Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Interesting History

Our word "ostracize" comes from an old Greek word "ostraka."

In ancient Greece (500 to 415 BC) the people could vote for the removal of a person from their society. First, they would vote to ascertain whether they wanted an ostracism or not. Some years there were no ostracisms. Other years, people were ostracized for various reasons. Some were political, some were ostracized because they were potentially dangerous people, and others were ostracized because some people were just envious of them.

Aristides ("the Just") was an Athenian soldier and statesman known for his honesty, his moral decisions, and his fair treatment of people. It was written of him, "there was not in all Athens a man so worthy or so just as he." In 482 BC, he found out that some were thinking of ostracizing him. He walked up to a complete stranger who was writing the name Aristides on a piece of broken pottery (an "ostraka" - this was their way of voting) and asked, "Who is this Aristides? What has he done that you would vote for his ostracism?"
"He has done no wrong," the man replied. "I am just growing tired of hearing about all his good deeds and what a moral person he is."

Once a majority had voted (minimum 6,000 people) for someone to be ostracized, they had 10 days to leave the city. They could not return for 10 years.

Have you ever felt ostracized? Have you ever been envious of someone and ostracized them (perhaps without even thinking about it?"

Thank you, History Channel, for the history of ostracism. They have a very interesting series called "The Seven Deadly Sins" right now that you should check out!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Christmas Story

I love the Christmas story...the REAL Christmas story, that is (although the movie isn't bad either!)
The story of Christ's birth never gets old. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's the birth of a new baby, and how beautiful they are. Maybe it's the drama of Mary and Joseph's struggle.
"No!" you say, "it's about the birth of the Savior of the world!"
And you would be right.
But that's part of what blows my mind about this story.
It takes a LOT of humility to worship a BABY as your new king...especially when the baby's father has NO appearance of kingship! And yet, three wise men, some shepherds, and a couple of old people at the temple recognized this little child as King. The story of the Magi fascinates me. These were men of a whole other religion! And yet, they knew the prophecies, recognized the star, and trekked many miles to visit Christ at His birthplace.
The other thing that's really interesting is what happened to the wise men. After they visited Jesus and his parents, they went another direction to get home. They had just had a nice visit with King Herod, and could have helped him "find the child to worship him." What made them listen to this dream where they were warned to avoid him?
After we have met Jesus, our lives should go in a different direction. We are not the same, and cannot go back to the same life we had before. The birth of Jesus brings us hope for a new life, much like a baby starts off with a clean slate. It gives us hope to have innocence again...to see life through the eyes of a child. It brings wonder.
May you see the world with the wonder of a child this Christmas. And may you never be the same.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ode To Joy

Some Christmas joy to hold you over for a while. I'm not sure "Ode to Joy" is a Christmas song, but it was in one of the best Christmas movies ever: Die Hard.
Thanks to my sister for showing me this video.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What if...?

"What if...?"
If there can be such a thing, this is the best/worst question in the English language.
"What if...?" can be asked to dream of possibilities. It can be used for the greater good.
"What if...?" can also be an annoying question, if you are not ready for change.
"What if...?" is not my favorite question tonight.
Sigh.
Apparently our little Garrison's breathing problems are still a concern. A sleep study the other night revealed that his breathing is shallow, and that he may have a problem where his larynx is soft, meaning a greater possibility of obstructing his airway.
The good news is that they didn't find any obstruction. Also, he never stopped breathing during sleep (apnea.)
However, we get to be scared once again as the doctor says, "Most kids just grow out of it, but there are no guarantees."
And now we come back to our question: "What if...?"
Now it's a frightening question...a question that brings fear and tears.
So we'll watch and wait, and hope that the answer to "What if...?" is positive, and that in the end, it will be a fantastic God-story!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

12 Days of Carols: Day 12

Alas, we have come to the end of the list. Jim, I know you've been excited to find out my #1 pick, so here you go!
"Welcome To Our World" is the most beautiful Christmas song I have ever heard.
It starts by innocently welcoming Jesus, and then takes you to the realization of where His life will ultimately lead.
The last verses are SO powerful for me:
Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born
Unto us is born

So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God

Welcome To Our World

Saturday, December 13, 2008

12 Days of Carols: Day 11


Almost done! My next-to-last favorite Christmas song is "Mary Did You Know?" It was written by comedian Mark Lowry, but the version we all know was sung by Kenny Rogers. Mary knew that her son was special. She had already spoken to an angel, who told her so! But, how special would He turn out to be?


Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know, that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know, that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you've kissed the face of God

The blind will see
The deaf will hear
The dead will live again
The lame will leap
The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb

Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know, that your baby boy is heaven's perfect lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding, is the great I AM!

Friday, December 12, 2008

12 Days of Carols: Day 10

My #3 pick for favorite Christmas songs has got to be "Christmas Shoes." Although Bob Carlisle is not my favorite vocal performer, this song gets me every stinkin' time! It encourages us to keep our eyes and ears open to the plight of others...especially at such a joyous time of year.

It was almost Christmas time, there I stood in another line
Tryin' to buy that last gift or two, not really in the Christmas mood
Standing right in front of me was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing 'round like little boys do
And in his hands he held a pair of shoes
His clothes were worn and old, he was dirty from head to toe
And when it came his time to pay
I couldn't believe what I heard him say

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight

He counted pennies for what seemed like years
Then the cashier said, "Son, there's not enough here"
He searched his pockets frantically
Then he turned and he looked at me
He said Mama made Christmas good at our house
Though most years she just did without
Tell me Sir, what am I going to do,
Somehow I've got to buy her these Christmas shoes

So I laid the money down, I just had to help him out
I'll never forget the look on his face when he said
Mama's gonna look so great

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight

Bridge:
I knew I'd caught a glimpse of heaven's love
As he thanked me and ran out
I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me just what Christmas is all about

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight

Thursday, December 11, 2008

12 Days of Carols: Day 9

"Happy Birthday Jesus."
This young lady's voice is quite possibly the most adorable thing I've ever heard. The song brings an awesome message as it reminds us of what we should really be celebrating.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

12 Days of Carols: Day 8

For #5 on my list, I've got to mention "My Grown Up Christmas List." This song was made famous by Amy Grant in 1992. I've got to admit...it's a good list.

Do you remember me
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you
With childhood fantasies


Well, I'm all grown up now
And still need help somehow
I'm not a child
But my heart still can dream


So here's my lifelong wish
My grown up christmas list
Not for myself
But for a world in need


No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up christmas list


As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something lovely
Wrapped beneath our tree


Well heaven surely knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal
A hurting human soul


No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up christmas list


What is this illusion called the innocence of youth
Maybe only in our blind belief can we ever find the truth


No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end, oh
This is my grown up christmas list
This is my grown up christmas list

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

12 Days of Carols: Day 7

My #6 pick is a Christmas classic. An angelic hymn for the child in all of us:

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay


The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh


Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there

Monday, December 08, 2008

12 Days of Carols: Day 6

Garth Brooks slipped this Christmas song on the end of his album "Sevens." He blew me away with this true story of a ceasefire during WWI.Grab a tissue, turn up the volume, and enjoy.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

12 Days of Carols: Day 5

What an awesome idea for a song. "Breath of Heaven" asks how Mary felt with the knowledge of God choosing HER for the mission of bringing His son into the world. This video uses the Nativity Story to illustrate...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

12 Days of Carols: Day 4

#9 on the list is another fun, light-hearted tune that reminds us to dream BIG when we're asking for a Christmas gift!
By the way, this song was recorded by Gayla Peevey, a ten-year old child star from Oklahoma City. Hmmm...I always thought it was Shirley Temple. Go Oklahoma!! Enjoy the lyrics...

