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.

The Whole Neighborhood Just Got Saved

We had our first night of Judgment House last night. Man, what a night! It was so cool to see how God brings everything together and uses EVERY SINGLE PERSON involved ... greeters, parkers, actors, registration people, tour guides, prayer guides, counselors, builders, food makers ... everyone. It's really a picture of people using their specific gifts and passions to make an incredible difference. Love it!

We had some really cool things happen last night, but one quick story I wanted to share. A group from inner-city Elkhart walked through the drama. The last stop of Judgment House is an opportunity for people to hear why we do this and to respond to the Gospel. Anyway, Pastor Jim was sharing last night with this group and he was talking about going to heaven and one of the kids just shouted out, "Well, how do you do it?" Jim began to tell them and then the ENTIRE group of kids prayed OUTLOUD to ask Jesus to be the Leader and Forgiver of their life! Anyway, as the kids were leaving to talk with some of our counselors, the leader of the group was just sitting in the room and as all of the kids left she said, "The whole neighborhood just got saved!" There were some amazing moments last night, but that one in particular stands out.

Total numbers from night # 1:
- 225 people walked through
- 35 people made decisions for Jesus
- 20 people made some other type of decision in their life
- 10 people wanted us to pray for specific things in their life
- Nearly 30% of the people that walked through Judgment House made some type of decision ... if my math is correct. I'm always concerned when I throw percentages out there b/c I always stunk at math. :)

Tonight looks to be another very full night and I'm really excited to see what God will do.

Friday, October 23, 2009

My Day Off

I'm thankful to have Thursdays off during the week. After putting in a 12 hour day and not getting home til after 10pm on Wednesdays, it's nice to be able to relax a bit on Thursdays. Here are a couple of pics from my day off. The above picture is of Ezra and me having a nice morning drink. I gave him a little of my tea and put it in a cup for him. What you don't see is me spilling my glass of tea all over our love seat after this picture was taken. Not a good way to try to impress your wife. :)

This is Mercy on a swing at a local park.

My two favorite girls!

Near the park was some guy's corn field. Ezra and I decided to take a run through it. Hopefully the farmer didn't mind.

Wednesday Night axis Wrap Up

Topic: Untouchables
Student Involvement: We had kids greeting, running the tech cage, taking pictures, playing on the worship team, passing out Bibles, and helping with decision cards.
Fun Stuff: Dodgeball and two funny videos to introduce the topic.
Attendance: 153 with 12 first time visitors
Worship Set: Marvelous Light, Let God Arise, I Am Free
The Big Idea: We continued with our Untouchables series and on this night we talked about hell. To be perfectly honest, it was a touch preparation week for me. I really don't like talking about hell. Since I believe the Bible to be 100% true, that means hell is a reality and people that I have known who have passed away are there now. That sickens me. My prayer on Wednesday night was that no guy or girl that was in that room with us would end up in hell. I feel such a responsibility to our teenagers to point them to Jesus and on this night I really felt that responsibility in a heavy way.
Physically, it was a strange night for me. I felt weak, for some reason my back and shoulders were cramping, I was losing my voice, and I was also running a fever. Physically and emotionally I was pretty whipped that night.
Basically I tried to talk briefly about how the Bible describes hell and then I tried as best as I could to answer questions that I often hear regarding hell ... Why would God send someone to hell? Wouldn't it be better to be there with my friends? Are there degrees of punishment in hell? Who goes to hell? In answering those questions I really tried to wrap it up with the main thought that it's not really what we do that sends someone to hell. It's more what we don't do. If we do not turn to Jesus, confess Him as Lord, and ask Him to be the Leader and Forgiver of our lives ... that rejection of Jesus is what sends someone to hell.
I had really debated on this throughout the day and really didn't make a decision until I was in the "moment" and really tried to listen to the Holy Spirit, but I gave an invitation for kids to accept Jesus at the end of the night. The reason I debated on it was that I don't like "scaring" people in to heaven, if you know what I mean. But, the reality is, hell is, to say the least, scary. I don't want any of our kids to end up there, so I gave an invitation afterwards. Between middle and high school axis, we had 12 kids make decisions for Jesus! It was so amazing to see God move and during that time I really felt the presence of God working in the hearts of our kids.
Next week, we have the night off from axis because of Judgment House. We kick it off the following week with a message on ... shhhhhh .... sex. :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some Daily Prayers

