Making a Difference in Lynn, MA – DUMC High School Missions Trip…

July 20, 2011

This past week I had the privilege of leading my first Missions Trip with my new youth group. Five of our adult leaders and I took a group of 39 High School-ers to serve the community of Lynn, MA (right outside of Boston).  It was a phenomenal week and one that I will never forget. I was blown away (again) by the way my new students welcomed, supported, and loved me. I wasn’t sure of what to expect going into the trip, but now that it’s over I realize that I had no reason to worry. I believe that bonds were formed, friendships were strengthened, and lives were changed because of this trip and I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of it all!

The leaders and I picked up the vans the day before we left and we had the students meet at the church the night before to load the vans. This was an exciting time because we all knew it meant that we would get to leave soon! We also spent some time decorating the windows of the vans to let people know who we were and what our purpose was (to spread the love of Jesus)! Once we had the vans packed, and the names checked off on the list of attendees, we all got to go home and get a good night’s sleep before we embarked on our journey to Massachusetts. We pulled out of the church at 8:30 AM and after two bathroom stops, one of which was extremely long (on account of the Starbucks that distracted our kids), and one lunch stop, we made it safely to the church we stayed at in Lynn, MA.

On our first night in Lynn, we had a leaders meeting where we spent time assigning all of our students into the work groups/locations that we thought would best fit them. Being that this trip was my first time meeting some of these students; it was a very difficult/stressful thing to figure out where they best fit. Thankfully, I had some veteran youth leaders there with me who were able to help me out.

Surprisingly there were no problems with the groups or who the students were paired up with. A few of the students weren’t happy with the work that they were actually doing and expressed to me that they would rather have been doing something different but I just used that as an opportunity to stress to them the importance of stepping out of their comfort zones and sticking it out to make a difference in peoples’ lives! I told them that we weren’t there that week for us, but for the people of Lynn, MA. These students really stepped it up after this and I was very impressed with them.

Being that I am the youngest leader in our group, I got assigned to do sports camp where we played football with community kids aged 10-14 all week. I got to take 6 of my students to the sports camp to help lead with me. It was great to see my students stepping up and being a positive influence in the lives of these community kids. I saw tremendous leadership qualities in all 6 of those guys and I think they learned a lot from the experience. Some of the community kids we worked with were tough and did not want to listen or follow rules, but overall it was a great experience for everyone involved. After we were done with sports camp each day, both I and Steve (the youth pastor from the church in Minnesota who was on the trip with us) drove the community kids back to the church. This was one of my favorite times of each day because as the kids were piling out of the van and we were waiting in the parking lot, I had the opportunity to sit and watch/take pictures of some of my other students loving on their group of community kids. It is great to see true ministry taking place and the love of Jesus being shown!

Each night, after we finished our work for the day, we got to do a fun, evening activity. On Monday night we got to go to Nahant Beach. It was a beautiful beach and provided for a great group photo.

If I could do one thing differently about this beach trip, I would make sure guitars do not get left at the beach. We had an incident where a guitar was left at the beach and no one told me it was missing until three days after the fact. By that point, kids had convinced themselves that it was brought back and was either stolen or hidden in the church somewhere. Long story short, the guitar was found and turned in to the police station and the student’s father will be picking it up during his already scheduled trip to Boston in August. On Tuesday night we got to ride the subway into to downtown Boston and spend an hour shopping and exploring the city. This was probably one of my favorite evening activities that we did. I got to walk around the city with 17 of my students and see all that that part of Boston had to offer. We also got a plethora of pictures and videos of a few of my students doing “The Bernie.”

For those of you that don’t know, “The Bernie” is based on the moves of the dead guy Bernie from a movie made in the 1980’s (Weekend at Bernie’s). Apparently it is a new dance craze that is sweeping the South…and apparently it has made its way to Doylestown, PA and now Boston, MA! Our group loves “The Bernie” so much that we got all of us together for a “Mass Bernie-ing” and recorded it with an intro tutorial! And yes, it will make an appearance in church whenever we talk about our trip!

