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Monday, November 24, 2008

Latest book entry

If you read my blog over a year ago, you know that I have a lifelong dream of writing and pubishing a book. I have ideas of what it will be on, but it has to have some life stories involoved. The following is what I have learned in youth ministry and how I got there. I find it to be interesting, tell me if you do too.

If you read the whole post then please comment, I will make sure to send you the first copy of my book to be released in 2025.

Enjoy...

Youth Ministry


Conversion Experience

My journey in youth ministry began on March 26, 1996. It was on this date, that as a 13 year-old boy I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my Lord and Savior. It was the beginning of my life, and even if I didn’t know it then, it would be the beginning of my ministry and my career as well.

I was not raised in a Christian home and had no Christian role models. I was at the age when I was trying to decide where my life was heading. I had to find my identity, and the process was not coming easy. I was very lonely and could be very depressed, but really I had a lot of anger and was unaware of how to channel and control my emotions.

I had one too many fights with my family and I decided that I was running away from home. I thought that it would be easy to find a place to stay for the night, but it was a school night and that made it impossible. I decided then that I would sleep in the grass of this local area. The grass had dew on it and there were bugs crawling, but it was then in that grass that I had my first “encounter” with God. As I looked up at the stars that night I said, “God, there has to be more than this.” There was. I made a bargain with God right then (something I do not suggest) that if I went home and everything would be okay that I would go to church or something.

I then made the walk back to my house (I didn’t run away very far) and my mother was very happy to see me and it seemed as though God kept His end of the bargain.

The next day my neighbor (the local smiley, power-walker) invited me to church. After the previous night’s ordeal, I thought that if I did not go to church with her then I would get struck with a lightning bolt. So that Sunday I had my first real church experience at First Baptist Church of Tampa. I had no idea what to expect.

The first thing I remember is how nice all of the other youth were. They all acted as though they really cared about who I was. I was shocked. I remember meeting the youth pastor and being overwhelmed by how cool I thought he was. I don’t remember the Sunday School lesson, and I don’t remember the sermon, but I do remember sitting in a beautiful sanctuary and seeing Alex NeSmith, the Minister of Music crying as he sang a song. This was so foreign to me, and yet so intriguing. I loved every bit of it and wanted to continue going back.

That day set the stage for March 26, 1996 when the youth pastor and three other youth (that I remembered were all very nice to me) came to my house on what I now know was an Evangelism Explosion visit. I do not remember hearing the whole outline, but the part I do remember was when the youth pastor (JJ Johnson) said, “God loved you so much that He sent His son to die for you.” That blew me away. I did not know that I was loved at all, and especially not that much. Whatever he asked me to do that night I would have done, no questions asked.

Fast forward a little bit and the story takes me to my first youth camp. I could not afford it, but someone in the church anonymously paid for me and my brother to go. I don’t remember a lot of the details of the camp, but I do remember very clearly that the camp speaker Turk Holt (a huge man) broke down in tears and said, “If Jesus didn’t die on the cross, I would love Him just the same.” That saying would revolutionize my thinking.

I had what most would say is a “typical camp experience” and the emotion and the Spirit of the camp had me sobbing and weeping and wondering why I was such a terrible person. I asked to speak to JJ and I told him that I didn’t think I was saved and he told me, “Yes you are, I was there, and I have seen the fruit in your life.” He then proceeded to tell me that what I was feeling was called conviction, and it meant that God wanted me to do more with my life.

That was not just a “typical camp experience” for me; it was something that completely changed my life. When I returned from youth camp I realized the importance and the severity of sharing my faith with other people. As a result, a lot of people in my inner circle got saved; friends, acquaintances, my father, my cousin, my aunt, and my 82-year old grandmother. It was quite a conversion experience.

My Youth Group Experience

There was no place this side of Heaven that I would rather have been as a teenager then at church. Whatever it was that was being offered, I was going to be there. Luckily, my neighbor would take me to church on Sundays and Wednesdays and on a few other occasions, but if she was not involved with something I had to get creative on ways to get to church. I lived quite a ways away, and my dad always worked, and my mom can’t drive. I would call everyone I knew and beg to get driven to church, even if I had no legitimate way back home. Sometimes I would take the city bus, which took about an hour and a half with three transfers. But whatever it took I would make it to the church.

I got involved in a lot of things that would mold my life as a youth pastor. I was asked to do Bible Drills, in which I memorized all the books of the Bible (I previously had no idea) and learned a lot of verses that I still have memorized today.

The year after Bible Drills I was asked to do the speakers tournament. I did it for three years and finally my senior year of high school, I won state. This would mold me as a public speaker. The pastor’s wife spent hours upon hours with me to make me an excellent public speaker.

I was asked to be on an Evangelism Explosion team, and since I knew the merits of it, I gladly signed up. I am now a certified trainer who has (as of yesterday) trained 40 members of my local church in Evangelism Explosion.

But one of the greatest things that happened to me was that I was asked to be in Student Leadership University. I was shocked and blown away when JJ told me that I was a natural leader, that was the first time I had ever heard anything like that. In SLU I was held to a higher standard then everyone else. I was asked to read my Bible daily, and to share to gospel on a regular basis, and to help with small details of the youth ministry. It was very difficult because I felt a lot of times like JJ was being hard on me, but as I look back at the whole process, it was this accountability that made me who I am today.

It didn’t take long after my conversion experience until I realized that I desired more from my life. I went to my pastor, Dr. Jim Knight, and told him that I think I was being called to full-time Christian service. He said, “I know.” He then told me something that I repeat to every youth that comes to me with the same intentions. I say, “If you can picture yourself doing anything else with your life, then do it… if not then God is calling you and you have to follow Him.” I dedicated my life to full-time Christian service on Mothers Day of 1997, a little more than a year after being saved.

One more thing I want to point out about my youth years is this. One day, JJ called me up and asked me to come to the church. I thought he wanted me to do something for him. I caught the city bus and made my way to the church. JJ told me to get in the car and he took me to Westshore Plaza, the local mall. He took me into Structure (which is a store my parents could never afford) and told me to find what I wanted. I was completely and totally blown away. I never had nice clothes to wear and now I finally would. I still to this day don’t know if he paid for it out of his own pocket or out of a church benevolence fund, but I knew that one day I wanted to help kids out the way that he did with me.

A year or so after that, the Senior Pastor called up and the same occurrence happened, only this time he took me to Men’s Wearhouse and I got my first ever suit. He was getting me ready for the speaker’s tournament and I will never forget that hospitality either.

The College Years

The college years were a hard time for me. I was given complete independence and had no one holding me accountable for any decisions I was making in my life. I decided to leave home and go to the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville. I finished one semester and got real homesick and decided to go to community college.

I missed the deadline for community college and so I took a semester off. I got a nice job and dabbled with the idea of not going into the ministry. It was then that I had a chance occurrence with a man named Edwin Newman while I was camping. He was on the site next to us, and he was there with his youth group. We hit it off so much that he asked me to come and intern with him. This revitalized my zeal for the ministry.

The Sumer of 2001 I decided to make a big move that only college-age kids can make. I decided to leave everything and go to Colorado as a camp counselor. The whole summer was crazy and exhausting but I saw so many kids get saved that I was ready to go back to the Baptist College.

This time though I did not even make it through the semester and started working full-time at a Cracker Barrel in Dothan, Alabama. I was close to forgoing the ministry. It was then that I got a vision of my future and I realized that if I did not get back in college that I would be stuck in a dead end job for the rest of my life. I could not accept that.

