Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Value of Sticking Around

The University of Pittsburgh's football coach, Todd Graham, resigned yesterday after 11 1/2 months. I have been the youth pastor at Mountain View for 11 1/2 years.

Graham left for what he called his "dream job" at Arizona State University. He says he is a "family man" and he is taking the job to be closer to his wife's family. However, ASU is Graham's fourth job in four years. He resigned without speaking to anyone at Pitt just before boarding a plane to his ASU introductory press conference. He informed his players via a text message, forwarded through an assistant coach, in which he stated that he "loved his players at Pitt and was proud of them." I'm not sure the feeling is mutual. As one of the players tweeted, "Todd Graham's coaching commitments last as long as Kim Kardashian's marriage."

I always likened coaching to youth ministry. Like youth pastors, coaches talk of shaping young men and women, of setting a good example, of creating a legacy of memories and victories. Graham wasn't around long enough to bake a pie, let alone create a legacy. I doubt he knew half the player's names.

His decision causes me to reflect on my life.

When I came to Mountain View in July, 2000, I was 35 years old--a young pup in a sense but fairly old to be a youth pastor for the first time. The stereotypical youth pastor is 25, has a goatee and a pied-piper personality, plays guitar, is a master gamer, wears cool clothes, and uses the word "dude" a lot. Since only the last one is true of me, people probably wondered how long I'd last.

I remember Pastor Guy asking me then, "How long do you think you want to do this?" There exists a common belief that youth pastors are just using youth ministry as a stepping stone to "becoming a real pastor." That was never the case for me. Having already spent ten years as a youth volunteer, including three while in seminary getting a Master's degree in youth ministry, I knew this was my calling. I had no intentions of doing anything else. As I've often said, "Why would I want a demotion?"

I told Guy, "Dude, at least five years."

My promise has expired, but my commitment hasn't.

Not that I haven't wanted to quit on occasion. There have been more than a few nights--lying awake in a bunk bed somewhere, trying to catch some sleep while a cabin full of boys hyped on Monster make my life a dreamless hell--that I've considered stealing the church van and driving to Montana. Who would blame me? The FBI would probably offer me identity protection. I've wondered at my sanity and severely tested my longevity by planning events like all-nighters (never again), back-to-back retreat weekends (kind of like running back-to-back marathons), and parent luncheons ("Tell us, what are you going to do about those kids chatting in the front row?").

But I'm not even talking about those "quitting times." I'm talking about the times I've been so discouraged that quitting seemed like the only option. Many times, actually, I have told Karen, "That's it. I'm done. I'm not doing any good, so why bother?" Too many times I've had to beg students to come to events, even though I knew God was going to be there and change their life. Too many times students walked away from their faith, abandoning the promises they'd made to me, each other, and God for the glitz of the party life and the pursuit of pleasure. Too many times I've wondered why parents think soccer or lacrosse is more important than the moral and spiritual development of their children. Too many times I've gone home from teaching a meaningful lesson, only to find discouraging and raunchy posts from youth group kids on Facebook. Too many times I've felt that nothing I've said or done has made any difference at all.

I've quit more times than Todd Graham. I just never left.

And I'm glad I didn't. I might have, if my dream job had opened up. But even though the Pirates badly need a shortstop, they've never called me. So instead, I've stayed long enough to be able to perform weddings for former students. I've stayed long enough to have students return as volunteers. I've stayed long enough to see our building come into existence, and watch our youth center fill with kids every Sunday and Wednesday. I've stayed long enough to form a deep friendship with other longstanding youth pastors in the area and to feel a little bit like a youth pastor to the whole county. I've stayed long enough to teach my own kids the value of sticking around even when times are hard. I've stayed around long enough so that the people I've influenced over the years--even when I thought I was having no effect--know where to find me.

Two days ago, I received a note from a former student. I had poured myself into him for six years, but he wandered away from the youth ministry and from the faith his senior year, and hardly said goodbye. He was one of those who caused me to question if I was making any difference at all. He was one of the reasons I wanted to quit. This is what he said:

I don't think I ever told you exactly how much of an impact you have had on me as a person. As you know my father wasn't and still isn't a man of faith, a good man but nevertheless not an example of how a honorable Christian man is supposed to live his life. That was left up to you. Whether you knew it at the time or not. I know God is the only one that can eternally save, but he used your love and our relationship to save me. And for that I'm a truly grateful to both you and our Savior!

