Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lesson Learned - Beef Stew

distributionThere are many things in life that bring me joy, and last night as I sat at the dinner table with my family, I had a flash back to a time about 9 years ago when God used a great meal, a messy kid and church meeting to teach me what unconditional love is all about.

I got home from work last night just like any night and was welcomed by the amazing aroma of one of my favorite dishes of all time…Beef Stew! My wife had prepared it just like I like it, tender roast beef, succulent potatoes, melt in your mouth carrots, onions and celery all held together by a savory sauce. It was piping hot and the whole house was filled with the mouth watering scent of stewnaciousness (not a word, but it should be).

Anyway, it was a rainy, wet and dismal night outside and the thought of being treated to such a delectable dinner got me very excited (when there’s food involved, it doesn’t take much).

The dishes were filled, we prayed and without a seconds hesitation we all dug in to our feast. As usual it was so good, and wouldn’t you know it, I was not only filled with food, I was filled with joy!

You see, as I was enjoying my meal, and my family, my mind went back to a time about 9 years ago when my daughter was just a little tike sitting in her high chair. She’s 9 and a half right now, and I had one of those “Bob Carlisle, Butterfly Kisses” moments as I thought of how fast she is growing and much of an incredible young lady she has become.

In so many ways she’s just like her mom. She’s spiritually sensitive, loves God’s word, has a passion for her friends to know Jesus, and tears up every time I talk about my ministry with Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child.

Comments like, “daddy, did you see how happy those kids were when they received their gift?”, “They don’t have any thing and I have so much”, and “what else can I do to help kids know about Jesus?” are words I hear from her quite often.

I’m so blessed to have such an awesome family, and as I sat there basking in the moment, I remembered another time when I came face to face with what unconditional love is all about.

Here’s how it went down…

I got home from a busy day at church where I served as Student Ministries Pastor. My wife and I were privileged to have a little baby girl, and every day I would rush home to play with my little bundle of joy.

One particular day I came home and was greeted with a welcoming smile and a hearty scent of bone warming beef stew, so I was doubly excited!

It had been a long day, and unfortunately it was going to be a quick dinner because I had to be back at church for a meeting.

Well, we sat down, prayed together and dug in to dinner, and as usual it was very, very good. In the back of my mind though I was thinking about all I had to do to get ready for the meeting, you know make copies, set up chairs, hand out pens and a few other “top priority” tasks that seemed to always take precedent in my life those days.

Looking back on it, it doesn’t seem that important now, especially when I think of how my little girl has gone from toddler to young lady right before my eyes.

Hmmm, that might be the topic of another article some time…priorities…but back to this topic.

One of the things that my wife and I tried to do with my daughter (and now with my son as well) is create some traditions or things that they would look forward to, to help create stability in their lives. One of the things I did with my daughter before bed time was to sing her a lullaby, do butterfly kisses with our eyelashes, rub noses, give her a hug and a kiss before I put her in her bed, or before I left the house.

So, the meal was great, the time with my family was great and as I looked at my watch I saw that I was late for my “very important” meeting. I got up, thanked my wife, grabbed my keys and started to head out the door.

I didn’t even get through the doorway when I heard these words coming from my little girl, “Dadda, ekimo…buuffly?”

I stopped dead in my tracks. With those two little mispronounced words, I was nailed with a huge reality, and an even bigger choice to make. A choice that would send a message loud and clear to my daughter, no matter what I chose.

You see in essence what she was saying to me was, “daddy, every time you leave or put me to sleep you  sing me a lullaby, do butterfly kisses with our eyelashes, rub noses, give me a hug and a kiss. It’s what we do; now you’re rushing out of here for your “all important” meeting which is telling me that work is a higher priority to you, than our relationship. Is it because you’re too busy, or is it because I’m covered from head to high chair with beef, potatoes, carrots, onions and broth?”

I forgot to mention that while I enjoyed eating the beef stew, she enjoyed playing in it and by the end of the meal she was absolutely covered in stickiness’…she was a mess!

So, as I stood there thinking all these things in my head, and looking at my beautifully messy little girl, I began thinking about how much God loves me, and accepts me just as I am.

I mean think about it, from God’s perspective we’re just like my daughter. We’re covered in our junk, our issues, our baggage. It’s all over us!

Many times we operate from the assumption that we have to clean up before God will accept us, but God says “come to Me as you are.” Unconditional Love.

I had a choice to make, (I’m making it much more dramatic than it really was), and as soon as I heard those words “Dadda, ekimo…buuffly?” I turned around, looked right at my beef stew covered daughter, walked right over gave a huge hug, big kiss, Eskimos and butterflies and even added a new twist to our routine as I picked her up out of her high chair, held her tight and spun around a while.

Needless to say I was now also covered in beef stew from head to waist, my shirt was dirty, my hair was matted, my face was sticky and I was now LATE for my “very important meeting!”

Oh well, looking back on it, I have no idea what the meeting was about, but every time I eat beef stew I’m reminded of how at least one time in my life I made the right choice to not just talk the talk but walk the walk with my daughter.

In that simple act of showing love regardless of the mess she was in, I was reminded again at how much God loves us and accepts us as we are, and for that I am eternally grateful!

You know what else I learned in that moment?

I learned that another key part of unconditional love is the part that sometimes we forget or skip over. It’s the whole “cleaning up afterwards” part.

My daughter was filthy, and we still loved her anyway, but what kind of parent would I have been if I went to my meeting, and came home to find my daughter still sticky and now crusty? A terrible one right?

What if,  I was sitting there at the table 9 and a half years later right next to my daughter who was still covered in beef stew? What kind of love would I have shown to her then? It’s hard to even fathom that kind of disregard isn’t it?

That’s the part of unconditional love that we sometimes forget about. See God loves me just as I am, that’s true, but He also loves too much to let me stay that way!

I love that about God, and I love the fact that He sent His only Son to engage with the likes of me!

He loves me just as I am, but because of His incredibly indescribable plan, He loves me and you too much to let us remain in our current state!

That’s Unconditional Love!

Lesson Learned

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Leadership Reflections - TOM

tom_tom_vodafoneLately it seems that I’ve been doing a lot of travelling in my car. Over the last few weeks I’ve been in cities and towns from New Hampshire down to North Carolina. I’ve become very good at spotting the gas stations and fast food places that are right off the exit so I don’t have to venture too far off the beaten path.

Along with my Dunkin Donuts coffee, bagel with chive cream cheese, pile of folders and my blackberry, there is another very important passenger that has been joining me on my journeys. It’s none other than my GPS, I call him “TOM”.

Now Tom’s voice actually sounds like a woman’s voice, but since it’s a Tom Tom brand, I figured I’d just stick with the obvious and call him Tom.

I’ve thought about downloading another voice for him to join me on my treks, but so far I’m sticking with the default settings.

I recently found out though that I could have the voice of Mr. T as my GPS guide, but then I thought about what it would sound like if I went against his directions and chose my own route. Would I hear “I pity the fool who doesn’t obey my directions”, or “I’m gonna bust you up?” insert Rocky’s response “Go for it”.

