Tuesday, December 29, 2009

7 Years ... and 1 Day Ago

Carol and I celebrated our 7th anniversary yesterday. I'm totally in love with her. Every day I am more thankful for her and just grow to love her more and more. I look back 7 years ago and realize how little I actually knew about being married then. I'm sure 7 years from now I'll probably say the same thing. I'm thankful that I've been able to share my successes and mistakes in marriage with Carol. She is always and has always been incredibly forgiving and graceful and loves me so much more than I deserve and believes in me so much more than I believe in myself. I'm still not sure what she saw in me ... besides the good looks and rock solid body ... lol ... but I'm glad that she chose me 7 years ago.

Below are 5 goals that we have set for our home and marriage. We try to set yearly goals, but these 5 things are foundational in our home. We keep them framed in our house in order to keep each other accountable and for others to see them and keep us accountable also.

Commitments for Our Marriage and Home

With God’s Help …

1. Our marriage will be centered around Jesus Christ and will provide a sense of safety and security for our family. We will ALWAYS remain faithful and stay together. Genesis 2:21 – 25, Hebrews 13:4

2. Rich will love Carol as Jesus loves the Church, modeling Biblical submission and servant leadership. Ephesians 5:25, Matthew 20:24 – 28, 1 Peter 3:7, Ephesians 5:33

3. Carol will honor Rich’s leadership in the home and treat him with love and respect. Ephesians 5:22, Titus 2:4 – 5, Ephesians 5:33

4. Our home will be a place of peace and safety, demonstrating the Fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22 – 23

5. Our home will be a place of hospitality, warmly welcoming those who come in. 1 Timothy 3:1 – 2, Titus 1:6 – 8

Friday, December 25, 2009

Telling the Christmas Story

Leave it to a pastor to use "props" while telling the Christmas story to his kids. :) We started our very first Christmas day with just our family (no in-laws or other family members since the first time we've been married) with a great breakfast of carmel french toast and bacon. Good stuff. Then, we went to opening gifts, but before that I wanted to be sure to focus our family on the Christmas story. But, keeping a 2 1/2 year old and an 11 month old's attention can be pretty difficult ... especially with presents waiting to be torn in to ... so I brought in some props, and they just loved it!

It was really a lot of fun for me to get to tell my kids the story of Jesus' birth and WHY He came to earth. Ezra actually asked me to tell the story 3 more times!

It was also just a ton of fun to see our kids open their gifts! Here's one of EZ's favorites ... a fire truck.

This is Mercy's first Christmas and as Carol and I laid her down for bed tonight we just thanked God for allowing us to spend Christmas with her. Here she is opening her first gift.

At lunch we took time to celebrate Jesus' birthday with a cake. Ezra chose the cake yesterday ... a carrot cake. Nothing says "Happy Birthday, Jesus" like carrot cake. :)

I hope it's been a great day for you today celebrating Christmas and remember how much God loves you. There is no greater message than the "Good News that will bring Great Joy to ALL people" (Luke 2:10) ... the message of Jesus! Merry Christmas!

My Top 5 Christmas Songs

I love listening to Christmas music. We generally start our itunes Christmas list the day after Thanksgiving. Today is Christmas music ALL day and I love it. Anyway, here are my Top 5 favorite Christmas songs in the "religious" and "non-religious" categories:


5. Mistletoe and Holly - Frank Sinatra
4. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - U2
3. Cool Yule - Louis Armstrong
2. All I Want for Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey
1. I'll Be Home for Christmas - Tony Bennet


5. Jesus Born on This Day - Mariah Carey
4. This Baby - Steven Curtis Chapman
3. O Come All Ye Faithful - Amy Grant
2. O Holy Night - Mariah Carey
1. Carols Sing - Michael W. Smith

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mercy's Teeth

I am totally in love with my little girl. It's only a matter of time before she finds out that she has me completely wrapped around her finger. She currently has 6 teeth and I'm discovering they can do a lot of damage! Here is what she has done in just the past 3 days:

- Had a little temper tantrum and bit my wife leaving marks on her that would make the stars of Twilight jealous!

- Chewed in to ... literally ... a piece of a pew at the church I grew up in. I was there visiting over the weekend and somehow, some way she gnawed on the back of the pew taking a little piece out!

- Ruined my Blackberry. Not sure what she did, but she had the thing for like 3 minutes and now it's shot! I saw her with it in her mouth, took it away, went to use it and nothing. Took it to the Verizon dealer and there was no water damage or anything ... just the wrath of an 11 month old girl with teeth.

Can't wait to share these stories with her in her journal.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Good Stuff I Learned from My Parents

I was in PA for a few days because my parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary last week. It was good to be back in the Keystone State and I was able to enjoy a beautiful snowfall that hit the east coast.

For their 50th anniversary, my parents decided to renew their vows and asked me to sort of "officiate" the whole thing. It was a neat thing to be a part of. Anyway, there's no marriage that is perfect and my parent's marriage would be included in that, but here are some good things I learned from my parents' marriage:

- Take the marriage covenant seriously. In 50 years they saw some really good times and some really difficult times, but they worked through it all and stayed the course. They truly looked at their marriage as a covenant before God and showed that such a thing is to be taken very seriously.

- A strong work ethic. My parents are both very hard workers. They demonstrated what it means to sacrifice for your family and to work hard to provide. There were times when my dad would be laid off from his factory job, but he didn't just sit around during those times. He went out to find other jobs and once was laid off for years and for years worked in a cemetary cutting grass to provide for his family. My mom took various jobs to help out as well and would do anything from office work to cleaning homes to help support the family.

- How to be generous. My parents have always been generous to others. They always tithed and always helped out other people. I was actually talking to a lady at my home church this weekend who has been having lots of health problems and she said, "Your mom has been such a help to me. I don't have any one else around and she takes me everywhere I need to go." They also wrapped their arms around a neighbor lady for several years who was by herself and they would do everything from take meals to her to help give her baths.

As I look back I think those are the three main things I've learned from my parent marriage and they've helped shape me today.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

