Friday, July 27, 2012

Washington DC #3

Tuesday, July 24th

Well today Doug and I switched teams so that we could each get some time with the other teens.  So today I was with Zach, Henry, Brian, Kerri, Shayna, Carley, Katie and Aerin.  Our first stop was at a ministry that I have already been to with the other group, S.O.M.E. (So Others May Eat.).  I had a much different experience this time though.  The guy that got on Ryan's case the day before seemed to focus all his attention on me.  I got hauled back to the kitchen and had to do dishes.  Not the plates and cups stuff, but the big serving containers and all the cooking stuff.  Once I would get caught up I would go out into the serving area to cool off and check in with the kids.  But the kitchen boss man did not like that.  He seemed to find me immediately and order me back to the kitchen.  The teens, on the other hand, rocked as they helped to serve breakfast to hundreds of people.  Apparently there was a teen from another volunteer group that was serving right along with our teens and she clearly despised our teens.  It was humorous to hear our group talk about it afterwards.  With the personalities that we have it was good that they did not get confrontational!

For lunch we went to the National Arboretum.  This was a beautiful outdoor area.  There was also a pond full of what seemed like thousands of fish.  Just by throwing in a tiny bit of fish food, the water would disappear under a flood of fish all flopping over themselves trying to get to the food.  

Then in the afternoon we had our "Urban Plunge".  We broke up the teens into 4 groups of 5 each.  Then each team was given an assignment to go into the city and go to a location in which they would try to find out what it is like to be homeless.  They needed to find out what a homeless person would do for clothes, food, health care, shelter and such.  We also were given 2 dollars each ($10 total for the group) and with that money we had to find diner for ourselves and also share it with someone.  If we could get them to talk with us that was a bonus.  So my team headed off to Dupont Circle.  We began by asking the first person standing outside of the church how to get to the bus we were supposed to take.  As is typical with me, that is when the adventure began.  He felt that with were we needed to go that was the wrong bus so he took us on a very brisk walk for over a mile to a much better bus stop.  He talked our ears off about DC.  Once we got to the spot he recommended, as he walked off, a lady overhearing our conversation redirected us to a bus on the other side of the street that she thought would be much faster.  So we did that.  Once we were on the but though, something did not feel right.  Another really nice lady on the bus explained to us we were going the wrong direction so we should take the bus to the end of the route since we were almost there anyhow, and take the train into Dupont Circle.  So that is what we did.  We navigated the subway system to get to where we needed to go.  

Once we were at our park we scoped it out and began talking to people.  There was an area that had a bunch of people playing checkers and chess.  This provided the opportunity that helped the teens to enter into conversations with others.  One older guy in particular, took a liking to our teens and spent some time with them teaching them different levels of checkers.  Through those conversations we learned about homelessness and how the city takes care of those who are down and out.  This gentleman was not homeless.  He was retired.  He used to work for the government back in the Kennedy presidency.  After that he worked for the US Postal Office until he retired.  He also is an elder in a Pentecostal church.  He was a really nice guy who enjoyed spending time down at the park as many of the others seemed to know him really well.  

For dinner, we finally decided to go to Panera's.  We bought a half dozen bagels and a bottled water.  We were able to give away the water and one of the bagels but the guy we gave it to did not seem interested in conversation.  

We met up with all of the other groups in a grassy area just to the west of the US Capitol.  There we heard everyone's stories of what they experienced and learned as a result of their urban plunge.  

Wednesday, July 25

Today Doug and I staid with the groups that we had on Tuesday.  My group's theme for the day clearly was in caring for the elderly.  We started out our morning by going to Model Cities Senior Wellness Center.  This was not a residential place.  Instead it was kind of like a YMCA for the area Seniors.  It was very nice.  All our teens jumped right in and mingled with all of the people there.  We participated in an aerobics class, some played pool with others, some went to the social hall and had some great conversations with the Seniors hanging out in there.  At one point I noticed that there were some from my team that I have not seen in a while.  As I wandered the building to see where they landed I found them in the choir room.  They were singing songs with some of the people in there.  I sat in and just listened.  Once they were done, I kindly recommended that they get Zachary in there to sing a solo.  Of course, the people were thrilled at the suggestion and so was Austin!  Austin went to go get him.  At first Zach acted like a deer in the headlights, but then with Austin helping him, they ended up singing a duet and the people loved it!  We had a great time here. 

For lunch we stopped at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  This was one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen.  It had so much art all throughout the building from architecture to paintings to sculptures to stained glass to murals, etc. etc. etc.  The very building commanded a respect and sense of awe as you walked through it and looked at its beauty.  

Our afternoon ministry site was at St. Thomas More Medical Center.  In the building that we were in many of the residents were undergoing dialysis. There were 5 floors of people.  It was our job to go from floor to floor and seek out anyone who would like a visitor.  If they said yes, then we would spend some time talking and praying with them.  I could tell that this was uncomfortable for our teens.  But with a little coaching and prompting, they did really well in approaching people and entering into conversation with them, then concluding their time with prayer.  I was able to see at least a few who were deeply touched by our teens.  It was a much different experience from our morning site.  Here many were suffering and dealing with major health issues.  Some felt very isolated or alone.  We were able to interact with many of them on a positive level.  We concluded our time with our debrief time in Lincoln Park.

