Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday Monday Monday

- Sunday was a very cool day at church. We had over 40 people get baptized and EACH one was a celebration! The energy was a high as I had ever felt it at Grace Community. God's presence was just incredibly strong and people were just celebrating with each other as over 40 believers took that step of obedience and got baptized. The picture above is Pastor Jon baptizing his daughter Elli. Dad's were baptizing their kids. Moms were baptizing their kids. Friends were baptizing their friends. Grandad's were baptizing their grandsons. And, the pastors got in on some of the action too. What a great day and, honestly, we could have just stopped church after the baptisms, and I would have left feeling incredibly blessed and encouraged!

- Real busy yesterday. After our 2 services, we had something called Getting to Know Grace ... just an opportunity for people new to the church to get to know the pastors a bit, to learn about the history of the church, to hear about the vision for the church, and to ask any questions that they may have. It was really a great time. After that, I came home and, after a little time connecting with Carol, I had to start preparing for small group. Had small group at 5 and got home around 8pm. Finally got Ezra and Mercy in bed by 8:30pm. Anyway, Carol and I sat down in our living room ... she got on the computer and I laid down on the couch. Within minutes I fell asleep and, seriously, I think I had the BEST hour of sleep I've ever had in my entire life! Carol woke me up as she was going to bed and I remember telling her, "I don't think sleep has ever been this good!" I got up, went to bed, and just slept like a baby! There's nothing like good sleep!

- I picked up Carol, Ezra, and Mercy at the airport Saturday afternoon. They were in CT visiting family all last week. It was SO good to see them! In the infamous words of Kelly Clarkson ... "My life would suck without you!" When they are away I realize, once again, how much I love them.

- Carol starts back to work tomorrow. I'm so impressed with her and all that she does. Being a stay at home mom is not easy. Being a stay at home mom who works 2 days a week ... even more difficult! Her job requires a lot from her emotionally, physically, and spiritually, yet she comes home after a long day of counseling and gives her best to me and our kids. She's pretty amazing.

- Starting a new series at axis Wednesday called "How to Be Your Best." I'm basing all of the info off of a few books I've read: Training Camp by Jon Gordon, Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris, and Who You Are When No One's Looking by Bill Hybels. I'm really looking forward to this and will really be praying that God uses this in our youth ministry. I'm praying that our kids will step up and rise above much of the mediocrity that surrounds them and pursue excellence.

- The cross country team won their meet on Saturday. What a good group of girls. I really enjoy working with them. Kirt H., the head coach, does an awesome job and is really helping me learn some of the strategies of coaching cross country. It's been a really good experience so far.

- Watched the movie "Religulous" by Bill Maher last week. Bill Maher is BLATANTLY anti-Christian/anti-religion and so his "mockumentary" was basically to point out the EVILS of religion and that, in his words, mankind can never move forward as long as religion is in the picture. Most of the movie was spent mocking people of different faiths for what they believe. While he did spend time making fun of Mormons and Muslims, Christianity received the blunt of his assault. Honestly, there were some funny things in the movie. Most of the "Christians" he interviewed were the Christians that give Christianity a "bad" name, if you know what I mean ... the very judgmental, accept it because that's simply the way it is, I'll answer with every Christian cliche in the book type of people. It really opened my eyes to how some view Christianity and challenged me to do my best to break that stereotype. It also helped me understand, once again, that what we believe REALLY doesn't make sense. It reminded me of a song by Nichole Nordeman: Fool for You, and pretty much describes what I was thinking after I watched the movie.

There are times when faith and common sense do not align,when hardcore evidence of you is hard to find,and I am silenced in the face of argumenative debate,it's a long hill it's a lonley climb. Maybe it's true.

CHORUS:Cause they want proof,They want proof of all these mysteries I claim,Cause only fools would want to chant a dead man's name.I would be a fool for you all because you asked me to.A simpleton who's seeming naive,I do believe You came and made Yourself a fool for me.
I admit that in my darkest hours I've asked what if,What if we created some kind of man made faith like this,Out of good intention or emotional invention,and after life is through there will be no You.

Cause they want proof of all these miracles I claim,Cause only fools believe that men can walk on waves.Maybe it's true. I would be a fool for you all because you asked me to. A simpleton who's seemingly naive, I do believe YOu came and made urself a fool for me.

