Sunday, May 31, 2015

"You're Soaking In It"

Some of my older readers may remember the old Palmolive dishwashing detergent in which clients of a manicurist named Marge would discover they were soaking their hands in the detergent. She would always reveal her secret by announcing, "You're soaking in it." From time to time I like to provide you with inspirational readings- Scripture, song lyrics, poetry or some other devotional reading- so you can just soak in it. Treat the words like a hot tub. You don't have to DO anything; just sit, soak in them and let them wash over you. Stay WIDE OPEN to what God has to say to you. Today's words come once again from Lois Cheney's 1969 devotional classic God Is No Fool.

"Be still and know that I AM God."
The hymns rise and fall.
The organ lifts and uplifts.
The choir in its practiced solemnity focuses its praise.
Standing at the sound of prayers, we hear the chants of Scripture fill the nave.
The sermon adds its one-voice contribution.
All, all in reverent noise.
The meeting turns on Christ.
The conversation patters to Christ.
The laughter smiles with Christ.
The daily devotional drowns out the Christ.
All, all in reverent noise.
The first bird is heard.
The baby's cry is heard.
The embarrassed cough is heard.
Who is silent?
Who is waiting for Jesus?
Who is listening to God?
"Be still and know that I AM God."

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, May 30, 2015

4 Reasons This Lightning Fan Says "Go Blackhawks!"

Last night the Tampa Bay Lightning made history, winning game 7 on the road in Madison Square Garden and finishing off he New York Rangers 2-0 on a shutout by goalie Ben Bishop! The Bolts now have the rare opportunity to bring the greatest trophy in all of sports, the Stanley Cup, back to the Bay. Thier opponent will be determined tonight in yet another game 7 (hockey playoffs rule!) between the Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks. Personally, I hope it's the 'Hawks. Why? I'm so glad you asked...

4 Reasons I Hope Chicago Wins
  1. The Lightning had a catchy slogan when they won the Cup back in 2004- Stanley Needs a Tan!  It's great, it's catchy and it was already on signs and t-shirts at the after game parties here in Tampa last night. But if the Ducks win, the slogan becomes confusing. Southern California is a great place for a tan as well. Either place, "Stanley" could hit the beach, go to a Disney park and generally do things not associated with hockey towns or Canada. You don't think of tans when you think of Chicago. And I want to be able to keep our cool slogan. 
  2. Anaheim ditched the name Mighty Ducks and their original cool logo from the movies the team was based on. I loved those movies and loved the logo. Plus, Gordon Bombay isn't really their coach. So boo. BOOOOO!
  3. If the Bolts play and beat Chicago, they will have won the Cup by beating 4 of the Original 6 NHL teams- Detroit, Montreal, the Rangers and Chicago. First of all, that would be very impressive. And secondly, it will make the snobbish fans of the Original 6 teams a little sick to their stomachs. A team from Florida? Really? Having the opportunity to gloat would be sweet. 
  4. And most importantly, if Chicago wins then the finals will open here in Tampa and the Lightning will have home ice advantage for the series. We had the best home record in the NHL this season. Home is good!

So there are my thoughts on why Chicago would make a great finals opponent, but the truth is the entire Tampa Bay area is psyched to play whoever comes out of tonight's Western Conference game 7. I love playoff hockey. The Bolts have made this postseason simply electric. And now this city is ready to explode as the team seek to finish this quest. 4 more wins and Stanley comes back to town. Why do we care? Because it's the Cup, baby! Because it's THE Cup...

Friday, May 29, 2015

Negative Nellies

We live in a society where it is increasingly normal to think and express negative thoughts. People no longer think of the glass as half full or half empty; they see the glass as having a hole in it. This negative thinking is also contagious. We too often find ourselves repeating negative things that, if we actually stop and think about them, we don't even really believe. As David Letterman used to say in the early years, " STUPID!" I read a post the other day disparaging the accomplishments of baseball player Alex Rodriguez. There were lots of statistics pointing out that A-Rod has accomplished things few other players ever have. There was also plenty of talk about his use of performance enhancing drugs. The writer then quoted several baseball "talking heads" who think Alex is a total disgrace and that his numbers should not count. All of this brought the writer to this conclusion: "Anyone who took PEDs could have done what Alex Rodriguez did. He is just a cheater." The guy is clearly a baseball fan, so he KNOWS that statement is a lie. Thousands of ballplayers took PEDs in the 80s and 90s, and most of them still hit .225 with 6 homers a year. Alex Rodriguez has been a great baseball player for a very long time. Yes, A-Rod cheated. Yes, A-Rod is a jerk. But Negative Nellies are quick to throw out the baby with bathwater- especially if they hear someone else do it first.

My son and I often discuss how many people have become retroactively negative. It makes us crazy to hear people come out of a movie talking about how wonderful it was, only to be spreading the word about how awful it was after it starts getting negative reviews from others. I heard a perfect example a few weeks ago while standing in line at a fast food place. The two men in front of me were discussing having seen the trailer for the upcoming Star Wars Episode 7. They loved what they had seen, but were nervous. This conversation ensued...
Nelly 1: I want to be excited, but I'm nervous. The first three were so great, but the prequels sucked. Episode 3 was ok, and Episode 2 had some great moments, but Episode 1 was the absolute worst.
Nelly 2: Yeah I remember when it came out, I was so excited. I saw it in theaters 4 times. But it was so bad. That Jar Jar Binks ruined everything.
Nelly 1: Seriously. It was just so boring. I mean the pod race was amazing. And the final fight. And Darth Maul was the best. But that movie really did suck. I hope Episode 7 doesn't suck that bad.

