a little late, but worth the wait

My lovely wife celebrated a birthday a few days ago. She’s had some memorable ones.

6 years ago we were in China, adopting Annabelle. Somehow the hotel manager learned that it was Kim’s birthday, and we were pleasantly surprised by a knock at the door. Room service delivered the most beautiful little birthday cake to honor Kim.

26 years ago Kim and I were in college. A group of us made the trek down I-75 to Atlanta to eat at a super fancy restaurant called The Olive Garden. Someone stole our umbrella while we were eating, so the kind employees sent us home with full bellies and a brand new umbrella! That’s hospitaliano!

This year her birthday got lost in the mix of church stuff, kids’ schedules, and babies. In order to set things aright, the kids and I are making dinner for her next Monday. We’ll do family night and keep mom out of the kitchen.

Enjoy these pics from 1990. We were blissfully in love, had been dating for less than a year, and were planning a wedding for about 5 months later.
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I should listen to my wife

Yesterday was great on so many levels!

Our staff got to celebrate our friends Lois and Curt. They’ve been around Calvary for more than a decade, serving and creating art and loving people and basically being family. They’re moving to Louisville this weekend to start the next chapter of their lives. We’ll miss them.

Last night was our monthly Team XStream (youth ministry staff) meeting. These folks have grown closer and are experiencing God moving in our lives. It’s always good to share our stories with each other, to pray and encourage/challenge each other. These leaders set the tone for where Calvary’s youth ministry is headed.  We’re in good hands!

And Charlie’s birthday party was a great success! Lots of friends came out to celebrate with us, and the PLAY GYM AT HARVEST FIELDS WAS OPEN! Kids has a blast, just like all of Kim’s parties. The decorations were cute, and Sadie got to be creative with the cake. She also made a sweet pinata that looked like a safety cone!

The only glitch in the whole shebang was mine. The last thing Kim asked me was we were leaving the house was, “Do you have enough gas for the grill?” I smugly assured her that my grill was fully equipped to handle my gassy needs. You’d think that by now I’d know to listen to her intuition. Halfway through the grilling I ran out of gas and had to call my friend Jake to swing by my house to grab another tank. Good grief, Charlie Brown…
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hitting the sweet spot

Several months ago my good friend and fellow youth pastor Jarrod Sechler suggested that we simplify things of our Metro Worship nights. We’d been trying to include a game, worship, teaching, and prayer as part of every united youth group meeting, and that seemed like a lot to throw into one night. So we opted to focus on worship and prayer, giving students more opportunities to pray together. That means less time for one of us youth pastors to spend talking to them.

And that’s been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Tonight’s attendance at Metro was a little lower than we’ve been seeing. That’s to be expected. A few of the groups we usually see weren’t able to join us tonight. It’s summertime, which means lower attendance for youth groups in general as families hit the road for vacation, students forget that it’s Wednesday, and other conflicts arise.

But the general feel in the room tonight was good. Lots of students spent a good portion of the night actually praying together. And the worship was sweet! As Jarrod and I sat on the edge of the stage watching our groups mingling, praying together, asking God to move in our town, praying for renewal in the Church and revival in the town.

This is the good stuff–our sweet spot.
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rolling out the welcome mat

I’m the old youth pastor in town. That’s a fact I’ve come to face, and a role that I embrace. I’ve been a youth pastor since my college days at good ol’ Hill Street Baptist Church (Hello Toccoa, GA!) in 1988-89. I’ve been the youth pastor for most of my 17 years here at Calvary, and I’ve seen some really good youth pastor friends pack the moving van and head for other locales. I’ve also had the privilege of welcoming loads (seriously–they’d fill a small bus) of new and aspiring youth pastors to our fair town.

Today was a welcome mat day. The Assembly of God hired a young man not too long ago to be their youth pastor. David Culbertson and his wife have moved in and are getting settled. We grabbed a bite to eat today and swapped stories about our growing up, the ways that God has shaped our hearts, and what we are praying about as it relates to the teenagers in our town.

My motivation for trying to meet with all the youth workers in town is a bit bigger than my love for wings and welcoming newbies. I want to get all of us on the same page, at least as far as cooperation and partnering and unity goes. I believe that it’s vital that the Church (big C meaning more than just our little congregations) work together. God calls us to be unified, and promises to bless our unity.

There’s lots of division in the air these days. I want to remind us about the things we have in common, the CORE of our beliefs as followers of Jesus, and the centrality of our mission to share the good news–the HOPE of REDEMPTION–with the folks in our town.

