Our Mission Statement

Tuesday, January 31

The hot fudge sundae

You know, I have come to the decision that life is what you make of it. Period, end of story. Of course, there are a dozen corny illustrations I could use here, so, pick out your favorite one and insert it anytime you want. But, I am grateful that it is left up to us to decide what we are going to do with what we have to work with in this life. Because I am here to tell you, I am SO VERY GLAD that what I get out of life is not left to someone else! As you might expect, I am going to take this thought and run with it for a while. So, sit back and enjoy the ride, hope you gain something from it.

Case number 1. Today, was a typical “run like mad trying to get everything done” kind of day, and found me slowing down at 2:00 at McDonald’s to grab something for lunch. Sorry, this is not a lesson on eating healthy, just a fact needed to complete the story. Anyway, I am getting out of my car to walk inside and I notice a fancy dancy Cadillac pull into the parking area near me, taking up two spaces (one of my buttons that can be pushed to get me going). An older man, dressed in casual wear (shorts, polo shirt) hustles into the restaurant carrying a bag. I think to myself, “Well, there is a carry out order that wasn’t correct.” He beat me to the door and marched himself right up to the counter, ignoring the three people that were standing in line. His complaint? They filled his hot fudge sundae up too high so he couldn’t take the lid off without ice cream dripping over the sides. He blistered the poor teenage girl at the register demanding a new one. She politely (I was impressed, I am not so sure I would have handled this situation as well as she did) made him a new one and apologized for the mistake (that someone else made). Without a thank you or any other response, the man whirled and stomped out. Wow, what a scene.

I bit my lip to keep my mouth shut. I wanted to say something so badly but I chose to stay quiet. Inside, though, it burned me up to see what had just happened. You see, life is what you make of it. This guy was ticked off because there was too much ice cream to open up the lid, and demanded a new sundae with less ice cream. Me? I would have rejoiced in the fact that I got more for my money! Who wouldn’t want to get more ice cream and hot fudge on their sundae??? For goodness sakes, it is a 99 cent sundae! What’s this guy like on something really important? Life is what you make it. I am glad that guy isn’t making the decisions in my life, I think I would be miserable.

Case number 2. Yesterday (Monday) I had to go to the Moffitt Cancer, in Tampa, for my 3 month CT scan. Oh, yes, it is one of my favorites (make sure to read this statement with sarcasm). You get to drink these delicious barium milk shakes (they come in 4 flavors: Very berry; Orchard apple; Tropical Banana; and Tangy orange. Take your pick, they all taste the same…. gross) 2 hours before the scan. Of course, you have to fast the day of the scan, so I haven’t had anything to eat for 14 hours. Anyway, most of that was useless information (unless you were just dying to know the prep work leading up to a CT scan) to lead into the point of the story. During the 2 hours prior to the scan, I was sitting in the waiting room with dozens of others who were there for various tests, treatments, etc., for their cancer. We are all in this boat together, but it is very interesting to sit in the waiting room and just watch and listen. You can learn a lot about life (and death) here, in places like this.

Most of us there were by ourselves (although one of my favorite girls from youth group that goes to school now in Tampa came by in between classes and visited with me for a while which was wonderful), although there were a few in there with mates or relatives. It is like most any waiting room, several groupings of chairs (you know, the kind that are connected together) with a TV in the corner. Now, this is what I noticed, while sitting there in deep observation. Almost all, no matter what stage of illness they were in at the time, sat quietly, staring straight ahead, going to great lengths not to make eye contact with anyone. Then, there were a few that went to great lengths to create a conversation with anyone that would talk to them (very friendly, very outgoing). And then there were those watching the TV. I was in that group (I know, what a shocker).

We were watching an episode of the TV series, “Coach.” If you have ever seen Coach, you know it is a comedy, and it really is funny. (Jerry Van Dyke is absolutely one of the funniest guys I have ever watched on TV. I don’t know how they filmed this stuff with straight faces!) And I have come to realize, in the past 3 years of fighting cancer, that one of the greatest truths comes from Reader’s Digest. You know, the section called, “Humor, the best medicine.” I have found that watching comedies, and laughing IS REALLY the best medicine! Laughing just makes you feel good!

So, anyway, there were only 4 of us really watching the show, all the others were doing what I just described. And the episode was really funny and there we were, 4 of us (3 men and 1 woman) laughing. Now, at first, we just sort of chuckled (we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves I guess). But then, one of the men started to laugh out loud. The next thing you know the 4 of us are laughing out loud to the point that we were all but making a disturbance in the waiting room (for those who know me this is really not a surprise).

