back to the mines

Saturdays have been set aside for Team Sublett family adventures lately. We’ve hiked a couple of nice little hikes, and everyone has had fun. But I gave the fam the day off this past Saturday. I spent a day with some of the up and coming leaders in our life, and I really worked them hard. There was lots of grunting, a good bit of bruising and scaping, and I’m fairly certain there was some gnashing of teeth.

I took 7 hearty young adventurers caving in one of the caves I know best–Bear Cave, near Derry, PA. I’ve spent countless hours exploring and delving deep. It’s the 6th longest cave in PA, and we covered most of it in our 3+ hour underground journey.

We crawled all the crawls we could find, sometimes inching our way on our bellies, our shoulders touching the walls on both sides, arms stretched out ahead of us so they wouldn’t wedge us in. We climbed up Suicide Pass and wiggled our way through Backbreaker Pass. We slid through the Worm Hole and over Coffin Rock. We eventually made our way back through the Keyhole, dropping down to the water that runs through the cave, slipping back to the Calcite waterfall and the effective end of the cave.

There were 5 young men, 2 young ladies, and one me. They’re all leaders or former students in our youth ministry. It was refreshing and challenging to get back underground. I got to put my cave memory to the test (I passed) and exercise some long-unused caving muscles. We chased lots of fears and phobias along the way–fear of the dark, or close spaces, of spiders and mud and getting lost…

Do you know what I liked most? Simple: seeing young men and women who are passionate about their relationship with Jesus growing in leadership. I loved the fact that I got to spend 9 hours of intense time with these folks, seeing how they react under pressure, watching them encourage and cheer each other on, listening to their stories, laughing at their jokes, observing how they truly live.

Last Saturday I took a day to get back to the mines, and I have to say I love my job!
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Monday was a big day

Kim and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary Monday. The kids stayed home and took care of Charlie while we went out to dinner at our favorite place, The Tavern. We enjoyed a delicious meal, uninterrupted adult conversation, and the luxury of lingering over a cup of coffee after dinner.

24 years ago we were so excited about starting our new life together. I had just graduated from Toccoa Falls College with a degree in youth ministry. I’d been hired to be the youth pastor at Greensburg Alliance Church, in a town a few miles down the road from Kim’s family. I don’t think we were scared about being newlyweds, starting a new job, or stepping out on our own. Maybe we were just so in love–or so naive–that we didn’t know any different!

I must have been a little nervous, though, on our wedding day. The day progressed smoothly without any major hiccups. But there must have been something going on in my head or heart. When I took my bowtie off at the end of the day I spotted something unusual. Around my neck, where the bowtie had rested for hours, was a little ring of blisters! Yep, I’d worn my tie so tight that it gave me blisters, and I never felt a thing!

24 years…what an incredible journey. God has blessed us tremendously. I am married to my best friend, my partner in life and ministry. It sounds cliche, but it’s absolutely true: I love her more today than I did 24 years ago. But that hair was something special, right?Kim & Stac toast Stac & Kim wedded bliss Stac & Kim married Stac & Kim just married

sports camp makes me cry

Our church wrapped up our yearly sports camp Thursday evening, and I got to invite the 5th graders to join me and the other youth leaders for a few events this summer designed just for them. The parents of all the children were gathered all around the watched the various teams step to the front to show some of the songs they had learned. They were wildly enthusiastic and loved sharing with the parents, but something else caught my eye.

As our youth pastor, I am all too familiar with the fact that 60-70% of high school grads will walk away from church and faith. That fact is driving me to re-examine a lot of our practices in our church, and in my family. I want to know what we can do to help students develop a faith that lasts a lifetime.

As I watched the coaches (volunteers who led the sports camp) gather for their final huddle, I realized that almost half of the leaders were either students from our youth ministry or former students who are now in college. A huge wave of emotion rolled over me as I began to think about the links in the chain of influence. The leaders in our student ministry have shaped the lives of the young men and women who were now leading this sports camp. And they, in turn, are speaking into the lives of the next generation of boys and girls, modeling what it means to live for Jesus.

I hugged and high-fived as many of those leaders as I could tonight as they exited the building. I don’t know if they see what they’re doing, if they sense the importance and feel the weight of their influence. It’s likely that most of them think they were simply volunteering for a fun sports camp. But the truth is that they were cementing their own faith, and leaving a legacy for those elementary kids to follow.

