pulling the bacon out of the fire

XStream hit the road over the weekend. We took our students to Cedar Point for a day of play, then had church in our hotel before making the return trip home. It was a wildly successful trip on so many levels:

  • lots of students (many newbies!) went with us
  • a team of new leaders got to spend extended time with students
  • a bus driver meant I didn’t have to drive
  • Cedar Point = killer coasters
  • I got to talk about what it means for us to let Jesus bust our rut and routine
  • Sara Banker ran all of the admin details, which is a huge blessing!

The trip wasn’t without drama, though. Thursday morning I found out that we didn’t have the bus that I thought we had arranged. Sara called Fullington. While we were riding coasters Sara texted me to tell me that the hotel took our deposit but didn’t hold our rooms. Sara found us another hotel, for less money, with a pool deck for us to have a worship service.

It was one of the craziest behind-the-scenes retreats I’ve ever had, but we rolled with the punches, and Sara literally pulled the bacon out of the fire. I don’t even know that many of the students or leaders would have known that there was anything out of the ordinary going on if I hadn’t told them.

I like the way XStream is shaping up! (photos courtesy of Kevin Sliman)
bw Stac collage Luke5 wrapping up

finishing well

I’ve been the chaplain for the State College Spikes since they moved to town in 2006. It’s been a source of great joy and entertainment over the years. We’ve seen a lot of baseball, met a lot of great guys, and made some good friends.

This year they did something new: they won it all!
Spikes 2014 NY:PL champsSpikes Champs

I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know these young men. We only had 4 regular season home Sunday games, which meant we only had 4 chapels. But we made up for things by getting together often for breakfasts at the Waffle Shop.

If the statistics hold true, some of these guys will be out of baseball within the next few years. They know that. But for a good many of them, they have a faith that will outlast their baseball career. They are men of character and integrity. They play this game that we love with a burning passion, but it doesn’t define them. They find their identity in Jesus, not in the box score.

They are bringing a great big trophy back to Happy Valley, and they deserve to celebrate their accomplishment. But some of them have discovered that there is more to finishing well than the box score can report.

turns out I’m positive…

Positivity. I have it. I don’t know if it’s always been present. If so, it lay dormant for a good portion of my adult life.

But listening to some folks dripping with negativity today, I realized that I am generally a positive person. I wanted to counter every negative thing spoken. I had to restrain myself from challenging every down-in-the-mouth comment.

When my outlook on life is positive, most days are pretty good. Today was a good day.

  • I worked hard on some pretty tedious detail-oriented youth ministry stuff for most of the day.
  • Around 1pm I shut down the work mode and spent some time reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping.
  • This afternoon I kicked-off a new round of kayak instruction with my buddy Andy. He and I are teaching some kids from a local high school how to paddle!
  • After a quick supper with the fam, most of Team XStream (our adult volunteers for youth ministry) showed up for a time of planning and praying. I love this team, and believe that we’re going to see God move in our town this year!

There was a time in my life when I would have said that Kim was an optimist, and I was a realist. That was my snarky way of being pessimistic. But God did a work of transformation in my heart, and now I’m a full-blown optimist.

Bring on the rainbows and unicorns.

off to a good start

Last weekend Kim and I took most of our adult volunteers away for a weekend to pray and plan, to train and build relationships. We believe that the heart of every good ministry is a great team, and we’ve got the makings of a great team working with us! Krislund was a great retreat venue. We got to play/think/strategize/teamify on their Initiatives course, experience some of the vertical adventures of their high ropes course, and spend a solid weekend with some high-capacity leaders. We prayed a lot, talked about ministry priorities and strategies, and enjoyed worshiping together. A fire pit gave us a great setting for some late-night chats, and some real bonding happened!
10557154_10201830340993879_4235319107268398290_n 10646776_10201830337993804_3028192089497959771_n 10649531_10154483990290401_1694929495027119003_n 10665791_10201830346794024_3650224207856669284_n6806_10154483990625401_5030025980394972981_n 1609919_10201830338873826_664166847897125262_n

