Saturday, January 31, 2015

Let It Be

Last night was one of those times when without warning my head and my heart were filled with negative thoughts. I woke up around 2 am very angry with myself and the world, and I began to write an epic blog post to share with you today. It was the verbal equivalent of HULK SMASH! I vented about people, situations, relationships, dreams and my dog. I used harsh language and spared no feelings. I was particularly hard on myself. It was a brutal post. And somehow, by the grace of God, I didn't hit "publish" as soon as I finished. As fired up as I was just pausing was in and of itself miraculous. I took a breath before clicking send.

In that breath I turned on some music and my library pulled up The Beatles singing Let It Be. As I listened I calmed down and thought about the damage my words could do if I shared them with the world. I remembered that "when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me." And so today, you get this...instead of THAT. Thanks be to God! And a special shout out to John, Paul, George & Ringo as well...

Just so you know, I saved last night's bit of word vomit for future use if needed. So don't make me angry. You won't like me when I'm angry.  :)  Have a blessed Saturday!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Extraordinary



extraordinary





1.  Beyond what is usual, ordinary or established.

2.  Exceptional in character, amount, extent, degree; noteworthy, remarkable. 

Every now and then the circumstances of the day remind me that my life is and has been extraordinary. Why do I say such a thing? It's a simple statement of fact. My life is filled with extraordinary friends and an extraordinarily loving family. There have been extraordinary adventures shared with extraordinary students in my youth ministry days. Life has shown me extraordinary highs and extraordinarily painful lows. I have known extraordinary relationships, some filled with extraordinary love and others that have crashed and burned with extraordinarily hot flames. There have been days filled with extraordinary blessings and days that have been extraordinarily weird. There are times when I look in the mirror and feel extraordinarily happy with my life and other days when I find it extraordinary that anyone can love me because I don't really like myself. And then there are the moments when life is just simply extraordinarily confusing and my head swims in seas of doubt and befuddlement. I am guessing- or perhaps just hoping- that I am not alone in these thoughts. Life, for better and for worse, is meant to be extraordinary.

Far too many times we miss the extraordinary in our lives because we are happy being extra ordinary. We prefer safe, calm and consistent to things that are beyond what is usual, ordinary or established. The extra ordinary makes us feel calm,mature and in control. The extraordinary reveals to us that we are not in control, that there is something bigger at work in our world and in our lives. The extraordinary allows to have hope, to believe in the supernatural and to ride the waves of faith and love right along with the waves of doubt and despair. It often leads us to scary and uncomfortable places. It often allows to have thoughts and dreams that seem ridiculous to others. The extraordinary life is not a comfortable one, just as the extra ordinary life is not an abundant one. There is risk in living the extraordinary life.

So how do we survive the roller coaster that is the extraordinary life? We do it by remembering that we have been given an extraordinary grace by an extraordinarily loving God who walks with us daily as we live our lives. It is my firm belief that no matter my own personal faults and failures, no matter my doubts and confusion, every minute spent with Jesus is extraordinary and makes life extraordinarily wonderful. Even when life hurts, Jesus can transform it into something beautiful. So don't settle for extra ordinary, for hum drum or for so-so. You have been given an extraordinary life. Live it!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Throwback Thursday: My 10 Favorite Super Bowls

It's a Throwback Thursday, and today I remember my favorite Super Bowls, one of the great USAmerican sporting events. Each year parties are thrown, beverages are consumed, and MILLIONS of chickens sacrifice their wings as we enjoy the championship game of the NFL. I am old enough to have watched at least part of all 48 previous games, and the Super Bowl has always been special to me. Among other things, I am among the very few (perhaps ONLY!) youth pastors to have ever had the actual Lombardi Trophy visit my office, back in 2003 (see picture) when the Bucs won it all. I will be watching again this Sunday as the Patriots and the Seahawks do battle. Today it seemed it might be fun to look back and share my 10 favorite games. You will notice right away it is MY list- no mention of a Patriots victory to be found anywhere! So here we go...

10) III- The New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in a game that Broadway Joe Namath guaranteed they would win. (1969)
  9) XXXI-  The Green Bay Packers beat the New England Patriots 35-21 and Brett Favre gets his only Super Bowl win. (1997)
  8) VII- The Miami Dolphins finish the season 17-0 with a 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins. (1973)
  7) XVI- The San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21 in the game that turns Joe Montana into a legend. (1982)
  6) XXV- The New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills 20-19 in Tampa as Scott Norwood missed a game winning field goal on the last play of the game. (1991)
  5) XLII- The Giants bring an end to the Patriots run at unbeaten immortality, 17-14, in a game featuring the unbelievable "helmet catch" by David Tyree. (2008)
  4) XLVI- The Giants take down the Patriots again, 21-17. That's 3 Patriot losses on my list.  That is not an accident!  :)  (2012)
  3)  XIII- The Pittsburgh Steelers hold off the Dallas Cowboys 35-31 in one of the first real Super Bowl thrillers! (1979)
  2) XXXIV- The St. Louis Rams and Kurt Warner defeat the Tennessee Titans 23-16 as the Titans game winning drive falls one yard short as time runs out. (2000)
  1)  XXXVII- The Bucs win, dominating the Oakland Raiders 48-21 and getting Jon Gruden and company their rings.  (2003)

So there's my list- I'd love to hear yours. Bonus pick: 1986, Bears 46- Patriots 10. Good times!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The New England Ducks


People have been asking me what I think of the "Deflategate" scandal, or as Mike & Mike call it the #Shrinkage issue. It is very hard for me to be unbiased, as I detest the New England Patriots on their best days. And it seems to me they have very few "best" days. But here's the deal on this particular scandal. Their footballs were deflated, the Indianapolis Colts balls were not. The Pats were responsible for their own footballs, and so they must be held at fault. Don't get me wrong, it's been fun hearing them try to protest their innocence. Bill Belichick quoting from My Cousin Vinny, claiming science was on their side and being refuted by Bill Nye the Science Guy was pure gold. You could almost hear Dr. Sheldon Cooper shouting BAZINGA as Belichick finished that press conference. Tom Brady has admitted in the past that he prefers underinflated footballs and last week confirmed that fact yet again. These are the paranoid Pats who have "people" watching reporters every minute they are on site (according to Sal Paolantonio), but they don't know what happened to the game balls? C'mon, man! In the big picture, letting some air out of the ball did not win the game for New England. But this is not their first rodeo, nor is it their first time cheating at the rodeo. They have a history.