Or I also thought about doing what my friend did with his GPS. He downloaded a voice that sounded like his wife’s voice and every time he didn’t follow the outlined route the GPS would sigh and say in a rather put out manner “recalculating”. He said he always wanted to make sure he thought of his wife while he was travelling.

Anyway, as I’ve been driving all over the Northeast lately, I’ve found myself relying heavily on what Tom has to say. It’s gotten to the point where I just punch in the address and head out to wherever he tells me to go.

The other day I got to thinking about that. Why do I put so much trust in the direction that Tom says is the right direction? What if what he says to do is the wrong way, or not the best way? How do I know that what he says won’t lead me to some abandoned warehouse in a rough part of town?

You know, I don’t really know the answers to those questions, I’m inputting data and based on that data, TOM is relaying to me what he thinks is the best way to get there. Even though TOM has a lot of power and influence over my decision making process as I travel, the reality is that he’s just sitting in my glove compartment doing nothing until I tell him what to do, then based on how I feel or some other scenario I choose whether or not I’m going to take his advice.

If I go against what he suggests, it’s his job to recalculate and recalibrate to fit my liking…that’s just how I roll!

As I was stuck in traffic the other day a few blocks from the Capitol Building in Washington DC, it hit me. Many times I treat my relationship with God like I treat my relationship with TOM. I trust what He says, but only after I input my thoughts and insights.

That’s not only “not cool”, that is downright scary!

I mean, who am I to tell God anything? Who am I to give input to the Creator of all things? Who am I that He would love me, care for me, provide for me, and have a plan for me?

You know, as I was sitting in traffic in the shadow of one of the greatest symbols of human freedom in the world. I thought “no wonder my life gets confusing sometimes, no wonder our world doesn’t make sense, and no wonder many times the very leaders we look to for guidance inhabiting the halls of the Capitol building don’t have a clue.” It’s as if we’re operating our lives and decisions like we operate our GPS. We input and based on how we feel we choose to follow or not…it’s up to us!

I don’t know about you but as I sat there and thought about the many subtle ways that I “thank God for His suggestion” and go on my own merry way, I began to get it that it’s not up to me the pick and choose. It’s up to me to be plugged in to Him and obey His directions, because He knows what’s best for me.

The direction He lays out may not be the smoothest, widest, highest legal speed limit, toll free super highway in the world, but I’m learning that if I trust His route He’ll take care of the rest.

As I think back on the last several years of my journey, I can clearly see the times when I took His input and chose otherwise, and I can also clearly see the times when I rode full speed ahead with Him at the wheel.

The times when I thought I had the best route picked out almost always ended in disaster, and even though sometimes it seemed like the road He wanted me to follow didn’t make sense and didn’t show up on my map, those were the times when I could clearly see that I was right where God wanted me.

As many of you know these past few years in my life have seemed like a combination of both of those scenarios at times, but now that I am beginning to get down the road a little further, I’m beginning to see why He had me take the route that He did.

He’s teaching me that I don’t have to have it all figured out, I need to trust Him that His direction for my life is perfect.

I didn’t say it would be the easiest way, but I’m learning that it truly is the best way.

I’ve often heard people say that “the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will”, I’m beginning to seriously question that statement, and actually I think Paul would agree with me as well (check out 2 Corinthians 11:24-33 sometime).

The Christian journey is hard, bumpy, rocky and filled with pot holes, but I’m so glad that we have a Savior who knows the way, and is the Way.

Is He leading your way? Are you listening?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ethical Decision Making #3

A few years ago, I took a class called "Ethics in Organizational Leadership" and it was one of the most directly applicable classes I have ever taken.

During the weeks of reading, writing, collaborating and discussing, I learned so much about myself and my normal propensity towards decision making.

The learnings from this class have been very helpful in my decision making from that time even until today.
This is the third posts, that I am devoting to some writings I did in that class where I looked at three different ethical decision making models.

My hope and prayer is that one of these models will be an effective tool to aid others in the decisions they may be working through...

Compare and Contrast three Ethical Decision Making Models The three ethical decision making models outlined in this paper are taken from the following sources…
· Moral Choices, Rae (1995)
· Just Business, Hill (1997)
· The Discipline of Building Character,
Badaracco (1998)

Each model helps give a process that will prove helpful in making ethical decisions. Each model also emphasizes the fact that doing the right thing, and making ethical decisions are not always easy, and many times require us to look deeply at who we are, and what shapes us personally.
In these posts I outline the basic premise of each model, as well as compare and contrast the models.

3. The Discipline of Building Character

The article, "The Discipline of Building Character" helped give clarity to dilemma of deciding between what is the best thing to do, especially when we are faced with a decision that has two or more possible outcomes that are all right. The author gave three different examples of how a person was forced to make a decision base on one of the following questions…
· Who am I?
· Who are we?
· Who is the company?

Each of these questions requires a person, group, or company to align themselves with their core values and be willing to stand for what they know is right even when it is difficult.

The principles outlined in this article helped frame the concept of making an ethical decision in terms of viewing that decision as a defining moment in a person, group or company’ journey.

The major comparison I saw between all three models was the fact that ethical decision making is not easy, and with every decision there are consequences that need to be taken into consideration.

The Model set forth in Moral Choices and Just Business were definitely from a Christian perspective, but even though the article wasn’t necessarily written from a Christian view, the principles could easily fit into both of the other models as well.

The major contrast I saw between the three models was that Moral Choices proposed a process in making ethical decisions, Just business proposed a Godly lifestyle in making ethical decisions, and The Discipline of Building Character proposed an understanding of deep rooted values in making ethical decisions.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ethical Decision Making #2

A few years ago, I took a class called "Ethics in Organizational Leadership" and it was one of the most directly applicable classes I have ever taken.

During the weeks of reading, writing, collaborating and discussing, I learned so much about myself and my normal propensity towards decision making.

The learnings from this class have been very helpful in my decision making from that time even until today.

This is the second of three posts, that I am devoting to some writings I did in that class where I looked at three different ethical decision making models.

My hope and prayer is that one of these models will be an effective tool to aid others in the decisions they may be working through...

Compare and Contrast three Ethical Decision Making Models The three ethical decision making models outlined in this paper are taken from the following sources…

· Moral Choices, Rae (1995)
· Just Business, Hill (1997)
· The Discipline of Building Character, Badaracco (1998)

Each model helps give a process that will prove helpful in making ethical decisions. Each model also emphasizes the fact that doing the right thing, and making ethical decisions are not always easy, and many times require us to look deeply at who we are, and what shapes us personally.

In these posts I outline the basic premise of each model, as well as compare and contrast the models.

2. Just Business, Hill (1997)

The premise of the book Just Business as it relates to making ethical decisions is summed up in the fact that God is perfect and man is not. Thus, we need to rely on God’s guiding principles in all areas of life, especially making ethical decisions.

The author states that “The foundation of Christian ethics in business is not rules but the changeless character of God.” He further points out that “Behavior consistent with God’s character is ethical – that which is not is unethical.” The model that permeates the book is based on the fact that principles of God’s character are what man should strive to implement in his life.

The three main components of that character are…
• Holiness
• Justice
• Love

The author uses an illustration of a three legged stool to paint a picture of the balance that holiness, justice and love bring as one seeks to make ethical decisions.