ADVENTASTIC at Axis: 12-16-09

Topic: Characters of Christmas
Student Involvement: Worship Band, Tech Team, Cafe, Greeting, Pictures
Fun Stuff: We had our "Adventastic" Christmas Celebration last night so we tried to plan lots of fun stuff. We watched a fun SNL video of Will Ferrell singing "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Very, very funn. We also had a bunch of prize give-a-ways. We played a Christmas relay race where students had to wrap each other in Christmas wrap, drink a huge glass of eggnog and then eat Little Debbie Christmas Trees. We then played a game of Christmas Trivia and finally judged our contests of the Ugliest Christmas Sweater and the Best Christmas Costume. It's been a busy week for a majority of our students with studying for finals at school. I've heard many kids just talk of how tired they are. I really wanted tonight to be a breath of fresh air for our kids.
Attendance: 146 with 10 first time visitors
Worship Set: Joy to the World, Happy Day
The Big Idea: We started our teaching time showing a Christmas Upsidedown video which is really cool. Then, I spent some time simply talking about the various characters of Christmas (Mary and Joseph - responded to a life changing event in amazing ways ... probably could do that in the big stuff b/c they had done it in the little stuff their whole lives ... described them as good people really trying to follow God. Then the Shepherds - considered outcasts at the time ... not well liked ... could even go to the temple w/o going through a serious of things to "make them right" to go to church ... described them as the ones who would sit alone at lunch and people would make fun of them. Then the Wise Men - astrologers ... didn't even worship our God ... probably descended from the Chaldeans or Assyrians who, in Old Testament times, we enemies of God's people, the Israelites). I then tried to tie it in to how Jesus coming to earth is "Good News" for "ALL" people, no matter who you are ... good person, outcast, don't even worship God ... we ALL need a Savior. I set it up with a manger scene of "misfits" (see picture above) and explained how this is a picture of our youth ministry and ALWAYS NEEDS TO BE ... a combination of people who really are trying to live for God, people who may feel alone and just need a friend, and people who aren't really interested in God but are still coming. The message of Jesus is "Good News that will bring Great Joy to ALL PEOPLE." Luke 2:10 May we never forget that and never quit trying to reach EVERYONE.
At the end of the night we passed out a "Deeper Sheet" with a piece of Christmas candy attached to hopefully allow kids the opportunity to focus themselves on Jesus this Christmas.
Next Week: No theme, but just a fun time to be together before Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Morning Randomness: Christmas, A Golden Celebration and Thoughts on Being a Pastor

- It's official. I feel "Christmasy!" I think it's finally hit me with all of the Christmas songs we sang at Grace Community yesterday and also going to a great Christmas concert by 40 Miles North last night. We had the kids' Christmas pictures taken last week and my wife wrapped all of the Christmas gifts last night. Now, if we just had a little snow instead of rain, I'd be ho-ho-ho-ing all day long.

- This week, my parents will have been married 50 years! I'm honsetly not sure how they did it. I know that sounds a little wierd to say, but there were so many things stacked against them. On "paper" their marriage should have ended in divorce a long time ago. They've had about every stressor a marriage could endure, but somehow they made it work and here we are ... 50 years later ... celebrating their marriage. They raised 5 kids in a house with only 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom ... they worked hard every single day of their life (even when they didn't have jobs) ... they stayed committed to each other through very difficult times and very good times ... 50 years is an amazing accomplishment for them both. Congrats, mom and dad!

- I've been really broken lately over a "feel" I've been having in our youth ministry. I feel as if there has just been a sense of "leveling off" lately ... like we're just happy to go through the motions, throw up a couple of songs, listen to something for 20 minutes, and then leave. My "feel" is that we're not engaging each other, challenging each other, and reaching others. I've been praying and asking God for a renewed sense of vision and passion and that things would "shake up" a bit in our ministry. If you're reading this and have a second, would you join me in that prayer.

The 40 Miles North Christmas concert was at a church about 20 minutes from where I live. I had never been to the church before. When the pastor came up and started introducing everything he said "It's great to have you all here and, wow, it's great to see this place filled up." And, he said that in such a way as to imply it's been a long time since his church has been "filled up." I really felt for the guy. It just seemed as if he needed some encouragement in his ministry and, as I reflect on it, I wish I would have gone up to him last night and tried to encourage him. Being a pastor is tough. When you do it right (and I often times don't do it right, that's for sure) you:
  • Never swerve from trying to reach people for Jesus

  • Bleed vision for your ministry

  • Move people beyond what they think they can do and see their faith grow

  • Sometimes enter the "crap" of a person's life and just sit their in the stench for a while. Sometimes they'll come out smelling better and sometimes they won't.

  • Feel the weight of trying to be creative every week, of not getting in ruts, of not simply just getting by because you want to do your best in presenting the Word of God to people

  • Understand that "success" in ministry is not as much about what you're doing as it is God simply deciding He's going to use you. If God spoke through a donkey in Numbers 22, He can pretty much use whatever He wants. Don't be so foolish to think that if good things are happening it's because you're special. Show humility.
  • Run from pride

  • Feel the pressure of being an example for others to follow and humbly understand that you are not above ANYTHING

  • Offend people ... sometimes by what you do right and sometimes by what you do wrong

  • Have the responsibility of leading your family at the same time leading your ministry which means you need to say "no" to some things and you have to be OK with that

  • Stand up for the Word of God

  • Walk in the Spirit always trying to be sensitive to His voice
  • Stay away from the power struggles because when you get in one, it's your fault, NOT the other person's
  • Hurt for people, laugh with people, cry with people, have fun with people

I share all of that simply to say take a minute to encourage your pastor ... to say thanks for all they do. As pastors, we're unfortunately pretty good at hiding what's truly going on inside of us. Pastors like to look strong for their people, not realizing the importance of leading from their weakness. If you are a pastor reading this ... be encouraged! Let God use you and shape through the good stuff and the hard stuff and continue the work of building in to the lives of others pointing them to God.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why I LIKE and DISLIKE the Mid-West

I was reminded yesterday of one reason why I DON'T like the mid-west and one reason why I DO like the mid-west.

I DON'T LIKE the mid-west because of the crazy cold weather we get. It was so cold and so windy ... I mean, you stepped outside and you were instantly cold to the core. The "flatness" here just means the wind blows and blows and it can just be bitterly cold sometimes. Yep, I've grown soft as I've gotten older, but the weather recently has caused me to ask the question "Why don't I simply move to where it's warm."

I DO LIKE the mid-west because of the "mid-west hospitality." Case in point, yesterday we took our kids to Picture People to have their Christmas pictures taken. Anyway, we are walking through the mall and I can't tell you how many people stopped us and talked to us about our kids and commented on how cute and adorable they looked. Seriously, it was crazy! People were so kind and saying such nice things and it didn't even feel "unusual," like "Why are these people stopping us?" It's just normal 'round these parts and I love it. After we got the pictures taken, we went to the little play area in the mall to let our kids play. Anyway, when we left I had forgotten my cell phone. So, I go back to see if I can find it and a couple that was there when we left see me coming and hold up my phone as if to say, "Don't worry. We're making sure no one takes it." Not only that, but they actually found my "Mom and Dad" contact in my phone ... CALLED my mom and dad and asked if there was any other way to get a hold of me because I had forgotten my phone. The guy is telling me all of this and then goes on to say, "Yeah, your mom was such a nice lady."