So here's my final word on the subject. To quote the old proverb, "If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and smells like a duck then it must be a duck." The same is true of cheaters. And in this case, the New England Ducks look, sound and smell guilty. Plus they have left a lengthy trail of duck poop over the past 10 years for us all to see. I hereby declare the Patriots to be Ducks, with the full realization that the NFL will find some way to botch the investigation and declare them to be Swans. So let's move on and play some football. Go Seahawks!!!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fools Along the Road



We often think that on the #NarrowRoad Jesus calls us to walk that we will find ourselves traveling with wise, famous and important people. The 21st century American church loves celebrity Christians and people who seem to have it all together. The truth is closer to this- the #NarrowRoad is littered with fools. Over the years I have often talked about the disciples and other first generation Christians and their inability to understand what Jesus was trying to teach them. Such thoughts usually end with me saying something along the lines of, "Jesus walked with them on earth, and they STILL didn't get it!  It's no wonder we struggle." But actually, I had it all backwards. We may not get to physically walk with the Christ, but we have 2000 years of church history, written documentation and the full canon of scripture to guide us- in addition to the Holy Spirit!  Those first followers had none of that. They gave three years of their lives to following the son of a carpenter from Nazareth. Nothing good ever comes from Nazareth! They left their jobs and their families and put their lives on the line to follow a man who said somewhat ridiculous things to people he shouldn't have even been speaking to. No wonder most of the world- and some of the disciples- found the whole adventure a bit foolish.

Michael Card is one of the great songwriters of our time. In addition to writing El Shaddai and I Have Decided (both made famous by Amy Grant) he has recorded a number of albums, including 1985's Scandalon (which somehow is not included on my Top 50 Countdown.  This was a bad omission). Scandalon featured the song God's Own Fool (a song which got him into quite a bit of trouble at the time he wrote it) in which he uses scripture to remind us that those who follow Jesus are not the only ones who look foolish- Jesus himself did as well. Let these lyrics wash over you as you think about what it must have been like to be a fully devoted follower of Christ in those earliest of days. Think about the perils of the #NarrowRoad for those first apostles. "So come lose your life for a carpenter's son; for a mad man who died for a dream. Then you'll know the faith his first followers had, and you'll feel the weight of the beam." And then think about what it means to follow Jesus in our world today. Think about where the #NarrowRoad actually leads and the foolish places where following Jesus will take you. I don't now about you, but I am ready to be more foolish. More than ever, I see the call to follow the Christ as a call to follow God's own fool. Let's "believe the unbelievable, and come be a fool as well..."





Because of Jesus,

Monday, January 26, 2015

Super Memories

We're coming up on Super Bowl Sunday, and I have been flashing back to past years and parties with my various youth groups. Here are VII memories that came to mind from my XXVIII years in student ministry. I am still waiting for Amber Herrick Irby to refresh my memory of the great Super Bowl Sunday fight in Kissimmee. That's another story for another day, but suffice it say Super Bowl Sunday was never dull. The one thing I don't miss about those youth group days was the annoying question the week before the party- "Hey Carl...what are going to do at the Super Bowl party?"  Ugh. WATCH THE GAME, PEOPLE!!!

1)  It's weird, but I have absolutely no memory of any kind of Super Bowl party during my years (1978-83) at New Garden Friends Meeting. I remember Super Bowls from every other stop on my career- even one from 2001 at the Union Church of Hinsdale, IL, when a large crowd filled our little house to watch the game. I was only in Hinsdale for one Super Bowl. But I have nothing from New Garden...at least not Super Bowl related. I do, however, remember watching the 1980 US men's hockey team win the Olympic gold medal in the church basement!

2)  My first Super Bowl party after moving to High Point and Springfield Friends Meeting was cut short by a snow storm that led to an exciting couple of days (see A Super Surprise). The Giants beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI on January 25, 1987.

3)  We had several parties at the home of Butch and Barbara Moran while we were at Springfield Friends Meeting. I can't remember if they were really youth parties, or if most of the youth were just there because they were related to the Morans!  In any case, these were fun because doing anything with Butch was fun, and they had a 55" screen...which in the early 90s was HUGE!!!

4)  A group of my friends used to get together for the game and make huge crock pots full of chili, blending a variety of recipes. Somewhere along the way, this changed to me making Mexican Pile-Up for the the multitudes of  youth who would show up for our parties. For the uninitiated, pile-up is basically a taco salad you pile on a plate using chips instead of a shell. I have fed a lot of kids a lot of pile-up on Super Bowl Sunday over the years...but I always made them bring the desserts!

5)  The party got serious on January 26, 2003. We had moved to Wesley Memorial UMC in Tampa in 2001, and now we found our hometown Buccaneers in the big game. I knew I would be irritable and grumpy if I didn't get to pay full attention to the game, so we decided to not have a youth group party- sort of! We invited only a few select youth and adults who we knew would watch the games and hosted it at our house, complete with Wing House wings! My Bucs whipped the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, and as the game ended we went outside and listened as the entire city of Tampa honked their car horns in celebration.