I moved back to Tampa and transferred to the closest Cracker Barrel and stayed wherever I could find am open couch. I finally got registered for community college and I worked very hard to go to school full time and work full time but I finally got my Associates Degree.

It was now that my life would hit a fork in the road. I got involved in this business model (pyramid scheme) and I saw the potential to make a lot of money as a business man. I had to decide whether or not I was going to go to USF or to this college that my friend told me about, Trinity.

I had a day off of work and had decided that I was going to go and talk with both schools. I decided to start with Trinity College. Little did I know that not only would I never make it to USF, but that day I would meet the woman I would spend the rest of my life with. I walked into the admissions office and there with a huge smile on her face was Heather Fitzgerald, and even though we had only really met one time, she remembered me, and my life has never been the same.

At this crossroads in my life I finally realized that life was not about getting money, or even making other people money… my life HAD to be about sharing the love of Christ with anyone and everyone I meet.

My First Ministry Job

Shortly after Heather and I got married I started to think about ministry opportunities. I was currently working at a warehouse making sealant for tile, and I was very grateful for the job, but I was definitely looking for more. Heather and I were interning at First Baptist Church of Lutz at this point in our lives.

I was only 21 and still had a year left in my degree program so I was not actively looking for a ministry position because I didn’t feel like I had a lot to offer. I decided to sit down and write a very detailed resume, that wasn’t necessarily about my ministry accomplishments, but was about what I would do if I were a youth pastor. My resume was about 7 pages long and it had the best picture I could find of my wife and I one the front page.

One Monday night while at the Trinity Quest program, my wife and I were a little early and started looking at the bulletin board. On the bulletin board was a request for a youth pastor at Willow Bend Community Church in Land’O’Lakes. The next day at the warehouse I called and talked to the pastor. I remember this very clearly because his name was Geoff Gordon and I wrote his information on a Dale Earnhardt Jr. notepad. Pastor Geoff is an incredible man of faith and he scheduled me for my first ever ministry interview.

I was more nervous than I had ever been in my life, and I was so blessed to have my wife next to me. My wife understood what I was too nervous to understand and frequently rephrased the question for me to buy me some time to think. The amazing thing is that Pastor Geoff is such a man of faith that he said that even though he got over 100 resumes for this job that the second he saw our picture, he knew we were the ones.

This was a “part-time” youth ministry position and along with not very much pay there were a few other draw backs. First of all, there was no church building. There had been a year and a half of red tape in getting the permits for their future building. Our church services were held on a slab of concrete underneath of a yellow circus tent. We had huge fans set up and a sound system and chairs were set up every Sunday and taken down immediately afterward. This would also be where our youth meetings would be held. This was cool most of the time, but in the summer time we had to get creative because the weather forecast ALWAYS called for rain, and parents don’t like it when there kids are next to medal poles in a lightning storm. We occasionally had to have youth group at the local McDonalds.

The second issue was that there was no youth budget. When I asked what the youth budget was, Pastor Geoff said, “You are the youth budget.” So I had to get creative with what I did. I would frequently take my TV and DVD player from my living room and load it up in the car when I wanted to show a video clip. I had to get donations for every little thing that we did, and we had a poor congregation as well as youth group and so fundraisers became a huge part of what we did. I oftentimes ended up paying for a lot of little things out of my own pocket, and it added up real fast.

The third, and probably biggest issue with my first youth pastor job was this… there were no youth. There were a few teenagers that had family in the congregation, and a list of other teenagers that don’t go to church, but other than that there were no youth. When I first arrived the church was having youth meetings on Sunday nights, and the first one that I was in charge of had six adult leaders (which was awesome) but only three teenagers. It was very discouraging to plan a message for three youth, but it was my job to grow it.

We didn’t have a lot of resources and we didn’t really have a draw so I had to figure out what strengths we did have. Our greatest strength was the amount of adults who were willing to do whatever it takes to see the youth ministry be successful. Another strength was that I lived in the area my whole life and had made connections of people that could help. We added a lot of younger youth workers, who were just acquaintances of mine that were ready to have a more hands on opportunity in ministry. The last strength was the big open field that our circus tent was on. It became evident very fast that by having Frisbees and footballs every week that we could attract a lot of younger boys, and that is exactly what happened. We grew in numbers to a maximum of 25 weekly students before I left, but the whole time I was there, there were probably only five total girls that came through our ministry. But we were reaching the boys, and we were reaching boys that had a lot of baggage and would never go to a “typical” church.

An immediate change that I had to make was to change the night of the youth service. By having it on Sunday night it felt as though I never saw the kids. I would see them on Sunday morning, Sunday night and then not again until the following Sunday morning. I couldn’t develop any accountability with them by only seeing them one day a week. The great thing was that I told the Pastor that I wanted to switch youth group to Wednesday nights, and he agreed to start a Wednesday night Bible study for the adults at the same time, so that parents would have no excuse not to bring their kids. This was great for the church as well.

In addition to my duties as youth pastor, it was also part of my job description to have a college ministry. Now this was a bit out of my comfort zone. I was in a few college groups, but I was not in one that would be deemed “successful.” I had to figure out how to have a college ministry. Once again I had to look at my strengths.

We had more college students who were looking to be filled in our church then we did youth. Some of those were youth workers. We had one of the largest universities in the country close to us. (USF) And the greatest part was the Pastor’s sister owned a coffee house real close to the church that she opened up for us on Thursday nights specifically for our college group.

The first night of college group after setting up booths at USF and handing out flyers and sweet tea, and all of the word of mouth advertising that we did… our first meeting had only 4 people. (Including me and my wife) The two people were Cat and Buddy and they didn’t even go to our church, although it wouldn’t be long before they did, and we would become GREAT friends.

Our college study was going through a small group curriculum on the book of Romans. I had it set up to ask open ended questions, get a lot of dialogue going and then close it with a summary of what the particular passage was showing. As it would turn out this was excellent for what this college group wanted. I made no changes to this group in the first 6 months except for my buddy Mike Hall came and led us in worship before the Bible study began. I made it a Thursday afternoon tradition to call everyone that had ever come to our college group and ask if they were coming. If they were not going to come they had to have the courage to tell me why they were not coming.

After our first week of only four people, we had eight the next week, and I think we maxed out at close to thirty college students. I was putting all of my effort in trying to grow the youth group and it did not grow in the first six months. I put almost no effort into growing the college group and it just exploded, and ministry was really happening.

Unfortunately, the Pastor’s sister had to sell the coffee shop and we had to move our group to the church and after the first semester a lot of schedules changed, life happened, and the ministry plateaued. We were still growing and lives were being changed but it wasn’t at quite as fast a pace as it was before.

As far as the youth group went I felt a real sense of responsibility to the kids in our youth group. Life has a way of coming full circle, and the people our ministry was attracting was people that were a lot like I was when I was a teenager. We didn’t have ideal church kids, we didn’t have the popular kids… but these kids looked up to me and to the other youth leaders and we had an immense obligation to lead these students in the way of the Word.

We named our youth group “The Refuge” after one of the verses I learned in Bible Drills. Psalm 62:8 “Trust in Him at all time, you people. Pour out your heart before Him. God is a REFUGE for us.” This verse fit our youth ministry perfectly. We had a lot of foster kids and we had a bipolar kid and we had a kid with autism, but mostly we had kids that had never felt loved. We wanted our ministry to be a place where any kids can come and feel like they belong and like they are accepted, and that God loves them just as much as He does anyone else. That was our main goal in ministry.

