Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!

May your day be full of more treats than tricks, and may all your ghosts be friendly ones!

Friday, October 30, 2015

"Death...NOOOO..." (A Rant)

My son Will and I are huge movie buffs, and over the years we have developed our own "short hand" language, using lines from movies to make specific points to one another. One of our favorites comes from Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, the mostly forgettable sequel to the most excellent Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. In the plot of Bogus Journey (and I use the term "plot" extremely loosely here!) Bill & Ted are battling the Grim Reaper for the right to not be dead. Yeah, you read that right. In one scene that are playing charades with some aliens (again, I cannot make this stuff up) and the aliens are making some wild gestures and hand signals, seeming to indicate it is a movie. Suddenly the Grim Reaper blurts out a guess- "Butch and Sundance, the Early Years!" Bill & Ted look at their teammate, shake their heads in disbelief and utter this immortal line- "Death...NOOOO..."

Anytime Will or I see or hear something that seems so completely moronic, out of place or inappropriate that we cannot believe it just happened, we will look at each other and repeat that line. It happens more often than you might think. It is our way of saying "I can't believe you just went there!" 

So what does this have to do with anything? I read a blog a while back from a guy I will call Kevin- because that is his name. I refuse to tell you more than that because I do not want to send traffic to his blog. (As a side rant, are there any other 3-2-1 Penguins fans out there who have trouble saying the name "Kev-innn" with a straight face?) In a post about the current state of the Christian church in USAmerica, he made the following statement:  

"The Jesus found in scripture would act differently and teach differently if he were in 21st century America. He would be much more conservative, much more restrained. He would focus more on sin and less on loving one another. The church needs to realize that just as Jesus would have a different focus, so must we. We need to preach hell fire and damnation. People need to understand that an angry Jesus is waiting to judge us.  Talk about grace all you want to, but trust me- we will all be judged."


We cannot re-write the teachings of Jesus (GOD!) just because they seem out of step with the church of today. Instead we must change our churches to be more in step with the radical, ridiculous love and grace of Jesus Christ. We are promised in scripture that he is the same yesterday, today and forever. I try really hard not be judgmental of others, but in this case, I believe Kevin has earned the coveted Green Weenie Award for representing the WORST the church has to offer our world. In fact, I would suggest to Kev that he check out the urban translation of Proverbs 10:19"Speak not at all, because you are gonna' say something stupid!"

My prayer today is that God will grant me the wisdom and the strength to follow and represent the REAL Jesus. The one who came to save us, not condemn us. The one who taught us that whatever the question, love is the answer. The one who gave birth to the Church so that we might follow him, not so we can mold him to our beliefs. Thank you for loving me, Jesus.  And forgive me for my judgment of Kevin.

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Throwback Thursday: My Philosophy

Happy Throwback Thursday! Today we are blasting all the way back to June of 2015- you heard me, 2015! In one of my Saturday Shout Outs posts I shared some points of personal philosophy with my readers, including several things about the way I was seeing life back in June. Since then...let's just say there have been some serious tests of my insights. There has been a great deal of pain and suffering associated with my friends and family. There has been loss. Many nights my eyes have been watery; many days I have questioned the things I believe. But through it all life goes on, and we can choose to hide or to face the fire. You see, there have also been moments of great joy and sheer emotional exhilaration. Life is nothing if not mixed emotions. Today I will be with Lisa Jewett as she gets a CAT scan in preparation for her surgery scheduled for November 10th. With so much going on it seemed like a good day to remind myself of these principles. Perhaps they will be something you need as well...

* Philosophy Update #1: "You know life is like a train. It's bearing down on you, and guess what? It's gonna hit you! So you can either start running when it's far off in the distance, or you can pull up a chair, crack open a beer, and just watch it come!" Eric FormanThat 70s Show  In the original post the next words I wrote were, "And I say bring it on!" Be careful what you ask for I suppose. But I have also been reminded that LOVE is also a runaway train...and being run over by the  love train is a blessing beyond all others!

* Philosophy Update #2: I can't even explain how much I love this quote- or how important it has become in my life. It is a brief instruction manual on seizing life and wringing the most from it, not matter the circumstances. And I find there is a great spirituality hidden in these words. Thank you, Samuel Langhorne Clemons!

* Philosophy Update #3: "Don't goin' shooting all the dogs down just 'cause one's got fleas!" ~ Brandon FlowersDreams Come True  It's past time to stop looking at labels and start seeing individuals. We are all uniquely created. We all have flaws. And we all need each other.

* Philosophy Update #4: No more focusing on flaws, in myself or in others. Let's focus on the joys and sorrows we all deal with, not on the smelly parts of our lives! So often we feel invisible until we do something wrong. Let's accentuate the positive in our lives!!!

* Philosophy Update #5: "When you get up in the morning and you see that crazy sun, keep me in your heart for a while. There's a train leaving nightly called when all is said and done, keep me in your heart for a while."  ~ Warren ZevonKeep Me In Your Heart
The late great songwriter composed those words after he knew was dying with mesothelioma. The song is an anthem to holding tight the people and the memories that matter because we simply do not know what tomorrow holds. David Letterman once asked the terminally ill singer if he understood more about life as he approached death, and if so, what advice he might offer. Zevon's famous answer? "Enjoy every sandwich." The past few months have made those words ring true in ways I could have never imagined back in June...

That's it for today. So to sum up our philosophy lesson- laugh, love, forgive, never regret a smile, don't label people, focus on the positive and enjoy every sandwich. Kissing slowly is optional. :) Those are my new goals each and every day. Have a blessed day, and I do hope you'll stop by again soon. If not, then please do "keep me in your heart for a while..."