But you know what? Life is what you make it. And on Monday, January 30th, I saw 3 people that made the best of the situation. All of my anxiety, stress, and worry was taken away, for a few moments, in that waiting room. For just a little while, everything was OK, not just for me, but for the others as well. Life is what you make it. I went in for the scan with a smile on my face. I joked with the nurses and had good conversations with all of them. Even the tech guy behind the lead lined wall came out to visit. Why? Maybe it was because they deal with dreadful situations hour after hour, day after day. And finally a few people came through the door with a smile on their faces. Maybe it made their jobs a little bit better that day.

My favorite line was with the nurse that had to insert the needle for the contrast dye they give you during the scan. She asked how I was doing, and I replied, “pretty good considering you just stuck a really sharp piece of metal into my arm!” She laughed out so hard I thought she was going to mess up the shot! (for the record, be careful when you make wise cracks). After the scan was over I talked for a couple more minutes with the staff (might as well get my money’s worth while I am there, right?). They asked me what I did for a living, which, in return, gave me a chance to witness my faith with them. 2 of the 3 were faithful church goers who believed in faith based medicine. Cool, huh? I left the radiology department with a smile on my face and headed to the main lobby to rest a few minutes before driving the hour drive back home.

Life is what you make it. Did the barium make me sick? Yes. Did the shot hurt? You bet. Am I still fighting cancer? Of course. But, the moral of the story is, we all get to decide what we are going to get out of life. Only we can decide whether or not we are going to wear a frown or a smile each day. Whether we are going to get all upset over something (big or small) or let it run off our backs like water on a duck. Thank goodness we don’t have to let someone else make that decision for us. Job’s wife, during his affliction, told him to curse God and die. Sorry, she is not the one I would want to make my choices!!! Psalms 118:24 says, “This is the day that the Lord has made, I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.” I like that one much better. Make each day the best that you can make it. AFTER ALL, IT IS YOUR CHOICE. And, it may make someone else’s day be better too. Two for the price of one, now that is a deal! That might even be better than too much ice cream and hot fudge on your sundae!


Wednesday, January 25

climbing for higher ground

One must sit down, from time to time, to evaluate what life means to them. Of course, this is an ever changing answer, when you really think about it. Life is a constantly changing arena in which so many things come into play as you pass within its boundaries. And of course the value you place on life comes from the things around you that you find value in themselves. The things that you view as important yesterday most likely are different in what you value today, and will probably change yet again as you grow older.

As a youth minister, it is interesting to watch and listen to what teenagers say and classify as valuable and important. From my vantage point I try to get them to rethink, re-evaluate, what they are placing in the “valuable and important” categories of their lives. What they see as truly important, such as friendships, relationships, sports, etc., are blurred by the moment. They get so wrapped up, tied up, and tuned to the immediate, that nothing else matters at that point of time. And I am there, looking and watching, trying to guide them past the immediate to look more toward the future and what it has to offer. Because when they do that, they realize that what they deem important and valuable now is not, in the long run. But it is amazing how difficult it is to get them to see beyond the immediate, the “now.”

Of course, it humors me a little bit too, since I am looking back, with all of my wisdom, to where they are now and compare it to where I am now. I see so much drama, so much emotion, within the teens, and I know how silly it really is and how little it is all going to effect them as they get older. But they don’t see it, and can’t understand it because of where they are and their vantage point. You have to gain the higher ground in order to see it. Once you see it, and understand it, it changes the way you think and how you classify the important and valuable things of life.

Now, what is truly amusing, in a twisted sort of way, is the fact that there are others, older than I, who look at me in the same way. Through their experiences they watch and consider what I classify as important and they shake their heads and wonder why I spend so much time in this or that, knowing that I am living in the moment, allowing emotions to convince me of my decisions. They too, try to guide me to get me to see the bigger picture, to help me gain the higher ground, so that I can see more clearly. And just like the teens I work with, I bet I am just a stubborn headed. The things I am so intense on today may affect me little as I get older. But it is hard to see it at the time. Are you following all of this so far? Is this making any sense to anyone out there?

Life is short. James says it is like a vapor, that appears for a short time, and then vanishes. However, it is hard to consider life short as you go through it. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Experiences start to build up and our opinions and attitudes on things change with the blowing of the wind. What we thought was so important yesterday is of little consequence today. The thing that we would go to battle over yesterday is not even in our top 10 most important things today. It is all very fascinating if you really sit down and think about it. But life goes on, almost like a ride at an amusement park, and you are on the ride until the end.

So, where am I going with all of this. I have decided, after much thought and consideration, that we do not take life very seriously. We really don’t. We want to, we even try too, but we really don’t take life very seriously. For what is life, really? Think about it for a moment. What is life REALLY? Now, the good Christian answer is to fear God, and keep His commandments, for that is the whole duty of man. Right? RIGHT? Say it with me, Yes, that is the meaning of life. We are suppose to live our lives in such a way that we bring honor and glory to God in everything we do, and to live in a relationship with God that assures us of eternal life when it is all said and done. There ya go, that is what life is SUPPOSE to be.

