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Christmas Survival Tips

1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving sausage balls.

2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. It's rare.. You cannot find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an eggnog-aholic or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It's later than you think. It's Christmas!

3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they're made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people's food for free. Lots of it. Hello?

6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you're never going to see them again. ( This one is very important.)

8. Same for pies. Apple, Pumpkin, Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or if you don't like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. (a balanced diet IS important) When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?

9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards.

10. One final tip: If you don't feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Re-read tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner.

-- Copied from a friend

Evangelism - for the win!

Evangelism...what a crazy word!  In different religious groups it could mean anything from an occupational traveler, to soul-winning, to riding your bikes to peoples houses, to passing out tracts...but what is it really?

I checked the dictionary, and really fell in love with some of its defining words:  preaching, promulgation of the gospel, missionary zeal, purpose, activity.  I love words!  So to read words like "zeal" and "purpose" as describers gets me excited! Evangelism is a zeal for purpose...specifically the purpose of the gospel!

The Bible speaks several times on the concept of "evangelism,"  and I want to highlight a couple of those.  Matthew 28:16-20 is referenced frequently in our church circles.  Jesus commands his disciples to GO.  This action word implies that we cannot fulfill this command without movement from our current location.  MAKE DISCIPLES.  This is tricky...because my pride wants to win 20 gazillion people to Jesus in a year by just passing out a paper with a few verses or simply inviting people to church.  "Make disciples" seems to indicate that after winning someone to Jesus,  I am responsible for helping along in their Christian Journey.  TEACHING...   WOW this is a hard one!  "I'm not a teacher. I don't like talking to people.  That's the pastor's job.  I'm uncomfortable speaking to people I don't know.  etc..."  So God says, "OK, yeah, you don't like to teach so you're off the hook!"   WRRROOONNNGG!!!  It seems to me that every believer is responsible to Go, Make, AND Teach...regardless of your insecurities.  The verses we referenced above are often called "The Great Commission."  I believe the word "great" not only implies the massive scale of importance that this commission holds, but also the burden of effort it will place upon us.

Life is Journey, and Christianity is a race.  We press toward the mark FOR THE PRIZE!  In 1 Corinthians 9:24, Paul challenges the church to "run that you may obtain the prize!"  I'm getting a mental image here of an Olympic athlete and his coach.  I'm not going to begin to attempt the recreation of the dialogue through the practices, but let's just imagine the coaches last words to his runner before he steps out on the track.  I just cannot imagine a coach saying "you know what, we're just here to have fun.  You go out there, and whatever happens, happens..."  Now, I've never been an Olympic runner,  but based off the coaches TV facial expressions they are saying something to effect of "get out there, work your hardest, stay focused, push yourself to the max, and bring home the gold."    So why is it that we take that first approach to evangelism?  Why have we slipped into a culture of "just go out and be nice to everyone and that's really the best you can do?"   Laziness?  Pride?  Worry?  Fear?  I really have no idea....but I do know that God hates that sort of attitude.  Paul writes under the Holy Spirit's inspiration that we are to run to obtain the prize.

This cross-country track is short.  We have a limited amount of effective time here on this earth to fulfill this Great Commission.  I have been guilty of spending all my time "stretching and warming up" right in the middle of the course where I should be running. Today I am challenged to run for the prize.  To do this, I must keep my eyes on the finish line and not get distracted with things around me.  God please give me one more soul before the end of this year! What's evangelism?  I believe it to be a purpose driven race, run with zeal, empowered by God, ending only at eternity.

Peace In & Peace Out

God's word repeatedly emphasizes people's freedom to choose.  The decision to follow Christ was not forced upon us,  it was offered to us as a free gift - a choice.  How many times have we taken advantage of this principle, and chosen to oppose God's plan?  Try and place yourself in God's shoes for a moment.  Can you even really imagine the frustration He must have with "difficult people?"

As Americans, we love to leverage our "right to choose."  Often we use this cop-out about the time someone wants us to do something that WE don't want to do.  If you have ever been in ministry or a place of management, I can guarantee you have gone home at night steaming over "difficult people."  So, if people have a free will, and a legal right to choose, then how do we deal with difficult people?

 - Be motivated by peace.  This principle can be found in Scripture in places like Hebrews 12:14 and Romans 12:18.  The Word requires that we pursue peace will all men as much as is possible.  Hebrews reminds us that without the pursuit of peace,  no one will see the Lord.  I do not believe the author is just referencing lost people!  Often those who disrupt the peace are distant in their relationship with the Lord, making them selfish.

-  Be a servant of peace.  Have you ever known someone who just could not be at peace unless EVERYTHING was going his or her way?  We could probably describe this person as always having to be right, always having to be the center of attention, or having a flair for the dramatic.  Right now a person has popped into your brain, and you are racking your brain trying to come up with a solution to their peace problem.  Let me put your mind at ease.  YOU CAN'T!   What can you do?  You can follow the principle of Philippians 2:3-4, humble yourself, and put their best interests in mind...keeping in mind that they need Jesus.

-  Live at peace.  OK, you see the value of peace, and you're doing your dead-level best to put their best interests in mind, but they have played your good heart and sought control of your happens.  Romans 16:17 tells us to mark those who cause divisions and offenses, and Proverbs 22:3 states that a prudent man foresees evil and hides himself.  My mind goes back to the story of Joseph.  After Potiphar's wife had caused so many problems, there came a time when he just had to avoid her and hide himself.  If you are like me, you really want to "fix" the problem in someone else's heart by playing the Holy Spirit.  But, if your difficult person will not respond to reason, you just have to avoid them.  Sometimes that hurts...but if we are to live at peace, we cannot allow our lives and hearts to be manipulated by those who do not.