At that point I was literally laughing out loud. Could they hear what they were saying? One guy loved almost everything in it, but is sucked. The other guy paid to see it 4 times, but it sucked. Unable to control my mouth, I added "Episode 1 had one of the great movie posters of all-time." Nelly 1 responded, "Oh yeah! The Vader shadow! That was awesome!"  These guys didn't hate the movie. They had caught the Negative Nelly disease from all of the people who enjoy ripping the prequels and had jumped on the totally negative bandwagon. Listen closely to the people around you and you will hear it today. They will be saying negative things about people, institutions, art and society when they either have no clue about what they are talking about or are just repeating the complaints of others. Negative has become our default setting. Rumors have become the language of the masses. The news feeds off of this. Reality TV feeds off of this. Blogs feed off of this. We have an epidemic of Negative Nellies on our hands. And it needs to stop.

There is nothing wrong with having a negative opinion about the people and things we encounter in our lives. Just make sure those opinions are educated and that they are YOURS! Think before you speak and put down ideas, people and culture. In fact, try this today- every time you hear a negative comment- even if you agree with it- say something positive in response. Be that jerk who sees the glass half full. Be the jerk who sees the glass as having free refills! Change the course of a conversation with some positive energy. This world could use a little cockeyed optimism. Let it begin with us! Have a great weekend!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, May 28, 2015

#TBT: Living In the Wild, Wild West!

For many of you this post will make no sense- and that's ok!  Just think of it as an experiment in time travel. It's a Throwback Thursday, and we're headed all the way back to around 1867, when the west was wild and rough and tumble men drank hard and fought harder. And then there were these two...

Welcome to the Rose of Cimarron Saloon

Dutch Jones & Dusty Semmler, Proprietors  

Not sure when this was taken, but pretty sure it was somewhere in downtown Myrtle Gulch. Not sure why it was taken, but you have to admit- the 'staches look good! But don't be fooled- if you're cheatin' at cards these tough hombres will gun you down in the blink of an eye. So come on in and have a beer or a sasparilly, dance with a pretty girl (as long as the Dutch & Dusty say it's ok) or listen to Gabby tickle the ivories while Miss Kitty serenades you. Ladies, flirting with the owners is encouraged! You men just behave yourselves and we'll all get along fine- and no one will get shot. There are always good times at The Rose of Cimarron Saloon! Re-opening September 9th in Ocean Isle for a limited engagement! Now serving nachos!!!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

So Now What?

When we moved to Kissimmee in 1994, Marilyn and I were away from family for the and friends for really the first time as a couple. We were starting over in many ways, and after putting boxes and furniture in the house it was time to get serious about what to do first in my new role as Director of Youth Ministries at FUMC-K. I had received letters from some of the youth and the adult volunteers welcoming me and indicating some of their hopes and expectations of me. These letters were written at youth group on March 20, 1994- about one month before my arrival. Most of these letters were encouraging and sounded as if the students were excited to have a new youth pastor on the way,  Others...well they certainly made me think. Here are a few direct quotes (yes I still have the letters; go ahead and laugh!) from the kid's letters. Names have been withheld to save any embarrassment (but those of you from FUMC-K are welcome to guess!).
  • "We look forward to your coming with much anxiety...I am not sure what changes you have planned."
  • "My favorite hobby is to start fires.  I hate cats and every time I see one I have no choice but to kill the animal.  I hope you are not a bug collector."
  • "I need to talk to you about me the day you get here April 14th."
  • "Brace yourself.  HA HA don't know what you are jumping into."  (This letter included a sketch of a man jumping off of a diving board into an empty swimming pool-  such encouragement!)
  • "Everyone here is excited you are coming.  I myself am not over enthusiastic, but I am glad someone is coming..."
If the youth letters left me feeling a bit nervous about getting started, the letters from the adults made it clear that the task was daunting and the expectations were high. Those thoughts were made even clearer by a survey I had sent to volunteers who were working with the group in advance of my coming. I had asked five questions of them. I wanted to know the strengths of the group;  the weaknesses; the primary needs, or where I needed to start; how they saw themselves fitting in; and finally, what had summer programs been like in the past. Over and over again I read that the strength was the closeness and commitment of the students who were involved, except for the few who found that closeness was translating into cliques. But now there were many less than had been there just a few years before, and people found that depressing. Having had three leaders in two years, with me being number four, had left everyone a bit staggered. The words that kept coming up were leadership and stability. The good news was I would have lots of help; one writer told me that some Sunday evenings there were more adults than students at youth group. The bad news was that there were more adults...

My normal approach would have been to work my way in slowly, seeing what was working and what needed to be changed. After reading the letters and surveys and praying about it, I knew I needed to come in with the cannons firing. This was a ministry anchored in the past;  both the glorious past of huge crowds and strong leadership, and the more recent past of failure and abandonment. It was time to go forward and to do it with great energy. Fortunately, summer was only 6 weeks away, and I knew I could show them leadership and energy like they had seldom seen before. The survey responses indicated that summers had been pretty basic in years past, with a mission trip and what they called "Breakaways" to lake homes or houses with pools on Sunday afternoons. At least five of the surveys stated that "anything I planned would be OK." I had to laugh. They had no idea who they were dealing with...YET!  They were hoping for a slice of good pizza. That summer they would get the entire pie! Sometimes first steps need to be baby steps- and sometimes you just have go whole hog! Youth Ministry was never dull. Never!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sunscreen & the #NarrowRoad