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
Don't want a doll, no dinky Tinker Toy
I want a hippopotamus to play with and enjoy

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
I don't think Santa Claus will mind, do you?
He won't have to use our dirty chimney flue
Just bring him through the front door,that's the easy thing to do

I can see me now on Christmas morning,creeping down the stairs
Oh what joy and what surprise when I open up my eyes to see a hippo hero standing there

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
No crocodiles, no rhinoceroses
I only like hippopotamuses
And hippopotamuses like me too

Mom says the hippo would eat me up, but then
Teacher says a hippo is a vegeterian

There's lots of room for him in our two-car garage
I'd feed him there and wash him there and give him his massage

I can see me now on Christmas morning,creeping down the stairs
Oh what joy and what surprise when I open up my eyes to see a hippo hero standing there

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
No crocodiles or rhinoceroseses
I only like hippopotamuseses
And hippopotamuses like me too!

Friday, December 05, 2008

12 Days of Carols: Day 3

Coming in at #10 on the list is "I'm Getting Nuttin' for Christmas."
I like this song because it's fun. The innocent, light-hearted tone reminds me of a simpler time in life. It teaches kids to be good...
...and make sure the "snitches" are well-paid to keep their mouths shut!

I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas
Mommy and Daddy are mad
I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas
'Cause I ain't been nuttin' but bad

I broke my bat on Johnny's head
Somebody snitched on me
I hid a frog in sister's bed
Somebody snitched on me
I spilled some ink on Mommy's rug
I made Tommy eat a bug
Bought some gum with a penny slug
Somebody snitched on me

Oh, I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas
Mommy and Daddy are mad
I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas
'Cause I ain't been nuttin' but bad

I put a tack on teacher's chair
Somebody snitched on me
I tied a knot in Suzy's hair
Somebody snitched on me
I did a dance on Mommy's plants
Climbed a tree and tore my pants
Filled that sugar bowl with ants
Somebody snitched on me

Oh, I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas
Mommy and Daddy are mad
I'm gettin' nuttin' for Christmas
'Cause I ain't been nuttin' but bad

So you better be good
Whatever you do
'Cause if you're bad, I'm warning you
You'll get nuttin' for Christmas!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

12 Days of Carols: Day 2

What a great song by Casting Crowns. What are the blessings you are missing out on? Sometimes we are spiritually "asleep" and don't see the precious things in our lives.

12 Days of Carols: Day 1

OK, the countdown begins. For the next 12 days I will list my favorite Christmas songs. A year ago, I was introduced to this video, and I have never laughed harder. I feel like laughing, so...enjoy!!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Planning Your Programs

Despite all the negative talk about programs (in youth ministry circles), I think they are still important. "It's about relationships, not programs!" say some youth ministry gurus.

But, if you just hang out all the time with no direction or purpose, where will that get you?

Here are some things I try to keep in mind as I plan different programs/events for our youth ministry:

PURPOSE: Each program should have a purpose. And, yes, fun can be a purpose! Some people think relationships should happen without the help of programs. I agree, but don't think that's always the case. You might have some shy teenagers who will not call anyone else in the youth group under normal circumstances, but will make great buddies when they play video games together! Relationships, Worship, Outreach, and Equipping are my "Purpose" categories.

ABSENCE: I have noticed this powerful tool only recently. Sometimes, I will purposefully plan ZERO ACTIVITIES for a week or two, and the teens never fail to ask, "What are we doing this week?" Sometimes, they are grateful for the break, and sometimes they show disappointment. This is the perfect opportunity for me to tell them to plan something themselves, call a friend, gather at someone's house! If your group is constantly busy, they may not realize what they are missing.

DIVERSITY: Sometimes we get stuck in a programming rut. It's so easy just to recycle the programs that worked really well in the past. That paintballing trip may be fun, but you also might be alienating someone who hates getting shot by little balls of paint while running through the woods. Be careful to keep in mind your girls, athletic kids, intellectuals, extreme sports enthusiasts, gamers, and the apathetic kids who just like to "hang out" when planning your events.

COST: Keep a good balance between low-dough or free events and high dollar ones. Remember that parents are already spending a ton to entertain their teens during the summer. Be their friend and go easy on that pocketbook! Make it easy for the less fortunate kids to go to the events that you plan. Do it quietly, and don't embarass them or their families.

MOMENTUM: If you sense a good thing, don't let it die! For example, if your teens are bringing their friends, plan more events to facilitate those relationships. If families are pulling together because of your ministry, keep doing family activities. Learn to spot when things are working, and when to phase out a program for a while.

TIMING: When I arrived in Nebraska, I found out that a MAJOR part of senior year is for parents to have an open house (party) to honor their graduates. This also means that seniors (and other teens in your group) will be busy attending these parties. My first year, I tried to plan stuff during May, but I quickly learned to tone it down during this month and honor this tradition.

GOD'S WILL: Uh-oh...confession time. I'm not always the best at waiting to see what God wants me to do. Sometimes, I charge ahead without waiting for Him. Make sure that your activities and programs are God-honoring, and always brought before Him in prayer.

Friday, November 14, 2008

This Looks Great

Here is a trailer to the upcoming Will Smith movie "Seven Pounds." I'm there!!!



By they way, they stole this idea from my novel!! :)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

DONE!

Yes, our annual youth rally called "Akastasia" is over. All of a sudden, we had about 180 guests from Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and South Dakota.
I love youth rallies.
It always starts off with everyone being a little awkward. They haven't seen each other in a month or more...some since summer camp. As the weekend progresses, you can see people loosen up, and maybe even establish new friendships.
This year was tough. Garrison's hospital stay put me WAY behind schedule on the planning. Several last minute decisions and phone calls had to be made. Our tradition of ice skating on Saturday did not happen this year. Several of our Christian colleges could not afford to support us financially.
But God LOVES showing up when we're worried about the way things will turn out!
A couple at our church offered to help pay for the t-shirts. I told them their offer could not have come at a better time since other financing did not work out. When the bill came in, I emailed them with the total and told them any amount would be appreciated. They paid the whole bill.
I also worried about our entertainment and game times. Soul Concern from York did an awesome job filling in almost last minute. And as far as games, teens would rather just hang out sometimes than be forced to play games.
Robert Cox did a PHENOMENAL job of speaking, as usual. He knows what struggles people are facing, and challenges them to face those struggles with God's help. His church families have such great stories.
And to top it off, one of our teens, Lucas Anderson, was baptized. He accepted God's grace, and committed himself to living a radical life for Jesus Christ. Then, after the teens had gone to their host homes, a lady from Kansas was baptized, too!
Several people sought me out to tell me what a wonderful rally it was. All I could do was shrug my shoulders, smile, and say, "It wasn't me. God was here and made this rally more than I ever planned or hoped for!"

