a physical and spiritual transformation…

August 25, 2010

A few weeks ago, I made a promise to myself and to a very close friend of mine. I promised that I would go to the gym every single day. It sucked at first, but now, a week and a half later; I am seeing results and loving it. Of course, there are days where I do not feel like going at all, but the above-mentioned friend sort of holds me accountable and reminds me that I promised myself I would go, and for that, I am very thankful.

The Incredible Hulk

Over the last few days I have been doing a lot of thinking about transformation. I saw how quickly the health (and shape) of my body has been changing from my hard work at the gym. This got me thinking about my spiritual life. If I can devote 2 ½  to 3 hours a day to lifting weights, doing cardio, and swimming, then how would my life look if I devoted this much time (if not more) to spending time with God in prayer, in reading His Word, and in serving Him?

It was a scary realization to come to. If I’m going to be completely honest with myself, I have not been growing in my walk with God lately. I have not been spending time with Him.  It has been way too long since I was truly and sincerely seeking Him and striving to grow closer on a daily basis. Sometimes going to a Christian college and having a job that you get paid to read your Bible for will do that to you. It becomes a job and not a desire. I have also been bitter for the last few months and have been completely unmotivated to work on that issue and fix my spiritual life. But that is changing.

Yesterday, I challenged myself to make it a priority to spend as much time with God (in prayer, reading His word, watching and learning from sermons, etc) each day as I do at the gym. It is going to require a lot of discipline and hard work, but so does lifting weights. I’m seeing results from my hard work at the gym, and now it is time to start seeing results from my hard work in growing in my walk with God.

Can anyone relate to any of this? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Post Script – Your prayers are greatly appreciated!

–          paulg

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Sometimes, God throws a bungee cord at you…

September 22, 2009

Two weekends ago, my friend Ashley (ok, she’s a little more than a friend…it just isn’t official yet) took a road trip back to where I grew up to watch the Pittsburgh Steeler game, go to a concert (Toby Keith and Trace Adkins), and to visit family and friends. It had the makings to be a fun and relaxing weekend and it was, but the first night was a little stressful and chaotic.

Before we left Altoona to go to Belle Vernon (where I grew up), I received a text from my best friend Billy asking me to pray for him because he was having severe stomach pains. Some background info: He had to get a colonoscopy that morning and something went wrong that didn’t show up until later in the day. Because of this complication, he was having intense pains in his stomach, he had a high fever, and he could barely walk (due to the stomach pain). It was so bad that he couldn’t even stay to watch the Steeler game; and he is a die-hard fan like me! That’s how I knew it was serious! Billy’s fiancé (whose name is Ashley) got off of work, rushed to his house and took him back to the ER (at the same hospital she works at). I did get to pray with and for him before he left, and I was very thankful for that.

While we were waiting on the results, we hung out at his house and watched the first half of the game. When we found out that he was going to need an emergency surgery, we rushed out the door and attempted to get to the hospital as fast as we could. We were making decent time and it looked like we were going to make it there in time to see him and pray with him before his surgery!

I was driving my truck and Ashley and Rob (Billy’s cousin/my friend) were with me while Becky (Billy’s sister) and JORDAN (her boyfriend…who asked me to put his name in all capitals) were in another vehicle. For some reason (which I later realized why) I decided to pass them. No more than three seconds after I passed them, I heard this loud clunking noise that sounded like someone was beating the crap out of my truck with a baseball bat! I immediately pulled off of the road and got out to see what happened while JORDAN and Becky kept on going to the hospital. When I got to the side of the truck that the ruckus was coming from, I found a bungee cord sticking out of my tire…a stinking bungee cord! How does that happen? My tire was flat and the other end of the bungee cord was missing in action. I soon found out what happened to that though. As Rob and I were changing my tire (which was an interesting experience), Ashley noticed that my rear, right taillight cover and taillight were completely shattered. Apparently the other end of the bungee swung back and busted my taillight. All I could do was laugh, because again, it was a bungee cord…how could I get mad at that?