This summer, I will be quitting--in a sense. I will be taking a 10-week sabbatical. The elders told me I had to, and I'm pretty excited about it. For 10 weeks, I won't have to be anywhere, teach anything, or lead anything related to the youth ministry. But Lord willing, I will be back. I have nowhere else I want to be. I landed my dream job 11 1/2 years ago.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Open for Christmas?

News Flash: Christmas is on December 25th! More specifically, however, Christmas is on a Sunday this year, which raised an interesting question for those of us in leadership at our church. Since we are having two services on Saturday night, Christmas Eve, should we have church on Christmas Day?

Now, before you shout your opinion, let me lay out a few thoughts from the perspective of someone who's life revolves around church activities and services.

Last year on Christmas Eve, the walls of our church nearly exploded. After 13 years of meeting in a high school, it was our first Christmas season in our new building. We naively planned for one Christmas Eve service at 7:00pm. Our auditorium seats 450 people--nearly 800 showed up.

We decided to host two services this year, and put a great emphasis on these services. We are advertising them well and doing everything we can to make them memorable for our congregation and our community. Two full services requires a great deal of work and an angelic host of volunteers. Between the musicians, nursery workers, ushers, sound crew, coffee bar staff, greeters, parking lot attendants, custodians, and yes, pastors, it's going to take over 100 people to run these two services.

Knowing the amount of work it would be, and knowing that many of our wonderful volunteers would be traveling, or hosting their families for celebrations Christmas morning, we wondered if it was wise, kind or necessary to hold another service only a few hours later. After all, we will have just celebrated the birth of Jesus and worshiped together. Many people give great amounts of time and energy to the church; wouldn't it be nice to simplify life a little and allow everyone to stay home Christmas morning? The staff and elders thought the answer was yes, so they decided to have no service on Christmas Day. Instead, we would encourage people to come on Christmas Eve, then worship at home with their families Christmas morning.

As the news broke, the response from the congregation was mixed. Some were relieved to know they didn't have to work in the nursery after being up all night wrapping gifts and assembling boxes of unmarked, miscellaneous parts into a deluxe foosball table that doubles as a blender. And it's hard to enjoy a church service while suppressing the fear that your Christmas ham is burning down the house. But others in our midst raised a principled concern. Isn't worshiping God the whole point of Christmas? How can we cancel church because it's Christmas?

It was an interesting leadership dilemma. Here's a brief list of the pros and cons we considered or heard.

Pro No Service:
*Gives volunteers a break
*Provides opportunities to worship at home without guilt
*Is a nice gift to a busy and hardworking staff
*Are we going to ask someone to clean the church late Christmas Eve, after 800--1000 people have been here?
*The Sabbath starts at sundown anyway...

Pro Service:
*What if somebody shows up to find the doors locked?
*We should always have Sunday services, barring an emergency
*What if we become known as the "the church that wasn't open on Christmas Day?"
*It just doesn't sound right to cancel church because it's Christmas Day.

Paramount to our discussion was the conviction of our senior pastor, who, upon further consideration, began to feel that we should open our doors, even if it's for one shorter and lower-key worship service. So, after some discussion and prayer, we decided to host "Christmas Unplugged," one service at 11:00am in which we simply gather for some Christmas carols, a reading of the Christmas story, and a short message. There will be no nursery care, parking lot attendants, full band or any of those things. The morning will require very few volunteers, and the rest of the staff is not required to attend. Simple and beautiful, just like the first Christmas.

So what do YOU think? I'd love to hear your opinion.

Speaking of Christmas, perhaps this is a good time to ask: What Would Jesus Do? Would Jesus go to church on his birthday? In this case, it's not his choice. He's not even a day old. Having been up all night giving birth and hosting shepherds, it seems likely his mother will want to stay home.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Family Charged in Bunny Bump-Off

The town of Walkersville was rocked this morning by the news that one of their own families may be cold-blooded killers.

Four members of the Anderson family were arraigned in Frederick County Court on charges related to the murder of a soft furry bunny in their backyard. Detective Jason Keckler said the crime was discovered by students walking home from school on the railroad tracks behind the family's Hampton Place residence.