Here are a few things I try to pray for myself every day:

1. I pray God's armor upon my life.
2. I pray to believe truth and not fall for the enemy's lies.
3. I pray to be a great husband, a great dad, and a great pastor.
4. I pray that I walk with the Spirit and try to keep in step with Him.
5. I pray that I would have opportunities to be Jesus to people and to share Jesus with people.

These are things that I know I really can't do on my own and I need God's help to live them out. Even with my prayers, I still fail at these things, which makes me incredibly grateful for the grace of God. But, as I pray, I find that, with God's help, when I pray His armor upon my life and when I pray to know truth, it helps keep me spiritually aware of what the enemy may try to do to trip me up or distract me throughout the day. When I pray to be a great husband, dad, and pastor ... with God's help, I believe He allows me to keep my priorities in line and to realize that I don't want to be "average" at any of those things ... I don't even want to be "good" at those things. I want to be great ... the best that I could possibly be. When I pray to keep in step with the Spirit, I just really want to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leading in my life and to notice the opportunities He'll place before me every day. Finally, I pray to be Jesus and share Jesus with people. I don't want to neglect my mission on earth ... to point people to Jesus Christ.


I love this time of year. The leaves in our area are really starting to "peak" right now and I just love driving around looking at them. Here's a quick pic of our back yard. I stepped outside this morning and just took a minute to be quiet and soak it all in.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Miscellaneous

- Got to go out on a date with my wife last night. It was very much needed. It's been a really busy month and we haven't had a lot of time to just be with each other and connect. Man, I just loved it! We drove around for a little bit looking at leaves and just talking. Then we grabbed some dinner, did a little shopping, and then went to Star Bucks. It was so nice to be out with her. I just loved our time together.

- The new BBQ Chicken Salad at Panera Bread ... my new favorite salad!

- Had really powerful services at church yesterday. Jim tackled the really tough topic of homosexuality, and I can't imagine him having done a better job of it. His message was, what I thought, the perfect combination of grace and truth. I'm just disgusted at how some Christians have treated homosexuals. At the same time, we have to be willing to stand up for what the Word of God teaches ... but that can be done without degrading someone. Anyway, really good services, really good teaching, and really good connections with people.

- Mercy just recently turned 9 months old ... as you can probably tell by the sign she's holding in the picture above. I am totally in love with that little girl! I find myself often tearing up as I pray for her ... knowing what a tough world it can be for girls. I try my best to pray for her every day ... that she would come to know Jesus, that she would be a picture of God's mercy to others (that's why we named her Mercy), that she would know truth, make good decisions, feel beautiful, and be confident and strong.

- Above is a picture of Ezra "reading" books before bedtime. He loves to read, or should I say be read too. I haven't quite been able to figure out if he actually loves the reading part or if he loves the fact that he gets mom or dad all to himself while we are reading to him. My hunch is that it's a combination of both. I always thought, before becoming a dad, that I would be "affectionate" with my girls and more "rough and tumble" with my boys. What I've found is that I'm incredibly affectionate with Ezra. Cuddles, hugs, kisses ... it's a regular part of my time with him and I just love it! Sure, we do the "rough and tumble" stuff too, but he really has a sensitive spirit and I can tell already that he's a "quality time/physical touch" love language kind of guy.