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Asleep at the Wheel

There are many of us who pray every day that there would be a Jesus Revolution in our land. Today I want to focus on one of the primary reasons such a revolution is so slow in coming. It's at least in part because we Christians have a tendency to fall asleep at the wheel...

In Mark 14: 32-40 we read about Jesus going to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. This was right after the "Last Supper" and just prior to his arrest. As was often the case at the most important moments in his ministry, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him. They were his guys- his inner circle. As Jesus goes off to pray, he asks them to wait on him there. Three times he does this. Three times they are asleep when he returns to them. It seems unbelievable that his best friends could fail him like that- but they did. Jesus needed them to be there for him- but they simply fell asleep.

In many ways the followers of Christ have been dealing with the same problem ever since. We know what needs to be done. We have all of the teachings and theology that anyone could ever hope for. We read the words of Jesus that command us to love God, to love other people and to carry the message of His love to the world. We know there are things need to be done. But we're asleep at the wheel. Our lives motor down the highway accomplishing "important" things that make us more significant in the eyes of man, but we are fast asleep as we pass the exit signs that say Jesus Revolution. We tell ourselves that others will take care of that stuff. We fool ourselves into believing that after we become successful and powerful that THEN we will honor God. We go to work, we manage our lives, we manicure our lawns and we amuse ourselves. And then we give Jesus what is left over. But there seldom is anything left over- so like the disciples, we sleep.

The institution of the Church (in USAmerica, anyway) is not much better. We are often so busy with buildings, committees, fundraising and "minding the flock" that ministry to the lost and hurting takes a back seat. Too many of our churches today believe that the best way to take Jesus to the world is for us all to be "nice." Christians are nice. We can do nice in our sleep- and that is exactly the problem! Followers of Jesus should be loving and respectful, but we should also be RADICAL! We prefer taking political stances and preserving our "Holy Huddles" to actually taking the risky, radical, world-changing love of Jesus to our communities. Listen to these words from the late, great Keith Green:

The world is sleeping in the dark, and the church just can't fight
Cause it's asleep in the light, How can you be so dead?
When you've been so well fed
Jesus rose from the grave
And you, you can't even get out of bed

The teachings of Jesus seem wild and sometimes outright ridiculous when compared to the standards of the world we live in. If your faith and your belief-system make you feel comfortable and safe, then you need to go back and take a look at the things Jesus taught. You may well be "asleep in the light." If there is going to be a Jesus Revolution that brings hope, peace and joy to those who are sleeping in the dark, it is going to have to come from those who claim to be disciples of the risen Savior. If we are to live out Matthew 25 and minister to the homeless, the hungry, the naked, the criminal and the rest of the "least of these," then we are going to have to get off our couches to do it. If we are going to change this world in His name, then we need to stop arguing politics and theology and wake up to the challenge of sharing God's love with everyone. 

It's time to realize that for far too long we have been happy to play church and take our naps. Nap time is over. The world needs Jesus, and it is time for some spiritual No-Doze. Who's with me?

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I Am Not

When Moses asked God who he should say sent him to save the people of Abraham, God responded "tell them I AM sent you. Yahweh is the "I AM," the God who was and is and is to come; the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I am none of those things, and neither are you. We are but tiny parts of God's plan, like so many before us and so many around us. When John the Baptist was asked if he was the promised Messiah, he replied, "I am NOT...but there is one who will come and reveal everything God has promised." We, like Moses and John and Peter and so many other giants of our faith, are NOT. But we know the great "I AM." As you worship today, be WIDE OPEN to the fact that God is God...and you are NOT. Open your hearts that God might use you so His will can be accomplished on this earth. Submit yourself so that Jesus might have His way with you and that you might quit trying to have your way with Him. Only then can His light shine its brightest. Only then can Jesus truly be the hope of the world.  A sign I used to have up in my office said The Main thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main thing! I pray this prayer today in the hope that it will keep me focused on the things that truly matter.  I hope you will pray along...

Loving God, today I turn my life over to You. My skills, my failures, my sin and my joys all belong to You. I recognize that my life is not about me, but it is all about You. I realize that I sometimes like to play god, but that I am NOT..You ARE! Help me to understand that Jesus did not die on the cross so I could accomplish some political agenda or achieve some lofty position on this earth. Jesus died for my sins, because I am a sinner. Jesus gives me grace so that I might offer love and forgiveness to others, especially to the "least of these brothers of mine" who are in need and to the lost who think themselves to be beyond His grace. In the words of King David, himself a sinner of great magnitude, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit with in me, so that I might serve You." Use me, and I will give you the glory. Remind me today that I am NOT...but I know I AM, and that when I serve You we can offer hope to a hurting world.

In the name of the great I AM,

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Even Better Than Before: "Soulmate"

In early 2015 I finished writing a novel I called Even Better Than Before. It's a story of a group of old friends reunited at the beach after years of being apart. The main character, Brent Thomas, was a famous singer/songwriter whose life and career had fallen to pieces some 8 years before this gathering. Seeing these old friends marked his return to society as he found redemption in love, friendship and the start of something new in his life. The scene below takes place near the end of the weekend as Brent prepares (after several days of requests) to sing his huge hit song Soulmate for his friends on the balcony of the Betsy B. Enjoy!

Brent stood with his arm around Keri and surveyed the crowd. He would sing one more song. But first he had one more sermon to deliver.