We had the evening to ourselves so we took all the teens down to Union Station for dinner.  Doug ended up meeting some relatives and I connected with my sister and her family for dinner.  Most of us ended up at the Uno Pizzeria.  It was nice to catch up with family and allow the teens to have some downtime to hang out and eat some familiar food!  Once everyone was done, we met back up and walked down to the U.S. Capitol.  The band from the U.S. Marines was playing a concert and we got to hear the tail end of it.  It was a great night to hear the music and enjoy our surroundings.  After that, we tried to make a quick dash to the Lincoln Memorial but we just couldn't make it happen.  Maybe on the day we leave we will try again!  

Overall, things have been going really, really well with all of the teens!  We are having a great time!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Washington DC Trip #2

Sunday, July 22

The long drive to DC was peasant and peaceful.  If you ever have to do a road trip I highly, highly, highly recommend trail mix with a Starbucks Double Shot Vanilla Energy Drink.  That combination will keep you very awake and alert for HOURS!  

Once we got here we met our fearless leaders.  We immediately took off to go pick up Ryan who flew in the day before and was staying at Erin Randall's place.  Then we all went out to dinner at a Salvadorian restaurant.  It was great!  The teens chowed down.

We then hopped in our vans and went on a prayer tour of the DC area.  We stopped at several sites that represented the powerful all the way down to the powerless.  We prayed over the city in many different spots as well as learning a lot about the history of the DC area and the struggles that this area has had to deal with over the years.  

Then it was time to go back and go to bed.  We are in very, very tight quarters as far as the bedding situation goes.  What is interesting is that I am right up against a tarp that separates the guys area from the girls.  This may not seem like a big deal but I have discovered that I have direct access to the "girl talk".  This actually scares me.  I am not sure I want to accidentally over hear their conversations.  I am intentionally loud so that they remember I am right there!  

Monday, July 23

Our group got split up into 2 teams.  So Doug and I are going to switch off every day so that we can get some time with each one of the teams.  Today I had the team that was heading out very, very early.  The team consists of Jennifer, Kaitlin, Maria, Hannah, Kristen, Olivia, Ryan and Austin.  We had to be up at breakfast at 5:45AM!  Then we headed off to a mission site that serves meals to people.  We obviously were helping out with breakfast.  The mission site was called SOME (So Others May Eat).  It was a very well organized mission that does a lot for the community with helping them with any needs they may have in order to restore them to be able to care for themselves.  It was quite impressive.  Our teens did a great job working hard as we served pancakes and bacon for breakfast.

Now the big story of the day goes to Ryan.  Apparently, Ryan tried to lob just one small cherry in the general direction of Austin and one of the more intense kitchen workers just happened to see it and really leaned into him.  Unfortunately, I did not happen to be present at just that moment to see Ryan get the hammer.  I was bummed.  Ryan is such a good boy I just can't imagine him ever getting into any kind of trouble so this was quite unprecedented.  

We then came back to our home base.  From here we did a prayer walk around the neighborhood.  We made some observations of this neighborhood in comparison and contrast to the ones we live in.  We also saw a lot of services that help those who are down and out.  We ended the walk by being able to pray at the World Vision headquarters.  And then we met up with our leader at Ebeneezer's Coffee House.  This is a coffee house that was the site of Mark Batterson's first church here in DC.  Goggle him if you have not heard of him before.  He is a big pastor in the DC area doing a lot of great ministries and missions for this whole area.  He has come out with some books that I hear are pretty good as well.

We had a little bit of down time after that so we rested up a little bit and ate our lunches at the church we are living in for the week. 

For the afternoon we went to a site called Children of Mine Youth Center.  The story goes that the lady who is running it had a tragic situation happen to one of her kids in this neighborhood so instead of it destroying her, she built a youth center that gives them all kinds of stuff to grow: meals, books, clothes, garden, playground, etc.  It was amazing to see how she could turn a bad situation into something so good for the community.  At first we did not know how to help because she had another whole team of volunteers from another mission that was already helping.  So we hung out for a little bit and slowly found areas that we could all pitch in and help with.  I noticed that her ceiling fans were not blowing the right way so it was stuffy and muggy in the dining hall.  So after switching them all over you could feel the circulation of the cool air in the room so much better.  Some of the girls got to help in the kitchen as they prepared dinner for the kids who were coming that evening.  Some did yard work.  There was plenty of grass to be mowed and weeds to be dealt with.  

For dinner we ended up at a Thai restaurant.  Needless to say we walked out of there stuffed with all kinds of excellent food in our bellies.  We went down to the Jefferson Memorial for a time to gander and then do our debrief for the day.  The teens got A LOT out of today.  They had a lot of fun but also have already shown a sensitivity to what the Spirit of God is teaching them as a result of all our experiences from the day.  

Tomorrow I will be with the other team and we get to sleep in a little bit longer than today so I am going to go take a shower to peal off about 20 layers of sweat that has covered me and sleep well tonight!  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Washington DC Trip #1

Well, it is almost time for our next and final great adventure for the Summer.  The Senior Highers are taking off to Washington DC to do a mission trip with the Center for Student Missions.  We have worked with this organization on other trips (New York, Chicago and Nashville).  They always have done a great job organizing mission trips and giving all of the teens a great experience.  I am excited because I have never been to Washington DC before.  And on top of that, we have a really, really great team of teens and adults going.  I have high expectations that they will all have a phenomenal time together.