"The deceased was discovered yesterday afternoon near the Walkersville Railroad tracks and Walkersville Park," Keckler said. "The body was still fairly soft. K-9 units determined that the victim was killed in the Andersons' backyard and moved, perhaps even flung, into the wooded area behind their home to avoid discovery."

While motive is yet unclear, police believe sons Timothy (17) and Thomas (13) lured the rabbit onto the family's property with spinach dip. Neighbors had seen the boys building various animal traps over the years but thought nothing of it. "We just figured they were boys being boys," said Ellie Gilbert, a family friend. Police found evidence within the house that the family has a long-standing animosity towards rabbits. Mother Karen Anderson had left an Amish cookbook on the counter, opened to a recipe for rabbit stew. Witnesses said they remember the Andersons complaining about a previous family pet rabbit who chewed some furniture. A well-worn copy of Watership Down was found with the cover ripped off. Traces of rabbit blood were found on the doorstep of the carport. Steven Anderson, the father, was also charged with disposing of the body and tampering with evidence.

"The details add up," Keckler said. "It is certainly hare-raising to discover killers in your midst, but this was a well-conceived plan carried out by a family with a vendetta against rabbits for some reason."

Neighbor Sally Walton, who has lived next door to the Andersons for 11 years and has often cared for their cat Oliver when the family went on vacation, said, "It's just so hard to comprehend. It bugs me, this bunny business. I can't imagine any member of this family perpetrating a violent crime against a small furry creature."

Meanwhile, the fate of the family pets was uncertain. Both the cat and dog were visibly shaken by the news their owners would no longer be serving dinner. Oliver the cat seemed sad about the needless loss of life. "It's a shame, really--a waste of a perfectly good rabbit." Treble the dog denied comment, but simply licked her lips and stared out the window at the spot where the rabbit was believed to have died. She has been seen visiting the site often, apparently to help her deal with her grief.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fights I'd Like to See

In what could accurately have been titled "Juice Box," Lenny Dykstra and Jose Canseco were scheduled for a celebrity boxing match this past weekend in Philadelphia.

Canseco, of course, is a former "Bash Brother", a talented but cartoonish athlete who once knocked a ball over the outfield wall with his head, and a steroid-abusing beefcake who has found a second career as a snitch, author, and authority on all things unseemly in sports. Dykstra, a former all-star centerfielder, has also been linked to steroid use, having been ratted out by Canseco. The man once known as "Nails" has been getting pounded financially in recent years as a series of whiffs on high-profile business propositions left him unable to cover the ground he had promised to some star athletes. Dykstra is now bankrupt, shunned, and the target of wrath for those who foolishly invested with him.

So in some strange way, it makes sense for these two pathological losers to take out their `Roid Rage in the ring: "Nails vs. Knucklehead for the stupid-weight championship of the world!" Let them knock each other out of cultural relevance one last time.

Apparently, there is a regular market for celebrity boxing matches. Most of the combatants are down-and-out wannabes and "D-listers" who are desperate for a buck. But it left me wondering what other tired and overexposed celebrity matchups we might be able to entice to enter the ring? Who could we bring together so they could pound each other into the distant past of our cultural landscape and be heard from no more? I think there are plenty of possibilities I would enjoy.

Justin Bieber vs. Adam Lambert. Girl Fight!

Ray Lewis vs. Jesse Jackson.
The only problem is, there would be so much preachin' going on, they'd never get to the fight.

Tom Brady vs. Tiger Woods.
I'd give the edge to Brady because Gisele would be there but Elin would not. The guy with the wife in the stands always wins in the movies.

Tiger Woods vs. Elin Nordegren.
Oh, wait, we've already seen this one.

Lady Gaga vs. Katy Perry. We wouldn't have to tell them the ring was located inside an arena about to be imploded by a demolition company, in order to make room for... talent.

Conan vs. Leno.
"Last Comic Standing" would be hilarious!

John vs. Jim Harbaugh. Brothers and NFL coaches who need to chill after victories. "One, two, three, four, I declare an over-exuberant handshake war!"

Brett Favre vs. Anthony Weiner. Text War!

I'm sure you can think of a few.

Unfortunately, Dykstra didn't show up for the fight. He claimed he was misrepresented and never agreed to it. What a shame. I think Nails could have taken Canseco. But perhaps he's holding out for a matchup with Sammy Sosa?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Death of a Giant

Even giants fall.