- Judgment House will be starting next week. The reason we do Judgment House is because, in our community, there are a lot of "Christian alternatives" over Halloween, but there's nothing specifically designed to reach those who don't know Jesus this time of year. That's why we started doing it. It's funny, I always type a "review" of sorts of my feelings and emotions after Judgment House is over and then I look at it the following year just to let myself know that everything I'm feeling is normal. So, the fact that I'm a bit stressed and not feeling incredibly confident and wondering if we can really pull it off ... well ... every year that we've done Judgment House, I've always felt the same way and God ALWAYS comes through. I'm trusting Him to do it again this year. This week will probably be a little crazy trying to get everything together and working on some last minute stuff. Even at yesterday's practice I noticed something that we may need to change a week before we start. So, stuff always comes up. But, in the 3 years that we have done Judgment House, God has always showed up and He's always done some pretty cool stuff. Here are some stats on what we've seen God do through Judgment House at Grace over the past 3 years:

- 2,375 people have walked through the drama
- 299 people have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior
- 285 people have made some type of recommitment in their life to Jesus

- Good win for my Steelers yesterday. Big game for them next week against Minnesota.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wednesday Axis Wrap Up

Topic: Untouchables
Student Involvement: Kids led worship, took pictures, worked in the "tech cage," gave testimonies, greeted, and worked our cafe.
Fun Stuff: Did a really fun game in our gym called "Knight, Mount, Carry" and we also did a fun game in the Link where we had kids stuff their mouth with a tasty donut and then say a couple different books of the Bible. We then had to try to figure out what book of the Bible they said. Good game.
Attendance: 153 with 9 first time visitors
Worship Set: You Are the Light, God of This City
The Big Idea: We started our Untouchables series on this night and kicked it off talking about the occult. We had a guest speaker come in ... someone who actually came out of the occult and is now a believer. Her story is very powerful and it was good to hear her share. She's written a small book on her experience and asked for kids to be willing to read it and critique it for her. I wasn't sure how many kids would actually volunteer for this, but there were at least 20 kids between middle and high school that did ... more than I was expecting. There was good question/answer time after she spoke and many kids went up to her afterwards and were talking with her.
A couple of things I took away from the night:
- Something I noticed during our middle school time was that students were getting "stuck" on the "dark" side of her experiences. Teresa spoke a lot about her "spirit guide" when she was involved in the occult and our kids really got focused on that. After we were finished, I really tried to wrap it up by focusing on what Jesus has done in Teresa's life now and how she has been dramatically changed! Instead of focusing on her past, I wanted to re-focus the kids on who she is now and all that Jesus has done in her life.
- Another thing I noticed was that it was just a wierd night. Many of our volunteers didn't show up for one reason or another and some of our tech people didn't show either which really left us scrambling to figure some stuff out. There was just a wierd "feel" in the place for a while, which, honestly doesn't surprise me with the topic we were on for the night. I really spent time during the day and also during axis praying for the Holy Spirit's covering over our time and asking God not to let the enemy distract us from the truth that God wanted to teach us.
Next week we'll be talking about hell.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Asia's Hope Orphans

Got some pictures today of our orphans at Asia's Hope in Cambodia. Very cool to see them sporting their "Blue Crew" t-shirts. I'm so thankful for the people that work with them and for the people of our church who give sacrificially every week to keep the orphange going. We'll be sending out a team from our church there in just a little over 2 1/2 weeks. Pastor Jim gets to lead this team and his daughter Hannah (who is a huge part of our youth ministry) will be going as well. Can't wait to hear from them and the rest of the team and I'm hoping to get there in the future.

What a beautiful group of children!