However, that is not what I see out there. Now, I am not setting myself up as judge and a know it all, but I am here to tell you that is not what I see out there. And I am talking about the religious world. I am not even trying to address the rest of the world. I am talking about the church people out there. The ones we all see at our congregations. We are not taking life seriously. Our value system is all out of whack. Our vision is blurred, our goals are out of line, and we are adrift today living lives that are totally void of what we really need. The things of the world have distracted us and has redefined our value system. The things that we think that are so important, so valuable, could be, in fact, nothing more than silly distractions that keep us from ever getting focused on the real meaning of life.

That is why we fill a church building up on a Sunday morning, only to see a small fraction to come back again on a Sunday night or Wednesday night. That is why someone is there one Sunday and then misses the next three. That is why we see more in the worship assembly than Bible class. That is why our contributions average only 3%-5% of our income. That is why we aren’t reaching the lost, the ones that we KNOW that are not in a saved relationship with Jesus.

We don’t take life seriously enough. Because if we did, we would be filling our church buildings up to overflowing every Sunday, and NOT complain about being crowded. We wouldn’t reach those growth “ceilings” in which we reach 80% of our auditorium capacity and then watch the attendance begin to falter. We wouldn’t debate expansion plans, or what kind of carpet we plan to put down, or what color the walls will be. Those things wouldn’t be important because we would be taking life seriously.

We wouldn’t worry about the kind of songbook we use, or whether or not we use a projector, or overheads. We wouldn’t be concerned if we were using power point or singing the old traditionals or the new contemporaries. Those things wouldn’t be important because we would be taking life seriously. We would be more concerned about worshipping God, lifting Him in praise, fearing Him and doing His commandments.

We wouldn’t worry about what we wear, or what we drive, or the house we live in. We wouldn’t worry so much about our furniture, our shoes, or our hair styles. We wouldn’t worry about who is in the super bowl or how many points Colby Bryant scored last night. That just wouldn’t be very important because we would know what was really valuable, what was really important. Those things wouldn’t be important because we would be taking life seriously. We would be more concerned about worshipping God, lifting Him in praise, fearing Him and doing His commandments.

And you know what? We wouldn’t be organizing short term mission trips and trying to convince people to go on the trip. It would be happening all of the time, day after day, week after week, month after month. Everyone would be involved because we would be taking life seriously. We would be more concerned about worshipping God, lifting Him in praise, fearing Him and doing His commandments. But, until we can reach that higher ground to get the better view, we are not going to see what we need to see. We are not going to understand what we need to understand. We are not going to get where we need to get to. But, maybe someday, we will. And we will take life seriously, we would be more concerned about worshipping God, lifting Him in praise, fearing Him and doing His commandments. Until that time, sit down for a moment and evaluate what life means to you. And think of how you can climb up to the higher ground. When we were children we thought as children, but when we become adults, we put away the childish things. Higher ground, that is where I want to be. How about you?


Friday, January 20

news updates

The 2006 teams are filling up fast, faster than ever. It amazes me to see so many people wanting to go to Honduras to do short term mission work. It amazes me even more to see people who give up hard earned vacation time to go. And it amazes me the most to see how many go, year after year, to do ministry, when there are so many other things they could do with their time and money.

For those who are going, and especially those who are still thinking about going, please read the following information carefully. We have so many that go with me on my trips from so many different places that it is very difficult to communicate to all of you out there! I hope that everyone is reading the blogspot and that information like this gets to the people that need to know it! Time is marching on and deadlines and other important dates are quickly approaching.

First, the final deadline for anyone wanting to go on ANY of my summer trips (May 14-24; July 1-10; and July 14-24), is February 7th. After this date applications will not be accepted unless there are openings on one of the trips that we are trying to fill. So, any last minute thinkers out there need to be making up your minds in the next week or two.

Second, Gena Hines is once again handling our airline tickets for this year. Because of the fuel crisis (?), and more importantly, the reality of supply and demand, ticket prices have gone up and have stayed up. Gena is trying her best to get us the cheapest prices that she can get, but the best way to do it is to secure tickets now and work on the prices along the way. Anyone who has not turned in applications and deposits do not have an airline ticket reserved in your name as of right now. Flights are going to sell out so if you want to go on the trip we MUST have your application and deposit in ASAP.

Third, those going this year should have $400 in your accounts by January 31st ($100 deposit and your first payment of $300). If you have not done this, you are behind the recommended payment schedule. Regardless, it is mandatory that everyone have $700 in their accounts by March 7th. We have to pay off the airline tickets at that time. If you do not have your money in, your ticket will be released and will have to be rebooked when you do have the money (at at the market value of the ticket at the time we rebook). It only makes sense to get your money in on time to avoid higher costs.
Fourth, if you have to withdraw from the trip, the withdrawal date is March 1st. Withdrawing by this date allows you to get a complete refund of all of the money you have paid in at that point. After April 1st, you will receive your refund minus the $50 application/administration fee. Once airline tickets are paid for, anyone who withdraws at that point is obligated to pay the cancellation penalty for the ticket (usually $150). If the ticket cannot be cancelled, you will be obligated to buy the ticket and you should receive a travel voucher to use the ticket on another date.

