Personal or story

What Mission Trips Have Taught Me

This July I am planning to go on a mission trip to Utah. Whenever someone goes on a mission trip with my church, they are required to full out a questionnaire.  This questionnaire includes general information, bu it also is designed to make you think about the upcoming trip with questions like "What do you hope to see God accomplish during this trip?" and things like that. One of the questions is, "what previous mission trips have you taken and what lessons did you learn on these trips?"

Although I have never been on a mission trip outside of the US I have been many places on mission and done many things on those trips.  I thought I would share some of those lessons with you here on my blog.  This is really more than I have room for on a form at church.  So without any further ado, here are 11 lessons I have learned on mission trips to Washington & Oregon, Memphis, New Orleans, Kenosha WI, New Hampshire & Massachusetts, and Pearlington MS.

1. You will probably have experiences with the native wildlife.


2. The ability to make balloon animals will make you very popular


3. Not just anybody can rock a plastic visor


4. You better like playing cards or dominoes, because once the day's work is done there is nothing else to do. You will be playing cards.


5. Take lots of pictures, because one day in the future you may want to write a blogpost about all the stuff you learned and the points that have pictures are much more interesting than the ones without. (Seriously though, pictures are great because you will want to report to the people back at your church what it was like and pictures convey more than most of us are able to convey with words.)

6. Even if, like me, you have no actual discernible skills, you can always find some way to help.


 7. Pretty much wherever you are going, [especially if you are going to the deep south] sunscreen & bug spray will be your friends.

8. Working alongside others you will probably come to know the meaning of Christian fellowship in a new way


9. Flexibility is extremely important, you almost always wind up doing things you didn't previously plan on


10. You will probably have to eat weird food or food you don't like. Just suck it up, it won't hurt you (probably)


11. There is nothing  better for personal revival than a week or a vacation, or a summer spent serving others whether it is witnessing to them, trying to lead them to eternal life, or whether it is a work project and service of some sort.

Do something: Weight loss, goals, and the future

Does it look like I stepped straight out of Saved By the Bell?
Does it look like I stepped straight out of Saved By the Bell?

With the exception of 11-12th grades, I have been fat my whole life.  I have not always been extremely fat, but I have always been fat.  I was deeply convicted by an article I read around the new year, that essentially said it’s not what you think that matters, but what you do. With that in mind, I decided it’s time to actually DO some things. One of those things that I need to do is lose weight. I am obviously unhealthy.

With that in mind, whenever I learned of a city-wide weight-loss challenge, with a grand prize of 1000 dollars, I decided to do it. (It helped that I had some goodfriends also planning to participate)  That was 8 weeks ago and I have been eating healthy and exercising every day since.  I have had a lot of success during this period.  I have lost more than 30 pounds. I wore pants today that I could barely fit into a month ago. I am down 2 notches on my belt.  I have lost enough that pretty much everyone I know and see on a somewhat regular basis has acknowledged it and encouraged me. I now weigh less than I have since college.

Eight weeks is a long time when you are working hard, but ultimately it's not that long of a time. During this period I have hung on to every possible milestone and goal for encouragement.  Since week three, though, one thing has really driven me - the thought that I might actually win a thousand bucks.

It is 8 weeks later and I am substantially thinner. I am going to have to buy some new clothes soon. But I am still a load. Even though I won a prize (not the grand prize), if I put the weight back on, it would be a waste.  It would be a real shame to let 8 weeks of work and 30 pounds less of me go to waste, so I have to consider the future and more weight loss.

My goal is not to be all ripped, I’m not planning to run a marathon (ever), I don’t want to set records for leanness or win any body-building contests. I just want to weigh less than 200 and be able to climb a flight of stairs without panting. I ate very badly the day the prizes were announced, and the next day for that matter, but I also rode the bike on those days.

Now I’m back at it.  I just don’t have the frenzy of a deadline and a cash prize driving me.  So I have to have goals to be encouraged by. Here are the next few:

  • I have this one shirt that I want to be able to wear in public comfortably. It was free, it’s a 2x, and I don’t even like it that much. But it’s a brand name and the sizes are very small, so wearing it would be a victory. (I squeezed into it the other day but I would not have been comfortable)
  •  When I get to 215, my BMI changes from the obese category to overweight. That’s still a way off,  and will surely be a struggle. Weight gets harder to lose the more you lose.
  • Under 200 pounds. That will feel like a victory of victories and then I try to transition into maintain mode.
Before & after
Before & after

I have no idea if I'll be able to keep going, and actually weigh under 200. That is still a very long way away. For all I know, by the middle of May I'll get tired of exercising and begin heading back towards being a huge fat guy. I always have been; I don’t really know anything different.  I genuinely hope that doesn't happen.

People keep asking me if I feel better.  The answer is yes, but not the way people mean. Physically there's not much difference. I never have heartburn, but otherwise pretty much everything is the same. Very often my left knee still hurts. I still never want to get out of bed in the morning and I still want a nap just about every day.  However, psychologically the boost is incredible. I’ve always been fat. I sort of feel like, if I can do this, I can do anything. It’s ridiculous, I know. But this has been very hard and the accomplishment very encouraging.

I’ll leave you with some encouragement, I hope:

Once you have some success, once you can see results and others see results you want to keep going. Right now I want to wear that one shirt more than I want to be lazy and eat a whole pizza. It is hard. I never actually want to start pedaling the bike & I NEVER want to do stomach crunches. But it is worth it…so far. So, umm, do something.

Ride the bike while you watch TV.

Eat less.

Move more.

Or don't. Do whatever you want. why should you listen to some jerk on the internet?

weight-loss faces
weight-loss faces

A New Venture

Way back in March of 2008 I began this blog by saying, “starting a blog is tantamount to saying what the world needs is more of me and my opinion.” I rarely blog anymore. Not even once a month. So somehow it feels like the world is just not getting enough of me. ;)Since the world is not getting enough of me, and since I do have a need to teach that is not being fulfilled to the degree that I would like, and since one of my friends is quite persistent, I have started a podcast.

