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

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