So, some things to pray about:

1.  Safe travels.  Long distances are never fun.  I wish teleportation was invented by now but it is not.  At least, not yet!

2.  Spiritual experiences.  Pray that the teens deepen their faith and enrich their relationship with Christ through everything we do.

3.  Bonding.  Pray that all of the team deepens in their relationships with each other.  

4.  Processing.  As always, I want them to apply all that they learn to their regular life: home, school, youth group.  Pray that this trip will impact those areas so that this next school year will be even better as the youth group and their families continues to help shape them spiritually!

5.  Sharpness!  Pray that I and my leaders stay mentally and spiritually sharp all throughout this trip.  Already Doug Ransom has been great with helping to make sure we are remembering everything we need before we go! 

6.  Weather.  Pray that we have good weather.  I know it is inevitable that it will be hot.  It is the end of July.  I just hope it is not horribly hot and muggy!  But even if it is, that God gives us strength and patience to accomplish all we need to do!


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Cleveland Mission Trip #3

We woke up today with a decision that was influenced by "the moms" but of which took very little arm twisting for me to agree.  We decided that we would use this day as our last day to do all the mission work we have been involved in and use Friday to go to Cedar Point.  That way, we can enjoy the day without having to be worried about driving 4 hours in the dark.  Instead we can have fun at Cedar Point, then go crash at the Nehemiah Mission, clean up the whole mission site, then pack up and leave on Saturday morning, arriving at the church in the afternoon.  It did not take much for them to convince me that this was a really, really, really good idea.   

So we started out our day knowing that this is the last full day of our work.  

The VBS team went back to their work site in the morning.  We continued the work of painting a lot of the trim on a Spanish UMC church just a few miles down the road.  The kids really cleaned up the look and feel of the building.  It looked sharper and well landscaped.  In the neighborhood it was in, it definitely stood out as a beautiful property, which is exactly what we wanted to do.  We were unable to get all of the painting done since the last part required tall extension ladders.  You can only get so much done if you want to do it right by cleaning and scraping before painting and making sure everyone stays safe on the ladders.   

I had a chance to quickly go to the other site to pick up some tools in one of our other vans.  I got to see the roof that the other team has been working on.  It was amazing to see how much they accomplished in just 4 days.  They completely ripped off the old roofing.  Replaced any damaged plywood.  And then re-shingled the whole thing!  Roofing is tough work but these teens did it like pros and with a great attitude.  

The teens that helped with VBS did a great job.  If there was one thing that trumped all the other aspects of VBS it was the relationships that were made.  Many of the kids that came were recent immigrants from Liberia.  There was some tension at the beginning of the week with this group being bullied by the African-America neighborhood kids.  But this has been an on-going problem throughout the Summer and the people at the Nehemiah Mission took a "no tolerance" position with it immediately.  Our teens made some really great friendships with these neighborhood kids that came all week long. There were lots of hugs at the end of the day.

That evening we took the kids out for dinner and to the beach.  We went to a popular local restaurant called MELTS.  It had gigantic sandwiches with big sides.  The kids had a lot of fun.  Hardly anyone could finish everything on their plate.  Including me!  We got the fried Twinkie dessert and all sung happy birthday to Devin.

After that we went to Huntington Beach and just enjoyed swimming and wrestling in the lake.  It was a beautiful night for a sunset and a group picture!  

We took off for Sandusky, Ohio and spent the day at Cedar Point.  At first, some of the boys were upset with me because I did not just let everyone loose on the park like they do at King's Island.  Instead, I wanted to keep everyone together so we could all hang out together and experience all there is as a group.  After about the second ride the pouting stopped and we all had a blast.  I have done the "check-in" thing at Cedar Point with other youth groups and it is not fun for the leaders because inevitably there are kids who show up late or "forget" and there is always at least one kid who got separated from his/her buddies and has been wandering the park by themselves.  So it was just best to stay all together.  At the end of the day I think all agreed it was a good plan.  This really ended up being an amazing day for us to do this.  We had perfect weather and extremely low crowds.  The wait at most of the lines was less than 15 minutes.  We got to ride everything that they wanted.  Leigh Herrmann almost lost it on the SkyHawk.  The concept of this ride is like a giant swing.  Lucky for me she held it together but swore never again once the ride came to a halt.  We also had a lot of fun watching each of the kids go on the Dragster: 120 MPH, strait up and straight down, 420 feet high.  The G-force impact on everyone at the beginning of the ride was always funny to watch as it catches everyone by surprise.  

We woke up and spent a good amount of the morning cleaning up the entire facility so that it was ready to go for the next week's group of mission trippers.  A great mystery was also solved.  Around Wednesday, we discovered that the Cargo Van keys were missing.  I try to be meticulous about making sure I know who has what, and any keys I have are either in my pocket or have a designated spot by my bed.  So the missing keys were either connected with me or Leigh.  We thoroughly  went through ALL of our stuff multiple times and could not find them.  I contacted D&L Leasing and had Stacey Mellett pick up their spare keys and bring them down since she was picking up Rachel on Saturday anyhow.  It turns out that the keys were under Jackson's bed!   Leigh bought something on the night we went out to Crocker Park.  She put her keys and phone in a bag of stuff she purchased.  When retrieving them, she only pulled out one set of keys and gave the bag to Jackson who then put it by his bed.  It was such a relief to figure out what happened and get the keys back!  No luck on my phone though.  I had to take care of that one once I got home. 