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Random Monday

- October is proving to be a very busy month. Got back Sunday afternoon from our high school retreat (Together 09) put on by CE National. We had 24 kids from our youth ministry go and there were approximately 130 kids total there. There were lots of different events and activities planned for all of the kids there, but to be honest, the best part for me was simply being with our kids. I loved hanging out with them and talking with them and playing games with them. For me, that was the high light of the weekend. The axis band led worship at the event. They were AWESOME! Jeremy did a really good job of bringing us before God and it was so cool to see our kids on stage leading with him. The Momentum Conference has the Fee Band to lead worship. Together 09 had the "Free Band" to lead worship. That was our joke with Jeremy and the kids. Anyway, great to be there over the weekend.
- Got back from the retreat and headed straight to Judgment House practice. Hard to believe we are 2 weeks away from seeing Judgment House happen for the 4th year here. Over the past 3 years God has used Judgment House here to bring nearly 300 people to Jesus Christ and we have seen over 280 people make some type of decision in their life to try to walk more closely with Jesus. With 2 weeks to go, each day becomes a combination of "freaking out" and "let's get it done." :)
- LOVE the new Fee cd Hope Rising.
- Intentionally haven't worked out for the past 3 weeks. Getting a little anxious and feeling a bit "flabby" but really wanted to rest my body, in particular, my knee. Hoping to get back at it in November ... maybe I should say hoping to find the motivation to get back at it in November. It's been kinda nice not getting up early to work out. :)
- Happy to see my Steelers win over the weekend, but thinking they should have totally crushed the Lions and not simply won by 8 points. Side Note: Was offered tickets to this past Sunday's Steelers' game, but couldn't go because of the senior high retreat. There aren't many times that I wish I didn't have to "work" on a Sunday, but when I'm offered Steelers' tickets is one of them. :)
- Took Mercy to the Doctor's Office today for her 9 month check up and for her shots. :( Hate seeing my kids get shots. Anyway, while I was there, Ezra brought a book to me: "Oh, the Places You'll Go" by Doctor Suess. I had never read that book before. I started reading it to Ezra and about 1/4 of the way through the book I started tearing up. I just started thinking about him and Mercy and the adventures and hardships and trials and joys that they'll experience in their life (which is what the book is about only in Doctor Suess language) ... and I couldn't believe I was crying there in the middle of the doctor's office while I'm reading a Doctor Suess book! But, my "manhood" came out and I simply pretended like I had something in my eye. :)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Interesting Experience I Want to Learn From

I was outside in our back yard late yesterday afternoon getting some firewood and I heard a young girl yelling a name. She kept on yelling it and then I watched her as she walked past our front yard in the rain yelling this name. Anyway, we have quite a few pets in our neighborhood so I just assumed she was looking for a lost pet. I go in to the house with the firewood not really thinking anything of it.

While I'm in the house, I see this girl walk by again still yelling the same name ... but something just didn't seem "right." I watched her as she continued to walk by our house and down another street. I felt uneasy ... like something wasn't quite right about the whole situation, but talked myself out of going outside to see what was going on. I told myself, though, if I see her again, I'm going out to talk with her.

Just a few minutes later, she comes walking by our house with another lady. By this time the young woman was soaking wet from the rain and when I got out there I noticed that she didn't even have shoes on. Anyway, I grabbed a towel to give to her and ran out to see if I could help. Come to find out she was a mentally handicapped girl who was on a trip with her group home. For some reason she got scared while she was on the trip and ran away from her group without anyone knowing about it. She had been wandering the streets in the rain and the cold for over an hour yelling out the name of her sister trying to find her home.

The police were called and this young lady was returned to her group home, who had reported her missing, by the way. A good ending.

Anway, I reflected on it a bit and think I learned a few things:

- I hesitated. Why? I let my assumptions get in the way of someone that needed my help.
- I didn't listen to my "gut." Yes, sometimes my "gut" has gotten me in to trouble, but, to be honest, my gut assumptions have been right more times than not. Again, I let my assumptions get in the way of something I felt like I was supposed to do. I hate when that happens.
- When I acted, I was able to help. I wouldn't have been able to help at all if I didn't take that first step out of our house and see if there was something I could do to help. I don't want to miss those opportunities, but know I often do.

