Blown Away: The First Five Hours In My New Ministry

July 7, 2011

I’ve had many memorable moments with students in the past. All of these youth have impacted my life in a major way, as I hope that I have with theirs. I will cherish some of these memories for the rest of my life. As some of you know, I have recently been hired by a new church after a long (in my eyes) 14-month hiatus from youth ministry. It wasn’t my choice but it is what it is and I feel that God definitely had a reason for taking me out of full-time ministry for that amount of time. I won’t touch any more on that for now but rest assured that I will definitely be writing about it as soon as I can. Anyway, I got hired at Doylestown United Methodist Church on June 12, 2011 and my official start date was to be July 1, 2011. I left Belle Vernon, PA on June 30, 2011 and headed down Interstate 76 (the Pennsylvania Turnpike) to start my new life and new ministry. On my way there, I stopped at a huge Christian music festival called “Creation” that my new youth group and leaders were attending. And when I say “huge,” I mean 82,000 people HUGE! Creation is a four or five day festival. I only planned to stop for one day to get to know some of the youth and leaders that would be my new family. Stopping at Creation was key and had potential to be an extremely beneficial way to begin my new ministry. The reason for this is that I will be taking 39 of those students on a High School Missions Trip on July 10-15 and then 20 or so more of them on the Middle School Missions Trip on July 24-29. So breaking the ice, getting to know them, and getting them to know me was an extremely important thing that needed to be taken care of as quickly as possible since there is no youth group and no other way for me to meet/get to know them before the trips. I was blown away as soon as I pulled up in front of our groups’ camp site.

Looking down on Creation Fest from overlook mountain...

As I was driving the two and a half hours it took to get there, I couldn’t help but to feel nervous. I wondered how well the students would like me, if things would be awkward because no one knew me and I didn’t know them, would they want to meet me, would they be mad/hurt that I was the guy replacing their old youth pastor, etc. All kinds of scenarios were running through my mind but the conclusion that I came to was that I would have to just leave it in God’s hands and wait and see what would happen. And that’s exactly what I did. There was nothing else I could do.

As soon as I stepped out of my truck, I got “attacked” by my new youth group. All of the kids that were there (some were at concerts or at the various other attractions that they had at “Creation”) swarmed to me around my truck and started to introduce themselves. They were excited to meet me and it was such an amazing, warm, and welcoming feeling when all I expected was shyness and awkwardness. I was so blown away/overwhelmed with joy because of this. This took away all of the nervousness, uncertainty, questions, and broke the ice. I was able to focus on building relationships with them the rest of the time since this initial part was knocked out by them. God’s hands were definitely all over this and I am so thankful for that.

A small group of my youth on overlook mountain...

There was one other amazing thing that these students and leaders did for me that I didn’t quite pick up on right away. As I was meeting them I noticed that they all had some form of a temporary or henna tattoo on them. Some had them on their necks. Some had them on their arms. Some had them on their stomachs, backs, legs. And one even had so many of them on one arm that it looked like a sleeve. I noticed it but I didn’t put much thought into it because I was so amazed at how awesome these kids were. Later that night at one of the sessions/concerts one of my leaders was talking to me and she asked me if I noticed everyone’s tattoos. Then it hit me: it wasn’t just a coincidence! She told me that they planned it and all of the kids and leaders wanted to make me feel comfortable (since I have tattoos) so they went out of their way to put all of those tattoos on…AMAZING! I ended up staying for two nights because my students wanted me to stay longer.

So if all of this awesomeness took place within my first 5 hours of being there, I can’t wait to see what else God has in store for me, this youth group, and this church. It’s going to be good!

–          paulg


for the worse, for the better…

April 30, 2010

“Lookin back at the moments, black and white…I wouldn’t change a thing that changed my life, for the worse, for the better…”

Those are the lyrics that have been running through my head all day. Today was my day off and by the time 2:30 in the afternoon rolled around, I was bored out of my mind. Being that it was a nice day, I decided to get in my truck and go for a ride up to my camp (about 38 miles away). I grabbed my Bibles, some books, and my laptop. The other thing I took with me was already in the truck, but we’ll get to that in a bit! 😉  It was a beautiful day for a drive. On the way there, the above-quoted song came on the radio. It’s a Kenny Chesney song called “Ain’t Back Yet.” I’ve heard this song many times before, but I’m pretty sure that God wanted it to get stuck in my head on this particular day!