 -  Communicating peace isn't always vocal.  The person you have had to separate from now wants to be heard.  Some have their mind made up that their opinion and perception of you is right no matter what anyone says.  They honestly believe THEY are the victim of your actions.  Proverbs 26:4-5 warns us not to answer a fool according to his folly.  This really plays off the above principle, but friend, there does come a time when there is nothing else you can say or do.

- Find peace within.  Psalm 119:165 says it best.  "Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing shall offend them."  This passage speaks to both sides of the conflict.  To you, the one who is struggling to MAKE peace, stop and realize that YOU cannot.  Peace comes from God.  Focus your love and attention on HIM, and He will help calm the storm within you.  Often our hearts cry in desperation " I JUST CAN'T DO ANYTHING RIGHT!"  It is in that moment that we must stand still, and let God move.  He will fight our battles way more effectively than we ever could.  Stop worrying over something you cannot change.

Dear friend,  you may be the person that others are reaching out to.  Many have tried to make peace with you, many have offered great personal sacrifice just to make your life easier, yet you sit in denial as peacemakers fight to keep your relationship alive.  Maybe you have even gone so far as to turn other people against those who make peace, because as you've heard "misery loves company."  Let me remind you that GREAT peace have those who love God's law, and nothing will offend them.  Turn your focus off of YOU for a second, put everyone else's interests ahead of yours,  and watch unity in Christ miraculously take place.  Peace in, and peace out.

Leadership, With Something At Stake

Leadership continues to fascinate my mind, and captivate much of my energy.  Everyone is gifted and wired differently where some are leaders, and some naturally follow.  I can remember a very prideful youth pastor speaking to me once when I was about 12 years of age who informed me, "There are only two types of teenagers: Stupid ones, and Cowards."  What he meant was, there were those who would do anything if dared, and those who were too scared to try, so they talked other people into doing their dirty work.  While I believe this concept can be accurate to a point...I disagree with limiting this generation to stupidity and cowardliness.  Today, I owe that youth pastor a huge thank you. While his statement did eat at me, it challenged my perception and probably is responsible for where I am today.

I grew up living with, and listening to the lectures and messages of my great-grandpa, and grandfather who were at the helm of one of the fastest growing churches in Indianapolis.  Whether or not they intentionally did this, I don't know...but they exposed me to different levels of leadership beginning at a very early age.  This developed the art of communication, and specifically clarity in my personality, presence, and conversation.  After realizing the effect that my confidence had on others, I began to abuse that power.  With only a few simple words backed with confidence, I remember talking classmates into several of my different schemes.  I remember collecting lost calculators and informing kids that it was more cost effective and responsible for them to lease these items from me, rather than ask their parents to purchase them one.

After witnessing these traits, one very influential leader in my life took me under his wing.  The school's athletic director, and Varsity basketball coach decided I was his project.  He took me everywhere,  we did everything together, he even discussed school decisions with me as if he valued my input.  I could spend hours wading through the countless lessons I learned, but one really sticks out in my mind.  When the basketball team would fall behind,  he would be up on his feet.  His face would turn dark red as he communicated his strategy to the players on the court.  When the team would win, he would cry.  When the team would lose,  sorry and sometimes anger would overtake him.  I can remember thinking, "WHY?!  This is just a game!"  But as I examine the most influential leader my high-school ever had....I realize that as he led,  he led as if HE had something at stake in those games.

If I were to get Matt Philbrick on the court,  there's a good chance I could out-run him, and possibly even outshoot him.  He is not the best basketball player in the world.  Many of his past team-members could easily take him.  His skill in the area he was coaching was not the most important part.  So, if the captain of the team possessed more skill than coach himself,  why did he listen to the coach?  I mean, the coach couldn't even really get out and DEMONSTRATE what he wanted!

Matt knew that in the uncertainty of a game, it was his job to clearly articulate every single move.  Where would those moves take the team?  Honestly, we had no idea.  What we did know is that Matt was going to be crystal clear in every instruction.  He had to be clear, because HE was owning the win. To Matt, this wasn't just a that moment, it was life.

Dear Leader,  if we are ever going to take our youth groups to the next level,  we must clarify and own the win.  I want my students to know that when they fail,  I feel it.  Likewise, when they win, it is as if I was right there with them!  When they are going through uncertain times in their lives, I must clearly articulate the Word to provide them with a definite play to take.  My students aren't cowards and idiots; They are leaders and followers, and as the leader entrusted to those kids, I want to own the win.  I'm tired of discussing "if" my students live for Christ, and I'm ready to discuss HOW.  It begins today.

My YMCA Epiphany

My little brother Brian and I have been going to the YMCA regularly every weekday for a few weeks now.  I stay for about an hour and do a variety of machines but this morning I did significantly less than normal.

As I finished my fifth mile on the elliptical I glanced over at the man next to me.  Gray T shirt, black shorts,  a clean-cut goatee.  A pretty sharp looking guy with one of those faces you never forget.  All of a sudden, a realization paralyzed me.  I paused my music, and stopped my machine to focus on my thoughts.  I have seen this man every day....fifteen plus days in a row.  We arrive around the same time,  do similar things,  have a similar amount of down time in between machines, and leave about the same time.  I move about the workout area with earphones in as I listen to podcasts of evangelism and church leadership....I teach others to go out into their neighborhoods and communities, even schools and reach people.  Not the people you already know...but NEW people.... and I've seen this SAME man, EVERY DAY,  and I don't even know his name.

As I pondered the concept of Jesus return I realized... WHAT IF THE RAPTURE HAPPENED TODAY!?  At the judgement seat would that man see me in the distance?  Would he look at me and ask "WHY did you never share?"  What would my excuse be??? "Sorry Sir I was working on toning my body and I didn't have time to share an eternal concept with you...."

Tomorrow I go the the YMCA with a different perspective, as I hope you will view your workplace and school.  If I REALLY believe the RAPTURE could happen today, then live today like it's the only day I have.  Do what Jesus did!  Present people with the Gospel...then based on what I have presented you, do you ACCEPT or DENY Christ as your Lord and Savior?