Hill elaborates on each component and provides helpful insight, thoughtful questions, and scripture backing for the fact that God is Holy, God is Just and God is Loving, and if we as flawed human beings want to make ethical decisions we need to strive to be imitators of God’s character.

The major comparison I saw between this model and the model outlined in Moral Choices is the fact that God’s principles carry more weight than man’s principles when making ethical decisions.

Step three in the Moral Choices model encourages the infusion of the Biblical principles of God’s character that Just Business talks about by asking the question “How can I emulate God’s character of Holiness, Justice and Love in this ethical decision?”

The major contrast I saw between these two models was that Moral Choices seemed to outline a more logical, step by step process, in determining ethical decisions and Just Business seemed to be suggesting that we need to develop a lifestyle that models the character of God, and as we face ethical decisions we will be more likely to know what the best course of action is based on God’s leading in our lives.

Constantly seeking to make wise decisions,

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ethical Decision Making #1

A few years ago, I took a class called "Ethics in Organizational Leadership" and it was one of the most directly applicable classes I have ever taken.

During the weeks of reading, writing, collaborating and discussing, I learned so much about myself and my normal propensity towards decision making.

The learnings from this class have been very helpful in my decision making from that time even until today.

The next three posts, I would like to dedicate to some writings I did in that class where I looked at three different ethical decision making models. My hope and prayer is that one of these models will be an effective tool to aid others in the decisions they may be working through...

Compare and Contrast three Ethical Decision Making Models

The three ethical decision making models outlined in this paper are taken from the following sources…

· Moral Choices, Rae (1995)

· Just Business, Hill (1997)

· The Discipline of Building Character,
Badaracco (1998)

Each model helps give a process that will prove helpful in making ethical decisions. Each model also emphasizes the fact that doing the right thing, and making ethical decisions are not always easy, and many times require us to look deeply at who we are, and what shapes us personally.

In this paper I will outline the basic premise of each model, as well as compare and contrast the models.

1. Moral Choices - In the book Moral Choices, the author gives an insightful introduction to ethics where he poses the question “Why study ethics?” He states that “Ethics are important because moral questions are at the heart of life’s most important issues.

Morality is primarily concerned with questions of right and wrong, the ability to distinguish between the two, and the justification of the distinction.”

I think this statement is at the heart of the process of ethical decision making that he outlines in the book. If one is going to be able to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong and be able to justify the distinction, then a process that will help ensure that the right questions are asked in determining the best decision is crucial.

Rae seeks to help in this process by proposing the following ethical decision making model…

1. Gather the facts (Two questions are critical)

- What do we know?

- What do we need to know?

2. Determine the ethical issues

- What are the competing interests in the ethical decision?

3. What principles have a bearing on the case?

- What principles carry more weight than others?

- Biblical principles

- Constitution

- Natural Law etc.

4. List the alternatives

- What are the alternative courses of action?

5. Compare the alternatives with the principles

- Can a clear decision be reached at this point?

6. Consider the consequences

- List both positive and negative consequences of the decision to be made

7. Make a decision

- Ethical decisions often have no easy answers

- Which decision has the least amount of negative consequences?

Seeking to make wise decisions, and trusting that you are as well,


Monday, May 11, 2009

Leadership Reflections - God doesn't waste a hurt

The Phrase, “God doesn’t waste a hurt”, is a phrase I’ve used hundreds of times over the years. I’ve used it in sermons, in lessons, in counseling sessions and articles. It’s a phrase that carries a huge impact if you think about it.

God is in control of all things, and He allows His children to go through the good and the bad, the easy and the hard, the understandable and the confusing.

The question then becomes, “God what do you want me to learn from this, and how do you want me to become more like you through this?”

In processing this phrase, and in reading through some of my Master’s Degree work, I came across this series of questions and concepts that really helped me grasp and begin to understand the fact that God doesn’t waste a hurt.

This reflection and history process was a very encouraging process for me, as I realized that I have many things to be thankful for. Many times I have taken for granted the events and people that have helped shape me, and this process has helped me to grasp the importance of making the most of every opportunity that has been given to me.

I encourage you to prayerfully work through the questions and concepts as you reflect on who you are, and what has gone in to shaping you to this point in history, and realize anew that God knows you, loves you, forgives you and has a plan for you!

1. What events have had a significant influence on your life both positive and negative?
2. How have these events influenced your thoughts, decisions and actions up to this point?
3. Who are the people who have most significantly influenced your life? How did they influence you? What impact did they have on you?
4. How have you been hindered or discouraged from personal and professional growth and development?
5. Does it matter how other people perceive you? When? Why?
6. How much of your behavior is motivated by what others may be thinking?
7. How would you describe your risk tolerance? What may hold you back from taking risks that God may have for you?
8. Do you consider yourself more open or closed to feedback? Why?
9. What specialized training or experience do you possess? List 10 significant talents you possess, which are you consistently complimented or commended? Which talents are currently being utilized, and not being utilized?
10. How do you define success for your life? How does this definition influence your decisions?
11. If money were not an issue, what goal would you like to accomplish?
12. What would you like to be most known for at the conclusion of your life? Write an epitaph you would like on your tombstone.

Reflecting with you,

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Leadership Reflections - My Philosophy

Several years ago, I began my Master's Degree studies in the field of Organizational Leadership. The first class in that program was called "Philosophy of Leadership." I found it interesting then, and still to this day agree that a person's philosophy shapes who they are and drives where they're going.

I've been doing alot of reading and reflecting on the various authors I read and papers I wrote during that incredible time of learning and growing in my life.

So, I'm going to begin a series of posts from the materials I wrote back then called "Leadership Reflections", and it is my prayer that as I reflect on the things God has brought in my life, that others would benefit as well, and realize that He desires for us to be the best leaders we can be in alignment with His plan for our lives.

This first post is my personal philosophy of Leadership...

My personal philosophy of leadership comes from an understanding that leadership involves a lifelong process of developing skills and abilities necessary for becoming the most successful leader I can be. I need to keep learning and growing if I’m going to effectively influence and mobilize people to accomplish mutually accepted goals. Leadership is a huge, seemingly indefinable concept, but the acrostic below captures the key points of my personal philosophy of leadership.

To be actively applying my personal philosophy of leadership I need to be…

L – Learning (constantly staying sharp and teachable)
E – Empowering Others (developing and applying an “expand the team” mentality)
A – Accountable (collaborating with and being challenged by others)
D – Dependable (staying true to my goals and my team)
E – Enthusiastically Casting Vision (believing in and rallying support for future change)
R – Resourceful (assessing situations and applying techniques with the tools that I have)
S – Servant Minded (looking to put others’ needs ahead of my own)
H – Humble (remembering that my gifts come from God)
I – Integrating a lifestyle of Integrity (applying the phrase “Who am I when no one sees?”)
P – Purposeful (focusing on mutually accepted goals)

What is your philosophy of leadership? What is it based on? What is the driving force behind why you do what you do? What has helped shape you into the person you are today?

Reflecting with you,

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Strategically Crazy

Wow, the last few months of ministry have been what I like to call “strategically crazy!”