Once I got to my camp, I took my gun out of its hiding place, attached it to my hip, and went for a long walk into the woods behind the camp. I love exploring in the woods, and I love shooting my gun (which is something that I haven’t done in a long time), so I figured I would kill two birds with one stone…or should I have used a bullet? Hmmmm?  On my walk, I did a lot of thinking and praying (when I wasn’t shooting stuff). I thought a lot about how things haven’t really been going well for me as of late, and I started to get a little bit down on myself because of that. But as I started to pray, the line from Kenny Chesney’s song popped into my head and I realized how true those words are.

As I look back at the moments of my life, I realize that I wouldn’t change a thing because everything that happened (both good and bad) shaped me into the man that I am today! Yes, some of those things were very painful and still are, but I learned from them, I grew from them, and I overcame them with God’s help. And if I’m being honest, there are things I’m going through now that I am struggling to find out what God wants me to learn from them. It’s not always easy to see, but I do trust that He’s doing something amazing in me!

After I got back from the woods, I went into my trailer/camper and started to read a book that a lady from my church gave me a few days ago. The book is called Be Encouraged and looks like a book that I would never even think to read. The saying goes that we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but let’s be honest, sometimes we do. This book looks like it was printed in the 1950’s and didn’t catch my interest at all, but it was in my truck and I needed to be encouraged, so I started to read. There are a few things that stuck out to me that I would like to share with you:

“God does not pat us on the head and give us a piece of candy or a toy to distract our attention from our troubles. No, He puts strength into our hearts so we can face our trials and triumph over them.”

Why does He do this? Because He knows that we WILL face trials and troubles in life; He permits them to come (read the book of Job and see what God permitted to happen in Job’s life and you will think that you have it easy)! God permits these trials so that we may grow, learn, and trust in Him to get us through it! Later on in this book, the author says

“God has to work IN us before He can work THROUGH us!”

This is saying that sometimes God needs to allow us to go through trials so that He can do a work in us before He can use us to do work for Him (Him working through us)!

So if you are anything like me, then I want to encourage you to look back over your life and ask God to help you see how He brought you through your trial, how he brought you through your good and bad circumstances at times, and how He strengthened you and helped you to learn and grow!

I already told you that, like Mr. Chesney, I wouldn’t change a thing that changed my life because those things were crucial in bringing me to where I am today! What about you? What would you change? Or do you realize that everything (the good and the bad) is part of God’s plan to bring you to where you are today, or to where you are going tomorrow?

–          paulg

Attitude Adjustment…

February 15, 2010

Much of the way we experience life is determined by the attitude we choose to adopt in a given situation. The attitude you bring into an experience is often times different from the one with which you leave. Understanding this is key to finding hope in every circumstance.

At times, I’ve been able to view my situation with a positive and optimistic attitude. At times, I’ve allowed my problems to become bigger than God, which is the exact thing that I’ve been teaching my students not to do. Some youth pastor I am, eh? (P.S. – No, I am not Canadian!!!)

But you know what? That’s ok! I’ve talked to God about this for countless hours over the past few months and He’s letting me know that it’s ok, that I’m human, and that I WILL make mistakes. Ask any of my students and they will be the first to tell you that I am open and real with them; that I am authentic with them. If I’m struggling with something, I’ll tell them. If I’m extremely happy about something, I’ll tell them. I don’t hide anything, because I think that shows weakness. I want my students to be open and real with me, so if I’m keeping things from them, that tells them that it’s not ok to talk about the struggles, issues, and problems that life throws at us at times.

Often times in life, music will speak to me in amazing ways. That’s what’s so amazing about it. One of the songs that has been on repeat in my truck, in the office, and at home where I am writing this blog right now, is called “I’m Not Alright” by Sanctus Real. The lyrics to a part of the song are as follows:

“I’m not alright, I’m broken inside
And all I go through, it leads me to You

Burn away the pride
Bring me to my weakness
Until everything I hide behind is gone
And when I’m open wide with nothing left to cling to
Only You are there to lead me on.”

