Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Miscellaneous

- I was listening to ESPN Radio this morning and heard that out of the 5.9 million people that filled a NCAA bracket out on ESPN Radio ... 2 ... only 2 people picked the current Final 4. Now would probably be the time for those 2 people to buy a lottery ticket. - The VCU/Kansas game was such a fun game to watch yesterday. Love pulling for the underdog. - We wrapped up our 4Keeps marriage series at Grace yesterday. There were some really special moments during the service including a Proclaimers cover of "I'm Gonna Be" (500 Miles) done by Jeremiah and Jeremy. They nailed it! Pastor Jim spoke on how to keep love strong in our marriages. At the end of the service there was a time for people to simply stand up and renew their vows to each other. It was a very special time. While saying the vows to my wife, I really started to tear up especially during the "in sickness and in health" part because it was just 4 years ago on March 26th that I was diagnosed with cancer. That part of the vow has really taken a deeper meaning for us. - We have 8 of our student leaders who are planning to go to Nicaragua again this year for a mission trip. I'm so excited for them and very excited to go back and servce. - This morning while I was getting some firewood, I looked up in a tree in our backyard and saw a HUGE falcon sitting on a branch. It had caught something and was eating it in the tree. I brought Ezra outside and let him look at it. For the rest of the morning he proceeded to take his nerf gun outside and shoot at the falcon. That's my boy.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Axis Wrap Up 3/23/11 - FaceLess

We continued our FaceLess series at axis on Wednesday night by talking about courage. We opened up our teaching time with the video below. I believe this incident happened last year and there was a hush in the room after the video showed. Our kids were upset that this happened and that no one did anything about it. We talked through how a lack of courage will often keep us from doing something. We'll leave it up to someone else to do something about it because we lack the courage to step forward.

I decided to do something a little different for the night and I showed a 15 minute DVD clip 0f Francis Chan talking on courage. It also had 3 teenagers being interviewed about how they are currently showing courage in the life. It was a very challenging video and I was able to wrap it up by giving our kids some ways that the opportunity to display courage may show up in their lives.

We also took our offering for Charity Water and I was really blown away by the generosity of our kids and adults. We were able to raise $980.00 for this organization! Woo Hoo! Our kids have been challenged in several areas during this series and they have stepped it up big time. I'm very proud of them.

Next Week: FaceLess: Helping those with disabilities.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Charity Water

At our youth ministry tomorrow night we are taking a special offering as part of our FaceLess series for Charity Water. Charity Water is an organization that helps provide clean water for the 1 in 8 people in our world who do not have it. There are people who have to walk over 3 miles simply to get water and the water they get is not sanitary. The amount of water they carry is equivalent to the maximum luggage weight for air travel ... 44 pounds. In Africa alone people (mostly women and children) will spend over 40 billion hours simply walking for water.

We've been trying to provide several opportunities for our kids not just to hear about how to make a difference but to actually make a difference. We're serving at homeless shelters, packing meals for 3rd world countries, donating shoes, and donating to Charity Water. Here is a video that explains the story behind how this organization got started. If you'd like to donate to Charity Water you can do so by going to their website.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Miscellaneous

- My wife texted me this picture this morning of our daughter Mercy. When Carol asked her what she was doing she said, "Just restin'." I guess if you're tired, a drawer is as good a place as any to take a break.

- We had really great services at Grace Community yesterday. I think it could be the first time in all Christianity that the topic of sex was followed by baptisms. Pastor Jim did a great job addressing sex in marriage as part of our 4Keeps series. After ther sermon, we were able to celebrate with nearly 40 people who were baptized. It was a great Sunday.

- My NCAA brackett is pretty much toast. I had Pitt in the finals and Notre Dame making it to the Sweet 16 ... losing to Pitt, though. Only Kansas is still alive for me in the Southwest and only BYU and Florida are alive in the Southeast. The West and the East portion of my bracket is still looking pretty good.

- This Wednesday we are having a special offering for Charity Water as part of our FaceLess series in our youth ministry. I've been so encouraged at how our kids are responding to this series. And, I'm excited that we're not just talking about stuff. We've strategically planned several different opportunities to go out in to our community and surrounding areas and make a difference. Kids are stepping up and can't wait to see how they step up this Wednesday with the offering.

- I had a really special experience after church yesterday. As I was helping clean some things up after our services, I had a teenager come up to me and hand me $150.00. She said she found it lying on the floor in the foyer and didn't know what to do with it. Man, when I was a teenager, I could have thought of a few things to do with it, but giving it to a pastor unfortunately would not have been one of them. I was so proud of her for showing integrity. When I complimented her on this she looked at me as if to say "What else was I going to do with it. Not keeping it for myself was just the normal thing to do." So proud of her. By the way ... we were actually able to find the rightful owner of the $150.00.