During this amazing time at Willow Bend I got connected with this group that headed up what was called The Faith Based Initiative at San Antonio Boys Village. This was a program that Jeb and Laura Bush put into effect and got a 3 million dollar grant for. The rate for teenagers that get out of jail going directly back into jail before their first year out was at something like 80%. The Faith Based Initiative gave some of these teenage inmates the option of going to the Boys Village for a different type of program. These boys signed up to be in prison for only six months, to get matched up with a Christian mentor, and for the next six months after being released had to get involved in their mentors church a minimum of once a week.

Our church got involved and it was amazing. We had a lot of our men sign up to be mentors and we led their chapel service for one Sunday night a month. It was one of those times in life when you feel like you are doing relevant ministry. After the first couple years of this program the inmates who went back to jail after one year of being out dropped from around 80% to around 17% for the boys in the Faith Based Initiative. It is one the thing that I am most proud of from my first ministry year. Sadly though, when Charlie Crist took over he did away with the program. This is just another of his many bad moves. (But that’s for another paper entirely)

From this time in my ministry I learned a lot of things. I learned that I need to live a lot more on faith. This is a lesson that the life of Pastor Geoff taught me. I learned that you could do ministry without a lot of resources, you just have to be creative. I learned that the first thing you need to do in building a youth ministry is to build a healthy adult leadership team. I also learned that I loved being a youth pastor and that this is exactly what I will do with the rest of my life.

Moving to South Carolina

Things up to this point had been really great, but I only knew they were really great in hindsight. One of the greatest lessons I learned from the next two years if my life is that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

We finished our degree program at Trinity and had a year of youth ministry under our belt and now it was time to spread our wings. Married life was not going too well, we had no idea had to deal with family issues because we were from two completely different family dynamics. I did not see our marriage lasting very long in the current situation because the stress of ministry and families was weighing on us. Jesus said you cannot be a prophet in your hometown, and I completely understood that. Ministry is a 24/7, lifetime commitment, and we were being pulled in too many different directions to every truly be “successful.”

The greatest thing I could ever say about my wife, is that when I suggested we move away from everyone and everything we had ever known, she said yes without any hesitation. My wife is the absolute greatest human being on the planet.

So we had personal reasons to leave Tampa, but selfishly I thought I needed a “typical” youth ministry with all the bells and whistles. I needed a youth budget and sanctuary and an office, to be completely honest I needed more than the money I was getting paid at Willow Bend too.

I put my resume on a lot of different websites and sent it to a couple churches, and one day a pastor from South Carolina called and asked me if we wanted to fly up to South Carolina for an interview. We heard all that was there: approximately 60-70 kids, a huge gymnasium, a beautiful building, $14,500 youth budget, and a salary that was over 4 times what I was making at Willow Bend… of course we will fly up.

The interview went well, and it seemed like most of the people on the committee liked me. It seemed like the Pastor’s wife was my biggest supporter, I found out later that she fought for me to get hired. So here we are two 22 year old newlyweds leaving everything in Tampa, FL and moving to South Carolina where we knew NO ONE.

I honestly was enamored by the differences in the two churches. I loved having church indoors. I loved having an office. I loved kids that had already been programmed to go to church on Wednesdays. I loved a lot of the kids. But this wasn’t nearly as simple as my last church.

In South Carolina I was introduced to something called “church politics.” It was ugly and it was everywhere. First of all, I had my first experience of following another youth pastor. He had a good following and I was not him. Some of the students resented me before they even met me, as though I made the guy leave. Some of the adult leaders, including the pastor’s wife, didn’t take very well to the change that had occurred and emotionally detached themselves from the youth ministry. In addition to all that, I went from having a Pastor that loved me and was an amazing role model to having a Pastor that I did not trust.

The other issue that I did not foresee in moving to South Carolina was that I could not relate to these students and to this culture at all. I was only three states away my whole life, but it may as well have been another planet. Evangelism wasn’t a big deal because everyone was “saved.” Church was just something you always did, and so I became more of an event coordinator than a youth pastor, I set up the social lives of 60-70 teenagers. I could never tell when a commitment that was being made was genuine or not, crying at an altar was a weekly occurrence for some kids, almost like going to a Catholic confession booth. There was also a spirit of negativity throughout the church, complaining was the spiritual gift of even the greatest Christians of the church. I did not fit in there very well at all.

One of the main things that bothered me was the spirit of racism that predicated every aspect of life in South Carolina. I had no intentions of moving to South Carolina and being any sort of race relation change agent, because I thought that racism went away 40 years ago. Not only was it prevalent, but it was accepted, and any sort of change was an abomination. The saddest part is that I am not just talking about the adults; I am talking about the teenagers as well. It is a sad, sad commentary on human existence when in the year 2005 bigotry was still an accepted practice in the United States.

People in our church referred to people of the opposite race as “those people” and made grand generalizations about what “those people” do. The statement “I am not racist” is always followed with “I have a black friend” which of course means that you still see them as black. I was told once at a convention that I went to that if I kept “talking like that” that I would eventually lose my job. I had no intention of being a Civil Rights leader but I REFUSE to teach my teenagers that racism is okay, regardless of the consequences.

In the midst of two of the most difficult years of my life there were some bright spots. One of the things that our church did well was disaster relief. We moved to South Carolina just as Hurricane Katrina was reeking havoc. The pastor had a pastor friend in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. I personally made two trips to Mississippi in support of this church that had been destroyed in the hurricane. We saw a lot of pain and a lot of devastation, but I truly believe that we did a lot of good for these people and we held the banner of Jesus high on these trips. They were some of the most depressing trips I had ever been on, but they were the rare times when I knew that I was doing what God wanted me to do.

One of my other job requirements when I took the job in South Carolina was that I was in charge of the Upward basketball ministry. During basketball season we would have kids from K5 to 6th grade going through this ministry and on most occasions we would have more people come through the doors of our church on a Saturday then we did the next day on Sunday. This was one of the flagship programs of the church.

These two years was a great learning experience for me. I learned to be grateful when you are in a good situation. I learned that in ministry you can NEVER follow the money. I learned that my wife is the greatest partner I could ever have. And I learned that if you cannot click with your Senior Pastor then you will never be “successful.” One of the main things I learned was from the book, Seizing your Divine Moment by Erwin McManus. In the book he said something that I never thought of before; he said that just because God calls you to do something doesn’t mean that you won’t “fail.” God said He would never leave us or forsake us. He never said He would make us a success. I learned this lesson well, but I know that this situation was a time in my life that I can compare everything else to and appreciate what I now have.

My Current Church

Everything came to a head in South Carolina and it became very apparent to all parties involved that it was time to move on. I went back to the internet and I went back to sending my resume out. I had three major interviews within months of each other and they were all back in Florida.

On Easter of 2007 we went to church at this amazing church in Clearwater. This was a very relevant church that had a lot of things going for it. Our interview lasted three full days… three “full” days. It was a grueling interview process, and we had to deal with something we never had before… rejection. For the first time in my life I didn’t get a job that I interviewed for and it was pretty devastating.

We had to get over it fast because we had two more interviews coming up soon. We went on the same road in Clearwater for a 24 hour interview. They flew us in, put us up in this nice condo, fed us 4 times, razzled and dazzled us and put us back on the plane.