Dear Lord,  please give me an opportunity to present someone with this opportunity this week.  Let me be obedient to your great commission.  So that if you come back today, though I may not hold trophies,  I can claim persistence, diligence, and obedience in the race to which I am called.

Jay Stone Singers - "Encouragement...Through It All."

No matter the genre, a good song could be defined as one that conveys a clear message, has the power to manipulate your emotions, and draws you back in for another listen.  Yet, as this project is played, it takes us to a much deeper level.  With the passing of each track we find ourselves in a state of mind where we discover an opportunity to celebrate God like never before, His power, and His ability to provide in whatever situation presents itself.  For this reason, The Jay Stone Singers would like to present their newest release, “Encouragement…Through It All.”

“Last year was such an encouraging year for us, which is reflected in each message of encouragement.” Says Bobby Carter.  “Encouragement” begins with  our title track that defines the entire project, “Through It All.”  Crossroads did a great job producing a new spin on this classic song by picking up the tempo, and spicing it up with some organ accompaniment.  “Nothing’s Too Big For My God” written by Nancy Harmon, has very basic harmonies, but features a powerful lead by Stone Carter.  Emma had a hand in choosing a timeless song, “Be Thou My Vision” with a unique Celtic arrangement.  Bobby showcases a bit of a tenor range in their arrangement of Lee Roy Abernathy’s “He’s a Personal Savior.”

From Elvis Presley to Andrae Crouch and now the Jay Stone Singers, “I’ve Got Confidence” maintains its energy and effectiveness.  Jeff Collins took an old ensemble song and turned it into an acapella highlight you will have on repeat, “Hallowed Be Thy Name.”   Bobby Carter shared that these songs were ones he and Sharona grew up on as teenagers.  He submitted that the new arrangements and convicting presentation by Stone and Emma not only attract the young generation; it is almost like sharing new songs with those who have heard them before.  No matter your age or musical preference, you will find yourself singing along with “Get All Excited,”  “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow,”  “I Surrender All,” and “I Just Feel Like Something Good Is About To Happen.” 

Through It All, this compilation has been a source of encouragement, and a reminder of God’s goodness. The entire project creates the foundation for the final song, “Come Unto Jesus” inviting believer and unbeliever alike to consider what Jesus has done, and let Him have His way in their life.   Every element of this project plays off the other.  It is the creativity and professional production of Crossroads and Jeff Collins that provides for a presentation of older songs that will have the listener’s heart in the artist’s hand.  The flow of the message and order of the songs could not have been better.  The intro takes us to the past, the body examines our present, and the conclusion challenges our future.  Whether you know the name or not, I challenge you to purchase “Encouragement…Through It All” by the Jay Stone Singers.  


WOW!  This place actually has good breakfast.  No matter how many times Eric Henry makes fun of me for eating slow and not eating everything on my plate, I am going to continue to enjoy a "taste of the world"  on my plate at breakfast time!

Just yesterday it seemed like we had been here a week already, and at the conclusion of today I'm racing to fit in everything because it seems the week has gone by so fast!

Squad times were fantastic today.  I have to say the water sports are my favorite...probably because of the Beach Boys music they are blaring during each game!  Lindsey and I taught our squad how to do a cool dance to go along with the music.  One kid commented, "I wanna be on your team! Even though you're always losing, you look like you're having so much fun!"  YES!  We accomplished our goal!  This group of awkward kids I met on Monday night has developed into a team of AWESOME youth that are really gelling and working together.  They each have a great sense of humor which really helps them get along with me and Lindsey!  -  Our team building exercise was for them to be blindfolded and led through a "mine field" of balloons while navigating a 2x4 (submarine).  My squad made it through the first time unlike most, and even though we didn't beat every other team, the spiritual lessons we discussed really did sink in.  You see, its hard to trust a leader you can't see.  It's also hard to listen to a leader when there's a ton of people around you talking like they know whats best, when in actuality they are just as blind as you!  SUCCESS AGAIN!

Morning Worship and Evening Worship were nothing short of spectacular!  I cannot get over how this random collection of musicians just gel in the time of worship.  It is without a doubt the result of total surrender to the spirit.  Lights, Fog, Camera, ACTION!  The campus pastor, Donnie, steps up to take his place.  He spoke with conviction this evening as he presented "What Does it Mean to Respond to God."   This message paved a perfect path to our church discussion this evening.  We got to sit and listen as students shared their encounters with God this week so far, and what they have decided to do about it.  Whether students decide to turn toward God and forsake the world, or discredit God and embrace the world, we are challenging students to make a choice instead of living on the edge.  God has got some big things going on here!

The evening ended with "Urban Assault."  That was definitely a game to ask your kids about!  The best way I can describe it would be a ramped up version of tag and capture the flag.  I love leading a team of awesome kids who had fun.  To be honest,  we didn't win, but we did come close!  I actually started paying kids from other teams with gummy bears to work for my team!  Some call that cheating...but Lindsey and I think of it as resourceful.  After all, it was a game about being a spy!

The week is far from over, and we covet your prayers!  How can you pray?  Well, there are kids, I believe even some in our own group, who may not fully grasp the concept of a relationship with Jesus. Please pray that they will be receptive to the work of God while they are here away from distractions.  Pray for those who are getting distracted by the tools the enemy is using to bring them down.  Pray for the adults as we are exhausted!  Pray for the overall sprit of the remainder of the week.  We are desperately longing to see God show up in a huge, undeniable way and spark a revival that will spread back to our home church.

Camp Revolution: Day of the Dead

Day Two of the Camp Revolution Experience.  I have to say that while those beds were not perfect, I definitely slept like a baby....woke up every two hours and cried.  ;)  Nah..I'm just kidding...all my middle school guys slept extremely hard! Being the vigilant sponsor that I am, I stayed up until the rustling of crazy middle school boys died.  So, I definitely didn't get as much sleep as they did, and I most certainly did not want to wake up this morning!  Running on minimal sleep, we all began Day Two, The Day of the Dead.