This message has been at the heart of my pastor’s call to our town for the past 21 years, and it’ll be our priority until they drag us out of this town. From Psalm 133 to John 17 (esp vv 20-24), it’s clear to us that God blesses unity, and we want to be right smack in the middle of what God’s doing.

So the first Wednesday of every month I’ll be found wherever the youth groups are gathering for worship and prayer. As the old guy, I’ll likely be hanging out in the back, looking for the new youth pastors, watching to see who’s connecting, who needs a word of encouragement, and who’s emerging as a leader here among us. I love being the old guy in youth ministry!Metro logo

the daddest thing ever

I don’t know about you, but I had a stellar Father’s Day. All the kids were home. We went to church together Sunday morning. The kids Kim bought me some new shirts & shorts for the summer, and we spent some good time talking and sharing stories after a nice lunch.

I got to talk to my dad for a little while, and Kim spent some time on the phone with her dad. We’re grateful for the men God has placed in our lives. They’ve taught us so much, and their fingerprints are all over our lives.

The Spikes are back in town, and I’m serving as their chaplain again. They had a home game on Father’s Day, so after chapel a bunch of us from XStream went to the game. I got to hang out with most of my kids for at least part of the game!
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I preached at some of the Calvary locations this weekend. They recorded Saturday night at the Table. If you want to listen, here’s a link. By the time I got to the second sermon Sunday morning I was having trouble remembering if I’d already told a story or asked a question…But overall I was pleased with the sermon.

But by far–BY FAR–the daddest thing that I’ve ever heard of took place this morning. My buddy and local youth pastor delivered his own baby at his house! He and his wife have been expecting the arrival of little girl #2 any day now, and so the birth didn’t surprise me. But the fact that she delivered at home, and that HE DELIVERED THE BABY–How does that even happen. Much respect, sir, much respect. That’s the daddest thing ever, and more than a little crazy.

lifegroup should give you…

LIFE! Ours has found it’s rhythm over the past few weeks, and it’s an encouraging thing to behold.

We’ve recently added some new folks to the fold, and we started reading/discussing the New Testament portion of the LifeJournal Bible reading plan. It’s the most simple of structures for lifegroup. Each day we read and journal about the passage. When we get together on Tuesday we each share the verse(s) that stood out to us in our reading.

Last week I was called to another meeting, so I asked our newest Youth Min staffers to lead the group discussion. Ali Bruce and Jake Nold did such a good job that Kim couldn’t wait to brag on them to me.

Tonight’s discussion was supposed to center around Ephesians 5-6 and Philippians. We managed to cover 4 chapters of the reading, which led to so much good discussion that we hated to stop for the night. Some of our big takeaways for the night included

  • a renewal of our effort to pray more
  • an increase in intentionality/awareness of spiritual warfare
  • a call to live as missionaries in and to our present culture

I am loving what I see in our lifegroup, and can hardly wait to see what the Lord has for us in the weeks to come!

the start of an XStream summer

School’s out for the summer. We’re looking forward to a summer of playing hard, growing closer together, and living the life God has called us to live. Kim’s got a list of things that she hopes we accomplish as a family, everything from weekly chores to playing games together to taking a walk with her every day. This is going to be a good summer.

We have 5 high school kids now. 3 rising 9th graders and 2 seniors. This could be a wild summer.

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We kicked off the summer for the youth group tonight with a big night of outside games. We had a huge slip ‘n slide, some water balloon games (yay), a dumb flour-in-socks game that may have left bruises (boo, my idea), and a messy food crawl. All of the messy & wet came before a quick dip in the pond and a hasty retreat to the firepit for s’mores and hotdogs. Ali and Jake did a great job of organizing and mobilizing us tonight, and the rest of Team XStream was stellar in our first night out at Harvest Fields. They did a great job, that is, right up to the point they conspired to clobber me with a pie to the face! Jake distracted me while Ali slipped in behind me with 2 plates full of whipped cream!

That’s never happened before, in all my years as a youth pastor. This is going to be a great summer!

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God uses people to push us

Tonight at XStream I talked about how part of God’s plan for us to grow and develop in our faith involves the people he brings into our lives. We’ve got to be open to their influence, and there are certainly some folks in everybody’s life who wouldn’t be a good influence. But if you’re paying attention and willing to be teachable, there are people around you who will shape and sharpen you, making you a better person.

