Crystal Greiner

I got a call while with my buddy Dave at breakfast this morning at 8:30am.
Crystal Greiner, one of my teens for the past 4 years, who had drifted away the past 5 months of so died in a house fire last night. Crystal was a sweet girl, who had a soft spot for God, even when her friends didn't. Last January she made a serious committment to Christ at a Winter Retreat, all of her own, with no "peer pressure" (I was there, and it was sincere and real). She wasn't really living "the Christian life" the past couple of months, but 2 things come to mind when I try to justify her eternal destination:
1) No one knows what she was thinking in the last few moments and what prayers she may have said.
2) Maybe I am Calvinist... or at least maybe I will be for the funeral.

Her parents (unchurched) asked me to perform the funeral and I was with them from 9am until noon and at the school until 2 after that. This has been my first experience bringing comfort to a family from the first hours, through the funeral home consulatation, straight through the funeral. I buried one of my teens 2 years ago, but I knew Crystal much better and her family has allowed me to be much more involved from the beginning.
It is tough being "the pastor", sitting in a stranger's living room, comforting a mom you casually know who has lost her only daughter, a half-hour after finding out yourself. So I cried for them and with them. I was strong for them. I was weak with them. I prayed for us. I was present. I will be present in the days ahead. Tough days ahead.

My Schedule This Week:
Wednesday 6:00-8:00 PM Hal's Visitation Hours
Wednesday 6:15-8:45 PM Youth Group Christmas Parties (JH an SH)
Thursday 2:00PM-? Hal's Funeral
Thursday 3:00PM-4:00PM Crystal's Family Visitation
Thursday 4:00PM-8:00PM Crystal's Open Visitation
Friday 11:00PM-Noon Crystal's Open Visitation II
Friday Noon-?? Crystal's Funeral

My eyes really hurt, my heart aches and I feel a bit numb.
Prayers for peace and comfort, and the ability to pass both of those on, are deeply needed and appreciated my friends.
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Hal Fogarty

Hal Fogarty died yesterday.

Most of you never knew him, but all of you should have. Hal was a man who was committed to seeking the heart and mind of Christ. After a bad run-in with the gnarly beast of church politics in the his 20's he lingered on the outskirts of the institutional church for the next thirty years, preserving his families steadfast commitment to the way of Christ through their home life. This is where I met him, on the outskirts of our church four years ago, bouncing in and out on Sundays with very little relational contact, save a few close friends from his childhood who attend the Naz.

When I really met him was about a year ago, when we discovered that we had a common desire for true Christian community and common distaste for what we had been raised to believe that was (not to mention our similar disliking for Constantine and things of that nature ;-) ) When we began to gather at Fuzzy's Hal was our sole older presence for a while. We turned to him for year-worn wisdom that was based in Scripture written on his heart. I often would listen to Hal and think that he had hidden more Scripture in the usable part of his heart and mind than anyone I knew. It flowed from his lips as you spoke. There was always a word of instruction, encouragement or praise on his lips that came straight from God's Word. He lived his life on that word alone, in a way I have seen few others approach.

Cancer came chasing him a year ago, but it only chased him further into the arms of his Abba. It set him on fire for his God and in pursuit of community that he knew he ought to be a part of. God's hand touched him and after a Cleveland Clinic visit the cancer receded. A little over a month ago we discovered it was back, and that this time it was worse than before. Following an intense time of prayer one morning the 10-15 of us in that room knew that Hal had decided either God would heal him or no one would. It would take a miracle if he revisite the clinic and it would take a miracle if he stayed home. He elected to live by the faith he wore on his sleeve and trust the divine hand of the Father. I felt he simply knew he was ready and that God was ready to take him home. There was a peace about him. A release.

It's still difficult. It is difficult because I didn't talk to him the past two weeks. It is difficult because I didn't get to say goodbye. It is difficult because I can still hear his voice. It is difficult because I can still hear his voice mail telling me he wasn't going to the Clinic in the morning. It is difficult because I can still hear his fingers plucking the strings on his acoustic guitar bringing life to songs that were waiting in Scripture for him to put music to. It is difficult because this is the third significant person in my life that I have lost in the past 8 months (Grandma, Jimmy and Hal). It is difficult, and yet somehow joyous according to our faith. I know this to be true with my mind, but I will have to let my heart catch up on that one, because joy seems far from me tonight.
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The Role of Conflict in Community?

What is the role of conflict in community? I think that it is bound to occur, but I could be wrong.

I understand the source of conflict in a typical church. Drastically opposing philosophies of how to minister, how to worship, how to dress, how to do politics, how to do life… but in community, in “true church” many of those drastic differences seem to fade as the “one-mindedness” emerges.

Yet, I have found that difficult times will arise. That tense situations do occur. That feelings still get hurt. False impressions are sometimes given. Communication breaks down. And… conflict happens.

I am the type that tackles hard feelings and sticky situations head on. If my feelings are hurt, or even more so, my wife’s, I deal with it, in the most expedient way… often too expeditiously. I sometimes hurt others feelings. I sometimes say too much. I sometimes come off too harsh, but it seems better than holding things in, allowing them to brew and fester and form chasms between me and those I am in community with. I feel that as we deal with these things conflict may occur, but it is conflict for the greater good. We learn more about one another. We embrace one another. We are more raw, more real and more honest with each other. On the other end of the conflict lies deeper community, more sincere unity and a greater understanding of the one mind/spirit/body concept we find in Scripture.

The one mind/spirit/body concept puts meat on its bones through conflict. I recognize areas I am too judgmental in. You recognize areas you are too overbearing in. I recognize ways I am too harsh. You recognize areas you are too passive. We both recognize ways we can better relate to and understand one another. Isn’t this one of the primary tasks of the body of believers… to become one body, one mind, one spirit? I don’t seek out conflict, but I see how it leads us further along that path.

Obviously I had a conflict with someone I love, someone I am in community with and I feel bad about it. They hate conflict. They hate dealing with the issues. They would rather avoid them and move on. I recognize this is just a different personality, but as a result my frustrations are magnified in their mind, and form a perceived gap between us in their mind. I only write all this because I am rather confident they don’t read this and it is a good place to get feedback on the place of conflict in community. So please respond with your thoughts… and your frustrations concerning conflict in community.
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Rich People Prejudice

Life is so weird. It really, really is. I can barely believe how much our lives have changed in the past year.
* Our family: with addition of Halle.
* Our community: with the addition of Halle (ours) Zoe (Joe & Heidi's) and Dance (Benji & Sarah's).
* Our community: with the addition of the Cornwells, the Williams, the Hites and the Hoys... all of whom we didn't know very well a year ago.
* Our community: the way we gather, the times we gather, the reason we gather, the way we live
* Our church: making some drastic moves from philosophy to practice) toward true community and away from the "7 Day a Week Church" model that seemed to be our goal for so long.
* Our pastor: We are really growing together, and all the fights we have had "together" have truly helped us get past some seemingly unconquerable walls between us and into brighter days. * Many more, but on to the main point...

* Our Perspective (okay maybe this has been a 3 year gradual transition): We view the body of believers... the church... so differently now, that there are very few (if any other) places that we could survive in my current vocation/fulfillment of my calling (???)
* Our Goals/Desires: A church called this week that we used to actually think was one we wanted to end up at, but our desires are so radically different now. When I heard the pastor had called I didn't even remember to check my voice mail before I left the office, because it is so unappealing to me now, and my feelings were affirmed by Kelly. Why? Partly because of leadership style there, partly because of the style of the church, partly because of the history of the church and partly because of the demographic (too white, too large, TOO RICH). The too rich thing is a huge issue for us...
Confession: I have a really difficult time being around rich folks. There, I said it. I am repulsed by their wealth. When I go to their extremely cool, extremely large , extremely expensive homes, my mind goes to work first thinking of how cool the house and all their stuff is and then figuring out how many families could comfortably live there... or how many modest single family homes could be built for the price of their plasma screen... or how many starving children could be fed for the price it takes to fill up their gas guzzling SUV each day... or any number of other number games and secret judgmental mind activities.
In short, rich folks cause me to stumble. I stand in erroneous, assumptive judgment over them because I can't justify the way they are living. I allow bitterness and anger to creep in between them and me. I have even been priviledged to be surrounded by a couple families in my church who are loaded and yet responsible; who give a higher percentage of their income than most could imagine, who use their wealth to further God's work, to feed 5-10 children, to provide for numerous inner city ministries, but my mind still sees them as the exception to the rule... and to be honest, even within that exception I still catch myself struggling with some of their decisions and thinking of other ways that money could be spent.

So... on top of the fact that Kelly and I have no desire to leave our "church"/community, on top of the fact that we don't want to start over at any church (let alone a more traditional "modern" minded one), on top of the fact that the surrounding don't suit us, on top of the fact that we really are happy here and even more excited about what God has in store... I just don't think I can go be a part of a rich, yuppie church, because I am prejudice against rich people.

I know I need to get over that... let me know if you have any ideas... other than prayer and avoiding them (both of which are too easy to come up with).

1 more thing: I really love my wife. Seriously. All of who she is.
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The Hope on the Other Side

Every time I post I intend to start posting daily, or at least weekly, and then another frenzy of activity attacks. So it has been this past month. Our Fall Retreat, followed by Upward Evaluation Week ("Hell Week"), followed by my Master's Class, followed by Thanksgiving Vacation... so maybe I could have blogged during vacation, but anyways.

In the mean time; meaningful discussions have continued, new conversations have emerged, hope continues to develop and I see light at the end of my tunnel more each day. I am even more up to date on your blogs (those of my friends and fellow travelers) than I have ever been, thanks to Eric S. making me aware of (Gloria a Dios'!).