Axis Wrap Up 12-9-09

Topic: Backward$
Bible Verses: Psalm 24:1, Deuteronomy 8:18, Proverbs 22:7
Student Involvement: Pictures, Prayer, Bible Reading, Worship Team, Cafe Team, Tech Team, Greeting, Clean Up
Fun Stuff: The Impossible Shot
Attendance: 76
Worship Set: Kingdom, God is Alive, He Loves Us, Inside Out
The Big Idea: We wrapped up the Backward$ series tonight by trying to get really practical on how to use money. The main thought I wanted to get acrossed was that everything is God's. We are just the managers of what He gives to us. So, how can we manage His stuff well? I tried to get really practical and talk about what it means to budget and explained how to create a simple budget. You'll always have enough if you never let your expenses exceed your income. I also, talked about credit cards and how the "interest" can really cause some damage financially. I used examples of how much money you'll actually spend on something if you only pay the minimum monthly balance on a credit card. Then, I talked about how to save with the thought that we don't save in order to hoard money for ourselves, but we can save in order to be in a position to help others.
I tried to do some things differently tonight. I used a combo of power point and also writing on white boards, just to shake it up a bit.
It was an interesting night for us at axis. The weather turned really bad really quickly and I made the decision to combine middle and high school because I didn't want to have our high school students potentially out until 9:30 or 10pm when the weather was bad. So, we combined our ministries. Attendance was way down which made for a "weird" feel in the room because it seemed like the energy level was way down as well. I try to make things interactive when I teach, but had planned to make things really interactive with some Poll Everywhere polls, a clip from the internet, and some simple questions to the kids ... but the weather knocked the internet out all over the building, so that had me scrambling a bit. So, I tried to make light of it and did the polls "old school" with just kids raising their hands and ... even without the internet ... I was still able to ask questions to the kids. :)
Next Week: Adventastic!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday Morning Thoughts

- Great weekend. Got to go out on a date with my wife which was a lot of fun. Our "dates" have sorta of morphed this time of year to Christmas shopping without the kids, but honestly, it's so much fun to do that! Dinner, shopping, Starbucks ... overall great night and loved just being with her.

- Really good services at church yesterday. We wrapped up the We Are series on the family with We Are Determined. Jim did a great job communicating his passion for the family. If you know Jim ... his message was, as we often say in the office, "classic" Jim. It was full of passion and challenges and I loved the way we wrapped things up by having families sign a huge scroll signifying that they were going to stay together and be determined to live out their lives for Jesus. It was really a cool thing to see all of the dads and moms, husbands and wives, single people and even kids lined up to sign the scroll.

- Our worship pastors, Jeremiah and Jeremy ... they are awesome! I love how they lead and just the creative ways they do it. I love music and play a bit of guitar, but these guys are musicians and with incredible hearts to use their talents to bring people before God. Yesterday at church Jeremy did something really creative with the song Blessed Be Your Name. He used a track from U2's With or Without You combined with live music from Blessed Be Your Name. Then, he brought lyrics of With or Without You into Blessed Be Your Name ... and they fit perfectly! It was very worshipful and really had me reflecting on God in really cool ways. Is it OK to be jealous of their creativity? :)

- Another 3 point loss for my Steelers. Grrrrrrr!

- Carol made homemade waffles for breakfast this morning. Man, were they good!

- Hope to spend some time this week really praying through an axis plan for the first few months of 2010. We have what we call the "FAB 4" and it's our way to try to stay focused on what we feel are the most important things. I'm really feeling led to ... well ... refocus on that and hope that gives a good boost to our youth ministry. I feel like we've plateaued just a little over the past 2 months and don't see us moving forward. I want us to be moving forward and am really trying to think through some creative ways to make that happen.

- Still not cleared for running on my knee. Probably won't be cleared until the end of December. It's been over a month since I've done any kind of physical activity and I'm really feeling it. Hoping to do some stationary cycling to try to get back at it.

Some Amazing People

I had the opportunity to reflect on some pretty amazing people in the past couple of days.

Heather Mattern. Heather was my doctor and was tragically killed in a car accident last weekend. She was in her mid 30's, and was a wife and mom of two young kids: a 2 year old and a 4 month old. I can't say I had a really close relationship with Heather, but here is why she held a special place in my heart.

1. My first visit to her in 2007 was when I was first experienceing symptoms related to my cancer. She had a hand in diagnosing what was going on with me.
2. She ALWAYS, ALWAYS expressed a deep interest in our family. She never rushed us in and out of the office. She always took time to talk, ask more than a simple "How are you?" and always seemed geniunely interested in what was going on with us.
3. She initiated conversations with us OUTSIDE of the doctor's office. There were times when we saw her in various places outside of the doctor's office and she would be the one initiating the conversation. She never turned down another aisle to avoid us, but seemed to go out of her way to talk with us even when she didn't have too.

Her death really had a deep impact on my wife and I and we will genuinely miss her. She was a follower of Jesus and I'm sure is in heaven right now worshipping God!

Kandice Robinson. Kandice is a missionary our church supports. Her ministry is so unique. She was going to Asia to work with a team of missionaries there to help reach the deaf population in a specific area. Kandice is very gifted at sign language and has studied it in order to be able to bring Jesus to people with this disability. A few months before she was to leave for Asia, she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. She is 28 years old. She has been going through treatments since early this year and doctors have now staged her cancer as a Stage 4 spreading during chemo. She is in some clinical trials in Indianapolis.

I do the mission stuff at our church as well which gives me the opportunity to connect with the missionaries we support. I had the opportunity to connect with her last week. She had just finished a round of chemotherapy and was traveling back home from Indy when I talked with her. Her attitude was amazing. She was very positive and was an encouragement to me as we talked. I know what it's like to go through chemo and it's not fun at all. I know there aren't always times when you are positive and encouraging, but, honestly, Kandice had such an amazing spirit and I was inspired by her strength.

The Hostetler Family. Trent, Cindy, Allison, Tyler, and Tim are a family that have been coming to Grace Community for a few years. We wrapped up our We Are series on the family yesterday and for 4 weeks we have been encouraging people to write essays on a family that has been an inspiration to them. The chosen family would receive a prize along with the person who wrote the essay. The Hostetler family was chosen and what an incredible essay to read. I hope to be able to post the essay soon, but just hearing the various ways that their family has help others, brought others in to their home, sacrificed, and are now facing the struggle of their teenage daughter receiving radiation treatments for a brain tumor ... what an inspiration.

I've just been reflecting on these various people over the past week and have really been encouraged and challenged to leave such a legacy as theirs. Thanks for your example!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Discipline Issues in Youth Ministry

If you're involved in youth ministry, you can probably think of your "3T" kids ... the ones that talk, text, and torment when you're trying to have your teaching time. Honestly, if I didn't have kids like that in our youth ministry, I'd be disappointed because it would mean that we're not truly trying to reach out to EVERY student no matter where they are at in their journey with God.

I'm definitely not one of those people that needs total quiet when I share. I don't mind kids talking a bit. I don't even mind kids texting a bit. I realize that kids are good multi-taskers and can pay attention even when doing multiple things at once. I stop tolerating the behavior if I see it becoming a distraction to others or if I just feel like, "OK, this is enough."

Anyway, this past Wednesday I had a little disruption during our teaching time and just wanted to share how we try to handle things like that and also get any advice from any other youth ministry friends who'd like to share how they handle things.

I noticed one group of kids that was being particularly disruptive during our announcement time. After our annoucement time, I went up to them quietly and simply asked them to calm down. During our teaching time, they were being pretty disruptive as well. While I was teaching, I looked their way several times trying to let them see that I was not approving of their behavior. I finally just "called them out" from up front and politely told them that their behavior was being very disrepectful and that hey can feel free to leave if they are unable to calm down. No hard feelings if they want to leave. They just need to stop being disruptive. After our meeting was over, I went up to them personally and let them know how thankful I am that they are a part of axis, but that I simply ask them to be quiet during our teaching time.