If you're a parent and you are worried about your kids eating well, let me put your worries to rest and tell you...THEY DEFINITELY ARE!  To put it in perspective,  Rob Robinson actually got seconds on a salad today.  A SALAD!?!?  I feel like a good majority of our time has been spent in the dining common, but it has been time well spent.  Between bites of delicious food we have enjoyed some time of discipleship, and extreme laughter!  I love these guys!

Today our teens learned how to work together with others in multiples of ways.  The water relays were the best source of comic relief today.  From navigating a slippery tarp riding a pool noodle, to filling gallon buckets with car wash sponges, it was a hilarious time!  Our squads then moved on to an exercise where they had to build a functional bridge using four concrete blocks and two, two by fours.  Though my squad did not win,  we connected in a great way and were able to derive some spiritual truths from this time.  To wrap it up:  Communicate, plan your work, and work your plan....oh and don't pretend to know everything. - That was the biggest struggle for some kids in my squad.

Honestly, I could spend two blogs talking about the quality of the physical food here,  but I could write a book on the spiritual food we have been afforded so far.  It is hard to believe we are just a little over 24 hours into our camp experience and have already been fed 3 OUTSTANDING meals.  This morning we dove into understanding world religion, and how it has impacted "Christianity."  We were challenged by the fact that many Hindu's view Americans as having more gods than they do.

The evening service was great as well.  Through the story of Joseph's sons, and Joseph's father, Israel we listened as Pastor Donnie explained how God the Father has preferred us and blessed us. We also took a look at the things that keep us from a perfect relationship with the Father.  Last night we looked at "Having an Encounter with God,"  and today we received a word of "Realizing What God has Done."  Our small group time following the service proved to be fruitful and engaging.  I'm so thankful for some teens that are sincere about discovering God's will and plan for their lives.

We wrapped the evening up with Glow in the Dark Frisbee,  "Tacky Prom,"  "Quest Games," and just hangin' at The Oasis.  Be sure and ask your student what they participated in!  I'm listening now to my favorite sound in the world...NOTHING! That means I get to head on to bed in the extreme near future.

I hope this post finds you doing well.  Crossroads, we miss you, but be ready for a revolution and revival when our youth comes home to set the church on fire!  ....That is, if they aren't asleep from exhaustion. ;)"

Camp Revolution: An Encounter

I had no idea when I woke up this morning just what I would encounter.  My camp resume contains Northland, the Wilds, and of course...Camp Victory.  For those of you who don't know...I have attended Camp Victory multiple weeks each year since I was merely months old.  It has also been my privilege to serve as part of the staff for the past five years.  Recently I calculated that I have spent nearly four years of my life on the grounds of Camp to say that today was going to be a step out of my comfort zone would be appropriate to say the least.

I've always been a good packer, so I kinda just took over getting luggage into the van today.  Alicia, or "the bag lady" as I now call her was so gracious to drive our church van filled with luggage, and a few interesting guests.  After prayer with Pastor Dave, we departed.   I would first like to thank Pastor Darryl, "The Bladder god,"  for not allowing us to make a plethora of bathroom stops.  It made the trip go by much faster, even in cramped vans.  The lunch break at Fazoli's was great, and the credit for that goes to our awesome group of kids.  I'm so proud to be one of their leaders!  Apparently they didn't eat as much as Alicia anticipated, so Padre and I were able to deliver a feast to a family with seven children in the area who needed it more than we did!  (Did I mention several Jr. High guys packed ENTIRE DUFFLE BAGS of snacks!?!?)

We arrived on campus and quickly unloaded our things in our dorm rooms.  The guys attempted to be gentlemen and carry the massive armoires the girls had collected, but were quickly turned away at the doors by the dorm leaders.  Honestly...a blessing that we didn't have to find their rooms.  The guys dorm is MASSIVE.  A large commons area reveals the wrap around sets of dorm rooms.  My suite has Jacob Blegen, TJ Ungerer, Brian Jones, Michael Hicks, Caleb Henry, Nathan Racz, and Dillon Richmond.  I wish we would have looked at that map before trekking all over three floors only to realize we had it right the first time!

We quickly adjured to "The Cathedral" where we met our campus pastor and various leaders for the week.  To me it felt weird to be one of those adult sponsors instead of the camp staff...I'm not sure if I'm going to get used to that.  Supper was unusually good for a college campus.  Eric and I discovered a secret place that has DELICIOUS yogurt and fruit, and Darryl found a juice bar!  (shhhh!  We aren't telling the kids until we leave. ;)

The service was definitely the highlight of the day!  With all the distractions and things the enemy had thrown at us throughout the day, I knew something good was coming. The worship experience began with a powerful worship set.  I don't know about anyone else, but God's Spirit had free reign with me during this time! The preacher delivered a challenge from Ezekiel.  To sum it all up,  when you have had a genuine encounter with God,  you cannot help but live a radical life for him!  This challenged me at a whole new level!  Ezekiel had to do crazy things like build and destroy a sand castle,  scare people from a hole in his home's wall, and eat dung sandwiches...What radical thing has God asked me to do?  Well, at its very basic level, God has asked each of us to EVANGELIZE and DISCIPLE.  No less than that!  Yet we shy away from it because we are scared of....embarrassment???!  That goes to prove that most of us do not even believe God is who he says he is...much less have we had an encounter with him.  God began to speak to me personally, and reaffirmed his calling on my life.  My encounters with God have generally been in a music setting, and God has specifically called me to spread his word and love through a musical platform,  and speak when he opens  the door.