“Craig loves to rag on me about how all women like to believe Soulmate was written just for them. Obviously it was written with someone special in mind.” He smiled down at the beautiful woman standing next to him. “But the truth is at various points in my life it could have been written for any of the ladies here tonight. Kristen, you were my first major crush. Alicia, you were my comfort and confidant in those early days when life seemed so confusing. Ally, you were and always will be my little sister. Cassie, you were a friend I could always count on and someone with whom I could have easily fallen in love. Sharon, you know you will always hold a special place in my heart. Stephanie, you were the girl at camp that everyone dreamed about, and I was no exception. And Nina, I just met you this weekend but you are clearly my buddy Jeff’s soul mate and you fit in here so well. I’m so glad you came. The song Soulmate is about a person without whom you are incomplete- a person you cannot live without. This weekend it has become very clear to me that all of you- men and women alike- are my soul mates. I don’t want to face the future without you guys by my side. My friend Tim and I talked a lot about the parable of Prodigal Son and how that applied to me. Keri and I have talked about it too. Coming home was scary. I didn’t know how you all would react. I did some pretty stupid things. But you haven’t even asked for explanations or excuses. You’ve just welcomed me with open arms. You’ve killed the proverbial fatted calf and thrown the best party ever. And unlike the other son in that story, you are happy that life seems to be ready to give me a second chance. They say it’s during the worst times of your life that you get to see the true colors of the people who say they care for you. And I have. I can honestly say that Keri is the reason I showed up this weekend. But every single one of you is a reason I don’t want to leave. You are truly my soul mates. So if you have ever believed I wrote this song for you, I hope you will keep right on believing. This one’s for all of you.” And with that, Brent Thomas let go of Keri, picked up his guitar and launched into his most famous song.  ~ Carl Jones

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday Frustrations

When you try to blog most every day like I do, there are going to be days when you just feel like you have nothing to say. That is normal, and those days can be dealt with fairly easily. It's days like today that are more difficult. There are lots of things on my my mind and in my heart that I could write about- things that are right on the edge of bursting out! And every single one of them is something that needs to be kept inside. Just because there are things that I need to say does not mean that you need or want to hear them. For instance...

  • There are so many things on my mind about issues like politics, patriotism and nationalism. But my views would be divisive, even among my closest friends. And no good ever comes from starting arguments about politics. So I won't.
  • There are so many people I could write about today. People that I love, people that are hurting, people who are angry at me, people who are disappointed in me, people who need me, and people who don't understand me- so many people. The ones who weigh the heaviest on my heart- the ones who give me reason to write- are the very ones I cannot write about today because my emotions are running too high and my heart is pounding too fast. So that must wait.
  • I could write about my beloved baseball, where the World Series is about to begin. But the truth is that I have ignored baseball this summer with far too many other things on my mind, and to write about it now just so I can have a blog post today seems nearly hypocritical. Plus the Cubs are out now, so what's the point...
  • One of the things that has been on my mind a lot lately is how easily we do the right things for the wrong reasons, and how sometimes what society sees as the wrong thing is exactly the thing we need to do. But that post would confuse us all- including me.
  • I could write one more time about how important it is to live in the moment, to seize the day and to enjoy very sandwich. But the truth is that for me this is a day I don't really feeling like seizing. It's more of day of introspection and "what ifs?" And that's okay...
So today I'll just have to not write about any of those things. Life is filled with stops and starts, with fun and frustrations. The key is always moving forward. Have a blessed weekend my friends.

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, October 22, 2015

One Insane Day in Youth Ministry

Happy Throwback Thursday! I have mentioned on many occasions that youth ministry often causes you to push the limits of sanity in order to increase excitement and attract students.Over the years many of those days have occurred during the summer, especially during Youth Week.  Today we remember one very wild and wacky day.

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

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

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

I don't know that any of these events, taken on their own, were particularly memorable to the youth who attended, but days like this were very important to the ministry.  They were days that Jerry and I looked forward to every summer. The great Tony Campolo once wrote a book entitled The Kingdom of God Is A Party. I hope we communicated that feeling in our ministry, and in those wild, wacky days.

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wordless Wednesday

For my fellow survivors of the 1980's- after today, everything from every Back to the Future movie happens in the past. Think about it...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Green Lights on the #NarrowRoad

I believe that the world is divided into two kinds of people. Those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't. With that in mind...

For many years the following was true- if I was in a car I was driving it. I love to drive. In addition to personal vehicles, much of my life was spent compiling hundreds of thousands of miles driving church vans. But over recent yeas I had not been driving as much. Watching other people drive was a unique experience in many ways. You learn so much about them. And today I want to focus on one aspect of driving that has a lot to say about the #NarrowRoadWhat do you do when you come to green light?

My research had led me to the belief that there are two kinds of drivers when it comes to green lights. There are the ones who see a green light and approach at full speed, unconcerned that it could change at any moment, never considering that they might not make it through before the dreaded yellow light appears. These driver are bold and confident. They expect good things to happen to them. They refuse to be negative.

The other type of driver approaches a green light by slowing down. They immediately doubt that the green light will hold long enough for them to make it through. There are negative thoughts in their minds, and caution in their foot- often tapping the brakes (or at least removing their foot from the accelerator) even as the light is still green. They EXPECT to have to stop. And because they slow down and hesitate, they often do stop, thus reinforcing their own expectations for the next traffic light.

Each of these styles comes with built in issues. The Green Means GO drivers like myself often accelerate through lights, occasionally running them when they are bright yellow- or sometimes pink. The more cautious crowd tends to occasionally clog up intersections and draw the ire of people like me, who scream into their windshields things like, "the light is green you moron!" Although it drives me crazy, there is no right or wrong way. It's just part of who you are, part of your personality as a driver and human being. And thus we reach my question for us all today...

Which style best defines the way you live life and your approach on the #NarrowRoad? Are you a charging bull, unfazed by warning signs or doubts that you could be wrong? Do you see life as opportunity to go for it and grab all the gusto you can? Or are you more the "slow down and see what awaits you" type? Do you not even need warning signs to make you cautious? Is every situation one that needs to be approached with care and thought? Bottom line- are you more an optimist or a pessimist when it comes to the road of life? 

