Monday, October 31, 2011

Urban Hope Mission Trip

I spent the past 4 days on a mission trip to inner-city Philadelphia at a place called Urban Hope.  I had the opportunity to take 7 of our high school students and 3 of our former student leaders (now in college) on this trip and it was an amazing experience!  There are so many reasons why I love teenagers and I was reminded of several of them while on this trip.  Here are a few:

- Not a single complaint out of our group.  Even when things didn't turn out the way we were expecting a few different times ... even when the weather turned absolutely nasty ... even when kids were shivering from the cold ... even after 24 hours in the van ... not a single complaint!

- They worked incredibly hard at whatever they were asked to do.

- They initiated conversations with several homeless people and tried to turn those conversations in to "spiritual" conversations. 

- They prayed for and with people.

- They literally danced ... yes ... danced for a homeless person.

- They were so much fun and brought so much energy with them.  Lots of laughs!

Here are a few of the pics from our trip.

This is our group with Ed Lewis ... our point person on this trip.  Ed is in his 60's but is as young a person as you will find.  He has worked for CE National for, well, as long as I can remember, and has just recently transitioned his role at CE to spend half of the year in Winona Lake, IN (the headquarters of CE National) and the other half of the year in inner-city Philadelphia.  The reason he did this is because he wanted to try to have more of an impact on people.  I've always had so much respect for Ed, but my respect has definitely grown over the years and our kids just fell in love with him.  He was such an encouragement to work with.

On Friday night we spent some time making meals for homeless people.  Here is part of our group getting some sandwiches and other good stuff ready to be passed out.

After making the meals we headed in to "Center City" to initiate conversations with some homeless people and pass out some meals and hot chocolate.  It was a cold night and the hot chocolate definitely hit the spot for many.  The best thing was just seeing our kids talk and talk and talk with homeless people.  They prayed with them and just really showed love to them.  It was such an encouragement for me to see.

The weather was a definite obstacle on our trip.  Who would have thought that there would be a pretty big snow storm in October?  But, there was.  It rained, then sleeted, then snowed the entire day on Saturday really disrupting some of the outdoor stuff we had planned.  But, our kids made the best of it and still tried to initiate conversations with people in the middle of the storm by going door to door.  They also shoveled the sidewalks around Urban Hope.  The above picture is at a rest stop on the PA Turnpike.  We decided to leave earlier than planned on Saturday night because of the snow.  I'm glad we did.  The trip to this rest stop (which took about an hour and a half) was pretty slick the entire way.  The snow plows hadn't hit the toll road yet, so things were just really slippery.  While at the rest stop we found out that an accident about 10 miles ahead had shut down the toll road.  So, we just waited at a rest stop (that had no power by the way) for over an hour.  By that time, the snow plows had made it through and that helped tremendously as we made our way to spend the night at my hometown in South West Pennsylvania.

This was my 6th trip to Urban Hope and I love the ministry there and the opportunities for ministry it provides for our students.

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Vows to My Daughter

My wife and I celebrated the 1st birthday of our beautiful daughter Torah over the weekend.  With each of our three kids, we combined a 1st birthday celebration with a dedication.  Each one has been incredibly special to us.  The dedication is more to keep my wife and I accountable as we raise our children.  We invite several of our friends to the dedication and make it clear to them that they have the right to hold us accountable.  We cannot, nor do we even want to try, to raise our children without the support and accountability of our close friends and family.  So, these things are a very big deal to us.

My wife and I each write vows to our kids for the dedication.  Pastor Jon, our children's pastor, challenges us on what it means to be Godly parents and his challenges are always ... well ... very challenging!  My wife and I then say our vows to our children.  Below are the vows I wrote to my Torah and also some pics from the evening.

"Torah, I have no greater responsibility than being a husband and a dad.  I look at that responsibility as a gift from God.  It is so much fun being your dad.  I had certain thoughts of what it would be like to be your dad a year ago at the time but you have far exceeded any of my dreams and expectations.  You have the warmest and sweetest smile ever and when I hold you, I feel at peace ... like all is right with the world.  I just love being your dad.