Family group with my middle school guys was a heart softening time.  God has his work cut out for him in the hearts of these boys,  but I believe 110%  that by the end of this week, there will be a fire burning so passionately inside them that they won't be able to contain it.  My prayer is that this group of young teenagers comes home and teaches our dead adults how to live, love, praise, and have REAL CHURCH!

I won't tell any of you about the party we had in our dorm's commons area....what happens in the dorms, stays in the dorms.  :)   I'm so excited y'all!  God has something big in store!  Stay tuned to hear more about it!

A Love That Won't Stop

I was in a valley.
I was sinking low.
I had slipped and fallen.
I had missed the goal.
Condemnation threatened.
I cried out in fear.
Mercy said "forgiven," come and fly up here!

I love the Lord.
He heard my cry.
He lifted me way up high,
Set my feet upon a mountain top.
Just think of it, the Lord and King,
The Creator of everything,
Loves me with a love that won't stop.

Now, if you bear the burden
Of a sin-scarred life.
Your past mistakes and failures
Haunt you in the night.
You can be forgiven,
For God's word is true.
Then, on the wings of eagles,
You can sing this too!


Though I do not know the author who penned these lyrics, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this song of encouragement and conviction.  Maybe you have been like me.  I can remember a time where I felt like I was not accomplishing anything!  The saying,  "If not for bad luck...I'd have no luck at all." seemed to really apply!  But, then God got my attention and helped me realize that when I have fallen, I don't have to live in that pit!  Mercy didn't say, "sucks to be you! You must now wallow in the mess you made."  Mercy said, "You can be forgiven, come fly up here!"

The Problem with Phillippian Philosophy

As a musician, envy and jealousy tempt me daily.  I can remember when I first went on staff at a church as a worship leader/keyboard player I immersed  myself in piano music.  No matter the genre or content, I was constantly mimicking new licks and styles from those I would listen to.  At my first staff position, there was the traditional offertory that took place during the offering every Sunday morning that I was required to play.  So, I would log on to YouTube through the week, search out new arrangements of old songs, and practice until I thought I was identical.  Then as I would play them on Sunday morning, I could hear the difference in skill level and technique come out in my playing.  This discouraged me to the point where I started turning down playing opportunities in other venues.  Especially when I knew a superior piano player would be in the crowd.  This "Phillippian Philosophy" that I adopted as my own not only kept me from reaching my full potential, but it overworked those who were already skilled to the point of burning them out...just because I thought they should do it.

In Phillippians chapter one, we find Paul writing from prison.  Even the new believer recognizes Paul as the greatest missionary of all history.  This man was used by God to write a good majority of the New Testament, plant churches throughout a continent, train pastors, and win countless souls to Christ through his ministry.  To contrast Paul's ministry with any ministry past or present, and find an equal would be near impossible, save the ministry of Jesus Christ.  In his day, people literally fought over the fact that they had been converted under Paul's ministry.  As the average "Christian" of Paul's day compared their lives to Paul's ministry, it seems they became discouraged.  Instead of stepping up and taking over the ministries they had been given, they sat idle and watched the ministry superstar work for God.

Paul writes, "the things which have happened to me have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the gospel."  In essence,  God had to place Paul in prison to get the church on their feet and moving to spread the gospel, instead of leaving it all up to Paul.  Paul writes, "many brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."  While this statement was inspired by God, and therefore true, I cannot help but wonder how much further the gospel could have spread with the church on their feet, AND Paul doing his ministry.

II Timothy 3:14 says, "But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing OF WHOM thou hast learned them."  This verse presents a challenge to the present day believer.  Consider your mentor in the ministry.  Call your pastor to mind.  Think about your Christian mentors who trained you up in the values you call your own now.  The Word says to continue faithfully in the things you have learned, but not even just that;  the things you have been ASSURED of.  You know, those things God has proven to you over and over and over again!

Today, my challenge to myself is to live faithful to my calling.  To step up to the plate and do what God has given me to do.  First, because I have learned what is right.  Second, because God has assured me that it is true.  Thirdly,  because I remember the men who taught me...and I don't want to lose them.  If we as Timothy's don't step up and do,  we may lose our Paul's "for the furtherance of the gospel."  Don't make God take our spiritual leaders away just to get us to do what we already know is right.

A Thought On Prayer:

I was reading today on prayer, and a thought really got my attention.  When we pray, we generally take the Mary and Martha approach.  "God if you had been here four days ago, Lazarus wouldn't have died!"  We tell God what we think he should do, and when we think he should do it.

I heard someone pray not too long ago, "God, I know that this [thing] is going to happen and that you have made that very clear...but's just too soon!  I'm not ready!  The people around me aren't ready!"  The man went on to leverage his authority, preferences, and family over the ultimate hand of God.  He even went so far as to question God's leading in the lives of other individuals who were about to make a serious move.

The article I read in correlation with the situation I witnessed scares me to death, because I have done the same thing!  I have even used the authority God has given me to sway people from following God EXACTLY how He wanted them to just because I didn't feel it was the best thing for them or me.

Today I changed the way I pray.  I will continue to let my "requests be made known unto God,"  but now I will change my approach.  "God here are the things I want,  here are the things I think I need, and here is how I think it would be done best...but God,  you're all powerful, all knowing, and all if you decide to lead me and others in a direction contrary to what I (as a student, employee, friend, or even parent) think is best, then change my heart, and prepare me for what you have in store."

Friend, YOU are going to have to ditch your pride, and ALWAYS be ready to admit that you could be wrong.  Even if EVERY sign points in your direction, be humble enough to let God decide and NOT you.  No matter who you are.

Video Challenge: Day 18 - Try Me

Man: "I just...nevermind."
God: "What?"
Man:  "You wouldn't understand!"
God: "I, God - creator of the universe wouldn't understand something one of my children has to say?  Try me."

Experience, emotional, and generational gaps separate our lines of understanding.  Parents look at their children and say, "you just can't understand."  In the same manner, there is not a teen who has not said or thought, "my parents just don't understand me."  Both sides of this equation criticize the other.  Both sides of this equation find reasons as to why their side deserves sympathy.  Both sides are wrong.