Me? I not only believe the glass is half full, I believe it comes with free refills! This attitude gets me in trouble quite often, and leads to the occasional broken dream and bloody nose. I leap before I look far more often than I should. I know I should pray for guidance and wait for wisdom more that I do. On the other extreme, those who slow down for the green lights of life are often paralyzed by fear, too seldom taking chances or those sometimes necessary "steps you can't take back." Sometimes God does say "wait." But other times God just wants us to GO! Like most things in life, it's all about finding balance and finding peace with who you are and with the God who made you this way. 

So today pay attention to yourself or to your driver. What do you do at a green light? It say a lot about who you are...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, October 19, 2015

Just Another Manic Playlist

Life feels more like a roller coaster than ever lately. The highs seem higher and the lows feel lower, and there have been some big climbs and some stomach-shaking drops along the way. Every Monday is a fresh start; a chance for things to begin anew with new hope and new love. And nothing reminds me of that more than music. When I started listening to the iPod on shuffle this morning, the first song was Manic Monday. I took that as a sign that this was a good day to share another playlist with my readers, so here are the first 10 songs I heard today. Have a blessed Monday- and here we go!

  1. Manic Monday - The Bangles
  2. Only Wanna' Be With You - Hootie & the Blowfish
  3. Daisy Jane - America
  4. Too Many Nights Too Long - Poco
  5. Miss Atomic Bomb - The Killers
  6. Somewhere Somehow - Michael W. Smith
  7. One and the Same Thing - Lobo
  8. Fine By Me - Andy Grammer
  9. Our Sweet Love - The Beach Boys
  10. Think of Laura - Christopher Cross
That's a list that makes me smile. I hope you find your smile today as well, and that this will be a wonderful week!

"Enjoy every sandwich"

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Notify Your Face

The following story has been around in various forms for many years, but it seem like a good thought for today. So here we go...

A preacher stood in the pulpit on a Sunday morning and faced his congregation. He welcomed them with words from Psalm 100- "Make a joyful noise to the LORD!" He told them that his heart was FULL of joy as he stood before them, so happy to be in God's house of worship. He told them that a life spent following Christ was a life filled with joy, now and for all eternity. He quoted scripture, reminding them that even in their giving they were called to be joyful. The entire time he was speaking, his face was somber and his voice was unemotional. He delivered those words of joy with the countenance of someone suffering from acid reflux. He finished by saying to the gathered crowd that anytime he was in the presence of God, his heart was filled with great joy and happiness. With that, one of his more vocal parishioners could not take it any longer. She rose to her feet and shouted for all to hear,"Well if your heart is so full of joy, could it PLEASE notify your face!"

Too many times the world sees the face of Christianity as one of somber piety. The impression we give is that God is a great cosmic killjoy, and that following Jesus is really hard and sucks the joy out of life. Following Jesus IS hard...but it gives joy, it doesn't take it away! Far too often we Christ-followers tell the world that we doing okay under the circumstances. What are we doing under any circumstances? Jesus went to the cross and rose from the dead so that we might live ABOVE the often depressing details of life.  The Bible's letter of joy, the book of Philippians, was written by Paul while he was in jail! Believing in and following Jesus means that we are "more than conquerors"- no matter the situation! So today, as you go through your paces and face a world that often beats us down, remember- we worship a God of joy and love. Feel that in your heart, know it in your mind- and don't forget to notify your face!!!  SMILE- Jesus loves you! And the world needs to know...

Because of Jesus,

Friday, October 16, 2015

Celebrate the Day!

Today my lovely wife Marilyn celebrates her birthday, and I hope you will all join me in wishing her the happiest of days! She's been my partner in marriage for 29 years and a wonderful mother to Will for the past 20. She has loved and cared for us both in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse. She is the rock of our family, and we love her very much. This afternoon she will be headed over to Disney and will spend the evening with Will and Michelle at EPCOT. It's going to be a day full of celebrations! 

Happy Birthday, Marilyn! We love you. May the coming year be full of blessings and joy!!!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

I'll Have What He's Having..."

One of the great stories told about the late Rich Mullins in the book An Arrow Pointing to Heaven concerns his time in the pubs of Ireland. Rich loved Ireland, and loved to spend his evenings mixing and mingling with the people at their local watering holes. Irish pubs are famous for their vitality and hospitality, but there was one odd thing about Rich enjoying them so much. He was a teetotaler- Rich did not drink alcohol at all! But still he would be in the pubs, telling stories and laughing with the people. And almost every night, according to author James Smith, Rich would be honored with the ultimate pub salute- patrons yelling out, pointing to him and saying, "I'll have a pint of what he's having!" They could see that Rich was overflowing- with the love of Jesus.

Over the years my youth groups were often accused of being the "life of the party." We were always very visible; we were often very loud. There was never any doubt that when we were together, we were having fun. Other youth groups were often jealous of the joy and freedom we shared. People we didn't know often weren't sure what to make of us- we never seemed "pious" enough to be a church group to them. We seldom had rules and regulations; we had a shared respect born from a love for one another. This often freaked parents out, but it made our ministry special and different. And people saw this difference in us. Every motel and every restaurant we ever booked invited us back and commented on how much they enjoyed having us- even the ones that were scared to death of teenagers! It's not that we were angels; I made bazillions of mistakes and we did not always represent Christ as we should have. When we did fail, we would address the mistakes, forgive each other, and move on. The band Stellar Kart once described grace with the words "There will always be a second chance and you will always be on your first try."  We tried to live out that kind of love. We were far from perfect, and we were sometimes obnoxious. It's just that we were Jesus Freaks, full of life, love and joy. We knew how to SHINE (Make 'em wonder what you've got, make them wish that they were not on the outside looking bored.  SHINE, let it shine before all men, let 'em see your works and then let them glorify the LORD- Newsboys)!