I’ve always told people who were struggling with something that it is ok to not be ok! That’s my philosophy on life and I stand behind it. We as Christians think that we need to be perfect, put on this front (or mask) that lets people know we have it all together, when in reality…we don’t! If we were all perfect, we wouldn’t need Jesus!  The singer in this song is saying that he is not alright, and that he is broken inside (in case you couldn’t see that for yourself from the hard-to-understand chorus…haha). It goes on to talk about how all of the things we go through in life (both good and bad) should lead us to Jesus!

I love the next part where it says “burn away my pride…bring me to my weakness…until everything I hide behind is gone…”  To me, this is very powerful. Too many times in my life, God has had to burn away my pride and bring me face to face with my weaknesses. He had to do this by stripping me of the things that I would hide behind. God doesn’t play games with us and He knows that in order to get through to us effectively, most of the time He needs to break us and bring us to a point of weakness. It is in that point of weakness that we grow the most.

Lastly, the song says, “and when I’m open wide with nothing left to cling to…only you are there to lead me on.” This is saying that when God gets through to us, takes away our pride, brings us to a point of weakness, and takes away the things we “hide behind”…it is then that we realize that ONLY HE can lead us on. ONLY HE can bring us out of our hurt. ONLY HE can bring us through our trial, difficultly, or struggle.

Kind of an awesome concept, eh?

– paulg

American Ride…

November 4, 2009

Every once in a while a song hits the radio stations that becomes an instant favorite of mine. Country artist Toby Keith’s song “American Ride” was one of those for me. I recently saw him in concert at the Post Gazette Pavilion in Pittsburgh, PA and he played this song live. I love the energy and emotion he pours into it. You can really tell that he loves his country, (in this, and many of his other songs) but you can also tell that he sees it spinning out of control…Layout 2The second verse to the song says:

“Daddy works his can off payin’ for the good life.
Kids on the YouTube learnin how to be cool.
Livin in a cruel world, pays to be a mean girl.”

This is illustrating the way things are in America today. The father works hard in order to provide a good life for his wife and children while the kids sit at home and learn how to be cool (or at least what the world thinks is cool) on youtube and other social networking sites. Now, I know I’m not a kid anymore, but 24 is not that far away from being a teenager. I can relate to what Toby says next, in that I saw this kind of thing as I was in my teenage years. The last line does an adequate job of explaining what it’s like to be a kid in this day and age. We truly do live in a cruel world and kids are forced to get tough and be “mean girls (and guys)” in order to survive the cruelty of the world we live in.

The chorus of the song says:

“Thats us, Thats right
Gotta love this American ride.
Both ends of the ozone burnin.
Funny how the world keeps turnin.
Look ma, no hands.
I love this American ride.”

Toby is saying that this is the way it is, and we have no choice but to love it. I really like when he says “both ends of the ozone burnin…funny how the world keeps turnin.” This lyric reminds me of Billy Joel’s hit song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” from 1989. Mr. Joel says “we didn’t start the fire; it was always burning since the world’s been turning.” Now, twenty years later, Toby is saying that it is still the same way and he’s riding it with “no hands.” This is to illustrate living dangerously.

The third verse of the song says:

“Poor little infamous America’s town.
She gained five pounds and lost her crown.
Quick fix plastic surgical antidote.
Got herself a record deal, can’t even sing a note.”

This verse portrays the way society views women. In the song, a woman gained five pounds and lost her crown (probably talking about a beauty contest). She then got the “quick fix” and had plastic surgery, which she thought would be the antidote to her problems. Toby then says that she got herself a record deal and she can’t even sing a note. This is how it is today as well. If a woman is sexy, she can do anything. Record companies will sign them because of their looks, not their talents, or lack thereof!

Lastly, and my main reason for writing about this song, the fourth verse says:

“Plasma gettin bigger, Jesus gettin smaller.
Spill a cup of coffee, make a million dollars.
Customs caught a thug with an aerosol can.
If the shoe don’t fit, the fit’s gonna hit the shan.”