I don’t know if there are guaranteed ways to help students stay connected to Jesus and the Church as they graduate. But I do know that finding ways for them to share in the story, to be part of the life of the Church, to speak into the life of those following behind them is about as good as it gets.

endings and beginnings

Our eldest graduated from high school Saturday morning along with 600 or so of his closest friends. I thought the commencement speaker (James Houck) was splendid, and even jotted a few notes from his talk. Levi and a few of his buddies were featured in the senior video that showed during the ceremony. That was pretty cool…
Saturday afternoon was about as nice a day as we have in Happy Valley, which made the Grad Party extremely pleasant. Family and friends gathered to eat Clem’s barbecue, play KanJam and wiffle ball, and spend time chatting in the back yard. The locust tree did its best to dampen the mood by dropping little locust bombs on us all day, but most folks just learned to cover their drinks and party on! Levi’s friends stayed long into the night, sitting around the fire pit, reminiscin’ this an’ that an’ havin’ such a good time…

About 24 hours later the young man found himself wandering into the South Halls, looking to check-in for Penn State’s New Student Orientation. He got paired up with a roommate he’d never met, attended a few classes/forums covering everything from finances to scheduling to PSU culture and campus safety.

I don’t know if any of us is really ready for this…

Kim and I have been blessed to have Levi as a son.  We are proud of the young man he’s grown to be. He is sharp and sensitive, creative and funny, great with children, knows most 80s songs from the opening lick, and loves the Atlanta Braves more than I do! He’s got a heart for Jesus, and we are praying that the next season of life will be used by God to water the seeds that have been sown.

I am looking forward to watching what God does to develop character in Levi, and where the call of God will take him.

One chapter ends; another begins. The adventure continues. And since Levi shares a birthday with Bilbo and Frodo, I’ll close with a some wisdom from Bilbo/Frodo:

belated birthday celebration

Our daughter Josie turned 17 yesterday.  She spent most of the day in a car, traveling back from the US Rugby high school national tourney.  Our own State High girls rugby team was scrumming it up.  They brought home the 6th place trophy, which is pretty stinking impressive.
rugby team

The young ladies on the rugby team have become community for Josie.  She loves them, and they love her.  She stays after school almost every day of the year to work out because she wants to get better, stronger, faster…for them.  They have taken her in, made her feel loved and welcomed and wanted, let her know that she belongs.  One of the girls from last year’s team went with them to nationals last weekend.  Without us knowing, she arranged to get a cake for Josie, lit the candles, and had the team sing, “Happy Birthday” to Josie.

As a dad who prays for his girls to find good friends, words seem pretty paltry when it comes to expressing how much that means.

Josie is a wonderful young lady–kind, thoughtful, always looking to help someone, diligent and determined, quick with a smile, and loyal to the hilt.  She loves to laugh, and though most of the time she’s reserved, if you catch her at the right time, she can be flat-out silly.

We had no idea what to expect when we brought her into our home a few years ago.  But we knew that the Lord brought her to us, and that we were committed to her.  Now I can hardly imagine life without her.

We took Josie and most of the girls from her small group out tonight for dessert at IHOP. It was fun to see them laughing and having fun, knowing that God has placed her in our home, in our church, in our town to bless her, and to bless us. What a work God has done in all of us over the past 4 years…

Thank you, Jesus, for Josie!

Sunday’s a-comin’

This weekend promises to be a significant one in the life of Calvary.  Not only is is the last Sunday before finals–which means a bag filled with goodies for every student to help them through the week–it’s also a weekend that we’re combining all of the Calvary worship gatherings.  Instead of us meeting in 4 locations for 8 different worship gatherings, all of us will be meeting together at Eisenhower Auditorium on Penn State’s campus for one mack-daddy of a worship time.

I’m part of the worship team, and we met tonight to rehearse the songs and spend some time in prayer.  I am excited about the songs we’re singing, and even more so by the thought that so many of us will be worshiping the Lord together.  Don’t get me wrong–I love the fact that we’re a multi-site church.  But there’s something special about getting all the Calvary family together once in a while.

And I LOVE the emphasis that we’ve been placing on our OneByOne Initiative, especially when we talk about doing a better job of reaching the next generation.  My heart has always been for the middle school and high school students in our town.  That’s a big part of why I asked to be Calvary’s youth pastor again.  I believe that we could see a tremendous move of God in our town among the teenagers.  That’s what I’m praying for, what I’m working toward, and what I am expecting.  God wants to do something new here.