There are so many people who have a view of the church as boring and joyless. It is my prayer that from New Garden to Springfield, on to Kissimmee and Chicago, Tampa and Waycross, that people who encountered my groups in restaurants, malls and everywhere else found themselves wondering where our joy came from. The answer, of course, is Jesus. I hope that after they encountered me, surrounded by teenagers and singing Lean On Me in line at Disney World that people young and old looked at each other, smiled, and said, "I'll have a glass of what they're having!" - and that through our actions and silliness Jesus was glorified!

One last thought- if you think that following Jesus is boring, I suggest you try reading your New Testament one more time...

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Save the Mustache, Save the World!

Marilyn, Lisa and the Philly Phanatic (Honker!) last March

Most of my readers are aware that last week the contest to Save or Shave my 35 year old mustache to raise money for Lisa Jewett's battle with cancer ended. We raised about $900 and you voted to save my old friend, so it all worked out well in the end! Marilyn, Lisa and several other very vocal friends are quite happy not to see my upper lip go naked. I am pleased as well, although I must admit having to shave it would have made for a great video and a great blog post. Just like with FOX News, my blog is better when there is sensational video to back up a fairly boring or fictional story!

So with my mustache safe and the contest over, you may be wondering why I am writing about this again today. It's simple really. You see, the Save It of Shave It? competition was never really about saving the mustache- it was about saving the world! You may wonder how keeping this furry thing on my upper lip could save the world, and it is a legitimate query. It won't. But a great man once told me that ministry in the name of Jesus is not really about changing the world- it's about changing the world for just ONE person. And that was what the mustache battle was really all about. We set out to help change the world for Lisa. And here's why today's post is important; we aren't done yet. Lisa still faces chemo again tomorrow, then surgery and then most likely more chemo. Even with health insurance the bills will mount. She has medicines to buy, food to purchase and rent to pay. She will not be able to return to her job as a 1st grade teacher until March at the earliest. There is much to be done. You may be finished saving my mustache, but we are not finished saving Lisa from huge financial stress. It's not a charity or a worthy cause, dear friends. This is a ministry, and one we can all share in. We may not be able to help everyone in need, but we can help one person. We can pray, we can give and we can love. And we SHOULD do it, because Jesus commands us to care for one another. We can be heroes.

So please keep Lisa in your thoughts and prayers, especially as we begin another cycle of chemo tomorrow. Please let her know she is loved. And if you are financially able, please visit her Go Fund Me Page (just click and go!) and make a donation. You have already saved my mustache. Now let's get busy saving the world!

Because of Jesus, 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Sometimes our journey down the #NarrowRoad is a tricky one, even if we have directions and a GPS system. Witness the following account...

This past Sunday morning began slowly at the Jones' house. Our friend Lisa had spent the night with us after having a rough day on Saturday, and the plans for the day were uncertain. She and Marilyn had originally planned to go to Disney for the day, but they were both afraid Lisa was not quite up to that adventure even though she was feeling better. But we all wanted to get out of the house for a while. So I suggested we take a trip to the Shops at Wiregrass, a large outdoor shopping center located about 35 minutes away. It was a beautiful day and that sounded like a plan, so around noon we prepared to leave. As I was opening the garage it suddenly occurred to me that we didn't know exactly how to get there, so I returned to the computer and did a MapQuest. After originally being told it was in New Port Richey (and knowing that was untrue)  we tried again and got directions. We were off an running on our grand adventure. And we had no idea what lay ahead of us...

We followed the prescribed route to I-275 north and then to exit 59 for highway 56. The MapQuest told us not to go right or left, but to follow 56 towards Tarpon Springs for 7.7 miles, then to make a U-turn and our location would be on our right. We were enjoying the ride, having merry conversations and playing Skittle until we began to fear something was not right. We had traveled too far and still not seen the intersection that was supposed to warn us we had gone too far. Now doubting our printed directions, I turned on my phone GPS and discovered Google Maps said our destination was still 20 minutes away. That made no sense, but we kept driving. The cell signal was cutting in and out as we made our way through exciting Pasco County, but we finally reached that moment every man dreads. We stopped to ask for directions. As we did my signal suddenly reappeared, and it told us we were now 24 minutes away- in the WRONG direction! So we U-turned (not the U-turn from the original directions!) and started back east. My GPS suddenly told us to take a left turn- on a road we had passed several miles back. This was insane, so I killed the GPS and went rogue- following road signs! But we decided that the mistake had actually happened way back when we exited I-275 and went left towards Tarpon Springs. We went back, crossed over the highway, and found the Shops at Wiregrass about a mile down the road. It should have been so simple. We did everything right. We had the technology. We followed the directions. And it took us nearly an hour and a half to make a 35 minute trip. And all to go to a glorified mall. There were many reasons to be upset and miserable. But we weren't.

In fact, the entire messed-up adventure became a wonderful distraction and a great story. We were talking and laughing about silly things and happy moments. We grabbed some lunch at Panera, the first real meal Lisa had eaten a a couple of days. We wandered around outdoors, basking in a beautiful October afternoon in Florida. There was shopping, laughing and a bit of rare serenity as we spent the day together. Though we arrived at our destination in a totally unexpected way, we did arrive- and the trip was so much more than we could have anticipated when we began.