Unaware of popularity,and unconcerned with dignity,You made me free.That's proof enough for me.I would be a fool for You,Only if You asked me to,A simpletonwho's only think of,The cause of love.I will speak Jesus name,and if that makes me crazy,they can call me crazed,I'm happy to be seemingly naive,I do believe You came and made Yourself a fool for me

Friday, August 28, 2009

Football Dinner

One thing our youth ministry does every year is provide a meal for one of the local high school football teams before one of the home games. It's a great way for us to just be a presence in the school. Here are a few of the moms making a meal for 90 hungry teenagers! Thanks, Jana, Annette, Kelli, and all the other moms who help make this possible!

Wednesday Wrap Up

Had a really cool night talking about music at axis on Wednesday. Music was a "hot topic" when I was in high school and is just as "hot" today with our kids. The last thing I wanted to do was to tell our kids what they should or should not listen too. I wanted to do my best at giving them tools that would help them decide for themselves what is healthy and unhealthy for them to be listening too. I talked about our minds being like our bodies. If we want a healthy body, we have to care about what we put in to it. Twinkies and Taco Bell all the time is not going to give us a healthy body. Are Twinkies and Taco Bell wrong? No. But, a steady diet of that is going to have the fire department knocking down the walls of our house to get us out. If we want a healthy body, we'll put healthy things in to it.
It's the same with our mind. If we are giving our mind a steady diet of unhealthy things, that will eventually play out in our lives. If we are giving our mind a steady diet of healthy things, that too will eventually play out in our lives. So, we talked about the 3D's ... DISCOVER, DISCERN, and DECIDE (Thanks Walt Mueller @ and Mark Artrip for bringing it to my attention @ Momentum). First, Discover what the theme/message of the song is. What is it telling us about life, right, wrong, God, men, women, etc? Then, Discern what the message of the song is telling us compared with what the Bible tells us about life, right, wrong, God, men, women, etc. Finally, Decide what you'll allow in your mind and what you won't allow in your mind.
We then took time to listen to two of the more popular songs on the radio today and applied the 3D's to the songs. I also provided a list of the top 5 songs played on the radio last week. The list had the lyrics to the songs and also an opportunity to apply the 3D's.
A few really cool things at the end of the night:
- A few kids came up to me and said they want to be baptized. One of them was a girl who got saved at axis last week!
- Got a text from a girl after axis, the jist of which said, "I'll be at axis every Wednesday from now on." Very cool!
Next week we'll be starting a 4 week series on How to be Our Best. Should be fun.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cross Country

When I was in high school, I had a fairly decent mile time ... 5:23 was my personal best. When the cross country coach heard about that time, he called me at home and talked to me about being on the cross country team. When I talked to my mom about it afterwards she said, "I don't know, Rich. I don't feel comfortable with you running across the country." ... True story.

I've since lost my ability (and quite franky, my desire) to run a mile in 5:23, but I still enjoy running. This year, I was asked, out of the blue, to help with the Fairfield girls cross country team. I NEVER saw that request coming, but looked at it as a great way to be a presence at the high school and to invest in some lives. I'm still learning the ropes, but it has been a really cool experience so far.

The above picture is from a practice on a Friday (thanks Katy Hawkins for letting me snatch this picture from your Facebook page even though you don't know it yet. lol) Every Friday the girls get to "dress up." It's just part of the fun they seem to have together as a team.

Yesterday was a very cool experience for me because there was a meet between Fairfield and Goshen ... the two biggest schools represented at axis. There were quite a few girls from axis on both teams and even though I was technically "working" for Fairfield, I was pulling for all of the axis girls regardless of what team they were on.

Part of the fun for me yesterday was simply to look at the focus and determination in the eyes of each girl as they ran ... the look that says, "I am going to kick this course' butt!" I just love that! I also really enjoyed being the "cheerleader" as they ran. When I did my half-marathon earlier this year, the people along the course cheering on the runners were a HUGE encouragement. I wanted to take on that role and try to help the runners realize they can attack the course and "ignore the voice" that says to slow down.