I know this all sounds pretty stiff and cold, but we just want to make sure we have our teams set up and ready to go as soon as possible so that we can avoid the dreaded power of the airlines and all of their wily fees that they have for the unknowing traveler. I can only wish that the airlines would become more compassionate about the missionaries who are going to foreign lands to do good deeds instead of seeing us as a cash cow during the summer months of their flight calendar. Oh well, capitalism is alive and well.

I am once again taking applications for “The Crew.” The Crew is a special group of Torch members that are selected to stay and work on both the July 1-10 and the July 1-14 trips. Crew members stay the entire 24 days and work with the Torch teams and also have special assignments and responsibilities given to them. If you are interested in applying for The Crew, consider the following requirements:
* A Crew member must be a high school graduate (current seniors qualify) unless special considerations are made by myself and my team leaders.
* A Crew member must have been on at least 2 Torch trips prior to this year (unless special considerations are made).
* Crew applicants must contact me and write an essay expressing why you would like to be a member of the Crew. The essay must be one page long and can be mailed or e-mailed directly to me.
* Crew applicants must have 2 letters of recommendation from either an elder; deacon; minister; school teacher; principal; etc.
* The cost of the trip for a Crew member is $1,500. This pays for the add ional lodging at the mission house and the special project(s) that the Crew members will do. Each year the Crew participates in a special project that involves only them during the time in between the two July teams.
I will be selecting a maximum of 15 Crew members this year, announcements will be made by the end of April. If you are interested, get with me soon. There is not a special application for Crew members, everyone uses the same application form.

As always, continue to pray for the trip. Hopefully everyone has begun collecting supplies for the trip. All supplies need to be sent to Florida (Sarasota) by April so that we can get the container loaded and shipped so that it will be there waiting for us when we get down there this summer. In particular be collecting medical supplies, toys, NEW children’s shoes and socks, stuffed animals, school supplies, and children’s clothes. I will give specific information about packing up and inventorying the supplies later on in another blog.

Thanks for all the hard work that you are doing to get ready for the trip, for the first timers, I know that your excitement is overflowing, because there is a lot of stuff going on that you really don’t even understand fully yet. Just know that God is overseeing our trip and I know that He has big plans for us and that we will not be disappointed or let down. It will be a great summer and He will be glorified and He will receive all of the praise and glory of what we do. It is not about us, it is all about Him and His kingdom. He is preparing our work, even now, before we ever get there. Isn’t that awesome? Can’t wait, how about you?


Wednesday, January 18

falling to get up again

Falling off of a cliff. There are not many people in this world that can say that, right? But I did. Just a few weeks after graduating from high school. Amazing how quickly things can change. Now, you know how they say your life can flash before your eyes right before you are about to die? Yep, its true. But the fall happened so fast that I didn’t see much of it. When if slid off of the path the last thing I did was to try to grab a thorn bush on the way down. That didn’t help the situation at all. To say the least. I didn’t even have time to scream. The fall happened so fast and when I hit I just crumpled to the ground. 3 hours later I was in the hospital for X-Rays and a cast on my leg.

I was in the cast all summer. Actually, I was in 5 casts. I kept breaking them. Everything from playing back yard football (yes, in a cast… I was all time quarterback!) to being in a car wreck (I wasn’t driving), I went through 5 casts. The 5th one was my last one because the doctor said he wasn’t going to put another one on me! So I behaved and allowed my leg to heal. Getting out of the cast was actually the hardest part since I had been in a walking cast. Rehab was painful as I got all the ligaments and muscles working again. Bone spurs in my foot and ankle are constant reminders of that fateful day so long ago.

But, now to the applications. My whole life revolved around sports. I played them all, basketball, football, baseball. I even played tennis, golf, and volleyball growing up. Basketball was my love but baseball was my best sport and my ticket to college. I made good grades and did well on the ACT to get some academic scholarship, but I was intent on playing college baseball and to see what it would bring. Breaking my leg robbed my of my speed and agility, and now I had bigger decisions to make. This is tough on a jock who’s ego was pretty big.

College was always a given, even though my parents never attended. Everyone I knew at Madison Academy was going to college and I followed the crowd as well as anyone. All of a sudden going to a Christian college started making a lot of sense. Things were beginning to take shape and new ideas were forming. But, Christian colleges were expensive and my parents were not prepared to send me off and pay those kinds of bills. I was going to have to prove myself at a local school if I wanted any hopes of going off to a Christian school.