6)  The following year (Feb. 1, 2004) was a perfect example of why I often got frustrated on Super Sunday. We had the party in the Fellowship Hall at Wesley and drew a big crowd- about half of whom cared anything about the game. I spent most of the evening chasing kids back into the room and cooking. We went through 30 pounds of ground beef in the Mexican Pile-Up that night. I was in the kitchen at halftime, trying to clean up a bit, when Jacquie Thomson came running in a told me that Justin Timberlake had just exposed Janet Jackson's breast in what came to be known as the Wardrobe Malfunction. And I had missed it, along with most of the first half. At least the game got really interesting after that, even though the hated Patriots won.

7)  My final youth Super Bowl party was a great one. We held it in the Fellowship Hall at Trinity UMC in Waycross, GA on Feb. 4, 2007. I ran the cable through a VCR and into a video projector and we watched the game projected on a wall that had to be 90" wide!  WE also ran the audio through our sound system, and we were better than any sports bar around. As a matter of fact, we were illegal. The NFL actually stopped some churches in Indianapolis from doing just what we did, limiting the size of the projection to 60". We charged ahead, eating pile-up, Wong's ChineseDick's Wings and all kinds of goodies while the Colts beat the Bears and made Tony Dungy the first African-American ever to coach a Super Bowl winner. Good times, and a great way to go out!

Over the past 7 years our tradition has changed, but the party continues. This Sunday I'll be at Winners Sports Bar here in Tampa to watch the game with Marilyn, Will, Lisa Jewett and a crowd of strangers. The owner of Winners is a huge Seahawks fan and the place will be loud and crazy in support of Seattle. So I get to watch the game, I don't have to cook and we can be as obnoxious as we want while cheering against the Pretty Boy and Hoodie. We always have a blast. But still...I miss all the excitement of those youth parties, and I always will.


Because of Jesus,

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Remember, Remember... All We Fight For

Lately my thoughts have been deeply immersed in the subject of friendship. There have been remembrances of good friends that are no longer in my life. There has been reminiscing about complicated relationships that have led to a drifting apart. And there have been joyous memories- more that I can count- of friends who have stuck with me through the years, no matter the circumstances and no matter my own issues. 

My message for this Sunday is not a religious one, but it is deeply spiritual to me. When you reach my age the stories you have of the people you love are among the most important things in life. Friendships are worth fighting for. They are worth the effort, the time and trouble to salvage when they appear to be on the brink. Listen to this song and soak in the lyrics. The song is called Heaven for a reason. It was the final song in the final episode of How I Met Your Mother- and that fictional group of friends knew all about fighting for friendships. Listen...and remember...



As Helen Keller once said, "Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light." Set aside some time today to value your friendships, to repair those that need work and to express love to the people who have carried you when you needed them most. I am blessed to have so many dear friends. I love you all.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday Shout Outs!

Happy Saturday!!! We're approaching the end of January and the unofficial national holiday that makes us all stop, fix some of our favorite foods, gather with friends and wait to see happens next. I'm speaking, of course, of the impending twin birthday celebrations of Cyndi Reep Browning and Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-Kissimmee) this coming Thursday! Oh...and there's that whole Super Bowl thing going on as well. Anyway it feels like there's a lot to shout about, so if anyone still reads these things (HINT: Leave a comment!) I believe that is exactly what I will do. Shout. Here we go!


* To all of our friends living in areas where you are cold and getting some slippery precipitation, here's a little salt in your wounds. Our air conditioner has not been working properly this week-  and that MATTERS here in Florida...  Sorry. :)

* Last Friday I e-mailed copies of Even Better Than Before to those who requested it (if you want one just give me a holler!), and by Saturday morning I have received two positive reviews. My friends Susan Tuggle and Donna Myers (both of Quaker Lake fame) had read it in one night. I am left to assume that either the book is much easier to read than it was to write or that 60,000 words are not as many as I thought. Or maybe it was like a train wreck. They just couldn't look away! :)  In any case, I appreciated their efforts and the feedback. Can a digital book still be a "page turner?" Things that make you go hmmm...



* It is rare for me to have a team I care about in the Super Bowl. Usually I am one of those lame guys who says, "I just hope it's a good game." This year is different. While the Seahawks are not my favorite team by any means, the Patriots are at the top of my despised list. This will be a good game as long as the Seahawks win, and will be a GREAT game if they "deflate" the Pretty Boy and company by 40 points or so. Anybody coming over to watch with us?

* Erin Augenblick Shannon (FUMC-K) had a birthday this week. There has also been a lot going on in her life after her husband's business burned in a fire a few weeks back. Plus she lives in Michigan and it's January. So it seems like a really good time to add Erin to your prayer list. She's certainly on mine.

* A number of you who are previewing my book for me have had sweet things to say about it, and I appreciate your willingness to read it so much. Steve Semmler (New Garden Friends Meeting) let me know he enjoyed it. Denise May Langley (New Garden & QLC), who pushed me to both start and finish the project, has given me her thumbs up. Our friend Lisa Jewett has read more than 5 pages, which I count as a win for me- even if she is mad because the book is making her want to go to Myrtle Beach, eat hot doughnuts and finish off the day with dinner at Calabash! Brook Teoli Phelps & Lisa Krause Spires (of my FUMC-K group) both let me know they they were having a hard time putting it down. Even Marilyn has started reading it! Lisa Spires texted me the picture you see here. She may have unlocked the key to enjoying my novel- read while enjoying a cold adult beverage. Fits right in with the storyline! I am eagerly awaiting more reviews, more questions and more suggestions.

Erin Moran Hill (from our Springfield Friends Meeting days) & family (including our dear friends Butch and Barbara Moran) were at Walt Disney World this week where despite an unfortunate illness they still managed to have a good time. Jeremy Godwin and family (also Springfield) were there as well. Weeks like this remind me how ridiculous it is and how angry it makes me that I can't go there and meet up with old friends. Ugh. Ok, I vented. Time to move on.

* My favorite random question anyone has asked me about my book so far- "Does Brent only have 7 toes too?"

* Spring Training games for Major League Baseball begin in about 40 days. This March, for the first time in what feels like forever, I will be free to travel a bit and catch a few games outside of Tampa. Who's ready to join me?

