Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Holy Spirit

So today I wanted to talk about something personal and something that I care very very deeply about.  Youth Ministry.  This is not a new passion of mine that simply started because I got a job doing it.  It is something that started off small.  May have been forced at the beginning.  But it grew.

Kind of like the Parable of the Mustard Seed.

So I will tell my story, of youth ministry and my involvement.  It started back at St. George's Episcopal Church in Germantown.  My mother forced me to go to EYC, against my will. 

Eh.  Not that great

I would try to take one of my friends with me so I had a friend there.  But he couldn't come all the time and during those times...still no good.

I didn't want to go.  Ever see The Princess Bride?  It is kind of like Fred Savage when grandpa is trying to read him the story.  He really wants nothing to do with it.

After sometime, I made some friends in youth group.  Mainly, there was this group of brothers who always fought each other and were picking on each other.  Now, growing up in a house of only girls, fighting was cool.   One time I saw the middle brother, throw the youngest brother into the wall and fall to the bed underneath.  The oldest brother saw and threw the younger brother into the same wall, where he crashed down on to the bed, on top of the other brother. 

WOW.  That was frighteningly cool.

Anyway, so we all became really close friends at St. George's.  We always went to youth group.  Loved youth group so much, that I started going to 2 youth groups!  I had friends at both and I wanted to see them all!

Well, after some tough times, we no longer had a youth program at St. George's and our youth group had dwindled down to 3 people that couldn't make it all the time. 

I didn't want to give up on this community that had helped me through so much.  So I began coming to Holy Communion, that second youth group that I would go to anyway.

I quickly made a bunch more friends and those brothers, they started coming too. 

The feeling I got from being with those people, all of my friends, I felt that I can handle anything.  Any question I had, no matter what, I felt safe and comfortable there. 

Now to give some perspective to what I was like in high school here we go...

I did take honors classes and AP classes.  I did work hard in school.  I can also admit I wish I had worked harder.  I also played soccer.  Not only for a rec team but competitively.  I also played for a basketball team for Holy Communion.  I was also a proud member of the bowling team.  Yes, I said bowling.  Didn't see that one coming did you?  I was also a member of the National Art Honors Society all through high school.  I was very involved in my AP art class and various art competitions around Memphis.  I think I have a trash can I painted still set up at the fairgrounds.  I worked at Huey's.  Many nights you could find me either, expediting, food running, or as your Take-Out Attendant. 

I was also very involved with youth group.  I tried to never miss EYC or our Wednesday night programming.  I was very involved with Happening.  Member of DYC.  Yea, I can admit, I had a lot on my plate.  What can I say, I wanted to do it all. 

In talking with other youth workers about our programs today, they asked me about my experiences with youth groups.  To which a conversation including all of the above was talked about.

You are an exception.  That was what I was told.  Putting such a priority on being active in the church was and is not a normal thought process for a high school.  Pretty much he was telling me that I was weird.  Which may be true.  We have actually done a survey to see who was weirder between me and a few other people.  I lost.

But I thought about it.  Am I really the exception?  Cause that group of brothers that I befriended back in like 1999.  They are still involved today too.  In 2012, all three of them volunteered with EYC here at Holy Communion.

Three other members of that same youth group.  Still involved.  Help out with youth group. 

A great majority of everyone from that group, still keeps in touch.  Knows about what each one is up to.  We are still connected.

Where else can you make friends like that?  Am I really the exception then if there seems to be a common trend? 

I think the exception was that we all had committed to being involved.  We all wanted to be in the atmosphere.  This place where we felt connected.  This place where long after we were supposed to leave we were still sitting in the parking lot not wanting to leave each other's company.

I was not alone.  So I know I am no exception.  That was the norm.  My request this week is simple but can change your life.  Make that commitment.  Please.  Give it a shot.  It may take a sometime.  But sooner or later, you will stop thinking about it so much and you will be wondering, what is it that makes you want to come back.  Why can't you get enough!?


Segway, I have also been told I have this pretty big flaw.  After struggling for years, trying to figure things out, finally someone just told me, "Just ask for help." 

 Especially with this job, when you pour so much energy and time and emotion into what you are doing.  You can begin to take things personally.  And just want to make things work.  Sometimes you just need to ask for help.  We are made to be co-dependent people.  Yes, I said it.  I know that goes against everything society tells you.  But we need each other.  And I was told that I was independent to a fault.  Which can be true.  However, I am working on it. 

So I ask you, what can I do for you?  How can we better build a program that makes you want to come?  Will you help me make this program as great as I know it can be?

"Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

Come join us.  Be a part of this community.  Understand that atmosphere of what youth group can be like.  Where you don't want to leave.  It becomes so important to you.  Don't make that the exception.  Make it the norm.

Cause that feeling of not wanting to leave...maybe; just maybe...that is the Holy Spirit at work.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Unworthy, Broken, and LOVED!

So today I want to ask you a question…you do not have to answer out loud or to me…just think about it.