Bubba Smith died recently at the age of 66. Smith was a football star in the late 60s and 70s, a ferocious defensive lineman, the number one draft choice of the Baltimore Colts in 1967, and a monster of a man who's perfect name, enormous size and super hero strength made him an object of awe for many little boys like me.

I don't have a memory of watching Smith play football. What I have is a memory of staring at his football card. By age six or seven, I had a box full of them and some bicycle spokes rat-a-tat-tatting with them, but Smith's card was a special object of fascination. On the front was his frightening face, with the huge afro, the beard and the stare filled with impending destruction he was about to bring. But it was the back of the card that held my attention. There, among a few cartoon images of football players and a random fact ("Bubba's high school coach was his father"), it listed his size. Six foot seven, 305 pounds. Three hundred and five pounds! Are there really people that big, I wondered? It was like the mystical nephilim of Genesis, "the heroes of old, men of renown." Can you imagine!?

Nowadays, of course, three hundred pounds is nothing. There may not be an offensive lineman in the entire NFL who isn't at least 300 pounds. Here are the sizes of the current offensive line for the Steelers: Legursky, 6-1 315; Scott 6-6 345; Kemoeatu 6-3 344; Essex 6-4 324; Foster 6-6 325; Gilbert 6-3 330; Starks 6-8 345; Even the smallest of the bunch, center Maurkice Pouncey, is 6-4 304.

Heck, now there are high school players that big, and reality TV stars--women--who weigh that much and are trying to become the biggest loser.

But back then, at age 6, weighing all of 45 or 50 pounds after Thanksgiving dinner, wearing snow boots and a heavy winter coat while playing imaginary games of football alone in my backyard, as I nimbly evaded the terrifying giant named Bubba while scoring the winning touchdown, it was the thought of a 300-pound man chasing me that spurred me to greatness. The fear of dying at his hands led me to victory. My brother might have been the one named David, but it was I who was conquering the giant. You can't catch me, Bubba Smith! Touchdown!

Now, my first giant is really dead. New reports confirmed that Smith died of high levels of weight-loss drugs which complicated some existing heart problems. It seems the giant couldn't nimbly evade himself and his own size in the end. Like most giants, it was his size that killed him. Tragic, but not surprising. He was a giant from a different era. And his time had come.

In the end, Bubba Smith was too big--even for himself.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Live the Life

It has been six months since I've written for my blog. I'm rather ashamed of that, actually. This is something I need to do, both for my own spirit and hopefully for the benefit of someone else who may be encouraged by something I write. As I sat down to write this, I realized what an amazing life I get to live! Look at what's happened in the past six months!

* My son Jon graduated from high school. His final days of high school were quite exciting, between the baseball team making it to the regional finals, our church's senior banquet, and the opportunities he had to perform his songs publicly at a couple venues in Frederick.

* Tim had an outstanding junior tennis season, losing only 3 times.

* We had a long awaited and wonderful 9-day vacation to Colorado. We stayed in a beautiful rental house near Durango. We ate like kings, hiked in the mountains, white-water rafted, sang with cheesy cowboys, rode horses, sat in the hot tub, and spent time with family and old friends. I wish I could live in those moments every day!

* We came home from that vacation to our newly-remodeled kitchen. It's amazing, and it was definitely time! Our old kitchen (original to a 50-year-old house) was literally falling off the walls.

* Jon and I went to Ecuador on a mission trip for 10 days. It was a phenomenal experience and something we would like to do again. We met many wonderful people and saw God do amazing things.

* Thomas and Tim went on mission trips to Pittsburgh and Portland, Maine, respectively. They both had marvelous times.

* We spent a few days at Rehoboth Beach.

* We survived dropping Jon off at Grove City College. It would have made a good blog, for sure!

* Tim is in college-mode now. We have some decisions to make. We are actually having a family meeting tonight to talk about it.

* Thomas made his 8th grade travel basketball team.

* Thomas and I celebrated his "coming of age" with a surprise trip to see Switchfoot in concert, complete with backstage passes and some awkward talks about, you know, man stuff.

* Karen is back to teaching 4th grade for another year. She is an amazing person. I get to see her a few times a week.

* We had an 80th birthday party for my father. It was a sweet time, although my aunt, his sister, passed away shortly afterwards.