When my friends and I were teenagers and young adults there was nothing better than trips to the beach or hanging out by a pool once summer arrived in North Carolina. While me and my buddies interest was always in the closest body of water (or other "bodies" that might be a part of the local scenery!) my future wife and most of the other females we knew- as well as a few of the guys- were always more interested in "laying out." This was the common 1970s term for sunbathing, and it was both an art and a discipline. Sun worshippers would drag towels, chairs, boomboxes, books, coolers and assorted snacks down to the beach at 10 am, staking out a prime spot in the sun. Take notice now- there were NO umbrellas on the supply list! They would dress in bikinis that covered as little skin as possible and would apply the necessary lotions for being out in the sun. For my wife and many, many others this included tanning oils (SPF -100) to attract the blistering rays of the sun to their skin. It also included something called Sun In that was put in your hair to help the sun lighten the color. Properly prepared, they would then assume the position, laying on a towel on in a reclined chair for the next 6 hours or so. They would periodically flip over to "even out" the tan. While on their stomachs the women would undo the straps of their bikini tops so there would be no tan lines. And every so often they would wander down and splash themselves with water- or on really hot days even jump in for a while. But then it was back to the beach, hoping beyond hope to attract more ultraviolet rays and end the day with darker skin than the person lying next to them. It was ritual. It was normal. And as we know now, it was insane...

Sunbathing still exists, but it is radically different now and has been for many years. We discovered that too much direct exposure to the sun can cause cancer, damage skin and create a variety of other problems. Now we expose ourselves for shorter periods of time. We use sunblocks and sunscreens instead of tanning oils, sometimes with so much SPF that laser beams could not penetrate and reach our skin! And we carry umbrellas in our supplies when we spend a day on the beach. My wife, one of the darkest tanning sun worshippers of the 70s and early 80s, now has enough high protection lotions and sprays to stock a Walmart, and she makes certain that everyone is always covered. The patterns of "laying out" have changed dramatically, not because anyone wanted them to but because the passage of time gave us new information and directed us in new ways. Marilyn still loves to bake in the sun all day turning as brown as possible. She just has to approach it an entirely different way than before.

So what do sunbathing and bikinis have to with the #NarrowRoad? Just this- life is constantly changing. Our hopes, our dreams, our flaws and our gifts are always evolving. We can acknowledge this and make the changes that help us discover what Jesus has in store for our lives or we can fight the change because it makes us uncomfortable. We can go on believing that we know what is best for us, not Jesus. And we can find ourselves with leathery brown spiritual skin, ruined by the summer sun, all because we refused to listen and wouldn't deal with change. Jesus is the same now and forever. Almost nothing else is. The things we believe, and the way we put those beliefs into practice, should evolve. I look at myself at age 55 and praise God that I don't see faith, life or relationships the same way I did when I was 30. We need to learn. We need to accept new truths. And we need to let go of the bad ideas we once accepted as the truth. It's called growth. And it's a very good thing.

So what is this week's sign on the #NarrowRoad? Danger: Detour Ahead. Prepare to go a new way! And be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen. 

Because of Jesus,

Monday, May 25, 2015

Some Gave All

I detest war. All wars, in every form. The senseless loss of young lives, often dictated by old men trying to prove their manhood through power grabs and deceit in the name of patriotism, sickens me. War should always be the final option and the last resort. War should be seen as evil by everyone who worships the Prince of Peace.

But those who sacrifice their lives for our country, sometimes with no clear reason why, are women and men who deserve our highest accolades and our deepest respect. Many people have given of themselves to our nation in a variety of ways. But some gave all. And those are the people we remember today. Take time on this Memorial Day to give thanks to those who have given everything. And to pray for peace so that one day we will have no new names to add to the list of heroes.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Through the Roof!

Happy Birthday, Church! #Pentecost

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

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

    Saturday, May 23, 2015

    The Parable of the Grape

    Jesus told some amazing stories. This is clearly not one of his...

    Once there was a head. It was just a Head- it had no body, no arms, no legs, no feet. It was simply a Head. This Head felt left out in a world full of bodies. It was often sad and quite lonely. Day after day the Head would roll to work, roll to lunch and roll home. Each day the Head would look longingly at the woman who worked at the desk next to his, but he could never work up the courage to speak to her- because who would want to talk to a Head? Finally, late one night in the darkness of his bedroom, the Head could no longer contain his agony. He cried out, "God, please help me. I want to be different than the way you made me. I want to be ANYTHING but a Head!" God heard his cry, and when he looked in the mirror the next morning he was amazed to discover he was no longer just a Head. He had transformed into a Grape.

    He was thrilled. "Now I can really do something with my life," he thought as he rolled out his front door, "because everyone loves grapes." He decided to roll to the house of the woman from work and ask her out. He bumped against her door until she answered. She opened the door, but seeing as how she had legs and he did not, she looked out over the top of the Grape and did not see him. She retreated into her home. The Grape, however, refused to be denied. He again rolled up against the door until she responded. This time she opened the door, and again seeing nothing, stepped out the door to look around. As she did, she stepped directly on our hero- and squashed him into a tiny grape flavored puddle. The End

    So many times we spend our lives wishing God had made us differently. We want to be better looking. We wish our personalities were different. We want different gifts. Pro athletes long to be musicians; musicians want to actors; all of us desire to be significant. It is an endless cycle. We forget the words of Psalm 8 which tell us that "God made us a little lower than the angels and placed a crown of glory and honor on our heads." In the words of the old southern evangelists, "God don't make no junk." I try each day to pray for God to use me just as I am- flawed in so many ways- so I may serve God and do the things He created me to do. Perhaps we should quit praying for God to "make us special" and simply be the people we were created to be. Want to feel special? You were made by God. It doesn't get more special than that...

    By the way, this parable (as most parables do) has a moral. And here it is. Ready? Quit while you're a head.   :)  

    Because of Jesus,

    Friday, May 22, 2015

    The Gift of Encouragement

    Let me tell you a story. A young computer programmer started his own company. They dealt in hardware and software and very quickly established a niche for themselves in Silicon Valley and beyond. Bigger companies offered to buy them out, but the young man stuck to his guns and continued to grow his little business. Soon his reputation was that of a genius and his little company had become a very big deal. When Apple came calling, asking him to become their new CEO, he could not refuse. He was soon the boy wonder of the computing world, adored by many and respected by all.