Overall, I think the teens had a great, great experience.  I loved the adults who came on the trip. They were a lot of fun and added a lot to the whole week.  The Nehemiah Mission is doing a great work in Cleveland.  I wish I saw even more interest in the big mission organizations showing interest in establishing Cleveland as a mission site.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cleveland Mission Trip #2

Tuesday, July 10th
Well the past 2 days have had some interesting moments!  Tuesday began with the team being broken up into two groups.  Team 1 went to a work site all day to work on a garage roof that is really bad.  I sent a group of boys to do this job because, now that we know what to expect for VBS, we only need just a few of them to help with the handful of boys who are attending.  They went to the work site with Scott Arnold and according to him they worked hard and had a great experience.  

The other group spent the morning at a new work site.  It is a Spanish United Methodist Church with a very old building.  Much of the trim and highlights to the outside of the building are in desperate need of a new coat of paint.  So we are landscaping, painting and trimming trees all around the property.  The teens were dying to get paintbrushes in their hands and attack the job.  They had fun once they were let loose on the building.  

A little before noon we headed back to the mission site to prepare lunch for the VBS crowd and get ready for bible school!  We start out doing our VBS songs.  Then I read the Bible story as some of the teens act it out.  The kids are split up into 3 teams and they rotate through their stations for the rest of the afternoon.  We are discovering with these kids that  well-defined teams with organized stations and time limits on when to switch are hard boundaries to follow.  Some of the kids just want to do crafts and only crafts.  Some would like to socialize and dance and laugh at each other the whole time.  Others really like just playing games.  The teens are learning the frustration of what it feels like to heard cats! But overall, they are having a good experience and building relationships with the kids we are hear to minister to.

On a lighter side, I discovered that some of the boys are dealing with some serious chaffing.  I told them to use Gold Bond.  They looked at me with quizzical looks not sure what I was talking about.  I tossed it to them.  They figured it out.  Then they came back with the kind of joy you only see on a person who has lived a hard life only to discover for the very first time that Jesus loves them. Chaffing be gone!

On the frustrating side, at a certain point in the afternoon when we had a little bit of down time, I crashed on a couch in the dining hall area.  I woke up and realized I did not have my phone on me.  I remembered plugging it into my computer up by the sound board so it could charge.  When I went up there to get it, it was gone.  I spent a good amount of time retracing all my steps, going through all my laundry, looking in every single possible place it could have possibly fallen or hidden from my sight.  I could not find it anywhere.  My stress level maxed out.  It is amazing how lost we feel without a phone of all things.  But we have turned our phones into so much more than just a phone.  And the kicker is that I JUST got this phone 3 weeks ago at Ichthus.

On the serious side, as we were having our debrief time in the evening, there was an accident right outside of our building involving a motorcycle going strait that plowed into a car making a left turn.  The teens wanted to toss their Bibles aside and run outside to see what was going on.  I put the brakes on that really quick.  Instead we said a prayer, continued with the debrief and sent them to their rooms.  They were able to catch a glimpse of the accident scene but only from the windows.  It was a shocking reminder about how fragile life can be and in a moments notice so much can change.  

On the funny side, for our evening down time, we took off to Crocker Park. This is a huge outdoor mall area in Westlake.  It is a really fun place to go just to walk around outside and  hit some stores.  Unfortunately, the boys discovered the limited edition of Dark Berry Mountain Dew which they bought cases of and drank profusely until it was time to go to bed.  I was about to blow a gasket at their continual chatter and laughing at farts.  Just then, the one young man sleeping directly beside me, made some smart-mouthed comment that he could easily take me in wrestling.  At that point my skin turned green and the gamma rays took over. I pounced on Braden and put him in a hold to the point where he felt like a pretzel.  He begged and whined to be let lose.  All the boys were shining the cell phones to see what was going on.  Braden no longer mocks me in my wrestling skills.

Overall, it was a good day with just some minor frustrations with the thought that my phone got stolen.  I will deal with that the next day.

Wednesday, July 11
Today started out similar to yesterday.  One group working on the roof of a garage.  The other group was working on the church property that needed some painting and landscaping.  It is turning into one of those jobs where once you think you got it all done, you look and see so much more we can be doing.  So a lot more landscaping and painting occurred throughout the morning.  

We came back for VBS even more determined to bring some more structure and organization to the day.  We had a great day.  The kids did some great crafts.  We talked and did skits on True Power, focusing on the story of the temptation of Jesus.  We taught the kids link tag and "Honey If You Love Me Won't You Please, Please Smile!"  They had a lot of fun.  The structure is still a little chaotic just because of the nature of the kids we are working with.  I think we are learning to accept that Epiphany VBS is slightly different when you try to bring it to an inner-city neighborhood.  To be fair though, I am definitely seeing some friendships blossoming between our teens and the neighborhoods teenagers and kids.  So I think our teens are learning how to adapt and change from moment to moment.  

Once I hit our early afternoon down-time, I headed off to a Verizon store to see what I could do.  As is with anything of this nature, it took much longer than it should have, but we eventually figured it all out.  3 weeks ago I also bought insurance on the phone.  I was approved to be able to get a replacement phone!  Woo-hoo!  I knew I bought the insurance plan.  It just took a while to figure out who the 3rd party company was that I had my policy with.