First, I want you to take your hands and cup them together.  Like you are holding something inside.
Just like this.


Have you ever felt so lost?  So unworthy that you can’t see how anybody can look at you with respect, in a good light, with love…

Ever felt just so low and think that there is no hope or no one out there that cares?

Think about that…or think of times you feel ashamed about things you do…think…say…the way you look….anything that may be on your mind or weigh heavy on your heart. 

Imagine all of that crap and pretend that it is inside your hands.  Hold it there.  Feel all that weight growing inside your hands.  All the stuff that keeps you from feeling that you are loved…place all that hate inside your hands.  Now hold it there while you read…

Judges 16

Being the good Episcopalians that we are, we probably have no idea what that is…

It’s Samson and Delilah.  In this story you have the great and mighty Samson.  Who was prophesied to begin the deliverance of Israel from Philistine oppression.  He was destined to be a great hero of the people of Israel.  Instead, he became infatuated with Delilah.  I prostitute who was sent to help capture Samson.  She succeeded and Samson had his eyes gouged out and make him work hard labor in the prison in Gaza.  The great and powerful, unbeatable Samson, was now a slave. 


Jonah.  Did not do what God asked him to do.  Swallowed by a big fish.

David.  Gives in to his desire for another man’s wife. His decision leads not only to deception and adultery, but even to murder.

Jacob.  Prophet of God.  Deceived his own father and brother to gain the birthright.

Adam and Eve…I think we all know that one.

The point is, we all mess up.

If you think about it, when Jesus was crucified…According to Luke, before crying out to God, what was the last thing he said?

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Who did he say it to? 

A thief who was being crucified.  Look up St. Dismas for more information on that one.

Look back down at your hands?  How are ya feeling?  Do you still have all that anger inside of there?

Jonah.  Freed from the fish and carried out his duty given to him by God.

David.  Was forgiven and learned self-discipline.

Jacob.  Wrestled with God himself.  Later forgiven by his brother Esau and carried out his mission given to him by God.

Samson.  Humbled and returned to the Lord.  And fulfilled his prophecy and went down in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews.

I once heard this metaphor.  Imagine you are a slab of marble.  And God is the sculpture.  Throughout your whole life he is chipping away. You were made in his image.  As we grow we may wonder, lose faith, or run away completely.  But the whole time, the sculpture continues chipping away.  Making you exactly how you are supposed to be.  Perfect.

So now I ask you, what is it that is keeping you from feeling the love of Christ everyday of your life?  What is holding you back?  What is keeping you from fully living you for God?  Being a true servant of the Lord…

Is it the stuff in your hand?

This past Sunday, Bishop Don Johnson answered this question.  He quoted…
 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.    Romans 8:38

NOTHING! Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!

The Bishop nearly yelled out as he closed out his sermon.


Open your hands… what is in there…


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Shrove Tuesday

Happy Shrove Tuesday Everybody!

Today is Shrove Tuesday also known as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake Day better known as Fat Tuesday which means Mardi Gras!  That is a lot of names!  What on earth does all that mean?

Oh hypothetical Matthew, I am so glad you asked!  Well, “Shrove Tuesday” comes from the latin scr bere  for to write, which changed to the Old English scrifan through the Middle English schriven which means to make or go to confession.  Hmm…

Shrove is the past tense for the verb shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sin by way of Confession and doing penance.  Oh… starting to make sense…

Mardi Gras comes from the French for “Fat Tuesday” referring to the practice of the last night of eating rich fatty foods before the fasting of lent starts on Ash Wednesday.  Oh ok…why pancakes?

Pancakes were traditionally made because it was a way of using up all the rich fatty foods like eggs, milk, and sugar that were traditionally given up.

 In Newfoundland, tokens were actually made into the pancakes that were symbols of divinatory.  So like a coin meant they would be wealthy.  One of them was that you would marry a carpenter if you found a nail in your pancake! 

So we generally get to Lent and give something up.  Candy, soft drinks, sweets…just because it is what is our tradition and it is what we are told to do.  But what are we actually doing this for?

Tomorrow we will gather at altar and have ashes smooshed on our foreheads while the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

We are called to repent.  To confess our sins and return to the Lord.  A chance to love the Lord with all our hearts, with all our soul, and with all our might.

This is the time that Jesus went of in the desert to pray and fasted for 40 days.  He was tempted by the devil.  All this leading up to his crucifixion, where he takes on all our sins.

So what do we do, we “fast”.  We give something up.  We pick something that we like and say we will give it up.  That is how we honor this.  That is our penance.  

In the book of Joel we are called to “Even then,” declares the LORD, “return to me with your whole heart”.

Calvary hosts a Lenten Preaching Series each year.  Last year, the Rev. John M. Pitzer, O.P. started off the series last year and I wanted to share some of his lessons with you.

He starts off talking about the fact that we give stuff up for Lent and that’s great!  That is what we are asked to do.  But is it really that simple? 

“With your whole heart!” declares the Lord! 