Since right before Christmas, I’ve been in Mexico, the Hudson Valley, Chicago, New Hampshire, Kentucky, New York, New Jersey, Long Island, Ohio and now in a couple days I’m leaving for Ukraine for 2 weeks.

This has been a very busy but very productive stretch of ministry. In the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to teach, train, encourage and network with youth leaders and students all over the place, and it has been a blast!

Everywhere I go I get a chance to tell stories of our YMI guys and the impact they are making in their fields, and I also get to tell the story of how God got my attention, and pointed me in the direction of International Youth Leader Training, going back almost 5 years ago…It started for me in Ukraine, so since I’m going back there in a couple days, I thought I would re-post an update I wrote a year ago, prior to returning to the very place where this whole thing began for me…

Well, in a few days I'll be heading back to a country that holds a special place in my heart...Ukraine!

Why a special place you ask? Well, besides having amazing chocolates, gourmet McDonald’s, and the best shish leek, on the planet. It is the place where God really got my attention with a certain statistic (97...3) and a very plain reality that He wanted to use me to join a team that was seeking to do something about it.

I should've realized that God was going to do something that incredible summer of 2004, I mean before I left I had a sit down discussion and prayer time with 2 of my favorite people in the world (Brian & Joann Young), and in that prayer time they told me that they had been praying for me and really had the sense that God was going to do something huge and life changing in and through me on the trip.

Joann had been reading the passage about Ezekiel and the Valley of dry bones and said she kept thinking about how she could see God doing something that only He could do in the lives of people and He was going to use me in the process...I was blown away, I didn't know what she meant, but I was ready for whatever God was going to do.

The team and I set out for 2 weeks of life change in a foreign country, and what a trip it was. I saw God shake me, wake me, break me and take me to heights I had never been before. It was so moving that I returned from the trip believing that God wanted us to move to Ukraine and join the YMI team in Kiev by helping them train the next generation of professionally trained Youth Pastors in the former Soviet Union.

Bonnie and I went back to Ukraine in the winter of 2005 for a vision trip, and realized that it wasn’t the place that God was calling us to; it was the ministry of training youth leaders internationally that He was calling us to. We joined YMI officially in 2007 and have been on the fast track ever since!

Now I get the chance to go back and teach YM 102 – Youth Culture to a group of college freshman from all over Eastern Europe, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what God is going to do this time, as I return to the place where this whole missions thing got hold of me.

Please pray for open hearts, open minds and a willingness to learn and grow. I leave Friday 3/6 and will return 3/21…I will update the blog with pictures and insights of what God is doing in Ukraine.

Thanks for partnering with me as we continue to close the 97…3 gap, by training trainers in youth ministry worldwide with YMI.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Signature of Divine

Signature Of Divine (Yahweh)
By: Need to Breathe

Cathedrals have tried in vain To show the image of your face. But we are, by your design,
The signature of divine. We'll always sing your name. Forever and today.

Yahweh, Yahweh...Great is your glory when you go before me Oh, we sing...Holy, Holy...Your ways are lovely. So high above me. Yahweh

The fortunes of kings and queens Are wasted chasing what we've seen. Cause we are, by your reprieve, The beauty framed by your suffering.

We'll always sing your name. Forever and today. Yahweh, Yahweh...Great is your glory when you go before me Oh, we sing...Holy, Holy...Your ways are lovely. So high above me. Yahweh

Take me, and pull me through. Cause I can't move without you. I won't leave you alone, you say. It will be okay.

Yahweh, Yahweh...Great is your glory when you go before me Oh, we sing...Holy, Holy...Your ways are lovely. So high above me. Yahweh.

Yahweh, Yahweh...Great is your glory when you go before me Oh, we sing...Holy, Holy...Your ways are lovely. So high above me. Yahweh

Ancient of Days...Yahweh!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Connected with Kenya

Well, it’s hard to believe, but after months and months of planning, and anticipating a visit to the US by the YMI East Africa Director, Sylvester Onyango, that trip is winding down, and what an experience it was.

Sylvester was in the States for three weeks, and in those three weeks he maintained a whirlwind schedule, of connecting, encouraging, sharing and basically shining a spotlight on what God is doing in the lives of young people through, the ministries of the Youth Pastors who are being trained in Kenya.

Sylvester arrived in Louisville, KY and embarked on a series of speaking engagements that took him into Indiana and Kentucky for the first two weeks.

He spoke to youth groups, church leaders, college students, parents and people who are asking “what can I do to assist the vital ministry of training trainers in youth ministry?” To say the least…he was strategically busy!

With every story he told, picture he showed and testimony of God’s grace he delivered, people young and old were moved…moved to prayerfully connect with Kenya in a way that will enable his ministry of youth leader multiplication to continue to go to new heights!

I had the privilege to be in Louisville on the campus of Boyce College and Southern Seminary during Youth Emphasis week where he taught several youth ministry classes, and it was so much fun to see him in action, sharing passionately with these future life changers that their ministry to young people is so vital.
I think my favorite part of his presentation was when he launched into his testimony of how he received Christ. It really is a miracle, and an incredible example of how youth mission trips really makes a huge difference!
In 1993 God used YMI Founder and President, Randy Smith to organize and lead a group of young people on a mission’s trip to Kenya. On this trip the team, utilized gymnastics, music, drama, testimonies and the clearly understandable gospel message to reach hundreds and hundreds of Kenyans all over the country.
On one particular day, during one particular presentation in a huge outdoor area, a 17 year old Sylvester was walking home from school…early!

You see, he actually was skipping his math class that was meeting that afternoon, because in his words…”I didn’t like math, I wasn’t any good at it, and the teacher was really mean!”

Well, God used a dislike for numbers and a “mean teacher” to propel young Sylvester toward that open air meeting. He was drawn towards the music and the sounds of fellow young people yelling “Mzungu, Mzungu”, which means white in Kiswahili. (By the way everywhere I went during my visit to Kenya I heard the same thing, except when I told several of the young people that when I’m in Mexico I usually hear “Gigante” which means giant…I then began hearing a combination of Spanish and Swahili…”Gigante Mzungu, Gigante Mzungu”…Big white dude!)

Anyway, he was drawn to the crowd, and was in awe of the gymnastic routine, music and drama and when the speaker (Randy Smith), stepped forward to clearly explain what this group of young mzungu’s from the States was doing in Kenya. Sylvester was ready to listen and ready to accept the free gift of salvation that comes through a personal relationship with Jesus!

Sylvester became a believer that day, and a journey of discipleship began. Through the next several years God brought mentors, Pastors, missionaries and many more key individuals into his life to challenge and encourage him to live his life for God, and live out his passion and calling, which turned out to be YOUTH MINISTRY!

As I was with Sylvester, in Kentucky, New York and New Jersey, I was amazed again with the awesome work of our God.

As Sylvester and I were presenting his ministry at a Chinese Church in NY, he and I were so moved as we saw huge Chinese characters spelling out the love of God on the front wall of the church, and right next to the Chinese letters was the same message in English…God doesn’t need a translator, He connects with everyone in their own language, culture, and environment…Truly Amazing!