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Planning a Youth Rally

Where do you start? Is there a master list to follow? Here are some tips I've used (stolen) in planning several youth rallies now:

1. Plan your theme and speaker well in advance. We try to have next year's theme and speaker ready to introduce by the end of this year's rally.
2. Give your teens appropriate responsibilities. Some teens can take on more responsibilities than others. For example, you probably shouldn't give a teen command of the budget for your youth rally!! On the other hand, you might have some talented artists who can perform or make artwork. My teens have shot the Rules video each year, and really impress me each time.
3. Involve your whole church. This is a great opportunity for people to see you (youth minister or volunteer) in action. Use them to house teens, serve food, lead a discussion or class, registration, driving...the list goes on.
4. Give yourself plenty of time to plan. I have a list that I start working on over a month before the rally begins. The stress will fade away as you cross the items off that list!
5. Be flexible! Things WILL go wrong! Teens will take their cues from you. If you think things aren't going well, they might think the same thing. Evaluate each rally when it's done, and remove or rework those things that didn't work.
6. Keep Jesus by your side. Remember what your rally is all about. It's not about showcasing your talents, or getting people to like you. Point them toward Christ.

In case you're wondering, I DO have several lists that I use to plan and execute our youth rally. If you think it would be helpful, let me know and I'll send them to you.

If you'll excuse me, I have to go sleep one more time before a hectic weekend begins with a LOT of teens and a LOT of Jesus!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

WHAT WILL WE DO NOW?!

I wonder what churches will do now that Barack Obama has been elected as our next president. Prayer vigils were held before the elections asking that God would bless America. Will they feel like God has blessed America, or cursed it?

The following passage is from Romans 13:1-2.

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."

Have you ever really thought about this passage?
The author is admonishing them to submit to a government that became increasingly harsh to Christians!

So, what are Christians to do now?
1. Don't worry. God is in control. Jesus told us not to worry. God told the martyrs in Revelation not to worry. The Bible is chock-full of God advising people, "Don't worry!"
2. Keep praying! Will churches pray now that the elections are over? Let's pray for Barack Obama instead of cursing him! You wouldn't believe how many negative statements I've seen on Facebook tonight. He is human, just like you and I. He makes mistakes, just like you and I. And he needs prayers, just like you and I do.

"I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (1 Tim. 2:1-2)

I don't know about you, but I think this is holy and wise advice. And I hope you'll keep praying for our next president.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Teaching Teens Work Skills

Our electronic society is a huge blessing for youth ministry. Most of the work can be done by emailing instead of making tiring amounts of phone calls. Calendars can be produced with clipart on them without going through multiple stages of print.
However, not everyone has email yet!
For our youth rally, I recently asked teens to help me with a few projects. One project was addressing envelopes to our members who will be housing out-of-town teens. So, I was a little confused when one of the teens asked what we were doing.
To show them an example, I went over to one of our girls, who had already addressed an envelope. As I picked it up, I noticed she had written the address in the upper right-hand corner where the stamp goes!!!
While we laughed, another girl said, "We don't know how to do this...we email and text people!"

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Parenting Lessons

Finish this sentence:
I want my kid(s) to be the best ___________.

How did you fill in the blank?
Pianist? Quarterback? Chess player? Pitcher? Debater? Cheerleader? Student?

I see it all too often: Parents who live out their lives through their children. They want their kids to be cool, popular, "the best." They push their kids to practice hard at their chosen activity. They make sure they are at every practice early, and stay late. They sponsor all the activities, and shell out hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars to get their kids the BEST equipment.

We all want our children to be happy. We all want them to work hard. But I would encourage you to consider filling in the blank with something different...something that matters far more than any ballgame or competition.

I want my kid to be the best Christian that he can be.

I want to make sure he's at all the "practice sessions" he needs to get to know God. I want to make sure he has quality equipment for studying about his creator. I want to monetarily sponsor things that get him in touch with God's love and grace!

Can you say those words? Do your kids know that their soul is more important to you than their extracurriculars?

One of the parents at our church was talking to her son recently. He is the mascot for one of our local high schools. It's a horse named "Mighty." He was telling me that he didn't know if he could attend our youth rally (and help lead worship) because he might be mascotting. His mom replied with a smile, "I would rather you be doing mighty things than Mighty (the horse) things!"

Amen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ministry During Difficult Times: Part 3

"Please pray for us as my wife will be having a fibroid removed."
These were the words I heard from a man at our church just days after we had escaped the hospital with Garrison.
The morning of the woman's surgery, the church staff was talking about how her husband probably needed our prayers and reassurance more than the patient!
So, when our pulpit minister said that he was going to visit them before the surgery, I immediately volunteered to go. With our recent worries and anxiety from a hospital stay, how could I turn down this opportunity? It was so fresh on my mind that I had NO problem walking back into a hospital environment.
It was obvious our friends were glad to see us. We made small talk and laughed. The gentleman hugged each of us and told us how glad he was that we came. Turning to me, he said, "I would have thought you would be tired of hospitals by now."
My reply: "I am...and that's exactly why I'm here!"
I knew his anxiety and the questions that must have been floating around in his mind. I knew his feeling of helplessness. I knew his overwhelming need to protect his family. I sympathized with his lack of sleep.
Father God, NEVER let me forget the draining emotions and faith-building experience of our recent stay in the hospital. I never want to fear hospitals again, but I want to see them as opportunities to help others. Father, keep this experience fresh and new for me. May I use this to minister to others the way You would minister to them. Help me to see opportunities, and to know what to say or do in tough times. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ministry During Difficult Times: Part 2

During our recent ordeal, God opened up ANOTHER door for some ministry! (Insert sarcastic gasp here.)
Before Garrison was moved to the NICU, he had a WONDERFUL nurse name Onie in the nursery. She has worked there for over 30 years and seen it all! She is the sweetest lady ever, having volunteered at her church nursery for many, many years.
When she started asking questions about our church, I asked her about her own church-going background. Sadly, she told me about this church that had largely ignored her servant heart, and failed to return the love when she needed it the most. She felt lost in a mega-church crowd.
I told her about our little, imperfect-but-lovely church. I don't know if she will follow through on my invitation or not, but I pray she felt a connection to another believer in Christ for that short time we sat together in the nursery. I hope she was encouraged. I hope she will not stay discouraged in her relationship with God because other people failed in their relationship with her.
God bless you, Onie. We love you!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ministry During Difficult Times: Part 1

Before I start out on this blog entry, I must thank you for your continued prayers and encouragement during our stressful time with Garrison. He is now HOME and doing very well! I've been telling people he's doing exactly what babies do...eating, sleeping, pooping and keeping us awake!