And the seeds of that are being sown right now.  I can’t wait for Sunday.

CityServe was a blast!

Once a year Calvary decides to cancel our weekend worship services, pick up our rakes and shovels and paintbrushes, and go serve our neighbors.  It’s really a humongous undertaking.  It’s also one of the highlights of the year.

This year we decided to throw an overnight party for the youth group Saturday, which would lead us to serving together Sunday.  So while Kim and I were out celebrating the nuptials of our dear friends Adam and Ginger, Kevin and Amy Sliman were getting things going back at the home base.

Our leaders are tremendous and stupendous.  When Kim and I arrived, things were sailing along smoothly!  We got everyone divvied up into vehicles just in time to make the 10pm showing of God’s Not Dead.  If you haven’t seen it, you ought to.  I’m generally skeptical of “Christian movies” due to the overwhelming Cheese Factor.  But this movie was pretty good, and sparked some good conversation among us.  We didn’t like everything about it, but it was a win.

Sunday morning found Mark Horn and his lovely wife Melissa in the kitchen, breaking a lot of eggs and whipping up pancakes for us.  What a blessing, and a great start to our day!

We sent a few middle school girls off with a couple of ladies to work on another project in town while the rest of us traveled out to PA Furnace to visit our friend Sherry.  She’s a single mom of 2 kids, battling cancer, and she was blown away by the sheer number of teenagers who invaded the yard!  There were lots of opportunities for us to serve, and Sherry was so grateful.  I had the opportunity to visit with her for about 30 minutes after most everyone headed back to town.  She was almost in tears as we talked, and she wanted everyone to know how much this meant to her.

I love the fact that we are part of a church that puts a premium on serving, that values the input and investment of teenagers, that realizes that if we don’t live what we believe, then we don’t really believe it.

Props to the 34 students and 15 leaders who served with us this weekend.
I love your guts!
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writing another story

I had two out-of-the-ordinary conversations today.  The first was with some grandparents from our church.  They’d been wondering what was going on for youth (they have a few headed toward 6th grade) and had no idea.  So they asked me to lunch and plied me with questions.  They had definite ideas about what we should be doing, and those ideas were sort of at odds with our practice.  I got the chance to tell them the story of how youth ministry has changed, and how we can make a difference in this next generation.  When they heard my rationale for the way we’re doing ministry they found themselves agreeing with me, and even offered to jump in to serve with us in some role.  Isn’t amazing how powerful the right story can be?

And tonight after youth group (which was SO good!  We talked about Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of God) I had a 5 minute chat with a dad who’s been coming to help out for a few weeks now.  He was apologetic for not being more involved up to this point.  I replied that if more dads were involved in our ministry I believe that we’d see some remarkable growth in our ministry, and in their families.  That led us to talking about how our faith was shaped by our childhood–for good or bad.  Most dads I know feel woefully inadequate when it comes to discipling their kids and leading their families.  They know that they’re supposed to do it, but they don’t feel qualified, don’t know how, don’t have a plan…and that leads to feeling guilty, discouraged, and defeated.  But some dads are taking steps, trying to do some different things, making an effort.  And that’s significant.

The redeeming truth is that I get to write the story of US for my family.  I get to shape and define what my kids know as normal.  And it can be as passionate and Jesus-centered, as wildly radical and generous and faith-infused and risk-taking, as obedient and hopeful and loving as I want it to be.

Parents, you get to write the story for your family.  You get to define normal.

What story do you want to tell?
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investing in the next generation

One of the things that I find most exciting about my job is the fact that I am part of the team of people shaping the next generation of leaders.  That’s also one of the pieces of Calvary’s OneByOne Initiative that gets me jazzed–being directly influential on the next generation. (You can read more about our plans here.)

Tonight I had the privilege of speaking to a 2 groups of young men from the PSU football team.  They gather every Tuesday night to study the Bible, pray, and talk about what God is doing in their lives.  We talked about Risk & Reward, how important it is to have a heart tuned to hear God, and the fact that Jesus calls us to follow him into some wild and precarious places. I loved being part of the discussion.

Have you read the story about Jonathan and his armor bearer?  Take a moment to re-visit it, and tell me what you would say to the next generation based on this passage.

And here’s the video outlining our vision, detailing what we believe God is calling us to do…