So, as my friend and partner in ministry returns to his homeland, I know he will have plenty of amazing “firsts” to share with his people.” Firsts” like…

· Being in America
· Seeing Snow
· Eating at Taco Bell
· Riding a subway in NYC
· Seeing the Statue of Liberty
· Eating a traditional Kenyan Tilapia dish prepared by a Culinary trained Chef at a private dinner in NY

Just To name a few, but one story that is not new that I know he will return with, is that God is an incredible God, and He chooses to use us to further His Kingdom. Whether it is in Kenya or America, He is still in the life change business!

Several weeks before Sylvester came to America, I re-ran a few articles on my blog called “Connecting with Kenya”. I wanted to recap and encourage people from my 3 week visit to Kenya in 2007. It was my prayer that many would read those and be challenged to pray for Sylvester and his ministry while he was here, and as he goes home.

I think that happened, as everywhere I went with him I saw people genuinely drawn to hear and learn more about his ministry of training trainers in Youth Ministry.

So, my continued prayer is that God would keep working in hearts so that we ask Him “God, How do you want me to be CONNECTED with KENYA?” Thank you to everyone who had a part in making this trip a reality.
It was an incredible three week adventure that I believe God will use to further His work of CONNECTING PEOPLE TO HIMSELF…GLOBALLY!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

He Reigns

One of the coolest things I've gotten to do in my ministry the last few years is to not only teach and preach in other countries, but also to be a part of worship gatherings while I'm there.

It has always amazed me how God can not only decipher but enjoys and completely understands every tribe, and nation when we freely offer praise to Him.

In Kenya, I was surrounded by sounds of Swahili, In Ukraine, it was Russian, In Malaysia, it was either Cantonese, Mandarin or Bahasa, In Mexico it was Spanish, and it was rockin and loud!

Every one of these places I've visited this past year had a very special and very unique worship flavor to it, and it was so awesome to be a part of it, and know that our God doesn't need a translator...He gets it, just how we deliver it!

The other day though, I had an incredible experience unlike any other that I've experienced. No it wasn't in Mexico, Kenya, Malaysia, or was actually driving in my car with my family. We were on a long ride home from a weekend of ministry in the Chicago area, and had lots of time to talk, and sing and get antsy!

Then, all of a sudden on the radio came one of my favorite worship songs these days. It started kind of softly, and I heard my daughter let out a loud "SHHHHH, I love this song", and my son chime in almost immediately, "yeah me too", and with that they began to sing, word for word, and at the top of their lungs the praise song that has reverberated in my heart around the world during every worship gathering I've been a part of.

My wife and I looked at each other and just smiled a smile of joy that our two kids love to sing their hearts out to the Lord. For me it was a very moving moment to know that God was being praised in one of the languages that He's fluent in (which is all of them), by an 8 year old and a 6 year old in the back of a car somewhere in the mid-west. The truth of this song is so amazing, and I'm so glad that my God loves our praise, and that we can give it to Him whenever and wherever we may be.

He's alive, He's well, He's active and Above all...He Reigns!!

He Reigns – By: Newsboys

It's the song of the redeemed
Rising from the African plain
It's the song of the forgiven
Drowning out the Amazon rain
The song of Asian believers
Filled with God's holy fire
It's every tribe, every tongue, every nation
A love song born of a grateful choir

It's all God's children singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns
It's all God's children singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns

Let it rise about the four winds
Caught up in the heavenly sound
Let praises echo from the towers of cathedrals
To the faithful gathered underground
Of all the songs sung from
the dawn of creation
Some were meant to persist
Of all the bells rung from a thousand steeples
None rings truer than this

And all the powers of darkness
Tremble at what they've just heard
'Cause all the powers of darkness
Can't drown out a single word

When all God's children sing out
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns
All God's people singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Connecting with Kenya #5

YMI East Africa Director, Sylvester Onyango is visiting the US next week. In 2007 I spent 3 weeks in Kenya, so the next few posts are dedicated to some of the journal entries from that trip...

• 8:30am – Willie picked me up at the BTL and we headed over to the camp
o As we were driving to the camp Willie showed me the morning news paper headline that said something like “30 houses burned in (some town) as raiders continue their protest of (some politician)” He said that during the political races for the Kenyan government things can get a little hot...I’d say that’s pretty hot…we talked a little bit about why people do such things and why it’s so important that they know Jesus…I was a little nervous, but remembered that when you’re in the center of God’s will you’re in the safest place you can be!

Willie went on to assure me that the town was a long ways away from Ruiru, and then he said “don’t worry Mon, it’s all good!” And the rest of the day I had a reggae version of “Every little thing is gonna be all right” going through my mind!o We got to the camp and again the church was rocking! These kids really know how to praise God! It was kind of a mixture between Reggae and Hip-hop in Swahili…very cool!

This time they also sang some songs in English and I had a good time worshiping with them. I thought it was awesome that they sang in English, they really wanted me to feel a part of what they are doing, I told them how much I appreciated that, and how hard they are working to understand what this “no rhythm, non-Swahili, bullet dodging, pasty white brother is trying to tell them about Jesus”…they laughed and laughed! I forgot to mention that one of the assumptions they had when I told them I live in NY is that I’m constantly having to dodge bullets from all the gangsters who live in NYC…I politely told them that that assumption is not completely true, and that I live like 6 hours away from NYC, and actually grew up in a town called Horseheads, NY… they kind of looked a little disappointed at that. It was almost like they wanted to be able to say they knew a guy who took on gangsters in NYC, but now all they got is the fact that they met some dude from Horseheads…Hey what can I say!

o Both sessions went well, I shared about how Noah stayed faithful to God even in the midst of ridicule and questions about what he was doing. I challenged them to stay faithful to God’s plan for their lives even when it doesn’t make sense…I then shared with them my story of ups and downs, and junk that God has helped me overcome in my life…those who know me well know what story I’m talking about because I’ve shared it many times over the years…somehow as I shared about the pain that I’ve had to overcome with God’s help it didn’t seem as bad in comparison to what I think these kids deal with on a daily basis…I could be wrong, it may be a foolish assumption on my part, but I’m more amazed every day at what these kids are dealing with and the fact that they continue on…Sylvester said it best when he said “Kenyans are survivors!”

o After the sessions were over I watched the campers play some hilarious games that would make any Youth Pastor proud…It’s so refreshing to see how they use whatever they can find and improvise it to make a game out of it…the kids aren’t “too cool” either, they all get involved and it’s contagious…I know from experience that, that doesn’t just happen either…Sylvester has done a tremendous job of training his leaders on how to design games, how to include students, how to make it fun and interactive…you know stuff they teach you in Youth Pastor School…(I think I took that class after I took “Recreational Camping Leadership 101”, “Proper Pizza Consumption Calculations 102” and my personal favorite “Paper, Plastic or Styrofoam which cup is most cost effective for the all-nighter 103”) or one of the many other YM classes I took in college – ha ha.

o In the afternoon I continued to hang out and get to know the kids…I really like the laid back atmosphere around the BTC tree, it’s almost like they view it as sacred ground where it’s ok to talk about stuff you’re going through…I think there is something to be said about the experiential learning aspect that the tree offers…It’s amazing how when you “give kids permission” and a venue to share it frees them to open up…that’s exactly what’s happening under that tree! I believe some of the next generation of Godly men and woman World Changers are going to come out of this place, and because of the truth of God that’s being taught under a TREE!