During our recent hospital stay, I learned that God can provide ministry opportunities even during difficult times...
I had called a friend of mine to let him know of a youth ministry opportunity, and he returned my call the day Garrison was born. This kid is "cream of the crop" in my books. I mean, he and his family are just precious people. He's been in youth ministry for a few years now (3 or 4?) and I believe God has, and will, use him in great ways.
So, my heart dropped when he told me, "Franklin, I'm thinking of getting out of youth ministry. I've never been so discouraged in all my life. I can't believe that people treat each other like this. Is this what Jesus died for?"
My heart immediately recalled some difficult times in my own ministry. There were dark moments where I felt the world was against me, and that nothing I did made any difference. I remember feeling like I had no friends and no support.
It kills me to hear of people dropping out of ministry. If this guy leaves, it will make TWO of my good friends that have now left.
Sometimes it's because of bad leadership. Sometimes it's because people are stubborn and won't follow a vision that's laid out before them. Sometimes it's because you've called people out for their shortcomings. And sometimes it's because of misconceptions and shortcomings on the youth minister's part.
Youth ministry is not easy. Caring for the souls of people can be a heartbreaking business. Many times you pour your life and love into people, and get "nada" in return.
If you are in that boat, hang in there. What doesn't seem to yield immediate results may be planting eternal seeds. Your patience and dependence on God is your greatest weapon.
Would you show some loving kindness to your youth minister today? (Please, I am asking this for other guys, and not myself! I am very well taken care of!!)
Write them a note, take them to lunch, volunteer to teach Junior High class (OK, maybe that's a bit much!) Tell them they are making a difference. Let them know you at least appreciate their efforts. PRAY FOR THEM. Pray WITH them! Spend time with them.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

He's Heeere!




Garrison (who I think I'll start calling Baby G) was cleared to come home this morning!! His lungs look like they have totally cleared up, all support (wires, etc.) was removed yesterday, and he is eating very well.

Coming home has been a relaxant for all of us. Tracy's been itching to come back for days. Garrison seems to know he's in a safe place where people won't inject him or poke anything down his throat. He has enjoyed cuddles with everyone, including older brother Fischer (THREE times today!) Of course, Grandma and Papa Sewell got their time in, too.

It's hard to put him down. Every time I pass by him, I have to stop and stare for a while. It feels like he is now "officially" ours. We've been wanting to hold him, protect him, comfort him, spoil him, and just love him. Now we get that chance.


We would just like to praise God. First of all, for hearing many prayers on behalf of Garrison. He is a compassionate God who wept with us through our doubts and fears. We also thank Him for all of our wonderful friends and family, who have been praying nonstop for us. We want you to know that your prayers brought us strength. Your prayers and encouragement brought us before God and helped us leave our problems at His throne.

God bless you all. We love you!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Improvements

Things are looking up every day! Yesterday, about noon, Garrison was taken off of his oxygen. He must be able to go 24 hours without it for them to consider letting him go home. They also want to monitor him in his carseat for an hour to see how he does. Pretty thorough, huh?
They are saying that possibly tonight or tomorrow he gets to come home!!!!
Meanwhile, I went to the doctor yesterday, and he just gave me some stronger antibiotics for my cold/allergies/whatever. Hopefully this round works!
We can't thank you all enough for your prayers and encouragement during this time. It has helped us so much and kept up our spirits.
By the way, if we are a little overprotective of people holding Garrison for the first few weeks, we hope you'll understand!

Monday, October 06, 2008

I'm Sick of Sickness


Garrison is eating well today! They are keeping the feeding tube in just in case, but so far, so good. He had his PICC line (deep in his foot) removed today, too! So now he just has a few leads on him to monitor his vitals. I think the IVs will probably stop soon, too.

Still no scholarly guesses on when we're coming home. They want to make absolutely sure he is OK before letting him go...and I'm 100% OK with that!


Meanwhile, I'm feeling pretty awful today. Lack of sleep and stress can't be good on top of getting treated last week for severe allergies (and maybe a cold; I don't know...I just took the drugs!)

Anyways, I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. (That's why I posted this goofy pic...just to laugh a little!) I surrender. Tomorrow I'm going in to the doctor AGAIN. This time, he will probably check for pneumonia. If you don't hear from me for the next few days, I'm probably hiding out, trying to rest and recover! Please pray that our family will be united soon, and that we'll all be well enough to stay with each other!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Garrison News


So much to write about, but I need to get some rest!


OK, first the update on Garrison:

Chest tube came out yesterday, and arterial line in his left arm (along with a lot of tape and a block of styrofoam to hold it in place) came off this morning! Slowly, but surely he is shedding wires and technology and doing it in on his own.

We tried at feeding earlier this evening. He fed for a few minutes earlier on, but the next go around he just stayed asleep or wouldn't work at it. So, unfortunately, the feeding tube got reinserted.

Since we are trying to feed him, Tracy packed up her things and is pretty much living at the NICU. She will try to feed him every 2-3 hours. Please pray for her strength and stamina (and health) as she endures some late nights and baby cries.


I must admit that I am not a fan of hospitals. But I think I am changing my mind. A hospital is not just a place of healing, it is a place of learning. You will learn to be patient, you will learn to hear the cries of others, you will learn to be OK with shedding tears and confronting difficult things in life. You will learn to be more thankful for your own health, you will learn that there ARE people who care in this world.

Most importantly, you will learn the importance of PRESENCE. God's presence is EVERYWHERE in hospitals. If you spend a while in one, you will know what I mean. You will also learn the importance of your presence for others who are hurting. When you are hurting, NOTHING beats seeing the face of a loved one, or getting a text or voicemail, or reading a loving email...anything that lets you know people are with you and thinking of you.

I tried to communicate that to our teens tonight (THANK YOU FOR COMING TO VISIT ME IN THE HOSPITAL LOBBY!!! YOU WILL NEVER KNOW HOW MUCH I APPRECIATED THAT!) I hope they grasped this lesson and learn from it.

I hope I will grasp this lesson and learn from it.


I leave you with a song we used to sing for Fischer that I found myself humming to Garrison tonight:


I am a sheep and the LORD is my Shepherd

Watching over my soul

My soul to keep, guarding over me ever

Watching wherever I go


And when the winds blow

HE is my Shelter

And when I'm lost and alone

HE rescues me

And when the lion comes

HE is my Victory

Constantly watching over me

Yes, HE is constantly watching over me!!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Hi Everyone!


First of all, I gotta say "Thanks!" for all the prayers. Mommy and Daddy tell me that lots of people have been praying. All I know is, it was real tough a few days ago, and things went downhill from there. All these people were poking me and constantly badgering me. For a couple of days I was real sleepy and woke up with this gross tube in my mouth. I waited for just the right moment (4:00 am yesterday morning) to pull it out myself! Anyways, all that to say I'm feeling much better now, so thank you!

I opened my eyes tonight at feeding time, and Daddy happened to be there. He had a mask on his face, but his eyes were smiling REAL big!

Well, I'd better get back to sleep. Tomorrow might be a big day. If my lung x-rays are looking good, the doctors will remove my chest tube! (You can kinda see it under my raised arm.) They will probably also remove my PICC line (like an IV that goes straight into my artery.)

And here's the best part: If all that goes well, sometime soon I'll get to start feeding from Mommy. I really like being held by her, even if she's crying every time! (I guess that just means she wants to hold me a LOT!)

Tell my parents I'll be FINE. We'll be walking out of this hospital real soon!

Friday, October 03, 2008

He's Off!

