Friday, July 13, 2012

Some Personal Momentum Youth Conference History

Next week I take a group of over 50 teenagers to the Momentum Youth Conference.  This will be my 23rd year going to this specific youth conference.  That makes me feel really old ... although I'm still in my prime. :)  Anyway, I'm a big fan of history.  Love reading about it.  Love thinking about it.  And, I love experiencing it. Thinking about my 23rd year of Momentum got me thinking about my first years as a student.  Below are a few pictures.

This is me just out of 8th grade and at my very first Momentum (then called Brethren National Youth Conference).  I'm the stud on the left.  I flew to Estes Park, CO, with one other person from my church ... Ron Sheranko.  That's not him in the picture.  Ron was one of my very best friends growing up.  He's currently a pastor and he taught me so much about ministry and serving others.  I remember this first year so vividly.  I was at the conference because I qualified to be on a national Bible quiz team.  I think I answered 1 question that year.  :)  But, what I specifically remember is encountering God in a way I never had before.  There was genuine worship.  There was heart felt sharing and openness.  We were in CO, so I was able to see the mountains, walk in them, and experience God's creation first hand.  This year, 1985, was pivotal in shaping my relationship with God.  Ron and I came back from the conference with a greater heart for ministry and the two of us would go out every Tuesday night walking door to door asking people if we could pray for them and talking to them about Jesus.  We were two teenagers, too naive to know this wasn't "normal" and passionate about fueling the fire God had placed in our hearts.

This picture is me in my second year at Momentum in 1986.  We were in Bemidji, MN.  This is the group I traveled with.  So many fun memories with those people.  I'm the kid on the left giving the "rabbit ears" ... even in 1986, it was a classic.  What stands out to me from this year is I had a counselor named Scott.  I had never met him before and have never seen him since.  I received one letter from him after that conference.  But, he said something to me at that conference that no one had ever said to me before.  He said that he noticed some "special" in me ... a heart for God and a heart to serve.  He said he felt like God had big things in store for me and that I was given some special gifts.  He reminded me that Jesus said to whom much is given, much will be required and encouraged me to let God lead my life and use the gifts He's given to me.  Even though that was over 20 years ago I still remember that conversation and where it took place.  No one had ever said anything like that to me before and it was the first time that thought was placed in my mind that God could possibly be leading me to ministry.  

This picture is in 1989, just after my senior year of high school.  It's actually at the same university we'll be at this year for Momentum, Eastern Kentucky University.  So many thoughts flood my mind as I look at this picture.  Why am I in the fountain?  Why am I wearing green and red and it's not Christmas?  (No wonder I could never get a date in high school.  haha).  What could I be saying that's so interesting that 4 other guys seem incredibly focused on me and I'm saying it to a crowd of other people?   I had just finished up a summer on a missions team called Operation Barnabas and my heart was full of a desire to serve.  

That was over 20 years ago ... so much has happened in my life since then.  There have been some great victories and some hard defeats.  But, through it all, going to Momentum has consistently challenged me to grow and keep God at the center.  I look forward to spending time with our teenagers this year and greatly look forward to hearing from God again.  I feel like this is going to be a powerful week and would appreciate your prayers for me and the teenagers that will be going with our group.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Not Sure Where the Love Comes From But It's Always There

Being a parent is fresh on my mind these days with the birth of Judah, so I have lots of parenting stuff running through my mind.  With the birth of our first son, Ezra, I knew that my wife and I would just be head over heels in love with him.  He was our first and our hearts were ready to pour out love to our first child.  But, with the births of each of our other children, there was always a slight fear in my heart ... how could I love them as much as my first?  But, then I would see them for the first time and realize that my father's heart would always have enough love for my children.  I mean, just when I thought I couldn't love anyone as much as Ezra, along came our second, Mercy, and I'm completely in love again.  The same thing happened with Torah and now Judah.  There will always be enough love for my kids.  It won't run out.

That just got me thinking about God's love for us.  The Bible says God's mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).  2 Corinthians 12:9 says "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  God's grace and mercy are ALWAYS there, available to us every day "prior to our need, and in direct proportion to every moment's demand."  He will always give us what we need.  "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"  Matthew 6:26

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hero Adventure

We held a new outreach event at Grace Community this past Thursday called Hero Adventure.  It was a night specifically designed for moms and their sons (ages 2 years old to approximately 5th grade).  Nothing like this had ever been done in our area and so we thought that it would be a fresh idea and would provide moms with the opportunity to engage their sons on their son's "turf."  So, we brought in all sorts of stuff little boys would LOVE ... firetrucks, ambulances, a helicopter, tractors, motorcycles, lots of inflatable games, a police K-9 unit, nerf gun shooting stations, a photo booth, fun crafts for boys and we also had people dressed up in Super Hero costumes roaming around and an opportunity to have a light saber fight with Darth Vader.  It really was a fun night for moms and the sons.