We kicked off the new XStream year tonight, moving back to Calvary’s building. Some of our friends from 242 (Grace Prep/Stepping Stones/Centre Church) joined us for worship and prayer. Tonight was GOOD! I saw lots of new faces and some folks who were away for most of the summer, as well as most of the peeps who hung out with us at the Barn all summer long. After a good time of worship, I led students through a prayer exercise–ask them about it! I called it the Five Fingers of Prayer.
10523932_10204596860140211_4614624067654675264_n 10574368_10204596910741476_3240643575659328300_n 10615581_10204596807818903_655880589299166438_n(photos courtesy of Kevin Sliman)

We’ve got a great year of ministry ahead of us, and we seem to be building momentum. From a dynamite team to some enthusiasm among students to building relationships and rapport with parents…I believe that God wants to do something special in Happy Valley this year, and that it’s got something to do with teenagers. I can hardly wait to see what develops.

ponds aren’t just for swimmin’

We’ve been meeting at Harvest Fields all summer for XStream (Calvary’s youth group.) We meet behind the Barn, beside the pond. There’s a fire pit, and we hang around there most nights until well-past dark. And almost every week there are folks who take a swim in one of the ponds out there.

But this week–our last at the Barn, btw–2 students wanted to declare their faith in Jesus Christ, to tell their friends and families that they’ve made a decision to follow Christ, to give their lives to him, to ask him to forgive their sins and give them new life. Tonight we used that little outdoor amphitheater to baptize Isaac (my son!) and Melissa. The act of immersing them in water represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s our faith in Christ that gives us new life, and our baptism is a public declaration of our faith and hope in Christ, our love for him.
IMG_1574 10599337_10204528309586490_5265124707422207848_n 10612982_10204528308946474_6140177679549339530_n 10429373_10204528312386560_6710687561339411429_n





As their youth pastor, I celebrate young men and women who want to live for Jesus, who have reached a point in their faith where they want to declare that publicly. As his dad, I am so proud of Isaac and his decision to follow Jesus that I could just about burst!

I believe that God is doing great things in our community, and that this could be a breakthrough year for Kingdom life in Happy Valley.

highlight of the day

Today was pretty stellar on all counts.

  • I slept in a little, which was nice.
  • I met a new youth pastor for lunch. He’s in his first full-time youth ministry job, and I love his heart for his family, his students, and the Lord.
  • I met with one of my long-time youth pastor buddies to chat about how we can partner together more. I love that, too!
  • Annabelle, Josie, and I went for a run around Harvest Fields, then cooled off in the pond before XStream. I love the fact that my kids and I get to workout together.
  • Jake “the Intern” Nold taught at XStream tonight, and did a great job. He walked us through Psalm 32 before he handed students off to the small group leaders. Then we brought everyone back to worship around the campfire. It was a good night. I love XStream, Jake, and our leaders (Team XStream).

10580233_10204274274395769_4552449012509343627_n 10511102_10204274273955758_8814586400803283228_n

But do you know what the highlight was? About 20 minutes ago there was a squirmy, squawky little boy in the crib next to my bed. Kim thought he might want another ounce of formula to help him sleep. Turns out he had other plans. He’s a poop-making machine, and when I opened the diaper to change him, he decided to shift into high-production mode! I was scrambling to catch what he was making, like a one-armed soft-serve ice cream worker! After I got the little guy all cleaned up, he was wide awake and hungry.

So I snuggled him and set him up with a little bottle. Watching his eyelids get heavy as he worked on that bottle…that was my highlight of the day. Well, that and the poop machine.

this is what we do

Ali Great WallAli Bruce shared a little bit of her story tonight. She’s a former youth group kid (she was in Kim’s small group for 5 years!) turned leader who has just returned from a 11 month/11 country mission trip called The World Race. You should watch some of her videos or read her blog. I choked up several times just trying to introduce her tonight! Parents, you should do everything you can to get your daughter to come hang out with Ali. She’s going to be helping us work with young ladies at XStream.


Jake hikingWe also added an intern to our team this week–Jake Nold is back for the summer. He’s recently changed his major and is thinking about youth ministry, so he’ll be spending time with our senior high guys as part of our leadership team. I couldn’t be happier, and I know that the young men he rubs shoulders with are going to be challenged/encouraged to grow in their faith.

