believe today. The church in the U.S.A. needs to respond each day like we do in times of disaster and turmoil. We are at our best when we quit thinking about ourselves and reach out to those in need. When our focus is service and love, we show the true nature of the Christ. When we reach out in love and in times of distress no one cares if the people we are helping have a proper theology. No one asks their feelings on Gay marriage. No one wants to know their views on eschatology or universalism. We simply help because their plight is more important than our petty concerns. Their need for love outweighs everything else that usually clouds our minds and our actions. And that, my friends, is what the Jesus Revolution is all about. It's not about improving our theology. It's not about legislating morality. It's about loving the world the way Jesus taught us to love the world. A love without restriction, hesitation or conditions. And perhaps most importantly, it's about doing those things every single day, and offering that love to the people we find it most difficult to share it with. That is what will change the world. "They will know we are Christians by our love" is not just a song- it's a teaching straight from the Master! Love is what will turn around the Church in our country. Don't believe me? Think about this- the Pharisees had all the proper actions, all the correct theology and all of the legal power. Jesus was a wandering vagabond who came to teach us how to love God and each other. Which one changed the world? I promised I wouldn't quote more We Are the World, but I made no such promise about the Beatles"All you need is love...love is all you need!" Just as long as that love comes from Jesus....

    Because of Jesus,

    Tuesday, September 16, 2014

    Reimagining EPCOT's World Showcase

    Given my persona non grata status with Walt Disney World you may wonder why I care about it anymore. The truth is I care because with this, as with most things in my life, I am very protective of my favorite memories. So I felt a little bit of snark was justified...

    It was big news on social media, in the press and here in central Florida last week when Disney made the formal and long-expected announcement that they were shutting down the Maelstrom ride in the Norway Pavilion at EPCOT to make way for an attraction based on the hit movie Frozen. Reaction has been loud and very mixed. I loved the movie, and understand why Disney execs have rushed to get something Frozen related in every park. However...I do have some questions. Although putting a ride in Norway is certainly the easy way out, it was not the only EPCOT option. The former Wonders of Life (long live Buzzy!) building still sits empty in Future World, begging for something new and exciting. And it seems to me that by making such a change at Norway, the company is throwing the the entire future of World Showcase up for grabs. And that scares me.

    I have long loved World Showcase. My memory goes back to a time when everyone spelled EPCOT with all caps, there were no Disney characters there at all, dining reservations HAD to be made the day of and when IMAX movies were a technological marvel. I love the restaurants. I love the cultural aspects, the street performers and the fact that it is so different from the rest of WDW. There have already been changes over the years that no one bothered to run past me, such as changing the opening hours so we couldn't take a stroll in a nearly empty World Showcase early in the morning or changing the  menu at Alfredo's & The San Angel Inn. But change happens and you move on. But this feels much more significant. This feels like a real game changer. So today I have allowed my mind to wander. What if putting a Frozen attraction in Norway sets a precedent? What if every country in World Showcase were to become just another opportunity for Disney corporate synergy? There have long been crossover character events outside the Pavilions (think Mary Poppins at the UK, Beast at France)- but this seems different to me. In my nightmares, World Showcase would start to look like this...