The podcast is called UnApologetic, and you can find it on the nascent podcast network.  The goal is for each episode is for me to answer a question submitted by a listener.  The introductory episode is up and very soon the second will be up.  You can find it here (here is the link on iTunes)

This is my first attempt at something like this. Consequently there are plenty of issues with this first “real episode.”  I really belabored my point a couple of times, missed some facts and, most significantly, I need to learn to moderate my tone. I will get better.

In order to get better though, I need questions.  If I’m going to keep answering one question per episode, I need more questions.

I am actually quite gifted at making difficult things simpler.  I hope that by listening I can clarify thingsm I also hope that I can help strengthen your faith .

Here is what I’m asking from you: -Listen to it -Forgive my mistakes. (I’ll work on them) -If you are using iTunes, rate the show -Send me questions -If you have graphic design skills, donate me some cover art or a logo

If I self-publish, does that make me a writer?

My goalToday is November 1.  November is NaNoWriMo.  You may remember that last year I began writing a book in November, and even though it’s not a novel (it is one of my apologetics lectures expanded into book form) I used the prompts from NaNoWriMo as motivation.  I never finished my book though.  I have written approximately 10 percent and I have someone who has agreed to edit it for me.  I see no reason why I cannot be finished with the entire draft stage before the month is over.  With that said, this November I don’t necessarily have the goal of finishing, but I do plan on making progress every single day of the month, including Thanksgiving. Feel free to keep me accountable towards my goal.  Text me, tweet me, leave a comment here, whatever.

My Question

Even though my book is still pretty nascent, I have considered what to do when I finish. Should I submit it to a traditional publisher, or should I have it self-published?  As I see it, there are only four advantages to traditional publishing

1.  Approval – If a traditional publisher agrees to use the resources that publishing a book requires then it means that somebody (who should know) thinks I am worth publishing.  In my estimation, this is the number one reason by a long way. In my mind, even though this is the number one reason, successful sales of the book would make this reason obsolete. 2.  Promotion - Since the company has a financial interest in the success of the book, they would have a reason to promote it.  Also, since it’s their business,  they have the know-how and resources to make it financially successful. 3.  Editing – I have someone who has agreed to edit my book and I am planning to pay her.  If a company agreed to publish the book they would have their own editor to and it would save me some money.  Speaking of money… 4.  Getting paid  - I am certain that I would make less money by going through a traditional publisher.  I am also sure I will not be happy about what happens with the rights to the book.  I am also pretty sure that I would be on the losing end of a contract.  However, there is no up-front cost.  Self publishing, at least if I decide to have print copies made, is very expensive on the front end.

That’s it, that’s the list.  And really, if I am honest, the first reason is the only reason that would motivate me to seek out traditional publishing.  In every other way I think self publishing is better.  I keep the rights, I can do what I please with it.  I will make more money if it actually generates sales.  If I were already a published author, this would not even be a question for me.  I would self-publish.

I know that technology has changed the world, and publishing is one of the areas where the impact is strongest.  There is no need to go through a traditional publisher, but if my book is self-published, I feel as if I am being dishonest by saying I am a published author.  (There is one post on this blog that has been read several thousand times and only received positive comments, so it’s not as if I have had no success at writing. It just doesn’t feel the same)

I know I often beg for comments, but I would really love to know your thoughts on this. Especially if you have been published before.

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My experience with Avastin shots pt 3: What the injections were like

This is part 3, if you want to read what led me to the point of needing these injections read yesterday’s post.  If you are squeamish about things touching your eyeball this is your pre-warning.  When you come to the actual warning, stop reading! After 3 months of observation and very little improvement, my ophthalmologist referred me to a retinal specialist.

Crazy eyes

The pre-exam stuff

I will now recount to you the events of my first visit to the retinal specialist.  It began with a battery of stuff, dilation, tests, and at least 3 types of images taken, one involving dye administered through an IV.

The exam

When the doctor came in, he examined me just as you would imagine, by shining a bright light in to my eye.  It has been a long time, but I will try and quote him directly.

He said, “You have a scar on your retina and a lot of blood vessel growth which is causing fluid to leak.  It is idiopathic, which just means we don’t know why it is occurring.  It looks like the wet type of macular degeneration, but you are way too young for that.  It is similar to histoplasmosis, but you don’t have the other symptioms of that.  We are going to treat it by giving you a series of injections.” “Injections?  In my eye?  Whoa." “Yes.  We are using a drug called Avastin.  It is actually a cancer drug most often used for treatment of colon cancer.  Your insurance will probably not cover it because it is not FDA approved for this purpose but I have done hundreds of these, and it is the best treatment.  It will stop the growth of the blood vessels, which will hopefully make the fluid stop leaking.  You should get back some of your vision.  It will never be like it was before, but you should see improvement.”

That was it, the bomb was dropped.  A man I had met 10 minutes earlier was planning to literally stick a needle in my eye.  I was freaked out.  I don’t know what I was expecting when I went, but it was not that. The injection I went to a room to prep for the injection.  The prep basically consists of a multitude of drops.  All these drops are designed to numb your eye so that you cannot feel the actual injection.  This is probably a 30 minute process.  After you are sufficiently numb here’s how it goes.

*You will want to stop reading here if you are squeamish*


These are the devices used to torture me

*seriously I’m warning you*

A swab of some sort of disinfectant is applied.  Then the lid-spreader is put in.  (I don’t know if there is a technical name for this device, but it is a metal clip that goes under your top and bottom eyelids to make closing your eye impossible.)  While the lid-spreaders are in, you will very much want to blink.  You cannot.  It is not a pleasant experience.

This all moves very quickly.