That weekend we had another interview in Haines City, Florida. We thought it was pretty strange because we were not being flown down for this interview, they wanted us to drive. Everything about this church was less impressive. It was further away from Tampa, which was where we wanted to get close to. It was paying $15,000 less a year than the first one, and when asked about the youth budget, everyone always laughed. There was no reason in the world we should have gone to NorthRidge over the church in Clearwater… except… we believed in the Pastor and we bought into the vision that he had.

We got offered both positions and turned the church in Clearwater down to accept less money and virtually no perks, because we learned our lesson before… NEVER follow the money.

To be honest, I had my doubts at first. I was told the youth ministry at one time had 200 students; my first night there was twelve students. And there was a learning curve between me and the staff. I now had developed trust issues, and I continuously thought that people had ulterior motives. I was second guessing my decision for the first month or so.

I now know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am where God wants to me to be. We run 60 faithful, eager students on Wednesday night. We have 10 faithful youth workers that I would take a bullet for. We have a congregation that is in love with Jesus. We have an Academy where students are being taught to grow into mature Christian adults following after Christ. Most of all, we have a Pastor, Pastor David Myers, that is as humble as he is great. Someone I can model my life after. He is an amazing Pastor and an incredible family man. He has the biggest servant’s heart I have ever seen. He is my biggest supporter, and I am his.

The thing that I have learned the most from my current ministry position is to cherish what you have. I have learned to make the most of every opportunity. I have learned that living a life of ministry will not get you rich with money, but there are greater rewards in Heaven.

I look forward to many more years in ministry, and it is all thanks to those who invested in me at such a young age.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Favorite Time of Year.

Wow! It is so hard to believe that it has been one month since I posted last. I always intend to post every two weeks, but things have been VERY busy lately.

Of course school started back and I am in charge of two Bible classes. This is my first time as a year-round teacher of any kind, but I love it very much. It has consumed a lot of time though, even though I didn't think it really would.

Another reason I have not posted recently is because of what I like to call "technology demons." You know what I mean, for some reason my wireless at my house stopped working a month or so ago, and through countless attempts to fix it or to have it fixed, I had never been able to get it back up. Then out of nowhere I decided to try it again a few days ago, and it mysteriously works again. So that's really neat.

It has been a time of transition and getting things started. Our youth group is starting new curriculum and has made a new partnership with Word of Life, and we were doing a lot of training to get all of that straightened out. And then of course our Evangelism Explosion ministry started up last week and that has taken a lot of my time as well, but it is going to be so worth it if even ONE person gets saved.

So all of those are reasons why it has taken me over a month to make another post. But I know that all of them are paltry.

This is a great time of year for sports, especially a Tampa guy like me. My wife and I have watched at least 75% of the Tampa Bay Rays games this year and we are utterly amazed. My best friend who runs a website called www.3guysandasportspage.com has predicted for years that the Rays were going to hit their stride soon, but to be honest I didn't see it. Our team salary is less than the Yankees luxury tax. We are out spent in that division like 50-1 (that's a wild guess) and the Yankees and Red Sox have looked so dominant over the past eleven years of the Rays existence. But right now our magic number is 16 to win the division.

The USF Bulls have also got off to a 3-0 start. Starting QB Matt Grothe (my friend on Facebook) is a Heisman trophy candidate and that team is easily the best team in the Big East after three games. Go Bulls.

And then there's the Bucs. I am a die-hard Bucs fan, but I have a really bad feeling about this season. I hope that I am absolutely and completely wrong and that the Bucs go 15-1 on the way to the Super Bowl... in Tampa. I do miss the days when we had a respectable and decent man at the head coach like Tony Dungy, but I am still die-hard.

All in all, I love this time of year. School's back in, sports are all over the place, the weather cools off a little bit, and we prepare for the holidays... awesome!

As far as the church goes, tonight we are having the Community Dedication Service for our new building. It should be an amazing service. We are honoring all of those people who assisted in getting that church building back to the beautiful building that we are now corporately worshipping in.

For the spiritual emphasis of this post I want to talk a little bit about Jesus. I recently taught about when Jesus chased the money changers out of the temple. This story really changed my view on Jesus when I first got saved. The Jesus I thought of before was the one in all of the pictures, where he looked like a dark-haired Fabio and had a huge smile on His face surrounded by children and sheep.

But when Jesus walked into that Temple during the Passover season and saw the people selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging money for the local temple tax, and saw that these people were making a HUGE profit off of God, Jesus couldn't stand for it. The Bible says that he made a whip and just went in and cleared the place out. This reminds me that Chuck Norris wears JESUS pajamas. (a few of you will get that) Jesus wasn't a sissy, He was a man's man and he had the courage to stand up for what is right. Why don't we?

I am not suggesting that we run people out with a whip, but I am suggesting that we not listen when people try to gossip to us; that we walk away when people try to tell us a dirty joke; that we say something when someone says something offensive toward God.

It takes a lot more courage to stand up for what is right than it does to just let something go. But think of the courage that Jesus had to do all He did for us, let's follow His example.

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PS Please comment.

PSS A friend of mine just released a book called "Tatoo on the Heart." Check out his website: http://www.tattooontheheart.com

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

NEW

Well my faithful blog readers. Life is good, and God is on the throne!
I have been writing all summer about change and about how weird it is here at church with no kids running around, and no teachers hanging out. It is almost time for that to change.
This week is when the teachers came back to the school which means that it is not nearly as quiet around here, and it also means that me and my wife are working at the same place again. Life is good, and I am looking forward to all the kids coming back here, even if they may not be.
And of course, this past Sunday was our first service in the new building. It was an amazing, awesome service and I thank God for every moment of it. It didn't come easy. The enemy started to attack and he is still attacking. We know and believe that God is about ready to do some incredible things through the life of NorthRidge Church and due to this the Devil is scared.

I used to not think that the devil attacks in such ways, but I do not believe it to be a coincidence that whenever things start to roll around here, things to seem to get so much more difficult. But here is the good news, while the devil is mighty... GOD IS ALMIGHTY!!!!!

When I think of all of the sacrifice that Pastor David put into the rebuilding process, and when I think of all of the other Pastors faithfully following behind him without complaint, and when I think of the countless hours that volunteers put into getting this building back to where it is now... it overwhelms me.
However, it must be noted and it must be remembered that the church is not a building. The church is the body of believers that follow after Christ. It is so easy to take a church building and to make it an idol. It is so easy to marvel at our new seats, and new colors, and new sound system, and the entire beauty of our new sanctuary. But if we ever put that building above God then we are in huge trouble.
Our pastor has said this to us for the last month now, if not more, and it is a true concern of his. The thing is when I walk in that building I do not see a building... I see what God has done. When I walk in that building I do not see a building... I see Jehovah-Jireh.
God allowed that old church building to burn down, but he never left us alone. It was difficult and it was tedious, but there was always a way for it to be done. God is good and He is worthy to be praised!

Praise God!


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P.S. Leave a comment.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Reflect

Well, it has been an interesting couple of weeks since my last post. I cannot believe that this is my 31st post. It is amazing how fast time flies.

Since my last post my wife and I got a Ford Explorer. It is burnt orange and it is perfect for families. We were planning on saving up for a family car, but now we have one and it is paid off. God is good!

It is quiet here in the office because every one of the Pastors on staff except for me are on a mission trip in Honduras. They are working on a church there as well as doing Vacation Bible School. Our church sent 22 people on this trip, this is quite an undertaking and your prayers would be valued as they are gone.