* I kicked off another year of youth ministry at MVCC. Highlights so far this year include a ridiculous number of kids each week at our middle school meetings, and over a dozen decisions for the Lord including nine just this past weekend at our annual fall retreat.

I'm sure I missed a few things as well. So what this tells me is that 1) I need to make time for writing this blog, because it's not going to happen without discipline, and 2) I have so much to write about, I have no excuses.

So here's my promise to myself, and perhaps to you, to write at least twice a month.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My Good Friday Message

Several people asked me for copies of my Good Friday message, which I delivered on, yes, Good Friday. It was a 10-minute reflection on Matthew 27:32-44. It's a bit long for a blog, but here it is if you are interested. It would help to read the passage first.

Humiliation is the worst of human emotions. Most of us have experienced at one time or another. Perhaps it was a childhood humiliation born of our awkwardness, our red-faced moment before the whole class as they laughed at our misfortune. Perhaps it was during the teen years, as we were unceremoniously dumped by the boy or girl we thought cared about us. Perhaps it was later in life, the firing at work, the broken relationship, the appearance before the court. Humiliation is almost worse than physical suffering.

As Matthew records the crucifixion, he focuses more on the humiliation of Christ than on the physical suffering he experienced. In fact, notice how Matthew barely mentions the crucifixion – “and when they had crucified him…”

He doesn’t go into detail about the nails pounded through Jesus’ wrists. He does not mention the nails in his feet, the splinters in his shredded back, or the excruciating pain of being hung vertically, his full weight bearing only on spikes through bones and skin.

Matthew speaks mostly of the incredible emotional humiliation Christ underwent. He has already been stripped naked and adorned with a scarlet robe, a mockery of his claim to be a king. Likewise with the crown of thorns on his head, and the mocking jeers, “Hail, king of the Jews.”

The soldiers began marching the prisoner towards the site of his execution. Jesus is weak from the beating he has been given, so weak that he cannot bear the cross himself. And so a man from the crowd, Simon of Cyrene, is enlisted to carry his cross for him. Jesus is offered something to drink. A rare act of kindness, perhaps? No, gall’s bitter taste served mostly to deaden the pain, a foul-tasting narcotic serving only to numb the body and the mind, and Jesus refused it.

Jesus had few possessions, but what he had was bartered over by soldiers casting lots, like pathetic gamblers in the back room of a washed out bar.

He is flanked in suffering by two ordinary robbers, two low-lifes who are here by their own doing. Even they cast insults at him.

It is a public spectacle, and for some hideous reason, some evil that rises out of people at moments like this, the people watching insist on screaming at Jesus from the ground. It’s not enough that he hangs naked on a cross. It is not enough that he has been up all night, beaten, bruised, whipped, kicked, spit upon. He must be insulted some more.

“Save yourself! Come down! Didn’t you say you were the son of God?” Didn’t you say you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days?”

Perhaps it is less surprising that the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law mock him. At least we can know what to expect from them; they are the ones who set this whole thing in motion. These are the men who plotted to kill him, who paid off Judas, who sat in the corners of the rooms and the outskirts of the crowds where Jesus performed miracles and healed diseases. They stroked their beards and shook their heads and wrung their hands in anger and anticipation of this moment--these conniving mutilators of the law, these guardians of small and powerless kingdoms, these spineless collaborators of injustice. Do we really expect any less from them?

“He saved others, but he can’t save himself. He’s the King of Israel. Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. So let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said he was the son of God.”

Sneering, contemptuous, disdainful words spoken from mouths overflowing with hideous hatred and unbridled jealousy. All the venom of the world and its unimaginable evil flowing upwards in torrents of verbal spittle to the solitary man on the cross who has done nothing wrong.

Humiliation of the perfect one, by the ones whom he came to save. And there, above his head, is a sign explaining it all. It was placed their in mockery as well. It says, simply,

“This is Jesus, King of the Jews.”

A mockery that is really a truth. Just like the other mockeries, which are in actuality, truths as well.

“He saved others.”
“He is the king of Israel”
“He trusts in God”
“He is the Son of God”

All of it…true. How ironic. How painful. How paintful it must have been for Jesus to be mocked by the truth. How humiliating is that?