As I read through what we are all writing, as I note the common threads, as I sort through our often pessimistic perspective I truly see hope emerging. I see God raising up a new breed of believers. I see Him forming a fellowship of followers who value the things Jesus taught us to value, and are seeking new ways of living this out together, whether we are in the same town or separated by state lines. I see God re-fashioning the image of a "Christian" and of "Christian Living" in our collective mind, and I take great joy in adding and subtracting to that image every time I read many of your thoughts. Most of all, I look forward to the day when our discussion and language can focus more on what our lives do look like, and less on what they shouldn't look like. I anticipate a day when the cynicism and criticism gives way to inward (or even communal) reflection, and optimistic discussion of what God is leading us into, rather than the negative vibe that focuses on what He is leading us out of.

Yet... I know we still have a ways to go, or at least I do. I know that I have much more to complain about, much more to deconstruct, much more to work through and flesh out, many more Pat Robertson comments to appalled by, several more Republican guilt trips to be annoyed by, numerous paradoxes in the lives of Christians I see and the gospel they claim to follow that will drive me crazy, and an untold number of other issues that will tick me off to the point that I feel the need to blog (or journal) about it.

My Hope: I know the Gospel promises joy, peace and life to the fullest for those who love Christ, so I know that is what lies on the other side of all this. I don't want to settle for the counterfeit version of this "life to the full". So, I journey on through this passage in our lives in great anticipation of what is ahead.
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Fresh Hope in Unexpected Places

I was flown out to Chicago last week for a meeting concerning NYC (Nazarene Youth Conference... happens every 4 years). They gathered 15 youth pastors, along with 5 hired staff, to imagineer what NYC could be, should be... will be. The meeting was well organized, exciting for all and I think highly productive. We met from 8-3 and then Rolly Richert and his assistant Holly (our new friends who plan large gatherings as a vocation~Resume: DCLAs/Dare 2 Shares, Billy G., etc), had to jet, but the meeting was supposed to go until 4. This is where the truly exciting, perhaps life-changing part began for me.

For quite sometime I have sensed some unsettledness with the old system of church. I have felt that new forms must emerge if the church is to survive (and even thrive) in this new generation and its culture. I am also passionate about the fact that we are not looking for a new model (i.e. "Purpose-Drive" vs. "Willowcreek" vs. "Communal Living", etc.). I feel that many models must emerge to reflect the various needs and identities in our culture. In the past, this has not been the case. We present one basic form or church and expect everyone to fit into the system. Although this has worked somewhat effectively for the baby boomer generation, it has left many who are seeking something different lying by the roadside angry at a church that doesn't understand them and hasn't even tried to. Post-baby boomer generations present a great problem. Their styles are more varied, their desires are more commonly expressed, their distaste is more vocal and their unwillingness to fit into someone else's box has led to the greatest exodus from the "church" that we have ever seen. Some have caught on elsewhere, plugging into creative communities, connecting with brothers and sisters who understand one another and are motivated by the call of compassion, love and mutual concern that are more commonly found in this upcoming generation of leaders and followers. Many have simply left though, and it would be almost impossible for them to return to the structure they ran from. There is a need for new communities with a fresh perspective on the gospel of Christ and a radical way of living it out that will connect with the heart of this generation, this culture.

I feel stirred toward that call. I feel led toward that end, but I have been struggling with what that means and where that will lead us. Does that lead us away from the community of believers God has surrounded us with, from those we share meals with, from those we share struggles with, from those we share victories with? Does it mean starting over with new friends, a new community and a new denomination even? What are the implications of following this call God is placing on my heart? The questions go on, but the answers have been rare to come by. They have teased me, with meager glimpses of hope and future, while avoiding active resolution.

Many of those questions were answered last Wednesday, between 3:15 and 3:45 pm (C.S.T.). Hope was offered up. A new community to discuss these questions in a meaningful, promising and life-giving was was introduced. An alternative reason we were together was made known; to discover what "emergent communities" could look like with the end goal of action in mind.

The Lord's timing is unbelievable. He continually allows me questions institutions, systems and beliefs in my life, right up to the point of rejection and then he infuses hope into my despair. He allows me to go to the brink, the the edge of the cliff and then pulls me back into his arms. By doing this he is continually reminding me that NOTHING is more important than HIM. I must be willing to leave everything behind, everything that makes be comfortable, everything that provides for my family, everything that I am trained and qualified to be and do. I must be willing to reject it all, and then he will reveal whether or not I need to.

I have intentionally been somewhat vague, but I think you get the point. God has restored hope in me, in some areas that it had dwindled down to nothing. He has reminded me that it is only in surrender TO Him, that I will find true life IN Him. He has revealed to me that my "call" is to His service, and what that looks like may (and probably will) drastically change some day.

This all excites me, but it also freaks me out. Peace.
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Trick or Treat

Thursday night we had 4 other couples join us for the Trick or Treat Festivities. The instructions were to bring a pumpkin, game and anything you want to drink (because Kelly and I limit our in-house options to milk, water and kool-aid generally). We were to provide the shelter, the candy to hand out and Kelly's fantastic Broccoli Cheddar Soup and homemade Sourdough bread. The Hites, Thomases, Ballmers and Hunsakers arrived between 6 and 6:15 and we enjoyed a good meal with some great conversation. From there we made out way to the front "porch area" to meet and greet the wee ones. We passed out candy, sang songs (complete with guitar) and Leslie H. and I carved our pumpkins (pretty sweet if you ask me). Meanwhile the others ventured in and out of the house enjoying casual conversations, two beautiful babies and eating lots of sweets. There was no specific structure, no planned bible study, no "spiritualizing" of our evening, but I truly believe that this was the church coming together. I have thought A LOT about that lately, what the church is and/or what it should be.

I ended the night with a little "thank you" to the friends who have taught me what community is all about in the past 2 years. This "family" has changed our lives. We have learned so much from the experience of living life together and seeking the way of Christ side by side. Meals, discussions, confessions, games, prayers, Frisbee, serving others, celebrations, times of mourning... these are just some of the things that have made up our life with our community of believers, and I am at the point that I can't imagine what life would be like without them. That's cool.
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My Daughter

This morning I woke up to the sound of my daughter whining over the monitor. It was way too early to do anything productive (i.e. feed her), but one look over the edge of the crib delievered the cruel realization that this was not simply a binky beckoning. This girl wanted to get up.

Halle has a way of convincing you of this with her sly, manipulative smiles that reach from ear to ear at the sight of mom or dad. She realizes that this casual tightening of her facial muscles draws us into her snare. Well, dad had a backup plan.

I did get her out of the crib. I carried her back to our room. I laid her down on my side of the bed and I laid down on Kelly's side (Kelly had gone to work out). Then, I place my finger in her open hand and we laid there together, finger-in-hand for at least another hour. I lost track of the time as I was constantly slipping in and out of consciousness, but it was from the time Kelly left until the time she returned, and she held onto my finger for the long-haul. I was laying on my side, facing her and every time I opened my eyes I kissed her pudgy left cheek and said, "Hey sweetheart." She would turn toward me and give a gentle smile and I would drift back to sleep.

It was one of the most enjoyable times I have had with her, laying side by side, finger in hand, relishing in our first combined nap. I love that girl!
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Our Community Clarification

We dedicated Halle this past Sunday.

Our entire community was there (the folks we eat with), but the cool thing was that the Fuzzy's crew showed up too. Mike and Janis Hoy (the owners were there), Dave & Kathy Cornwell (who actually already go to our church, so that isn't a stretch) and even Chris and Christi Williams (they made it to the beginning of the lunch until Chris realized he was really too sick to be there and they took off). My father did the dedication and he did a cool thing of having our entire small group come up and stand with us during it. I had actually thought about this ahead of time, and was thrilled he had too.

Afterwards I began to wonder how that made our daily community and the Fuzzy's crew feel? If I were them I would have been thinking, "well, I deserve to be up there too." Of course, I am probably a bit of a jealous person, so that makes sense. I asked Benji and Sarah if came up, even though they aren't in our "small group" from the Naz Church, and they did, but they told me they were wondering what others thought of that... of course I said, "screw the others". Basically here is the deal:

Kelly and I have three groups we invest relational time and energy into. We are truly connected and "close" with all three groups on rather intimate, but varying levels. There is some interconnectivity between the groups, but not much. Which leaves us being closely connected with a lot of folks. Anyways, I feel the need to simplify these groups for future reference, because it is probably somewhat confusing. I think I am going to start writing a lot more about them, us and our community, so this should help, because this is how I will refer to them.
1) Community- Folks we eat with 2-4 x/week (Benji & Sarah Ballmer, Joe & Heidi Hunsaker, and it looks like Chris and Summer Thomas may be rejoining us! Horray! )
2) Fuzzy's- Group that meet on Saturday nights, usually at Fuzzy Bernstein's restaurant. We have been meeting for 3 months or so, and somedays it seems like we are on the verge of true community with one another, others it doesn't. Still experimenting and learning with these folks. (Ballmers, Hunsakers, Dave & Kathy Cornwell, Chris & Christi Williams, Hal Fogarty, Mike & Janis Hoy, Oliver and a few other folks flirting with us).
3) Small Group- Our Sunday Night care group from the church. We have been together 2 1/2 years (at least half of us have, and two other couples have been with us for 1 1/2 years). We have reached the depths of sharing pain and joy with one another, but are presently going through a confusing dry spell with one another ( my perspective) (Hunsakers, Ron & Nancy Rook, John & Brenda Ballmer, Angie & Rob Craine, Scott & Jill Erickson, Teri Armstrong and two other fringe families... 1 just moved away)

So, there you have it. Our communities. Our community. Our church. I preached on community on Sunday and God rocked me. I recognize that MOST CHURCH GOERS don't have enough community, but I wonder if we have too much? Can you? I know you can if you neglect your family life, but when does community deter from that family life, rather than enrich it? I am committed to Koinonia (no, not the MVNC religion fraternity I never "joined"), but I want to make sure it is a healthy commitment. I read a friends livejournal today and he said "I am experiencing things in my life I have never felt. I have never desired to put my trust into a cup, and then pass the cup to a stranger..." I have always been willing. I don't know what that means right now. Good or bad?