So with all of the Pastors gone, it leaves me to pick up the slack. Thank God, as of yet, nothing catastrophic has happened. We got through service yesterday with nothing bad happening (that I know of) and I had an awesome time bringing the sermon yesterday. I was fired up and I love each and every opportunity I ever get to speak to the congregation.

This is a pretty exciting time, we have 13 days until we have our first service in our new sanctuary, and I cannot wait. School will be starting back soon and I am excited to have all of the kids running around here again. As a youth pastor I feel it is a blessing to be so close to youth all day long. I will most likely be teaching a few Bible classes this year as well, which is also exciting. I have been working on our church website and it should be up last Saturday :) It will be up very soon, it has been edited and updated and we are waiting for one piece of information to go through the right person's hands and we will be up. Hopefully before the night is out, so that is exciting. And of course Training Camp has started and that means that football season is almost here, which is uber-exciting!

I am hopefully going training camp sometime toward the end of this week, and hopefully I will NOT be watching Brett Favre. The Bucs have 5 quarterbacks on their roster and we don't need the distraction of Favre. Me and my good friend Robert Wiley (who is also a HUGE Bucs fan) and I will be going on Thursday or Friday and I can't wait.

And in case you are wondering about the rest of my schedule for the week, we are going to Give Kids the World tonight and that is very exciting as well. I have mentioned it in previous posts, but it has been months now so I will refresh your memory.

Give Kids the World is a place where terminally ill children go for a week with their families during their last days. It is like a wonder land. Everything there is so amazing and nice, it is like Disney World with love. It is some of these kids last chance to ever have a good time. They will go to this place and be able to forget, for at least a little while, all of the things that they are going through. Tonight my wife and I are going with our church parents, the Beasleys, to work in the ice cream parlor. It is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It truly puts life into perspective.

To end, I want to reiterate some thing I talked about yesterday morning. I believe that one of the most important things in our Christian life is the helmet of salvation. The helmet of salvation is the hope of salvation, which is the expectation and confidence of salvation. I want for all of you, my faithful blog readers to stop and reflect on what it really means to be wearing the helmet of salvation. Think about how amazing this is. Think about how awesome this is. Think about how good God is.



Reflect.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

God will provide!

As I have mentioned in previous posts, this Summer is a pretty weird time for me. A lot of change, a lot of transition. This week is no different.

My faithful readers remember when I mentioned that the music pastor that I used to work with in South Carolina moved here to Florida. Well, he is moving to South Korea on Wednesday. My next door neighbors, who are the best neighbors a guy could ever ask for, and really good friends are moving to South Carolina.

What's behind these moves: the Polk County School Board. Jeremy has a degree in education and was teaching autistic students and because of "cutbacks" wasn't asked back next year. My next door neighbor Sonia has a flippin' Masters in education and wasn't asked back, both of them finding immediate work else where. I could use the rest of this blog to point out all of the problems with such things, but I want this blog to a positive place. But just know that I write this post with an aura of sadness surrounding me.

Last week a major occurrence happened: my wife got in a car accident. She is okay, but the car was totalled. She ran into the hitch on a pickup truck when the dude slammed on his brakes. Nothing wrong with the truck but because the frame on our car was bent the insurance company totalled our car. We are driving one car as we weigh out all of our options.

Here is the neat thing about it though: neither one of us worried about it. It is such a great feeling to know that you are a child of God and that God is going to provide for you. We actually got twice as much for the car from the insurance company as what the Kelley Blue Book value was. Now, we are just in a spot that there a lot of different roads that we could travel in this situation, and if God brought us this far we better make sure we continue to follow Him.

You wanna read some great news? Good, I am glad you do.. I am posting this blog from my office, yes my OFFICE! It is nice and it has a door on it. For those of you that don't know our church had a major fire last September and we haven't had any real place to call an office since then. But before the fire we had cubicles in our office so, once again God in His infinite wisdom provided for us, and now we have beautiful new places to work from.

The other thing is, the sanctuary and rest of the church looks amazing. I am putting a video on here that I threw together of the progress made on the construction. You may think that you have seen it but I added a lot to the end of it so this is actually its very first unveiling. I hope you enjoy it.

video

So here is the spiritual implication of this post, I think it is very obvious... God will provide. His name in this regard is Jehovah-Jireh and the first time it was used in the Bible was when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Why was he asked to do such a thing? As a test of faith, maybe. As a show of obedience, maybe. Some theologians believe that this was God's poetic way of getting people ready for Jesus. If we can feel an emotional connection to the story of Abraham and Isaac, then we will be even more ready to accept the gift that God gave us in His son Jesus Christ.

For whatever reason God asked Abe to do this, the important thing is that he was wiling to do it... with no hesitation. And because of his obedience and his faith... God provided! A ram in the thicket, and no harm came to Isaac.

So if all of my friends move away I have to know that God will still provide. If our cars are out of commission I have to know that God will provide. And if our church burns down then I have to know that God will provide.

What an amazing God we serve! Thank you Jehovah-Jireh.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Youth Camp

Last week we went to Youth Camp. We went to Student Life Missions Camp at Stetson University, close to Daytona Beach.

Our speaker for the week was a man by the name if Sam Bhatt. This man was absolutely amazing. He was funny, he was so easy to pay attention to, and he was passionate. He said on his first day, "My name is Sam Bhatt, and I am a disciple of Jesus Christ." He wasn't a typical youth camp speaker that thinks he is above people. One of the greatest things for the kids at the camp (there were over 1000) was that Sam loved to just hang out with the kids. I heard Sam plays a killer game of ultimate frisbee.

Our band for the week was the Chuck Hooten band. Chuck was of the same mold as Sam, to where he was incredibly humble and in tune with what God wanted to do. We got even more time to hang out with the band, because they came and spent an hour or so with us during our small group time. I was amazed at how accommodating this band was. At the same time our youth LOVED this band, and I am going to do whatever is necessary to get them to Haines City.

It wasn't just speakers and bands though, during the middle of the day we went on Mission. Our mission for the week was volunteering at a Boys and Girls Club. This was incredibly gratifying for a couple of reasons. 1. The children we were working with was amazing 2. The staff at the BnG was so nice they let us lead them in Bible stories and share whatever we wanted with them 3. My wife used her kindergarten teacher skills to lead at least five of these children to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (PRAISE GOD!) 4. Our teenagers stepped up in a huge way. You would be amazed at the ownership and responsibility these teenagers took in the mission we were given. The adults could have left the Club and nothing would have changed. I was so proud of them.

If all that were not enough, I have to tell you about Wednesday night. On Wednesday night Sam's message was so incredibly basic. He took us through some of Jesus' highlights, like turning water into wine and feeding the 5000 and then told us to put ourselves in the shoes of the person who witnessed the miracle. After that he read the horrific tale of the crucifixion of Jesus, but he did so from a medical examiner's point of view. And then he called us to a time of commitment.

Every one of our teenagers stood up to say that they wanted to step up their Christian walk and give God 100%. As I watched them, and saw how God was moving in them, I felt led to take them outside. We went out of the service and just prayed with each other. During this time of prayer we could almost see all of the walls breaking down. All of the stuff that they were holding back, all of the times that they gave less than 100%, and the all the times as their leaders that we let them down. God worked in that prayer circle in a way that will change lives FOREVER.

After that God led me to take them up on a hill and make an Old Testament altar. We got sticks for each of the teenagers and they made a covenant before God and their brothers and sisters in Christ of what God was telling them to do and what they were going to do. I would not trade this time in my life for anything. It was such a humbling, awe-inspiring time.