* If she were local I know that Ashley Goad (Springfield) would be my baseball buddy for the entire month. But in other Ashley news, she is now a proud homeowner in Shreveport, LA. Congratulations, Prudence! I know you will love your new home for the 10 weeks a year you are actually in the country!  :)

* And finally...I am totally addicted to the new tv series Scorpion. I love the characters and the interaction between them. Plus the action is great without being too over-the-top. If you haven't tried it, give it a shot. Tell Walter that Carl sent ya!

That's it for today. Have a blessed weekend. And thanks for reading!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, January 23, 2015

Flashback Friday: The Other Carl

Welcome to another Flashback Friday. The group of people in this picture have been on my mind a lot lately, so this is a very natural flashback. It's good to have you along for the ride...

Those of you who are familiar with this blog will be aware of the name Carl Semmler (at right with a bunch of other famous people- he's the groom!). Carl and I grew up going to school together and he worked as a lifeguard at Quaker Lake Camp for several summers when I was also on staff. But most importantly he, Alan Brown and I took a month long cross country trip in May of 1979. He has been featured in several stories here previously, including his work on the infamous Project Myrtle and the legend of the Ash Tray Kid. Today I want to remember a few more.


When we were in high school our New Garden Friends youth group attended a gathering of local Quaker youth groups called a Quarterly Meeting. We knew almost no one else there, and realized quickly that some of the other groups were a good bit more "religious" than we were. After some gathering time, we were seated in a circle, with the groups sitting together. The leader said we were going to go around the circle and introduce ourselves, and from where they started there were maybe 7 or 8 youth who would go before our first representative, Carl. The first person began by telling their name, church and the exact day and time they had been "saved." This was not a word we had in our spiritual vocabulary. We talked about "walking in the Light" and being on a "spiritual journey," not about THE day we met Jesus. As each person followed the same pattern, we grew more uncomfortable and wondered what Carl would say. When his turn arrived, he kept it simple: "I'm Carl Semmler from New Garden, and I play basketball." The pressure was immediately off the rest of us, and we were very grateful to Carl for his courage to say only what he knew to be true at the time.

Carl was a master prank player at QLC (although he and Mark Farlow were the recipients of maybe the greatest prank ever, when the Dentiste twins and Emily Ballus went in their room in the lodge and stringed it, making it look like one of those laser systems thieves have to avoid in the movies. They then put molasses on the string and hung extremely stinky lake weed all over the room. It was a classic!). One summer Carl had decided to try a nasty and daring prank on one of the female staff members who used a shampoo that was dark and gooey- much like pancake syrup! He thought he would replace her shampoo with syrup and see what would happen. Unfortunately for Carl, this was the summer the "no wasteful pranks" rules went into effect, so he could not use syrup. He spent all summer trying to make his own, boiling down tree bark to get sap and hoping for a miracle. He did not get one, but he did manage to ruin a perfectly good pot from the kitchen in the process. Ah, what might have been...


Carl, Alan and I began our trip out west by leaving Greensboro for Chattanooga and Carl's Uncle Ronnie's house. We left in my Dad's Honda Civic wagon that we called Clyde, and we were loaded down with camping gear, luggage and a tin of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies given to us by Martha Ratledge. For reasons I no longer remember, we went from NC to TN by way of Atlanta. We hit Atlanta around afternoon rush hour, and Alan was driving while Carl was asleep in the back seat. He awoke to find us in the middle of a traffic jam, and greeted us with the following words: "No rush guys, but I need to find a bathroom." Less than a minute later he was throwing up all over the back seat. Desperate for damage control, I dumped some (but not all) Martha's cookies on the floor and handed him the tin to barf in- but it was no use. We finally worked our way off of the interstate and to a gas station, where we cleaned up the car- but the smell was unbearable. The first day of a month long trip and Carl had totaled the interior of Clyde. Lacking anything else (and apparently common sense as well) we used my Gillette Foamy Lemon-Lime shaving creme on the vinyl seats to try and mask the smell. The result was a smell never before or since found in this world or any other. We made it to Chattanooga and begged Uncle Ronnie to keep Carl, but he refused, and so we carried on without further incident. In fairness to Carl (and Alan) it should be pointed out that there was also a time on that trip when they saved my life. I was trapped in Clyde by a demonic windshield wiper as the car burned and we teetered on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Or at least that's their story...


My life- and therefore this blog- has been filled with extraordinary people. Carl Semmler is one of those them...even if he did make us waste some perfectly good cookies! Thanks for the memories, Carl!


Because of Jesus,

Thursday, January 22, 2015

It's Time to Bother Jesus

Jesus & Zacchaeus
Stop me if you have heard this one-"Christians are nice." For many people in the 21st century, "nice" has become the defining characteristic of the followers of Jesus. People who are wild, different, rude or aggressive can't possibly be Christians. Christians are polite and that is what sets them apart in this rude world we live in. Christians may not love the people around them and they may condemn them under their breath, but we are always nice to people so they will think we love like Jesus loved. We would never want them to feel inconvenienced, and we certainly don't want to trouble God with our worries. When did this happen? When did followers of Jesus quit being wild-eyed, radically counter-cultural world changing & dangerous disciples and start being "nice?" And more importantly, how do we fix it? How do we get back to being Jesus Freaks?

In Luke 8:40-56 you can read the story of the Jewish leader Jairus and his daughter who is on the verge of death. He goes to see Jesus, to ask him to come to his home and heal his daughter. Jairus has great faith that Jesus will make her whole again. As Jesus begins to follow Jairus home they are interrupted by a bleeding woman who also seeks healing from the teacher. After the delay, as they are about to continue their journey, word comes that the daughter is dead. The messenger ends his statement with these words (Luke 8:49):"There is no need now to bother the teacher." It is a message that we modern believers have taken to heart.