* Jason & Ruth Eliason (high school best buds) came to the dedication/our home
* Stetlers & Jen Leonard came to visit for dinner last night.
* Great discussion with P. Mikey today. It was fun.
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A Flood of Thoughts After Fuzzy's

Tons flooding through my head.
We met at Fuzzy's tonight. The Ballmers, Cornwells, Hoys and I were there. Everyone else was out of town or had obligations, but the crowd was perfect.
We began by discussing Torah-observant tithing. Dave is reading a book on it and had an awesome handout he had made (for his own use) that broke out tithe down into all the categories it is to be used for. It prescribes how much is for partying (feasts) both at home and at the temple, how much is to be used for the temple itself and how much is to go to the poor, oppressed, widow and orphans. It is rather clear when you lay it all out. The thought came across my mind that Finance Committee meeting could be a lot shorter, if we just followed THE SCRIPTURES on how to spend our tithes and offerings.

The Conversation Shifted as Benji began to reflect very openly on his life and what it is and what he wants it to be and how he isn't sure how to merge the idea with the practice. I began to think of my life and jot down thoughts. As Benji described how he wanted to live with passion for God and for his family, but he didn't know how, he innocently asked, "Does it just click one day? Is it out there and then it just clicks?"

He directed this question toward Dave who seems to have things very together from out perspective. He is one of those few (very few) people in our life who truly lets Scripture guide his life and the life of his family. He has an amazing wife who is brilliant and grounded, but you would never know unless you prodded her to share, because she would rather listen. She owns the roles or helpmate, mother, wise council for young women and friend. They have 5 kids (three adopted from overseas) whom Kathy homeschools. Before I met this family I hated the idea of homeschooling, but they do it for the right reasons, and it is so admirable and attractive to me now. As this family dug into the scripture over the years the New Testament kept bringing them back to the Old Testament and they realized how utterly interdependent the two are, and yet how ultimately independent most Christians make them. This has led them to a radical faith of Torah-observance (which I would be glad to talk more about on here), which has led them to a depth of biblical knowledge like few people I know. They celebrate the feasts, they take responsibility for the development of their kids (intellectually, emotionally, physically and even SPIRITUALLY), they celebrate in worship together, they memorize Scriptures as a family, the kids are learning Hebrew (so they can REALLY dig into the Scriptures), and now they actually gather with some other Torah-observant believers on Friday nights (which David leads). I could go on, but I will return to the question Benji posed...

The question stirred Kathy. I love when she stirs! Dave prodded her to share. I pushed her to share. Others joined in the prodding. And she said, "It is in here", pointing to her Bible. "It is all in Scripture, the complete description of what your life and the life of your family should look like. You just have to know it and live it out."

So true. So Passionate. So real, and so is my response...
I don't live it out. I recognize areas in my life that I am not "Livin it" in. I see areas of Scripture that I am too selfish, too proud, too busy to live out. I am also too lazy and not disciplined enough... That sums it up. That is so hard to confess, because a friend of mind has accused of an aspect of the laziness in the one area of my life I feel that it doesn't apply. The areas my failures are most damaging are my neighborhood, my community and more importantly my Home.

As I try to label the cause of this the first one that comes to mind is my vocation. My "job" drains me, but not like other folks jobs or like it drains other pastors. I am somewhere in between. Other jobs wear you out physically. My job drains me mentally and emotionally. It is depressing to be "in ministry" and yet feel controlled by chains. If we are truly ministers how can that call be contained not just to one church BUILDING/body, but to 1 community. I feel the need to justify the Christlike urge for me to go serve in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, rather than the release. I have to somehow explain how things I do in my spare time fits into my church's vision and plan. THAT DRAINS ME. I have to prove I work enough and work hard enough. I could write about this for pages, but the real travesty is back home. The real issue is when I leave the church walls and return through the front door of my home. I return drained, fried and ready to veg-out. I want to be lazy and I want to do things I enjoy, that will occupy my mind, preferably pointlessly.

I recognize that mowing the lawn actually feels good. I like the work eve, but it is almost painful to think of starting it. It seems insurmountable, so my grass commonly reaches nine feet in height as I stare at it out my back porch window. I know that a productive garden would feel amazing and be so much healthier for our family, but starting one is virtually impossible. The prospective weeds haunt me before I begin. I realize that teaching Kelly, and eventually my children, Scripture and truths about God is fulfilling, invigorating and exciting, but taking the time to sit down and do it is overcome by droopy eyes and the desire to space out.

This ultimately leads to some hard questions for my life, but his post is already too long. I will post them later this week, after I have had more time to mull over them myself and with my community. These questions are scary and they are difficult to even write down. I was recently told that those in leadership shouldn't share these things, or at least not within earshot of those they are leading. Well, I obviously feel that it is okay, and even necessary, to share these struggles. I trust that you who have taken the time to read this will give me wise council and challenge me, whether you are "under my leadership" or not. I need you. I need to hear from you. I need wisdom through this awakening in my life.
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Bummed Out

I am really bummed. I have been given a really tough choice to make, which I feel is unfair. I want to circle "C- None of the Above", but the option isn't there. I'm not going to include details, because it would only lead to some of you being bitter at the choice giver and it would lead to me saying more than I should.

I am sitting here at the church, trying to get work done, but having a hard time subduing my frustration and sadness.

To complicate things more I found out way too much about a couple of my "solid teens" last night, and I don't really know what to do with it. I am frustrated with them, sad for them and lost in how to address these private choices they have made (that have mysteriously have made their way to my ears). So, I guess I have just had some sad stuff happen.

1 BRIGHT NOTE: One of my teen girls asked me last night if I could meet with her and her boyfriend. He is relatively new (2 months or less). I said yes of course, and then she told me why. Basically he told her he wants to know more about God. He told her that he doesn't understand it all and wants to know more. He wants to know what the difference is between Christians, Catholics and Nazarenes. He wants to be a Christian, but wants to understand what its all about first. So... that is a bright note.
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I like marriage.

It is so much fun. I came home today and was just being really honest with Kelly about some tough decisions we have to make, and I had so much fun in our conversation. When I make a comment, she already knows the reasons behind it. When I explain how I feel, she understands completely because she knows the core of who I am. When I am sharing other peoples' opinions of our decision, she laughs, even before I share my reaction, because she knows how I will.

Knowing laughs.
Understanding grins.
Shared sighs.
Real conversation.

Marriage is Good.
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Katrina, Katrina, Katrina... You naughty girl

I really have no clue what our response to Katrina should be. Part of me wants to load up a van with supplies and head down there to offer my services... I want to buy a little boat with a small outboard motor and go rescue folks from their homes, or bring them bottles of water, or offer them some crackers and cheese... I want to help an old couple clear the rubble off their homestead of 60 years... I want to go to a displaced orphanage, gather up all the children and bring them back to Ohio to help them find homes for until something can be done for them...

I watched a video today and felt completely helpless. I have no way of REALLY making a difference for those people. I know that "we" can. I know that our church, or community, or this county or "The Universal Church" could, but it would make us really uncomfortable and really inconvenienced and really self-righteous and it would really take some of our time and money.

I am cynical.

I wonder if I really could find a displaced orphanage, and if the Lord really is laying that on my heart, or if the Christ-following community in Findlay really could meet their need... Their real, tangible, present need for a home.

I have this fear that there are pompous christians (little "c" is intentional) sitting out there saying things like, "New Orleans should have seen this coming." and "Those people down there deserved this, I have heard what goes on at Mardi Gras." and "Judgment people. Judgment. Haven't you read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah?" People like that really get on my nerves. If you are one of them call me and I will explain.
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Christianity Today

I would never have turned to this magazine for such a captivating and challenging article. In the September 05 issue of Christianity Today (which oddly enough is already out???) there is an article called

"The New Monasticism" - a fresh crop of Christian communities is blossoming in blighted urban setting all over America.

I read the article. I contemplated moving. I tried to determine how difficult it would be to convince our entire community with us, and to live in community, such as those in the article. I sit here wondering if this is still in our future. The article includes tons of good quotes, but there is one section that focuses on our place in life:

"Community living is also difficult, especially for families, to sustain over the long tern. 'The whole [American] culture is set up for married people with careers and kids to live in houses and to be mobile as a unit,' Paris says. That can cause problems for communities that include married couples and their children, who at some point feel the need to move on to create a life for their family."

That is odd. I am feeling a draw to leave the "life" we have created for ourselves, to leave our "careers" behind, and to make a life for our family... In community. I read this article and I am moved by the compassion the wear on their sleeve. I am motivated by their lifestyle of surrender, sacrifice and service to the neglected, addicted, poor and disenfranchised. I am drawn to strengthen their voice against the oppressors, to shout loudly by their side for aid, to lead by the example of lifestyle. I feel a push to live in the neighborhoods, rather than visit them 3 or 4 times a year.

I don't know what those feelings are about. I don't know if they are real, or justified, or God- induced, or fleeting. I may feel differently in the morning. Kelly's heart may sing a similar song, or it may ask for a different tune. I know full well that God would have to put it in us both for any kind of real response to occur. I recognize that I don't feel release from Findlay necessarily, in fact I have felt very drawn to it lately. Perhaps this is a stirring for Findlay, an eye-opening of the poverty and injustice in our own town.

So what can I do here? In Findlay, Ohio. What is God calling me to do where I am at? How can I respond in the place I find myself, my family? That is the question I must ask and somehow respond to, with my life and my resources.

Read the article. It may stir something in you. Or maybe it won't.
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Halle, just close your eyes...