o At 4pm I taught part 2 of the Leadership Seminar I’m doing, and we focused today on how important it is to lead from our giftedness…we had a great discussion about Spiritual Gifts and how when we lead through them, we are blessed as are others through our ministry.

o After the seminar Sylvester and I sat and talked about some issues he’s working through in the ministry, and it seemed like he enjoyed talking with someone who knows what it means to be a Youth Pastor…I reminded him that even though I’ve been doing YM along time, I don’t have all the answers and I can’t even begin to understand and empathize with what it means to be a Youth Pastor in Kenya, but whatever I have to offer in terms of encouragement, prayer, insights, ideas etc. I am more than willing to share with him. I think He really appreciated that.
It must be very lonely for him to be leading a movement of trying to educate churches who can barely afford to pay a Sr. Pastor let alone a Youth Pastor that the investment is so needed! That’s something that I think we take for granted a lot of times in the US…I mean the early founders of Youth Ministry as we know it today (some of which serve on the YMI board by the way!) must have had it tough as well trying to break through the stereotype that youth ministry is just about fun, games, all-nighters & pizza!

As we talked I could tell that we have a common goal of helping to continue to take Youth Ministry to the next level by being a part of training the trainers with excellence!

o It was a very profitable day…I think the “Be The Chan
ge” theme is starting to click with many of the kids and I think Sylvester and his team are leading the charge in that area...

Sylvester doesn’t know this but I walked into the church at one point to get my sunglasses while the games were going on, and there he was bent over a mop bucket wringing out a rag that he was using to “mop” the area around the pulpit where I was preaching from because it was very dirty from everyone walking in and out…I saw him and across the church in the other door, a few of his leaders saw him as well, and I could tell that they took notice at how their leader was serving when no-one was looking…BEING THE CHANGE!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Connecting with Kenya #4

YMI East Africa Director, Sylvester Onyango is visiting the US next week. In 2007 I spent 3 weeks in Kenya, so the next few posts are dedicated to some of the journal entries from that trip...

• We got up at 5:30am to get ready for our morning game drive…we grabbed some coffee and then headed to our land cruiser to head out into the Mara to see what we could find.

• It didn’t take long and we came upon another pride of lions…this time though there were 4 huge males and 2 large females just hanging out right next to our vehicle! Their paws were gigantic and I was just amazed as I stood there looking at them! There was a heard of about 100 buffalo about 200 yards away but they weren’t interested at all…they did have an interesting stare down with a hyena though that was pretty funny to watch…guess who won that one?

• We then drove all over the place looking for things and saw a ton of different kinds of animals…
o Zebra
o Buffalo
o Wildebeest
o Jackals
o Foxes
o Vultures
o Hyenas
o Monkeys
o Secretary Birds
o Giraffes
o Elephants

• As we were driving along we saw another pride of Lions, this time they were gathered around the carcass of a wildebeest having breakfast…they were chomping away, and it was amazing how they were sharing and taking care of each other with the catch.

• It was funny because just over the ridge we could see the lower species on the food chain beginning to gather to get some scraps that might be left behind…hyenas & vultures waited patiently as the lions pulled and ripped and chewed…The food chain at work.

• As I’m writing this I just heard a loud snort and it sounds like a hippo is nearby! God’s creation is amazing!

• On the afternoon game drive we were taken about an hour away to the border of Tanzania (we actually crossed into Tanzania for a little while) to a section of the Mara river where the hippos & crocodiles hang out and wait for the migration of wildebeest to cross…when we drove up to the river bank the smell was pretty pungent and then I realized why…there were hippos and crocks in the water surrounded by bodies of wildebeest…there were about 20 carcasses just laying in the water…Jonathon told us that over 10,000 animals were killed in the migration this year as they tried to cross the river! We then went a little further down the river to a bridge and as we got close to the river the smell of death was not only pungent, it was RANK!

I’m talking about the worst smelling stench imaginable! We continued onto the bridge and soon found out why…there were hundreds of carcasses strewn as far as you could see. In among the bodies were hippos and crocodiles hanging out enjoying the spoils of a successful migration (from their perspective)…I then looked to the other side of the bridge and there were several hundred dried up carcasses and bones everywhere. It was an incredible sight to see and smell.

• We then turned around and left the area for a sweeter smelling section of the Mara…it wasn’t long and we came upon a family of Giraffes grazing on some very tall trees…it was fun watching them leisurely stroll about the meadow (what a difference between them and the crocks and even the Lions)…while I was getting some video of them Jonathon said “hey, there’s a Rhino!” sure enough there he was in the bush just walking around…they are very hard to find, but we saw him for short time and then he was gone…it was definitely the top find of the day!

• We got back to the lodge and attended a Massai Tribal presentation and lecture which was very interesting!

• After the presentation we headed for bed and enjoyed a good night’s sleep!


• We got up at 5:30am to get ready for our morning game drive…grabbed some coffee and we were on our way.

• While I was drinking my coffee a man asked if he could sit down and join me, so I said “sure have a seat”…we struck up a conversation and I found out that his name is Hassan and he is from Egypt…It was fun talking with him about what we do with YMI and learning a little bit about his culture…I’ve met some interesting people on this trip…people from, Wales, Germany, Japan, New Mexico, India, Massai Tribal Warriors, and I even met a Swami from Pakistan who is in Nairobi doing a “Swami thing”, whatever that means…It’s been an amazing intro to various cultures…One thing is for sure, we were all fascinated by God’s creation on the safari!

o The game drive started and it wasn’t long and we came upon another pride of lions enjoying their breakfast (they seem to really enjoy wildebeest)…it was awesome to watch the power that these animals possess, no wonder they are the king of the beasts!

• After the game drive was over we packed our gear and went to the airstrip to catch our flight back to Nairobi.

• We landed safely and were taken back to the Safari Park Hotel where we’ll spend the night and fly out tomorrow night back home!

• It has been an incredible 3 weeks in Kenya! I’ve seen God at work in many ways, and it has been a privilege to take part in His work! Africa is known as the dark continent, that’s true…but it’s my prayer that God will continue to use his people to shine His light here, so many will be drawn to Him!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Connecting with Kenya #3

YMI East Africa Director, Sylvester Onyango is visiting the US in a few weeks. In 2007 I spent 3 weeks in Kenya, so the next few posts are dedicated to some of the journal entries from that trip...

• It’s been a while since I last blogged and a lot has happened this past week… I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and write, but I’ll try to capture as much as I can from memory.

My time at Kenya Baptist Theological College was awesome! I was able to rub shoulders with some amazing Youth and Pastoral Majors who really have a heart to serve the Lord in Kenya!

• On Thursday I spoke in chapel and was very well received by the students and faculty…God was working as I shared with the students…thanks for all of your prayers.

• Randy and I spent a lot of time with the School Administration and several professors regarding the future direction of the school (they are working towards becoming Kenya Baptist University), and YMI’s part in continuing to provide the training for the youth majors within that context. Everyone we talked to and interacted with absolutely loves YMI and what we’re doing with the Youth Majors, and it was so great to be a part of strategizing with the top leadership about the future possibilities.