So I went to the University of Alabama, Huntsville campus, and took some classes there and also at a junior college near town. I guess the one thing I learned from both schools was that I was not meant to be at a state school. I hated just about every minute of it. Except for a few close friends I was as miserable as could be. Spending 4 years at a Christian high school had opened my eyes to what the world was offering and I didn’t fall for it one bit. I laid low, went to class (when I had to) and put in my time with undergrad requirements.

My sophomore year I finally got to transfer to Freed-Hardeman, the place I had dreamed of attending. I had a lot of friends there and had my sights on being a Bible major. I had gone from ball jock to Bible banger in just a year. How about that? What a change around. To get there I had to sell my car and work all summer just to get enough money to pay for the first semester. My parents helped out the same as when I was going to state school and I picked up the rest of the bill. School loans, work study, you name it. HOWEVER, the Bible major thing was short lived. Bible turned out to be a LOT harder than I thought it was going to be (man, they take that stuff really seriously at schools like this). After dropping Greek after one week, I had decided to go different ways.

I played around with several majors, weeding them out one by one with my grades! Finally I settled into education my junior year. Becoming a teacher was not even on the radar screen when I was graduating from high school, I don’t think that would have even ranked in the top 20 things I wanted to do with my life. But, there I was. A 5 year senior, about to graduate with a degree in education. What a crazy ride it was, to say the very least.

I met some of the greatest people in the world while I was at Freed-Hardeman. MANY of my closest friends all attended there and we stay in close touch, even today. And it was a combination of all of the experiences that I had there that molded me to who I am today. It was an interesting journey, and there were so many that played a part. But, through God’s plans, He placed the right people in my life at just the right time. I went though many heart breaks and trials along the way, but it made me tougher, and stronger. I also had other experiences that made me softer and a little bit more caring. But it all worked together to be… me.

Because going to a Christian high school meant so much to me I knew I had to go and work in Christian education, to try to pay back, in some way, all that it had done for me. 5 years in Miami at Tropical Christian School, 3 years in Huntsville at Madison Academy (sitting in faculty meetings with teachers that TAUGHT me! Was that weird or what! You really have no idea…) and 10 years at Ezell-Harding Christian School, Nashville. And I coached. I had a passion for coaching. I coached everything I could during those years. 3 years of soccer, 5 years of baseball, 7 years of basketball, 10 years of football, 3 years of track. Loved it all, loved working with teens. And it was during this time I began working part time in youth ministry.

Now, in the early days of teaching, bills stretched way farther that pay checks. Coaching was a way to make extra money, and summer jobs was a given. Working camps and life guarding brought in just about as much as I made while teaching, not to mention selling mangos on the street corners in Miami with Tim Hines. But later, when I had climbed the ladder a little, working youth ministry and going on mission trips became a huge part of my life. I started mission trips in high school with the youth group from the Lincoln and Maysville churches of Christ. Loved it. Went to Freed-Hardeman and went on summer campaigns. Loved it. Then, when I was teaching and doing youth work, continued going on mission trips. Loved it.

I did stateside and foreign missions. Anything from 1 week to 8 weeks. It was awesome. I learned so much about what church work was all about. Everything from Indian reservations to former eastern block communist countries, I stretched my vision of what the church was all about. But it wasn’t until we had moved to Nashville that my life truly changed in a very dramatic way. This is where the “putting your passion into action” began to develop.

My brother-in-law, Scott McDowell, was, at the time, the pulpit preacher at the Vultee Church of Christ. We moved to Nashville on Friday, attended church with he and his wife on Sunday, where he announced that we were placing membership! I guess that decision was a shocker! But it turned out great, for many reasons, but in particular, I met Steve Davidson, who was the full time youth minister and Vice-President at Lipscomb University. He quickly got me involved with the youth program there and invited me to go to Honduras for a summer mission trip. Even with all of my passion for mission work I hesitated and rejected the offer, time after time. Thank goodness Steve would not take no for an answer.

I agreed, 15 years, ago, and the rest is history. I will be going to Honduras for my 16th summer this year by the grace of God. What started as a mission trip filled with fear and dread has turned out to be my greatest passion of all. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love to teach, I love to coach, and I certainly love doing youth work. Can’t imagine not working with teens! But as far as passion, as far as putting your life on the line for what you do and what you believe in, Honduras has become my passion. And anyone who know me knows that about me. When I find something truly worth while I am going to share it with everyone I know. How can you keep something that great a secret, right?

Moral of this incredibly long story? Allow God to lead you through your life. Allow him to guide you though the ups and downs (even 40 foot downs), your highs and lows. Through good and bad, thick and thin. Keep him first and foremost in your life. Keep your focus on him no matter what. And listen to what He has to say and be willing to go through the doors He opens. I’m here to tell you, it can be quite the adventure. But, no matter what, seek out your passion in life. Find it and put your heart into it. And dedicate it to God and His glory, and watch what happens. Just think of the story (s) you will be able to tell some day. “PUT YOUR PASSION INTO ACTION!!!”