As I reflect on the situation, the only thing that I think could have been done differently would have been if one of our adult staff would have intervened either by talking with them or sitting down with them, etc. Our adults often will do that when needed, but I noticed that on this night, we didn't have any adults around that specific group of kids.

Anyway, any other advice out there? How do you handle these type of situations? How much texting/talking do you allow? Are there specific measures you set in place to keep guidelines you've set for behavior. Just curious.

Axis Wrap Up 12-2-09

Topic: Backward$
Student Involvement: Kids were involved in the tech team, worship team, greeting team, taking pictures, the cafe, Scripture reading, and leading in prayer.
Fun Stuff: We did two "Lists" on this night. One was the Top 5 Signs You Ate Too Much at Thanksgiving. The other was a list of the Top 10 Axis Highlights of 2009. This list was pretty funny with some fun pictures of students and adults. It'll be posted soon.
Attendance: 151 with 8 first time visitors.
The Big Idea: The "Backward$" theme is an idea taken from Simply Youth Ministry on money. What I did is combine some of the thoughts taken from that curriculum with my own thoughts and stories and then taught on it. It'll be a two week series. This week I just tried to talk about the messages we receive about money compared to the messages the Bible gives on money. One cool thing that we did was simply discuss the idea of how much money students actually have on them at any given time. I made a list with estimated prices of different things a student may be wearing when they come to axis (i.e. pants, shoes, shirt, underwear (hopefully), jacket, etc.) I lowballed most of the prices and still came up with $210. So, at any given time, a student may be wearing $210 worth of stuff on them. We then talked about the fact that families in third world country barely have an annual income of $200. I simply tried to put things in perspective and then talked to our kids about different messages that the Bible gives us on money. The 3 main points were: 1) Do We Really Need All We Think We Need 2) Money Won't Buy Happiness 3) It's Better to Give Something Away Than to Get Something. The messages we often receive are that YES, we need more ... YES money/stuff can buy happiness ... YES, it's better to get than to give. Well, the Bible says the exacty opposite of each of those things and it was cool to discuss what the Bible has to say about it. I also enjoyed sharing personal stories of how God has come through for us in just incredible ways when we gave. I really tried to emphasize the idea of being a giver.
Next Week: Going to try to get super practical next week and simply talk about the basics of money managment ... what's a budget, how to use a credit card, etc. I'm looking to really teach kids the basics of money management in order for them to be free to be givers. Should be fun.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Play List for Guy/Girl Night @ Axis

Tried to have a bunch of fun guy/girl songs for our night at axis last Wednesday. Here's are pre-axis playlist:

- Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf
- All American Girl by Carrie Underwood
- Man! I Feel Like a Woman by Shania Twain
- Be Your Man by Scott Blasey
- This One's for the Girls by Martina McBride
- Fifteen by Taylor Swift
- A Night to Remember from High School Musical 3 Soundtrack
- That Don't Impress Me Much by Shania Twain
- City of Blindng Lights by U2
- Hot Rod Lincoln by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen
- Love Story by Taylor Swift
- The Boys Are Back from High School Musical 3 Soundtrack
- Isn't She Lovely by Stevie Wonder
- Suddenly by Toby Mac

Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday Morning Thoughts: Thanksgiving, Christmas Tree, and Just Some Random Stuff

- This time of year is so much fun for me, but gotta be honest ... even after only 4 days of the "official" holiday season ... I'm already wiped! We had a great time with family that came out for Thanksgiving. It was really nice to have our house full and, when I looked out before I prayed over our Thanksgiving dinner, I was thinking to myself how awesome it is to have so many people with us. It was good to visit with everyone, although am I learning that being surrounded by a bunch of small children sometimes wears me down. There was more poop, more runny noses, and a bit more crying than I'm used too! But, it was totally worth it. The picture above is when we went to get our Christmas tree. Cousin "Hoper" is in the picture and she and Ezra think they are going to get married. :) It's really cute watching them play together.

- Cutting our Christmas tree is one of my absolute favorite things to do. I love the challenge of trying to find just the "right" tree. I seriously think that a Star of Bethlehem was directly illuminating the tree we picked this year. Out of thousands of trees, this one just stood out among all the others. Too bad that once I find this incredible tree ... I chop it down. :) Ezra had a blast playing with the saw and was trying to "chop" everything in his path. It was fun watching him be a "boy."

- The only thing as fun as cutting down our tree is decorating it, although, I have to admit that decorating the tree was a bit more challenging this year. Above our daughter is playing with some of the ornaments and was pretty happy then, but she was a bit more "cranky" than normal during this time and her screams were drowning out the blissful sounds of Christmas music playing through the ipod. But, even inspite of that, it was so great to have her experience this little tradition with us. I can't wait to celebrate Christmas with her this year. It's hard to believe that this time last year she was still growing inside of Carol and that we were nothing more to her than muffled noises she could hear from inside. Now, I simply cannot imagine life without her. She has me wrapped around her finger but I hope she doesn't learn to use that against me. :)

- Ezra only broke 3 bulbs this year ... we consider that a success. He had so much fun decorating with us and he loves playing with baby Jesus in the little Nativity scene we have. He keeps putting baby Jesus on the roof of the barn. Above he is helping with the finishing touches on the tree. Something I found myself thinking last night ... we've had quite a few people give us absolutely amazing hand-made ornaments and I'm so thankful for the time and effort they put in to giving us those things. But, when I saw the two ornaments Ezra made last year ... a John Deere tractor and a guitar ... the paint is all messed up, the colors don't match ... but I found myself "oooing" and "awing" over those two ornaments more than any of the ones other people gave us.

- I go in for my follow-up appointment on my knee tomorrow. The pain has subsided quite a bit, but the swelling is still there making it rather uncomfortable to bend or kneel. Looks like I have a baseball underneath the side of my knee and when Carol accidently touched it last night during the Steeler game, she nearly jumped off the couch! It looks pretty gross.

- Speaking of the Steelers ... grrrrrrrr. A promising start to the season seems to be fading to mediocrity. Hope is not lost, but it's just not looking good at the moment. What I've noticed about the Steelers ... they are 6 - 5. In their 5 losses they have lost by a combined total of 18 points. 4 losses were by 3 points and 1 loss was by 6 points. They are in every single game, but for whatever reason haven't been able to do the little things to get the wins. It was just a good reminder to me of how important the little things are. I'm reminded of a quote by Jon Gordon: "Interestingly enough, for all their greatness, the best aren't that much better than the others. They are simply a little better at a lot of things ... they just do the ordinary things better." It reminds me that I need to constantly give my best and just do the ordinary things around me to the absolute best of my ability.

- I have several meetings and appointments this week along with the other stuff typically on my schedule. It promises to be a busy week.

- For some reason I think the drinks at Starbucks taste better in their holiday cups.

- Good services yesterday. Continued the We Are series looking at We Are Dysfunctional. There are some crazy, dysfunctional families talked about in the Bible. We looked at Judah and the dyfunction that took place in his life and in his family and yet God brought Jesus from the same family tree that Judah was in. We are not bound to our past and God can bring healing ... as improbably as it seems sometimes.