On Wednesday night we got to go have dinner with people from the community at a soup kitchen called “My Brothers Table.” It was great to see my students and leaders sitting and eating with the people we were working with all week. And on Thursday we got to go to Gloucester, MA for a cookout/hangout time at the beach. We got to swim, play football, play volley ball, and climb rocks. It was a beautiful place and everyone had a blast. I treated everyone to ice cream in Gloucester and I think I won everyone’s heart because of it! haha

After we got back from the beach cookout, we had a worship service followed by a foot washing ceremony. This was one of the most powerful things from the entire week. YouthWorks washed the adult leaders’ feet and then we washed our students’ feet and prayed with each and every one of them. After some of the students’ got their feet washed, they went around the room and prayed with their friends. It was a very powerful and emotional evening and I was blown away by it.

A parent of two of the girls in my youth group asked me if I would have done anything differently. Now that I think back on it I realize that I wouldn’t change a thing. It was a great experience and a huge trip for me in terms of getting to know the students and building relationships with them. I am so thankful that God had His hands all over this trip!

A Special Thanks to Katie, Joel, Dan, Meredith, and Jenna!

Special thanks to Katie, Joel, Dan, Meredith, and Jenna for providing an amazing trip for us!

Now I have the Middle School Missions Trip to Charleston, WV to look forward to. We leave this Sunday. Woooohoooo!

–          paulg


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


The Book of Eli…

August 26, 2010

Before I get started, I need to mention that this is NOT a movie review. I will be talking about some parts of this movie, but will not be giving away any key points to the plot or ruining the ending of the film for you. My purpose with this is to relate some parts of the movie to serving God and doing ministry.

The Book of Eli

I have wanted to watch “The Book of Eli” for a few months now and the other day I finally decided to rent it. I loved every minute of it and would definitely recommend that people see it. I’ll more than likely watch it again. The movie takes place in a post-war ravaged world and is about a nomad named Eli who is on a mission to transport the last copy of the Bible to a place on the West Coast of the United States where it will be safe; a place where people will need it and know what to do with it.

On his journey, Eli encounters various thugs and rogue gangs who set traps to ambush people, kill them, steal their belongings, and eat them. However, Eli possesses an amazing ability to fight off and kill everyone that tries to deter him from completing his mission. Later on in the movie, we learn that Eli was told that he would be protected from anything or anyone that stands in his way. At first I just thought that Eli was tough as nails, but when I found out that God was on his side and was protecting him from everything that got in his way, I realized he was tougher than I had originally thought; he was tougher than nails!

This morning, I watched an online sermon from Elevation Church (in North Carolina) by Pastor Steven Furtick. His message was about betrayal and keeping your head up. He preached from Psalms 3:1-8, but the primary focus was on verse 3. And this is where I am going to tie this in to this movie, in case you were wondering! 😉 As I just mentioned, God protected Eli on his journey across North America; He protected him on every side.

Psalm 3:3 says, “But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

In “The Book of Eli,” God protected Eli (when He had the Bible) so much that even bullets that hit him did not hurt him. He provided him with amazing senses, and gave him incredible speed with his sword and amazing accuracy with his guns. If you watch the movie in its entirety, and pay close attention at the end, you will be even more amazed at these abilities that Eli possessed.

I believe that, to some extent, God provides the same amount of protection and guidance to us on our tasks, missions, and callings that He has called us to. I don’t know that He will prevent bullets from penetrating our skin when we are being shot at, but He certainly could if He wanted to. So maybe just don’t go trying to get shot at! I have heard a saying before that says, “You are safer deep in the jungles of Africa living inside of God’s will than you are in your own living room living outside of God’s will!” I firmly believe that we will be protected on every side when we are seeking God, following His leading, guidance, and direction, and living fully for Him. As Psalm 3:3 says, He is a shield around us!