Monday, January 9

To be continued!

Most people who know me know that I am a story teller. I love to use stories as a way to reinforce a point in a lesson or to emphasize an application to a particular scripture. Hey, if it worked for Jesus! Anyway, I have lived a normal life as far as I can see. Pretty typical kid growing up with a lot of stuff that happened along the way. But, for some strange reason, I have this unique ability to remember things that happened to me with such clarity that it seems like it happened yesterday. Now, those who know me will also find that humorous since I can’t seem to remember phone numbers, names, or even where I placed my keys!

Those who have heard one of my stories, especially for the very first time, usually make a statement something like, “No way!” Or, “ There is NO way!” Or, “He surly made that up!” Now, the reason for it is because what I consider normal events to me seem to be completely not normal for a lot of others, like most of the rest of the world. I don’t understand it, but I guess I have had a lot of weird things happen to me. Things that do seem to be unbelievable. My roommate from college has for YEARS begged me to write a book about my life because he thinks it would be a runaway best seller. I think he is on serious drugs and is need of a more active social life.

Never the less, I thought I would share a story with you that happened to me literally just a few days after I had graduated from high school. This one event truly changed my life in a very profound way. I have no idea where I would be today if this particular event had not happened, but I am pretty sure I would not be where I am today. I hope I have your attention and your curiosity at this point.

Sunday afternoon, like EVERY Sunday afternoon, in Huntsville, Alabama, in our youth group at church, was football time. We played every Sunday afternoon, rain or shine. Snow, ice, you name it, it did not stop us from playing. Not only was it fun, we were good, too. Tackle football, no pads, no helmets, you know, none of the sissy stuff. This was man ball. Smash mouth, bone busting, over the top football. Oh, it was good. It was so much fun. And this Sunday we were going to go up and play on top of Monte Sano Mountain at the park that was up there. And there was going to be a good turn out too, this was going to be a good day.

Church services let out, we jumped in our cars, raced home, grabbed something to eat and changed clothes. Then we drove up the winding road that led up to the top of the mountain. We got up there and were puzzled to see a lot of cars in the parking lot. A LOT of cars. Too many cars. I remember thinking, “Oh no, this can’t be good.” And sure enough, it wasn’t. There was a big firm having its annual picnic up there and the fields were full of “amateurs” playing 2 hand touch football and softball. Oh, it killed us to watch it. And we waited, hoping that by some stroke of luck that they would pack up and go home. But they didn’t.

Most of our group shrugged their shoulders and decided to go home. Find something else to do. The game of the year evaporated right before my eyes. I couldn’t believe it. But a few of us stayed, depressed. There is nothing like having company when you are depressed, right? So we tossed the football around just off the edge of the parking lot, near the hiking paths. Then we began seeing who could throw the longest pass, then the longest kicks (everything was a contest to us back then). Then, IT happened.

I actually can’t remember for sure who it was, I think it was Barry, who punted the ball that soared into the air like a Patriot missile. It went right over our heads, over some short trees, and down into the hiking path area that led down the backside of Monte Sano Mountain. Now, I grew up in Huntsville, and I had hiked these paths dozens of times, all the way down to the bottom of the mountain. I knew that there was a stream at the bottom, cool, refreshing, and deep enough in some spots to swim. So, when we went looking for the football I was thinking to myself that maybe we could at least hike the trial today.

As we walked into the tree line to look for the ball, we noticed that it was really muddy on the trail. I guess it had rained there Saturday night or something, but never the less, wet. We found the ball right away but someone in the group kicked it while it was still laying on the ground and sent it off the edge of the hiking path, farther down the pathway. I guess they had the same idea as me. So, off we went, hiking the slippery path, laughing and kidding at each other down the path.

The path became more and more steep as we went winding down the mountain. The path had switch backs leading us down the side of the of the mountain. Every time we approached the football someone would just kick it down the slope. Down we went, just like we had done time after time. I could almost literally walk this path with my eyes closed. I wouldn’t do it though, because many times I had encountered snakes along the path. I am petrified of snakes so keeping eyes open was a full time job going down this trail. We were well over half way down the trail when we first began discussing openly what our plans were going to be. I quickly suggested heading on down to the stream to cool off, which a couple agreed, while a couple of others were indicating they were bored and were thinking about heading back up to the cars and going home. Then IT happened.

The football, being held by a guy named Steve, actually and accidentally fell out of his hands and bounced down the muddy pathway and dropped off of the side of the pathway. This area of the path was called the bluffs because there was a 40’ drop off from the edge of the path straight down to some large boulders below. We heard the football hit the bottom and bounce. We actually debated whether or not to go find it, because the path took a long switchback loop downward to get to the area that the ball had fallen.