- I'm pretty sure I over use the "..." It's my one vice. :)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Axis Wrap Up 11-25-09 ... Pink & Blue All Over the Place

Topic: Guy Stuff/Girl Stuff
Student Involvement: Everything
Fun Stuff: Had a two fun games. One where we asked girls questions about "guy stuff" and we asked guys questions about "girl stuff." And, another where we had a girl had to put "guy stuff" on another girl while blindfolded and a guy had to put "girl stuff" on another guy while blindfolded. We passed out fun prizes like Axis body soap for the guys and small bottles of nail polish for the girls. We also passed out tiaras for the girls and toy cowboy guns and holsters for the guys.
Attendance: 104
The Big Idea: This was another night in which our student leaders led the entire night. They planned everything and basically led everything as well. We divided the room in to a girls' side and a guys' side and had pink and blue streemers and balloons on the respective sides. We then had the girls sit on their side and the guys sit on their side. We then had a panel of our students answer questions on guy stuff and girl stuff ... anywhere from "What do you look for in a guy?" to "How do you feel if a girl makes the first move?" Our students did a good job answering the questions.
From a production standpoint the night wasn't our best night. Things weren't flowing very well. We were having mic problems the ENTIRE night, and ... not sure if it was because it was the day before Thanksgiving or what, but the energy in the room felt pretty low. But, what's cool is that it didn't seem to bother anyone ... well ... except for me and those are my own issues. The rest of the students still seemed to respond very well because it was their peers who were leading the night and there were actually some really good questions that were asked from the crowd.
Again, I was very proud of our student leaders. They pulled the whole night off and did a great job bringing it all together. They have really been stepping up and I think I'm going to be asking even more of them in the coming months.
Next Week: Money

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Some Things I'm Thankful For

- I'm thankful that I KNOW God. I don't simply know "about" Him like I know about George Washington or John F. Kennedy. I KNOW God and have seen Him at work in my life in so many ways. I am not the same person since I've truly come to have a relationship with God.

- I'm thankful for my wife. I don't deserve her. Being married to her has shown me how selfish I really am and over the past 7 years that selfishness has been beaten down. Don't get me wrong, I'm still selfish, but Carol has helped me learn to be more selfless. She is patient, loving, caring, giving, beautiful and I'm not the same person when she's not around.

- I'm thankful for my kids, Ezra and Mercy. Every day they make me laugh and they make me cry. They have given me a great passion for life and have helped me understand what is truly important. I look at raising them as the greatest responsibility I have ever been given ... and to think that God trusts me with that responsibility. I'm glad He sees things in me that I don't see in myself.

- I'm thankful for my position at Grace Community. Seven years ago, I was in my last semester of seminary and really had no idea where I was going to go or what I was going to do. I just knew I wanted to work with teenagers. A conversation with one of my professors allowed me to be introduced to Jim and to Miah. I hadn't proven myself. Honestly, I really had no idea what I was doing. But, we hit it off and they believed in me. Seven years later, I absolutely LOVE serving here and have grown so much in my walk with God.

- I'm thankful for axis. Our teenagers keep me young. I'm 38 now and being around teenagers keeps me young and I love it when their zest for life rubs off on me. I have learned so much from our teenagers and have loved seeing them serve and grow and reach out to others. They have pushed me and caused me to strive to be a better leader.

- I'm thankful for my health and the ability to try to stay active and healthy. That ability has been taken from me a couple of times. That has caused me to be even more thankful for it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Some Things I Love About Kids

Here are just a few things I've grown to love about kids since becoming a dad. Nothing profound or earth shattering, just a few observations I've made:

1) They laugh at the obvious. Sometimes we grow numb to the obvious because, well, it's obvious. But, to kids it's all new and sometimes the obvious is just really funny!

2) They run everywhere! I wish I just ran to my room for no reason at all. The only thing that would get me to run to my room ... well, never mind.

3) They can entertain themselves in the most creative ways. Food, a box, a stick ... doesn't matter what it is. They always seem to come up with something fun to do with it.

4) They don't hold back their excitement. If they are excited about something, the just let it all out! Jump up and down, laugh, scream, run around in circles ... they fortunately haven't learned to let what others may think hold them back.

5)Sometimes a cuddle is all you need.

Monday Morning Thoughts

- Really good weekend. I'm recovering from the knee surgery really well. A little stiff and sore, but other than that feeling good. I'm looking forward to being able to run again soon.

- Had just incredible worship times on Sunday. Our baptism service was just awesome! Seeing everyone get baptized was just great, but I really enjoyed watching some of our teens jump in to it. 3 of our students got baptized and 2 of our students were able to baptize people. I was just so pumped to see that and just love watching people take the step of baptism and show others that they are followers of Jesus. We really try to make it a celebration at Grace and, thankfully, I think we were able to do that.

- Sunday night we had Communion. We really try to make our times of Communion an experience for people. If we do the "in remembrance" of Jesus, we truly want to make it something special for everyone. So, we try our best to do that. So, we tried to make it a journey for people. We started with some music and then brought a cross out and placed it in the center of our auditorium. We explained what Communion is and what we would be doing throughout the night. The first stop in the journey was just an opportunity for people to spend some time with God, reflecting and confessing any sin in their life.
We then moved to foot washing. We do a "three-fold" communion at Grace and footwashing is a very special part of the Communion. I know a lot of people do not do this when they do Communion, but, to be honest, I can't imagine Communion without it. It's a symbol of the cleansing of sin that Jesus gives us and also a symbol of his servanthood. Washing another's feet is humbling and just an incredible reminder of what Jesus does for us.
We then moved to a time of reflection by looking at various "theological" words and what those words mean in our lives. We looked at things like "Predestination," "Adoption," "Atonement," "Justification," and "Glorification." We reflected on the words, the implications of those words in our lives, and Bible verses explaining those things.

We then took the Bread and the Cup and spent time reflecting on what Jesus did for us when He died on the cross for our sin

After that, we spent time praying for lost people. In our church, we have specific chairs that totally don't match any of the rest of the funiture in our building. We use these chairs to represent people who do not have a relationship with Jesus, and as a church we always want to do what it takes to help people understand who Jesus is and allow people to come to know Him. So, we spent time praying at these chairs for friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc, who do not know Jesus.

We then moved to righting our names on a piece of paper and nailing it to the cross as a reminder that Jesus died for us. Wow, honestly, when I was walking through the Communion journey and having my feet washed and reflecting on words and praying for people and taking the Bread and Cup ... and at the same time hearing nails hammered in to the cross ... wow, incredibly powerful reminder of all Jesus went through for us. I was really moved.

Sidebar funny story ... while I was nailing my name and the names of my family in to the cross, I hit my finger with the hammer. So, I had just come from confessing sin and then had to confess cursing under my breath when I hit my finger. :) OK, I really didn't curse, but it crossed my mind especially as my finger was throbbing!

After spending some time worshipping, we had our Love Feast, celebrating all that awaits us in heaven. And, it couldn't be a celebration without cake and balloons, so we just totally rocked the place and really tried to create a party type atmosphere! It was truly a celebration!