I'm hoping to continue to learn about the "science" behind coaching cross country and, more importantly, hoping to be a positive influence on the team.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Good Morning

Started out the morning in a GREAT way with a game of golf. Shot a 44 on 9 holes. Certainly not good, but not bad for a hacker like me. Man, it was such a beautiful morning and so nice to be out early with the guys.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday's Thoughts

- "I have heard all about you, LORD. I am filled with awe by Your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as You did in years gone by. And in Your anger, remember Your mercy." Habakkuk 3:2 NLT. It was really good to have Jim back Sunday for the first time in 8 weeks. We started a new series called "Crazy Stuff" ... as you could probably tell by the picture above ... and it's just going to be a time when we look at what God has done and believe that He will do even greater things! Habakkuk 3:2 is the central verse and WOW what a verse! I love how the NLT puts it ... "In this time of our deep need..." I don't just want to read about what God has done. If God is only a God of the past, I'd be real disappointed. God is a God of the NOW also and wants to help us NOW and do great things in our lives NOW! I've been challenged to deepen my prayer life and trust to see God to some big things. Looking forward to the next few weeks of messages.

- The art work above was drawn by someone in our church. Very cool to see the different gifts of the church body being used.

- I've decided to forgo my marathon training for this year. This was a very difficult decision, but one my body ended up making for me. With the IT Band problems I was having, I ended up missing about 3 weeks of training ... and you just can't do that when you're training for a marathon. I felt good about the effort I gave. I didn't just quit when I started having the pain in my knee. I tried to work through it. I did what I could to take care of it ... went to the doctor, went through physical therapy, even got a cortizone injection ... so I feel like I worked hard, gave my best effort, and was totally there mentally and really looking forward to the challenge. But, this time, my body didn't cooperate with me. So, I'm not looking at it as a failure or as quitting ... I'm looking at it as an opportunity to harden my resolve to do this and try again next year. I'm also going to try to use this time to work on my flexibility, so when I do start training, I hopefully won't have this same problem.

- Carol and the kids are in CT this week visiting family. Her sister really wanted to spend some time with her and so graciously bought her a plane ticket to fly out. So, I'm "baching" it this week and have, once again, come to the realization that I do not like "baching" it. Honestly, it's nice for a day or two ... get a break, catch up on some movies, chill a bit ... but after that I start to miss them like crazy and can't wait to see them again. Saturday can't get here fast enough.

- Came to a heart breaking realization last week. I was going through the 2008 Goshen and Fairfield yearbooks and took a look at the senior class for those schools. I counted 28 kids that were involved in axis throughout the years. Some were more involved than others. Some came regularly. Some showed up occassionally. Some stopped coming altogether. But, 28 kids that were in some way involved in axis. As I looked at those kids, I realized that I only know of 2 that are currently involved in a church. To my knowledge, 26 of the 28 are not involved in church any longer. I was heartbroken! I felt like we, as a youth ministry, let that graduating class down. I've been at Grace for 7 years and many of the graduating seniors that have come through axis are still very involved in church and are growing in their faith, but for some reason, this group of seniors isn't. We had things in place to help them grow. We provided opportunities for them to take advantage of that would help them grow. But, for whatever reason what we tried to do didn't seem to work with most of them. This has got me thinking about serveral things:
1. I am responsible for providing opportunities and an environment that will help kids grow in a relationship with God.
2. No matter what I do, the individual is ultimately responsible for their growth. I cannot make someone follow God.
3. I need to look at what we do as a youth ministry and see if we are providing enough tools and opportunities to help students grow in their relationship with God.
4. As I look at these 28 kids, most of them were always a part of the "fringe" group at axis ... not really taking things too seriously. How can we, as a youth ministry, reach these kids and move them in to a deeper relationship with God?

Anyway, just some random thoughts that I had been thinking about quite a bit since I went through the yearbooks.

- My mom and dad both celebrated their birthdays this past week. The week of my mom's birthday she sends US a check to get Ezra and Mercy some shoes. I think that's a little backwards on how gifts are to be passed out for birthdays, but a very clear picture of my mom ... always thinking of others.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Colts 23, Eagles 15

Still and ALWAYS will be a Steelers diehard ... but will not pass up tickets to any football game. Good experience last night at Colts vs. Eagles. Not a great game, but great company.