I believe that we have quit being world changers in great part because we have decided not to bother the Master. We concentrate on doing things we might be able to do without him- like being nice. After all, the Creator of the universe doesn't really have time for our petty needs and prayers, does he? In fact, not only does Jesus not mind being bothered, he LOVES it! Think about some of the people in scripture who went out of their way to bother Christ. Blind Bart. The leper at the gate. Zacchaeus.The friends who lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof. Mary and Martha when Lazarus was dying. Nicodemus.The bleeding woman who grabbed hold of Jesus' robe. Jairus and his daughter (she lived!). None of these folks were polite. None of them waited their turn. All of them practically screamed at Jesus for help. And he did miraculous things in every case. Each of them decided that bothering the teacher was the only option they had left, that Jesus and ONLY Jesus could help them. And help them he did...

I don't know about you, but I think it is time to bother Jesus. It's time to pray big prayers and dream big dreams. It is time to return to the faith of those first followers of Christ who knew that in order to change the world they had to be radical believers. If we want to be like the church found in the book of Acts and turn this world upside down then we need to quit being so polite. I want to treat people with love and respect, but I don't want to be known for being nice. Nice is not a fruit of the Spirit. We cannot change the world on our own. It is time to bother Jesus.

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

An "Even Better" Playlist

My book Even Better Than Before features many (some might say too many) characters and stories as part of the plot, but there are few things more central to the story than music. There are over a dozen songs attributed to the main character Brent; those are all titles and lyrics written by me. But there are a number of real songs- over 25, actually- that help give the story a rich and authentic feel. Music helps us connect and it touches us, and when you are meeting new characters music can tell us so much about who they are as people. Music can be such a common denominator in our lives. Plus, there is romance in music. And who doesn't love a little romance?

Since finishing the manuscript and e-mailing it to nearly 35 (the number keeps climbing) friends since last Friday I have suffered from a bit of the old "so now what?" syndrome. To help me through this melancholy mood I compiled a playlist for my iPod featuring songs that were mentioned in the book and a few others that were in there at various points in time before being edited out. For instance, there were stories that revolved around The B-52's Love Shack and Orleans' Still the One that didn't make the cut. At one point I had the characters of Craig and Brent break into Darius Rucker's Homegrown Honey while sitting on the porch of the Betsy B, only to realize that in May of 2014 when that scene was taking place that no one had ever heard of that song. And a pivotal scene in the book originally referenced Fort Atlantic's Let Your Heart Hold Fast playing in the background until I remembered that How I Met Your Mother had already used the song in a similar setting- if fact, that's the whole reason I knew the song in the first place! But they all are on my Even Better playlist whether they made the novel or not! When I hit shuffle this morning, these were the first 10 songs that tickled my ears...

  1. Only Wanna Be with You - Hootie & the Blowfish
  2. Keep Me in Mind- Zac Brown Band
  3. Don't Look Back in Anger - Oasis
  4. Surfer Girl - Beach Boys
  5. I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) - The Proclaimers
  6. Horse with No Name- America
  7. Do It Again - Beach Boys
  8. Why Don't We Get Drunk? - Jimmy Buffett
  9. I Saw Her Standing There - The Beatles
  10. Make a Little Magic- Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
My day is off to a flying start fueled by some great music. I hope your Hump Day will feature a killer soundtrack too...

Peace, my friends!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Maintaining Focus


Up until sometime around 2010 I was the proud owner of a 1999 Ford Taurus station wagon. It had a bazillion miles on it and a thousand issues, and was eventually sold for use as scrap metal and parts. In its final years the old beast spent a lot of time in the shop, quite often at a Firestone Tire & Auto within walking distance of our house. Every time I took it in the mechanics would get the following speech: "There are many things wrong with this car. I know that. But it is here today so that you can fix the ____________. There is nothing else that needs to be done TODAY. Just fix the ____________." Yet it seemed like each and every time this happened they would call me with a list a other problems before fixing the one that had caused me to take them the car in the first place. They were nice enough people, but they constantly frustrated me because they were either unwilling to or incapable of focusing on the task at hand.

There are moments almost every day when in the depths of my soul I question how often Jesus feels that way about me. We have been given a path to trod and have been warned not to get distracted by "the things of this world." It should be relatively simple even though it was never meant to be easy. Believe that God loves us and return that love to God, then share that same love with everyone. Be humble, serving all and caring for all. Don't be judgmental, but rather be encouraging and supportive. Work for peace by offering mercy and grace when others seek revenge or restitution. This is the #NarrowRoad, the path of Jesus. But we run into so many other things we think need to be done and we lose focus. We need to gain material wealth and collect possessions. We need to "fix" those who sin differently than we do, often by sitting in judgment of them. We have the urge to fight for more power and to involve ourselves in politics and the inner workings of the institutional church when those are things that Jesus avoided whenever possible. And we fail to understand that if we want to be great in the eyes of our Savior, then we must become small in the eyes of men. The highway signs on the narrow road do not offer directions to success. They offer an invitation to faithfulness. 

So how do we maintain focus on the #Narrow Road? First and foremost we must surrender to the One who created us, who saved us and who will guide us if we will surrender the driver's seat. Some of the worst theology ever written is on a very popular bumper sticker which exclaims that "GOD is My Co-Pilot!" Newsflash, dear friends- if God is your co-pilot then the wrong person is driving! Surrender and believe. Next we need to spend more time with God in prayer, in study and in quiet communion. The "still small voice" leads us back to the narrow path when we wander if we will only take time to listen for it. And finally, we need to remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:34 and "let today's own troubles be enough for today." Like my Taurus, we have many things that need repair in our lives. Jesus calls us live life a day at a time, trusting that God holds the future. To do that we must focus on the tasks we can control. We must love God and love our neighbors. We must give all glory to God. And we must let go of all the chaos swirling around us and "keep our eyes on the prize that is Christ Jesus." The journey down the #NarrowRoad is tricky, and without focus it is easy to end up stuck in a ditch. I know; I've been in several. But the good news is that the grace of God is even better than AAA, and it will have you back on the path in no time flat, ready to try again. Always keep your eyes on the road...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, January 19, 2015