- I signed up for my first half marathon of the year last week. I'll be running it with 15 other teenagers in an effort to raise money for Asia's Hope. No doubt they'll all beat me in the race, but can't wait to run with them.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dig a Little Deeper

This was a picture my niece Hayley gave her "papa" for his 70th birthday. To the outside observer it's a cute picture. Something any child may give to mom, dad, or "pa pa" so they can hang it up on the refrigerator. But, when you dig a little deeper in to the history of this drawing, you'll find out that it is so much more than merely a "cute" picture.
Hayley was born pre-maturely with a hole in her heart. She had to have open heart surgery before she was a year old to repair this hole. This has caused some physical problems for her as she has gotten older: low muscle tone and sensory integration disorder. Because of this she has been in physical and occupational therapy for 2 years.
The "cute" picture above is the culmination of $75,000 spent on over a thousand hours of therapy for Hayley. Just two years ago this picture would never have happened. It would have been nothing more than a few scribbles on a piece of paper. But, hard work, persistence and dedication has paid off with words, a face, and a smile. Sure, for someone on the outside, it's a cute picture, and that's nice and all. But for those on the inside this picture represents so much more.
Those of us in youth ministry have a unique opportunity to be on "the inside."  Each of our teenagers has a story.  When we're willing to dig just a little deeper in to a life, we'll often find stories ... stories of successes and failures, joys and pains, fear and courage ... there is always more to their life than what we see on the outside.
That teenager who is one of the leaders in your ministry may have had countless hours of somebody pouring in to their life, guiding them and helping them become a leader while that "one" ... and we all have that "one" ... who causes problems or who seemingly just doesn't care about anything may represent a life of hurt and pain and they are acting out because no one has spent time trying to invest in them.  Understanding this means we won't be so quick to criticize but more willing to listen. We won't be as quick to expect a non-believing student to act as a passionate Christ-follower. 

As we learn to do youth ministry together, let me encourage you to be willing to dig a little deeper in to the lives of others and to realize that each life has a deeper story.  Part of our role is to help students see how their story is woven in to the God's greater story.  But, unless we're willing to dig a little deeper, we'll never have the opportunity to do that. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

I'm Back

Well, this could be the longest I've gone between blog posts. It's good to be back from some time away with my family. I've been back in the swing of things since Tuesday, but have been playing catch up since that time. I now think I officially need a vacation from catching up with things after vacation. Funny how that works.

Last week we spent some time with my in-laws in Gettysburg, PA, to celebrate my father-in-law's 70th birthday. We also had the opportunity to stop by my parent's house on the way to Gettysburg for a quick visit.

Ezra and Mercy LOVED spending time with their cousins and had so much fun playing with them. Here is Ezra with cousin Hope. They get a long great and it really makes me wish they could live closer. I love this picture. It was taken at the Hershey factory in Hershey, PA. It was the first time I had done the tour there and it was really interesting. The funniest line of the tour happened when we heard that, in the chocolate making process "We add milk for added nutritional value." Yep, nothing says nutrution like Hershey's chocolate.

We spent an extended weekend at a Bed and Breakfast called the Canna Inn. Since there were 25 of us all together we just rented the entire place for the 4 days we were there. It was beautiful! It used to be a barn that was converted to a monastery that was then converted to a Bed and Breakfast. It was perfect for our large family ... lots of space, lots of bathrooms, lots of bedrooms. Very nice.

The first day we put Mercy down for a nap in our room. When I went to wake her up, this is how I found her. She had found my deoderant and made full use of it! Thankfully, I was able to use her as a roll-on for the next few days.

The reason we were together in Gettysburg was to celebrate my father-in-laws 70th birthday. When we asked him what he would like for his birthday he said "Just for us all to be together." So, we worked hard to make that happen. It was a very special experience. My wife worked really hard at trying to make sure we honored him in a very special way. So, we made a DVD of pictures of him from when he was a baby until the present. Over 150 pictures set to music that really reflected his life well. We also made an album for him and had everyone write some special memories that they had of Bruce. We put all of the memories in a book for him. As Carol talked to me about all of the memories the theme that was throughout them all was the time he spent with everyone. He invested so much time in to each of his kids. It was really cool to see that.