God is amazing, and worthy of our praise! But remember that God wants 100% and he DESERVES 100%. Don't give God your leftovers. Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow after Him. You won't be disappointed.


video

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Tribute

Change. A very difficult thing. It is especially difficult when you are so content with the way things are. You know the joke: How many Southern Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Change? What's that?

I like things the way they are and so right now is a particularly weird time for me. First of all, school is out and it is sooooooooooooo quiet here at the church now. I really miss my tenth grade Bible class. My wife is out of school, which is good for her, but I really miss eating lunch with her every day. (By the way, it's her birthday today... HAPPY BIRTHDAY!) And last but certainly not least, one of my favorite people in the world Michael Bartlett is moving away and taking his incredible family with him. As a way to pay homage to Bartman and to access a therapeutic release this posting is dedicated to him.

I remember the first time I met him, we were at Harold Butler's house for one of those awkward "Meet the New Guy" dinners. (I was the new guy) There were more staff members than I could possibly remember in one night and I always feel nervous at such things.

Bartlett and I met at the dessert table (a theme in our friendship) and he mentioned that he was recently in Pasco County, the site of the first church I ever served at. Me, in all my nervous brilliance said, "Did you know that Pasco County has more Nudist Colonies per capita than any other county in the U.S.?" Somehow he did not know that. Anyone else would have probably thought that was weird but Bartman rolled with it and I talked to him that night more than anyone else.

Well, somehow I still got the job and ended up working pretty closely with Bartman. He was my wife's boss and I am so grateful for the way he treated the one that I love. I could NEVER have asked for a better boss for my wife. Understanding, supportive, encouraging, respectful... it gave me such peace knowing that my wife was working at such an amazing school.

Bartman and I also developed a little tradition. His Bible class usually got over at 10:45 and I ate lunch at around 11. Him and I had an unspoken agreement to meet during that time at least twice a week. I truly miss those 15 minutes as well.

Bartlett and I share a heart's desire for reaching the lost and showing kids the love of God. Sometimes in ministry it can feel like you're surrounded by the world but standing all alone on an island, when those times came I always knew that Bartlett would join me on that island. We always seemed to see things the same way and the only disagreement we ever had was over how much worse his Bears are than my Bucs.

It is hard to believe that after only knowing a guy for one year that you could become this attached, but I have and I truly will miss my friend. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he will be "successful" at whatever it is that he does. He has often told me that he feels like his life is just constantly building to something else. Skills and lessons learned one place prepares him for the next stage of his life. I am sure that that is what is happening here as well.
And trust me, if anyone understands why he is leaving it is me. There is just something within you that is always drawing you to your home. He is from North Carolina and I know this must be a very bittersweet feeling to move back home, but it is definitely God's will.

I will miss him, I will miss our time together, but I will forever be connected through this one amazing year of my life. And to end I am putting on some of his "favorite" photos, and I am also ending with his famous catchphrase... "Onward and upward."



Saturday, May 31, 2008

Product Placement

Hello my friends, this is my 27th post I think. That is a lot.

Things have been great lately. My birthday came and went and I am now the big 2-6. I had a great birthday and actually got a lot of cool stuff. My father and brother-in-law got me Mario Kart, and I am pretty addicted. I connect on Nintendo WiFi and play people around the globe. I love beating people from Japan in their own game :) My wife got me Wii Fit, which is awesome. However the first thing it told me when I got on was that I was overweight and it made my character fatter. But it is cool to get a workout while playing video games.


Anyhow, I got other stuff from great people, but what I wanted to talk about was what my friend Mike Hall got me. He bought me Francis Chan's new book called Crazy Love. Check it out at http://www.crazylovebook.com/. If you have read any of my other posts you know that I have mentioned Chan before. He is a Pastor in California and seems to the most sought after speaker at every conference I go to anymore. But for good reason.
His book is challenging the norm of what we have become as the American church. He is asking some great questions. What does it look like to really love God? If we say we love God then shouldn't our actions reflect such an expression? If we truly loved God then wouldn't we thirst and hunger for every waking minute we can spend with Him? Does it ever seem like doing the things of God have become an obligation? And the big kicker... Are we truly in love with God or are we just in love with the benefits of God?

The book discusses the true meaning of what it means to be a lukewarm Christian and to be honest with you I don't think that many of us fall into any category but that one. Do we offer God our leftovers or do we give Him the first of everything we have? Do we worship God in our good times and our bad? If Heaven a was place with every thing we ever wanted... money, food, friends, stuff, happiness, fun, joy... but God was not there, would we still want to go?

If you can't tell, I highly recommend the book. But don't get it if you don't want your toes stepped on. Don't get it if you are satisfied with the status quo. Don't get it if you are happy with lukewarm.

Well, after my birthday dinner at Spaghetti Warehouse (love the place) we watched Prince Caspian, which was amazing. If you don't know anything about it, it is based on the book by CS Lewis and it is full of spiritual metaphors. The main theme of the movie is that you should never do anything without making sure that God is leading you to do it, and if you don't know where God is leading you... you must wait on Him.

So this post seems to have been one big commercial. So remember buy Wii Fit, Mario Kart, Crazy Love and eat at Spaghetti Warehouse and watch Prince Caspian. And don't forget mainly that you need to rely on God, and ask Him to give you a desire to fall in love with God all over again.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Dundies

Hello everyone,

It has been a pretty eventful little while for me. Last week we took the 6th to 10th grade students to see the new Expelled movie starring Ben Stein. It was just as incredible as I thought it would be.



It was real interesting to see all of the evolutionists backpedal when confronted with just some very basic questions. It was also interesting to hear these scientists who are supposed to be really smart talk about their theories on the creation of the Earth. One guy thinks that it is more feasible to believe that the Earth was created as a result of tiny crystals, and yet another believes that the Earth was created because it was "seeded" by aliens. (politically correct term for any readers who might be children) Anyhow, it is hard to leave that movie without having a lot more faith than before you walked in.



My wife and I are going to go to the ESPN Zone with some friends this weekend and I am very excited about. And I am going to the Rays game on Saturday and I believe this is a team that is heading in the right direction. They remind me of the Bucs. First new uniforms, next a new stadium, and then the team starts to be a winner. Should be fun.



I am also pretty excited because not only is my birthday coming up (May 20) but there is also a movie coming out that I am ultra excited about. Prince Caspian is going to be released on May 16th. Here is a little semi-trailer/behind the scene vignette of the movie:

video


I am really excited about this and I have been teaching on it in youth group for the last two weeks and I still have one sermon left in me. For those of you that don't know, C.S. Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia as one giant Biblical metaphor. He made the parallels deliberate but vague enough to where you have to search for them. It is on this journey of understanding that you truly begin to understand the prestige of Narnia.

If you know nothing about the movie, the only thing you need to know is that Aslan represents God and the White Witch represents Satan and then you can watch the movie with your spiritual glasses on and you will be blessed from it.


For my spiritual portion of my blog I want to point out that just like the kids traveling through Narnia were not in their home, we are also not in our home. We are just passing through this place and this place wasn't created for us. Therefore we should not be tempted by the trappings of this world because this world is not our home. We should also be as ready as possible for the day when Jesus comes and takes us home. The main way to do this is to make sure that you don't go home alone. Use this movie as a way to reach out to people who would never go to church with you, but they would go to a movie with you. Just don't go home alone.

I have been reading a lot of youth pastor blogs off of the list on http://www.youthpastor.com/. I like mine the best, but I am biased. I have noticed though that a lot of youth pastors like to give out awards. That is what I am going to do right now.