Remembering Dr. King


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. left us with a great legacy of words that still carry great weight in our world today. These past of months have served as a reminder that many of the things Dr. King fought for are still issues in our world today. It is a tradition on this blog to share this post each year in the hope that we will never forget him or his teachings, which have made a difference in so many lives. Today is a holiday that we too often remember only because we get a day off from work or get to do something fun. I do hope that you and your families have a special day and enjoy whatever time off you may get. But do not forget the man and the life that today is set aside to remember. A man who changed history. A man who reminded us that the way to revolution and real change is the way of Jesus- strength through non-violence. And a man who gave everything for a cause he believed in. He was not a a perfect man; no one God chooses ever is. But he was a man whom God used to do great things. Remember.

In honor of the celebration of Dr. King's birthday...


Because of Jesus,

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Communion Confusion

Youth Ministry is often about being bold and taking chances, and certainly over the years I did my share of both. One of the boldest things I ever did took place at New Garden Friends Meeting on a Youth Sunday in 1982, and I want to tell you the story. But first, a history lesson!

The Society of Friends (Quakers) began in Great Britain in the 1650's as a movement away from the Church of England. George Fox (often called the founder of Quakerism- truth is, he had no intention of founding anything! He, like John Wesley and others, just wanted the Anglican Church to get off its collective butt!) had an astounding revelation one day- that he didn't need all the pomp and traditions of the church to connect to Jesus. He could go straight to the source. His defining statement said that he realized that "there is One- even Christ Jesus- who can speak to my condition." As he began to "walk cheerfully about the world, answering to that of God in everyone" people began to follow him, and eventually the Society of Friends was born. In response to the lifelessness they saw in the established church they went in a radical new direction. All people were to be ministers, because everyone has access to Jesus- which also means that all people are equal. They eschewed many of the traditions of the church, including the sacraments, because in their eyes they had become meaningless rituals administered by corrupt clergy. They came to believe that Christianity is a life you live, not a creed you profess. So to bring you up to speed quickly, they were arrested in large numbers, brought before judges, trembled in the presence of God and got nicknamed Quakers (as an insult at first) because of that, escaped to the new world for religious freedom, were hung in Boston Commons for practicing religious freedom, founded Pennsylvania, made some oatmeal and are still around today, though not in very large numbers (As an aside, there was once a group on Facebook called I Bet I Can Find 1,000,000 Quakers on Facebook. Take that bet! There are not a million Quakers in the world, much less on Facebook. But I digress...). Whew!

Quakers did not just randomly do away with baptism and communion. Today many longtime Friends will tell you that "Quakers don't believe in those things." That would be wrong. The belief is that when Jesus broke the bread and passed the cup in the Upper Room and said "every time you do this, think of Me" the intent was not to establish a ritual, but rather for us to think of Him every time we gather, every time we eat. We should be constantly in communion with Christ. It's called Communion after the manner of Friends, and it is often a period of quiet meditation and prayer. With baptism, John the Baptizer said "I baptize with water, but One comes who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Again, the idea is that the water is an outward symbol of an inward act. It's not about being sprinkled or dunked; it's all about Jesus! This is not to say Quakers have it right. I just wanted you to understand so my story can be more dramatic!


So it's a Youth Sunday in 1982, and I decide to do something outlandish. It seemed to me at the time (and still today, I might add) that NOT having communion like most of the Christian world had become our new ritual. Many Quakers could not explain why we didn't have it. Most thought the idea of passing the bread and the cup was somehow in violation of the creed of George Fox- and there is no creed of George Fox, a fact that has always caused considerable trouble among Friends. But with the support of our pastoral minister David Bills the youth decided to serve communion at New Garden, the last place you would expect it to happen. We explained why we were doing it. We were honoring our Quaker heritage. We were breaking out of a ritual. We were...well it just didn't matter, because many people were not happy about it. I caught lots of flack and even a bit of abuse. But it was sooooo worth it, because it opened a great discussion in the Meeting. And it helped establish one of my primary philosophies of student ministry- that the youth of the church are not just cute teenagers. We shouldn't just be happy that they show up, or that they will stand in front of the church and sing. Youth have something to say, and the church had better listen. I believed it then and I believe it even more today. And every church I served after that got that lecture...

The next time you are taking communion, remember what it means. Remember why you do it. And the next time you aren't "taking" communion in a Friends Meeting, remember why not. Remember that in both cases, it's all about what Jesus has done for us. In my humble opinion, if we do that, we can't be wrong. Even if you serve it to a Quaker youth group at Myrtle Beach and use OJ and Krispy Kreme doughnuts...and yes, I did that too!!
!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, January 16, 2015

Giving Birth

Today I will come as close as I ever have to giving birth. Oh sure- I was there when Will was born (C-section) nearly 20 years ago and I saw what Marilyn went through. But this time the baby is all mine. It will be very different for me. The birth will be painless, as the pain has already occurred in the months of writing and rewriting. The event will not be messy, but the project certainly has been, with stops and starts, deleting whole storylines and getting rid of various characters. And no doctor will offer me drugs- but I may need a margarita anyway! After a year of work, today my novel, Even Better Than Before, is done. It has yet to be professionally edited, but the storytelling is done and the manuscript is complete. Nearly 20 of my friends will be e-mailed files today as they have volunteered to read it for me and give their honest reviews. I am excited, nervous and anxious to hear if it's good enough to consider actual publishing. Just like any parent, I want only the best for my baby.