Decision to start letting Halle put herself to sleep today
+ Me being at work all day
+ Kelly already feeling stressed starting back to work (at home)
+ Me having to go to VBS tonight

= A Really, Really long and tearful day for my wife

We need to do it, but it is so hard on Kelly.
Please support her in prayer.
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Our First Fuzzy's

This past Saturday began a new chapter for us. We met at Fuzzy Bernstein's (a Jewish-Italian Deli in downtown Findlay... the story is still to come on this). Kelly, Halle and I, Benji & Sarah, Chris, Christy, Hannah, Megan and Isaiah, Hal, Ryan & Leslie and Brandon decided to gather for prayer discussion and togetherness. These are all people we have regularly gathered with in the past few months (except Brandon whom I just recently met), so it wasn't like it was "brand new" to us. Most of us have heard one another views, expressed our own convictions, complications and concerns, ate together, played together, relaxed together. The newness lied in the location, the intention and the expectation.

Our expectations are high in one sense, and not in many others. We expect to discover what true community means in a deeper and more meanigful way. We expect to enjoy gathering each week. We expect to live life together. We expect to explore the Scripture together. We expect to apply truth to our lives together. We expect togetherness.

We don't expect that everyone will understand us, because we have already encountered those who don't.

Good times. I can't wait to live the life ahead of us together.
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Sporadic Sadness

I was just working on my expense report for church. I go through my credit card each month these days to make sure I am not missing any receipts I need to be reimbursed for. I estimate that I have "donated" somewhere in the realm of a thosand dollars, plus or minus a hundred, over the course of my 6 years of ministry. Although it is probably much more.

I saw a line item that read:
"Jun 11 Jun 11 WENDY'S #0543 Q25 VAN WERT OH"

I sat there for a split second trying to place why I was in Van Wert on June 11th. The the line reappeared in my brain:


Suddenly my expense report has become very frivolous as I sit in my office trying to deal with this emotion of losing someone I love(d) so much. It doesn't seem real to me at all. It seems so distant, so hazy, so unbelievable. A recent picture of her is hanging on our fridge and I often look at it and laugh, thinking about how funny she is and how I can't wait to see her next time I go home. Then the sudden sadness sets in as I remember the reality I live in. She is gone.

Yes, I will see her some day, but I have no clue what that will look like. Folks say she is in heaven with Elijah and my baby brother Joshua, but there is no scripture to confirm that to my skeptical mind. I don't even know if I will remember her or if she will remember me when I get to heaven. I don't know if it will even matter then, but it matters now, and I keep find myself surprised by these sporadic bouts of sadness.

It stinks that these sad moments have dominated my random blogs of late. There is actually much joy and excitement in the air. We met with some amazing friends last night for an intimate time of "church". You can read more about it on Kelly's blog.

Her thoughts mesh with mine. I keep thinking I will tell the story of all that is happening in a once a day, seven part series. For those of your reading this who haven't talked to me much in the past 2 months, life is changing in some amazing ways (other than the fact that I have a beautiful child). The Lord has blown some doors open for us, and he continues to amaze us with God moments daily... conversations, "chance"/ordained encounters, revelations and visions of great things ahead. I will catch you up soon. For those of your with blogs, I caught up on all of you last night. Peace my friends.
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Has It Really Been This Long?

Life has been crazy.
Life has been crazy.
Life has been fun.

It is such a joy to have Halle in our lives, but I have not really found the time to get on here. I am going to post an e-mail I sent out about Halle, which I think anyone reading this probably received. It is such a blessing to have her. It is so amazing to hold her. It such a gift to kiss her.

We have been blessed.
I will bless you with pictures soon.

Lots more going on with the Fuzzy Bernstein's "vision", but I want to build you all up the climactic ending instead of blurt it out, so you must wait. I will say this... God is more actively evident in my life right now that I have see Him in a long time, and I have no clue why. I do not feel that I am being more faithful, more obedient, more spiritual. I think He just has his timing, and He has choosen now to reveal himself to me in some sweet ways. encounters, conversations, kindred-spirits, encouragement. His words to me continue to come in many form, and I am soaking them all in.
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Halle Ruth Picture Link

Photos are sure to come. For now some can be viewed at:

Title? Grandbaby 3
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Halle Ruth Smith

Halle Ruth Smith has been born!!!

This morning at 10:32am at Blanchard Valley Regional Hospital in Bluffton, Ohio; Halle Ruth Smith joined the world.

Halle is Kelly's great-grandmother's name, who was an amazing lady with an huge impact on Kelly's life and growth in the Lord.
Ruth is my Grandma Clouse's (who passed 2 weeks ago tomorrow) middle name. She was one of my favorite people in the world and always will be. She had a profound impact on me, simply by being present, loving me, loving God and building me up bigger than I could ever live up to.

I love to have names with meaning to them. I am so glad that we were able to pick out two names than mean so much to us, and represent people who meant so much to us.

The lo-down:
5 lbs. 13.4 ozs.
19 inches long
Dark Hair all over her head.

More details:
Her cry sounds like a whimper.
Her eyes have been open a ton.
She has been generally pleasant all 5 1/2 hours of her short life, crying very little.
This is the first moment I have spent away from her.
She really loves dad (and mom).
She has had 10 visitors (both sets of grandparents, Ami Olinger, Nancy Rook, Mike McClurg, Jessica Hart, Samantha Wooton and Brooklyn).
Her beauty is astounding... or course.

We are so excited to be a family of three now, to be referred to as "James,Kelly and Halle", to need a table for 2 plus a sling for the carseat, to learn how to change diapers, to have a carseat base in both vehicles, to fall alseep with her on our chests, to be asked "How big is Halle now?", to join the league of people called parents, to have a daughter who will call us Mom and Dad.

We are excited.

Thanks for sharing in our joy!
Pray for her continued health, growth and for our wisdom in this new adventure.

Pictures are coming! For now they can be seen at :
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Here We Go

It is almost time to take off for the hospital.
There are a million things I need to be doing right now, including taking a shower, but I am incapable of movement.

I stand in awe, fear, and I think excitement.

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The Comments Are Alive!

After almost 2 years of sporadic blogging.
After writing to multiple times with no response.
After enabling and disabling my comments over 1 million times.
After crying out to God, "Why Me! Why am I so stupid that I can't enable my comments!"
After writing blogger 1 more time before I just started over on a new blog.

I dove into the html code today and produced the comments, live and in color, to be used freely by all. I hope that this will lead to more conversation, more interaction, more awareness of what is going on in my life and yours, and especially more comments on how cute my baby is when she is born on Monday (or before hopefully!!!).

If anything goes wrong on the comments e-mail me at the link at the top... I hope it works too.
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My Last Thursday

This is my last Thursday as a non-father.
This is mine and Kelly's last Thursday as a young married couple with no children.
This is my last Thursday when my mind won't constantly be on my beautiful daughter at home.

Doc Brown said she wants to induce us on Sunday night. She finally confessed we are "high risk", and she sees no reason to keep a fully developed child in there any longer. To be honest, I am torn between wanting Halle here and wondering if it just fits better into Doc Brown's schedule. Make no mistake... I really like Deserene Brown M.D., but it just seems rushed or strange. Why can't we go natural, like we want to. It is so hard.

The thought is that she is safer out of a womb that has lost one before. I tend to disagree. I tend to think she is safest where her heavenly father wants her to be, and if he wanted her to come join us on the outside, he would make it happen.

My opinion doesn't matter much though. I respect the Dr. Kelly is VERY uncomfortable (with some flare up of the kidney stone tonight to boot). I am nervous that something could happen if we wait. I am scared that I am not ready to be a father. One comfort is that Kevin has been a dad for almost 5 days now and his child is doing fine. I figure we are going to be a week behind them the rest of our daughters lives. I will simply read his blog, learn from his mistakes and raise a perfect child. Thanks Kev!

This is my last Thursday to post a blog late at night, with Christ For the Nations worship blarring, with no worries of waking up a beautiful baby.

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The Peace That Passeth...

My Grandma Clouse died tonight around 8:30pm.

Her name was Juanita Rose Clouse. She made it clear throughout my life that I was one of her favorite people in the world. She adored me. I adored her.

It is so hard to lose someone who loves you so much, and whom you love so much. She made her love so clear to me. She always built me up. She always made me laugh. She always made me smile. She was so, so, so, so good to me.

She was my last surviving grandparent. That makes my 28th birthday (which just passed) seem a lot older. It makes me feel a little lonely, even though I still have 4 left on Kelly's side. All 4 of my grandparents played a huge role in my life. I lived with them at times. I went on road trips with them. I vacationed with them. I hung out with them. I shared with them. I helped them. They supported me as if I were a superstar, but Grandma Clouse was my biggest fan in the world.

I haven't cried yet. I knew this was coming. I even talked about it at a meeting I had tonight. They found spots 2 weeks ago on her pancreas, liver and elsewhere and we all knew what it was without the tests. She knew. She didn't want the tests. She was ready to go. I think she just let go. I am so glad she didn't have to suffer I guess. That was the one thing I was dreading with this recent news. I didn't want to have to watch her suffer for weeks, months, years.

She seemed so healthy in some regards. She did have some physical problems and Alzheimer’s , but she could still carry a sane conversation and sometimes the Alzheimer’s was fun... Like when we got to break the news that we were pregnant to her 7 times!!! She was more excited each time.

My second to last conversation with her was great. She made sense. She knew what was going on. She was aware. She was funny. She was present. She seemed so healthy.

Man, I am going to miss her!

My life circumstances have sucked lately... My friend's suicide, the kidney stones, deadlines pressing in, increasing stress at work due to all of these time-takers, being gone this entire week back and forth from District Assembly and BLAST. No time. No peace. No rest. I was actually feeling some relief tonight because of a cool new direction I feel the Lord has been leading me toward the past couple of weeks (through all of these rough circumstances). I had talked to Benji and Chris H. On the way home (from district assembly-1 hour) about it and was feeling energetic and pumped, amidst this storm, but this news just sucked it out of me. I don't understand.