In the evening I had my father come and talk to the teens.  He brought my niece who just got into town from Arizona.  The twins were happy to see their cousin.  Dad did a great job challenging the teens to live their lives according to their faith.  The teens were amused at the apparent similarities between my dad and I.  

In our debrief time later on in the evening, we have been going through the letter of 1 John.  We look at one chapter a night and apply it to what we are experiencing.  The teens have been doing a great job of reading God's Word and talking it out in how it applies to us right now.  They have been doing great.  Although I will say, I am not allowing any highly-caffeinated, outrageously-sugary drinks right before bed.  They already sound quiet so I hope to get a good night sleep tonight and a new phone in the morning.  So I apologize if any of you have been trying to call or text me.  If my phone texted you back in the past 24 hours let me know because it wasn't me!  I will be back up and running no later than 10:30AM.  I just need to pick it up and charge it.  My claim has already been approved.  Glad I got the insurance!

Well it is time to hit the sack and I do not hear any clowning around!  I want to be joyful and excited!  But the inner voice of "Junior High Past" also reminds me that I could be getting set up for falling into a prank.  So I will move like a ninja as I head to bed hoping that I don't have to unleash my cat-like reflexes!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Cleveland Mission Trip #1

Well we took off for our Junior High mission trip early on Sunday morning, July 8th.  We got off on the road and had an uneventful trip which is always the kind of drive you want for mission trips.  Once we arrived, we parked our cargo van at the Nehemiah Mission, ate lunch at McDonald's and then headed down to watch the Cleveland Indians take on the Tampa Bay Rays.  It was a beautiful day for a game considering just how hot it was this past week.  The cold front moved through upper Ohio and made it really pleasant.  Thank you God!  I was dreading the heat and praying that it would cool off.

At the Indians game the Junior Highers had more fun socializing rather than actually watching the game!  Sounds like most high school football games I've been to.  Unfortunately the Indians played a stellar game except for the 9th inning.  They allowed the Rays to catch up and pass them by 2 runs.  Then the Indians couldn't rally enough to push the game into extra innings.

After that we headed off to Panini's Bar and Grill which has a classic sandwich that is as tall as it is wide, and piled high with sauerkraut and french fries.  A nice cultural experience that made the taste buds smile!

We headed back to the Nehemiah Mission and got ourselves situated for VBS.  The teens did a great job in setting up the decorations, organizing the plan for the next day, and getting excited.  When it was lights out it appeared that we had the wrong adults with the wrong teens.  I had to bark at the boys because they would not settle down, be quiet and go to sleep.  But the girls, of whom really wanted to sleep, were kept up by their adult leaders who were gabbing away like college dorm buddies.  They had to be asked politely to quiet down because others were needing to get up early the next day.

On Monday we began the day wondering what our first day was going to look like.  About 12-15 kids showed up and we dove into the Vacation Bible School.  Being the first day it was a little chaotic.  Our teens did their best as our plans morphed throughout the day. We did story time, songs, crafts, games and snacks with all of the kids.  We had about 12 girls as well as 4 boys show up for the VBS.  They seemed to have a lot of fun and enjoy spending time with our teens throughout the day.

For dinner we had an amazing Mexican Fiesta!  Delicious tacos, burritos, rice, and crapes.  The teens really dug into their meal.

We took some time after dinner to go over our devotions on the first chapter of 1 John.  Then we made a plan for the next day.  Since we have more of our teens than the actual VBS kids we will be sending out a group of our teens on a demolition project for the day tomorrow.  If we have a lot more kid show up for VBS then we can call these teens back to help us.  But we shall see as we are coming to understand what it means to be flexible and adapt.

After that, we went out for ice cream at the Sweet Moses.  One scoop on a waffle cone looked like a gallon of ice cream.  The boys were daring me to get the "Eiffel Tower" which included 10 scoops of ice cream for a mere $29.00.  The scoops at this place were the size of a softball.  I declined.

Now that we are back at the mission the teens are settling down playing Frisbee outside until people started getting hurt. Now they are inside playing card games before bed.  The moms have continued their flashback to the college days by getting a big Uecher game going.

All is well!

Saturday, July 07, 2012

TED: Billy Graham

It is truly amazing what Billy Graham has done in his lifetime.  This is an amazing speech by the greatest living Christian evangelical in our present lifetime.  Very few people have ever been used of God is such a profound way like him.  I wish there were many more like him.  We have so much we can learn not just from his message, but also by how he continues to live his life.  Watch this video and I hope you get some of the same "goose bump" effects that it had on me.

Watermelon vs. Rubber Bands

It's a good thing that they didn't try this with their head.

Friday, July 06, 2012

West Ohio Conference 2012: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

It has been a few weeks now that I have been back from our Annual Conference in Lakeside Ohio.  And in these days it has taken me some time to "detox" from my full experience. I don't necessarily mean that in a negative way.  There was a lot of good that came from our conference.  But there are also some things that I observed that cause me a lot of concern.  So that is why I gave this the subtitle of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly!


First of all, in all the conferences I have ever been to in my entire life I can not think of a better location than Lakeside, OH. The environment of this lake community is such that within days you begin to hope that this is something of what heaven will be like some day.  I would catch myself marveling at the architecture of the Hoover Auditorium or the beauty of God's creation all around us.  It is a marvelous location.

Secondly, when the connectional system that the United Methodists are know for works the way it is supposed to, it is a beautiful thing; to know that we are so much more than just the walls of the church that we serve in can be a refreshing and uplifting thought.