I am generally an optimist and someone who embraces a good challenge. Writing this novel has been a wonderful experience; sharing it with others is pushing the limits even for me. I have many doubts. But today that is exactly what will happen, and over the course of this weekend and the weeks that follow I will impatiently await word from the "doctors" on the "health" of my baby. So please, if you are so inclined, say a prayer for my peace of mind. Pray for my patience, which needs help on the best of days. And if you would like to join the list of readers, shoot me an e-mail at Youthguy07@aol.com and I'll send you the file. No editing or proofreading required, just honest opinions on the storyline and the characters. It could be just the ticket you need to a little indoor entertainment on this holiday weekend. And if not, computer files are remarkably easy to delete. :)  

My 60,000 word baby goes out into the world today. It's time to celebrate! And maybe worry just a little bit. Have a blessed weekend, my friends!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Long Live the Betsy B!

 As I wrap up the unofficial editing of my novel this week, my thoughts have often turned to the old house in North Myrtle Beach called the Betsy B where much of the story takes place. Those thoughts led me to this Throwback Thursday post...

Way back in 2010 I received an e-mail from a woman named Amanda whose extended family was planning a trip to North Myrtle Beach the following summer. They had never been and they were looking to rent a house for a week. The realtor she dealt with recommended the Betsy B because of price and size. She googled "Betsy B" and came across my blog and the various references to the place, and e-mailed me the following question:"In your opinion, what amenities make the Betsy B such a great place?" I assumed by amenities she meant swimming pool, lazy river, golf carts, golf privileges and other things so prevalent at many NMB rentals these days. I told her it had none of those things; just a nice location and a great beach. And then I started thinking (uh-oh!). What was it that made the Betsy B such an amazing place to take a youth group (besides being the future home of my Hall of Fame!)? The answers could be found in these 7 Things:
  1. The Layout-  With three floors, each with four bedrooms, there was great flexibility for sleeping arrangements. No matter the number of males and females it could always be worked out. There was also a kitchen on every floor, which gave you options (although we always kept the food on the 2nd floor so there was only one kitchen to clean each day). Three living rooms meant 3 televisions, three couches and multiple easy chairs. We could be all together for worship, or spread out for Black Thursday.  
  2. Location-  The Betsy B is located in a section of NMB known as Ocean Drive. When I was younger, all of the "cool kids" and great parties were at OD. Things changed, but we could still walk to the shops and arcades of OD, or go get a snow cone or a hot dog. We were surrounded by other houses, but shared our property with no one else (most of the time). Our silliness didn't bother other people, and no one ever bothered us.
  3. The Porches-  An oceanfront porch on each floor, complete with rocking chairs, made for wonderful daytime beach watching and great moments at night. Some of my favorite conversations ever took place on those porches, and so many people have such strong memories of sitting out there at night and singing or just hanging out. I wrote a number of songs sitting out there watching the moon reflect off of the Atlantic Ocean. Ahhh- the moon over the ocean...
  4. The Outdoor Showers-  While there were 3 showers per floor inside the Betsy B, the most memorable ones were located outside, by the right side of the house as you came back in from the beach. Originally just open showers used to rinse off sand and ocean, they were eventually enclosed so you could take full showers. This was quite handy when everyone was trying to get ready to head out to eat or down to the Pavilion. Plus, it was a bit weird and a little exciting to talk to a naked neighbor of the opposite sex in the stall next to you as you both showered...or was that just me?
  5. The Beach-  The wide, sandy beach that was located right out the back door was one of the things that made the Betsy B such a popular place. If you wanted to lay out and tan, this was your beach. If you wanted to swim or body surf, this was your beach. If you loved taking late night walks or threatening people with Sand, Water, Sand, Water, Crab, Crab, Crab! then this was your beach. It was perfection!
  6. The People-  The very best thing about the house was that it gave us the space and freedom to have up to 45 of us live together for a week. I always thought of it as a youth group version of The Real World"45 of us picked together to live in a house..." We always left the Betsy B with new experiences, better relationships and a stronger bond. From the group I grew up in at New Garden Friends, through the Springfield years and on through Kissimmee, just saying "we are going to the Betsy B" brought a smile to the faces of students. The people were what made the trips great.
  7. The Stories-  The Betsy B lives on through the stories of those trips, many of them which I have shared on this blog. You can read about Moons Over Myrtle BeachKaren Fry's Birthday SurpriseThe Legend of Big K and more (check out all of the links in this post). I'll never forget Stacy's raft, Avis' "flipper," Adam's hair, Kelly's jokes or the KISS concert. I could write a book (well. actually at this point it would be ANOTHER book!) of nothing but Myrtle Beach stories- and the Betsy B would be a major character. 
So Amanda, I don't know if any of these things counted as amenities or not, as I never heard back from you in 2010. But my suggestion to her then was that she bring all of her relatives, create her own stories, and discover the magic of the Betsy B. I also told her not to damage it. Someone is going to buy it for me someday!  :)

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Day...Off?


I'm taking today off from writing this blog, but it's not a day off from writing. This Hump Day finds me juggling three other projects. I am finishing up a Bible study I was asked to help with that is due in tomorrow. I am writing my monthly post for the WDW Fan Zone website, which is due Friday. And I am finishing the final edits on my novel, Even Better Than Before, which I hope to email rough copies of this weekend to some friends who have volunteered to preview & review it for me (let me know if you are interested in being added to that list). So I'm slacking on this post, but it's hardly a day off! Have a blessed day, and say a little prayer for me if you get a minute. I need all the help I can get!!!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

God Loves YOU!

It's the second Tuesday of 2015, and time for my second thought on what makes the path to following Jesus such a #NarrowRoad. Today, we are going to look at some really horrible theology that plagues the 21st century western church. This past weekend our pastor, Matthew Hartsfield, pointed out that on too many Sundays in too many churches the sermon says something like this: God is good. You are not. Try harder.