Wednesday Axis Wrap Up

We had our Fall Kickoff at axis Wednesday night. Here are a few things that kids said on their Facebook accounts after the night was over:

“Tonight was amazing.”
“Tonight helped sooo very much.”
“Amazing night tonight. God showed up in that room.”
“Tonight was awesome.”
“I made a decision tonight. I am a Jesus freak and proud of it.”

I knew God was up to something when the enemy was trying to throw a ton of things my way to distract me from the night. Stuff I thought I had planned was falling through. People were texting me and telling me they might not be able to do some other things we had planned for weeks. Honestly, it just felt like one thing after another was crashing down. When that happens, I know God is going to surprise us. That was my prayer the entire night: “God, surprise us by what you do. God, show up in that room.” He did. From the very onset of the night, there was a sense of energy and anticipation and I really believe kids were getting a clear picture of God. We started out the night by giving out free sundaes. If you came early, you got a sundae. Kids dug it.

Then, to kick axis off, we passed out glowsticks to everyone, darkened the room and our drummer started a drum solo that led in to the songs We Shine and All Because of Jesus. We then did "Song in My Heart" by Tanner & Chase ... a takeoff of Song in My Heart by Mark & Dave at the Momentum Conference. It was HILARIOUS! We then heard from our Operation Barnabas students and got to hear briefly about their summer mission trip. Then we took a FUN axis quiz ... just a fun way I went over some of our rules at axis and then headed in to our teaching time.

We talked about the importance of truly knowing God ... not just knowing ABOUT Him, but truly KNOWING Him. And, that God isn't something we "do" to spice up our life. Truly knowing God means that He IS our life. By the end of the night, many kids were on their faces before God asking Him to be THE most important thing. Kids were praying with and for each other. Adults were loving on kids. The worship was genuine and powerful. My prayer all day was that God would surpise us. And, literally, I was surprised because as we went in to our two closing songs (Arms Open Wide and From the Inside Out) I had told our adults and student leaders to be ready to pray with kids. So, I knew they had it covered so I just had my eyes closed and was worshipping and, honestly, had no idea what was going on around me until the end of the night when I opened my eyes and say kids on their faces doing business with God. Wow! It was AWESOME!

"God, keep moving in our kids."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Axis Fall Kickoff

Our youth ministry has it's fall kickoff tonight. Gotta admit, I'm always excited about kicking things off in the fall, but I'm super excited this year. I just have a real anticipation for what God is going to do and can't wait to be a part of it all. I have a real excitement about our plan for this fall and can't wait to see how God stretches me and our kids. It's also had me reflecting a bit.

The above picture is me my first year at Grace Community in 2002. As you can see, there were 13 kids in axis at that time. We met in a smelly ... and, yes, it literally smelled ... room in the basement of the church. I really didn't know much about youth ministry then and probably only know just a little bit more now, but I was always confident that we would be able to reach kids.

This next picture is one that was taken outside of a garage we met in for over a year. We were outgrowing the stinky basement room and needed to make a change, but weren't really sure what change to make. A couple that volunteered with axis came to me and said, "We could probably fit about 40 kids in our garage. Why don't we meet there?" I was like, "Well, uh, that's a 'great' idea ... not really thinking it would work." But, they went on to tell me that they would totally dry wall their garage, install heat, put down a carpet, and set up chairs every Wednesday. They also said they would supply some snacks. I think it was the snacks that sold me. :) So, this couple invested quite a bit of money in to making their garage a place where kids could be loved. It worked and we grew.

We eventually grew to LOVE the garage and also outgrew the garage. So, we began meeting at the New Paris elementary school every Wednesday and made the decision to divide middle school and high school. The school was Pastor Jim's idea. I wish I could take credit for it, but he shared some of his wisdom with me and just made the school look like the best idea. Thankfully, it was. We had a gym. We had a cafeteria for worship and teaching. We drug a ton of stuff in to that school every Wednesday, set it up, and then went at it. God moved, kids got saved, we had great discussions, and we grew.