Society and culture changes drastically on a consistent basis.  Temptations and pressures that the youth of today face are exponentially more difficult than that of ten years ago, much less twenty to thirty.  Parenting styles have had to adapt to the times, to accommodate and relate to American culture.  To be brutally honest:  Teen, cut your parents some slack...because you don't get it all.  Parent, cut your teen some slack because guess don't get it all either.  That is going to be hard for some of you to stomach because it requires losing some of your pride.

What then allows us to connect?  What source can we tap, to find solutions to "new" problems?  Do we have a common denominator to cross generational lines?  The answer is YES!  Hebrews 4:15 says that we do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in ALL points tempted like we are, yet without sin.  On what ground can parents communicate answers to children, and children to parents?  JESUS.  He crosses any boundary line.

I have one BEST FRIEND in the world, who will be my best friend until the day we die.  I can talk to her about ANYTHING without fear of her passing judgement, and when she doesn't understand something I am going through, she points me to Jesus.  I hope that I can be that same influence in her life.  Jesus says he can emotionally and physically relate to anything we are going through.  God and creator of all the universe, our heavenly father will ALWAYS understand.  When no one else can, try Jesus.

Video Challenge: Day 17 - BE

Man:  "LOOK!  I can't be good!"
God:  "You can't be good?  I made you good!  BE good."

I Peter 1:16 presents us with one of the most simplistic commands, yet it seems to be the most misunderstood.  "Be ye holy; for I AM holy."  Be - not an option. Not a request.

I once knew a woman who would ask an impossible question.  She would look at you and say, "Who do you think you are?"  If you quietly waited on her to go on, she would say, "This is not a staring contest."  If you replied, no matter how softly, you would probably receive a smack to your face.  No right answer.  Walking away from this "conversation" you thought, "I just can't be good."

God is a loving, heavenly Father.  A father who loves you so much, he created you in his own image:  The image of a perfect, infallible father.  God, unlike so many of our biological parents, never presents us with an impossible situation.  He never poses a question where an answer cannot be found, because the answer is always Himself.

I have been frustrated over and over at the thought that I just cannot seem to find victory. The world, and even people I loved have told me over and over just how stupid and incapable of good I am.  To this, God responds with the statement "I made you good.  BE good!"  "Be ye holy; for I AM holy."  What causes us to fail?  Our own free will.  What enables us to find victory?  Our own free will.  Holiness, just like sin is our choice.

I'm not presenting you with a prosperity gospel.  I cannot say that if you "name it you can claim it."  I AM telling you that when you reach that point of discouragement, where in desperation you exclaim, "I JUST CAN'T BE GOOD"  God says, I MADE YOU GOOD!  I am carefully and wonderfully made. I can be good.  It is as simple as that.  HE IS so I can BE.  Who have you decided to be?

Video Challenge: Day 16 - Shortcuts

Man:  "I'm thinking maybe..."
God:  "Your thoughts are not my thoughts."
Man:  "If we went another way.."
God:  "Your ways are not my ways."

At age 15 I took off to work for the summer at Camp Victory.  This place changed my life, and began to shape who I am today.  If you know me, you know I am a people watcher, and camp provided me an outlet for my hobby.  One guy I loved to watch was named Robert, the king of shortcuts.  Dr. Griffis had given Robert charge of collecting some guys to transport a large water tank from the top of the hill to down by the gymnasium during the morning service.  As I sat at the piano singing "The Lighthouse" all of a sudden I saw a large water tank rolling down the hill past the tabernacle with Robert and three guys chasing after it.  Robert saw a "shortcut" of rolling the tank, and ended up creating MORE work for himself and the others by having to chase it down and carry it back to its destination after damaging the tank.

In the book of Genesis, God reveals to Abraham that he and his wife will indeed bear a son, and begin a chosen nation.  Impatiently, Abraham's wife pushes her servant, Hagar on her husband to help fulfill the prophecy and promise of God.  Mutually they decided to take this shortcut instead of just following and patiently waiting on God.  Hagar bears a son, but not the chosen seed of God.  Instead, this shortcut produces an eternal enemy of the chosen people of God.

God has placed a call on our lives.  To each of us he has given a purpose, and he unfolds his plan.  But, how many times do we say, "God, lets take a shortcut."  Sometimes the road ahead looks so long and trying.  At times, we cannot even see the next step and we must blindly trust God.  From someone who has been there, I beg you, do not take the "shortcuts" no matter how easy they look!  God's ways are not our ways.  God's thoughts are not our thoughts.  He is the almighty, all-knowing God, and we are children seeking direction.  To realize who He is, we must realize who we are.

Conquerors Quartet - CD REVIEW

The Conquerors Quartet
By His Grace - Still Standing
Review on behalf of "Absolutely Gospel"

To the classic Southern Gospel lover, this CD is definitely for you!  Upon hitting play, the perfect piano intro anticipates a great experience.  “Oh Come Along” takes time to appreciate the tight quartet blend, along with a some great piano fill!  The tempo may slow down for “Welcome Home,” but the excitement does not.  This song, written by group member David Goldman, escorts you right to the feet of Jesus. 

You can hear the sincerity and joy as the Conquerors cover “Heaven” by Bill and Gloria Gaither.  The record also features “Oh What A Savior.”

One feature that makes this CD enjoyable is that it is largely mid-tempo to fast tempo songs.  “I’m On My Way,” “I Have a New Song to Sing,” “Sunshine of Today,” and “When We Make It To The Other Side” complete this list.  These songs feature some great, clean piano playing to complete that classic sound. 