The #NarrowRoad is often much like our Sunday afternoon. We think we know where Jesus wants us to go. We do what we think are the right things and follow what we think are the right directions. And sometimes, despite our best efforts, we end up LOST. We aren't the people we want to be, and reaching that destination requires altering our routes, rebooting our GPS systems and making big and sometimes unexpected U-turns. The life Jesus calls us to is not a path this world understands, and so the maps we follow are often out-of-date and incomplete. We far too often count on our own abilities and expect to "arrive" because we are good people who know the right things to do. It's just never that simple. And so many times the best lessons and the greatest moments occur when we are lost and wandering. I tweeted last week that the hardest days often come with the biggest blessings- if only we will see them. I believe that. We prefer our lives to be simple and easy. But the truth is our joy often comes from overcoming obstacles. There is fear and frustration in being LOST. But there is sooooo much joy in being FOUND!!!

One last thought. As we have told this story to other family and friends over the last couple of days, Lisa has always ended it by saying that we drove straight home- and it was very anti-climactic. She is so right. We say it often, but it is so true- when traveling the #NarrowRoad, do not miss the joy in the journey. There is much to be learned from being LOST!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Birthday, Michelle!

Many of you know that I am a believer in Ohana. This Hawaiian word loosely translates to "family," but not in the traditional sense. My dad has been gone 10 years now, and I miss him. I love my mother very much. But as an only child with no close cousins, the truth is my family has always been made of people with whom there is no blood relationship. My family is extended- in a wide variety of directions. And that has been one of the true blessings of my life.

A few years ago our son Will began dating one of his best friends, a beautiful young woman named Michelle Carroll. She immediately became a part of our Ohana. She is sweet, funny, smart and caring. Her family has been wonderful to Will and to us, often including Marilyn, Lisa and I in their special events. We have come to love Michelle almost as much as Will does. And that is saying something...

Today Michelle celebrates her birthday. She and Will will be taking a day off from work and college (they have no Monday classes anyway) to spend the day at the Magic Kingdom, with dinner tonight at The San Angel Inn at EPCOT. We wish them a wonderful day full of joy and surprises. The great Disney film Lilo & Stitch teaches us that "Ohana means family and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten." What an amazing definition of what family ought to be. Michelle, thank you for being such a huge part of our Ohana. Happy birthday sweetie- we love you very much!!!

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Today is the LORD's day. All over the world people will worship Him, pray to Him and thank Him for the grace and forgiveness He gives each of us through His Son, Jesus the Christ. Yes, today is the LORD's day. Is it the only day we will give Him this week? Our challenge each day is to carry Jesus with us as we walk through the trials and tribulations of our world. We need to be led by the Holy Spirit as we encounter difficult situations. We need to "let go and let God." This is true every day. You may not know it, but for some of you reading this today there has seldom been a more important day to live in God's grace and share it with the world than tomorrow.

Tomorrow is a day in which we may come face to face with the ghosts of the hurt, pain and anger of days gone by. It is a day in which we will have the opportunity to offer hope instead of condemnation; when we can show love instead of disdain; and in which we can offer grace in the name of Jesus. It is entirely possible that you will not want to do this tomorrow. You may prefer to see someone suffer more for their sins, feeling no amount of suffering is enough. You may prefer to ignore a person in need of love and a kind word. You may think they are only getting what they deserve. It is so tempting to feel that way- and temptation is exactly what it is. Judging someone as "beyond lovable" is a thought that comes straight from The Deceiver. Where would we be if God gave us what we deserve? I can't answer for you, but I sure can for me- and I don't like the answer one little bit. "My sin not in part but in whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more..."  Without those words, I am just a sinner, and I am lost. With them, I am a child of God, forgiven and free. It makes no difference who we are or what we have done, we are worthy of God's love. The question is will we accept it...

In the Gospel of John at the beginning of chapter 8, Jesus comes upon a woman accused of adultery. Her accusers are preparing to stone her, because in their eyes she no longer has any worth as a person. When Jesus arrives, the crowd attempts to gain his approval before commencing. Jesus kneels down and begins to doodle in the sand while they await his response. He finally says to them, "Let him without sin cast the first stone." One by one, the rocks drop from their hands and they walk away. Jesus asked her, "Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?" She replied, "No one, sir." Then Jesus declared, "Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin."

The question for us is, what will we do tomorrow when we encounter "the sinner," for it is an encounter that is bound to happen. Will we see the pebble in their eye, or will we be aware of the boulder in our own? Will we decide that it is our place to carry out judgement, or will we understand that Jesus died for every sin, not just ours? It is so very USAmerican these days to go Old Testament and demand "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," forgetting Gandhi's reminder that "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind." To think that way is to forget that the coming of Jesus changed everything. It is human nature to carry grudges and never forget sin; indeed, we love reminding others of their sins. It is God's nature, as demonstrated in the gift of Jesus, to love and ALWAYS forget our sins. With God looking on, with Jesus in your heart and with the Holy Spirit leading the way, how will you respond tomorrow? I say "you" because I already know my answer. I don't know much, but I do know this- "The longer I know my LORD, the more I know- I've got no stones to throw."  

Today is the LORD's day. And so is tomorrow. Share God's love and forgiveness with everyone you encounter. And if you happen to run into any returning prodigal sons (besides me- I have already been welcomed home with amazing grace!), go to them. Hug them. Break out the fatted calf! Because that is exactly what Jesus said to do...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Even Better Than Before: A New Excerpt

This is the story of Brent & Keri- old friends and soul mates

Earlier this year I wrote an as yet unpublished manuscript which is titled Even Better Than Before. The book is about a group of old friends having a fun and a fantastic reunion at a beach house. It is also about songwriting, romance, grace and redemption. But mostly it is a love story about two old friends who come to realize they are the very best part of each other's lives- even if they cannot be together. People have asked me where the title comes from. It comes from this scene which takes place about midway through the story. Enjoy- and let me know if you are intrigued and would like to read more...     