I headed to the edge of the pathway to see if I could see where the football had gone. Now, we are talking about a $12.00 football here, nothing fancy, nothing about it that it made it any more valuable. Nothing sentimental about it, nothing. Just a $12.00 ball that could easily be replaced. But I had to go see where it went. I just had to go. I just had to see. I just had to be the one. For some reason, it was fate that took me down that path that day.

I had several offers in high school to go to different colleges my senior year. Because of my grades, and mainly because of my athletic talents, I had received scholarship offers to play ball at about a half dozen schools. One to play basketball and 5 to play baseball. The best offer was the University of Montevallo, in central Alabama. It was pretty much a full ride to go there. And I was really leaning towards going there. Other schools, like Calhoun Community College, University of the South, Freed-Hardeman, etc. were still in consideration, but I had just about made up my mind.

When I took my first couple of steps down the steep slope of the trail I knew something was wrong. I could FEEL it as I tried to slow my progress towards the edge of the trail as I neared the edge of the cliff. Not only could I not stop, I was gaining momentum and the mud caused my feet to slip out from under me. In a blink of an eye, before I could even open my mouth to yell, I slipped and went over the edge of the cliff and fell 40 feet straight down to the large boulders at the bottom. The last thing I saw before I slipped off was a shrub growing on the side if the trail. I desperately grasped for it, in vain. It had thorns growing in it and they cut into my arms and chest like tiny razors as I went over. The fall going down happened so fast that before I could even suck in a breath of air I hit the giant bounder below and crumpled to the ground. I passed out, only for a moment, and came back with shooting pain running up and down my legs and spine. I could hear my friends above me yelling to see if I was ok..... if I was even alive. I was so stunned that I could not reply for a moment or two. Once I knew I was not dead, I called back to my friends to come down to get me because I couldn’t move my legs.

My friends scrambled down the pathway to get to me, as fast as they could SAFELY get to me. One of my best friends, Paul, literally slipped about 10 feet above me and fell too! And landed right on top of me!!! Now that is what I say is adding insult to injury! Linked arm in arm, they literally carried me back to the top of the mountain to get me to a car to get me to the hospital. An air flight helicopter was dispatched but was unable to get to me from where we were. About 4 hours later (20 minutes down the trail, 3 hours to get back up, and a 20-30 minute drive to the hospital) I was admitted to the emergency room at The Medical Center. X-Rays revealed a broken leg, broken bones in my right foot, dislocated ankle, torn ligaments in my right knee, and a compressed spine, and several cuts on my arms and chest. All in all, I was in pretty bad shape but at least I was still alive! I just survived a 40’ fall off of a cliff!

The doctors were not very optimistic. They told me that the injuries were pretty severe and that I would not be playing any ball again. They said I would walk, but my competitive ball playing days were over. And they said I would probably live with some pain and side effects from the injury for the rest of my life. That was only the beginning. I was in a cast for over 3 months, recovering from the injuries. 3 months of pain and agony, and 3 months to face reality and to think about what was happening to me and my future.

Stay tuned for part two of the story. The application of the moral of the story. As I mentioned before, I think I grew up a normal kid with normal events. Maybe not. And now maybe you can see why many would say that a story like this is made up. But I can assure you, I can contact the 5 that were with me that day to verify this story. We are all still close friends, even to this day. This is just one of dozens of stories that have happened to me over the years that I use to bring out “the moral of the story.”

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story and are anxious about hearing the conclusion to the story!


Thursday, January 5

Putting your passion into action

2006 is here. For some reason, that number is just intimidating me. I don’t know why, can’t explain it, but it is. 2006. Nothing different about the numbers, it doesn’t represent anything special or unusual as far as I can tell. But there it is. 2006. Amazing. It really is. Another year is upon us.

What are we going to do this year? What are we going to do with the time? Are you like everyone else that makes a new year’s resolution? Have you set your mind and heart to doing something this year? Loose weight? Read the bible from cover to cover? Eat healthier? Exercise more? Repair a relationship? Get in touch with a long lost friend? There is a lot of things you can set your mind to, isn’t there? And most of us do. With make a resolution (whatever that really is) and we start out the new year trying to do whatever it is that we talked ourselves into doing.

And it lasts….. How long? How long is it before we break the resolution? How long is it before we can’t handle it any more? How long is it before we give up and go back to the good old ways of doing things? It is sad, isn’t it? Nearly 90% of Americans make new year’s resolutions. 65% of the resolutions are broken before February ever gets here. And 95% of the resolutions are broken before the end of July. So there ya go, proof that we shouldn’t even bother with the whole thing in the first place, right?

Well, it really depends on how you look at it. A resolution is a challenge, to yourself, to improve on something in your life. To get better. To climb the ladder. To reach the next level. To be better than you are now. Whatever it is, it is a challenge that you make to yourself. It is a good idea, as a matter of fact, it is an excellent concept. So, why doesn’t it work? Why do we break the resolutions? Why do we falter? Why do we give up?