Rev. Pitzer challenges us.  If you are fasting from something…chips, candy, soda…If you are fasting from these things.  What are you feasting on?

He leaves us with these examples and challenges for Lent.  I leave you with the same.  Giving up something is fine.  But what do you fast on?  How are you using your whole heart, to return to the Lord?

If you fast from being critical of people…feast on building people up.

Fast from gossip…feast on holding your tongue

Fast from holding a grudge…feast on forgiveness

Fast from telling those white lies we all tell…feast on the truth

Fast from disrespecting others…feast on respecting all of God’s Children

Fast from making excuses…feast on getting involved and being willing to help

Fast from a bad attitude…feast on being positive

Fast from violence…feast on peace

Fast on being passive aggressive…feast on sharing your feelings honestly

Fast from being mean or rude…feast on being nice and polite

Fast from fear…feast on hope

Fast from hate…feast on love

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with your whole heart.” 

A lot of time we struggle with this for whatever reason.  We consider ourselves too much of a failure.  We have sinned too much.  We are not worthy, not good enough.  We can’t forgive ourselves for whatever we did…

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with your whole heart.” 

It’s never too late…remember the Prodigal Son?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The fastest growing "religious" group in America is...

Did you know that over 110 million Americans tuned in to watch the Baltimore Ravens defeat the San Francisco 49ers Sunday evening?   That means that 46.3% of all Americans were tuned in for the big show down.  Nielson reported that 71% of all television were tuned into CBS for the game.  That is impressive! 

Sports are a huge part of many peoples lives.  We play them, we watch them, we want to grow up to be a professional one and we look up to them. 

Trust me, I am no different.  I grew up with a picture of Cobi Jones in my bedroom and dreamed of one day being a professional soccer player.  Currently, I am a huge Titans and Tennessee Volunteers fan (notice all the orange in my newsletters?)  And I, along with about 30 other youth and volunteers gathered in the youth room this past Sunday to watch the great showdown between the brothers.

Now I wanted to state a few facts and statistics that I found…

So as stated before,

 46.3% of Americans Watched the Super Bowl.

Last year, 28% of American adults left the faith in which they were raised in

In adults aged 18-29, one-in-four do not claim any affiliation with a particular religion.

Less than 20% of Americans attend church regularly

In a survey done of children ages 6-12 spend their time and how much time per week was spent on each activity.  The results are as followed…

Age 6-8 
Age 9-12 
70 hrs, 44 minutes a week
Personal care 
Household work 
Other leisure 
Art activities 
Family talks 

In a study conducted by the Fuller Youth Institute, there are two places that a child or youth can develop their faith and learn in a way that can prepare them for all the obstacles that life will throw at them.  The first and most important one was family.  Having a strong relationship with your family and being able to communicate with them.  Nothing even compares to the effect being able to talk openly with your family about what is going on in your life or about your faith.

The second was the church.  Often times children look to their church children or youth groups as a place where they can connect with other people their age that can help them and talk with them about what is going on in their lives.

So now if we look back at the study, we have almost 2 hours a week that is spent on those 2 activities combined.

Now, I do not think anything can replace the importance of family.  But I do think that the church should also be a very important part of a children’s development.  It was why I am still involved with the church.  I was forced to be active when I was younger.  Yes.  I said it.  Forced.  But I guess somewhere along the way, I couldn’t help but go.
I understand the feeling of being tired on a Sunday morning.  I almost always wake up and think…“I just want to sleep in!”  If I didn’t have this job or teach a Sunday school class, in all honesty I would probably miss every now and then.  

But is that right?

Let’s look back at that list.  I feel that even adults can sub work for the school section and it still is pretty close to accurate.

Sleep.  Well it’s necessary to function.

School/ work. Mandatory.

Playing.  That’s just fun

Television.  Well, it’s normally on while I am doing something else or while I’m eating.

Eating.  Necessary for life.

Church.  Well, if I skip Sunday school I can still make it to church. 

Church.  I just went to sleep a few hours ago, I’m still tired.  I’ll go next week.

Church…I’ll make up an excuse and keep saying it until I believe it.

Why is that where we make the exception?  We will force and bend and flex our schedules around everything.  I must make it to that party.  I have to play at least 3 sports this season.  I need to be a part of this group at school so it looks good on my college applications.

Yes, that is great.  You should do all the things you want to.  If you like playing basketball, you should.  If you want to be a part of FCA or be Vice President of German Club, awesome! Do it! (Yes, I was VP of German Club in High School).

It is great to have those goals and great to have the ambition to go out and make it happen.  But then we are burned out and tired and just looking for a place to slack.  So we pick the church.  That place we know forgives us.  That’s kind of their thing, right?

We want to squeeze everything into our already over packed schedule and the things that normally get squeezed out are the two most important. 

If merely 2 hours are spent at church or talking with your family, where does a child learn about God?  Explore their faith. 

Why is it ok that we put the church on the backburner while we live our lives?

One last statistic,

The fastest growing “religious” group in America is…atheism.

Wonder if the two can be connected at all…