So here’s a thought to ponder tonight. What if the tables had been turned, and instead of Jesus receiving the mocking and the spitting and the humiliation, it had been his accusers? What if Jesus had dragged them through the streets, had them arrested for their crimes and sentenced to die? What if they had been mocked, spat upon, beaten, and publicly humiliated for complicity in a plot to kill the Son of God? Can you imagine the signs placed over their heads?

“These are the soldiers, mere minions of a puppet king, without the backbone to stand up for justice.”

“This is the crowd, stiff-necked and bitter, easily manipulated, stupid at best, evil at worst.”

“These are the teachers and chief priests, power-hungry, jealous, enemies of the God they claim to represent, hypocrites, small-minded men guarding their miniscule authority with bribery and secrets. So pathetically cowardly they can’t even do it themselves, but have to hire a bunch of Roman soldiers to clean up their mess.”

Those are the words that should have been on that sign, a sign that should have been hanging over everyone else but Jesus.

But before we move on, let us consider that those involved in the crucifixion of Jesus are themselves guilty, but they are also representatives. They are representatives of all of us who have sinned against God. We are all deserving of the suffering Jesus underwent, and all deserving of the humiliation he received. We are no better than they were, we would only have different signs placed above our heads…

“This is Tom; he lives for himself and thinks little of anyone else.”
“This is Sheila; all she cares about is keeping up with appearances.”
“This is Gregory; he manipulates people for his own purposes.”
“This is Cynthia; she is unfaithful to her husband.”
“This is Albert; he is filled with bitterness and unforgiveness.”
“This is Mary; she is a thief and a liar.”
“This is Brandon; he is full of lust and hideous secrets.”
“This is Martha; she is a full of pride.”
“This is Jack; he is a judgmental racist.”
“This is Michael; he has rejected the Lord over and over again.”

This is me; I've treated the grace of God like a cheap date at a crummy restaurant.

Do we see what was really going on that morning at Golgotha? Do we see how the world was turned upside down, how the guilty were on the ground and the innocent was on the cross, how the evil were free and the good was captive, how the mocking was the truth, and the truth was mocked?

It was humiliating for Jesus. And it is humiliating for us.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bible Fantasy Draft

This Friday we will kick off the 21st season of my fantasy baseball league. I started this league way back in 1991, and somehow it has managed to survive a complete turnover in league membership, work stoppages, steroid scandals, and the existence of Bud Selig.

For the first 20 seasons, we chose our teams through a "snake draft," meaning that we each took turns choosing players, reversing order from one round to the next. For the past two seasons, I ended up with the very last pick, thanks to my evil son Thomas, who chose the names "randomly" (so he says) out of a cup. I fired him. Twice.

This year we are doing something different. This year we will be conducting an auction. Each owner will have an imaginary sum of $260 to spend, and we will bid against each other until our money is gone and our rosters are filled. This will present a new set of challenges and strategies. Should I spend big money on the top players and settle for scraps at the end, or should I try to balance my team with middle-of-the-road guys throughout? Should I spend equal amounts on hitting and pitching, or is pitching too risky to spend good money on? I'm not really sure how it will go, but it should be fun.

This also got me thinking, What if we had a Bible fantasy league? What if we had to choose teams of Bible characters, but only had $260 to spend? Would we load up on "superstars," like Jesus ($48), Paul ($39) and Peter ($32), or try to get by with some of the lesser-knowns?

Here are a few of my choice picks and projected prices...

Elisha ($18). He's not quite the caliber of Elijah ($32), who is a human rain delay and bringer of fire, but Elisha can bring miracles and prophecies with the best of them. I think he's a steal at $18.

Joshua ($16). Like better known OT leader Moses ($36), Joshua brings excellent leadership skills and good experience in battle. He might be the one to get me to the Promised Land.

Job ($12). Yes, he's an injury risk and can be temperamental, but he's also primed for a major comeback.

Luke ($7). It's always good to have a doctor on the roster.

Andrew and Nathaniel ($4 each). Let's face it -- you're gonna have to pay big money for Peter, James ($27) and John ($31). These two guys are underrated and under-appreciated. Nathaniel is a guy you can trust, a good "clubhouse" guy, and Andrew enjoys setting the table for his teammates. I think it's a good one/two punch.