Anyway, just a few things I learned from a strange sitation last night. Hopefully I can take this and learn from it in order to better help people in the future.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wednesday Night axis Wrap Up

Topic: Someone in Your Corner
Student Involvement: We had students plugged in to every area of the night: media, sound, cafe, greeting, worship, drama, announcements, testimonies, prayer, and teaching.
Fun Stuff: We had some students do a fun bit called "Talk It Out" (Thanks Mark & Dave). Really it was just a "get to know me" sorta game, but our guys made it pretty fun by setting up a little talk show stage and then having fun questions. We also did a Poll Everywhere in which students could vote on what they wanted to see happen to one student (who we picked out a head of time and asked if he wouldn't mind being pelted by dodgeballs).
The Big Idea: It was a really cool night in which our student leaders planned the entire evening. Students led in every area and they did an absolutely amazing job! I was so proud of them and I really believe everyone got a lot out of the evening. We heard from one of our teenage girls who was diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier in the year. She shared about where she is at with things and what God has been teaching her through the whole process. I'm really just blown away by Allison and how she has responded to the entire situation. We also had one of our students teach. He did a great job talking about what it means to have God in your corner and that he really couldn't imagine life without God. He talked about how God has been there for him in several situations of his life including a chronic illness, asthma, and also the pressures of being a pastor's kid. I was so proud of Josh because he is really a great kid ... smart, athletic, good looking ... but he hates speaking in public. So, this was a real stretch for him and he really nailed it. We also had students do a drama at the end of our night. Josh gave kids an opportunity to respond to the Gospel and we had several kids make first time decisions or make some other type of commitment in their life. Woo Hoo!
Next week we start our "Untouchables" series and we'll be looking at The Occult, Homosexuality, and Hell.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I'm really looking forward to our new series at Grace starting this Sunday. I'm always fascinated by what Jesus said about the enemy in John 8:44 "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a MURDERER from the BEGINNING, not holding to the truth, FOR THERE IS NOT TRUTH IN HIM. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is LIAR and the FATHER OF LIES."

My native language is English. It's all I know. When I speak, I speak English. When the enemy speaks, he speaks lies. It's all he knows. It's his native language. He only wants to "steal, kill, and destroy" (John 10:10) and all creation has been "groaning as in the pains of childbirth rigt up to the present time" (Romans 8:22) because of the effects of sin. Really, all Satan has is lies. I know that ... I believe that ... but if you're anything like me, I still often fall for it. Uggg!

Should be a great series and I'm looking forward to learning more of the lies and hopefully learning not to fall for them.

Monday, October 5, 2009

No Fear Living Middle School Retreat

Made it back from our middle school retreat Sunday afternoon. What a great weekend! Here are some of my take-a-ways:
- Middle School kids are so much fun! Their energy, their laughter, their desire to do just about anything ... man ... stuff like that helps keep me feeling young.
- Kids learned the importance of working together and supporting each other. We had several experiential things planned that would help each of our teams learn that importance of being their for each other. It was cool to see kids start doing one of the elements on the low ropes course and fail time and time again until they realized that to finish, they really needed to learn to work as a team. It was cool to see their eyes light up like, "Yeah, we needed to be doing this all along." They learned to trust each other and work together as a team.
- The high ropes course was AWESOME! Kids were really walking through some fears and doing something that many of them felt very uncomfortable doing. The final element on the high ropes course was a zip line, which everyone wanted to do. But, to get to the zip line you had to complete one fairly challenging element of the high ropes course. There was one kid that wasn't going to do it. He was the very last one and it was so cool to hear the kids cheering him on and encouraging him. He finally did it and to see the joy in his eyes as he was going down the zip line ... priceless!
- Our adults and high school students were amazing. They connecting so well with the kids on their team and really poured in to their lives over the weekend. I loved seeing that.
- The cardboard canoe races are becoming a tradition that our kids are really looking forward to each year.
- The kids' attitudes were great the entire weekend. It was cold and rained quite a bit, but there was barely any complaining and the kids made the most of the entire weekend. Really, they were great!
- We talked about fear over the weekend and it really seemed to connect with every student that was there. The combination of experientials, me talking for 15 minutes, and then a 30 minute team discussion really worked well.
- Things that I do at a middle school retreat that I normally don't do:
1) Eat peanut butter and jelly for breakfast.
2) Eat sour patch straws any time of the day or night
3) Sleep in a sweatshirt
4) NOT shower
5) Stink
- Overall, an incredible weekend that I think will really do a lot to build some unity in our ministry and it really helped me get to know many of our incoming 7th graders a whole lot better. Loved it!