None of this seems particularly gentle. (especially considering that it is your eye)

The doctor waves his hand and says look here.  (I was getting the injection in my right eye so this was somewhere off to my left.) Then while you are looking, he gives you the injection…directly into your eyeball.


You cannot actually feel the needle pierce your eye, but there is no question whatsoever of when it went down.

You can see the medicine enter. It looks like dropping a few drops of food coloring into a glass of water.

Then they take the spreaders out

That’s it. It is awful!

But it is not the most awful thing ever.   And as you keep reading you will see that it is worth it. I had 3 injections.  On one occasion, when the needle went in, everything went black.  It was frightening for me, but the doctor and nurse were both not concerned.  That was comforting, but I was in mild freak-out mode.  If I had known beforehand that that sometimes occurred I would have been less likely to freak out. (That’s why I’m telling you now.) My vision came back within a minute or two.  It returned slowly like an old-school television turning on. The aftermath

I have a close friend who is my age and has also had several of these shots.  She would corroborate this experience.

Although only getting a shot in your eyeball, you will feel terrible for the entire day.  First of all, your eye is incredibly itchy and watery.  Sometimes it is also achy.  Putting ice on it helps.  This is going to last until you wake up the next morning and it may last into the next day.  Don’t plan a big day.

I feel that maybe I haven’t said that strongly enough.  Your eye will be VERY itchy and achy.

For me , the itchiness lasted a few days but it was much more tolerable after day 1. You get a really neat floater.  It’s a bubble in your eyeball juice.  One time I had 2 bubbles.  If you can center the bubble right in the middle of your vision so you can look through it, it is like a giant magnifying glass. For me the bubble lasted as long as 3 days. Get ready to wear your glasses.  I wear my contacts 99.9% of the time when I’m not at home, but I was not allowed to wear them for a week after each shot. The results For me the results are miraculous.  I can now see 20/25 in my right eye.  And although I can still see the scar, I could easily pass the drivers license eye test.  I can shoot, I can read with only my right eye, and I can do everything I could do before.  Your brain has an amazing way of combining the vision from both eyes so that I never notice the scarred place.  The only time my vision is ever a problem is in fine detail work.  Sometimes it takes a few tries to get the fishing line through the eye of the hook, etc. getting a shot in your eyeball is truly a horrible experience, but I would do it again.  In fact I would get a hundred shots for the results I have received.

Other thoughts As you can imagine, it is not cheap to visit a doctor whose sole job is to know about and treat one part of your eyeball and your insurance will probably not cover it.  It is worth whatever it costs. I’m not trying to disturb anyone with this.  I really wish I had some concept of all this before I walked into the retinal specialist that first day.  My goal is just to let you know what I didn’t know.  I hope you find it helpful.  If so, let me know in the comments.

My experience with Avastin shots pt 2: Why the need

How it all started It started simply enough.  Approximately 2 years ago I noticed an artifact in the vision of my right eye.  I would describe it as similar to the blind spot you get after looking at a bright light except that it persisted.  I ignored it for a while, then I began to notice that things were also looking warped.  So I made an appointment with my optometrist.

My optometrist dilated my eyes, examined me, and was clearly very concerned.  She referred me to an ophthalmologist that same day.  He diagnosed me with a fuch’s spot or a lacquer crack and said that in all likelihood there was nothing that could be done.  For a while he simply observed me. It got much worse.

The effects My retina hemorrhaged and made a large blood pool. It was very near the center of my vision and so I was functionally blind in my right eye for a period of months. After the blood pool mostly dissolved there was significant leakage of eyeball juice*, and a severely warped / blind place in my central vision.   To illustrate how blind I was, when I went to renew my driver’s license I couldn’t pass the eye test.  So I had to get a waiver from my optometrist.  At that point I could only see the biggest E (20/200) on the eye chart.

Retinal scar

How it felt

I do not mean physically, how did it feel.  There was no pain.  I never experienced any discomfort with my eye whatsoever during this entire process so far.  Unless you count the dilation and bright light being shone in repeatedly every 2 weeks over the course the observation.  There are no nerve endings in the retina, consequently there was no pain.

However, over this period of a couple of months I did have to come to terms with having no vision in one eye.  It was a sort of odd grieving that is hard to explain.  I wasn’t disabled in any real way.  I could still read and drive, and function in every way that I could previously, but I still had to come to terms with it.

Just when I felt that I was coming to terms with this loss of vision, I remember picking up a gun, and realizing that I could never shoot again, or that I would have to learn to shoot left- handed.  This realization kick-started the whole spiral of depression and dealing with loss all over again.

I am not saying this in order to earn pity.  I am just reporting what I experienced.  This grieving over the loss of my eyesight is at least as significant as any pain that I incurred with the injections.

Speaking of Avastin injections, you want to know what they were like don't you?  I know, I know that’s why you are still reading this ridiculously long post.

That part comes tomorrow.  Click here.

* I know it's not called eyeball juice but it's a funnier word than fluid and this topic needs some levity.  Even though ocular fluid is called humour it is not funny at all.

A Tragedy, the Gospel, and My Peace of Mind

Oh great another gospel post.  Is this guy obsessed or something?…One of the things I do to work out my thoughts is to write about them.  You don’t have to read, but I appreciate it when people do read.  Feel free to comment. A tragedy:

Recently there was a tragedy in my life.  One of my coworkers, Ed, died.  He literally just fell over dead while at work.  He was 46 years old, and though he was not in great health, nobody expected  him to die.  I have worked alongside him for over 2 years.  He was possibly the most likeable person I have ever known.  I can’t imagine who he wouldn’t get along with.