Third, the worship and the teaching is as always, very exceptional.  I feel bad about not getting there earlier on Sunday because I heard that the Sunday night service was outstanding.  But I did get to the other worship events and teaching times.  I thought Bishop Ough was great.  He has mad people skills.  He is very talented at being real, authentic, and at just the right moments, a touch of humor to break the  mood when it was necessary.  He will be missed in the West Ohio Conference.  He will leave some pretty big shoes to fill.  I would not want to follow him.

Fourth, Wade and his team always put together a dynamic and professional program.  I got frustrated with myself on occasion because at times I just could not sit still any longer when we were talking about recommendations to amend the amendment of the amendment of the resolution.  After a while my brain just couldn't take it any more.  I do not have the ability to sit still for very long unless my mind is completely absorbed into something completely amazing like "The Avengers" movie.  So with that said, when a meeting would be going on for hours about minute details of legislation I would have to bow out for some time.  Unfortunately, it appeared that I developed the knack for leaving at just the wrong moments because every time I left, later on I heard that something completely awesome happened that I missed.  Example of something Lisa said to me: "They did this tribute to Bishop Ough that was just as funny as Saturday Night Live. Boy, Scott you missed it! It was a scream!"

Fifth, The Wings of the Morning and the Miracle offering where just amazing.  We, as a conference, have been supporting a mission in Africa that is in desperate need of a new airplane.  Our goal at conference was the raise $500,000.  When we took the offering we came really close to almost breaking a million dollars!  What was really amazing is that a person from the audience called out for one more offering to see if we could break the one million mark. As you might have guessed, with the energy and excitement in the auditorium, we were able to get enough pledges to break the million dollar mark.  It was an exciting moment. The African pastor was so excited that he gave Bishop Ough a live chicken.  That was really actually quite funny.  The chicken didn't think so.  And I believe that the African minister gave this as a gift in a tongue-in-cheek fashion.  I think this idea definitely raises the bar for my next White Elephant gift exchange.

Sixth, we had a 5K race that was the most fun event of the whole week for me.  It was such a beautiful morning and to run around Lakeside was just amazing.  I was of the opinion that the Bishop should have made the walk/run mandatory for everybody! 

I think that the number one thing that always takes me by surprise at every conference is the age and the health of the majority of the people.  In fact, when you consider the 10 pieces of legislation that were brought before the conference members, the ones that produced the most conversation were those related to health care and pensions.  With an aging clergy there will be a deep concern and worry about wanting to make sure that they will be taken care of.  I really don't blame them.  But here is my concern: can a denomination really take care of an aging population of clergy when it is not anywhere near balanced with a younger population of people entering into pastoral/church ministries?  This is just a microcosm of the national dilemma as the Baby Boomer population is retiring and Generation X (we were called Baby Busters for a reason!) is supposed to absorb the healthcare and retirement cost of that generation.  It is impossible.  There is not enough money to sustain this without highly taxing the younger generations.  And when you see the imbalance of age in the Methodist church we can try to make sure we are covered through arguing the fine points of legislation in conferencing.  

But I would like to recommend a new approach that not only will bring peace to those who are aging but benefit the entire church as a whole!  We must stop focusing on making sure our future is secure through legislation that really means nothing if we do not have people in the pews. We need to not make our primary focus on "my" future but invest more on "our" future.  Here are just a few things to consider: 

1.  We as a denomination need to be adding life and vitality to our children's ministry and youth ministry.  We need to invest time, money and effort in making the ministries directed at youth and children a vital part of every church.  I know that my own grandmother could not stand being in her own Sunday School class because she felt that all the could talk about was death and growing old issues.  She loved to be around youth and children because it inspired her and filled her with life.  The segregation of age groups needs to be reconsidered.  Not that we just throw it all out but we need to find ways to build bridges among all ages within a church.  This will add to the spiritual and mental health of everyone involved.  

2.  We need to help the process of becoming a pastor in the Methodist church not be so complicated and stretched out.  It becomes a discouraging process for those involved especially when they see their counterparts in other denominations move much faster through the process. 

3.  We need to include youth in all areas of the Methodist church.  The East Ohio Conference puts us to shame in this area.  Which now leads me to the ugly . . . 

Now I am just going to let loose and rant a little bit here.  I left the West Ohio Conference so discouraged and upset this year.  But one thing you need to know about me is that I am looking through the "goggles" of youth ministry.  There were 2 events that stood out to me that let me know what our conference thinks of when it comes to youth ministry.  The first event was when the conference was discussing issues related to the new budget.  A representative tried to bring up that the funds for campus ministries were significantly cut from the previous year.  This seemed to be brushed aside as no big deal.  When you have college age teens and those that represent significant ministries directed at college students I am sorry but that IS A BIG FREAKING DEAL!  I was not pleased by how we could not find even a little bit of cash from some other area of the budget to help sustain the funds needed for campus ministries.  