So much pain. So much grief. So much the opposite of peace. Lord, if you are trying to teach me something, humble me, break me, whatever please find me ready and stop the onslaught of pain! I am broken. I am in pain. I am humbled... Aren't I?!? I want to be taught. I want to grow. I am trying to hear you, but this pain is melting my brain. I am becoming less capable of thought, less able to hear, less competent to understand. I need some relief. I feel pushed to the limit. You know how I was earlier tonight. Did this have to happen tonight?!?!?!?! One more thing? Please protect our baby. Please don't let anything happen to her. Please don't allow me to be tested in that way. I can not handle that kind of pain. I need relief Lord. I need relief.

I need peace.
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Kidney Stone Craziness

Kelly and I went out for the first night of my birthday celebration weekend last Saturday. We enjoyed some amazing cuizine at Olive Garden (I had Stuffed Chicked Marsala), Kelly had Chicken Cacitaruaoidana. All I can tell you is that they are both amazing and you can click on this link to find out more.

After dinner we went to see Star Wars III with some movie Coupons we had. We made it about 1/2 way through when Kelly started getting uncomfortable. She left the theatre once... twice and then said, "I think I might have kidney stone", as she excused herself once again. You may be asking, "How does Kelly know what a kidney stone feels like"? Well, she had one about 3 months ago, which was the most painful experience of her life, and left me in tears fearing I was losing her (before I knew what it was).

So, we went to Findlay Hospital, they gave her a shot of demoral (sp) and sent us on to Bluffton (where we will be delivering the baby). We were there all night, which was a blur of IVs, demoral, nubame, barfing, moaning and crying. We finally checked out at ten on Sunday night after a 24 hour stay.

On Monday night at 5 Kelly was out shopping for a picnic we were planning with friends when she was attacked again. She came home in tears, wondering if we should go back. I didn't think there was an option, so I packed our bags and we took off. Well, now it is 9:32pm on Wednesday night and Kelly is still in the hospital gown. I dimissed myself to prepare and go to youth group today, but have been there other than that for the past 48 hours+.

It is so hard to see someone you love go through so much pain, and go on and off drugs. She was doing so well yesterday. Our amazing friends (Hunsakers) came and brought us a lasagna birthday dinner (I turned 28), complete with salad, salad dressing in little containers, amazing breadsticks and settings for 6 (Ballmers came as well on their was out of town for 3 weeks). Then our other amazing friends (the Rooks) brought dessert, a birthday cake complete with angel food, cherries, marshmallow topping, and their three kids under 5 who we ADORE!

Kelly felt so well all day, but the hospital wanted to keep her, monitor the baby, etc, but she didn't have to take any drugs from 2am Tuesday, straight through till sleep time. Then this morning came. She woke up in pain, and it only got worse. She has been wincing all day, moaning when the drugs wear off and crying alot. She feels bad about how she feels. She feels bad about it being my birthday weekend. She feels bad that she is drugging our unborn baby. She just feels bad. I just want her to feel GOOD! I don't want her to cry. I don't want her to wince. I don't want her to be in pain.

I hate Kidney Stone. I am not sure why God created them... or if they are part of the curse... but I hate Kidney Stones. If you hate them as well, let me know.

Seriously, Pray for Kelly. There has been some talk about them inducing her early if this keeps up, and they already decided today to keep her indefinitely. She needs to get through this and pass this stone, so she can enjoy her first child birth, the way she wants it to be.

Pray for her. Peace.
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In case any of you were wondering how much of a loser I am:
I am 28% loser. What about you? Click here to find out!

One of my buddy's sites says he is only 4% loser... yeah right Roger!
I saw how you could change the numbers and was tempted to, but I wanted to take all my masks off and reveal my loserness.
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I have done about 10 pages or written paper journaling the past few days. There is a lot swirling around in there. I am thinking that I will post some of that on here eventually, but not today. The time in California was too brief, but very helpful. I was able to share a lot of what I was feeling/dealing with while surrounded by other who totally understood, because they were feeling those same things. I left with a special new connections with some of Jimmy's friends and a boatload of lessons we all learned from his life.

Work stuff is so busy right now trying to catch up from the past three weeks or Class, Funeral, 30 hour Famine Prep. The 30 Hour Famine was amazing. the kids were amazing. The volunteers were amazing. The projects were amazing. I showed up at 8am on Saturday morning (over half-way thorugh it). Everything had gone smoothly, teaching everyone once again that they don't really need me here. It really was a new way of doing events/anything for our ministry and I look forward to what that might mean in the future of shared ministry.

We have a rad demonstration in our church lawn right now. There is a huge sign that says
"29,000 kids die every day from Hunger.
HELP! (in huge letters)
Make a Difference
30 Hour Famine
All around the sign is a rudimentary graveyard with rough looking crosses, made up of broken pallets, serving as the gravestones. It is a little haunting to drive by and some folks have heard people in the community talking about it. You can even see it from the interstate, which is the first cool reason I have discovered for our church's location.

I just wanted to keep you all updated. I will write some of my thoughts on all of this recent activity soon.
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A Blank Stare

How am I supposed to respond to this? How am I supposed to act? If I go to class tomorrow will I randomly break down and cry, or will a night's sleep give me some new perspective that is far from my mind right now. Jimmy Bagby is dead.
He hung himself on Sunday night... His family just started telling his friends yesterday... I found out today... I will be mourning for a long time.
One of my closest brothers from college. The one person who was willing to look into my life, call me on some secret sin struggles and then push me to overcome them. When Jimmy walked into a room it got brighter. He had a charisma that was downright magnetic and drew people from all walks of life to him. In one ten minute conversation Jimmy could get anyone to confess anything they were hiding from the world. He had a way of asking you questions about your life, probing deeper into your answers and staring you straight in the eye that said, "I care more about your life than you do. Please don't stop talking, because I want to know you!"

Time with Jimmy changed your perspective. You suddenly realized how self-absorbed, prideful and egotistical you were, because he so blatantly others-centered, humble and selfless. To this day I think of Jimmy;
everytime I blow someone off,
everytime I interrupt someone else's story to share my own,
everytime I hurry a conversation in order to talk to someone else in the room,
everytime I talk more than I listen,
everytime I share more than I hear,
everytime I fail to value the person I am talking to over myself...

Why, because I saw James Bagby do the opposite of those things a million times a day, and I never once saw him surrender to those wide-spread, selfish (almost natural) tendencies.

Jimmy loved people. He valued their time more than his own. He valued their problems more than his own. He valued their voice more than his... but it didn't seem he didn't value his.

I called him two weeks ago. He called three times since then. He called me last Friday. He called a few other people as well, as if that is any comfort for my guilty soul. I was setting up for NYI Convention, rushing around, giving people assignments. My phone rang, I saw it was Jimmy, smiled, muted it and checked the message 30 minutes later.

"James, you are blessed soul, a brother, a light in my life. Thanks you so much for continuing to pursue me throughout our lives..." he went on to say he was coming my way soon on a trip and wanted to meet up, and I believed him. I was so "busy" that night, I didn't return his call. I was so "busy" the next day, I didn't return his call. I have been so stressed with my Master's class all week, I never returned his call. Would it have mattered? I don't know, but the weight of the guilt is heavy on my shoulders.

Jimmy loved life. He loved new experiences, working with old people, eating new foods, sharing love with kids, making new intimate friends, digging deep with college kids, serving anyone, smiling, making someone smile, he loved people... He loved life.
He made me smile, but this last act of his has made me cry... alot... I don't know how to cope here. I don't know what to feel, or act or do. I have never lost a friend like this, and I feel like there is no one to blame, except those of us who weren't there and could have been. I have been through the valleys of depression and to the edge of dealing with it, and Jimmy brought me back from it more than once. I couldn't do the same for him. Why didn't the Lord stir me, or wake me, or urge me, or move me? Why LORD!!! It doesn't make any sense.

I am left with a blank stare and nothing more to offer.
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Good Night

We had an event at the high school tonight.
The Patsy McRill Dodgeball Tournament (or something to that nature).
We promoted it through FOCUS (the on-campus YFC club) and Gateway Church did most of the planning. All I had to do was show up and hang with kids. One of my teens called me today and said everyone was talking about it at school today. She said they thought it was a school event. I walked in to the gym at 6:34pm to the sound and sight of 300+ screaming high schoolers. They were there, they were loud, they were ready for some Dodgeball.
It was awesome to be in the mix, hanging with kids who don't have a clue, not expecting them to be perfect or act perfect. There was something freeing being on their turf where they were themselves. Those fringe kids who only come to events had every mask off and allowed me to see who they really are, how they really act, how they really talk. That is freeing! I just want them to be real! How can I minister to kids who I don't really know? How can I relate to kids who won't let me see who they are?
It was so nice just to hang with teens.
I love them.
I still love teens.
When I get the chance to just hang with them, I love them.
When I get overwhelmed planning for them, demanding too much from them and expecting perfection from them, I start to feel done with this.

I need more low key, out of the spotlight, taking off the mask time with kids.
That is the simple stuf.
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Bicycle Blessing

I was totally blessed last week with a new bike!

Rob, one of the guys in my Sunday Night small group, just felt like he needed to give me one. He used to race bikes and had 3-4 of them still. I have been wanting a bike so badly lately. He took a frame and basically rebuilt the bike with his favorite seat, gears, gear shifter thingy-magig, pedals, handle bars, etc.

I have taken it out for a short ride almost every day (except the 2 it rained) since he gave it to me. Such an unexpected, out of the blue, thank you Lord blessing. What makes it better is that I know this was as much for Rob as it is for me. I know that it is the Lord working in both of our lives through this selfless action.
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???The Gift of Preaching???