But, I also take the responsibility of that gift very seriously.  I am the guardian of our home and I gladly welcome the responsibility that comes with that to love you, protect you, nurture you and teach you about a God who loves you even more than I do.  Because of that I will:

1) Grow in my relationship with God.  For me to have any chance to be a Godly dad to you, I need to first nurture and feed my soul with the truth of God's word.  I promise to pursue God and do what it takes to know and serve Him deeply so I can give to you out of a heart that is being filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  

2) Love your mom and cherish every day with her.  Carol, you are my first priority in our family and our kids will never have any doubt about that.  I will honor you, cherish you, say 'no' to things to be with you, and will always be faithful to you.  Our marriage will provide a sense of security for our kids and I promise to love you how you most feel loved and to never, ever bail out of our relationship.

3) Do my best to be a picture of God to you without taking His place in your life.  As much as I do not want to, there will be times I fail you.  There will be times I let you down.  But, through my actions and my words, I will teach you about a God who never fails and will always and in every situation be all that you need.  

4) Date you often and always be a gentleman to you.  No man loved you before I did and I will teach you the right way to be treated by any man fortunate enough to catch your eye and unfortunate enough to have to deal with me as your father.

5) Do my best to instill a sense of confidence and humility, security and yet dependence upon God, and I will teach you that true beauty flows from a confidence of knowing you are a daughter of the King of the Universe.

6). Finally, we named you Torah for 2 reasons.  The word 'Torah" in Japanese means 'attack' but we decided to go with the Hebrew meaning instead.  :) The 'Torah' is the Hebrew word for the first five books of the Old Testament.  It's here where we read about God revealing Himself to mankind for the first time.  Secondly, the word means 'doctrine' or 'teaching.'  So, my prayer is that your life will reveal God to others and teach them how to live for Him.

I don't know what awaits us as we journey through life together, but I am so thankful to be your dad and with God's help, will live up to the calling I have received."

                 Pastor Jon challenging my wife and I.

One of my favorite pictures ... everyone praying over Torah, Carol, and I.

                        She LOVED her cake!

She tore in to her cake and threw most of it on the floor ... but had so much fun in the process.

Torah sleeps with a stuffed elephant so a friend from our church made an elephant cake and an adorable "smash" cake for her to enjoy.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Axis Wrap Up - Modesty

Continued our Guys and Girls series at axis Wednesday with a talk on modesty.  I really tried to talk specifically to our girls about how a guy thinks (which can be scary) and also challenge our guys to guard our thoughts and honor the women around us.  It was a really good night that seemed to keep the interest of both the girls and the guys.  I tried to speak tastefully yet candidly about the topic.

I tried to explain the difference between how a guy and girl think when they see something.  What a girl may think of as "cute," a guy will often think of as "hot" and there-in lies one of the main differences between guys and girls.  Guys are very visual and I tried to explain that any outfit that a girl may wear that calls attention to the most private areas of the female body because it's too tight, too short, or too revealing, will automatically be an "eye magnet" for the guys and will often cause a guy to fantasize about her sexually.  Yes, guys are just naturally visual, but this is not an excuse to lust or to fantasize.  I tried to explain to our girls that there are still many guys out there trying to battle this every day and keep their thoughts pure, but also let them know there are many guys who do not.

I focused on two main things during the night:  1) The reason why many dress immodestly.  I really believe its an issue of self respect.  I tried to explain to girls that how they dress on the outside is often a sign of how they may feel  on the inside.  Skin tight, revealing clothes are often a sign that a girl feels very insecure and only feels like she has her body to offer to others.  I desperately tried to explain that dignity and self respect and confidence all come when a girl begins to understand what it means to be a daughter of God.  True beauty flows from a confidence that you are a daughter of the King of the Universe.  2) How to dress to be pure and not to lure.  I didn't want to go all "legalistic" on our girls and say they can't wear this or that or whatever it may be.  I offered two Bible verses for them:  1 Corinthians 6:19 - 20 and Philippians 2:4 which talk of honoring God with our bodies and looking out for the interests of others.  We can dress in such a way to honor God and also serve.  I offered some guidelines for dressing modestly which you can find right here.