     It was just after 1:30 am when Billy slipped into the room he was sharing with Brent. He and Cassie had stayed out on the beach for a couple of hours, talking, laughing and making love. Brent was still wide awake, contemplating the events of the day and night. “Everything good, bro?” he said to his late arriving roommate. “I think so, “Billy responded. “I’m afraid Cassie and I are getting in pretty deep this weekend. And this time it’s not just sex.” Brent couldn’t help but chuckle, but he knew his old friend was being sincere. “She’s a great girl. A free spirit for sure, but with a heart of gold.” Billy sat up in the bed. “I know there’s a little history between you two, but I’ve never really known what. Care to share?” Brent sat up as well. “Yeah, it’s a pretty short story. There was a period of time, before she met Justin, when I used to ask her out on occasion. She always said no, that she didn’t want to do anything that might mess up our friendship. Story of my life, right? I accepted that; I just thought she and I could have a lot of fun as a couple. Then one Sunday afternoon after one of our epic football games over at the middle school she went back to the apartment with us and hung out a while- as she often did. I did notice that she seemed particularly flirty that day, but I didn’t really think anything of it. It was Cassie. This was during the period of time when I was off and on with that girl Amanda…remember her?” Billy shook his head. “Oh yeah…I remember Amanda. Hot as a firecracker and dumb as a stump!” They both laughed. “Yes,” Brent continued, “that was her. Anyway, we had been out the night before and decided to give our relationship a real shot and see if there was anything there worth holding on to. Cassie got home that Sunday night and called me. After a bunch of small talk she got around to the point. She had been thinking about it. Maybe we should try dating after all. We just seemed so comfortable together. I explained that while I still liked the idea, the timing was terrible. I had just committed to Amanda. She was dating Justin already. I told her we should wait and see what might happen. And you know the rest.” Billy studied the face of his friend. “So you guys never hooked up at all?” Brent smiled. “Nope, bro. Not even a drunken one-nighter.” 

Billy cringed at those words. Only months after Brent left for Nashville, with the pain of being left behind still a fresh wound in his soul, Billy and Keri had gone out on the town with a few other friends. There had been a lot of drinking and a lot of crying on each other’s shoulders about how much they missed Brent and how complicated his leaving had been. They wound up back at Billy’s apartment, and Keri spent the night. The next morning they immediately regretted what they had done and agreed that Brent should never find out. But, as almost always happens when secrets are kept among friends, he did. He was crushed by what felt like a massive betrayal. Billy knew that he had asked Keri to come live with him in Nashville. Billy also knew that his feelings for her ran very deep. Was it just payback for not taking Billy to Nashville with him? At the time Brent had seriously wondered about that very point. Both Billy and Keri passed it off as “just a drunken one-nighter.” Brent had never been certain. And now he had just pushed Billy’s buttons on the subject yet again. “Dude,” Billy began, “you have no idea how sorry I was- how sorry we both were- that us sleeping together ever happened. She was not one of my typical conquests. It was just a case of two very good friends who were hurting and had too much to drink. It messed me up for a while. And I’m afraid her guilt and pain over that night was what drove her to get serious with Mark. It was a bad night. Just a really bad night.” Brent could feel the remorse in Billy’s body language and hear it in his voice. “No worries, Bro. Shit happens. We both know that. Like you said before about the Nashville thing, it’s water under the bridge. We move on.” Billy stood and began to pace around the bedroom. “Thanks Brent. That means a lot. This whole thing with Cassandra has me thinking a lot about moving on. There is a huge part of me that thinks I may be ready to settle down, to actually grow up. I want to be with her all the time. And that scares me.” Brent smiled at his friend. “Yeah, it makes me a little nervous as well to hear you talking like that. But I know what you mean. I want to move on too, to actually start life over again, and to start my life with Keri. I just don’t know if it’s in the cards.” Billy stopped pacing and glared at Brent. “It has to be in the cards, dude. You two actually are soul mates. And I am starting to believe me and Cass are too.  It’s not just a song anymore. We’ve all shared so many great times and so many incredible moments. Our history is full of great stories. But what if all that stuff was only a prelude? What if the next chapter is not about re-living a past we loved, it’s about living a life that is even better than before?” Brent pondered those words for a moment and then responded. “Yeah. What if?” There was a moment of silence, and suddenly Brent sprang to his feet, a wild look of inspiration in his eyes. “Billy- what was the last thing you said?” Billy thought for a second and then replied, “What if all of this is about living a life that is even better than before? Is that the one you mean?” Brent grabbed his buddy and hugged him. “Yes! That’s the one. Even better than before. Bro, that’s a song just waiting to be written! Grab your guitar. We’ve got work to do.”  ~ Carl Jones

Friday, October 9, 2015

Flashback Friday: The Sawshack Redemption

Today's Flashback Friday tale is a rarely told story from my 18 months spent as the Director of Student Ministries at the Union Church of Hinsdale, Illinois 

Greg and Chris were members of the Work Tour 2000 team, but they were not your typical Union Church of Hinsdale youth. They did not come from great wealth like many of the students did.  Both of them actually seemed more at home in Dungannon, VA than they did in Hinsdale. They both had a bit of redneck in them. They were also two of the students who had surprised me so much with the smoking and the swearing on the trip east (see You Have Got To Be Kidding Me). So it came as no surprise to me when they volunteered to work on in the falling down utility shack that was out behind the mobile home we were working on. They would be doing two major tasks out there- sawing lumber for other projects and cleaning out the shed itself. The building itself quickly became known as The Sawshack (Pictured: not the actual Sawshack, but a smaller version that looks quite a bit like it!). It would be the site of a lot of hard work- and more than a few adventures.