The vocals on this project were tight and well mixed through its entirety.  The music was unmistakably classic Southern at its best.  The song selection was upbeat, well placed, and conveyed with excitement.  Great driving music!  You would hard pressed to find a problem with this project.  While no one can replace the “gospel greats” in our minds and hearts, The Conquerors Quartet does a five star job and continuing the legacy.

Wilburn and Wilburn: Feature Article

“First, I would have chuckled, since it was never a plan to do this. Then, I would have probably said you were out of your mind since it would never work for a duo to go on the road and sing – but that was myself talking.”

Jonathan Wilburn of “Wilburn & Wilburn” went on to explain how a duet could have never worked had God not laid the foundation.  For many years Jonathan has strived to be a leader in gospel music, singing with groups like Gold City and the Wilburns.  “I tried to do the right things, release the right songs, wear the right clothes, and even do my hair the right way.”  In essence, Jonathan was saying “OK God, follow me around and show up when I need you.” One of the biggest changes in Jonathan’s life has been allowing God full control, and following Him wherever He leads.

Over a year ago, God led father and son, Jonathan and Jordan to begin a ministry to tell the world about THE Father and Son.  “Jordan had developed the desire a year earlier.  I would come home and he was driving me crazy, constantly listening to Gold City, the Kingdom Heirs, the Wilburns, and watching every Gaither video.  He began to study it, and I told him we weren’t even going to look at it until he graduated college.  I just didn’t see it happening.”  Then one day while working at Ford in Gadsden, Alabama God spoke to Jonathan and told him it was time to get back to work.  “Jordan and I were both “all in” from day one.”

Wilburn & Wilburn is an all-in, all-out blend of the old and new.  “I don’t want Jordan to be anything else except Jordan Wilburn.”  While Jonathan has been a pacesetter in Southern Gospel for years, he has not forced his son into that mold.  With sincerity, realness, and a progressive twist, Jordan pours into the lives of a younger demographic, allowing this duo to minister to all ages.  To put a label or a genre on this dynamic sound would be impossible.  It is not country, bluegrass, or even progressive southern gospel. It can only be described as “Wilburn & Wilburn” thanks to producer Ben Isaacs who produced Daywind record “Family Ties.” 

 In the midst of being “Breakthrough Artist of the Year,” Dove nominations, and So Gospel awards, Wilburn & Wilburn are keeping their eye on the goal, “to follow the Lord, and minister to the needs of the people we sing to.”  With chart-topping songs like “Jesus Will” you will hear a simple message for today. “It’s real, honest, and truthful.  It’s encouraging for the discouraged. It’s a father and son telling folks about THE Father and Son.”  It’s Wilburn & Wilburn.

Video Challenge Day 15: Empty Wells

God:  Do you know what insanity is?  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  There are things in your life, you even think back to high school, that you have been doing that do not work in your life. But you go to these empty wells whenever you're hurting, when you're angry, when you're lonely, and tired, but they do not work!

Ever heard someone use the expression "just diggin' a hole"? Maybe you've seen that guy trying to recover from something stupid he said to his girlfriend, and in the end he ends up creating a deeper hole that the one he started with.  If you've ever tried to cover up a lie, you've had to cover it with a lie, and that lie with a lie, and that lie with a lie.  You started out with just a small hole, but you have created a well that is nearly inescapable.

The woman in John 4, an outcast of society, makes her way to the well in the heat of the day.  Her sinful lifestyle, and carnal thirst has caused her to seek satisfaction in several different men.  Just like the rest of us, she thirsts.  Jesus approaches her about water, and says "if you knew who was asking you for a drink, you would be asking me for my water."  This living water Jesus refers to causes an eternally quenches our thirst, because it is a living well springing up into everlasting life.

Just like "our father Jacob,"  we have dug wells that will soon dry up.  In your thirst for love and attention, have you dug a well of pornography?  In your desire for acceptance, have you dug a well of deceit?  Maybe you have discovered a well of addiction and attempted to fill it with another form of earthly water, when right in front of our faces is the source of everlasting satisfaction.

We have reached the point of insanity.  We have gone to the same earthly wells of addiction over and over and found no relief.  In our search for water we have dug ourselves into a well that is now empty and desolate.  The solution is so obvious!  STOP!  When we are hurting, angry, lonely, and tired, we must drink of the water that satisfies.  Something this amazing sounds expensive, but it's not.  Jesus offers it to you free today. What are you drinking?

Video Challenge Day 14: Why Pain?

{chisel} {chisel} {chisel}
Man:  This hurts!
God:  This hurts me more than it hurts you.
Man:  eye roll..."Right"

Man: OUCH!  I don't think you understand this pain!
God:  Don't talk to me about pain!  I know all about pain! I sent my Son to die on the cross for pain, for sin, but I also did it for another reason:  to give you freedom...

The statement is true, no pain, no gain.  Why?  Because pain provokes us to action.  It is easy to contentedly rest in our sin, especially when we are surrounded by other sinners. But pain is different.  Pain stands out, while pleasure is easily ignored.  Gluttons at a buffet can easily shovel food into their mouths and pretend it's normal, but put a screaming kid in the middle of that buffet, and THAT is where all your attention goes.  C.S. Lewis said, "God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pain.  Pain is his megaphone to a deaf world."

For far too long we have sat in our pit of sinful pleasure.  Now, God turns to his children and says, "I need to chisel some of that away."  It pains our Heavenly Father to watch his children go through pain, but he knows the end result will make us healthier and happier.  If you ever try to help an injured animal, they will struggle against you in an attempt to run away.  But picture a scene from your childhood.  Remember what you did when the doctor said you were going to need a shot?  You tightly wrapped your arms around your parent and squeezed as tight as you could.  Maybe you were like my sister who screamed, "No daddy, no daddy, no daddy, NO."  The pain experience brings the child closer to the parent.