It wasn't the easiest talk I've ever done but I'm glad to have had the opportunity to do it.  I care so much for the girls in our youth ministry and truly desire the best for them.  I know that many girls simply do not understand the mind of a guy and the importance of modesty.  It was a great night with some great discussion in our Chat Groups too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Daughters Playlist

Was asked to come up with a play list for our Daughters series at Grace which started this past Sunday.  In case you're interested ... here it is:

1.       It Had to Be You (Harry Connick Jr.)
2.       Just the Way You Are (Bruno Mars)
3.       The One You Need (Shane and Shane)
4.       The Way You Look Tonight (Frank Sinatra)
5.       Daughters (John Mayer)
6.       She’s Got a Way (Billy Joel)
7.       Just Fishin’ (Trace Adkins)
8.       Beautiful (Christina Aguilera)
9.       Cinderella (Steven Curtis Chapman)
10.   This One’s for the Girls (Martina McBride)
11.   Beautiful for Me (Nichole Nordeman)
12.   Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney)
13.   All American Girl (Carrie Underwood)
14.   You Make Me Feel So Young (Frank Sinatra)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Daughters Series at Grace Community

I'm excited for our new series at Grace tomorrow called Daughters.  We'll be speaking specifically to women, but men are going to get a ton from this too.  Below is our graphic for the series.

Also, to promote our series we went out in to the community on Friday morning and evening and passed out over 2000 free bracelets to ladies with the word "captivating" on them.  Cool bracelets that also support a cool cause.  The bracelets were made by MudLove and a portion of each purchase goes to supply clean drinking water to people in Africa.

Our prayer throughout the series will be that women will be filled with a sense of beauty and confidence that comes from our God who sees them as captivating!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Axis Wrap Up - Guys and Girls

We started a new series at axis Wednesday called Guys and Girls.  Our church is beginning a new series this Sunday called Daughters and so I decided to team up with our church as a whole (I often try to do that because I believe our youth ministry is part of the whole church and when we can team up we should) but morphed it a little bit and will be addressed girls one week, guys the next, and vice versa for the rest of the month.  Each time I speak to a specific gender, I plan to show a video for the opposite gender that is just for them.  This week's video was for the guys.  It's about 5 minutes long and my wife described it as "never getting those 5 minutes of her life back" ... but our guys just really seemed to love it.  Here's the YouTube link to it.  

This week I spoke specifically to girls and used the main thought of "Yes, be concerned with your outward beauty, but focus the best of your time and attention to your inward beauty."  My nearly 3 year old daughter, Mercy, LOVES to feel beautiful.  Put a dress on her and she twirls and spins and looks in the mirror and will just wait for me to comment on how she looks.  I love telling her how beautiful she is.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with desiring to look and feel beautiful.  But, what I also try to do is tell my daughter when she does beautiful things.  So, if she shares a toy, I will often say "Mercy, sharing is a beautiful thing."  If she obeys mommy and daddy I will often say "Obeying mommy and daddy is a beautiful thing."  So, I'm trying, at an early age, to help her see that beauty is not just some we do on the outside ... it's something that is developed on the inside as well.  We looked at Proverbs 31 and discussed some of the character attributes of the woman talked about in that chapter.  What's interesting is, never once, is physical beauty mentioned.  Her beauty comes from her character.  She spends more time becoming the right person and, in so doing, becomes a beautiful person.

Our girls and guys are under so much pressure these days and I'm really praying this series speaks truth in to both our guys and our girls.  The way to rise above the pressure is to allow God's truth to scream louder than the lies that have snuck in to our hearts.

I passed out the lyrics to a Nichole Nordeman song to each of our girls as they left.  The song is called Beautiful for Me and the lyrics are:

Every girl young and old has to face her own reflection
Twirl around, stare it down
What’s the mirror gonna say
With some luck, you’ll measure up
But you might not hold a candle to the rest
“Is that your best?” says the mirror to the mess
But there’s a whisper in the noise
Can you hear a little voice
and He says

Has anybody told you you’re beautiful?
You might agree if you could see what I see
‘Cuz everything about you is incredible
You should have seen Me smile the day that I made you beautiful for Me

If it’s true beauty lies in the eye of the beholder
Want my life and what’s inside to give Him something to behold
I want a heart that’s captivating
I wanna hear my Father say

Has anybody told you you’re beautiful?
You might agree if you could see what I see
‘Cuz everything about you is incredible
You should have seen Me smile the day that I made you beautiful for Me
Close your eyes
Look inside
Let Me see the you that you’ve been trying to hide
Long ago, I made you so very beautiful
So I ought to know you’re beautiful

Has anybody told you you’re beautiful?
You might agree if you could see what I see
‘Cuz everything about you is incredible
You should have seen Me smile the day that I made you beautiful
You’re so beautiful
Beautiful for me
So beautiful for me
Has anybody told you?

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