I told XStream about a few of the people who have shaped my life. This list is by no means complete, but I thought I’d post a public “thank you” here.

Charlie Walker was my 7th grade English teacher. It was 1980 in Warner Robins, GA, and Charlie started the year by introducing himself: “My name is Charlie Walker, and I’m your English teacher. You might not learn a lot of English, but you will learn two things: 1) Jesus loves you, and 2) I love you.” Turns out he was right about that. Over the next few years Charlie showed me what it meant to live simply, radically, humbly, loving others more than self, and loving Jesus more than anything. He’s a large factor in why I’m a youth pastor today.

A few years later at Toccoa Falls College this kid from Nyack, NY heard my boom box blasting Petra tunes and stuck his head in my dorm-room doorway. He saw my nerf-hoop and made himself at home. Phil Human was a loud, large Yankee who liked basketball and loved Jesus. Over the next 3 years he’d become a brother to me as we shared lots of stupid, funny, serious, and spiritual moments. We talked about everything. He challenged me to grow as a man of God. I could call him right now and it would be like no time has passed in our relationship.
Us at Kings Kids Kamp Phil and Jody

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Mylin is–other than my wife–my best friend. We’ve played in the outdoors, traveled the country talking to middle school boys about sexual purity, and had countless conversations about adoption, parenting, and being a godly husband. He knows all my secrets, and I trust him with my soul.
Red Mo Andy & Janet

I am grateful for the men God has given me over the years to mentor and shape me. They have prayed for me, laughed and cried with me, modeled righteousness and grace, and challenged me to be the man God has called me to be. They inspire me to lean into God’s provision, to walk in a manner worthy of God’s call on my life.

Who has been influential in your life?

the kids from my first youth group are old

Out of the blue, he shot me an email. “Hey, I’m in your town for a conference.” I was totally surprised. He followed that with an invitation to revisit our glory days–He wanted to find a church van and renew a timeless tradition. Back in the days before seat belt laws (and common sense) every youth group trip to Norwin’s Skateland featured a no-holds barred steel cage match, with me and Jason each looking to drop the elbow of death or force a submission from the other. He’s a middle school principal now, and I’m not as spry as I used to be, so we opted for wings.

I was only his youth pastor for about 2 years and 9 months, but those were magic days. I was green and thought I had all the answers. I tried so hard to be the cool youth pastor. I couldn’t sing and play guitar at the same time, so I had to have some of the kids sing while I hacked away at G-C-D-Em on a beater acoustic. We played the lamest games. My teaching was clunky, awkward, and centered around CCM lyrics. I didn’t know a thing about leadership development or the purpose-driven youth ministry or much anything else.

But something worked.

Jason and I shared 2 meals over the course of the past few days. He reminded me that God has been gracious to use me to shape the lives of many teenagers over the past 25 years. It’s not about flash or style or cool or polished preaching. It’s not about fabulous facilities or great games.

God will always use people who are desperate for him, depending on him to move, committed to helping others connect to the Kingdom life.

So whether you’re 22 or 47, if you know what God has called you to do, do it with everything you’ve got. Get after it, and trust God for the fruit of your prayer, desperation, and hard work.

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this one rides in my guitar case

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we got better, I promise

And maybe, some day when you’re old, your old youth group kids will show up and remind you of how blessed you are. And how they grow up to be real men and women.

best day of the week

Thursday is quickly becoming one of my favorite days of the week.

Around noon every Thursday a bunch of us youth worker types get together to pray, plan, eat, or work on our youth ministry skills. I love the community that I find there, and always come away feeling refreshed, renewed, and challenged to keep gettin’ after it. The conversations that flow are real, vulnerable, encouraging, and deep. And I’m blessed to call these crazy folks my friends.

Then to top the day off, I get to meet with a bunch of the leaders who work with Calvary’s teenagers. Most Thursdays it’s our lifegroup, which is mostly comprised of Team XStreamers. But once a month all of Team XStream gathers for prayer and planning, with a side of Kim’s mac ‘n cheese. Tonight was that night, and it was solid. These men and women are the real deal. They love Jesus, love teenagers, and are committed to leading teenagers to love Jesus.

Kevin and Brandon

Kevin and Brandon are twinsies in their new Team XStream shirts.

I’m amazed at the growth that I have seen in our team, and in the unity that is developing in our town. I have to believe that God is doing good things, and that the best is yet to come.