Last night one of the nurses in NICU was turning Garrison over at about 4:00 a.m. As she did so, something didn't sound quite right and she looked down to see that his ventilator had come out (we assume he pulled it out!)
They usually take that as a sign that the baby is ready to be off the vent. So, they just hooked up the nasal oxygen tube and let him breathe on his own. He is currently at 30% oxygen, and doing fine. They should be checking all his vitals and blood-gases soon.
Please pray that his breathing continues to regulate itself and that he doesn't need to go on the vent again.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Baby Garrison Newest Update

As of 9:30 tonight (a few hours ago) Garrison was down to 25% oxygen AND they have turned the ventilator down so much that he is doing 70% of the breathing on his own! His blood gas and white blood cell count are still very good.
So tomorrow may be the day he comes off the ventilator. But that brings whole new anxieties for us.
Let me tell you the best news. The nurse let Tracy and I change his diaper and take his temperature. As we were doing so, he opened his little eyes and tracked us the whole time! We got to speak soothing words and give him comforting touches instead of being poked or prodded. It was something we really needed, although Tracy still has a desperate longing to hold and nurse him.

Thank you all SO much for the emails, facebook messages, phone messages, and texts that we are receiving. We love you all so much.

You Never Let Go

Fischer loves to listen to David Crowder Band. I think the repetitive lyrics of the choruses really stick in his mind.
I took Fischer to putt-putt this afternoon, just to get him out of the hospital for a few hours. This song came on and at the chorus, his little voiced chimed out, "You never let go, you never let go."
Tears dripped down my face as I made the connection between this song and how God is watching over us right now. Sometimes we don't feel Him there, and sometimes we want to solve problems on our own, but God never lets go.

Here are the lyrics, or you can go here to listen to the song and see a video.

When clouds veil sun
And disaster comes
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul
When waters rise
And hope takes flight
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul

Ever faithful
Ever true
You I know
You never let go
You never let go
You never let go
You never let go

When clouds brought rain
And disaster came
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul
When waters rose
And hope had flown
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul

Oh, my soul
Overflows
Oh, what love, oh, what love
Oh, my soul
Fills with hope
Perfect love that never lets go

Oh, what love, oh what love
Oh, what love, oh what love
In joy and pain
In sun and rain
You’re the same
Oh, You never let go

Choosing to hold on,
Franklin

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Latest...

I have debated all day whether to take pictures of Garrison in the NICU. Are those scenes we want to remember?
After much thought and tearful prayers, I decided to take and share a few pics. The reason...because I want to be able to look BACK and see the wonderful things that God did when he brought about healing. And I believe we're getting there.
I can't thank you enough for your prayers. Hopefully you can see from the above paragraph that we can feel your prayers and derive our strength from them. We BEG you to keep them coming!

UPDATE: Earlier tonight, the nurse lifted our hearts by telling us Garrison's levels are looking very good. His blood-gas levels are right where they need to be. His inflammation levels are down, and his white cell count is down to 15 (ideally it should be between 14 and 18) from 35. He is currently on 30% oxygen, down from 39% earlier tonight. And he is sleeping BIG TIME (he really needed his rest.) The nurse also turned his ventilator down from 14 to 11 (I know, I don't know what that means either, but it sounds great!) Between the doctors, nurses and a loving God, we know our little Garrison is in good hands.

Garrison Recovery: Day Three

In case you don't know by now, here's the latest on Garrison...

This morning as they were putting him on a ventilator, they discovered that he had a small hole in one of his lungs. The way it was described to me is that one area got mostly blocked and his accelerated breathing pumped it up like a balloon until a small tear was created.
So, they had to put a chest tube in (under his armpit) to help draw that stuff out and alleviate the pressure. This will allow the hole to come back together and start healing itself.
Once that is accomplished, hopefully the antibiotics will clear out anything else and allow his air sacs to fully extend and start taking in more oxygen and releasing it to the rest of his body.

Here's the good news: His heart tests came back looking fine, so we don't think that is the root cause.
Also, even with all the tubes, he looks like he's sleeping like an angel. He's getting the rest he needs since he's been struggling on his own the past few days.

Tracy is doing OK, but I think lack of sleep is catching up to her. Her stomach is a little upset tonight as well, so please continue to pray for her.

After the news this morning, I got fed up with being stuffed up (allergies, I suppose) and wearing a mask every time I see him because of my runny nose and coughing. I got in to an ENT specialist who gave me LOTS of good stuff to help clear me up. Breathing through my nose has never felt better!

THANK YOU TO ALL THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN CALLING AND EMAILING. I APOLOGIZE THAT I DON'T GET TO TALK TO ALL OF YOU, AND I MAY NOT CALL YOU BACK IMMEDIATELY, BUT I REALLY APPRECIATE YOUR NOTES, THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS.

Prayers for Garrison

Nurses came in this morning to inform us that Garrison's oxygen needs increased during the night. He was up to 60% oxygen from the machines.
So, the doctor has decided to put him on the ventilator to help him rest, since he has been working so hard to breathe for the last two days. Because he will be intubated, we will just have family visiting him at this time.
However, personal visits and prayers for Tracy (and me) are invited. You might just call to check before you head up here. We are in Room 841 at Methodist (but will probably be discharged tomorrow morning.) After that, we will spend most of our time on the fourth floor (which is NICU.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Garrison Recovery: Day Two

Garrison's report continues to be baffling. His blood-gas levels look good, now not so good...his temp is OK, now he has a fever...his white cell count is up...his breathing is shallow and too quick...he wants to eat really bad!...he's strong enough to push himself up...!!
It just leaves you drained because you're trying to figure it all out. I want to understand and do something about it, but...guess I'm not in charge.
Treatment options/diagnoses are being thrown around:
  • ...will possibly need to go on a ventilator.
  • ...tomorrow, we will check his heart to make sure that's not the problem.
  • ...his spinal tap results showed no IMMEDIATE cause for concern, but we need to wait for the cultures to grow for 48 to 72 hours.
  • ...other cultures for bacteria are showing nothing.
  • ...chest x-rays are clear.
  • ...it could just be he needs to work out some fluid, and some babies take 3 days to do that.
GRRRRRRRRRR.

So there it is...you now know as much as we do!!!
We appreciate all the thoughts and prayers. Keep them coming.

If you're wondering about visiting: Right now we are welcoming people to come and visit Tracy, but we'd like to start limiting Garrison's exposure to others. TRUST US, we would LOVE to be passing him around right now!!!

Please pray for the hospital staff as they continue to work on him. They have been wonderful to us so far, and we know they're doing their best. Pray that they will catch something or think about another possibility. Pray that Garrison keeps his strength up.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Baby Garrison Update


Why do all my kids have to look like this their first few days of life?
Garrison had to be taken to the NICU because of labored breathing, low oxygen levels, and high white cell count. Several x-rays have come back looking clear, so they're not sure why he's laboring as though he needs to get something out of his lungs. They may have to insert a breathing tube so that they can put medicine directly into his lungs which will open up his air sacs and increase his O2 levels. We're hoping it won't come to that.
So this is a repeat performance for me. Fischer was in NICU for a couple of days as well. I hated every second. I'm one of the most squeamish people you know.
I cringed as they tried to insert an IV into both Garrison's arms, and it didn't work, so they went to work on his foot. I must have looked awful, because another nurse came over and said, "Would you like to go back upstairs and check on your wife now?" I gratefully accepted her suggestion.
I HATE hearing my kids cry. Oh, don't get me wrong...if they do something to deserve it, I'm fine. But not when it's like this!! It just tears at your heart and makes you want to scream out (like Elliot in the movie "E.T.") "Leave 'im alone!"
Tracy continues to do OK. Much better than last C-section!
Prayers for helpless daddy, recovering mommy, and struggling baby are appreciated.