In the early part of the week much of the team became very frustrated with the Sawshack crew. It seemed you could never find them when you needed them, and it was taking way too long to get sawing jobs done. They seemed to be playing with the junk in the shack more than they were cleaning things out. David (the primary adult leader on this trip- I had only been in town for one month) had words with the two boys but nothing seemed to motivate them. Then one afternoon (I think Tuesday) while we were working on the "great wall" (see I Got It...I Don't Got It...Bzzzzzz) in the trailer, I heard a loud crashing noise, some screaming and some hysterical laughter. I went running into the living room to find one of the windows smashed to pieces. No one was hurt (praise God!) but there was glass everywhere. I looked through the broken window into the back yard, and there stood the boys. None of us could believe what we were seeing. They had found an old skeet launcher (as used in skeet shooting) in the shack. And some skeet. Curious to see if it still worked, they had dragged it out in the yard, loaded a skeet, and pulled. It worked- and now a window was missing. And they thought it was hilarious.

I was livid. A family of 5 was living in that trailer, which now had air conditioning that it did not need. While others started cleaning up the mess and preparing to go shopping for a window, I took the boys out to the shack where we had a "come to Jesus" meeting. It was explained to them that the money for the window would come out of their pockets. I impressed upon them the fact that everyone else was trying so hard to be of service to this family, while they seemed intent on making things worse. They were told that from that point on I wanted them anchored to the saw; there would be no more smoking breaks (I was certain they had been sneaking off to light up- and I was right) and no more goofing off. It was time for them to step up and be part of this team. Most students who have ever been a part of any of my groups will tell you that I don't get angry often, but when I do, it is ugly. This was one of those times. They met Hulk Jones very early into our time together...and they didn't like me when I was angry!

For the rest of that trip, Chris & Greg were hard workers, great team members and model citizens. The Sawshack became a place where work was done quickly and accurately. Their work ethic and and attitudes changed so much that it became known as The Sawshack Redemption. The grace that was shown them by the family and the rest of our team made a huge difference, not only on that trip but in their participation in youth activities after we returned to Hinsdale. Over time, the indoor skeet shooting became legendary and something we could laugh about. Grace does that- it turns our worst actions into things we can live with, because we understand God loves us anyway.

Tomorrow I'm going to share another except from Even Better Than Before. I hope you all have a blessed and grace-filled weekend!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Floridays 1990

Today's Throwback Thursday takes us all the way back to our 2nd trip from Springfield Friends Meeting to Walt Disney World- Floridays 1990! I wish there were more pictures to share, but we took slides for our post-trip slide show, and those slides were lost in one of my moves. Still, here are 7 things that stick out in my mind from that adventure:

1)  We had many great "performances" while at Disney. We saw Heather Beggs and Mike Mercadante dancing in front of the "Chinese Theater" that houses The Great Movie Ride. There was J.J. Carter delivering his line to David Letterman"Hey Dave, why don't you ever do anything educational?"- at Superstar TV. But the performance of the week had to belong to Kelly Allen (pictured, on left) and her ongoing portrayal of Lucretia Soul Disney Murphy Johnson, who could never figure out "who da hat be wif" and who was constantly on the lookout for Tyrone Mouse- "cause he's a liar!" Best supporting actor awards go to Wendy Mattocks and Jennifer Woods, also pictured.

2)  Russell Farlow ran out of money on about the second day and was constantly trying to borrow from his friends. At the awards ceremony following the trip he was awarded the Brother, Can You Spare A Dime Award.

3)  Jon Moran (pictured, along with Bryan Dowling) celebrated a birthday while we were in Orlando, and we did a birthday meal at the Olive Garden. I remember it was fun and that we had a great time, but I it seems like we were there forever. There were 60 of us, and they just couldn't seem to get our food out, our drinks filled or our checks out so we could leave. Jon may have aged a year while we partied...

4)  One night, after a very long day at the parks, we arrived back at the Gold Key Inn only to find that we had lost Dana Oxendine. We were searching and getting a bit frantic when someone discovered her asleep in the back of the Suburban that Butch Moran was driving. Given that Butch had been accused of falling asleep at the wheel on occasion, it was a miracle she could sleep that soundly!

Stinky also reads the blog!
5)  I have been on a lot of youth trips in my life, and on most of them there is one room that develops a smell that is, as my friend Alan Brown used to say, "taint"-  as in, "that jus' taint natural!" The award for worst smelling room ever (mostly from very natural causes!) goes to Jamie RobinsonDanny McCorquodaleKen HillJeremy Godwin and (part-time) Todd Farlow. They blamed it all on Jeremy's stuffed animal Stinky (who still takes trips with Jeremy on occasion!). Danny took most of the credit for himself...

6)  On the afternoon we spent by the motel pool, Tim Harding (our trip pastor), Robin Thomas and I wandered across the street (Well, sprinted!  You don't wander across the Orange Blossom Trail and live to talk about it!) to an A&W Root Beer store. Those were without question the best root beer floats in history! They made them with Breyers vanilla ice cream and put them in frosted beer mugs. We had more than one that week I can promise you!

7)  The New Mickey Mouse Club was popular in 1990, and the show had produced a spin-off band called The Party. One of the guys was named Chase Hampton. He was spotted at the Magic Kingdom one day by some of our girls- Jennifer SimmonsEmily BeggsElizabeth Tillman and others- and was then pursued until they caught him and got his autograph on their hats. The restraining order took effect the next day...  

So there you have it- a few classic memories from Floridays 1990! There are more stories on this blog from that trip, and you can find them by searching the label below this post. Have a great Thursday and thanks for sharing in this trip down memory lane!

Because of Jesus,