• The Youth Majors are incredible! I met one graduate of our program who is from an Island in Lake Victoria which is bordered by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania…she told us that 65% of the 30,000 people who live on the Island are

HIV positive! I can’t even imagine that…she has such a strategic ministry to people who desperately need the hope that our God gives! Her name is Jane, please pray for her and the kids that she is reaching! I talked with the Pastor of her church about doing some ministry when I’m back and he was very excited about some possibilities.

• Sylvester has done a really good job with teaching these students, and it was also fun for me to hear stories about two of our guys that helped pave the way for these students to receive their Youth Ministry diploma…Frank Mills and Scott Dishong had a great ministry with these students as well, and it was awesome to see the fruits of their labor as I sat on stage next to Randy at the Graduation ceremony! Thank God for dedicated Youth Trainers like these guys! I was reminded again how important it is to train the trainers of Youth Ministry…the legacy is continuing in Kenya!

• The graduation service was a fun atmosphere to involved in…I thought I’d be sitting somewhere in the congregation or maybe even outside looking in one of the windows like many of the people had to do because it was standing room only in the auditorium. As we were taking pictures with graduates and talking with several students the Principal of the school (equivalent to the President) called us over and told us to join him at the front of the procession and sit on the stage with him and the other leaders! It was such an honor to be a part of that!

• The service lasted about 3 hours and was full of songs, scripture, testimonies, an African choir and a challenging message…the highlight for me was seeing our graduates step up and receive the announcement of their degree in youth ministry and seven of them receive the YMI certification to be able to take our informal materials and go out and teach it all over Africa! It’s a big deal, and you could tell that they were so proud to have been given that confidence, authority and license to take our materials and train others in it!

• After the service I got a chance to mingle with several more students and encourage them to go out and make a difference.

• After the service was over Randy and I checked out of Brackenhurst and headed into Nairobi to stay at the Hampton House for the evening.

• On Saturday morning we checked out of the Hampton House and went to the Safari Park Hotel where we’re staying until Monday morning…talk about extremes! This place is amazing…beautiful grounds, Five star accommodations, incredible food, cascading water falls and like 5 pools! It’s a lot different than what I saw at Kibera! We are having a great time here, but I must admit I keep thinking about all that I have seen and experienced up until this point…I’m glad I got to see and be a part of all of it and not just this part!

• I had a great talk with Lincoln again…(he and I have really clicked and have had some incredible strategy sessions under the tree, in the dirt, on the steps etc.) I asked him what part of the youth ministry training he really
enjoys, and he said the materials that help him understand how to reach the street kids and kids that live in places like Kibera! He said he could see himself living among and ministering to the kids in Kibera some day! I was blown away, here’s a guy who has such a heart to reach kids in the slums that he is praying about taking his training right to them and living among them to reach them!

o There are a bunch of other guys like Lincoln who would love to get their degree in YM but don’t have the funds…it costs about $60 a month for 3 years to give a youth leader a full scholarship to KBTC in Youth Ministry! (The total cost for the college is about 45,000 shillings per year – which is about $725 a year for 3 years)…That $60 a month might as well be 6 million a month for these guys, and the reality is most of them can’t afford it without some help form others…It is my prayer that God would lay it on people’s hearts to help sponsor one or more of our students who want to get trained as Youth Professionals in this culture. I’ve met a ton of great investments here in Kenya!

• Today (Sunday) Randy and I went back to Ruiru for church as he spoke in the Youth class and also in the morning servi
ce. It was fun to be a part of the service again and interact with the kids and the leaders. Randy did a great job speaking and the people really responded to his challenge…at the end of the sermon he gave an invitation to receive Christ or rekindle your faith in Christ and many responded! The Pastor then asked me to come up and pray for the people who responded…it was a great joy to do that!

• At the end of the service Sylvester and his youth leaders came up front and thanked me for my ministry with them over these last 3 weeks, and dedicated the closing song to me…They sang “Friends” by Michael W Smith, and of course I was very moved by that, it was a special moment that I will always remember!

• I hung out and talked with the youth leaders and the kids for a while and then it was time to leave…as we were leaving I remembered something…during one of the songs that the youth leaders sang in the service (again everything in the church service was run by the youth and the youth leaders!) One of the guys up there singing was Kevin (he was one of the orphan boys who was at camp on a work scholarship and had accepted Christ during the camp week)…there he was up front smiling and singing with all his might! God is at work here in Kenya!

• Randy & I along with Sylvester and Willis (yes, after a week of thinking his name was Willie I found out it’s really Willis – oh well) went back to Safari Park to have lunch and celebrate all that God has been doing these past 3 weeks.

• Tomorrow morning Randy and I fly out of Nairobi over to the Western part of Kenya (Masai Mara) to go on the safari! I’m really looking forward it!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Connecting with Kenya - #2

YMI East Africa Director, Sylvester Onyango is visiting the US in a few weeks. In 2007 I spent 3 weeks in Kenya, so the next few posts are dedicated to some of the journal entries from that trip...

• 8:30am – I was picked up at BTL and taken over to the church for the closing ceremony at the camp
• It was a very fun and energetic program, as the kids presented, the leaders presented and Sylvester presented, all in a way to help bring closure to an awesome week of camp!
He shared that after counting all the commitment cards there were 9 salvations and 29 dedications to the Lord! He was ecstatic and the whole place erupted! That’s what it’s all about!

• Before the program started a bunch of the kids were sitting under the BTC tree so I got in the middle of them and said “hey everyone, surround me”
they came running and I got a great picture with them. “As the shot was being taken I reminded them that in Christ we are on big family! They all cheered and smiled at that!

• The Pastor came up and gave a closing word, and he thanked me for sharing God’s Word with the campers, and asked me to thank everyone back home for their sacrifices that allowed me to come to Kenya and minister to them…I assured him that I would and that many people have been praying!

He then said that in Kenya there are many kinds of flowers, and they symbolize blessing from God, and there is a tradition in spring that when the breezes blow and the flower petals and seeds are flying everywhere that it symbolizes God’s blessing spreading to all people…he then had everyone open their hands likes flowers and on the count of three close their fingers and then fling them open and make a whooshing sound to symbolize them sending blessings to me and my family…it was a neat moment and I actually got a great picture of them doing that to remember it.

• Sylvester then invited me to come back up one more time and add any closing thoughts I had and close in prayer…I reiterated my thoughts from yesterday about the next generation of world changers emerging from under the BTC tree, and how I have been so blessed to be a part of it with them! I then prayed and asked God to bless them and we were done…They didn’t want to leave though! I got lots of pictures with kids, and leaders…It was an awesome end to an awesome week of camp.

• Thank you to all of you who were praying for God to do great things…He did!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Connecting with Kenya

In a few weeks, a good friend, and colleague of mine is coming to America for a visit.

In 2007, I had the privilege of visiting his turf, and we had plans to have him visit in 2008, but due to the violence that erupted in his country, we were unable to make it happen.

Well, now it's going to happen. The YMI East Africa Director Sylvester Onyango is coming here to introduce people to what his ministry is all about, what they're doing and prayerfully ask others to join the team by supporting Youth Pastor training in East Africa.
He is going to have a pretty busy itinerary, with speaking engagements in Kentucky, Georgia, New York and New Jersey, and your prayers are much appreciated during this time.