We eventually built a new building as a church, which gave us, as a youth ministry, our OWN room ... FINALLY ... and it lasted for about 4 weeks and we realized this rooom was going to be too small. We'd never grow if we stayed there, so we moved to meeting in our gym. We'd play basketball or dodgeball or any other games you can think of ... and then we'd set up chairs, worship, and have our teaching time. The cool thing is, we continued to grow.
A little over a year ago we moved in to the Link. Lots of cool stuff in there ... a kickin' sound system, game systems & ipods (well, until they were stolen a few weeks ago) ... computers, a cafe ... really it's the type of place I've always dreamed of meeting in. We are still growing as a youth ministry and kids are still growing in their faith, but as I reflect on things ... God did the same cool stuff in a smelly basement room that He is doing in an amazing building like the Link. More and more I'm convinced that we just need to stick to what makes axis ... well ... axis. Partnering with the Holy Spirit to create an environment where kids see God. If we do that, no matter where we are at, kids will get saved ... kids will grow in their faith. I just believe with all of my heart that if we represent God well, kids will want to know Him ... whether it's in a garage, an elementary school, a gym, or in a place filled with so much cool stuff that people want to break in and take it.
So, I'm excited about this fall. I had some really cool stuff planned for tonight ... well ... I thought I had really cool stuff planned ... but some things fell through at the last minute. Plan B?? Maybe mine, but not God's. Can't wait to see how God moves tonight and I'm excited to be going with His plan.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday Thoughts

- Had a super cool time at Grace yesterday. We've been going through a series called Refuel the past 3 weeks: Stop, Get Quiet, Make a Connection. Yesterday I had the opportunity to lead our church in a time of connecting with God. We worked our way through a journal and wrote down our thoughts on attributes of God, some verses, some pictures and verses on being a child of God, the forgiveness of God, and we also watched a music video (The Motions by Matthew West) and journaled on what are some things that God may be asking us to do. It was totally different, and in my opinion, totally cool. Interspersed between our journal times were times when we could respond to God through music. Miah and Jeremy did a great job of bringing us before God through music and preparing our hearts to hear from God. I thought it was a nice change of pace from what normally happens on a Sunday morning at Grace and my prayer is that everyone who was there will have a greater thirst for God.

- Today I start helping with the cross country team at Fairfield High School. I'm really excited about this opportunity mainly because it gives me the chance to be more involved at the school which means more opportunities with kids. Hopefully some good opportunities will come of this.

- Speaking of running ... I've still been training for a marathon in October, but I've hit a little bit of a set back in my training. I had been having some leg problems (specifically I.T. Band Syndrome) since my half marathon in May. That healed up and I was able to start training for this race. But, over the past 3 weeks the nasty I.T. Band has been giving me some trouble again. I've been going through physical therapy for 3 weeks and just went to the doctor again last week. I finished all of my therapy sessions, and the doctor said if things don't get better he could give me a cortizone shot in hopes to clear things up. Went for a run today ... got to about 2 and half miles and BAM the pain got really intense. So, my last ditch effort to run this race will be to get a cortizone shot and hope that clears things up. I go tomorrow at 11:15 and praying that it works. I've missed about 2 weeks of training, so I definately have some catching up to do.

- Our axis Fall kickoff is this Wednesday. I'm really excited about it and just have a real anticipation for this Fall. Can't wait to see how God moves in our teenagers and can't wait to see us be able to reach more kids. "God, please bring kids to us and gives me the wisdom and the vision to know how to best reach them."

- Had some big time rain this morning. Carol took Ezra and Mercy to the library and there was a HUGE puddle in the parking lot. Here's my EZ being a boy! Carol said he just ran and jumped in that puddle for like 15 minutes!
- Jim comes back tomorrow. He's been on sabbatical for the past 8 weeks and it will be good to have him back!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You Never Know

Blogged a couple of weeks ago about a day in the life of a pastor. Today was definately one of "those" days where you just never know what to expect.

Got in to the office and had a plan for the day. Early in the morning I received a call from a family saying that their one month old daughter's heart had stopped beating. She was at the hospital in South Bend and was in stable condition. I prayed with the family over the phone and called our campus pastor in South Bend and asked him to make a visit. Later that afternoon, we get a call from a friend of the family who said the baby had died. So, after hearing the news, I dropped all of my plans for the day and went to South Bend to spend some time with the family. Believe me, the trip there was not fun. I have never been in this type of situation before and really had no idea what to say. I prayed a lot on the way and when I got to the hospital. I get there, and the parents are not in the room, but family and friends are. About 40 minutes later, the parents come in saying the baby is ALIVE! Don't know all the details, but I guess the baby was on life support, but doctors believed there was no brain function ... meaning the baby was "technically" dead. I guess they decided to do some type of scan later and when they did the scan they discovered that there was brain function and blood flow to the brain! Amazing news! So, there is HOPE! If you could have been in the room when that news was shared! Absolutely incredible.