I believe in Scripture.
I believe that all Scriptuer is God-breathed and authoritative.
I believe there are some things I don't understand in it though.

One of those things...
The Gift of Preaching:
I can recognize it in others. I have definitely recognized the lack of it in many senior pastors. I know that it says in Ephesians that "some are called to p
I know that Jesus preached.
I know that the disciples preached on the day of Pentecost.
I know that Paul preached in the synagouges.

I preached on Sunday again. It was such a stressful week. Pastor Mike was out sick and then on vacation. I had an overnight called BLAST with the teens on Friday night. I had a 20 pager and an 8 pager to do for class... I have written all of this on here before I believe... in short there was a lot going on. I tried to be diligent. I sat down earlier in the week and worked hard to get stuff done, so that I could focus in on the sermon before BLAST. I practically cleared my docket and mind of everything by Friday AM so that I had all day to work on it. I spent a ton of time reading Scripture. Trying to hear God's voice. Seeking some guidance and wisdom. I felt He told me which way to go early Friday and pursued it. When I got back to it on Saturday evening the Lord confirmed that direction and I had a fun time writing it. Then came the practice session with Kelly at 12:30 AM on Saturday night/Sunday morning. I actually had to wake her up to do this! At the end I was convinced I couldn't do this, that it was going to be horrible if God didn't take over... and it would have been.

After the sermon the Lord sent so many more confirmations that He has given me the gift of preaching. So many wise people, loving people, honest peopel, GODLY people have come up to me and confirmed this in the past few months. One of the most radical, spirit-filled, amazing guys in our church said to me on his way out the door, "My wife and I have been talking about your gift. Don't run away from your calling James."

I don't know what that means. I guess the Lord has convinced me that one of my gifts is preaching, but I don't know how to apply that. I think the church is supposed to be much more of a community than what we see on a Sunday Morning. I think that preaching is somewhat ineffective with most people, who forget any point of the sermon by the next week. I think that people learn more about God by sharing their lives with each other, praying for one another and sharing what the Lord is revealing to them, than through a service with a talking head up front and 300 nodding (or drooping) heads in the pews.

If the church is supposed to be smaller, more communal, more intimate, more shared... then how does the gift of preaching apply to that? It would feel pretty pious and wierd to preach for 25 minutes to the community of 6-8 who meet in my home.

I am trying to understand this, struggle through this, figure this out. The reason this question impacts me so much is because I feel the Lord has specifically sent an all out assault on me to convince me of this gift. I have really run from this thing. I have tried to hide from it. I have tried to deny it even. What I do know, is that it is truly not me. It has got to be a gift, because what happens in our living room the night before is radically different than what happens in either service on Sunday Morning. When I surrender the message to Christ, He takes over and says what He wants. There are times I am literally up there talking and at the same time praying "Lord, just don't let me get in the way. Speak to us. Speak to me."

I don't know what this means.
I don't know what plans He has for me.
It was a lot more comforting to think I would be a youth pastor my entire life.
Now I don't know what He has in store, but I know it has to be centered around Christian community and I know I have to use the gifts He has given me.

Lord, I am a little scared.
Lord, lead me.
Lord, guide me.
Lord, don't let me get in the way.

WARNING: I wrote this entire entry and then realized that the "gift of Preaching" is nowhere to be found (at least in the RSV). Not in Romans 12. Not in 1 Corinthians 12. Not in Ephesians 4. In fact... here they all are to confirm it for you:

1 Corinthians 12:28-31
28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Romans 12:6-8
6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Ephesians 4: 11-12
11 And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

So, I guess that means my "gift of preaching" is something else... teaching? pastoring? being an apostle? evangelizing? I have no clue. I think I am more confused now.
So what am I supposed to do with that?
I know my comments don't work, but click here and e-mail me if you can/could/would comment:
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Intense Times, Calm Times

I had an intense weekend that I will not dive into, but this week has gone well. Pastor Mike has pneumonia, which stinks for him, because he was already taking Wednesday-Sunday off to finish his basement. I feel bad for him... he was so excited.

That of course means that I am running the show this week... visiting, leading worship, preaching... not to mention youth group (which was on of the most demanding, "I need you James", "Can you sign this", "Can you help me with this", "Can we talk about something" nights I have had in a long long long time... but it was good in the end), an overnight youth trip (Fri.-Sat.), and a 6-8 page final for my history class due last week... the funny thing is that I actually feel peace through it all. I am enjoying a decent pace, going home to visit Kelly on busy days and enjoying times with our community.

We have experienced good meal times, good food, some great conversation and some fresh insights from Scripture. I feel good. I feel peace. I feel a calm... even though everything seems to be rushing around me and pushing against me. I don't get it. I will probably freak out and have a breakdown tomorrow.
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New Friends

Kelly and I joined Benji and Sarah (the little Ballmers) for dinner at the Williams' home tonight. I have seen Chris and his wife Christi around town for the past couple of years. Chrisit used to attend our MOPS program at the Naz. Chris kind of stands out in Findlay because of his long dread locks, which are completely rad. We have attended many of the same conferences, I have seen him walking around town, and run across him at different times, but never officially met him until about a month ago. I was in Salvation Army scavenging for some jeans and saw him there. I had just found out he is an Admissions Counselor at Winebrenner Seminary, where I am planning on attending as a visiting student this spring, summer and perhaps fall. I struck up a brief conversation and looked forward to talking to him more as I pursued my schooling.

A week or two later Benji went to Winebrenner to look into the possibility of him attending there with me. He met Chris, talked for a minute or two about school and an hour about everything else the Lord has been revealing to us this past year and a half through community. Chris shared many of the same sentiments and a new kindred was found.

They invited us over for spahetti, an awesome salad (spinach, strawberries, apples, cheese, carrots, ranch... for me) and some cheesey garlic bread. Their children... Hannah, Maegan and Isaiah were a joy. The conversation was one of hearing, understanding and relating. They are exploring, seeking and finding answers to many of the same questions we are asking. The time was over too soon, but I am sure there are many more to come.

The Lord's timing is so amazing. He continues to reveal new things to us, lead new friends to us and give new life to us. I have seen Chris a million times, but never got to know him until now... I don't think that is a conincidence... it seems more like a higher plan...a godly timing. It is an adventurous and exciting time in our lives. I can't wait to see the big picture He has in store... in his timing.
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Currently Reading--- Resident Aliens: life in the christian colony. Stanley Hauerwas & William H. Willimon.
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Great Conversations

I have not recorded my journey adequately on these pages. There are large gaps with many great conversations that are left off these pages. In one of my undergrad classes we had to write a time line of our lives. This timeline was to help us review where we had come from and where we were. It was to help us understand ourselves in the cumulative effort of our brief lives and thus understand others better, seeing them not in the moment, but in their lifespan or good and bad times, easy and hard times, happy and sad times. At least, that is why I think we did it.

It seems like I could use such a time line of the past two and a half years. This journey, this awakening in my life began over two and a half years ago! My accountability partner and I began to question some things we were both experiencing and thinking individually. This began to change the way we viewed things drastically, to the point that he resigned from church work about 4 months later and moved away. In November of that year I went to Nashville with 8 other youth pastors for a National Youth Workers Convention. One of my buddies and I decided to take a 8 hour Critical Concerns course on Postmodern Ministry... the emerging church stuff. It rocked us. We kept the other 6 guys up until all hours of that night discussing those things. Our heads were swimming. We knew our lives were about to change... and they have for both of us.

Since then it has been a gradual transformation of my life. At times it has moved swiftly, at times it has seemed slow, at times it has felt like it would kill me, at times I have never felt more free, at times I get so confused because I don't know what to do next. That is where I often am. I don't know where the Lord is taking me. I don't know where He is leading me. I know that He has led me though. I know that it is His hand that continually creates opportunities for growth in my life. I know that it is Him who has opened the door for so many great conversations.

I had a great conversation on Wednesday night with a good friend. The Lord gave me one of those rare opportunities for a raw conversation about where I am at, what I believe, where I think I am headed and what The Lord is teaching me... with someone who was interested, excited, inquisitive and supportive. It has been so cool how I haven't had to force my thoughts on anyone, but the Lord continues to give me opportunities when He feels the time is right to share, to hear and to grow together with one of my brothers in Christ. Wednesday night was such a great conversation. I really needed it. I needed to get some of that out, to be reminded of what the Lord has revealed to me, to be reminded not to give up and settle.

Thank you Lord for good friends, good times, great conversation. I am learning so much.
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Passover Seder

I am going to a Passover Seder in about 20 minutes. The Lord has really been revealing some crazy cool stuff to our community about Jewish customs and feasts and how they enrich our journey with and toward Christ. The two primary influences have been Dave Cornwell and Hal Fogarty, two men connected with our church in some way and connected with our lives in a more intimate way as of late. These two have been so challenging to all of us. They know the Scriptures in and out, their flame of their passion grows with age rather than fading away, their patience and pacing with us is calming. They are not puffed up with knowledge. They do not see themselves as above and beyond us in our youth. They allow us to share all our ideas and convictions and then walk through the Scriptures with us. So cool.

I will probably post more sometime on the Jewish customs and traditions that we have begun to explore a little more lately. My church history course has really revealed to me why we stopped all of those feasts and customs around 70 AD. All I will say for now is that it wasn't because the Scirptures told us to. I have really begun to feel that Paul is quite misunderstood. It had a lot more to do with persecution, rejection and retreat. I know all of this must sound crazy, but I have randomly met so many people lately who are realizing these same things.