Our New Miracle




Here is our newest little guy: Garrison Steven Samuel Wood
8 lbs 15 oz
21 inches long
He is a mighty man, already lifting his head!!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Another Miracle

In just under ten hours, another miracle will take place in my life.
Most miracles seem to happen in hindsight, so it's exciting that I get to wait in anxious expectation for one!
Our second son, Garrison, will be brought into the world (Lord willing) at around 7:30 tomorrow morning by C-section. God started this little life and shaped it with His own hand. He watched as the little life began to grow inside of it's mother, and laughed with her as she felt the child kick for the first time.
God will be there in the morning. I know this because, where there is life, there is God.
God will be keenly interested in Garrison's life. His early years, discovering God's creation; his teen years, filled with anxiety and self-awareness; his adult years, possibly starting a family and career; his failures and his successes...God will watch it all.
And tomorrow morning, I really think God will be smiling with us as we welcome new life into our family.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Virtual Conversations

The following is a conversation that played out in my head on the way home from work:

Tracy: Well, you're home late.

Me: I know, but I just need a little understanding on your part tonight. I've stayed extra busy this week, because I'm trying to take some days off next week when our baby is born! There are a lot of big projects coming up that I've been working on. Then I come home and have to take care of a pregnant wife and a hyper three-year old! Things are just discouraging right now! People don't answer their e-mails or return phone calls. They SAY they will do something, and then don't. I need help! I just feel like everything's crashing down around me right now, and...

At this very moment in my virtual conversation (I'm not kidding) my CD holder that hangs from the driver's side visor (right in front of my eyes) comes loose from the velcro and swings open right toward my face!
In a millisecond, I stopped my rant and swung my head back to avoid getting hit.
And then I started laughing...hard.
It was like God was saying, "You're taking yourself WAY too seriously, Franklin! Lighten up, son, you're too tense! Here's something to wake you up and help you have a laugh."

In case you're wondering, my lovely wife was very sweet when I got home. She never said a thing about my coming home late!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Spiritual Gifts

Our men's retreat was encouraging and uplifting. We discussed our spiritual gifts and then took an assessment. Wanna know my results? Here are my top three...

1. Teacher - The capability and desire to serve God by making clear the truths of God.
  • Characteristics: Loves to research, greatest joy is sharing insights, wants to know context, makes a complicated concept more easily understood.

2. Shepherd - The capability and desire to serve God by overseeing, training, and caring for the needs of a group of Christians.

  • Characteristics: Knows the lives of people in their group, willing to help people avoid spiritual pitfalls, always there for people

3. Exhorter - The capability and desire to serve God by motivating others to action, especially with an eye toward practical solutions for the individual or the church.

  • Characteristics: Able to connect people with a job that needs to be done, more willing to offer solutions rather than mere sympathy, offers positive, sincered, specific feedback, loves 'how-to' workshops.

I don't share this stuff to "show off." EVERYBODY has spiritual gifts!! It's in finding them that we gain our joy in ministry. No one gift is better than another. We need ALL the gifts to reach out to the world.

One thing I haven't figured out yet, though. How do I do MORE of what I love (see above) and less of the gifts that don't come naturally to me (administration, for example.) Am I, as a youth minister, allowed to do that? Or am I shirking my responsibility?

Hmmm...some major thoughts to chew on...

How about you? Have you ever done a spiritual gifts assessment? What are your gifts? (See Romans 12 and Eph. 4 for a good list.) Are you joyfully serving God?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Moses: A Good Friend

I've never considered Moses as a "relational" type of person. He grew up thinking he was abandoned by his mom, he killed an Egyptian, he wasn't much of a public speaker/people-person (think "politician") and he was leading a LARGE group of people (can you be relational with that many folks?) Modern psychologists would have LOVED to sit down and chat with Moses!
But, if you look closely enough, Exodus shows us a relational side of Moses. A side that craves close relationships and will do anything to protect them. Check out these verses:
  • "Inside the Tent of Meeting, the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend." (Exod. 33:11)

And then there's this passage that just jumps out at me. The LORD had decided that He could not travel with His chosen people, because they were sinful and stubborn. This is the conversation that followed this decision... (italics are my own addition as I imagine the conversation)

  • The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”
    Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”
    The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.” (Exod. 33:14-17)

Moses knew that God would BE with them, but he passionately asks God to GO with them! He knew that God would provide them with some kind of protection and help, but he wanted GOD to go with them personally.

Moses shows the kind of relationship that God craves from us. A friend-to-friend relationship. A relationship where you sit in a tent together and just talk. A relationship that says, "I don't want to leave this place unless you go with me yourself!"

And when other people KNOW that GOD is with us PERSONALLY...that's what sets us apart from the world.

Is God personally traveling with you? Or have you uprooted and gone on your way without Him?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fischer's Follies

My day off was rather entertaining today...

At mid-afternoon, we decided to take a walk, partially to help Tracy's soaring blood sugar, and partially to help Fischer's soaring energy levels. We all put our shoes on and exited through the door to the garage, where I ducked into my car and grabbed the garage door opener.
As we walked away, I pressed the button and watched the door shut.
Satisfied, we proceeded to walk for a good 30 minutes, enjoying the hills in our neighborhood and soothing Fischer, who fell and scraped his knee (the same knee he's scraped like 3 times now!)
Upon our return, I pushed the button and the garage door ascended. Tracy entered first, grabbed the door handle, tried to turn it, and hung her head.
"Who locked the door?"
"I'll give you one guess," I replied, flashing a Daddy-angry-stare at our 3-year old door-locker.
Fortunately, because of the beautiful weather, we had left our bedroom window open. After standing on a ladder for ten minutes, I was able to pry open the screen and scramble through the window.

After that fiasco, Fischer wanted to play in the back yard. He really turned on the charm, as kids always seem to do when you're mad at them.
"Daddy, come push me in the swing!"
I crumbled. He swung in silent bliss for several minutes.
"It's a nice day."
Yes it is, son.
"Fank you for pushing me, Dad."
"You're welcome, buddy."
"You can go inside now."

On a side note: I'm starting my own personal study of Leviticus, and you know what? The first study was INCREDIBLE!! I think I'm gonna enjoy this (I know, I can't believe I'm saying that about Leviticus either!)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Struggling

OK, here's the struggle:

We're starting our Small Groups again soon. I've got a baby on the way, and a need to be with my family more. I need to back out of leading a group and let someone else encourage ME for a while.

BUT...

I've got teens who need me. There are some parents who probably feel like I should be leading a teen group. Will the teens feel like I don't like them if I step away for a while? Do I spend enough time with them? Am I losing "momentum" if I slow things down after a crazy, but fulfilling summer?

What should I do?