Sunday was a busy day, but man, was it worth it! So many people worked really hard to make Communion happen. It was a pretty big production and I'm really grateful to everyone who helped out and to everyone that made it happen. One thing I love about our staff ... if I could just brag on 'em for a second ... I loved seeing Pastor Jim with a vacuum strapped to his back helping clean up. I loved seeing Jon and Miah and Jeremy picking up trash and putting away lights. Tim and Jerimae coming all the way down from South Bend and helping stack chairs or clean up the stage or put stuff in the trash. Mitch helping get everything in order and Craig helping clean up even though, technically he was off. After a long day, it would have been easy to just sneak out of the place and let others do the clean up. I'm really glad that I serve on a staff where it's just "normal" for everyone to be doing stuff like that. You can't lead others if you're not willing to do the stuff that a lot of people wouldn't want to do or wouldn't like to do. I love that none of them think they are "above" that. I'm so grateful to serve at Grace.
- I'm really excited about axis this Wednesday. Our student leaders are taking over the night and we'll be doing some guy/girl stuff ... trying to answer questions about dating, why guys do certain things, why girls do certain things, etc. Should be a lot of fun. I'll be helping do some shopping tonight with some of our leaders and then we're going to deck out the Link in guy stuff and girl stuff. It's going to be a lot of fun.
- We are getting ready for family to come and visit over Thanksgiving. In our fridge, I think we have the biggest turkey that ever hatched from an egg! Can't wait to tear in to it. I really need my knee to heal up quickly just so I can start burning off some calories from Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Knee Surgery

I had my knee surgery yesterday afternoon. A bit sore today with a huge bandage around my leg, but thankfully making it through. I had a part of my IT Band cut out and also had some scar tissure removed from my knee. Hopefully this will take care of the problems I've been having since May.

Something funny: The time before I am put to sleep and the time after I wake up ... really, really fun! When the doctor said, "OK, you'll be going to sleep in about 10 seconds," the feeling that came over my body in those 10 seconds ... just total relaxation. And, then, when I woke up in the recovery room, I was so out of it and just kept on asking the nurse how long everything took. Then Carol came in and was making fun of me and I was just laughing for no reason at all. Was feeling pretty mellow. :)

Anyway, I'm taking it easy and trying to relax today. It's been a fun day with the family.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday's Thoughts

- Once again, another busy weekend, but filled with lots of good stuff. Had one of those "youth ministry" dates with my wife on Saturday. There was a musical at one of the local high school's so Carol and I were able to go to it and see many of our axis kids in action. They did an AWESOME job and it was just so cool to be in their environment seeing them in action. Before the play, Carol and I were able to go out to dinner and then grab a quick drink thanks to a "buy one get one free" card we had.

- Il Forno in downtown Goshen has some of the absolute best pizza around.

- Good services yesterday. We started our We Are series on the family and started it out with some sweet 70's jams ... We Are Family by the Pointer Sisters. Side note: Never thought I'd type the sentence "sweet 70's jams." Our band also did "We Need Each OtherAnyway, good start to the series and you can find out more about the series and our series essay contest here.

- Our student leaders just nailed it yesterday. We met during the first service and our meeting was awesome. They had such good thoughts and ideas to share and really were excited about the next time they'll lead axis on 11/25. Can't wait to see them in action. They also did an incredible job connecting with people yesterday and helping out at Getting to Know Grace, an event we have to people who are new to Grace Community. Good job ASL!

- Our little daughter Mercy is the most adorable girl in the world! But, man, she can dirty a diaper! Had quite a few "big ones" over the weekend.

- Have surgery on my knee scheduled for Wednesday. I'm hoping that this takes care of the issues I've been having with my IT Band since May. It's definately a last resort type of deal and I would rather not have surgery, but it's to a point now where there's not much else I can do besides this. It's constantly aching, not just when I try to exercise, and even the low impact exercises I do cause it to hurt. Hopefully a "simple" procedure that will help me get back to "normal."

- Still bummed over the Steelers' loss yesterday. This is not your father's Bengals, that's for sure. They looked good and beat the Steelers at a "Steeler type of game" ... defense and low scoring.

- Walked in to my office yesterday and found a Steelers Fat Head on my desk. Thanks Lee Seese!

- We are going to be having family come out over Thanksgiving. This is our first year hosting Thanksgiving. We hosted Christmas last year and now Thanksgiving. It will be nice to have family join us over the holiday, and, gotta be honest ... really looking forward to some turkey! There's something about a leftover turkey sandwich ... man, good stuff.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Axis Wrap Up 11-11-09

Topic: Dating
Student Involvement: Pictures, Tech, Greeting, Cafe
Fun Stuff: Impossible Shot in the Gym (I think I need to make it a little more "Impossible." We had 4 winners on Wednesday! We also did a fun dating video and a little dating "quiz" to kick the night off.
Attendance: 191 with 9 first time visitors
Worship Set: All Because of Jesus, Falls Apart, How He Loves Us (Jeremy led tonight by himself with an acoustic guitar and totally nailed it! Man, I remember my days of leading with an acoustic guitar by myself and don't think the words "Nailed It" were ever used to describe what I did. Probably explains why I'm a youth pastor and NOT a worship pastor. :) I'm just incredibly grateful for Jeremy and the rest of the kids in our band. He does a great job leading them and developing them).
The Big Idea: I love talking about stuff like this because ... well ... it always seems to keep our kids' attention and I really just want to try to share wisdom that I've learned from my own experiences and also watching "teen dating" for 15 years now. Anyway, the main thought I tried to get across tonight was taking dating seriously. Don't date just because you can. 4 quick points: 1) Set Values for Yourself 2) Be patient (I seriously think most teen couples move faster than a NASCAR pit crew in their relationships). Slow down and be patient. 3) Don't date until you feel you're at a place where you can be unselfish with your time. Dating and selfishness don't go together very well. 4) Don't use another person to "complete" you. That's God's role.
It seemed like a good night. Lots of humor combined with some personal stories and just flat out heart to heart stuff on dating.
Favorite Part: My favorite part of the night was when our entire high school ministry surrounded one of our girls (Allison). I've shared about Allison a few times before, but she was diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier in the year. This Monday she'll be leaving for Blommington to receive radiation treatments for her tumor and will be gone until the end of December. We took time to hear from Allison and then we let her know that we'll be trying to help out a little bit by buying some bracelets with Philippians 4:6 - 7 written on them and all the proceeds will go to help the family with travel costs (A great idea from one of our students) and then we annointed Allison with oil and surrounded her and prayed for her. It was incredibly cool for a few different reasons: 1) Over 130 kids were surrounding Allison and praying for her. 2) I think it was a huge encouragement for Allison. I remember when I was diagnosed with cancer 2 years ago, our kids surrounded me and prayed for me and it was such a special moment. I'm so glad Allison was able to experience that. 3) It really showed a strong sense of unity in our ministry ... we're all in this together. And 4) Many of our kids are unchurched and have not clue was "annointing with oil" is and what it's about. It was a cool teaching moment in our ministry and a good thing for our kids to see.
Next Week: Steve Fee in Concert!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cool Article About Some of Our Axis Kids

This is an article in our local paper that mentions 5 of our axis kids.