We designed the night around a "hero" theme ... real and fictional.  So, we had some heroes from our community at the event:  firemen, policemen, etc.  (They were AWESOME, by the way and really loved the opportunity to be there.)  Our inflatables games were an Rescue Squad obstacle course and a 40 foot tall rocket slide.  And, as mentioned earlier, we had people dressed up in super hero costumes roaming around and part of our craft was simply coloring super hero pictures.  

It was a great event designed for our community and done in an effort to expose people to Grace Community Church and see people come to know Jesus.  Here are some pictures below.

Welcome to the World, Judah!

I fell in love again at 3:15am Saturday morning with a 7 pound 5 ounce baby boy we named Judah.  This is our fourth child and each time I am more and more amazed at my wife ... her strength during child birth is astonishing and after going through nearly 24 hours of labor, the look on her face when she holds our baby for the first time is unmatched.  A few hours after she gave birth to Judah I shared with her that, even though she was in pain, even though she was exhausted, there was a glow about her during the entire process.  My wife is absolutely beautiful, but there is a different type of beauty that exudes from her during labor.  It's difficult to explain, but I've noticed it with all 4 of our children.  Her focus, her strength, her excitement, her determination all create a special glow that adds to her beauty.  I am truly amazed by her.

My wife and I take naming our children very seriously.  We pray over the names we choose, asking God to lead us to a name with a meaning that He would like for us to pray over our children for the rest of our lives. You can read about why we chose the names of our first 3 children right here.  Each name has a pretty cool story behind it.  Here is why we chose the name "Judah."  I have to set it up a bit, so here we go ... 

The Bible talks about one of the "patriarchs" of the nation of Israel named Jacob.  Jacob was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham.  God eventually changed his name to Israel, which you can read about in Genesis 35.  Anyway, Jacob fell in love with a girl named Rachel (Genesis 29) and was willing to work 7 years for the right to marry Rachel.  After working those 7 years, he thought he was marrying Rachel, but Rachel's father tricked Jacob in to marrying Rachel's sister, Leah.  The Bible describes Leah and Rachel this way:  "There was no sparkle in Leah's eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and lovely face." (Genesis 29:17).  In other words, Rachel was the popular one and Leah was the girl no one wanted, the one that was hardly ever noticed.  

Jacob was eventually given the right to marry Rachel and the Bible says "he loved her much more than Leah."  (Genesis 29:30).  But, God noticed Leah when no one else would and loved her even though her husband didn't.  But,  it took Leah quite a while to realize this.  When Jacob and Leah started having children together, this is how the Bible describes what happened:  "When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He enabled her to have children, but Rachel could not conceive.  So, Leah become pregnant and gave birth to a son.  She named him Reuben, for she said, 'The LORD has noticed my misery, and now my husband will love me.'  She soon become pregnant again and gave birth to another son.  She name him Simeon, for she said, 'The LORD heard that I was unloved and has given me another son.'  Then she became pregnant a third time and gave birth to another son.  She named him Levi, for she said, 'Surely this time my husband will feel affection for me, since I have given him three sons!'  Once again Leah became pregnant and gave birth to another son.  She named him Judah, for she said, 'Now I will praise the LORD!'  And then she stopped having children." (Genesis 29:31 - 35)

Leah's heart longed to be loved and, for a long time she seemed to be seeking identity in her husband, almost as if to say "If I keep having sons, he'll eventually love me.  When he loves me, I'll be happy."  But, what she found was that the more she tried to find her identity in a person or in her abilities or what she could provide, the emptier she felt.  I don't know what happened in her life between son number 3 and son number 4, but I bet she got to a point in her life that many of us do in our lives ... the point when we realize what we think would "work" for us is not working ... the thing we thought would make us happy, the thing we thought would bring us fulfillment and purpose ... well ... is not.  It's then she cried out to God.  For some reason she finally came to grasp the love that God had for her and stopped trying so hard to find identity and purpose in someone else.  She began to find it in God.  And, when she did, she was able to say "This time I will praise the LORD!"  There was nothing about hoping for her husband's love ... nothing about grief or misery ... nothing about feeling unloved.  With her fourth child it was simply "This time I will praise the LORD!" So, she named him Judah.  

So, for our fourth child, we chose the name Judah because our prayer for him will be that he points people to finding their identity and their purpose not in what they do, not in their abilities, not in another person, but in a relationship with a God who loves them unconditionally.  We will pray that his life is a life lived in that way and that he will show the lovely and unlovely alike, that purpose and meaning is not found in life itself, but rather in the Creator of life Himself.  

Anyway, it's been just over 2 days and I'm already madly in love with the little guy ... and so is everyone else in the family.  Took some pics of the kids meeting him for the first time.  Check 'em out below.

We've felt incredibly loved by everyone and have had many visitors come to meet Judah too.  I love how each person that comes to visit prays for him.  He's being covered in prayer already!  This is our small group meeting him for the first time.  By the way, our small group takes seriously the "be fruitful and multiply" command in the Bible.  Two babies under 3 months old and one on the way in September.  We're a very fertile group!

This is my wife and I getting ready to head home with Judah.  Room 311 is where he was born.  

Thanks for the support and the continued prayers for Judah and the rest of our family!

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