When a thing like that happens there is a cycle of emotions that you go through.  I believe that emotions are mostly outside our control.  They happen at a visceral level. Emotions are why fear or phobias have a hold on us even though we understand that they make no rational sense.  For me that gamut of emotions began with simple shock.  I could not really do my job effectively, and I was just stunned.  It is almost like every thought that is necessary to function properly is cut-off by this other thought, “I can’t believe it.”  That shock was followed by simple sadness.  I was sad because I’ll miss him and I was truly sad because his teenage boys no longer have a dad.

The Gospel:

All of that is really introduction for what I want to write about today.  The Gospel.  I know I write a lot about the message of the gospel. (Obvious confession; I don’t really write a lot about anything anymore)  There are two reasons I write on this subject often. Number one, because it is important.  The gospel changes lives.  Number two, I’m afraid that it is becoming hidden in church culture.  There are so many things we have put on top of the gospel that many people could not even tell you how it is that they were saved.   In fact, I think that many church people believe they need the gospel less and less as they live, as if the goal of the Christian life was to become more independent from God by doing less and less of "the bad stuff," and therefore, need the atonement even less.  This could not be further from the truth.  The closer we become to God the more we should realize how desperate we are for His grace.

I have shared this recently.  But I will now repeat myself.  The message of the gospel is this: God made us for fellowship with Him, but we cannot be in fellowship with Him because we are sinners and He is holy.  Because of sin, we deserve death and hell.  But because God loves us and wants that fellowship He made a way to restore it and for us to avoid the consequences of our sin. What is that way? Jesus, who is God, lived a sinless life, died for the sins of the world, and was resurrected.  In order for the gift of salvation to be effective you must, by faith, believe in this sacrifice on your behalf and ask Jesus to take control of your life.

My piece of mind:

As far as I am concerned this message is the most important thing I can tell anyone.  When you tell someone the story of the gospel you get different reactions. Some people will want to know immediately how they can accept this message.  Others will put you off.  They say, “I’ll deal with this later,” or “I’m not ready now.”  I have heard this many ways.  Once somebody who I had just witnessed to simply nodded and said, “Interesting.”  Our conversation ended there.

I once had an opportunity to have this conversation with Ed...and I changed the subject.  That’s right.  I was given the opportunity to witness to him and I failed, miserably.  I regret that, but it could have been so much worse.  I would be typing this now with the knowledge that I failed to tell him the most important thing I know.  The most important thing he would ever hear.  I would have nothing but doubts and a guilty conscience.  Nothing resembling peace of mind.

Fortunately that was not the last chance I ever got to have this conversation with Ed.  Later I took advantage of the opportunity to tell him the Gospel.  Not quite as pointed or succinctly as the paragraph above, but when our conversation was finished, I knew he understood.   I asked him simply, “Has there ever been a time in your life when you asked Jesus to be your savior?”  He nodded, and said yes. For me that conversation gives me great piece of mind.  At that point I can stop worrying about judging his behavior to see if this is the way a Christian should act. (I really want to write a whole paragraph here about church discipline and judging others.  Instead all you get is this parenthetical note.)  I can simply take his word as truth.  Because he told me yes, I can expect to see him again after the resurrection.

The same is true for almost all of my loved ones.  If I have known you long enough and we are more than simple acquaintances, then I have probably heard your testimony.  If you are reading this and that doesn’t describe you then tell me.  I would love to hear it.

Just Tell Them the Gospel

Yesterday I told you about an opportunity to share the gospel with a coworker.  He immediately left the room after making the comment that opened the door, so I was not able to share with him.  However, another coworker was.  And the path of the conversation was relayed to me shortly thereafter. The conversation quickly, almost immediately, became about what is and is not a sin.

I wish I could say this was the first time I ever heard a conversation go this way.  Many times I have seen conversations which should have been about the gospel turn into conversations about morality.  Is drinking wrong? What is the line you cross that becomes lust? So-and-so is a hypocrite.  You can believe in God and not go to church.  I have heard all these things repeatedly.  Those conversations are not necessarily bad.  However, if they distract from the Gospel they are a tragedy.

The person with the spiritual questions will almost always begin to turn a conversation this way.  It is natural.  They do it because they associate Christianity and morality.  They think it is where the conversation should go.  Also, I believe it allows them to feel better about their spiritual condition.  If we are all sinners and we all fail, then a conversation about how we disagree about what even is a sin makes them feel as if they are in the same boat with the rest of humanity.  Misery loves company, confusion does as well.  There is comfort in the confusion I suppose.  The problem is, this does not address their problem. A discussion of this type gives them no answers.  A discussion of sin or hypocrisy with a person who is not a Christ-follower is completely unhelpful.

Imagine this conversation.

Cletus says, “How do you get to the grocery, Joe?” “Well, I’ll tell you.  I always take the first left.” Joe replies. Cletus interrupts, “Jimbo says that there’s a lot of ways to go.  He thinks that the second left is the best way” “C’mon Cletus.  You know Jimbo gets lost wherever he goes.  My way is better” “He might get lost a lot, but so do you.  What makes your way so much better?”

Hopefully you can see that this conversation is not going to help Cletus get to the store.  Ultimately it is going to leave him unsatisfied.  He may find the store, but not because of his conversation with Joe.

This is a [probably overly distracting and unclear] analogy designed to illustrate the futility of focusing on the wrong thing.  Whether or not Jimbo gets lost a lot does not matter.  The question was, how do you get to the store?  It was not answered.  The most important thing is to answer the question.

Why does this happen so often?  Two reasons. Number one I already shared.  Lost people do not know the problem, they have a notion that morality and the afterlife are connected. So morality discussions seem to be the natural path for them.  Also there is comfort in feeling like everyone is confused.

Number two is confusion on the part of Christians.  Talk to some people in your church.  I will bet that many of them cannot clearly articulate the gospel.  And worse, many of them have also confused Christianity and moralism.