    He was replaced at his little company by a unknown woman, previously a simple programmer at an even smaller company. Immediately there were struggles. Other business leaders did not respect her. Reviews of new products were unmerciful and scathing. After only one month on the job it seemed that both she and the company might not last. Four months later they were on the verge of going under.

    At that point she received a very strange phone call. It seemed that the CEO of Apple, the biggest of big shots in their business, wanted to come by and address the employees and shareholders of the little company he had founded. She was stunned, and even thought it might be a prank. But it wasn't. The young man came to the meeting and shared with the crowd that the woman was indeed the right person for the job and that they should have faith in her. He reminded them that he had come from nothing as well. He stood up for her and gave her the boost she needed to carry on. And from that day forward attitudes changed, perceptions changed and the little company once again began to flourish. She had never asked for the kindness she received, but it changed her life and the lives of those who worked for her- forever. Encouragement can do that. It can change the world.

    That story is a parable, made up by this writer to make a point. But it has a mirror image that is not fictional, but is in fact very real. The young man in the real story is David Letterman, and the company was Late Night- his show at NBC. After Dave left for CBS he was replaced by another young man named Conan O'Brien, an unknown writer who was in way over his head as a performer. And just like in the parable, under the new leadership the show floundered and nearly failed. But for reasons that Conan still doesn't understand, Letterman (who by then was the hottest name in television) asked to come back on his old show as a guest. And he brought his A game. He told Conan that he was doing great and that he was right where needed to be. When Dave left, his words of encouragement lifted the entire cast and crew to a new level- and gave Conan another 16 years as the host of Late Night. On his current show on the night of May 20th Conan told this story as a tribute to Letterman, and added this: "If you have ever liked any silly or stupid thing I've done on television over the past 22 years, you must know that it probably never would have happened if it weren't for DaveAt one of the lowest points in my life, when I was a national punchline, Dave, for reasons I still don't really understand, rescued me. I still believe that that simple act of kindness turned everything around and made all the difference."

    Whether in business, athletics, personal relationships or faith, there is incredible, awesome and amazing power in encouragement. A few kind and supportive words and deeds can change someone's day- or their life. Today I challenge you to seek out someone you know who needs a lift, a boost or a rescue. Reach out to them and give them encouragement and hope. You cannot imagine the impact. And you will be a better person for it. Have a great weekend!

    Because of Jesus,

    Thursday, May 21, 2015

    #TW3: Port of Call, Hawaii!!!

    I hope some of you are enjoying this fake week as much as I am!  Welcome to Day 3 of my fictional ultimate Youth Week, based on a week I planned 3 different times and never got to do. To catch up on what this is all about check out the label #TW3.  This week is much like the movie "Inception" or the tv show "Lost." If you can figure out where or when any of this is supposed to be happening, and which parts might be real and which parts are only a dream, then please-  TELL ME!  It's all a bit strange... 

    "Howareya, 5-O?" Day 3 (Tuesday) of the the "best Youth Week ever" finds us heading to the beautiful Hawaiian islands for an amazing night of tropical fun and fellowship. But first, we have some interesting activities to keep you busy while we are at sea. Enjoy!

    On-Board Activities
    10 AM-  Meet at the church (Which one? Your guess is as good as mine!) and you'll be given a team, a driver and a list of Random Acts of Kindness you can do in the name of Jesus! The list will take you all over Tampa, and you will document your team serving others with a digital camera. See how many people you can make smile with simple acts of service in a two hour period. Then gather back at the church...

    12 noon- It's time for buffalo wings (courtesy of PG's in Kissimmee) and Beach Volleyball (you didn't really think I would have a "dream church" and not have a beach volleyball court, did ya?)! In addition to regular volleyball, there we will play some Ultimate Volleyball, with everyone on the court at one time as we seek to break our all-time record by keeping a beach ball in the air for over 150 hits. At 1:30 PM it's time to go home and shower- but hurry back!

    5 PMHula Dancer Practice. If you would like to learn to Hula, and you are willing to perform in front of a crowd, then come to the Youth Room and learn from the best! Matthew and Brook TeoliElizabeth DykesKim Heiter and Ben Thacker will teach the ancient Hawaiian art of Hula (OK, full disclosure- I don't know if any of those people can actually Hula dance.  But they get the job because they are the best dancers I have ever known.  Except for Ben...).  The dancers will then perform as part of our Luau! No talent required- just exceptional bravery!

    Port of Call:  Hawaii
    6 PM- Join us at Disney's Polynesian Resort where we have taken over their outdoor Luau area for a Hawaiian extravaganza!! The evening will begin with an a amazing dinner featuring all sorts of authentic island dishes and drinks- the non-alcoholic type! As you eat, you can see the pictures that groups took earlier in the day as they performed Random Acts of Kindness. Dinner will be followed by a Hula contest, a performance by our nearly-professional Hula dancers (the ones you see on the right WILL NOT be asked to perform!), a Limbo competition and Body Surfing (Remember that one? Someone stands on my back and tries to "surf" while I attempt to throw them off.  Watch out for the big waves...). Our Disney Video Moment will feature Lilo and Stitch.  The Drama Team will present the skit Ohana Means Family (featuring an appearance by Elvis!), which will lead us with music (Chances we open with Lahina are 100%!) followed by worship with our guest speaker, Hawaiian pastor Rick Bundschuh (father of Justin "Pepe" Bundschuh of Spooky Tuesday fame). Rick will help us Save the Humans by reminding us that church people can be a difficult bunch to get along with sometimes, as he speaks on the topic Jesus, Please Save Me From "The Christians!" We'll close with some more music and a time of commitment. Be sure and bring everyone you know to this great night of fun and faith! And be sure to visit this blog again next Thursday as we head for Antarctica. Penguins!!!