Over the last few days, this song has been on the radio (multiple stations at various times.) Like a dummy, I didn't really pay attention to the words until today:

Father God, I am clay in your hands,
Help me to stay that way through all life's demands,
'Cause they chip and they nag and they pull at me,
And every little thing I make up my mind to be,
Like I'm gonna be a daddy whose in the mix,And I'm gonna be a husband who stays legit,
And I pray that I'm an artist who rises above,The road that is wide and filled with self love,
Everything that I see draws me,
Though it's only in You that I can truly see that its a feast for the eyes- a low blow to purpose.
And I'm a little kid at a three ring circus.

I don't want to gain the whole world, and lose my soul,
Don't wanna walk away, let me hear the people say.
I don't want to gain the whole world, and lose my soul,
Don't wanna walk away, let me hear the people say.

Being a youth minister is, in some ways, like any other job. You can work as HARD as you can for as many HOURS as you can, and be successful in the eyes of the world, but you could lose things that are precious to you. You could lose your family. You could lose sight of God. You could lose your faith. You could lose your sense of eternal purpose and be stuck on "looking good."
BUT...
I don't want to gain the whole world, and lose my soul.

Sometimes, you need to step back and make sure your soul is being fed.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Bridges

He stretches his lean little legs out as far as he can manage. Little hands are pushing against my chest. He smiles and licks his lips as he stretches his legs so that he can put his feet on his mom's legs nearby. The little body makes a perfect arch in-between us. Bright blue eyes capture my attention. Again the smile, and then he opens his mouth...
"Look, Dad, I making a bridge!"

I pray you continue to make bridges, son. Physical, emotional, spiritual...bridges that will bring people together. After all, that's what bridges are for.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Conventions and Caucases

Why do people love to argue about politics so much? That is probably why I don't like to talk about it a whole lot. However, a thought has been burning in my mind...
A lot of people are down on John McCain for "playing up" his military career. He is using his POW status to grab the attention of the people, and perhaps get more votes. To those who think this way:
Is Obama any different?
We have to remember that these guys are politicians. They are running for the same office. OF COURSE they are going to play up their strengths (and weaknesses, for sympathy sake) to gain votes!! We do the same when we...
  • Interview for a job (I HATE the interview process for youth ministry positions! I feel almost dirty when I highlight my successes in order to gain a job in which I am meant to be a servant.)
  • Date and/or marry. Don't tell me that you don't chuckle when you see a young man trying to show off to catch his girl's eye!
  • Meet a stranger. First impressions are a PILLAR of our society (are they not?)

Let me see if I can name some of Obama's strong points: young, dynamic speaker, compassionate toward the lower socio-economic classes, doesn't associate with a psycho pastor...

Now, how did I know all that? Was it just my keen sense of observation, or did he play up his strengths as well? (And avoided making himself look bad with the whole pastor thing!)

My point is not to pick one candidate over another. It is simply a cry for us to realize that we are nit-picky people. Character assasination is not supposed to be in a Christian's reportoire of behavior. Maybe we should be praying for both candidates instead of choosing who to like and who to hate.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Year of Living Biblically


Author A.J. Jacobs brings religious life into perspective with his newest book, "The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible."

Jacobs is a nerdy agnostic who will pull you in with his honesty and sense of humor. Though he does not completely buy into the whole God thing, he gives it a fair chance in these memoirs.

So, for one year, he decided to try to follow the Bible as literally as possible. After his initial research (reading, researching and recording the over 700 laws of the Bible) he begins his journey.

Each chapter is filled with insight on various biblical commands.

A.J. struggles with some of the more bizarre rules:


  • You shall not wear a "garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff." (Leviticus 19:19).

  • If you set your slave free after six years, but he decides to stay, then you shall bring him to the doorpost and bore a hole in his ear. (Exodus 21:5).

  • You shall not eat eagles, vultures, black vultures, red kites, black kites, ravens, horned or screech owl, gull or any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat.

And yet, he finds comfort and wisdom in other rules:



  • Keep the sabbath.

  • "Let your garments be always white" Ecclesiastes 9:8.

  • No gossip.

  • Give thanks.

Most helpful to me, though, as one who proclaims to be Christian, is the fact that he readily admits his failures in following biblical laws:



  • You shall not covet.

  • You shall not lie.

  • You shall not utter the name of another God.

  • Be slow to anger (Proverbs 19:11).

Beware the use of some foul language early in the book. But also be aware that language gets cleaner as the book goes on. Could this be a by-product of his experiment? (Read the book to find out!)


Even though Mr. Jacobs wasn't "converted" by his experiment, he shares his new fondness for the sacred things in life. He acknowledges that there is something greater than him. And he even seems to be saying that there is comfort in some of the commandments that God left for us.


For anyone that asks me for a Christmas list, this is a hint.


Read the book. Be encouraged. Live a God-following life.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

I Wish I Was a Better...

Have you ever desired some traits you saw in someone else? I seem to be plagued with this affliction. Just recently, I was asked to speak at a youth rally. I found myself wishing I was funnier, especially while delivering a devo thought.
You see, my speaking style is pretty serious. I tend to get really passionate when I talk. Oh sure, I crack a few jokes here and there, but I'm no Larry the Cable Guy.

This passage in Romans 9 really speaks to me:

20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

My point here is not to discuss "the best" speaking style. I've heard people say they have been encouraged by funny sermons, and by those that are a little more serious.
The point is that God can use you (and me) despite what WE think we lack. There is always room for improvement, but take some time to rejoice in who you are. God made you that way!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Out of the Habit

I slide in front of the keyboard and run my fingers along it's unfamiliar edges. It's been way too long...
My mind draws a blank. Words dash away into the darkness before I can grab them and make them into a complete thought. New material? First of all, I can't even conjure up an idea for a good story or blog entry. And even if I could, who would want to read it?
What about experiences? Maybe something from a long time ago, or even from this afternoon! But, no, my mind brings up nothing. Or, if it does, the little voice inside me warns that nobody will be interested in my old boring stories.
This is why PRACTICE is SO important to writing! The more you write, the more words you will use. The more words you use, the less you will forget them when you try to write! Practicing helps keep your mind open to ideas, and it quiets that ugly voice that tells you how terrible your writing is. Practice keeps you sharp. I need to practice more. I know! I'm going to do better at blogging!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Angels On Wheels, Part 3

Last Friday, around 6:15 PM, I huddled up with 5 adults and 10 teenagers. We were about to head out to do a service project with some old friends...

"Alright, guys, we're about to head downtown and do some street ministry with the Angels On Wheels. Before we leave, I want you to know that they might worship differently than we do and teach some different things than us, but we are not going to fight about those differences. Our purpose tonight is to work alongside other people who believe in Jesus, and help out those who are less fortunate."

When we met, everyone introduced themselves. Probably 5 different churches were represented that night. A brief period of worship ensued. Guitars came out, we sang songs like "Indescribable" and "I Am A Friend of God" and "I Am Free." We may not have swayed as much as they did, or clapped and jumped for joy, but our hearts connected because we were worshipping the same glorious God.