None of us LIKE to see people in pain, especially our children.  So why do we assume God does?  God understands pain on a level that surpasses anything we could imagine. Could it be that when God watches us go through a struggle, it brings back memories of watching his begotten Son suffer?   He gets it, and He's trying to help you hear him.  Let pain be the tool that brings you closer to God. Instead of viewing it as a wedge between you and him, look at it as him trying desperately to speak to you.  Be like the little kid who squeezes their daddy tightly. How will you respond?

Video Challenge Day 13: Freakin' Control

Man:  I'm just saying, you've done good work. Maybe, we take a little break...a little time out.  We'll come back to it!  
God:  What you're doing right now is so common.  What you're doing right now is  called control.
Do you want to control things in your life or can I chisel?  Control? Chisel? Control Chisel? Control? Chisel?
Man:  CHISEL CHISEL!!!  - but can we chisel where I want done???
God:  That's called control...

America, the land of control.  Remote control. Climate Control.  Cruise Control.  Government Control.  Everything we do is centered around control.  As part of our culture, we have become literally obsessed with control.  With a remote control, you push a button, and watch an immediate reaction.  We are so comfortable with this ideology that we have adapted it into our relationship with God.  This concept isn't new. In fact, we find it in the Old Testament, In I Samuel.

King Saul comes onto the scene as one with a humble spirit.  But what had appeared to be humility was in fact a guise for inner insecurity and paranoia. These traits usually come as side-effects of a controlling personality.  Saul tried to control God's presence.  Saul thought he could control the battle, so he waited 7 days to ask for God's presence. After he did not accomplish the goal he imagined, he decided:  sacrifices equal God's presence, no sacrifices equal God's absence. With his mechanical, controlling view of God, he attempted to offer the sacrifices on his own time, under his own power, instead of waiting on God's man.

Saul attempted to control the truth.  In chapters 14 and 15 God had given him a commandment to eliminate the Amalekites from the face of the earth.  Their people, their animals, everything.  But as Samuel approaches the king, he hears the bleating of sheep.  Saul had decided which people he would spare, which animals he would take, and which riches would be his own.  He PARTIALLY obeyed God, which is disobedience!  When asked about this act, he altered the truth, and shifted blame in an attempt to control the situation.

This control freak of a king decided not even God could anoint his replacement.  He used his position as king to control people!  When he realized God's anointing on David, he made an attempt at David's life.  He also tried to kill his own son, Jonathan, because of his loyalty to David.  In the end, Saul's need for control took his life.  When fatally wounded by an enemy archer, he said "no one will kill me, except me."  In one final act of desperation and control, Saul took his own life.

The need for control over small things in Saul's life escalated into a need for control over everything, even God. Be careful not to be like Saul.  Right now we just try to control our immediate surroundings.  We call our controlling nature a "executive personality."  We hide it behind the guise of a "drive to succeed."  In an attempt to control ourselves, we fall so often on the other side of that narrow fence into sin and manipulation.    When you get stressed, STOP!  Ask yourself, "who is ultimately in control?"  If you're honest with yourself, the answer will be God, and the stress will dissipate.  Stop freaking out, and give God control.

Video Challenge Day 12: The Fishing Story Complex

God:  What you're doing right now is you're trying to play God in certain areas of your life than for me to BE God over your whole life.
Man: I did not say that!
God:  It's what you meant.
Man:  Yes it is...It's hard to talk to you, I mean you know everything I'm thinking...

What makes a story great? Drama, humor, thrill, suspense...These qualities separate a mediocre tale from THAT fishing story that your grandpa tells.  I mean, would you rather hear about the relaxing day on the boat where fish kept stealing your bait, or the 27 pound bass that broke the line, tipped the canoe, and nearly drowned your uncle who wouldn't let go of the fishing pole to save his life?  OF COURSE, the second one! An ability to create a vivid scene for a listener in an imperative for a skilled communicator.  Deep down, we all want to be heard, and for some, the only way to be heard is to build a story that is larger than life.

I come from a family of men who are skilled in the area of communications...specifically story telling.  My great grandpa Barnes could make you feel like you were walking right next to Jesus.  It is rumored that kids from up to miles away would ride their bikes to the porch of my great grandpa Groves' house to hear his evening story. Down the line to my grandpa Groves, my father, and to me this gift was passed.  A good story is told with expression, vocal inflection, posture, body language, and most importantly....DETAIL!  I would like to nickname this ability: "The Fishing Story Complex."

In Acts chapter five we find two people who have come up with the ULTIMATE fishing story...or so they thought.  We find Ananias and Sapphira in the midst of a time of revival.  People are selling entire pieces of property, all their earthly possessions,  everything, and donating it to the church.  Ananias and Sapphira definitely want in on this action!  They find a possession of great value and sell it.  Their plan is to keep back part of the money, but make a big show of "giving it all" to God.  There would have been NOTHING wrong with keeping back part of the money. The problem came when their hearts were filled with deceit and pride in wanting to present a false balance to God.  So, God killed them.

Like I mentioned earlier, I have been blessed and cursed with "the fishing story complex."  It takes little to no effort at all for me to create a scene that will have you on the edge of your seat ready to take action.  Telling a story for entertainment is one thing, but I allowed it to slowly creep into my regular conversation until it nearly compromised my integrity.  We are no different than Ananias or Sapphira.  Our pride preys upon our words which slowly creates a net that we will inevitably entangle ourselves in. We get so preoccupied in exorbitant detail that we even attempt to play this trick on God.  But God knows the thoughts and intents of the heart.

What may seem to be "just a fishing story" at this time will without a doubt develop into a lifestyle of deceit.  You won't even see it coming.  I have watched it envelop the lives of people very dear to me, and I nearly drowned had it not been for a couple lifeguards along the way.  God knows everything we are thinking.  To attempt to sway God with our verbal skills is a pointless endeavor.  He is a God of truth and transparency.  Let us begin our journey toward truth with being honest with ourselves, with our God, and with our neighbor.  It won't be so hard to talk to God when what we are thinking is what we say.