    Because of Jesus,

    Wednesday, May 20, 2015

    Goodnight, David Letterman

    Tonight is David Letterman's last night on late night television after 33 years. So much has been written and said about Dave and his legacy, and it seemed fitting for me to (mostly) let the words of his peers be my tribute to him today. When Dave's dear friend (and kissing buddy) Julia Roberts made her final appearance last week, she summed up in one sentence my deepest feelings about Dave: "I just want to say David Letterman I love you, and I thank you for all of the joy and the laughs and the intelligence you have brought to us for 33 years."

    You see, it occurs to me that it is indeed his intelligence that sets Dave apart from his modern peers. I love Jimmy Fallon, I watch his show quite often and he will be my go-to guy in the days to come- but the truth is I don't want to live in a world where Jimmy is the "King of Late Night." Jimmy's Tonight Show does sketches and broad comedy gags better than anything SNL does anymore, but his interviews consist of fawning all over his guests and telling us that their new horrible movie is "just the best." Dave was just the opposite. As Julia Roberts said to him recently, "Stupid people annoy you." And it's true. In just the past few weeks Dave did lengthy and in-depth interviews with former President Clinton, President Obama and Michelle Obama- and we learned things. He inspired us after 9/11; he shared a heart attack and personal scandals with us in very courageous ways. Letterman has often joked over the years that the road to the White House went through the Ed Sullivan Theater- and he was only partially kidding. His interviews could make or break a candidate. But even while being intelligent, Dave always made us laugh. In these past few weeks we saw Tina Fey rip off her dress, announcing that in honor of Dave it was the last dress she would ever wear. We heard Cher tell Dave that she loved him, but that he is "still an a**hole." We witnessed George Clooney handcuff himself to Dave and tell the startled host, "You ain't going anywhere!" The audience gasped as the great American actor Al Pacino made an unannounced appearance just to read the numbers for a Top 10 list. Not the actual list; just the numbers! We watched as the comedian Norm MacDonald wept while telling that Dave that he loved him. Last night we watched Bill Murray jump out of a cake for the final "regular" show. And this same mixture of comedy, intelligence and emotion has been going on for 33 years. So one last time, I want to say #ThanksDave. It's going to be weird knowing you aren't there. And as promised, here are some things others have said as we bid him a fond farewell...

    In their own words...
    He was, for me, and I think many comics of my generation, an incredible epiphany of how a talk show or how entertainment or how television could… for God’s sake, the man put a camera on a monkey. There are so few people that can innovate that format. And then…to be an innovator with longevity, I mean, damn. The list is Dave. I think the list is Dave. - Jon Stewart on The Daily Show
    "As I write this, there are only 10 shows left before the funniest, most inventive and smartest man who ever wore an Alka Seltzer suit goes fishing for good. None of us who discovered Dave on our own and claimed him as our own will ever be able to satisfactorily explain to the younger people who didn’t what he did, what he meant and what he means. I guess it doesn’t matter. It’s only an exhibition, not a competition. Thanks Dave. For whatever it’s worth, you’re my favorite. (And Paul, I love you too.)"  - Jimmy Kimmel in Time Magazine

    "Dave was a true revolution- and I believe his innovations are up there with the light-bulb and the Twix Bar." - Conan O'Brien in Entertainment Weekly

    David Letterman gave us 33 years of innovation, fun, and just plain weirdness… but mostly fun, and he opened our eyes to the type of comedy that could be done on television...he taught us that comedy could be both smart and stupid." - Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show

    Adam Sandler sang this tribute after telling Dave that long ago he, Spade, Farley, Rock and the rest had realized that Dave was better than they were:

    (While speaking to Dave on the show) “When I heard you announce that you were retiring I thought, ‘he’s got to be joking.’ And then I remembered, ‘wait, you’re not funny.’” - Steve Martin

    "And as far as I'm concerned, just for me, that's what is happening here now. May 20th will be the day the comedy dies. Yeah." - Ray Romano (referencing the song American Pie on is last appearance).

    Jay Leno could not be reached for comment, but if he had said something it would have been something someone else (probably Howard Stern) already said. Because that's what Jay does.

    (On The Late Show Monday night) "Like everyone else here, on Thursday I'm just unplugging the boob tube and ripping out the cord. I can watch anything else I need to see in 7 minute clips on YouTube." - Tom Hanks

    "Of all the great opportunities and great moments we have had because of this show, our first time on Letterman has to be right at the top."  - Mike Greenberg on Mike & Mike In the Morning

    (While speaking to Dave on the show) "Let me just say this. The truth is, what you have meant to all of us- all of us as fans- and I'm going to tell you why I'm going to say it. I've watched you , Dave- I've been at home, I've watched you in my underwear. There are not many men I have watched in underwear. Here's the thing- what you've meant to us- all of us- with so many of the laughs and everything else, but also walking us through the times when we didn't know what to do- like 9/11 and where we weren't sure when we could laugh again. You may be going off the air, but you belong to us for the ages, my friend." - George Clooney

    And that's just about all there is to say. I am a big fan of Stephen Colbert, and I hope he will do well. But to be honest, "I wouldn't give his problems to a monkey on a rock!" Following David Letterman is a lot like following Babe Ruth. There is only one Greatest of All-Time. Dave, of course, would say it's Johnny Carson. But it's Dave. Norm MacDonald said it's got to be true! 

    Goodnight Dave. 

    Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    I'm No Good On My Own

    "I'm so thankful that I'm incapable of doing any good on my own..."