Briefly, the message of the gospel is this: God made us for fellowship with Him, but we cannot be in fellowship with Him because we are sinners and He is holy.  Because of sin, we deserve death and hell.  But because God loves us and wants that fellowship He made a way to restore it and for us to avoid the consequences of our sin. What is that way? Jesus, who is God, lived a sinless life, died for the sins of the world, and was resurrected.  In order for the gift of salvation to be effective you must, by faith, believe in this sacrifice on your behalf and ask Jesus to take control of your life.

That is the gospel message as briefly and clearly as I can state it.  You may notice that there is not one word about morality in that, other than to say that everyone sins and Jesus did not.  If I had been in the conversation with my coworker I guarantee he would have heard that message. Probably not that succinctly, but as clearly as I could make it while being sure that he understood.   I would have asked him if he had ever heard that message before, and if he had come to a place in his life where he had placed his faith in Christ.  I have no idea how he would have responded.  I only know that by allowing the conversation to become about morality the message of the gospel was lost.

If you are reading this and you think that the gospel is the same as moralism, go back and read that paragraph again, click through the scripture references.  There is nothing there about whether you can or cannot drink alcohol or how much money you give to the church or whether your neighbor kicks his dog or even whether you were baptized.  None of that. The gospel is about restoring sinners to fellowship with God.

When we have opportunities to share the gospel it is very important that we use them wisely.  With many people you may only get one opportunity.  GIVE THEM THE GOSPEL. Please don’t get sidetracked with moralism.

Opportunities to share

I am an ordained minister who has a secular job, so it is not unusual for coworkers who have spiritual questions to come to me.  But I learned years ago, long before I was a minster of the gospel, even before I considered going into the ministry, that if you are a Christian who lives out your Christianity, people will come to you with their spiritual questions. I also know that sometimes people have spiritual questions that they don’t really think are such.  Occasionally they think they are just making a joke about the afterlife or telling you about their debaucherous weekend or something like that.  However, it is necessary at all times for Christians to look for opportunities to share the gospel.  Those opportunities are more common than many people suspect, and there is nothing more important for that person than to hear the message.

Let me tell you about one of these opportunities

Recently a coworker made a joke about the weather that was much more than a joke.  His comment went something like this, “Wow it’s hot out there.  I better go to church Sunday.  If hell is supposed to be hotter than this I need to change my ways.”

For him this was a somewhat silly, throwaway comment.  He meant it as a joke - mostly.  But I know, and any believer knows, that there is more to a statement like that than pure jokiness.  It speaks to a knowledge built into all of us that we are incomplete.  A joke like this one is about much more than just the weather.  This is an opportunity to share the gospel.

I’d like for you to take a second and consider how you would have proceeded if presented with an opportunity to witness such as this.  What would you have said next?  Would you have at least recognized it as an opportunity to share the gospel?   Feel free to tell me in the comments how you would have responded.

He was literally walking out the door when he made this comment so I had no opportunity to reply, but the conversation continued with someone else.  I have another post about how this progressed planned for tomorrow.

By the way, if I had the opportunity I would have told him that I believe the Bible and that I actually do believe in hell and that it will be much more miserable than the weather right now.  I believe that this would have definitely led to an opportunity to share the gospel.

I will talk about that tomorrow.

A status report

Last August I found myself out of youth ministry.  And for the first time ever I began to consider not returning to church staff.  After a lot of prayer I decided to launch a new ministry. I decided that God had gifted me to be good communicator and that he had given me the freedom to try itinerant speaking.  So, in late September, I made it official.  I built a website and announced it to the world. At that time I thought a lot about what it would mean to have a successful ministry.  I thought about goals I have for how often I should speak.  What message I wanted to convey whenever I got the opportunity to speak, how much income I would consider successful, how much I could be absent from my own church and still be a part of that church.  I thought seriously through all these questions.

I will confess, though, that I thought very little about what it would mean to be a failure.  Maybe because I am just optimistic or maybe because that is a depressing thought and I don’t like thinking through depressing thoughts.  Whatever the reason, I had plenty of mental preparation for success and almost none for failure.

My ultimate goal was to earn enough money as an apologetic speaker to begin work on my PhD. This means that I would have to earn enough income to work less hours at my currently very full-time job at the restaurant.  I thought it would be possible since a couple of years ago I had a solidly booked calendar of speaking engagements and I was not even attempting to make a go at a ministry at that time.

I named this post “status report” so it’s time for a status report.

I’ll grade my success so far on a scale from 1 – 10.  On this scale 1 means “Nobody wants to hear you speak, you are a boring loser.  Stop wasting our time.”  10 means “You are the greatest.  You should never be in want of somewhere to speak.  In fact, you should be turning away invitations from international conferences of interesting speakers”

On this scale I am clearly around a 2, maybe if I’m feeling generous towards myself I’m at a 3.

It seems like the next logical question you should have for me would go something like this…

You’ve been at this for a year and you are only a 2, so why don’t you give up on this and go back to youth ministry?

Clearly I still have a passion for youth ministry.  I was depressed all week last week because I was not at youth camp with my church.  I am a regular volunteer in the youth group at Edgewood and I enjoy it very much.  I believe that I could be quite happy as a youth minister.  I was for many years.  The short answer is that I believe that God gave me the passion for this ministry.  Also I believe that it is a ministry that is badly needed in our churches.  So until God either changes my passion or speaks directly to me, I plan to keep at it.

I would love to help you out, how can I do that?

I would appreciate your prayers.  I am able to pay all my bills with my other job, it is the family business and there is some fulfillment in working there, but I will admit that the biggest source of discouragement in my life is that I am not successful at this ministry venture.  Please invite me to speak in your church, or tell your pastor that you would like to hear me speak.  I would love to do a defending the faith weekend, or speak at a d-now, or speak to your WMU.  And I’d be happy just to have the opportunity to fill the pulpit in the pastor’s absence.  I believe that my greatest path to success is to be heard.  I think that when people hear me, they will recommend me to others.  Also whenever a speaking engagement comes my way, it offers weeks of encouragement.  That is worth much more than the income it provides.