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Anyway, we got the tire changed and finally made it to the hospital about a half an hour after Billy went into surgery. JORDAN and Becky made it to the hospital in time to see him before he went in. When we got there, we saw that there were eight people (family, friends, pastor) there waiting for the results of his surgery. It was encouraging to see them all there. We spent some time praying, talking, and laughing while we waited. While Billy’s pastor was praying, I was thinking and asking God why the bungee cord incident happened. Then God helped me to realize that my passing of JORDAN and Becky and getting the flat tire prevented Becky’s car from getting the flat tire and not being able to get to the hospital in time. Then I realized that Billy needed his sister (who is a nurse) by his side before surgery to help calm him down, pray with him, and let him know that everything was going to be ok! He needed his sister there and God knew that, so He orchestrated my running over of the bungee cord and the events that followed! It’s funny/awesome how God works at times!

Billy’s surgery lasted over four hours and he is currently recovering successfully! He has forty-four staples in his stomach and is not allowed to go back to work for four weeks! Thank you to those of you who saw my updates on twitter and the church prayer chain and were praying for him. God answered those prayers! Please continue to pray for a safe and successful recovery with no complications!

This story happened on September 11 and I am just now finding the time to write about it. I think God wanted me to write about this today, as opposed to last week, because I needed to be reminded of how God is in control of every situation. No matter how bad things seem, no matter how worried we get, no matter what we think will happen, God KNOWS what will happen and has everything under control!

Thanks for reading!

–          paulg


When “The Big One” Hits…

September 15, 2009

Yesterday was a very long and productive day for me. I was at the office for eleven hours and got a lot of work done that has been piling up for quite some time. I was focused and driven. During my lunch break, I went with my Pastor to a luncheon/information seminar that a senior citizens group from my church was sponsoring. The speaker was an ex-cop who is a current Red Cross worker. He was informing everyone on what to do in the face of a disaster (natural disaster, terrorism, viruses (H1N1), etc…). He has been involved in many disasters over the last few decades (Oklahoma City Bombing, Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, The World Trade Center attacks…a.k.a. 9-11, and many more). It was very interesting to hear what he had to say and to hear him speak from experience. He went into great detail about how many cities, places, and organizations in the US have a very poor plan of action for when disasters strike! He referred to these plans as “disaster plans.” He talked about what could have been done differently to save people in the city of New Orleans more effectively. He talked about how when “The Big One” hits (whatever that may be), there are many people that will suffer due to the poor disaster plans that are in place!

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This got me thinking: How can I apply this idea to youth ministry? In my experience in youth ministry so far, I can’t even begin to count how many times a student has come to me with a problem or a concern, looking for someone to talk to or for some advice. I’ve taken numerous classes at Nyack that have prepared me for some of the things I’ve run into thus far, but there are just some things that cannot be taught in a classroom setting!  I’ve heard some pretty serious things from my students in the past, but I wonder what would happen when they have a problem that I (or my leadership team) have no idea how to deal with! What would happen when “The Big One” hits in one of my student’s lives? Will I be prepared with a disaster plan to adequately help and be there for them? Or will I let the disaster take over that student’s life because my plan was not in existence or perfected and I didn’t know what to do?

help me

There is another set of questions I could be asking as well. Am I the kind of youth pastor and friend that my students will want to go to when disasters hit their lives? Have I built up enough rapport with them that they will be comfortable enough to grant me access into their disasters?

disaster area no entry

I don’t have any answers right now. In fact, I most likely won’t have the answers until I am faced with a certain situation. What I do know, however, is that I will do everything in my power to get my students through their “Big Ones” that hit them hard! I will be a pastor, a shepherd, a listener, and a friend walking along side of them on their journey through life…disasters and all!

–          paulg


Texas Missions Trip: Day 6…

August 17, 2009

As I anticipated, I wouldn’t have any time to write for the remainder of our trip. We have now been home for two days and I am finally able to write these last few posts about our time in Texas.

Thursday (Day 6) was another long and tiring day. The cabin that both Jordan and I were in went from activity to activity, and broke up fight after fight. At this point in the week, the campers were tired and getting on each other’s nerves (worse than the day before). They were insulting each other, starting arguments with each other, hitting each other with whatever they could find, and various other things. The thing that set all of the chaos into motion was Mother Nature. Due to the thunderstorms that lasted all afternoon, our group was forced to stay inside at a place called “Grace House.” Grace House is a cabin type structure where games are played (board games, group games, etc.). The kids were so upset that we couldn’t go to the pool to swim. They couldn’t grasp the concept of why we can’t swim during a thunder and lightning storm for some reason!