    We live in a society that is performance based. Our self-worth is often tied to our accomplishments. We identify ourselves more by what we do than by who we are. We encourage people to "make something of themselves." And we so often take this attitude with us into our spiritual journey. We approach the #NarrowRoad the same way we would approach climbing Mount Everest. If WE train hard enough, prepare enough and do all the right things then we can reach our destination. Living life with Jesus becomes just another thing we can accomplish if we will just put in the effort. And then, were we ever to achieve our goal, WE would claim the victory. Well friends, I have some good news for you today, and it's an important lesson of the #NarrowRoad. It ain't about you. It's all about Jesus. And I, for one, am thankful for the knowledge that it is- thankful that I am no good on my own!

    Walking with Jesus does not require us to bring a GPS, a walking stick, supplies and our very own "can do" attitude. Following Jesus requires us to give up. To surrender. To acknowledge that he is charge and that we have not chance of salvation without him. Of course there are things expected of us as we learn from our Guide, but that is very different from a belief that we can plow our own road and find out own way. We cannot. 

    One of my favorite bands is Caedmon's Call, and one of my favorite songs of theirs is Thankful. It expresses far better than my words the joy we should find in the knowledge that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do make God love us less. We just need to praise God for the gift of grace and the salvation that comes with it. None of us are good enough on our own. All of us are good enough with Jesus. And for that, today and everyday, I am thankful! Enjoy the song, and celebrate your neediness.

    Because of Jesus,

    Monday, May 18, 2015

    I Believe in McDonald's (Sorta)

    Today features another post is my ongoing series of Things I Believe (and you probably don't!). This post is both brief and insignificant, but some things just need to be said. Even if in a whisper...

    I believe in Breakfast at McDonald's. It is so popular these days to use the fast-food giant as a whipping boy for obesity and unhealthy eating habits, and they no doubt bear their share of blame because their french fries, when hot and salty, are both amazing and bad for us. Seasonal Shamrock Milkshakes don't help the cause either. But there are 3 reasons why my family still loves getting breakfast from Ronald's house- which we do about twice a week. They have a wide variety, from oatmeal to pancakes to sandwiches (my family is fond of the southern chicken biscuit). They have wonderful breakfast beverages, both hot and cold (Marilyn & Will love the Mocha Frappes and Lisa prefers the iced coffee, while my diabetes has reduced me to a black coffee guy). And no matter where you go in this great country of ours, and no matter what you order, at McDonald's (for better or for worse) it is always exactly the same! There is something to be said for taste, quality and consistency. And at breakfast- really the only time we eat there anymore- McD's still has that. And I'm lovin' it!

    Sorry this is so short, but I gotta' get moving. Will wants a chicken biscuit, a hashbrown and a frappe before heading into work at Olive Garden early this morning. Have a blessed Monday!

    Sunday, May 17, 2015

    Blessed Are the Riffraff

    Riff Raff- from the Underdog cartoons. Yeah...I'm old!

    Matthew 9:11-13 - Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers. "What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?"  Jesus, overhearing, shot back, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders."   (The Message)

    If you've ever been in leadership with a student ministry then you have no doubt heard comments like these, usually from parents of other teenagers:
    • "Why are you letting that girl go on the mission trip? She has all of those tattoos and piercings, and everything she owns is black. She's scary..."
    • "I heard that the boy with the blue hair smokes dope. He shouldn't be here. His parents don't even go to this church!"
    • "Why is that pregnant girl singing a solo with the youth choir when my good little girl Angela- who's never done a thing wrong in her life- has never had a solo?"
    • "You need to quit paying so much attention to all of the scum that are coming to youth group and concentrate on the kids of church members. It's church members that pay your salary, not these rejects you seem to like so much."
    I didn't have to make up those examples- they are very close to direct quotes of things said to me over the years (there was no Angela- the name was changed to protect the guilty!). You've probably heard similar things about adults in your church as well. As the scripture from Matthew 9 tells us, the Church has struggled since the very beginning to know how to respond to "notorious sinners." I have read several articles lately that attribute this problem to the fact that the business of the church is to reach the lost, while our churches are full of folks who are "saved." According to these authors it is this phenomenon that creates a tension in our congregations. Our churches are full of good people, and it is difficult for them to open their fellowship to the riffraff of the world. That's what they say. Really.


    If our churches were really full of people who understand the teachings of Christ, those people would be bending over backwards to serve the lost and the hurting. Here's what I think. I think that our churches are full of people who have a knowledge of Jesus, but not a relationship with Him. We know how to act like a Christian, and so we do- forgetting that "all sin and fall short of the glory of God." We spend so much time pretending to have it all together- denying the sin in our lives by pointing out the sin in the lives of others. And when we come face to face with others who are openly struggling with sin and temptation, with others who are lost and seeking the answer, it scares us. We are afraid because they are different, and because their lives are real and ours are not. We are afraid that someone might discover our sin and blow our cover as "Super Christian!"  Think back to the examples I gave from youth ministry. Have we truly given our hearts and minds to Jesus if we have attitudes like that? Of course not. There is no love or grace in that kind of language. There is only judgement and condemnation. It reduces Christianity to a performance based love, and here's how it works- if you look, sound, dress and behave like think a Christian should, THEN you are welcome in my church. Max Lucado wrote that God doesn't say: "Change your life and I will accept you." He says "I accept you- now let's change your life."  We want people to have it all together before they ever show up. Jesus told the Pharisees he didn't want them to have religion at all. He wanted them to have mercy. He wanted them to welcome the tax collectors and the lepers and the outcasts of society. He wants us to do the same- but not with an attitude of superiority or by acting holier-than -thou. It's a slippery slope to travel, because if you spend too much time thinking, "Thank God I am not like the Pharisees," then guess what? You are becoming one. Jesus saved us all with an amazing unconditional love that has nothing to with our performance. It has everything to do with surrendering our hearts to Him and sharing His love and grace with our world.