Another brief status report:  back in the winter I began writing a book.  I had the idea that I might sell said book when I had speaking engagements.  I wrote approximately 20% of it.  I have not written a single word on that book for over 2 months.  So I’d give that one a 2

A serious question - I could combine two of my passions if I were able to be a youth camp pastor for a week.  I think it would be great fun.  Does anybody know what the process is for becoming a Fuge or Student Life camp pastor?

The power of words

Before you read this post, take 6 and a half minutes to watch this TED talk.  It will be worth your time, I promise.  [youtube=]  When I watched it, it made me think about the power of words in my life.

There are negative words that hurt me now even though I am a grown man.  In fact there are some words that linger.  They still hurt even though they were spoken many, many years ago.  There are also words of encouragement that offer me great strength.  This experience is not unique to me. It is part of life.

The story from the video is probably a bit unique though, in that, it is a bit unusual for the words of a stranger to really hurt you or to have great effect on you.  The words that pack the most punch typically come from loved ones.  I can vividly remember something said when I was 15 that determined many decisions for the next few years for me.  That statement came from someone living in my house. And that is the way of it.  The words we say are powerful.  We can truly hurt someone with them and we can really build someone up with them.

In the video, the speaker refers to an event that he has forgotten.  To him it was a throw away event, but it lead to important things, a marriage and at least one college degree.  In order to illustrate the power of words, even of this type I thought I would share a story of how some encouraging words may have changed the course of my life.

In 1995 I was 20 years old and left home for Washington and Oregon for summer missions.  To say I was inexperienced would be an understatement.  I was inexperienced at life.  Certainly I had no idea what I was doing when it came to mission work.  The problem in my mind was that I had no skills whatsoever that could be useful for a missionary.  I couldn’t build things, I was not comfortable with public speaking, and I am much more introverted than I would like to be.  Plus I was only 20.  I didn’t know what I would be doing that summer, only that I was obeying God by going.  It turns out that I would be leading a multitude of backyard Bible clubs.  My summer in large part was hanging out with kids.  Not only hanging out with kids, but hanging out with kids with a purpose.  We were teaching them the Bible.

Now to the part about the encouraging words.  In the first week there, when we divided up responsibilities for the Backyard Bible Club the teaching of the Bible story fell to me.  I had no skills remember, but I figured I could tell some Bible stories.  I was certainly familiar with them.  So when the time came, I taught.  I don’t remember what Bible story it was (though the picture looks like it was Adam & Eve) I don’t even remember how it went.  I do remember being glad that I survived it.  Here is what I really remember.  After I spoke, the pastor’s wife from that week’s host church told me what a great job I did.  She said that I had the kids’ attention and that I made it easy for them.  That was nearly 16 years ago and I remember it plainly. It is the first time I ever knew that I was good at anything useful.  That one word of encouragement went a very long way. Now, all these years later, as I attempt to launch a speaking ministry I have tried to use that ability to teach and make things simple for God's glory.  And it is possible that I never would have been anything but intimidated if not for some encouraging words from a woman whose name I can't even remember.

There are other people in my life who have been very encouraging.  I remember them as well, but this was a formative time for me and I am thankful.

I am afraid that in my lifetime I have done much more damage with words that I have done building up. So I sure am glad for those encouragers.

How about you, are there words said in your lifetime that were very significant?

What to write when I have nothing to say

Recently I made a commitment to begin writing a blog post every week.  It is week four and I already have nothing to say this week.  But that shouldn't stop me, so I'm resorting to something I saw on facebook a long time ago.  It's a creative writing exercise.  Enjoy, and feel free to participate yourself in the comments. Answer the 5 questions below and write a short story. 1. Find a fridge. Close your eyes. Pull something out. - Velveeta 2. Turn on the tv. Flip to channel 7. Describe what you see. - A man sitting at his desk. He has many platinum records on the wall 3. Type your pet's name into google. Follow the 6th link. What are the last 4 words on that page? - the cave of Machpelah 4. Pick up your cellphone. Go to your recent calls. Who called you last? - My aunt 5. Take all the answers from above and write a short story.

My aunt emerged from the cave of Machpeleh clutching a platinum record and the rope she always used to guide herself when spelunking.

"How did you get that?" I asked.

"You won't believe it," she said.  "I wasn't treasure hunting.  I was just planning to take pictures.  I thought I'd just see stalactites and cave stuff.  But after crawling through a small hole I came to a fully furnished office.  And there was a man sitting there"

"Was he ok?" I asked.

"He was fine," she replied.  He looked at me and said "I've been down here quite a long time just writing songs and living off my stored supplies.  I'm sick of canned beans.  Do you have any food?"

"I have this chunk of velveeta.  I always carry it in case I get stuck or lost in a cave."

"I'll trade you one of these platinum records for it." he said almost desperately.

"Deal." I said.  I gave him the chunk of cheese and took a record.  Then I left before he realized what he'd done or before things got any weirder.


Write your own in the comments

The danger of being good at something

I have written before about how there is a long list of things I am bad at.  I won’t rehash that list here but I will say that I feel like I have very little natural talent. Having said that, there are a few things I am good at, and there is a short list of things I am very good at.  I believe that it is important to know where your talents lie.  It is one of the keys to having a fulfilling professional life.  If you are doing something that you are gifted to do, you will be good at it and you will enjoy it.

Even though the list of things I am good at is short, I believe that there is a reason that God has gifted me to do certain things.  If you are a Christian, I hope you would say the same.  God has gifted you in order to use those gifts for His glory.

I desire to use my gifts to God’s glory.  This is why I have launched an apologetics ministry.  I believe that I can use my gifting as a communicator, my love for apologetics, my love for the church and the gospel to help church people be more able to defend their faith.  As I get more experienced as a speaker I realize that I am becoming quite good at it.