Timothy ($2). Since we have a "keeper" rule, meaning I can keep him for the next two years at a discount, it's worth taking a shot on the young guy and hope he pans out in 2013.

I would enjoy hearing your suggestions for filling out my roster.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Simply Blessed

Sometimes you find the best wisdom in surprising places.

I just spent the weekend in Chicago at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. This annual conference is designed to encourage and equip more than 3000 youth workers for the daunting and beautiful work of student ministry. There were general sessions with worship, comedy, well-known speakers and concerts. There were tons of workshops with titles like, "Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture" and "Taking it to the Next Level: Advanced Junior High Ministry" (Enter your own joke here). And of course there was a small planet of exhibits filled with books and resources to address everything a youth pastor could ever need, with the exception of a chiropractor.

I enjoyed it all. It was a nice hotel (Hyatt). I ate well (on the church's dime). And my room had a 40" flat screen with NCAA games playing all weekend. It was worth every penny.

However, I must confess that it wasn't the conference itself that provided me with the majority of encouragement and wisdom. It was my traveling companions.

There were six of us from Frederick, all youth guys from the churches involved in Epicenter. We are good friends and have spent a lot of time praying and working together over the past five years. We all have our distinct personalities, represented by our nicknames for the weekend (Grandpa, Pa, Sista, Cuz, Bro and Crazy Uncle Dan). We all have our unique ministry contexts. But we all share the same devotion to the insanity that we call "working with kids." And like soldiers bonded by war, we share common experiences and a like-mindedness that we cannot find among "civilians."

That's why I learned so much at this conference. I learned more while we were crashed on the giant bean bags the conference was selling, asking each other questions about how we structure our student leadership teams, recruit volunteers, or relate to our senior pastors, than I did while the "experts" were speaking from the stage. That's why I laughed more sitting around the table after midnight swapping stories of "worst parent encounters," "mission trip disasters," and "worst thing we ever did to a kid" than I did at the paid comedians. Youth ministry is a strange animal, staffed by even stranger ones. Finding camaraderie and true brotherhood is all too rare, and we are blessed to have discovered it here at home.

So to make this blog seem spiritual, I thought of a few verses that might apply. How about Amos 4:10: "I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps." That's accurate, especially after the Chicago-style pizza. Or maybe Proverbs 12:8: "A man is praised according to his wisdom, but men with warped minds are despised." No comment. I actually like these guys and I think they like me. So how about Proverbs 15:22: "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed." Yes, that works. Our impromptu conversations, questions, stories and jokes are what filled my head with great ideas, my body with a second wind, and my heart with the realization that I am in the company of fools. And I love them.

(For the film version of this blog, check out...)!/video/video.php?v=10150099798002724

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

There's a new God in Town

In a move surprising to everyone but his omnipotent self, Charlie Sheen has fired God and taken control of the universe.

Sheen, winner of Academy Awards for his roles in such critically-acclaimed films as Major League and Hot Shots! Part Deux, as well as spokesman for Fruit of the Loom undergarments, made this announcement while spinning the planets on his fingertips. "I'm hot. I'm life. I'm the man, or should I say, THE DEITY," he said during a radio interview broadcast from heaven. "God wasn't getting it done, you know? The world was jacked up. Lots of dirty laundry and nothing but fabric softener. I'm an atom bomb, a tsunami, an earthquake. I'm continental shift in a bottle. I'm nuclear fusion, bro. The universe needed me to complete my self-actualization and assume control like I was meant to."

Sheen had been under fire for his alleged addictions and self-destructive, narcissistic behavior. A series of public rants, binge parties and police encounters had led CBS executives to delay production of Sheen's hit TV show, Two-and-a-Half Men. The show, which Sheen says is named for his prowess as a lover, has been the number one rated sitcom for several years, due to Sheen's unparalleled acting skills and a laugh track which enhances the same tawdry joke week after week. Sheen was receiving $2 million per episode, a sum which now pales in comparison to his ability to mine the cores of stars for any element he chooses. "I'm a black hole; the world flows through me, man. I'm the Big Bang. I'm not king of the world, dude, I'm king of eternity. I'm the Alpha and Omega."

Sheen's first move as God was to take over every television and cable network in the world and replace them with SHEENGOD TV, a network featuring nothing but Sheen shows and movies. "There's really no need for anything else," he said. "I AM the networks, Direct TV, every Cable provider, XM radio, Syrius, Sling Box, Red Box and Juke Box in human form." SHEENGOD TV is expected to receive a boost from the fact that all universal remote controls do nothing but tune the world to Sheen.