    I have been a Christian for a very long time, seeking to follow Jesus in every aspect of my life. I have failed in more ways than I can recount here. But that's not the worst part- we all fail. The worst part is that I became convinced that as a pastor I was to never let anyone know I had struggles. There is no glory in being a pretend saint. When my sin exploded into public view, I suddenly became one of the outcasts. There were many brothers and sister in Christ who never quit loving me, and that grace carried me through a couple of very hard years. But a couple of pastors and a large part of the institution of the church just saw me as damaged goods. They felt it sent the wrong message to have a sinner involved in church (think about that line for a moment...). One church told me and my family to stay away. I had become the riffraff. We keep getting the story wrong. The Good News is not that because of Jesus I no longer sin and therefore am better than you. The Good News is that Jesus came for you, and me, and the girl with the tattoos, and the guy with blue hair and the pregnant girl. Jesus even came for the Kardashians. He came for the riffraff. And to paraphrase the great Pogo"we have seen the riffraff- and it is us!" We all "need a doctor." Until we learn to love people not because they are like us, but because Jesus loves them, we are missing the boat. And the Church is missing its calling.

    So today I offer you my own Beatitude. Blessed are the riffraff, for they will be called friends of Jesus. Welcome to the club...

    Because of Jesus,

    Saturday, May 16, 2015

    This Morning's Playlist

    My morning music so often sets the mood for my entire day, getting my mind in gear and my spirit engaged. Today was no exception. Here are the first 10 tunes that my Nano- set to shuffle- came up with in the early hours of this fine Saturday morning...

    1. This World - Caedmon's Call
    2. Home - JOHNNYSWIM
    3. Do You Believe in Magic? - The Lovin' Spoonful
    4. What Would You Say - Dave Matthews Band
    5. The Show Must Go On - Three Dog Night
    6. She's Gone - Hall & Oates
    7. Touch of Grey - The Grateful Dead
    8. Closing Time - Semisonic
    9. Who I Am Hates Who I've Been - Relient K
    10. Something To Talk About - Bonnie Raitt
    And then just for good measure, #11 was Randy Newman's I Love L.A. Any song that encourages us to "Roll down the window, put down the top, crank up the Beach Boys, baby, don't let the music stop" is a great beginning to any day! Good stuff to start a great day. So pack up your troubles, put a smile on your face and let music whisk you away to your happy place too! Enjoy your weekend. Peace, my friends!

    Friday, May 15, 2015

    Flashback Friday: Uncredited Glory

    If you were to enter the Jones house between 6 AM and 7 AM (and sometimes later on) on pretty much any Monday-Friday you would find Marilyn and Will getting ready for work and school. You would find me fixing breakfast. And you would find our TV set to ESPN2 and Mike and Mike in the Morning - at least until That 70s Show reruns are on. I have been watching Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic for years, both for sports news and their great sense of humor. They are quite famous, appearing on TV and radio four hours a day, plus the occasional SportsCenter and other specials.  They have written books. They get to attend events and do things (broadcasting Monday Night Football, guesting on Letterman and throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field, for instance) that most of us can only dream of. They get more than their share of glory. They also get bashed by others in media on a regular basis for a variety of reasons. Back in 2010 they shared a story that really hit home with me, and I wanted to share it with you again today.

    It seems that the Mikes had done a scene in the very forgettable movie Just Wright. They played themselves, doing their show and trashing the basketball-playing main character of the film. Their scene is pivotal to the plot; after hearing the guys kill his rep on air, the player retreats to his house, where he is shown sitting in his bedroom, depressed and watching a narrated documentary on jellyfish. It sets the scene for his comeback, which is the primary storyline of the movie. Golic (the big Mike) went to see the movie opening weekend with his family, and sat in the theater afterwards to see his name in the credits. He saw hundreds of names roll by, but no Greeny or Golic. He saw the "Jellyfish Narrator" credited by name, but no mention of his own. It seems that their pivotal roles had gone uncredited- and despite the rest of their fame and accolades neither of them were happy about it! 

    Their story made me think about life in student ministry. When you plan major trips and events and things go right, you bask in the glory. Students love you and parents think you are a genius. When things go wrong, you suffer the embarrassment and humiliation, not to mention the wrath of the Senior Pastor. To those around you it must seem like you live your life in the spotlight. But the fact is, the most important things you do as a youth pastor are things that very few people know about. Maya Angelou once famously said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." That is a brilliant description of youth ministry. The true ministry of a youth pastor takes place in-between the big events and programs. That is when you can truly show them Jesus. It takes place when a student gets dumped by his girlfriend and they call you for advice. It takes place when a student's parents are splitting up, and she shows up at your house to talk. It happens when they have partied too much and can't drive home, and they call you for a ride. It happens when a young lady travels thousands of miles to see her boyfriend, only to find him with another woman- and she needs a shoulder to cry on. It happens when a 16 year-old girl has a wreck and doesn't know what to do, and she comes running into your office looking for answers- and hugs. True youth ministry takes place when the students understand that you love them and will be there for them. No judgement, no condemnation- just love. The church does not see or read about these moments, but the kids know. And Jesus knows. This is the uncredited glory.

    I remember in the early 1980's at New Garden getting a call from a young woman whose ex-boyfriend had shown up at her house drunk and violent, and I went to get him.  There was a time in Tampa when a young woman from Wesley Memorial after her father had thrown her out of his house and needed someone to be there for her. I remember a long conversation with a young man whose family and friends had bailed on him, and he was thinking abut throwing his life away. You know what all of those situations had in common? They all took place AFTER I was no longer the youth pastor of the students involved. To know that I had a lasting impact on the lives of some of the youth I ministered to was all the credit and all the glory anyone could ask for. I no doubt failed more times than I succeeded;  but I hope I showed the students I served that Jesus will never fail them. That was always my goal, even if sometimes I lost sight of it. Today and everyday I thank God for the opportunities God gave me to impact the lives of students in Jesus' name. Like Greeny and Golic, my name (and the names of countless other youth pastors) may not always show up in the credits here in this world, but, because of Jesus, I know that "When the roll is called up Yonder I'll be there..."  And that is all the credit anyone could pray for!