    • The China Pavilion - The movie on the cultural history of the country would be replaced with The Making of Mulan, narrated by Eddie Murphy. A simulator ride could take us through the battle to save the Emperor, as we fight side-by-side with Mulan, Cricky, Mushu and Captain Li Shang. And the Nine Dragons restaurant is replaced by Mulan's Delight, a counter-service place featuring chicken chow mien and other dishes USAmericans think are Chinese.
    • The France Pavilion - So many movies to promote, so little time. The Boulangerie P√Ętisserie would become Hunchback Croissants- because Quasimodo is shaped like one! The main restaurants would have a Ratatouille theme, with giant rat-costumed servers bringing you the daily specials and making jokes about how they are not Mickey. And instead of Impressions de France the movie theater is not showing a 10 minute blooper real from Beauty & the Beast. Just think of the merchandising possibilities with all of those movies to choose from! Oh...and the Eiffel Tower too...
    • The Italy Pavilion - Lady & the Tramp once ate spaghetti. Therefore they must be Italian. I'll let you figure out the details!
    • The Morocco Pavilion - There would be magical appearances by the Genie, and the flying carpet ride could be moved over from the MK. And a kissing booth with Jasmine. Actually, all of those things would be an improvement to this Pavilion. Never mind.
    • The UK Pavilion - Again, there are so many movies to choose from, but I'm partial to Robin Hood. The Friar Tuck Pub could serve Long John Silver's fish and chips and really cheap beer. There could be live archery tournaments. Throw in the Spoonful of Sugar Bakery (Mary Poppins), the Winnie the Pooh petting zoo (with live hephalumps, woozles and Tiggers) and bring back Mr. Toad! Then you're all set for a big adventure!
    There are many more possibilities (like Pinocchio in Germany or The Three Caballeros in Mexico), but I think I have made my point. Obviously my ranting is over-the-top and ridiculous...I hope. But the truth is that World Showcase was designed to be "a place apart" from the rest of WDW. In my humble (and totally unsolicited) opinion, adding a Frozen attraction is a step in a very dangerous direction. And a final warning: if anything ever happens to Voices of Liberty or The American Adventure over at the U.S. Pavilion, I cannot be held responsible for my actions. Just sayin'...

    Because of Walt,

    Sunday, September 14, 2014

    So Ananias Went

    All of us, at some point in our lives, decide that that excellence is no longer needed in some area of life. Whether it be school, work, sports or blog writing, we reach a point when we decide it is OK to "just get by." We work only as hard as we need to for our efforts to be judged acceptable by those around us. Doing the best we can seems like a waste of effort, because really- who cares? Our attitudes are like that of the man who was hiking through the woods with a friend. As they moved into the deep forest, they suddenly encountered a bear. The bear smelled them and the food in their backpacks and began to chase them. After running for a long distance they had not lost the bear. One man sat down and began to unlace his boots and put on the sneakers from his pack. The other man looked at him incredulously and said, "Are you nuts?" You can't out run that bear!" The first man laced up his sneakers and relied, "I don't have to out run the bear. I just have to out run you..."

    Even when it comes to following Jesus we often seek to do only what seems to be absolutely necessary. We go to church. We occasionally dust off our bibles. But when the message gets too tough, we find excuses. When the job gets too complicated, we bail out. We are like the man who falls off of a cliff, only to catch himself on a tree branch. He cannot climb up. The drop would be hundreds of feet. He cries out to God, "LORD, what should I do?" A moment later he hears a response- "Let go of the branch." The man hesitates, thinks about it and then says, "Is there anyone else out there?"  We want to follow Jesus, but we want it to be easy.  And it's not. Love our enemies? Walk a second mile? Be a peacemaker? Lose our lives so that we can find them? No thanks- I'll just sit in my padded pew and be comfortable.

    In Acts 9:10-17 we read the story of a man named Ananias. God comes to him and tells him that he has a job for him. He wants him to go to see Saul, the noted killer of followers of The Way, who has been struck blind on the the road to Damascus and has been given a vision that Ananias is coming to heal his sight. Ananias responds as we often do- with all kinds of excuses and reasons why this is a bad idea and he is not the right person for the job. But God says to him, "GO!" We often hear God say the same to us in a variety of ways. God tells us to GO!- and repair broken relationships. He tells us to GO!- and be in ministry to the under-resourced and the lost and hurting. He tell us to GO!- and be witnesses for Jesus in our world. And we, like Ananias, find a plethora of excuses. But there is one main difference between our common response and the way Ananias responded. Despite all of the whining and the excuses, verse 17 gives us the bottom line: So Ananias went. And the Apostle Paul received his sight and set about turning the world upside-down.

    And that is what God requires of us. Not that we be perfect, not even that we be qualified for the work He sets before us. It is not our own skill and talents that qualify us to serve God- it is His grace, power and love that sends us out into our world with everything we need. Perhaps, at the end of it all, the greatest thing that could ever be said about any of us is not that we have abilities as a teacher or am artist. It's not to hear others say that we can sing like the angels or preach like Billy Graham. Perhaps the greatest thing that could be said about of me (or you!) is simply this: So Carl went. Here's my heart LORD. Use me. 

    Because of Jesus,