Potential rival Alec Baldwin offered his temporary, though unenthusiastic, support of Sheen as Deity and Proprietor of the Universe. "It's mine when I want it, but Charlie's a supernova, so I'll let the world worship him for now," Baldwin said.

Yahweh, the Being formerly known as God, could not be reached for comment.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Me and My Big Mouth

My son Timothy has a small mouth.

He has been dealing with pain in his jaw for over a year now. He can't open his mouth very wide, can barely brush his teeth, and struggles to eat anything crunchy or chewy. Bagels, once devoured by the dozen, are now eaten like lollipops. Gum is off limits. Steak is downright cruel.

This condition is called TMJ, which stands for Timothy's Mouth & Jaw. However, it seems to be one of those gray areas of medicine, lost in the twilight zone between dentistry, orthopedics, and tribal ritual. Insurance doesn't cover it. Few doctors deal with it. We found an oral surgeon in Mt. Airy who has been seeing us, but even he can't provide an easy answer.

This morning I took Tim to be fitted for an orthotic for the mouth. It's a mouthpiece which is supposed to realign his jaw over time, or at least we hope so. The experience was kind of funny, and rather unpleasant. They had to take impressions, so the nurse inserted a large metal plate about the size of a manhole cover, filled with pink goo, into Tim's tender mouth. She kept it in there for about a minute. She was very nice about it and kept apologizing for shoving a a giant pizza spatula down his throat. Tim apologized for nearly puking on her.

Afterwards he said, "That's the biggest thing that's ever been in my mouth."

It got me thinking, What's the biggest thing that's ever gone into my mouth? And the answer is obvious: My foot.

My foot finds its way into my mouth on a regular basis. Sporting events (I've never meet an umpire or referee I couldn't argue with), staff meetings (I'm sure I drive Pastor Guy crazy), even at home (Why did I criticize Karen's attempt at creative cooking?). Yes, my foot has been in my mouth plenty of times. When you are clever with words, opinionated, and outspoken, it makes for a good blog but a mouth big enough to fit a Shaq-sized shoe in there.

While insurance doesn't cover this condition either, there is a treatment. It's administered in three parts--forgiveness, patience, and maturity. I have a good doctor. I think it's getting better. But I still taste leather too often.

Hopefully the orthotic will help Tim's mouth get bigger so he will never have to have that giant metal plate jammed in his mouth again and can return to the pleasures of eating. And hopefully God will help my mouth get smaller so I won't have to jam my sneaker in there anymore. I never care for the aftertaste.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow Day

Happy 2011 Everyone! I have been busy and haven't had a chance to write anything yet this year, though I will soon. In the meantime, here is a stream of consciousness essay Jon wrote yesterday about life at our home on a snow day. Yes, it's really like this. Enjoy.

It is a snow day, and inside is chaos. The dog barks, and the orange cat cries and whines, a persistent sound that will never cease, high and shrill and pained and undending until he is finally let out into the cold. A minute later he is back, scratching to be let in, crying again, the sound so persistent and unbearable and familiar that it is as if it never stopped at all. Downstairs, my brother pounds his drums ferociously with a brutal violence that shakes the walls of the house. I worry that it will fall apart. The noise of the drumset becomes part of the house, part of me, loud and obnoxious and unceasing, like the bark of the dog and especially the cry of the cat. My youngest brother is energy and clumsy excitement. Out of control, he bounces off the walls that are shaking from the sound of the drums, and plays football and basketball in the kitchen and is loud, but not quite as loud as the drums and the cat and the dog. The noise is growing now, a crescendo that does not seem to have a climax, but will continue growing and banging forever, or until my ears cannot take it and my head explodes. I stare at the window, my hands over my ears, and then make my escape through the door that lets in cold air and a blast of silence. Outside everything is white and gray. Snow falls softly and silently, muffling anything and everything. It clings to the trees and silences them, covers the ground and hides the dead brown grass, and melts on my head and my hear and my ears and silences the beat of the bass drum. I shiver and stand in the cold, gray silence, alone; the only person in the world. It is a snow day, and inside is chaos.