Toby hit the nail on the head with this opening line. He has observed, as most people have, that the plasma TV’s (or worldly possessions) are getting bigger (people want bigger and better things) and Jesus is getting smaller. He’s saying that people are so focused on worldly possessions, wealth, and having the best stuff that Jesus is becoming less important to them. People think that this song is a knock on Jesus, but it’s really a knock on us for allowing possessions to become larger than Jesus in our lives. Toby goes on to say “spill a cup of coffee, make a million dollars.” This is referring to the incident years ago when someone spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee on them and sued McDonalds because the coffee was hot and burnt them. Coffee is hot…it’s common sense. There’s no reason to sue a company over it. You’re the dummy who spilled it! The last line in this verse is a new realization to me (as of 3 minutes ago). I never realized what he was saying until I looked it up. I won’t spell out what he’s saying, but replace the “f” in “fit” with an “sh” and replace the “sh” in “shan” with an “f” and you got the message of what Toby is saying.countryI love this song and the rest of Toby’s patriotic songs. I love this country and I support the troops, but like Toby, I see that things are getting far worse.

This is just my interpretation of the song. You may have a different or better one. Regardless, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

P.S. – I fully support Toby Keith’s decision to drive Ford trucks!toby-keithbig-dog-daddy-tour-2008-f-series-super-duty-f-450-pickup–          paulg

Unanswered Questions…

April 9, 2009

My youth group is scheduled to go on a missions trip to Reynosa, Mexico this summer but due to the violence and drug trafficking that is currently going on there, we may have to go elsewhere. The decision will be up to me on whether we go or not and my view on the matter is that it is better to be safe than sorry. I would rather us not go there as opposed to going, having one of our students get hurt (or worse) and regretting the fact that we did go.

Lately though, the violent events that are happing close to home make me wonder if it is really safer to go somewhere else besides Mexico, or if it is not safe anywhere we go. It’s not a secret that we live in a messed up world. People steal, rape, kill, destroy, and whatever else negative you can think of. And most of the time, it happens closer to home than one would like.

Just this past Saturday (April 4, 2009), police officers responded to a domestic dispute call that turned out to be more serious than anyone would have ever anticipated. A 22-year old kid, whom his friends described as “an easygoing, fun-loving guy,” fatally shot three police officers and injured two others in a standoff at his home in Pittsburgh, PA. He was armed with a high powered assault rifle, a pistol, a significant amount of ammunition, and a bullet-proof vest. I’m willing to bet that this didn’t just sporadically happen and that he planned it from the start. This took place in a place that was deemed to be a nice and safe neighborhood.

Then, on Monday (April 6, 2009), two people were killed and one was wounded when a Subway Restaurant was being robbed in Altoona, PA, just 4 miles from the church I work at and 5 miles from where I live. The man who robbed the store knocked on the back door of the restaurant and when the Subway employee (a high school student from a nearby school district) opened the door, he was shot and killed. The gunman shot someone else in the restaurant and then when he was walking away with the money he had recently acquired from the robbery, shot and killed a man who was outside getting his mail.


The violence in Mexico, combined with the recent events that happened so very close to home for some of us, raised some serious questions in my mind. “What is this world coming to?” “Is it really better to stay in our “safe” country, rather than going to another country for a missions trip?” “How safe are we if we have to worry about people killing people for no apparent reason?” “Do we have to constantly live in fear?” I don’t know these answers and I don’t anticipate finding them out anytime soon.

If you are like most people, then you are probably wondering why I included this painting of the late rapper Tupac Shakur (2 Pac). Although I don’t currently listen to rap, I did at one point (I’m sorry…haha). Although 2 Pac lived a violent life and often composed songs about it, he still hit the nail on the head in his hit song “Changes.” Here is an excerpt from that song…

“We gotta make a change…
It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.
Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live
and let’s change the way we treat each other.
You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do
what we gotta do, to survive.”

In no way am I saying that 2 Pac was a saint and lived a life free from violence. After all, he did die in a violent act (drive by shooting). What I am saying is that this man was right, we need to make changes and we need to stop the violence.