What made this particular day interesting was that our girls (Abby, Katelyn, Kristen) were there running the games. So they got to experience the chaos of our group of campers. At first it started out as fun and games, but then it became an all-out brawl! The kids started wrestling with each other, and then it progressed to pushing, and eventually hitting. The counselors broke it up but it was still a bad situation with everyone mad at each other and still trying to fight. Some of the campers were playing games and having fun, but there were about 7 or so that were involved in the royal rumble! One of my counselors had to step out for an hour or so to try to calm down (that’s how stressful it was working with these kids at times). Some of the campers got upset to the point of crying and not talking to anyone. I had to call in back up (the main case worker lady who was there that week) to get through to one of the kids.

After the storms passed (weather storms…not the storms of the kids), we went to the sports pavilion where we played basketball, hockey, and rolled around on scooters! This activity was mostly a success. I say mostly because we had a few incidents here as well. One of our campers slashed another in the leg with a hockey stick. When the case worker from our cabin and I tried to find out what actually happened, we got conflicting stories from everyone who “saw” it happen. The kid who got hit said that the hitter did it on purpose. The kid who did the hitting said that it was an accident as he was going to hit the hockey puck. And another kid gave us two different stories of what he thought he saw happen. Long story short, we concluded that it was an accident and that others were blowing it out of proportion to try to get the hitter in trouble.

The rest of the day went well…until bedtime! I’m not sure how it first started, but at one point, when most of the cabin was asleep, one of our campers started flipping out. He was swearing at kids and leaders, hitting kids and leaders, trying to start fights, insulting everyone, making kids cry, and going nuts. The case worker said that it’s best to not give the kid an audience because it seemed like he just wanted attention. So we ignored his shenanigans for over an hour. During that hour, he still didn’t calm down. He was pounding on the wall, swearing, and yelling at people. My insult that he was calling me was “pork-chop head!” Tyler’s was “messed up nose.” And one of the other counselors was “nerd.” The funniest one though, was the name he gave Jordan. He was calling him “Jordan Head.” I guess he really couldn’t find an insulting thing to say to Jordan. Ha-ha.
During this whole situation, we had to have two other case workers come in to talk to the kid, and eventually, we had the person running the camp come to take him away for the night. After he was finally gone, our next task was to calm the kids down who he upset. The whole process from when he started flipping out until when we had the last kid calmed down was about 4 hours. It was a long ending to a long day. The kid that was causing the problems came back the next morning and was calmed down, but that was only temporary.

It was a chaotic experience for some of the counselors and campers. Although it was a bit much, I was glad that two of my students (from my youth group) were there to experience it and learn about what to do in situations like that. It was definitely shocking and a learning experience for them!

So, after reading all of this, I think you can see why I had no time to write about Day 6 on Day 6!

Until next time…

– paulg


The Art of Writing Letters…

June 8, 2009

Over the course of about 12 weeks last year, my good friend (also my boss at my old church in New York) and I studied and worked through a book together. The book was called “Leadership from the Inside Out,” and was written by Kevin Harney (a long-time pastor and teacher). This book was written for church leaders to examine their inner lives and to help them become spiritually healthy. There were many useful and beneficial ideas that both myself and my friend took from that study. One of the main things I adopted from this book was the old (and somewhat lost) art of writing letters. I’m not talking about writing on the computer or some other form of technology; I’m talking about doing it the old fashioned way…hand writing letters. Harney said that he took time each day to write three letters to people in his ministry. They didn’t have to be long and elaborate notes. He often wrote to encourage his leaders, church family, and friends. He would write to let them know he was thinking about and praying for them. And he wrote to show that they were important to him. I loved this idea and couldn’t wait to get started.

I started my position as the youth pastor of The Altoona Alliance Church on February 8, 2009 and started writing letters on February 10, 2009. Since then, I have written somewhere around 50 letters to leaders, students, friends, and church family! I enjoy doing it, and I have gotten a few responses from the recipients of those letters thanking me for taking the time to write to them. Everyone doesn’t respond, but I know that they are getting them and I hope that it brightens their day!

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The reason I am writing about this though is not to brag about how many letters I have written or to get recognition for what I do. What I am writing about is how much of a blessing it is to hear from a parent who sees what I am doing, and writes to me to show her appreciation.