But I would say that the thing that really, really pushed me over the edge was the last piece of legislation: to get rid of paintball/laser tag games at all camps and replace them with creation care activities and other such things. Really?!?!  I was dumbfounded at this piece of ridiculous legislation.  Apparently those that run the camps feel the need to be micro-managed by the conference.  I had an entire speech I wanted to give against this but unfortunately I was not called on.  Instead, everyone wanted the conference to be over since this was the last thing so everyone moved quickly on this.  Two teenagers tried very hard to explain that they enjoy the option of going to camp and playing these types of games.  But the camp lady made her case for trying to link actual real gun violence to these types of activities and that camps should be a holy place where kids can learn about creation care.  This seemed inconceivable to me.  I couldn't help but to think that this was some kind of joke, but it wasn't.  So the debate was short and quick, and the vote was hurried so everyone could get out of there.  Of course, this will be the deathblow to the camps.  No teen is going to attend a camp that doesn't offer these kinds of activities.  At least no boy that I know of.

I also began to wonder, what's next? Is it wrong to play capture-the-flag?  No squirt guns? Can we not have any competitive games? What about archery?  Will we impose these on the Scout troops that use our church facilities?  No more b-b guns or archery you gun-crazed Cub Scouts!!

Well, I can say that I have never used one of our United Methodist camps because the closest one I think is over 2-3 hours away from here.  But even if I had one 10 minutes away I just couldn't support their logic in what they think camp should be.  Instead we have  a lot of great camps and retreat centers all around the Cincinnati area that give many, many options of fun things to do with your youth groups as well as great facilities to help foster spiritual development and worship with your teens.  What a particular church decides to do with their teens is one thing.  To have a camp impose what they think we should or should not be doing just doesn't make sense to me.  

Then the last and final thing that just shoved me into a depression was hanging around for the rest of the week at Lakeside and getting a first-hand view of how the East Ohio Conference "does youth ministry".  Their teens come up to Lakeside for the weekend and have their own youth conference that is really an amazing event that integrates them into how United Methodist's do conferencing.  Not only that but they had tons of fun games, great speakers, worship, etc., etc., etc.  I was in awe with all they were doing.  They also crafted legislation that they were going to present to the Main Conference of East Ohio once all the people arrived later.  East Ohio has seriously invested in their youth in a way that will preserve and nurture the ongoing health and vitality of their Conference. 

With all that said, I am grateful for my connection to the United Methodist Church.  I have learned a lot over my 8 years of being a part of this denomination.  I have been given the opportunity to launch a youth ministry with a church that really truly wanted to invest their time, talent and treasures in creating an effective youth ministry.  This has by far been my most positive experience as a youth pastor.  But when I look at the bigger picture, I am sad.  We have the ability to invest in our youth in a greater way at a conference level but we don't.  East Ohio is the model we must follow.  If we invest in our youth and children in the way that they have done, this will only do more to insure the state of the future church and the care and dignity of the older populations in our churches.  

Here's to hoping that we can learn from our neighbors and re-envision a new approach to ministries directed at our children and teens.  The future of the denomination depends on them. It is up to us to lead them and inspire them to want to get involved and believe that they really are the church of today as well as the church of the future.  

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Lessons in Getting it Backwards: From Extraordinary to Just Plain Ordinary

Passage: 1 Samuel 8: 4-20

At the first church I ever served at, I would often have teenagers invade my office all throughout the day.  You see, there was a Christian school that was connected to the church so during the school year there was a certain segment of the youth group that had unlimited access to stop in and visit whenever they had a study hall they wanted to get out of.  Many times they would come down to hang out, eat my candy, play video games and just waste some time until the next class they had to be at.  But there was one particular time that I remember that disturbed me.

I had a young man come down to my office who at the time was an upperclassman.  He was really wrestling with what he thought his future plans were going to be after he graduated.  And here is the dilemma he was having trouble with.  On one hand, he was beginning to sense strongly that God was calling him to be a missionary.  This excited me.  I was more than willing to help him in any way that I could. 

But I could tell that there was a problem, something that was causing him to struggle.  He began to tell me that his parents, who were prominent members of the church and leaders on the school board, questioned this calling and wanted him to go to their alma mater, Notre Dame, and pursue a degree that would reflect the skills that stood out on his various tests that showed where he had high scores.  

Now the way that this story turned out is that he eventually followed the advice of his parents.  He got his degree from Notre Dame, is an outstanding member of the military, and has settled into the American Dream.  His parents couldn’t be prouder. 

But I often wonder, what if? What if Bill would have followed what he believed to be God calling him to mission work? I know, as a parent it can be all to nerve-racking when God sidesteps our perfect plans for our kids and asks them to do something that was not in our plans; something that we cannot be in control of; something in which we can’t see what the future might turn out to be. 

In our Scripture lesson for today we come across a story in which the Israelites stood at the crossroads of deciding on an extraordinary life or an ordinary life. Having to choose to live what they perceived to be the good life over what could be the best life.  For many years the Israelites were lead by God himself.  Up to this point in the Hebrew Scriptures we can read of all of the extraordinary ways in which God used prophets, priests and judges at specific moments to rescue Israel in miraculous ways and establish them as a nation.  All of these offices were used to always point the people back to the God who was directly leading them.  

But now that Israel has established itself as a nation, it began to look around at the neighboring nations and comparing and contrasting themselves to others.  All of a sudden, they realized that they did not have a king like the other nations. 

Forget the fact that the King of kings and the Lord of lords was already leading them. 

Forget the fact that God used mighty and miraculous means all throughout their history to set apart Israel as his special people. 

Instead of celebrating the extraordinary relationship they have with the God of the Universe they wanted to conform to be just like everyone else. They wanted a flesh and blood king.  They wanted to live by sight, not by faith. 