Friday, October 2, 2009

How We Plan our Outreaches

One of the things I LOVE about our church is that we really try to get out in to our community and do our best to share the love of Jesus. One of the things that is said often around here is that, if our church ever moved ... would we be missed? So, it's just part of our DNA to get out and love on people and share Jesus with people. Loving God can be shown by how we love others.
Anyway, above are a few of the logos from outreach events that we've done in the past. Below is just a brief explanation of how we try to think through ways to reach our community:
1. Pray. We are always asking God to give us fresh ideas on how to effectively reach people.
2. Notice the needs. We try our best to be in touch with our community and look for what needs really need to be met.
3. Is it being done already? That's a question we often ask. Sometimes we'll notice needs, but find out that something is already in place to try to meet those needs. If so, that's awesome! We'll often try to support the things already being done. If not, we move to the next step.
4. Be creative. If a need is not being met, we try to then think of creative ways to meet those needs as a church. We come up with a creative plan.
5. Get others on board. We cast vision. We let our people know about the positive effect this outreach will have on our community, and then we challenge them to get on board.
6. Help our people serve. One of the most fulfilling things for us is to see the Church be the Church. We love seeing our people step up and do the good works God has planned in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
7. Celebrate. After the outreach, we celebrate. We'll celebrate with testimonies, pictures, worship. We come back "filled with joy" and we love to talk about it and here others do the same.
8. Repeat. We repeat the process. Sometimes we'll repeat our outreaches in following years if they are still being effective and other times we'll scrap them all together because they've lost their effectiveness. We always want to be fresh and relevant and constantly are asking God to help us to be that.

Wednesday Axis Wrap Up

Topic: Making the Most of Your Choices

Student Involvement: Kids were serving on the tech team, greeting team, cafe team, and the worship team.

Fun Stuff: Did a pretty fun twist on Hot Potato ... we used a Rainbow Trout.

Bible Verses: Galatians 6:7 - 8, Proverbs 13:6, 1 Corinthians 15:33

Attendance: 159 with 9 first time visitors

The "Big" Idea: It's easier to make right choices than it is to correct wrong ones.

Review: This was a small group Wednesday for us. We started using a new Live Curriculum from Simply Youth Ministry and I really like it. Our leaders really liked using it as well. Below is just a picture of what we'll be going over in our small groups.
Those not in a small group stayed in the Link with me and we talked about our choices. It's something that really been on my mind a lot lately and I really wanted to talk about it Wednesday night. Wednesday night was very interactive. I used 3 videos illustrating choices that people made and how it effected the lives. I also used 2 Poll Everywhere questions on choices and how our kids have seen poor choices effect either themselves or people they know. I would talk briefly, then I would ask a question and then let our kids talk with those around them about the question. I'd then let them share their responses with the entire group. Worked super well during our middle school time. It was "OK" during our high school time. What I really tried to drive home was that it only takes one poor choice to change the direction of your life and that it's easier to make a right choice than it is to correct a wrong one. Overall, I think things went really well.
Next week, our student leaders will be planning and entirely pulling off axis. Can't wait to see how God uses them. I'm really excited about it.

That Joke Stinks

It's been a really busy week and will be a super busy weekend with our middle school retreat coming up. Hence the reason that I haven't been posting much this week. But, even though it's been busy, it hasn't been too busy for a little practical joke. Wednesday at axis we did a "Hot Potato" type game, but we used a Rainbow Trout. Anyway, after the night, I was going to throw the fish away, but thought to myself ... I gotta do something with this fish. So, I put it in Craig's office Wednesday night in a nice hiding place. After smelling something Thursday but not knowing what it was, he finally found it Friday morning. His office was RIPE!

Love ya, Craig ... but won't be having meetings in your office any time soon. :)

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