I received an email from a parent of two of my students about a week ago that really blessed me and made me realize that there is a reason for what I do. I’m going to paste that email here but I will leave the names out (for confidentiality purposes):

“Thanks for all you do.  Our students (I changed this so it didn’t give it away) really enjoy youth group and you!  We appreciate your communication and your Biblical teaching and your patience with them.  It’s nice to see some kids who would never come before are now coming out. God bless!”

This little email reminded me of the importance of taking time out of my busy days to write to people and encourage them. It reminded me of what I learned in the book and about how much this simple thing (writing letters) can impact my ministry!

In closing, I just want to encourage you to try this sometime. Try sitting down and taking a few minutes each day (or once or twice a week) to write a letter of appreciation and encouragement to someone who is close to you, or to someone who you want to be close to you. Let them know you are thinking about, praying for, and that you appreciate all that they do. It will bless the recipient as well as the writer!

–    paulg


Who Has Your Back?

October 8, 2008

Have you ever heard someone say that they have your back? Meaning: they are looking out for you, and that they are there for you no matter what. “I have your back” is a commitment and a promise. A promise that someone else is by your side, walking through whatever life throws your way.

Many times in my life, I have been told that people have my back. Sometimes this was true and sometimes it was not. I could tell whether it was true or not by the way things panned out. If someone really “had my back”, they were a true friend and they stuck with me no matter how hard things got. They supported me, no matter how wrong I really was. They would tell me that they disagreed with me (if I was wrong…and sometimesI was wrong), but I knew that they would be with me through the thick and thin.

Two weekends ago, on BCC Youth Group’s annual Good Tidings retreat, I was blessed by the way people had my back…

I had been planning my lesson that I would be giving the kids at Good Tidings for weeks. I was excited about it and knew that God gave me some good things to teach the kids about. In fact, I don’t recall being that excited about a lesson in a long time. I was to teach on Saturday afternoon and I could not wait. Friday night, we played Gargon (which we all know is one of our youth’s favorite games), and I felt great. I was excited about the weekend to come. I was excited about what God was going to do that weekend. And did I mention that I was excited? Everything flowed smoothly that night. We were even successful at getting the kids in bed by 1:00 AM (which is often unheard of when you are on a retreat with a bunch of middle school and high school kids). I slept great that night. However, as soon as I woke up on Saturday, I felt as if I had been hit by a bus. My head was congested, I was freezing cold, my head was pounding, and I could not get my nose to quit running for more than thirty seconds. I was sick!!!

My “cold” progressively got worse as the day went on. After lunch, which is when I was supposed to teach my lesson, I got nauseous and felt like I was going to pass out. As I sat near the doorway (where all the cold, fresh air was), I was franticly praying that God would “get my back” and heal me…even if it was only until I was done teaching. I even said, “I don’t care if I’m deathly ill for the rest of the weekend, just give me this next hour or so to teach what You gave me to teach these kids!” But I soon found out that God had different plans. He always seems to have different plans…doesn’t He?

As I was sitting by that door, my girlfriend came up to me and could tell that I was extremely out of it. She also knows that I am stubborn at times and that I rarely ask for help…even if I strongly need it. She told me that I needed to ask Dan or Dave (two of the other youth pastors that were there) if they could give their lesson in my slot and let me go later that night…after I was able to get some rest. But, being the stubborn person that I am, I refused to ask for help. She however, knew what needed to be done. She “had my back” and took matters into her own hands. She went to talk to Dan and Dave and told them that I wasn’t looking too good and that I needed to rest. A few minutes later, they all came over to talk to me. They did what friends do. They gave me a hard time at first, but soon after…they told me (not in these exact words) that they “had my back!” They said that they would take care of my lesson for me and that I could go back to the dorm and rest. This is what true friend do. This is what happens when people “have your back!” In the corporate world, if you are sick and you can’t get your work done, you are out of luck. But in youth ministry, you have brothers, sisters, and friends who will “get your back!”

I couldn’t understand why God gave me that lesson and allowed me to be excited about it, only to have me not teach it. I don’t know why I was only sick for half of the day. I still don’t know, and I may never. And that’s ok with me; because I know that God “had my back” that day and He knew what was best for me.

The famous painting called “Footprints in the Sand” is an excellent depiction of God having our back. We look back at life and see one set of footprints and think that God left us during the tough times; during the trials. But it is during those times that God carried us and “had our back!”

So, I leave you with the question I began this article with: Who has your back?


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