To be perfectly honest, it is probably because we are just plain lazy. It is hard to climb the ladder, reach the next level. It takes work, discipline, sacrifice. It hurts. It stretches. It forces us to leave our comfort zones. Maybe sometimes we make resolutions that are really not realistic. We challenge ourselves far beyond what we are truly are able to do in the amount of time we give ourselves. I am not making excuses, I am just thinking out loud about this whole thing. I think the concept of challenging ourselves is good, I think the way we try to do it is bad. Maybe there is a better way to do it.

Sometimes we just want too much too quickly. We want to grow in giant leaps and bounds when what we should be doing is growing in baby steps. Little by little, day by day. You know, sort of like the tortoise and the hare. Look at it this way. Let’s say that you run into someone that hasn’t seen you in a couple of weeks. You have made the resolution of being a better, more responsible person this year. You have decided to really take your Christian walk seriously. You are going to really walk the walk and talk the talk like you have never done it before. Your friend makes the comment that you look great and that you haven’t changed a bit from the last time they say you. Would that really surprise you? Of course not, how much can you really change in just a few weeks. You have been on the walk, sort of, but you have just recently really put the pedal to the metal, so to speak. It is going to take a while for people to really start taking notice of your new passion, walk, and dedication.

But, let’s say you run into a friend that has not seen you in years. They make the comment that you look great and that you haven’t changed a bit. How do you take that comment? Now it is quite a bit different, isn’t it? They see you the SAME exact way they remember you from a long time ago. No real changes. Now that carries a lot of implications, doesn’t it? If a Christian doesn’t show significant changes over the course of a long period of time, no real growth has occurred. And no real growth could be observed as decay, even death. And that is not good.

But, if your friend makes the comment that you look great and they can’t even believe their eyes in what they see, as in how much you have changed for the good, for the evidence of your dedication to Christ as your savior, what a compliment! And that is a resolution that we all should be working towards. Not giant leaps and bounds, but slow, and steady, baby steps, improving and growing everyday to become more and more like Jesus. And not giving up the first time we slip up and “break” our resolution. We fall down, then get up, dust ourselves off, and keep on going. Sometimes we fall harder, and it takes more effort to get up, takes more effort to clean up the bumps and bruises, the nicks and cuts. And sometimes we fall so hard that we need help to get up, someone to help bandage us up and even tend after us. But we keep going. That is resolution, a real resolution, that will really make a difference.

Every year I challenge my youth group to make a new year’s resolution as a group. It is usually something cleaver, something catchy. This year is no exception, except for the fact that I think this year our youth group resolution has the potential to really make a difference on the group and the people we will come in contact with this year. The challenge is this, “PUT YOUR PASSION INTO ACTION!” Man, that is something to think about. Putting your passion into action. It involves several things and makes a lot of implications. First, you have to find your passion. Passion. Passion is something that you believe in, STRONGLY. That is one of the greatest weaknesses of the church today if you ask me. We are not passionate enough about what we really believe to be important.

But I am talking about bring it down to the individual level. There are so many things we can believe in, have feelings about, opinions, thoughts, etc. But rarely do we really get passionate about something. Especially something that is going to make a difference, a REAL difference. For me, it is pretty easy to figure out what I am truly passionate about, right? Doing mission work in Honduras for the past 15 years has been one of my greatest passions, and the more I do it the more passionate I get about it.

And that brings me to the second part of the challenge, “PUTTING IT INTO ACTION!” Doing something about it. Working, sacrificing, moving forward, dreaming, applying, recruiting, organizing, all for one thing: TO HELP THE PEOPLE OF HONDURAS AND BRING THEM THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT JESUS AND HIS SAVING GRACE. And not just to Honduras, but to all men everywhere. Putting my faith into action. That is what it is rally about. It has become so real, so important to me, that climbing up the ladder and getting to the next level is all I can think about. I would be sadly disappointed if I met a long lost friend who saw me now and did not see a real change in me. I am a different person than I was a year ago. Especially a couple, or a few, or several years ago.

What about you? How much have you changed since you began your walk? How many baby steps have you taken? How many steps up the ladder have you gone? How many levels have you reached? Believe me, if you ever get truly passionate about your faith and your relationship with Jesus, and put your passion into action, you will be a different person. You will be radically different. You will be a person that the Bible refers to as a person “IN the world but not OF the world.”

I hope this article has challenged you to think a little, maybe a lot, about your relationship with Jesus today. I hope it has “rattled your cage.” I hope it has yanked your chains. I hope it has done a lot of things. But mostly, I hope that it has challenged you to crank it up a notch, to rise up and move forward, and upward, with a new zeal, a new purpose, a new resolve. May 2006 be the year that will be the year that everyone that knows you will look back and say, “Wow, you look great and I can’t believe how much you have changed!!!” God bless and happy new year! Its great to be able to say that to you all.

With much love,