I am going to hand out the NorthRidge Dundies. (If you don't know what a Dundee is, watch The Office on NBC.)

The Jim Halpert Dundee that represents the person who jokes with everybody in a nonchalantly sarcastic way go to: Pastor Bill Hatley

The Kevin Malone Dundee that represents the person who seems to always find where the food is at goes to: Pastor Michael Bartlett (I am coming for you to get that title)

The Dwight Schrute Dundee that represents the person who can obviously find and devour a werewolf and catch a bat from the ceiling tiles goes to Pastor Harold Butler

The Stanley Hudson Dundee that represents the person who won't take anything from anyone but will handle all situation with his classic, respected sass goes to Pastor Terril Gilley

And finally... the Michael Scott Dundee that represents the person who should go to Spencer gifts and by himself a mug that says World's Best Boss goes to Pastor David Myers

Thank you for attending the Dundees, see you nest year a Chili's near you.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

National Day of Prayer

May 1st is the National Day of Prayer, and we need it more than ever. If at all possible get to some festivities that your area is putting on, or at least get on your knees and spend some time with the God of the Universe on Thursday.

I was going to go to the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast here in Haines City but we are actually going to take the 6th to 10th graders at NCA to see the movie Expelled. We got a private showing at 9 a.m. so I am not going to be able to make it, but we will be letting our kids know about the National Day of Prayer and we will be praying.


Anyhow, I know from looking at Web stats that most of my readership comes from people outside of my church, but I am still asking for prayer. I believe that God is doing some big things in our area (in spite of me) and I believe now our area and our ministry is under extreme attack.

Last week we had an amazing youth service (in spite of me) and God showed up in an immense way, and on Thursday and proceeding days I had to get through some of the worst days of my life, and it is no coincidence.

This morning I went to go pray at one of our local middle schools as I do every Wednesday and things were different. The students are usually herded like cattle to sit on the basketball court until the bell rings for security measures. We are allowed to pray right in front of the entire student body and we typically have 100-200 kids praying with us.

This week I showed up and there were no kids on the basketball court. Apparently last Thursday there was a sever fight that actually led to some arrests. Due to this all of the students are now herded to their classrooms and only allowed out for breakfast. The amazing, dedicated secretary at the front office asked the principal about prayer and she said, "We are just going to have to have a moment of silence over the intercom." The secretary was almost in tears and our prayer meeting consisted of me, three faculty members and two students who didn't care if they got in trouble. I am happy to say that we had the most amazing time of prayer and that the enemy can't keep us down.

Pray, pray, and pray some more. Romans 8 says that we are waiting with anticipation for the day when God reveals His glory through us. Make the most of every day, make the most of every opportunity and happy national day of prayer!



Update
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Our prayer at the Middle School resumed this Wednesday. While i was not like it was two weeks ago, all of the kids are allowed to pray again. The only thing they need to do is get a pass from their teacher. One teacher just went ahead and brought his whole class out. God is good and faithful.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Beaches and Idols

Hello everyone.

It has been a pretty interesting couple of weeks. I have registered this blog with http://www.bloglines.com/ now. What that means is that you can sign up (for free) and put in http://www.jamesblewett.blogspot.com/ and every time I update my blog (like right now) you will get an email notification. That seems pretty cool to me. Oh, and by the way after 9 months of blogging I just figured out how to allow everybody to comment. So whoever wants to comment can. (but only nice things)

Last week was Spring Break, and it started out pretty bad. My wife got really sick and so I had to stay home with her, but I couldn't stay around her too much so that I wouldn't get sick either. That means that both Heather and I spent the first three days of our vacation completely alone. (it was worse for her though, being sick and all) I had a lot of constructive things I could have done with three days of solitude and no agenda. However, I did nothing at all that might be construed as productive.

The closest I came to constructive was on Monday. I started to surf the web, and decided to put a little fun website together. (after all its 2008 and just about everyone has there own website) Well what started out as just something to do for a few minutes, turned into ten hours on my laptop and I had no idea 10 hours went by. The result of these entranced 10 hours is http://www.jamesblewett.com/. Check it out if you like, but make sure to sign in.

So after a couple of days of boredom, Heather was beginning to feel better and that means that we didn't have to cancel our cruise. We left on Thursday to go to Ft. Lauderdale. My wife selected a very nice hotel, and we strutted the streets and beaches of Ft. Lauderdale, and took a little tour of Miami that night. (never again)

Friday our little cruise was shoving off, and we stood in line for what seemed like forever in order to get on the boat. (I forgot to mention this was a "free cruise" thanks Bill F.) We got on the boat and we realized how they are able to give this cruise away for free. Our room looked like a closet that would be straight from the TV show My Name is Earl. There were also a lot of people on the boat and not a lot of places to go. But not to worry, the morning was coming soon.

On Saturday we woke up (on the very bottom level of the boat) ported in beautiful Nassau, Bahamas. The water was so blue, the atmosphere was so interesting, the scenery was so beautiful, and the culture was so amazing. We had no plan we were just living for the moment, and it was one of the greatest days of my life. I am putting a little slide show on here for you, so that you can fully understand the scope of what I am writing.

video

I hope you enjoyed the pics. I heard a comic the other day say "Why is when people get back from vacation, they think everyone wants to hear about their vacation?" I can't remember the funny part, but I hope that this is not one of those instances.

Now for the spiritual part of the post. Did you see Idol Gives Back the other night. If you didn't, and you are a Christian, you need to check out Youtube and look up something. In fact, join my group www.youtube.com/group/youtubepastor and I will put in on their for you.

It was emotional to see all of the kids who need our help, it was inspiring to see Americans (and Simon) getting together for such a noble cause to raise money for people who need it. But the greatest part for me was when all of the finalists, joined by an amazing choir, sang Shout to the Lord. It was one of the greatest moments in television history for us Christians, because there was a worship song sung on one of the grandest stages in this country.

I understand that some of our brothers and sisters will find reason to be cynical of such an event. God is going to get His praise however he wants to, and we need not forget that. God is bigger than American Idol, and God is bigger than America. Some will say, "Yeah, but there was no change in any body's life as a result of that song." And some will say, "Yeah, but look at those immoral people singing a song to God."

But I will say, "Look at the incredible opportunity to share Christ with the lost world as a result of God infiltrating pop culture in such an enormous way." Use the opportunity to stimulate spiritual conversations with people that you know. Say something like, "Did you see that last song they sung on Idol Gives Back?" Wait for a response and pray that God will show Himself in that conversation, the same way He showed Himself to millions of people worldwide when He arranged for some of the greatest vocalists in Idol history to sing praise and honor to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Youth Pastor Conference

Hello everybody. I am writing this post a lot sooner than I usually do, because I have something to write about. I know I said that I would probably do my next post as a vlog, but I changed my mind. Maybe next time.

This past Monday I got to go to Universal Studios Hard Rock Cafe for a Youth Pastors Conference. It is put on by Student Leadership University and a few other sponsors and it is absolutely free. Not only that but after the conference you get a free ticket to go to Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios for the rest of the day. It has always been one of the highlights of the year for me ever since I began youth ministry.

It is always fun to catch up with old friends from college or from the past who are at this conference. I got to see my first youth pastor who led me to Christ 12 years ago, JJ Johnson. I got to see my college pastor who married Heather and I, Jason Waters. And I got to hang out with a lot of other friends of mine as well.