Young Falcon QB shows resiliency
By GARY KAUFFMANNews Sports Correspondent

Fairfield quarterback Chase Pinion's heart dropped into his stomach as he watched the pass he'd just thrown picked off by Bremen's Cody Barrier and run back for a go-ahead touchdown.

Instead of a 21-21 game where a field goal could win it, the Falcons now faced having to go 80 yards in 1:16 needing a touchdown and the extra point to avoid another sectional loss.

They did just that and captured the program’s first sectional title with a 28-27 win over the Lions.

“It was pretty insane,” Pinion said. “You want to hang your head but you’ve got to go back out.

“I was thinking, 'Get it done. Rely on your teammates’.”Pinion received plenty of support from his teammates.

“I knew Chase was going to make the throws,” senior center Nathan Stichter said. “We just needed everyone to believe.”Senior Micah Noble said the team had been confident about its chances on the drive that ended in the interception.“I told the guys in the huddle we have to believe,” he said. “We had to stay positive because there are a lot of ups and downs in football.”

With 80 yards to go and just over a minute on the clock, everyone knew Pinion would have to throw. His offensive line was determined to give him the time he needed.“Block everyone,” said senior guard Dylan Haberstich about the line's mindset. “Don't let anyone get close to Chase.”

Pinion was appreciative.“The offensive line was awesome all night,” he said.Pinion then went to work, throwing passes that not only netted first downs but also allowed the receivers to get out of bounds to stop the clock. In their best sustained drive of the night, the Falcons pushed down to the 13 with 15 seconds remaining.Junior receiver Tanner Foust then ran into the corner of the end zone and Pinion's pass was on the money. But the Bremen defender disrupted the play just enough that Foust couldn't hang on.

Pinion wasn't worried.“He's a big playmaker,” he said. “I knew he was going to get one so I just kept throwing it to him.”The next play was the exact same route. This time Foust got a step of separation from the defender, the throw was perfect and this time he caught it easily.

The drive was especially satisfying for Pinion after a sometimes rough season. He had started the year as the understudy of senior Justin Scott. But when Scott tore an ACL in the fifth game of the season, it thrust Pinion in the spotlight.“I worked as hard as I could,” he said about filling in for Scott. “I listened to what Coach Miller says, and God helps out.”

Pinion filled in admirably, but there were struggles at times - like the two interceptions he threw against Bremen. But when the spotlight shone brightest and hottest in the final minute of the game, he proved he was up to the challenge.On the final drive, he fired the ball quickly and confidently, completing six of the 12 passes he threw. All six completions gained first downs.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday's Reflections

Just a word of warning ... lots of thoughts running through my head right now. Could be a long post.

- One of our local high schools won it's first ever Sectional Champioship this past Friday night. The Fairfield Falcons made history and what an incredible game it was! I won't go in to all of the X's and O's, but just want to share a quick story about the game. We have a lot of kids who come to axis on the football team. The starting quarterback is also one of our student leaders. The previous starting quaterback also comes to axis, but he tore his ACL mid-season ... which really stunk b/c it is his senior year. (Side Note: Justin's attitude through that injury was just absolutely amazing! I really learned a lot from him watching him face it). Anyway, there was under 2 minutes to go and the game was tied. Our quaterback (Chase) threw a pass that was intercepted and the defender ran it in for a touchdown. The extra point was missed, but this put the other team (Bremen) up by 6 with 1:11 to go in the game. Bremen's kickoff went in to the end zone, which put the ball on the 20 ... which meant Fairfield had 1:11 to drive 80 yards for a tie or go-ahead score. Chase (our quaterback and student leader) talked to me about this and said when they got in to the huddle, the starting fullback (Micah ... a great leader on the team and who also comes to axis) said, "Chase we believe in you. You can do this." Fairfield goes 80 yards in just a little over a minute and with 5 seconds left to play in the game, Chase threw a 13 yard pass to Tanner (who also comes to axis) for a touchdown. Derek (another axis kid) kicked the extra point and Fairfield wins the game by 1 for their first ever sectional championship. Anyway, I share all of that for a few reasons:
1) I just thought it was so cool to hear how the entire team never gave up even when things looked really bad. Seriously, they never ONCE hung their heads.
2) It was just awesome to hear how other players on the team surrounded Chase and showed belief in him even after one of the lowest points of the game ... an interception for a touchdown.
3) I love the fact that it was axis kids who were doing all of the encouraging! That just pumps me up!
4) I'm just so happy for the entire team. Several of the coaches go to Grace, the head coach doesn't go to Grace, but is an awesome Christian guy who has invested over 20 years of his life in teenagers. I don't know the exact percentage, but I wouldn't be surprised if 40% of the team were axis kids. What a great win!

- Carol and I had a date this past Saturday night and it was so much fun to be out with her. I've been detecting a pattern for our dates ... Panera Bread. After dinner we actually did Christmas shopping which means this is officially the earliest I've ever been Christmas shopping. I never knew how much fun it would be to shop for our kids, but what a blast! And, thanks to the Dave Ramsey envelope system, there was no stress in the shopping. We've been saving all year for this and it was just a lot of fun to go at it! After our shopping we headed to Starbucks and we both enjoyed a non-fat, no whip, Peppermint Mocha. The peppermint mocha means that, for us, the Christmas season is hear ... yikes! And, it's only November 9th. But, the rule is we don't start listening to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving when we put up our tre. Although, Carol often tries to sneak some Christmas songs in on the ipod. :)

- I had the opportunity to speak at Grace yesterda and wrap up our series 5 Lies of Satan, with "It's Just a Little Sin." It should be up on our website soon, so if you're interested, you can check it out at www.gracecommunity-church.com. The basic idea was that God is not OK with ANYTHING that comes between us an Him. We looked at Luke 18:9 - 14 and I shared how since the sin of Adam and Eve we've experienced this fear of being exposed for who/what we really are and to help us feel just a little better about ourselves, we'll often compare sins or put sins on different levels just to make us think we're not that bad. I talked about how our pride often makes us believe that we can make life work on our own and that anything we turn to to make life work on our own is really idolatry ... no matter how big or how small it may be. I studied this stuff for a week and there were times when I was in my office literally weeping because of the things I've let get in the way of my relationship with God and the things I often had let take the place of God in my life. At the end of the service we had a time to just ask God to reveal things to us and then to repent of them. It was a very special time and it just seemed like people were getting some stuff right with God.

- At our services yesterday we sang 2 hymns that were "modernized" just a bit. I remember singing and reflecting on the words and just lifting my hands up worshipping God. The words to those songs were just so powerful. I must have sang those two hymns 1000 times in the church I grew up in, but never remember worshipping to them the way I did yesterday. That, unfortunately, was so very wrong on my part. Sure, it may be a bit harder to worship to an organ than an electric guitar, but I can look back and regreat not really understanding worship at that time. I'm thankful that I'm making up for some lost time now.

- Had two reminders over the weekend that people are "watching" Carol and I and how we live. Thankfully, it was positive stuff, but things were brought up that people saw in us that I never would have realized or understood. It was incredibly humbling, but also a powerful reminder that we have a heavy responsibility in the lives of people. God, please help us to live up to it!