For those of you who are so wise to realize this isn't the actual time for Passover we realize that. This seder is happening at our church actually with about 30 people from one of our adult Sunday School classes... we are doing another one at the actual time at a friend's home... not that I would have know the difference.
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Friendship, Intimacy & Community

I had a rough day. I don't know what it was. It was my off day and it started out well. I spent some time in the Word. I spent some time with Kelly. I started to work on our taxes and then something hit me. I just felt lonely, alone, isolated.

It has been interesting to see those feelings arising often in me lately. It seems that I have been very analytical when it comes to friendship lately. I feel like my friends are sick of me. I feel like they have met their quota. I feel like I have overstayed my welcome in their life. It only takes misunderstood comment, an unintentional look or a "feeling" to set me off on my self-loathing. Joe and Heidi couldn't come over tonight (Heidi has been home sick for 2 weeks until today), but Benji and Sarah came. I made it through dinner and finally blurted some of my feelings out towards the end. I don't know what I expected. I just felt I had to be real. I had to share my intense drive towards intimacy by being vulnerable and intimate. I had to lay it on the line.

I quickly felt like retreating, but opted to talk longer instead, there was little said in response. Sarah shared some encouragement, Benji went and got the guitar, Kelly and I started cleaning up and I slipped away to the Master bathroom to sit in darkness on the stool and catch my breath (pants up and on). I regrouped and heard a knock on the bedroom door. I flushed the toilet instinctively to cover up my regrouping session and saw Benji. He shared a lot of thoughts from Scripture for about 45 minutes+ as I sat and listened.

Then we prayed.

The Lord revealed to be during prayer that intimacy, community, friendship and vulnerability are all great things that He created and values, but that I often tend to place them over Him. I often get to the point that I lift my earthly friendships over my heavenly relationship. I prioritize those I can see over the One who lives inside of me. I recognized the sin. I repented to God and Benji. I asked the Lord to be my love, my heart's desire, my one true aim. I asked Him to capture me. I asked Him to make Jeremiah 29:12-14 be more real to me... that as I seek Him I will find Him, when I seek Him with all my heart!

I love my friends, but I worry too much about what they think about me, about what I do, about how I act. Classic low self-esteem case, but also classic "eyes not on the right thing" case. My eyes need to be on Jesus, not others. He needs to fill my need for intimacy and friendship and then allow my other friendships to benefit from the overflow. This is probably one of the most raw and embarrassing entries I have written.

Sometimes I feel like I am just too complicated. I usually feel like everyone else feels that way. Who am I to question God's creation? It seems like self-hatred is probably a sin. Psychologists probably wouldn't tell me that, but it seems the Scripture screams it.

Set my eyes on you Lord.
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Upward Up Yours!

I have been directing or co-directing Upward Basketball and Cheerleading at our church for four full years now. The year before I moved here they had 249 kids in the league. All of the leadership team moved away. I moved here 4 months before the season began and thought that it might be a cool thing to be involved in. 450 kids signed up that year. I was overwhelmed. I was working 70 hour weeks (no lie) regularly to try and pull it off and deal with the demands of a growing youth ministry. It was crazy!... but I survived.

The next year we had 681 kids and I was swimming once again. I basically put my youth ministry on hold for a couple of months to attempt to deal with this massive beast. Half way through the year I looked at my finances and realized I could have hired someone to work 10-15 hours a week to take some of the load off my shoulders, which I did... the following year. That year we had 850 kids sign up as I trained Heidi to transition into leadership. We hired her officially as a secretary I guess (she claims I told her that... hahaha), but the role developed into that of Director. I really took that primary role that year as Heidi learned the ropes, but she rocked it out this year with over 925 kids in the league and me assisting her from the sidelines. It has been an enormous blessing to have Heidi relieve me of this enormous pressure and free me to pursue other outlets of ministry.

Yesterday (Tuesday, March 15th) was Awards night. This thing is huge. It is this gargantuan experience that dominates a couple weeks of the year in preparation and is over in less than a couple of hours. There are hundreds of door prizes, amazing entertainment, individual awards for every player and tons of fun. The numbers have grown from 1500 or so my first year to closer to 2300 this year. This was to be my first year as the primary "right-hand" man to Heidi as the leader, but then she got sick.

Heidi is pregnant. She got a viral illness two Mondays ago, but I thought she would get better. On Thursday she went into the hospital and I began to panic. I worked on the Awards Night the rest of that day. On Friday 32 of the youth group took off on a trip to Muncie, Indiana for ATF (my teens pressured me into it). After no sleep and a lot of draining activity I got into bed in Findlay at 1am Sunday, woke up at 7, went to church, worked on Upward in the afternoon, went to the Core (leadership teens), worked on Upward at Heidi's vacant house (all the stuff was on her home computer), went to small group, returned to work on Upward, rolled into bed at 2:30am, rolled out at 9:00, worked on Upward all day, set-up 2400 chairs etc at 6pm, went home to work on stuff that I transferred onto my computer (which I just got back from the shop... out a week... that really hurt... roughly 160 e-mails... 110 were junk mail), worked on Upward until 4:30am, woke up at 8:30, met folks at the Venue at 9:00, was there until 10pm (except for a 1/2 hour shave and change clothes break).

Are you serious!?!?!? This is not a life meant for anyone. I was talking to a friend tonight and he said he had been really busy, but a good busy. I told him I didn't think there was such a thing. I hate how we immortalize business in our culture. I hate how I am a slave to it. I hate that the only way we know to "evangelize" is through a program that spans 5 exhasting months, costs $60 per child, and has shown little evangelistic impact in the life of our church. We are a slave to it. It is a great program. It is the best in town, even though the YMCA program has been around for 50+ years. We have tunnels the kids run through, we have smoke machines, we have the Chicago Bulls intro song, we have adjustable rims for all ages, we have equal playing time, we have an individual award after every game. We do great things for kids. We build up their self-esteem, we develop their character and we introduce them to Jesus. We do really great things, and the results seem good:
Over 250 Kids Accepted Christ last night
Over 30 Adults Accepted Christ last night
Over 60 of those are unchurched
Over 40 others marked that they are looking for a church home
Tons more adults raised their hand after the dynamic, pointed, bold salvation invitation. I would guess 150 did. When he asked those same people to stand up for their faith, about 60-75 did that! The others quickly and sheepishly put their hands down. Great stuff. Great results. But...

Is this the best way, or is this our way. Do we have to compete with Grey Y (the YMCA league) to win families to Christ? The vicious cycle I see is that a HUGE program like this reaches people in mass, while distracting us from the natural opportunities we have to live Christ in front of our neighbors on a daily basis, reaching them relationally. I know that Jesus spoke to 5000+ at one sitting, but one of the greatest insights I ever heard about that was that Jesus didn't go running after them. They came to Him. They came running to Him. Following Him. Seeking Him. He didn't have a program. He didn't even use pizza... or any food. He had to take that from the offering of a little boy, because the crowd came to Him, because they were drawn to the man, not His "program".

Reality: If our church stops Upward many people would be angry. It could potentially cripple our church. Our people have become proud of it. The community has become proud of us. The other churches look to us and HEAVILY rely on us to get this work done. Heidi and I are really the only two who understand what is really all going on in the league.

I don't know what all this means. Do we keep doing it forever, even as our church has decided to move to relational living, rather than programattic living? Do we phase our role out of it and allow it to survive? Do we keep doing it as a community service, and just do a better job at developing relationships through it? I don't know the answer. I am not as cynical as I sound, but I am really tired. I do need to go to bed and stop whining and I do love that line that Eric gave me over 3 years ago. He said, "James when you answer the phone say 'Upward Up Yours!".

Now that it funny.
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The Church Without Walls

One of my closest brothers in Christ, Craig, gave me this book in 1998. For those of your who are counting that was 7 years ago, which is also a little over one fourth of my lifespan. I had picked it up a couple of times, read what Craig wrote in the inside cover numerous times, got through the first chapter a few times, but never really dove in... but it always rose to the top of the heap when I chose a new book to read. If I took three books to the bedroom it was often one of them, but always lost in the final cut.

Well, my master's class... Historical Foundations of Ministry changed all of that. It was actually one of the assigned texts for the class and I had to write a reflection paper on it. It pumped me up so much that I have read the entire amount of two of my books for this class and the majority of the third, which is far more than I have ever done for a class before (except in Rick Ryding's classes which were always Nouwen books, whether the class was on Curriculum Design or Church Administration... thank you Rick!).

The cool thing is that I knew why the Lord had me wait. I knew why he allowed my taste for this book to brew a few years. I wasn't ready. I simply wasn't ready. The Lord has changed me so much this past year, that this church history class, has rocked my world. To see where we have come from, where we have strayed and how that plays out in what we call church today is painful. At the same time it gives me hope. I look at all these "characters"; the church fathers, the monks, the reformers, the modern day megachurch guys... and I fell a lot more connected to them now and a lot less bitter... I think. I see folks who sincerely wanted to see the Kingdom of God advanced and set out to do it the best they knew how. I see guys with hearts of gold. I see guys with lives of discipline. I see guys who seem like spiritual superheros. At the same time, I see guys who generally went back only so far in their reforms, they built off what they knew, what they were raised in. In Jim Petersen's book, The Church Without Walls, he calls for something more. He calls us to debunk all the clutter of the past 1950 years and get back to the early days, the days of Scripture, the days of the Apostles, the days when the gospel was fresh. He calls us to start there. To lay our foundation from the stones of the teachings of Jesus and reclaim some of the major elements of church we have lost. He calls us to community. He calls us to life as a body, in a body and with our body of believers.

I dig it. I buy into it, but it isn't because Jim Petersen wrote it. It is because God has been stirring this in mine and Kelly's life for a year and a half, and he has been stirring it up in the lives of those around us (Benji & Sarah, Joe & Heidi, Dave & Kathy, Hal & Louise, Pastor Mike & Vicki and many many more). He prepared me for this book. God laid the foundation in my life to be able to process all Jim said, to be able to process all history had to tell me, to be able to process where this may lead my family someday.