This year I went to the conference not really thinking that I would benefit too much from it. I feel as though I am in a good spot, I don't feel burnt out at all, I don't lack in motivation, and I love our students and even their parents. So I was excited to go, to hang out, to advertise my website http://www.youthtalksnow.com/ and to enjoy a great time inside of the park. What I got though, was so much more than I ever could have expected.

The key not speaker for this event is a man by the name of Francis ChanIf you have not heard of Francis Chan yet... you will. He is the most amazing speaker I have ever heard in my life, and it is for one reason only; he is genuine. This man has such a heart for God that it makes you want to be a better Christ follower just to be around him.

In listening to Chan speak I got to thinking that maybe a problem I am having is that I am "under-spiritualizing" things. You can tell from Francis that he has a close relationship with God and that relationship is what is guiding every decision he makes. He often asks this question, "If you were left alone on an island with no preconceived notions and a Bible, do you think that your church would look like our church does now?" The answer is an emphatic NO. We have so changed what the Bible says a church is supposed to look like into what Americans would like a church to look like.

He said at his church they decided that if they are to love their neighbors as themselves then they should give as much to their neighbors as they give to themselves. So 50% of their overall budget goes to do local and overseas mission work that will help their neighbors. This is a man that truly follows after God.

Later on in the day we heard from John ElderidgeThis man said some totally un-Baptist things. This man said things that would cause quite a stir in most of my circles. This man said some things that would be chalked up as heresy by some people in Christianity. This man said that he hears from God.

He said that the Bible is full of examples of people who were able to hear from God, and we call them exceptions "Yeah but that was the Old Testament." "Yeah but that was a long time ago." and this man says don't you think that if God put all of those people in the Bible that He would want them to serve as examples and not as exceptions.

He gave story after story of times when he heard God speak to him and the confirmation that came through the circumstances. He said one time he was going to take his family on a vacation to a dude ranch and he asked God if it was okay. God said no. Elderidge was disappointed but listened, and that summer during the week they were going to go on this trip there was a massive wildfire that spread through and destroyed the dude ranch.

I believe the sincerity of this man, and I hope that he is right, because wouldn't it be awesome to have that kind of relationship with God.

Finally we heard from probably my favorite preacher around right now. I tivo his messages and have seen him speak on TV on quite a few occasions. His name is Ed Young and he is known as the creative Pastor.


He talked about the big elephant in the room that Pastors would never talk about. He said the elephant was (and then he made an elephant noise) betrayal! That at some point in every Pastor's life they will be betrayed by someone. And usually it is someone who is close to you. He said it is like Judas, they get close enough to kiss you, so they're close enough to dis you.

But he said there are positive aspects to being betrayed by someone. And then he told us a true story.

When they were in the building process for Fellowship Church they wanted to make a 4300 seat auditorium but they could only afford to make it a 2000 seat auditorium. Then a man came through and said that he was going to give them millions to build the church they wanted. He showed them papers that would prove that the money had been wired over to the church's account.

Long story very short, after months into this building project they found out the man had lied and had made up all the documents and that there wasn't millions of dollars, there was nothing. Obviously Ed Young was hurt and was betrayed, but he said that if it weren't for this man betraying him that they wouldn't have had the faith to build the 4300 seat auditorium that they wanted to in the first place. Absolutely amazing!

Anyhow, I left this conference not even the least bit excited to go to Islands of Adventure, but I was very excited to get back to my people and do ministry. I left with a vow that our youth ministry was going to be a spiritual one, and that I was going to hold our kids to a much higher standard than I am now, and I am convinced that they will thank me for it one day.

God bless you all, and spend some time today thanking God for all of the many blessings that He has given us.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Facing the Giants

Hello faithful blog readers. I wish there was a way that I could inform you when my blog has been update, but I don't know how to do that. Anyhow I have a web cam now thanks to my father-in-law and I think that sometime soon I am just going to put on a vlog (video log) and not type a word. That would shake things up a little bit.

Things have been alright lately. Except for a couple of things. Our good friends Patrick Peterson and Bobby Colletti have left the beautiful, sunny splendor of Florida to live with some family in New York. We truly miss them and it has been a difficult time for some of us. We made this video before they left to honor their memory. Enjoy.


video



Besides them leaving, I suppose everything has been pretty ordinary. We have had some great success with our evangelism explosion ministry that I referred to in my last post. A good percentage of our church have been participating in this endeavor and it has been really exciting to intentionally carry out the Great Commission.

I went to the Tigers/Braves game yesterday and got a really bad sunburn. The game ended in a tie too, which is really bad. I also got the privilege last weekend to lead a Bible study for a youth group that I was formerly youth pastor of. There are very few things in life more rewarding than to see young men that you poured your life into still walking with Christ years after you have been away from them. It was a very special night for me.


My wife and I have become addicted to guitar hero and now the American Idol karaoke game. (which I am really bad at) People just let us borrow there stuff and they leave it at our house and then I play until I fall asleep with a guitar or a mike in my hand.

I need to end with something of Biblical relevance. I spoke with the students on Wednesday night briefly of the story of David and Goliath, but we looked at it a little differently than usual. We used http://www.thebricktestament.com/ this is the closing slide from the story.

In this familiar story we know that the small David overcame, beat, and decapitated (see above) the giant Goliath. But the part that we easily forget is that God is the one that made that happen. God is the one who beat Goliath, not David. And the other part that we fail to forget is that God has not changed. The same God that used small David to beat huge Goliath is the same God who is watching over your life. This is the same God who knows the number of hairs that are on your head. This is same God that knit you together in your mother's womb. This is the same God who will never leave you or forsake you.

When you come up against giants in this world remember this story and remember that God is always with wherever you go and know matter what you're up against.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Evangelism Explosion

I recently attended an Evangelism Explosion training clinic as all of you who attend my church know. I had the privilege of spending a week in Tampa being trained in how to train others in sharing their faith.

I cannot believe how much I learned, not to mention how fired up I got to share my faith. I realize now, that I have been a very selfish person. I am selfish in the fact that I have not been sharing the gift of eternal life with people I come in contact with, even though I had someone share with me.

It is easy as a Pastor to think that I am doing enough. It is easy to have the mindset that the congregation is supposed to "Go" and that I am supposed to "Stay" because I am going to reach those who come to my church who happen to be lost. This should not be the case. This should be the exact opposite, because as leaders we are to set the example to those who look up to us.

I wonder sometimes if we don't spend entirely too much time being "churchy" and not enough time being "Christ followers." If we were truly Christ followers we would have the heart and compassion for the lost that would not allow us to even sleep without a heavy heart and burden for people all around us who have no relationship with Christ and thus no hope of eternal life.

Watch this video that will help to illustrate this point.

video


As you can see, we have a long way to go in order to have a true heart for the lost. I hope that we can all do everything we can to "make disciples of every nation." We must stay in a prayerful, personal relationship with God and ask Him to send us the relationships He wants us to have influence over.

I must say that evangelism as we know it is not the way we make it out to be. It is not about "selling" anything to anyone, and if that's what it is to you then you must reevaluate your motives. Evangelism is nothing more than being prepared and obedient to the "divine appointments" that are in our lives. If we are involved with divine appointments, it will make no difference whether they receive Christ or not, because you will know that your seed has been properly planted and God will send the witness later that will reap the benefits of that.

Please be intentional in your evangelism and develop relationships that God would have for you, but not because you are trying to sell someone, but because you are looking at things through the same compassionate eyes that Jesus does.