If you think of it, please take a second to pray for this little baby and this family.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Back from Yellowstone

We made it back from our Yellowstone vacation Saturday night at 10:30pm. After an awesome, but long week, three separate flights home, a 3 hour drive from Indy, church and small group yesterday ... I feel like I could use another vacation today. :) Definately tired, but glad to be home. Here is how Ezra described Yellowstone .... "Lotta trees!" He likes to point out the obvious. :)
Here are a few of the highlights from the trip:
I had an amazing time with my family. It was so nice to have 7 solid days with them and I tried to enjoy every minute of it. I loved the time with Carol. I loved the time with Ezra and Mercy. One of my prayers throughout the week was that I would really be able to connect with them deeply during the vacation and I really feel like that happened. Having two young children in Yellowstone definately had it's challenges. There were times when we were driving and the scenery outside was amazing and surreal, but inside the car both kids were screaming! Probably a picture of our lives sometimes. Things look good on the outside, but on the inside were are screaming! But, overall, Ezra and Mercy did amazingly well. I can't imagine them traveling any better than they did.

We got to go for a 2 hour horseback ride DEEP into the mountains. It was INCREDIBLE! Just to get to the stables was a 20 minute drive uphill the entire way. I seriously was thinking to myself, "What in the world are people doing living up here!" When we talked to the horse owner and got directions to his place, he told us that we'll know we are going the right way when we pass a bus ... yes a bus ... that someone lives in. Sure enough ... in the middle of the mountains ... was a school bus that someone lived in even equipped with a piano! That will give you a bit of an idea of how deep in to the mountains we were. But, when we finally got there, the place was amazing! For two hours we rode horses in the mountains on trails that were so steep at times I felt as if I was going to fall off the mountain. I'd still be rolling today if that happened! The scenery was just amazing and I just felt so at peace on that horse in the middle of nowhere. It was also so much fun to ride with Ezra the entire time. It was 2 straight hours of father/son time and, believe me, Ezra literally talked for ALL of the 120 minutes that we were on that horse pointing out everything he saw and just talking like a 2 year old talks. I loved it!

Ezra and I climbed up a pretty steep hill together. It was our first mountain top experience together and he did most of the walking himself ... with a little bit of help from dad when I'd hold his hand. I was really impressed with the little guy and he was just so proud of himself when we made it to the top. As soon as we made it to the top, he just wanted to throw rocks over the edge. So, he did that and he also stepped on every large rock and jumped off of it saying, "Ezra jumped off the candle stick." Funny, funny boy. :) The other side of that mountain was even more steep than the side we climbed up. When Ezra saw it he said, "EZ go down there." And, I said, "No, Ezra, we're not going to go down that way." Then he said, "EZ try." Well, of course, I couldn't say, "You're not going to try it." So, we went down the other side. As soon as we started he fell down, so I picked him up and started walking down with him. When we got to the bottom he, of course, started throwing more rocks. I love seeing boys be boys!

The scenery and landscape we "Montacular!" This vacation was right up my alley. I love the outdoors and love being in the mountains. I felt like a sponge trying to soak up every single bit of the wilderness that I could. This particular place was one of my favorites. It was right by a river and the sound of the waters combined with the mountains on every side of us just brought such a sense of peace to my soul.
This picture of Mercy pretty much sums up the trip ... and how I feel now. :) I honestly feel like we took advantage of every day we had in the park. By the end of the week EVERYONE was tired and I feel like I could use about 3 days to recover from the vacation, but I'm so glad that we did as much as we could in the time that we had. I felt so blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to be there and really have many worshipful experiences as I so how incredible our God is and just got another taste of His greatness. This vacation came at a great time, especially teamed up with the Refuel series we are doing now on Sunday mornings. I felt like I was able to STOP, Get QUIET, and Make a CONNECTION with God.

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