We see that Samuel takes this as a personal rejection for all that he did as a prophet of Israel.  But God assures Samuel that this is not about the people rejecting Samuel more than it is about the people rejecting God himself. 

If there is one thing that is clear in the book of Judges it is that the people constantly drift away from God when times were good and began worshiping idols.  And then when God takes his hand of blessing away from them they cry out to him.  God would send prophets to call them back and judges to rescue them from their enemies.  But as soon as they were rescued and things got better again, they would turn their backs on the living God and worship gods that were created by men. 

So God shows Samuel that this is the nation’s rejection of God.  He tells Samuel to go ahead and give them what they want, but it comes with a warning.  If you want a king, these are the things you will have to endure:

 1. Your children will be used by the government for military purposes (as
          opposed to a mighty God who would fight their battles for them).

2.  You children will be used to serve the government: in areas of
          agriculture, weaponry, military, and textiles all to prop up the royalty
          over themselves. 

3.  Your own hard work will be observed and the best of what you have will
          be expected to go to the king: the best of your fields, servants and
          animals.  You will be taxed on all of these things.

In just about every important area of your life you will have to help support and maintain the government in a way that will ultimately feel oppressive.  Sound a little bit familiar?

The Israelites are wanting all of this over being lead by God. They want to trade in a rather extraordinary life over a very ordinary life.  Why?  And what does this story have to do with us?

I believe that all of us, everyday are faced with this challenge.  Do we go about the rather ordinary, mundane patterns of regular life that we can map out and make some sense of, or do we allow God to lead us to do the extraordinary, the leap of faith, taking the step outside of our comfort zone?

I think for our graduates, I personally catch myself asking the wrong question -  

So what do you want to study at college? 
What are your plans after you graduate?  

I wrestle with the fact that the question really should be:

 What do you believe God is calling you to do with your life? 

Think about the differences between those two questions.

One is focused solely upon them.  The other calls us to seek God’s will for our life.

One is about pursuing an occupation and a paycheck, the other is about pursuing a calling and purpose in life guided by God himself.

I think for adults, the reason we see so much pain with relationships that break up, affairs, materialism and a overall narcissism is because many of those I consider my friends have come to a point in their life where they are bored with what seemed to be the perfect plan for their life several years ago:

get a job,
settle down,
start a family,
buy a nice house and cars for everyone,
get that nice little vacation spot to get away for R&R. 

We see so many who achieve the apparent “American Dream” only to hit a wall called the mid-life crisis.  They have succeeded in pursuing the ordinary life and now they have become bored with the routine, mundane patterns of their life.  They feel that they need to do something to spark some new excitement or energy into their life.  And all too often, in their pursuit for something extraordinary, they end up creating a bigger mess of their lives. 

We constantly need to correct our thinking and shift from one old paradigm to a new one.  Instead of trying to plan out our ideal life, it is time for us to open up ourselves to God who wants to give us an extraordinary life. 

Instead of trying to pursue yet another new fitness program, or bigger house, or new diet fad, or new car, or new girlfriend or boyfriend, what if instead, we pursued God and allowed him to bring purpose and meaning into our lives that transcends all our stuff. 

What if we actually believed the things we learn in church, to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and to not lean on our own understanding.  But in all our ways acknowledge him, and allow Him to direct our paths, to pursue his ways over our ways, to set our minds on heavenly treasures over earthly treasures? 

Just imagine what this world could have looked like if Israel followed God they way they were supposed to:

          1)  No manmade government.  God is our King.
          2)  No mandated tax system. I could give freely as God leads me.
          3)  No need for military. God protects us from our enemies.
          4)  No boring life.  God leads us to do extraordinary things.

I can’t imagine a more perfect world. 

No more electing imperfect people and political parties into office. 

No more sending off teenagers and the poor to fight wars to protect our “national interests”. 

No more cable news talking heads arguing for or against the government. 

A world where God is our King and we are his children. 

I have good news!  We have the opportunity right now to start living into this reality, knowing that our future will fully live into this when Christ ultimately returns.

Now I know, it is a little bit scary.

Abraham dropped everything and followed, not even knowing what the plan would be. 

Joseph went through some extremely painful experiences before he realized how God was able to use it all to save Israel and Egypt.

Moses actually tried several times to say no. He didn’t want to do it, but God convinced him otherwise. 

Samuel gave his life to be a prophet of God.  Only to feel very underappreciated at the end.

Yet the Israelites completely missed it all.  With a history full of amazing stories of God’s leadership, guidance, protection, deliverance and care, instead they wanted to trade all of that in for a man-made government. 

Will we be a people who learn from the mistakes of those who have come before us, or will we continue to repeat the sins of those from the past?

Graduates, have you wrestled with the deeper question of what might God be calling you to do with your life, instead of just what you want to do to get a job and earn a paycheck?

Adults, by American standards, many, if not all of you have achieved more than you probably thought possible when you were just a high schooler. 

Have you allowed God to fully redeem your life and give you purpose and meaning in all areas?

Or do you catch yourself looking at godless people who are trying to find meaning through worshiping the gods of our culture? 

Is your life infused with a higher calling in all areas of your life knowing that what we do here will impact eternity? 

Or do you catch yourself looking for the next quick fix? 

May we as a church body be focused on the mission and work of God who wants to use us to do the extraordinary.  Never, never, never settle for an ordinary life that we can manage and control ourselves.  Not my will, but THY will be done on earth as it is in heaven. AMEN.