This teaches us that when we sin, we can fix it. If we will just read more, study more, pray more, attend church more, serve more and give more then we will sin less. WE are the ones with the power to pull ourselves out of the messes we get into- all we have to do is DO more for God. Love God more and behave better and we can do anything. It is a theology that reinforces the concept that the things we don't do, the sins we avoid, are what makes u better Christians. We have heard so often for so long that it sounds correct. But the truth is we often miss the narrow road because we become convinced we can navigate it ourselves. If that were true then Jesus came for no real reason. 

Last week I wrote about loving God and loving others as the true narrow road, a path that is much tougher than the "thous shalt nots" so many of us adhere to. And Jesus did say that was the greatest commandment. But before we have any chance of actually doing those things with any true success, there is a first step. We have to believe that God loved us first. Everything else we believe and everything else we do must flow from that knowledge. Check out this scripture from 1 John 4:9-10:  God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. And this one from 1 John 4:19 - We love each other because God loved us first. Any love we have, any good we do comes from a source. And that source is the love of God for us. It's unconditional, it's never-failing, and it is so very real.

I don't know any Christ -followers who cannot recite John 3:16. But do we really believe that God so loved US- me & you- that he sent Jesus to die on a cross that we might live in harmony with God despite our human failings and faults? God loves YOU! 

I have written here many times that we complicate our spiritual journey and lose sight of the narrow road because we too often put theology before Jesus. I have also suggested before my feelings that the only theology we really need is this- "Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so." This past Sunday we ended worship by taking Holy Communion- a reminder of just how much God loves us- and singing that song. The narrow road is not about us. The narrow road should be reminder that God loves us so much that he pulls us from the muck and mire of our failures and sins and dusts us off and then loves us even more. That's grace. And scripturally speaking, grace is not a theological concept. It's a person. The love of God whose name is Jesus is our guide on the #NarrowRoad. And to quote C.S. Lewis, "He's not safe. But he's good." To know the love of God and then love like Jesus is a wild ride. Remember that dangerous love...and follow the leader down the narrow path to the abundant life.

Because of Jesus,

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Southern Cross

Back in 1986 I had more than a few misadventures while serving only 9 months as the Youth & Education Director for the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers). Here are a few such moments.

The Southern Cross (at right) is a constellation that has helped sailors navigate the seas for hundreds of years. For me, the phrase conjures up two images- a song by Crosby, Still and Nash, and my time in New England Yearly Meeting. Today I will tell you some stories of mishaps and mayhem during 1986. Some of these stories may lead you to believe that Quakerism in New England was in a strange state of affairs at the time. I cannot argue against that point of view. There were many wonderful, faithful people in the region, and my time spent among those Friends was a brief but blessed time- for the most part. As for today...here are three stories that represent my experience.

In March I led a retreat for youth in western Mass. We worshiped together, played together and learned together. It was a great weekend, and something very new for many of the youth involved. I talked to many parents as they picked up their kids, and most seemed excited at the new direction I was taking the program. One mom, from the Boston suburb of Peabody (pronounced PeeBUDee, NOT pea body!) had a concern. She pulled me aside and said without a trace of a smile "If my daughter comes home talking like you (with a southern accent) then she will not be allowed back at these events." I laughed and responded "I don't think that is anything ya'll have to worry about." She fired back "I'm not kidding. Learn to speak proper English." And she walked away. So much for the Quaker belief in the equality of all people, whether they be Yankee or not...

Sometime that same Spring there was a workshop on religious education at a Friends Meeting out near Cape Cod. (By the way- is there any national historic monument more disappointing than Plymouth Rock?  I mean come on...it's really just a rock?) On Saturday I spoke to a crowd of about 30 on new methods of teaching the Bible to children. My session focused on how Jesus Christ called the children to come to him, and how he indicated that we must become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Afterwards, while having refreshments, an older woman (I am guessing about 107!) came up to me and got right in my face- well, she would have been right in my face if she could have reached it! Seriously, she had to reach up just to be able to poke me in the chest- which she did! She spoke to me in one of those cackling, Wicked Witch of the Northeast type voices and said "Young man, we don't talk like that here!" I searched my memory, trying to remember what could have been said that would have been offensive, but I had no idea- and told her so. She poked me once more and said in a low, condemning snarl, "you said JESUS CHRIST. We don't say that here. You can talk about Jesus or you can talk about Christ, but don't assume they are the same." I was stunned. How were we ever going to get anywhere with theology like that floating around? I had to just walk away.

Most of the meetings (churches) in New England featured traditional Quaker worship, with no pastor or planned music. The format came from the concept that if you gather in expectant silence, God will speak through the worshippers. In the earliest days of Quaker worship elders often gave hour long sermons from the silence. I had experienced great moments of God's presence through this style of "open worship" at New Garden Friends Meeting and at Quaker Lake Camp, so I looked forward to worshipping with Friends all over New England. One Sunday (or First Day, in the traditional Quaker language) I found myself settling into the silence with about a dozen others at a meetinghouse in Rhode Island. Midway through the hour I felt God tugging at my heart with a message, and, as often happens in such situations, I suddenly found myself on my feet and speaking. Worship concluded without anyone else speaking, and afterwards, I found myself being ignored. I finally stopped an older man, introduced myself and asked if there was anything the Yearly Meeting office could do for their Meeting. He very tersely told me no, and then proceeded to ask me why I had spoken like that. I told him that God has led me to speak. He shook his head and informed me that this was a silent meeting, and that my words were the first to spoken during worship there in over 40 years. A silent meeting- talk about adventures in missing the point!

There were Friends Meetings with only three or four members left, keeping the doors open to keep alive the memory of their ancestors who had founded them. There were people who had no idea that George Fox, the original Quaker, had been a Christian and a biblical scholar. And there were lots and lots of folks who worshipped Quakerism, pacifism and history- all things that I love, but in this case, false idols all!  I became more and more convinced that I needed to bring a focus on Jesus to the youth I had come there to serve.  I needed them to know that we are a Resurrection People. They needed to know about the cross and the empty tomb. The needed to know the Good News!  They just didn't want to hear it in a southern accent...

Because of Jesus,