We also spent some time at the Gettysburg battlefield. This was a very moving experience for me. I love history and I really felt like history spoke to me while at Gettysburg. I'm by no means an expert on the battle, but I know a little bit about it and seeing the place first hand and seeing strategies of the battle and understanding why certain things worked and other didn't ... it was a cool experience. And, I was just so moved by the courage that was shown on the battlefield and the people who gave their all to fight for freedom. I can't wait to go back and spend more time there some day.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

We are starting a new series on marriage today at Grace Community called 4 Keeps. You can watch messages online right here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Axis Wrap Up 3/2/11 - Faceless

We started our new series at axis Wednesday night and I couldn't be more excited. We are calling our series FaceLess, as you could probably tell by the photo above. We're calling it that for two reasons: 1) We often can ignore the needs around us because there's not a face to any of the suffering. It doesn't touch us personally. I hope to change that with this series. 2) If we get involved, we can help people face less hurt and suffering.

Wednesday I spoke a little differently to middle school and high school. My plan was to talk about the story of Nehemiah and how his passion to finish the wall in Jerusalem came out of knowing that his people were hurting and suffering and when he found this out God just broke his heart. He was so broken that he just had to do something about it. (Nehemiah 1 and 2). God used his passion and it became contagious and other decided to join the fight. (Nehemiah 2:17 - 18). This story is such a good example of how God can change a person's heart and give them a purpose and that passion becomes contagious. I challenged our middle school kids to open their eyes and see needs around them. And, my prayer for them is that God will instill in them a purpose, a cause, something they just have to get involved in because it's what we are called to do as followers of Jesus Christ. The story seemed to connect well with our students.

I had planned to do the same thing for high school, but felt led during our worship time to switch things up a bit. I wasn't exactly sure where this was going to go, but really tried to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit with this and just say what came to mind instead of following my original notes. I shared James 2:14 - 17 about how if we claim to follow Jesus but don't show that by helping those in need then our faith is dead ... its useless. We ran out of Monster energy drinks in our cafe and I shared how some of our kids were more angry over not getting a Monster than they were about the injustices going on around us every single day. I told them that I have been praying that God would bother them ... that they would get so angry about something we talk about in this series, that they just say "I have got to do something about this." I honestly can't remember all I said but our kids were incredibly engaged and really seemed to walk away challenged.

During this series we have several ways that we are trying to get our kids to put their faith in to action. Here are a few of the things we'll be doing

Millions of kids around the world simply do not have shoes. When I was in Nicaragua last year, we spent time in a garbage dump that over 1000 called their home. You can read more about it here. While there I saw kids walking in the garbage with no shoes ... walking around broken glass, needles, excrement ... with no shoes. All the while I have shoes in my closet that are just lying there. On April 13th we'll be partnering with an organization called Soles4Souls and doing a shoe drive at axis to try to help out with this. We'll also challenge our kids to come to axis in their bare feet that night. More info on that to come.

On March 23rd we'll be having a special offering at axis for Charity Water, an organization that helps provide clean drinking water for millions around the world. 1 in 8 people drink water every day that makes them sick. My hope is to raise over $500 from our youth ministry to give to Charity Water.

Faith Mission is a local homeless shelter and we'll be going there two different days to serve lunch to the homeless.

Feed My Starving Children is an organization that provides food for starving people in third world countries. We took a middle school group to a packing plant last year and over spring break we'll be taking a group of senior highers there to pack meals for starving kids. We also hope to visit a homeless shelter in the Chicago area while we are there.

We also have 14 of our kids who are running in the Sunburst half marathon in order to raise money for Asia's Hope, orphanages that our church supports and, honestly, those kids are a part of our church family. 14 kids and a few of our adult volunteers (including myself) will be running this and trying to raise money with all of the proceeds going to Asia's Hope.

Lots of cool stuff happening this month in our youth ministry and I'm excited to see our kids understand what it means to serve and be involved.

Next Week: We're looking at sex slavery

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What I Learned From Our Men's Retreat

Here are a few random thoughts from our Wild at Heart men's weekend.

- It's fun being a guy
- Men are more complex than given credit for
- A man takes responsibility. Some guys wouldn't last a minute in the "octagon." Some guys wouldn't last a minute in a squirt gun fight. But they are real men because they love their families and take responsibility. Being a man is more than burping, wrestling, and being able to grow a beard.
- Speaking of wrestling ... watching MMA comes in handy when another guy tries to take you down.
- If men put the same effort in to loving Jesus, leading their families and leading in the church as they put in to competition, this world would be a totally different place.
- There's power in confession
- I'm not in awful shape ... but I'm not in great shape. Running around got me a little more winded than I was anticipating.
- Sometimes it's just nice to tackle someone just because you can
- Men have the very same emotions as women. We just express them differently.
- Shared activity opens men up and helps them connect
- Men are like a thermos and women are like a crystal chalice. Each need to be treated differently.
- You don't want to be on the bottom of a pile of 5 big middle aged men
- Even when carrying a $500 camera around your neck, a man will still try to take you down in the snow

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