Throughout all of this nonsense that is going on around the world, there is hope. Psalms 23:4 should give us comfort in these difficult and hard to understand times. This verse says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” I think it would be safe to compare the troubled and violent world that we find ourselves living in to something that seems to be a valley of the shadow of death. The verse goes on to imply that we should “fear no evil” because GOD IS WITH US!

– paulg

Watching You

September 12, 2008

Have you ever heard a song on the radio that made you stop and think about life? Have you ever heard a song that brought tears of joy to your eyes? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a Christian song either. Generally, (for me anyway) the songs that hit me the hardest are the non-Christian songs, that if listened to in the right mindset can hint at deep spiritual implications. One song that does this for me is by a country singer named Rodney Atkins and is called “Watching You.” Yes, I do listen to country music. Normally people do not picture me as a fan of country music. Maybe it is because I am 6’ 4 ½” and covered with tattoos. But, coming from Western PA, listening to your father play in a country band, and growing up in the country, it kind of grows on you. Now, allow me to get back to what I was saying! The above-mentioned song is about how his son admires him, watches his every move, and imitates what he sees. It goes something like this…

Drivin’ through town just my boy and me…With a Happy Meal in his booster seat…Knowin’ that he couldn’t have the toy ‘til his nuggets were gone…A green traffic light turned straight to red…I hit my brakes and mumbled under my breath…His fries went a flyin’, and his orange drink covered his lap…Well, then my four year old said a four letter word…It started with “S” and I was concerned…So I said, “Son, now where’d you learn to talk like that?

He said, “I’ve been watching you, dad ain’t that cool?…I’m your buckaroo, I wanna be like you…And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are…We got cowboy boots and camo pants…Yeah, we’re just alike, hey, ain’t we dad?…I want to do everything you do…So I’ve been watching you.”

We got back home and I went to the barn…I bowed my head and I prayed real hard
Said, “Lord, please help me help my stupid self.”…Just this side of bedtime later that night…Turnin’ on my son’s Scooby-Doo nightlight…He crawled out of bed and he got down on his knees…He closed his little eyes, folded his little hands…Spoke to God like he was talkin’ to a friend…And I said, “Son, now where’d you learn to pray like that?

He said, “I’ve been watching you, dad ain’t that cool?…I’m your buckaroo, I want to be like you…And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are…We like fixin’ things and holding momma’s hand…Yeah, we’re just alike, hey, ain’t we dad?…I want to do everything you do; so I’ve been watching you

With tears in my eyes I wrapped him in a hug…Said, “My little bear is growin’ up.”
And he said, “But when I’m big I’ll still know what to do

Cause I’ve been watching you, dad ain’t that cool?…I’m your buckaroo, I want to be like you…And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are…By then I’ll be strong as superman…We’ll be just alike, hey, won’t we dad?…When I can do everything you do.
‘cause I’ve been watchin’ you

I can relate to this song in two different ways. The first is that I can remember the days when my dad was my biggest hero. I wanted to be exactly like him. I would watch him. I would do the things he did. I would try to be him. This is why I am a drummer today. My dad is a drummer and was my biggest role model growing up. He inspired me to work hard at things and to never give up. So when I hear this song, I think about my dad and what it was like being a little boy (yes, I was little at one point in my life) watching his father and wanting to be like him.

The second way I can relate to this song, however is in a much more spiritual sense. Every time I hear this song, it makes me think of youth ministry. You see, I have been blessed with the privilege of being a spiritual director for a group of middle school students. Each week I get to teach them about God’s Word; I get to hang out with them; I get to build relationships with them; and I get to be their friend. While I am doing all of these things, I realize that they are watching me, just as the little boy watches his dad in the song. They are looking to me to be an example of how a Christian should act. Knowing this, it makes me even more thankful for the fact that God called me into youth ministry. I can not only make a difference in these kids lives with my lessons and spiritual guidance, but I can make a difference in their lives by the way I live mine. And that brings me great joy.

So in closing, I would just like to encourage you to stop and think about the music you listen to. Maybe there is a deeper meaning that can be taken from it…

– paulg

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