Believe it or not, in this case being a good speaker causes a problem.  What possible problem could there be from being good at something?  The problem is that because I am good I can do it without God.  That’s right.  I can prepare a message, iron out the kinks until I am communicating it clearly, practice it, and even present it, all without prayer or asking God to bless it.  It is a lot of work on my part, but it is all on my part, merely in my own strength.  I have spoken often enough and made this mistake enough to say with certainty that there is a substantial difference in me speaking in my own strength and God speaking through me.  I realize that the expression “God speaking through me” may sound either arrogant or crazy, but I also know that I have heard the voice of God from many preachers.  And I have experienced it myself.

I believe that speaking in a pulpit should always come from God.  By that I mean that the preacher should be sharing God’s words rather than his own.  Preaching should involve God speaking, not just the preacher.

Because of this, because I know I am prone to this type of Jeremy-only effort, I have to always be sure to be diligent in my prayer life.  Before any speaking engagement I have to pray and ask God to guide me on the topic, but even more to speak through me as I share what He has laid on my heart to share.

I believe this is a danger for everyone who desires to use their talents for God's glory. Do you also have to guard against this?

My identity crisis and how you can help

I have been in youth ministry since 1997.  That’s when I first began to sense God’s call on my life.  Over the ensuing years I have done my best to be faithful to that call.  I have continually been on church staff.  I have been in church situations where I was a good fit and in situations where I was a poor fit, but always I was a youth minister.  If you asked me to label myself, “youth minister” would be the first of all possible labels.  Until recently, I would have said that youth ministry is the only occupation where I could be happy. My identity crisis

I have recently found myself without a ministry home. And now,  for the first time ever, I am not planning to return to a church staff position.  So the title “youth minister” will not apply.  I will still be actively involved as a volunteer in some youth ministry, hopefully teach a Sunday school class, but not in a staff position.  This has caused a bit of an identity crisis for me, but after a lot of time spent in prayer, I believe that God has given me the freedom to pursue something different.

So what’s next?  Over the past few years I have had some other ministry opportunities.  I was an instructor at Carolina Bible College, and I enjoyed it immensely.  In fact, I have been saying for quite some time that one day, when I am too old for youth ministry I hope to teach at the college or seminary level.  Also, I have been working for a while to complete a certification.  I am now a NAMB Certified Apologetics Instructor and I believe that have become quite good as a public speaker.  I hope to use my gifting as a speaker to create a new ministry.  If my new ministry is a success, it will substantially ease the pain of the identity crisis.

How you can help

In order to make this into a successful ministry, I am pretty much completely dependent on others.  So what can you do? A few things.

  • You can start by visiting my website,  It’s new. (And it's not 100% finished, but it’s close.)  I will accept any feedback you want to give me about the site.  Also, there’s an ad on the blog page.  I’d appreciate it if you clicked on that ad.

  • If you have heard me give one of my apologetic talks and would be willing to write an endorsement for my site, that would be great.  Just email it to me (2 paragraphs or less please)
  • Most importantly, recommend me to your pastor.  A good website is important, but the only way I will really have any success as a speaker is if people hear me speak, like what they hear, and tell others.
  • If you are a pastor or someone with the ability to do so, please schedule me to come to your church. You don’t have to begin with an apologetics weekend.   I can simply fill the pulpit for you sometime. I am willing to speak any time, anywhere, as long as my schedule allows it.

Thank you for reading this.  I welcome your comments.

A Short Rant

Dear people of the world, When you are finished checking out at Wal-mart or at the grocery, I get it, you need to square away your money, ID, checkbook, whatever.  I also understand that it takes some of you a long time.  You were, after all, not prepared to have to put away your stuff. All I ask is that you move away from in front of the register to complete this process.  Just take 3 steps, then spend as long as you need to put up your whatever. You are slowing down the entire line.

Respectfully (sort of), Someone who is very annoyed by this


Last week I had so much fun writing my snarky book review that I decided to turn up the snark again this week.  I don't plan to make a regular habit out of this.  I think it reflects a bad attitude.  But ranting is fun occasionally.

A Question for my Readers

I'd like to try an experiment.  I realize that this blog is not the most interactive place on the internet, but I am going to ask a question and ask for your input.  I think the more answers I get, the better, so let's try this out.  Here goes. It is no secret that I have been looking for a full-time youth ministry position for quite a long time.  In this period I have spoken to a host of search committees.  You can get a feel for what a committee is looking for by the questions they ask, but there is one question they all ask.

What is the most important issue that our teenagers are facing today?

I know I have a few youth minsters who read this blog regularly, please give an opinion.  This question is not limited to youth minsters though.  How would you answer this question?  If you were on a committee, what would you be looking for. I look forward to reading your responses, then next Wednesday I'll post my answer

The Life and Times of a Tiny Snowman: A Documentary

The tiny snowman, Bobby Drake, was born, or created as most snowmen are, on Tuesday February 8, 2011.

He had golf tees for eyes and a mouth, a couple of twigs for his arms and a cap from a 2-liter bottle for a hat.

Bobby's task was an important one.  he stood vigil over the back porch and protected it from marauders of any sort.  He was wonderful at his job.  During his few days on duty there were no threats against the back porch.  He was not affected in the slightest by the coldest temperatures of the year, and it is said, though it may only be legend, that he never blinked.

But the life of a tiny snowman is ephemeral, and early in life, disaster struck...

During the late-afternoon on the day of his birth, Bobby lost an arm in a tragic solar incident.  Doomed to be forever maimed at the hands of the evil-if-you-are-a-snowman Sun, Bobby became deeply mired in melancholy.  It is said he considered launching himself from the ledge of the very porch he was set to guard.