I was speaking with a dad tonight at the close of our time tonight. He was thanking me for spending time with his son (which is one of the perks of my job!) I pointed to the young men who are volunteering with our high school guys and bragging on them a little bit when it hit me–AC, Brandon, Collin, and Jake are all products of Calvary’s youth ministry. They’ve had other quality people speak into their lives at various points, but all of them have been part of our youth ministry when they were in middle school and/or high school.

And that, my friends, is what we call a WIN where I come from!  These young leaders are passionate about their faith, growing in their leadership skills, hungry for the presence of God, wanting to be challenged and equipped to serve, believing that God wants to use them to shape the next group of students following in their footsteps.

Parents, you will be glad to have your sons and daughters spending time with our team. I know that I am!

Here’s a video clip from our worship time tonight.  We went with the Acoustic Army!

my kingdom for a few female leaders

Simply put, we’re hurtin’ for female leaders for our student ministry.  We’ve had a handful at the start of each semester, but they’ve all headed for other parts at the end of the term.

That’s a problem, because we put all of our proverbial eggs in the relational basket.  A shortage of leaders means relationships suffer, which is what the experts would classify as “Not Good.”

Kim and I have been inviting, recruiting, convincing, cajoling, and coercing as many quality young female leader types as possible.  We will soon add bribery, blackmail, and possibly kidnapping to the list unless things turn a corner!

Really smart youth ministry folks tell us that we need 1 leader for every 5 students we want to invest in.  There are at least 110 young ladies on our list of students who have some connection to Calvary.  Doing the math, we need 22 female leaders–trained, capable, committed, engaged leaders–just to connect with the students we know about.  That doesn’t even begin to reach the thousands of young ladies in our community who aren’t connected anywhere.

Where will these young lady leaders come from? I’m praying for a breakthrough, for a move of God, for folks who want to make a difference in the next generation to join us. We’re working to build a team that will have a direct impact on the spiritual climate in our town. If you are one of those folks, give me a shout. If you know someone who fits this description, I’m paying a finder’s fee.

We have a long a beautiful history of raising up quality leaders and building high-capacity teams.  We know that you’re out there; we’ll see you soon.
IM004757 Melinda plays catchphrase IM003795 IM003797

metro worship goodness

Tonight was another city-wide youth group gathering, and we’re gaining steam!  The worship was sweet, Pastor Zac challenged students to actually TELL the good news (as opposed to simply letting their lives speak), and we had several more youth groups join us. My buddy Jarrod and his group hosted us tonight, and the room was buzzing with students! And my wife did a fabulous job creating some interactive prayer stations to help students connect with Jesus.

I’ve said it a thousand times or more, but I love it when the Church gets together to worship, pray, and focus on God’s word.  And if we can reach this generation with the gospel, if they find the life that Jesus has for them, they can change the world!  The first batch of Jesus followers left that kind of legacy; why can’t this one?

I’m praying for some sort of catalyst, something that ignites a revolution of love and grace and truth and power like we have never seen.  I’ve read that many of the major revivals have started with the youth of the region.  O God, would you burst through here in our town?!

From the Day of Pentecost, there has not been one great spiritual awakening in any land which has not begun in a union of prayer, though only among two or three; no such outward, upward movement has continued after such prayer meetings have declined.—A.T. Pierson, quoted by Arthur Wallis, In the Day of Thy Power, p112

the day we met Annabelle

Our family has been the subject of a documentary being filmed by a young lady finishing her film major at PSU. She’s been working primarily with Kim and Annabelle, walking through the adoption process. It’s been very interesting to watch, as the young lady is Chinese and had little knowledge of the adoption policies and procedures related to China.

She asked me for some video footage of our trip to get Annabelle, so I’ve been scrambling to pull that together for her. Here’s a clip of us meeting Annabelle for the very first time.

A few notes:
*watch for Annabelle to squint–she needed glasses!
*listen for our friend’s son (hey Marcus) to ask Kim, “Are you happy crying?”
*We were absolutely nervous–our translator told us to expect the worst. She said that Annabelle wouldn’t want to go with us, would be sullen and angry, and wouldn’t speak to us. I’ll post a picture of Kim after the video. We were blown away!