We divided into teams:
The first team went to 11th and Farnam, which is directly across the street from the Old Market. It was odd seeing the homeless folks RIGHT next to the very rich.
One of the Angels, Gayle, asked Dillon (a red-haired teen from my group) to go with her. They approached some very large and very gangsterly-dressed men, and proceeded to talk with them about Jesus.
Dillon claims that he was pretty scared at first until one of the guys said, "Alright, well I gotta go. I'm supposed to play Halo with some other guys..."
"You play Halo?" Dillon lit up.
Before you knew it, they had exchanged screen names, and prayed with each other, and Dillon was playing Halo for Jesus the other night...

Meanwhile, at the other location (24th and Leavenworth) the teens were scared out of their minds as they stood adjacent to a Liquor Store and a Go-Go Place.
Several stories came from there, but I'll tell just one...
Sharon Thomsen (Sam's mom) was helping set up a table with donuts, cookies, water and lemonade. A man stood watching for a bit and walked up to her.
"You giving away condoms?" he asked.
Surprised, Sharon gave the best answer possible, "Uhhh, no. Just giving away the gospel tonight!"
(She later found out there IS a group who goes down there to give out condoms.)

It's always a blessing to serve with Angels On Wheels. I wish more Christ-followers would gather together for a common purpose.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sam Thomsen Part 3

Yesterday, I went to visit Sam Thomsen's mother and sisters. Stories continue to pour in that something about his death has brought meaning and inspiration to others.
Larry and Sharon got to meet President Bush last week and speak to several scout families who lost their sons, or whose sons were at the camp and survived the vicious tornado. In their typical, soft-spoken yet bursting-with-faith way, they had been praying for opportunities to share their faith or comfort someone during this trip.
Sharon shared a great story with me. She told me that at one point, a woman approached her.
"Are you Larry and Sharon Thomsen?"
"Yes."
"I just wanted you to know something. Our son was at the camp, and really wanted to attend the Celebration of Life that your church held before the funeral. Afterwards, as we were walking to the car, he turned to me and said, 'Mom, I felt the Holy Spirit in that place...'"
"Oh," said Sharon, "well thank you for sharing that."
"No, no, you don't understand," smiled the other woman, "we're Lutheran. We don't normally talk about the Holy Spirit in that way! My son has really been thinking about spiritual things lately, and he was very impressed with that service."

Is that an inspirational story, or what? It's amazing that tragic death ignites God-questions in each of us. It washes away denominational differences, and makes us focus on relationships instead of rightness. Sometimes it squelches faith, but more often than not, faith is intensified. When we have no answers left and nowhere else to turn, we finally realize or remember that we are left with God as THE answer.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Help Not Wanted

Earlier this evening our church gathered to do service projects. Some of it was for us (cleaning around the building, etc.) and some was meant as outreach (writing notes to visitors, etc.)
One of the projects we came up with was to send 5 or 6 people down to Center Street (the very busy street that our church sides up to) put up signs and offer people free drinks of canned pop.

My youth intern headed up this project with several teens.

"Out of 50 cars, probably only 8 accepted free drinks," he laughed. "Then, this security car pulls up and a guard walks over to us.
'You're on someone else's property.'
'I know, we're with this church right behind us.'
'No, someone else owns this property. If you move about ten feet up, you're on city property.'

And so we laughed. We laughed that we "got in trouble" with a security guard for giving out free drinks. And we laughed that we live in a doubting, mistrusting, lawsuit-laden, snooty, stuck up society that won't even accept free drinks!!
But behind the laughter lies an even greater determination...a determination to somehow reach our neighbors and show them the love of Christ. Looks like it will take some time for them to trust us. I pray that God will open those doors in time.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Firsts

This summer has had a lot of "firsts" for me.

First time to deal with death within our church's youth group.
First time having an intern. Ugh! Why did I sign up for THAT?! Just kidding, Brent!
First time where my wife's pregnancy is going pretty well. (Last time she was bedridden at this point! Go Tracy!)
First time to shoot under 100 in golf! (Unless you count those par 3 courses!)
First signs of the "terrible twos" in Fischer. Grrrrr...

But, I'll tell you what's NOT a first time experience...I'm TIRED at the end of this summer! Summers are the most INCREDIBLE times of youth ministry, filled with fun moments and times of extreme spiritual growth. The teens have free time to actually spend with their ole youth minister! Rock band, summer blockbusters, church camp, late nights where you stay up laughing...
But it's tiring as well. So, thanks for being patient with me during my little hiatus. I'll try to post a little more regularly in coming weeks.
Love you all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

From NYC...




Hi Everyone!

I am still at Nebraska Youth Camp. It's been a great time. Here are some pics from last week (Intermediate Session.)

I pray that God is ever-present in your life. Talk to you soon.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Yay, Church Camp!

Ahhh, church camp...the pinnacle of teenage summer spirituality! (And a possible love connection.)
I'm about to head off to Nebraska Youth Camp for two weeks.
Anybody who has gone to NYC will attest that it is NOT the most beautiful place on earth! Old, dusty cabins with no air conditioning. A nasty pond with fluorescent green gunk floating in it. Sand, sand and more sand. Close location to the interstate (which makes for interesting campfire background sounds!) A kitchen that even the rat from Ratatouille would not touch.
And yet...to a couple hundred young people...it IS the most beautiful place on earth.
Some of them are from tiny churches where there are NO other teens to hang out with.
Some come from broken homes.
Some come from homes that aren't really involved in a church.
Camp is the place they can let loose and really worship. It is the place they don't have to be afraid of being themselves. They see God in nature every day and night, with little to no technological interruptions.
Growing up, Camp Blue Haven was that to me. What awesome memories. The beautiful mountains. Perfect weather (we actually enjoyed wearing jeans to camp!) The hikes. Getting up courage to ask a girl to the banquet towards the end of the week. Singing class. Bible class and art.
What are your favorite camp memories? How did it help shape your faith?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

My Friend Sam Thomsen, Part II


Thanks again for all the prayers on behalf of Sam's family. I think they are doing well, starting to get back in the swing of things as best they can.


A few of our youth were camping at SoulQuest a few weeks ago. It was just days after Sam's funeral. We had cried and cried early on, but sort of avoided some other questions we needed to ask. So I talked about "life-change" moments in one of our devotionals. You know, the times in life where you reflect on life's meaning and purpose and actually have a chance to change something.

To live life and not reflect on such things is foolish. "Live and learn" is a very wise saying.

So I posed the question: "After going through all this, what will change in your life?"


"I'm not going to be so hard on myself," piped up one of our young men.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, Sam always told me that I was too hard on myself when I failed. I've always prided myself on following the letter of the law, but Sam said I needed more grace for myself."


Wow.


Another young guy said, "I want to come to youth group more. I know I've been real uninvolved, and I'm going to start coming." (Update: He's been to church twice and one youth group activity! AND, he brought his absent older brother, too!)


Soon, it came my turn to share:

"I don't always do the best job of letting you guys know how much I care about you. Usually, I stand at the front of class on Sundays, waiting for everyone to come in so I can get started. Now, I'm going to stand in the hallway and hug you as you come in...whether you like it or not! I'm going to treat each day as if...maybe it's our last day together. I'll be more loving, but also more courageous. I love you all."


Don't forget the lessons you learn from "life-change moments."