Soon, however, the Sun relented its attack. It disappeared behind the horizon and remained hidden behind thick clouds for nearly 48 hours.  During second day of his life, Bobby was strengthened by an additional 4 inches of powdery snow.  It piled around his base and even atop his head it covered his hat.  The additional snow added to Bobby's fierceness and he guarded the porch with more vigor.

Wednesday night the temperature fell to 4.3°. Bobby Persevered

On Thursday, the temperatures remained in the 20s with the Sun hidden behind a thick bank of clouds.  He persevered.

On Thursday night the temperature fell to -4°. He persevered


On Friday, the evil sun once again made an appearance.  But Bobby's ally, low temperatures, protected him. The day's temperature never rose above 15 degrees and Bobby bravely guarded the porch.  Little did he know, this would be his last day on earth. Snowmen are not very good communicators and he asked no one what the next day would bring.


Saturday was a tragic day for the back porch.  The Sun once again made an appearance.  This time the sun was strengthened and quickly defeated Bobby's ally low temperatures.  As the temp soared, bobby's weaknesses were unveiled.  The first weakness that the sun conquered was that Bobby was made of snow.   Snow really stands no chance against the vastly superior foe that is the Sun.  Bobby's second weakness is that he was tiny.  A larger snowman may have survived the day with only some wounds.  Probably a lost limb or two, but the day would have been survivable.


By the time the Bobby could be observed again nothing remained except for a pile of golf tees and some snow.  The porch was left unprotected.  An unprotected porch allowed wild animals to roam free.

Bobby Drake the tiny snowman lived a brief but valiant life.  He deserves to be remembered by generations of snowmen to come

(BTW, The name Bobby Drake is totally clever if you are the right kind of nerd)

Predictions for 2011

Each year on my blog I like to make predictions for the coming year.  I invite you to do the same in the comments.  It's always fun to see the results.

  • The number 1 movie will be Pirates of the CaribbeanGreen Hornet in the top 5. The usual suspects like Harry Potter, Transformers, and Twilight will all be in the top 10.
  • Facebook will go crazy with 11:11:11 11/11/11 stuff
  • Some tablet computer running Android will be a genuine alternative to the iPad
  • The iPhone will move to an additional carrier but Andriod will have greater market share at year’s end
  • The ratings for American Idol will be off by at least 25%.  It won’t be canceled but will not return with the same judges in 2012.
  • There will be at least 10 announced Republican candidates for president.  No democrat will run against Obama
  • Kentucky will not be in the Final 4
  • Bret Favre will actually retire...probably…maybe…maybe not…yeah he will.
  • The world will not end on May 21 no matter what the billboards say
  • I will catch a 7 lb. bass
  • I will not still be working at the Wood Shed at the end of 2011
  • I will weigh less at the end of 2011 than at the beginning

Prediction Results 2010

On the last week of each year on this blog I make predictions about the coming year.  I invite my readers to do the same.  This is a recap of those predictions and how accurate I turned out to be.

  • Toy Story 3 will be the top movie of the year, Iron Man 2, the A-Team, and Harry Potter will also be in the top 15 – Toy story was #1, Iron man 2 was #3, Harry Potter was #6, The A-Team kept me from perfection on this pick by finishing #37.  I’m pretty pleased with this however.
  • The Dow will be higher at the end of 2010 than at the beginning – I know the year still has 3 days but this is going to be correct
  • There will be 15 e-book readers on the market by the end of 2010 but still no major publisher will release DRM-free books.  So I will not buy one – there are at least 25 on the market although only the Sony, Kindle, and Nook have any market share to speak of.  No major publisher has released a DRM-free book. I don’t own one.  I’m right on all 3 accounts.
  • The health care bill will not become final before May and by the time I write this post next year there will still be millions of uninsured Americans – It passed in March, but has yet to actually come into effect. I was half wrong here
  • The Twitter stream will have ads in it (not just spam) – Wrong on this one.  No ads in the stream.  Promoted tweets on the homepage but no ads in stream.
  • USA will be no better than 3rd in the medal count at the winter Olympics – Happily wrong about this one. USA finished first.
  • Kentucky will be in the Final 4 – Sadly wrong about this one
  • The finale of Lost will be mostly satisfying – I guess this one is a matter of opinion but I was mostly satisfied
  • I will not live in Kentucky at the end of 2010 – Colossal fail on this one
  • I will weigh less at the end of 2010 than I do at the beginning – I don’t know what I weigh today, but there is no question it is less than a year ago

By my count that makes me 10-6 (.625) in predictions for the year.  I never claimed to be a prophet or the son of a prophet, but it's fun to see how well I did.

Only one reader, Ryan, was brave enough to make predictions last year.  Here are his results

  • UNC will make it to the Sweet 16 – Didn’t even make the tourney
  • The Panthers will make the playoffs (Season starting August 2010) – Wow was this one wrong. The Panthers are currently 2-13
  • Matt Moore will (should) be their starting QB – I’ll give you half credit for this one
  • I will get a girlfriend – If so you have been awfully secretive about her
  • Apple will release a tablet that will be beautiful looking, but no one will buy it, because what the heck is it for? – iPad released, iPad beautiful, iPad sold millions, everybody has seen one in the wild.  You are 2-3 on this one
  • The newest Twilight will be in the top 10 for movies, for some stupid reason – Twilight #4 = correct

I'm saying Ryan is 4-5 (.444)

Nativity Scene Poll

Last week in my Church I presented an apologetic lecture on the historical reality of Christmas.  As part of the lecture I pointed out that most nativity scene Jesuses have their hands raised as if they are worshiping the Father. (Like this one pictured on the left)

This one random point seemed to be remembered more than any other point I made in the presentation.  Now I would like you to answer a poll question.

Please take just a minute to answer this question.  Look at your nativity scene in your home and let me know if Jesus has his hands up or are they at his side.  The poll won't spam you, and I will use the results in the future.  I predict that Yes will win like 80-20

[polldaddy poll=4291358]