He arrives January 28th and will fly home February 23rd. During my visit in 2007, I blogged quite a bit about what I saw and experienced, so I thought for the next few posts I would dedicate them to re-posting some of my experiences when I spent 3 weeks in Kenya...

Blog Post -12/7/2007 • 8:30am – Sylvester and a new driver picked me up at BTL to head over to the camp
It was different not having Willis as my driver today, he was on a trip for the weekend but will be back with me on Monday. I arrived at the camp and it was a little different today, it almost had a sad, kind of depressed feel to it...the church wasn’t rocking like it has been, so I asked Sylvester what was going on and he said that the reality of camp coming to an end is setting in with the kids…I know how that can be when you really are having a good time, and you don’t want to go home…many of these kids really don’t want to go back to their reality!

Sylvester invited me to come up and officially deliver the final 2 sessions to the camp and I was up and running…I told a couple introduction stories to kind of lighten the mood and get them tracking with me again and then it was just like the other sessions have been, lots of interaction and laughter and challenge from God’s word… you should have heard the uproar during the first session when I was preaching…I walked to the back of the church and looked out the door at the "Be The Change" tree and told them what I thought yesterday when I saw them sitting under it learning how to Be The Change…I told them how I Believe that the next generation of World Changers is going to emerge from under that tree! The church erupted!!

Sylvester had tears in his eyes and many of the leaders stood to their feet and looked at their teens and applauded them! It’s amazing how powerful our words can be when they are truthful, filled with passion, belief and encouragement…I could’ve stopped the message right there it was that incredible of a moment! God was really moving today!

I think if I were to judge the effectiveness of each of the sessions, today would’ve been the best of all of them…I shared the gospel again and invited Sylvester to come up and close the second session however he felt the Lord wanted him to…he gave an invitation to accept Christ and an invitation to commit their lives to serving Christ…as of this writing I know of 3 teens that told Sylvester that they had accepted Jesus as their Savior! One of the orphan boys (Kevin) was one of them!

There were many more who responded to commit their lives to living for Christ, and the commitment cards were still coming in, so I’ll give an update with official commitments and salvation decisions when it’s final…God is Good!

It was raining today so the games were held in the church…the rain didn’t dampen the spirits of the campers though, they were really into it again! They had a contest to see who could draw the best picture of me in under 5 minutes…then I had to judge the winner. Talk about difficult! The campers then signed their names on the back of the pictures and gave them to me as a gift to remember them by, so I could pray for them all by name! It was a great gift! In one of the pictures though, I look like Lebron James, it was pretty funny.

One of the competitions was a rap contest…these kids were really good at that…they are so creative and expressive, they really do everything with passion.

After the games Sylvester and I went back into Nairobi to get some things and it was packed! There were cars and Mutatus and people and goats and Herds of Longhorns that would make even the biggest University of Texas fan proud…the city was teeming and alive with activity…I found myself surrounded in a sea of people…Sylvester was pointing out various religious & people groups that we saw on the way…We saw Muslims, Hindus, Seiks, Nomads, Rich people in BMW’s and poor people with broken walking sticks, filthy hole filled clothes and bare feet...young and old and even a huge billboard of Tupac Shakur…it was incredible to see so many kinds of people from so many different walks of life all converging on a city that was built to handle about 2 million people but now finds itself struggling to hold around 5 million…to say the least it was a zoo!

At one point while we were sitting in the “Jom” as Sylvester called it (traffic jam is what he’s referring to)…I heard a bunch of people shouting in Swahili and then around the front of our car a group of about 10 guys were chasing a well dressed man shouting “Thief, Thief, Thief” and they caught him and starting beating him up on the other side of a bus that was sitting next to us…Sylvester said that that’s one of the techniques of pick pockets these days, they’ll walk the streets in nice clothes so people think they have money and don’t fear them, they will rob unsuspecting woman and take off…this guy wasn’t so fortunate, the civil law kicked into gear and Sylvester said that if the police didn’t get there soon, he’d be lucky to be alive…WOW!

We got back to camp just in time for me to do the final session of the Leadership seminar…the leaders were really into it again today, we had a great closing session as we brainstormed about ways that they can imple
ment the learnings into their own ministries…it’s so much fun for me to throw out a leadership principle and watch them tackle it & discuss it and figure out ways to put it into practice in their culture…there are some excellent leaders in this group!

After the seminar I talked with Sylvester for a little while about his thoughts about the camp, and he had the look of a very happy, tired and satisfied Youth Pastor who just saw a ministry that has taken months of planning and preparation come to a successful completion. It was so incredible for me to sit and talk about what went well, what didn’t and what could be improved…he strikes me as a guy who is always striving to get better at what he does, and that kind of attitude towards youth ministry is so contagious, and is the kind of attitude that really energizes me!
As I was leaving the camp a bunch of the kids from the camp and along the road were waving and saying goodbye…it was a bitter sweet moment for me to think that my time at the camp is done, but because of God’s life changing truths being accepted into lives this week, I’m going to see many of these kids again someday, either on this earth or someday in Heaven!

My prayer for the kids at the Ruiru Baptist Camp is that they would continue to grow in their faith and take steps each day to Be The Change that this world needs, and stand up for Jesus who is the only one with the life changing power! You know what…I think they just might do it to…Kenyans are Survivors, that’s true but when Jesus is powering the change…they will become more like… THRIVERS! That’s my prayer!

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Votes Are In

Drum roll please...the results are in for the top 10 Lesson Learned Articles as voted by YOU!

Thanks to everyone who took the time to cast their votes, I really appreciate both of you - ha ha.

No, really it was pretty overwhelming sifting through the responses and realizing that of the 27 articles I've written so far in this series, 21 of them received votes from you, that's awesome!

It was also really cool for me as I read the kinds of things you connected with in the articles and the way God used certain ones at certain times in your life, right exactly when you needed it!

So, without any further ramblings by me, here they are, the top 10 Lesson Learned articles with a link to each of them in case you want to go back and re-read...thanks again everyone!
Learning Lessons with you,

Lesson Learned Series - TOP 10 - 2008

1. Do you trust me?
2. Gifts
3. No AC, NO FM and NO Regrets
4. Feelings or Truth?
5. Kingdom Mentality
6. Plans
7. Got Faith?
8. I've Failed
9. Worst Ever?
10. Excuses, Excuses

Friday, January 2, 2009

Lesson Learned Series - Top 10

Well, it's 2009 and everyone seems to be compiling their list of "best of's" and "top 10's", so I figured why not see what others think of the lesson learned series, and which one's would rank as the 10 best.

Below is a form that lists all the lesson learned articles to this point, so if you would take a look and put a check by the one's you would pick as your top ten that would be great.

In the comment section feel free to share why you picked what you picked, and maybe a way that the article blessed you, met a spiritual need or impacted you in some way.

I'll leave the post up for a week, and then report on what we've found out. Thanks everyone, it's been a great year of learning lessons, and I'm looking forward to seeing what God has in store with the year to come.

Learning lessons with you,