Sometimes I tell Kelly that it feel like God has made it more difficult on us by opening our eyes to all that He has in the past five years. He could have left us alone. He could have allowed us to be more wrapped up in the institution of the Church than we are wrapped up in Him. He could have let us live our lives contently blind to many of the truths unveiled to us. It seems like we would have been happier, more peaceful, more tranquil... if you will.

But... I know better. Thank you Lord for opening our eyes. Thank you Lord for revealing yourself to us in new ways. Thank you Lord for sending Mark, Rick, Eric, Craig, Jeff, my parents, Melanie, Andrew, Chris, all those mentioned above, and many more into our lives to shape them in dramatic ways. Many have played a part and many more will. Thank you for constantly reminding me that I don't get anything yet, that I am still learning to walk in your ways in an new way everday. Thank you Lord. It sure is fun.

P.S. I really have been going to bed early. I repent about this late posting. I played basketball really late tonight.
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Childbirthing Pains

I am experiencing childbirthing pains and they hurt really bad. As I try to help raise these teens the Lord has entrusted me with it is often so painful. Tonight, at 11:00pm my phone rang. It was one of my teens. This teen has some of the greatest potential to change a school that I have seen in anyone. They are fun-loving, outgoing, extremely popular, good looking, athletic, musical and in addition to all that pretty humble and very nice to everyone.
This teen has a natural draw to God. They randomly showed up at our church a couple months after I had come here because their parents had stopped going to church and they wanted to go somewhere. A couple of weeks later their parents started coming and in the last couple of years numerous teens have come due to their invitation, including some of my strongest student leaders.
The popularity factor has led to an ongoing struggle the past 2 years as they desire to please God, but are so drawn to please their friends. The cool thing is that this teen is always so often about these struggles and always tells me what they are and how intense their failures have been.
Well, the past couple of months have been great. There has been evident growth in many areas of their life. Last Wednesday we had an awesome talk after youth group and covered some intense struggles they are dealing with. On Friday we went to lunch and I talked bluntly about their potential and how I didn't want them to look back 5 years from now and wish they hadn't wasted the opportunity they had in high school to impact so many lives. They agreed and we decided that we needed to start meeting: This teen, me and at least 1 of their friends. They talked to their friend and told me all about it on Saturday. We were pumped about the possiblity of what lied around the corner and then...

Temptation rolled in.
A Bad Decision.
A Worse Decision.
A Harsh Fall.
A Difficult Call (to me).

It is so sad. It is so difficult. This teen it broken and torn up over this and I am too. I should have see it coming. I should have been able to tell that Satan would launch an all out assault. I should have forseen the battle. I should have...but I didn't . Instead we went separate ways on Saturday evening, about 6pm, and I didn't even pray a word of protection over them.
Youth ministry... all minstry probably... can really make you feel inadequate. It can really make you feel like a failure. It can really make you feel unspiritual and un-Spirit-led. It just seems that if I was walking in the Spirit I would have had discernment that evening. Instead this teen is left with scars and I am left trying to find a way for healing to begin in the midst of confession and retribution.

I would call all of this birthing pains. As I am trying to give birth to mature Christians it really hurts to push them so hard. It feels like most of them like it in the womb and don't want to come out. They are comfortable. They are safe. They can't be touched by anyone... and they can't touch anyone else's life. And then, just when I have one trying to get out, ready to get out, wanting to get out... they get stuck...

and that hurts.
It hurts them.
It hurts me.
and I imagine it hurts every woman reading this just to think about that.
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What's Blogging?

I think I temporarily forgot about blogging the past couple of weeks. I don't just mean I forgot to post. I mean that I completely forgot blogging existed. I didn't post. I didn't read other's posts. I didn't even think about reading other's posts and then choose not to. I forgot. That is so wierd, because I had become a daily peruser of my friends blogs.

I think it all began when I realized I had to kick it into high gear for my Master's class weekend Feb. 3-4. I had a lot to write. Way more to read and a long 3 days of class (not to mention the 3rd was my wife's B-day and I had to make the 2 hour trek back home for the surprise celebration for her only to head back the next morning. 6 hours driving in 24 hours time... I actually enjoy that kind of stuff.). I think that all the commotion and motion threw me off and jostled me from my new routine of being refreshed by my friend's blogs.

Today I saw a short video on-line and one of the guests wrote a book about how blogging is changing the world we live in. It woke me from my slumber and I began to surf. Eric had written more in the past two weeks, than he had in a few months (including an awesome quote from his pal's blog concerning fasting... which I read to my community tonight after dinner). Kevin had been bogging away at his normal, good, regular, quality pace. Others had done the same. So... I caught up on my reading, thought I would explain my absence and now I am done... almost...

Life has been sweetly complicated lately. I thought there was a decent chance two of my best friends were moving here, but they aren't. My pastor and church are moving in a unique, very exciting, very decentralized, very fresh, very deprogrammed direction, but I wish it were here now, instead of way down the road. My community who eats together still does so, but feels like it needs some juice, some life, some challenge, some spark, some passion... or maybe it is fine and I just need that inside. My "job" feels good right now, I like what is happening in the group, I like my role, I like where we are headed, but I want more... of something. My mind is active with fresh vision/new ideas/hungering for passion/desiring adventure, but I feel that I must wait, rather than pursue these things.

Basically, I feel called to be where I am at, and yet something lurks and draws me to something else. That "something" could be here or not here, it could be soon or far away, it could be God-motivated or self-motivated, it could anything. What it is for now is a feeling. I can't wait to find out what it is, when it is and where it is... even if the "something" is here. That part doesn't matter as long as God will give me more passion, more fire, more freedom, more of Him and more of His Vision.
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Busy Day

6:00 Out the Door
7:30 Toledo Hospital Heart Transplant for Friend from church... delayed until 9:50
10:00 Hang out with the other church friends visiting
10:30 Leave St. V's
11:30 Meet with Friend Dave C. for lunch
1:15 Meet with Youth Worker/Friend Mary to discuss youth, etc.
2:30 Begin hour long phone conversation with youth worker/friend
3:30 Discourgaing Conversation with friend
4:00-7:00 Staring at computer, trying to type something creative, returning calls, doing "busy work", totally drained from day full of constant go, discouraged from last encounter, quite sad

7:00 Phone conversation with that friend
7:30 Dinner date with KELLY!
Good Day

The only problem... I think that 13 hour work days are retarded. That is lost time. I don't get time and a half. I don't get comp time. I can work 7 thirtenn hour days in one week and no one would notice the difference. There is always something that still needs to be done, someone who could use a call, one more thing to write, print or copy.

I had gotten really good at going home at a decent time and respecting my family time, but I have had three of these days in two week, not to mention one weekend retreat, one overnight meeting and now a three day class next week.

Perhaps this is not simple stuff.
Perhaps this is not simple enough.
Perhaps my community gets discouraged from me being gone so much.
Perhaps my wife gets discouraged by the same thing.
Perhaps I need to think about this a little more and act on it a lot more.
Perhaps the hard part its what to give up
Perhaps it is simply returnig to the discipline of in early and out on time.

We both want me to finish my Master's now, before the adundance of kids comes our way, so we will press on. I must relearn the balance...

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The Sermon

It has been a couple of weeks since the sermon, but that isn't due to shock or embarrassment. It is due to the demands of time.

The message of the day was simple... we are called into a LOVE RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS. The difficult/scary/nerve-wracking/peaceful in a wired sort of way thing was that the way this was delivered in the two services was similar in nature, but radically different in not only where we ended up, but how we got there.

The best way to summarize what the Lord did is this... after the first service I was approached by several people who shared some way that the message had touched them. The interesting thing is that what they shared was vastly different. . The first service definitely headed toward a call to the love Jesus and love HIS BODY. I talked a lot about my adopted Grandma Dorothy who passed away that week and how she totally, radically changed my life... simply through her love relationship with Christ that radiated from her. I ended up talking about about mentoring and modeling a lot, but mostly about how our love for Jesus should be so evident that anyone and everyone in our church should be able to see it.

The second service the same thing happened. The sermon clearly took a different path and a different emphasis at the end, but it was very similar in the focus on loving Jesus. In fact that is what it was all about. Can others see that you are clearly utterly in love with Jesus? ... the way I saw it in Grandma Dorothy? The same reaction occurred, lots of conversations afterwards, sharing lots of different ways the message spoke to them.

Now I know that this happens in every sermon. Different folks get different things out of it, but this really was way more drastic and way different than that. It felt to me as if Jesus came into that place and guided my words even more than He ever had before. It felt as if He walked through our church family and sat down beside each person and shared some time with them. It was as if He personally invited each person into a deeper, more intimate, more sincere, more obvious love relationship with Him. It was as if He Was There!

I have seen people cry in a sermon before, but never like this. A few people commented on the same thing, that they had never seen such a large amount a congregation moved in that way. Young adults, senior adults, teens and all those in between... there were so many in tears. I promise that the only explanation I could come to was that Jesus was there in a very real way and when we encounter our Christ in that intimate of a setting it moves us. The words of the sermon disappear and face of Jesus takes center stage as He draws us into his arms.

I'm sorry if this doesn't make a lot of sense. It is late. I played too much basketball tonight, so I am a little dizzy right now, but I wanted to get this out, to share some thoughts on that sermon, to stop leaving you hanging from my last post.

The Lord really stretched me through this. It was so amazing to me how the use of my gift broke me, stretched me and molded me, while He used it to do the same in others. I was really broken and stretched during that week, even that morning I felt tense when I awoke and realized He was actually sending me up to the pulpit with what He had given me and no more. This journey with Jesus really stretches me so many times, but He knows that when He doesn't do that I get lazy, so I guess I will trust Him, and journey on.

I love Jesus...
but I want to be In Love with Him so much more.
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