    Because of Jesus,

    Thursday, May 14, 2015

    #TW3: My Dream Youth Week, Day 2

    Welcome to Day 2 of my fictional ultimate Youth Week (TW3- That Was the Week That Wasn't!), based on a week I planned 3 different times and never got to do.  Confused?  Go back and read the Thursday posts from the past 2 weeks. Still confused? Then I can't help you...

    It's Monday on the Youth Week Worldwide Cruise, and we are at sea! Enjoy the day with some great adventures and our explore our exotic location in the evening. Here's the schedule:

    On-Board Activities:

    9:30 AM- Meet at the church (still don't know which one!) and we will head over for our annual Putt-Putt Masters Golf Tournament at Walt Disney World's Fantasia Gardens course. This is your chance to compete against some of the worst mini-golfers in the world, including 1998 Festival of Fools champion Adam Hill (pictured). You'll play in 4-person teams with a "Best Ball Captain's Choice Scramble" format, and the winners will take home vintage 1999 "Comin' At Ya' Like a Blitz" t-shirts! How great is that? You can use golf words like Par, Fore and Bogey that you seldom get a chance to drop into everyday conversation. The golfer with the lowest score will take home the coveted Purple Jacket. Plus we will have a Hole-in-One contest and several other surprises. You can be picked up at the church at 12 noon if you need a nap after all of the excitement, or.... 

    12 noon- You can join us for The Lunch Bunch! We'll be going to Pizza Inn for the incredible buffet (Yes- I know Pizza Inn is in High Point, NC, and the first event took place in Florida. You still aren't getting that this is my dream week and EVERYTHING is possible!) and lots of great fellowship. And after all, what is a cruise without food? Be sure and try the cherry "pizzert." We'll be done at 1:30 PM. And then it is on to our first port of the trip...

    Port of Call:  Australia
    7 PM- Our first stop on the Save the Humans worldwide cruise is the land down under!  Join us in the Youth Room (could be The Attic, could be the Dungeon, could be the Overflow or The Love Shack) and we'll play some Australian themed games (Kangaroo Hop Technicolor Stomp, anyone?) and make our very own Vegemite sandwiches. Our drama team will present a skit featuring the world's worst Crocodile Hunter, and we''ll have a Disney Video Moment with The Rescuers Down Under. Our friends from Gatorland (yes, we are back in Florida) will stop by with some friends for us to pet, and the good people of the local Outback Steakhouse will provide some snacks for us. And the night will end with music and worship featuring a message from all-time favorite guest speaker Duffy Robbins, entitled Real Christians:  An Endangered Species.  Bring all of your friends and come join us. We might even throw some shrimp on the barbie...  

     Be sure and join us next Thursday as we lift anchor and head for another exciting port!

    Wednesday, May 13, 2015

    These Are a Few of My Favorite Tweeps

    It's hard to believe that it has been nearly 5 years since I joined the revolution in social media known as Twitter. After a year or so of thinking of it as a place where celebrities told us in 140 characters or less what they had for breakfast or who they saw out at the clubs, I decided in July of 2010 to open an account and explore it myself. My first step was to follow some athletes and broadcasters I admired and seek out anyone I knew who might be on Twitter- which was a short list. Eventually my list expanded to include lots of youth ministers and Disney fanatics, and slowly but surely people began to follow me. I tweeted often and responded to anyone who mentioned me. Every Friday I participated in the now nearly extinct tradition of Follow Friday (#FF) which led to numerous conversations and lots of new contacts. There was a time when I hoped to someday have 100 followers. It seemed odd when my list of followers reached 500; it seemed surreal when it reached 1000 and surpassed the number of members whom I followed. I remember one night at Tijuana Flats sharing with an employee that I was on Twitter, and she asked how many followers I had. When I responded 1100 she gasped, and said "WOW- you are Twitter famous!" The answer, of course, was NO. The list kept growing until I reached the over 2500 that follow me today. It has also been instrumental is spreading the word about this blog. So to paraphrase the great Chico Escuela, "Twitter has been bery, bery good to me!"

    But that's not what I wanted to write about today. Twitter was first and foremost for me a place where I encountered some wonderful, loving, caring and thoughtful people who gave me encouragement and support. Many of us used Twitter to converse on a regular basis about things both meaningful and silly. Friendships developed with people we had very little hope of actually meeting. When many of them discovered my past transgressions in May of 2011 through posts on this blog, they simply reached out with grace. These strangers became part of my inner circle, members of my family. And I love them.

    Twitter has changed. There are fewer conversations and more posturing and agenda promoting now than ever before, and I am as guilty as the next person. Politics are used to divide people and label each other. And some of my favorite Tweeps, not willing to put up with that nonsense, have left or are seldom around anymore. And I really, really, REALLY miss them, and I miss talking to so many others. So today on Twitter I am using the hashtag #TwitFavs to shout out to many of those who were so important to me in my early days on the medium and to let them all know they are thought of and missed. The lists will also acknowledge those who are still important parts of my life on Twitter. The lists will be long and scattered throughout the day, but I hope to convey a sense of just how many Tweeps impacted my life over these past 5 years. And if you are on Twitter and looking for some people to follow, I suggest EVERY SINGLE PERSON that I mention today. They are simply the best! Have a Happy Hump Day, and keep on tweeting my friends!