- Side not on the services yesterday ... while I was talking in the second service, there was this incredibly loud beeping sound that just kept going off. About every 30 seconds you could hear it and it was so loud that EVERYONE in the Main was able to hear it. After this went on for a few minutes I just finally addressed it and was like "Is it just me or does anyone else hear the beeping sound." I tried to just do some "here and now" stuff and talk about the distraction that it was and how Satan often does that in our lives. He tries to distract us from God's path and keep us from focusing on him. Then I think I said something like "I wish it would stop because it's a little annoying." Come to find out, it was a lady's oxygen tank signaling that the battery was low. She's one of the sweetest ladies in the church! If I'da known it at the time, I would have just been like "You just let that thing beep as much as you want!"

- Steelers/Broncos tonight for MNF. Can't wait!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Getting Teenagers Involved in "Big" Church

I call our Sunday mornings "Big Church" to our teenagers. My philosophy is to try to involve our teenagers as much as possibe with adults. I love to see them rubbing shoulders together, serving beside each other, and worshipping together. I read this article by Mark Oestreicher in the September/October 2009 edition of Outreach Magazine. It's really good stuff.

Strategies to Better Integrate Young People Into the Life of the Church Include:

- Never mistake young people as "the future of the church." Integrate them into the life of the church now.
- In profiles and, where appropriate, in sermon illustrations, continually tell stories about the transformation of teenagers through the life of Jesus.
- Equip and empower students to develop their own ministries outside the youth ministry.
- Preach and incorporate the Titus 2 principle of discipleship - the responsibility of the older generation to build and invest into the younger generation.
- Have at least one young person represented in some form of church leadership.
- Facilitate apprenticeship groups withing adult ministries to help develop the skills and passions of young people.
- Incorporate the gifts and talents of the youth into weekend services.
- Build small groups that emphasize a diversity of ages and intergenerational ministry.
- Develop adult ministries designed to disciple parents and adult youth leaders into a maturing relatiosnhip with Christ.

My New Mathmatical Formula

I've come up with a new theorem that I think will be in the text books soon:

Retention Pond + Testosterone Filled Teenage Guys = Car in the Retention Pond

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wednesday Axis Wrap Up

Topic: Untouchables
Student Involvement: Greeting, pictures, media, sound, worship band, cafe, cleaning up
Fun Stuff: Thumb Wars and a Power Point game called World Wide Sex
Attendance: 166 with 2 first time visitors
Worship Set: Happy Day, Sing Sing Sing
The Big Idea: Tonight our Untouchables topic was sex. We did something that I have never done before on a Wednesday night and we taught completely from video. The reason for that is because a few weeks ago our lead pastor did a message on sex and a majority of our kids were not there on the Sunday morning he spoke because we had a retreat. Also, we have a large percentage of kids who come to axis on Wednesdays but do not come to Grace Community on Sundays. So, it was new for a majority of the kids there. Overall, it went well. Jim totally nailed the topic when he spoke on it and I think we could have showed it in black and white on a 13 inch TV and kids would have still been in to it simply because of the subjec matter. The main thought was to stay pure and take your sexuality seriously. Guard it and save yourself. It was good stuff. At the end of the night we passed out a brief "Q & A on Sex" sheet where I just tried to follow up some of Jim's main points so kids could take it home with them.

Spiritual Conversations

My wife and I were at Dunkin Donuts last week and we were able to start a really good conversation with a hispanic man that was sitting next to us. Our kids were with us so he was talking about our kids and we were asking him questions about his and it turned in to a nice conversation. When the man left, though, my wife asked me a really good question that led to a good conversation for the two of us: "How do you turn a good conversation like that in to a spiritual conversation?"

Have to admit first that I miss many opportunities to do that. I try and I'm not afraid of talking spiritually with people, but for whatever reason I sometimes miss opportunities that have been placed before me whether it's because of my selfishness or my laziness or my busyness ... I could go on. So, I write that simply to say I'm not perfect at this by any means. But, here are some things I've tried to do that help turn conversations to God:

1. Simply bring up the name of God in a conversation. There have been times when I've had one of my kids with me and someone has started talking to me simply because we have cute kids and I've said something like, "Yeah, having kids has really helped me understand how much God loves us." Something as simple as that can bring God in to a conversation. Sometimes it leads somewhere and other times I get blown off. This happened just last week at Wal-Mart. I brought up God in a conversation with a worker and she was like (insert her sarcasm) ... "Oookaaayy." And, she basically ended our conversation right there.

2. Ask someone if I can pray for them. Whether we are out to eat or at Wal-Mart or simply have met someone randomly, I often will ask someone before I leave if there is any way I can pray for them. Again, sometimes this leads somewhere and other times it doesn't, but more times than not it has led to really good conversations with people.

3. Just come right out and say it. This is probably not my greatest strength by any means. I'm much better at trying to enter "through a side door" if that makes sense, but there are definately times when I've just come right out and asked someone about God.

4. Share my story and what God has done in my life. I am so thankful and grateful for the change that God has brought to my life. Talking about it is just natural because of the great joy He has given me. I just like talking about it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesday Random

- The past two days have just been great! After our services on Sunday I was able to go home and relax a bit and do some yard work and also just spend time with my family. After an extremely busy week of Judgment House, it was nice to chill a bit. Spent time Sunday and Monday raking our yard ... a total of over 6 hours of work! It was nice to be able to do it, though, and just be outside and enjoy some great fall weather. This was Ezra's first year of really getting to enjoy the leaves. He had so much fun just jumping in to the piles. It was hilarious to watch! I'm pretty convinced we have the most leaves of anyone on our block. Too bad it's not a competition. :)

- Some final Judgment House numbers: 931 people walked through. 96 people accepted Jesus as the Leader and Forgiver of their life! 114 people made some type of recommitment in their life! It was really just an awesome week and I just love seeing God do His thing through this. Now it's time for follow-up.

- I've heard two stories recently of friends who've been in public places and they've had complete strangers go up to their young children and totally yell at them. And, I'm not talking a simple "Oh, don't do that." I'm talking curse words, rudeness ... the whole sha-bang! There's not much that would make me lose my cool, but one would be a complete stranger cursing at my 2 year old son. It's one thing for a 2 year old to act like a 2 year old. It's another thing for an adult to act like a 2 year old! Seriously people! Fortunately my friends handled the situations a whole lot better than I would have.

- We've had 2 pretty cool teams be sent out from our church recently. One team just got back from China. They were smuggling Bibles there. Another team is loving on some orphans at Asia's Hope in Cambodia and Thailand right now. Can't wait to hear from both teams.

- After nearly 7 years of marriage, my wife informed me recently that we have a coffee bean grinder. I never knew that! Mornings have just become a whole lot more fun! :)

- Big, big game for my Steelers this Monday night. They play the Broncos. Should be a great game to watch.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A StarBucks Tradition

We sorta have a tradition in our household where we take our kids to Starbucks and try to get a picture of them having a "drink." Just the other day I was looking through some of our pictures and came across these two of Mercy and Ezra and their first "official" Starbucks experience.

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