Verse 4 goes on to say, “To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill.” If we sincerely cry out to God, He will hear us, He will answer us, and He WILL be a shield around us!

What about YOU?

Are you following God’s leading and going where He tells you to go, and doing what He tells you to do?

Have you ever experienced God’s hand of protection on your life?

I would love to hear some feedback on this…I would love to hear your stories!

– paulg


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


what is fair?

August 21, 2010

Sometimes, life doesn’t seem fair…who am I kidding? Life usually doesn’t seem fair! However, one thing that I am learning as of late is that it’s not up to us to decide what is fair and what is not. We, in our very limited human perspective view the hardships, pain, and trials that we go through as being unfair, and rightly so. They hurt…they suck…and are not pleasant at all. But sometimes we just need to take a step back, take some time to think through and attempt to process the situation, and try (and the key word here is TRY) to view things from God’s perspective.

During my last few months as a youth pastor, I went through some very difficult things, some of which nobody knows about. During these months a majority of my teachings to my students were on the topic of trials. It was very real to me and what I was going through, and I felt there were lessons that I was learning that they needed to learn as well. The main thing that I tried to drive home to them was that sometimes, God uses our trials to teach us something. Obviously He doesn’t want to see us suffer, but He is infinite in His knowledge and all-knowing in everything ever. Because of that, He knows what is best for us and knows what it will take for us to learn the lesson that He desperately wants us to learn. The ironic thing is that most likely, He told us what we needed to learn over and over again but we were too distracted or too unfocused to hear His voice. Because of this fact, He has no choice but to allow us to go through a trial. It’s the only way to get our attention and for us to learn!

I’ve been reading a lot in the book of Job lately. Job was a man who had a reason to think that life wasn’t fair. He was a man that was “blameless and upright!” (Job 1:1, 8, 2:3) Everything he did in his life was for God’s glory and he never had anything to do with evil. So one would think that because Job so obediently followed and lived for God that He would have no problems and that God would bless Him. But that is not how life works. I find it very interesting that this whole “messing with Job’s life” thing wasn’t Satan’s idea, but God’s! Satan didn’t come to God and say “hey, can I try to turn your servant Job away from you?” In actuality, God said to Satan “have you considered my servant Job?” Satan saw that this man (Job) was completely and irrevocably in love with God and he hated that. He wanted to stop it and try to make Job stumble and curse God, and for whatever reason, God allowed Satan to try to do just that. It doesn’t make sense to us, but God saw the bigger picture (or the end result) and knew the plans that He had for Job (check out Jeremiah 29:11).

After Satan sabotages Job’s life twice (killing all of his sons, daughters, and livestock and afflicting him with sores and rashes) Job starts to wish that he was never born and complain. Then Job’s friends start to accuse him of all sorts of things (sinning, living wrong, etc). Isn’t it like this at times in our lives too? We are going through something that only us and God can understand and deal with yet our friends speak their mind and try to tell us what we need to do to fix our problems. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, they’re our friends, they love us, and they are only trying to help. But they have an outside perspective and they don’t truly know the heart of the matter. After Job’s friends gave him their two cents, we see that God spoke up.

It starts off by saying “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm…” (Job 38:1). I find it amazing that there are so many different ways that God can speak to us, and sometimes, He chooses to do it through a storm (a very difficult time in our lives where we think the world is crashing down around us). What comes next is very convicting, for me anyway. In verse 2 of chapter 28, God asks Job “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” I find this convicting in that I often am like Job. When things get tough and the storms come, I start to question God and demand to know why things are happening. I argue and wrestle with God, which is ok to do, but this verse always puts me in check. Do I darken God’s counsel with words without knowledge? That’s a scary thing to think about!

Unfortunately, I have no clever concluding paragraph to sum this whole blog up. But what I do know is that I need to take a step back, take some time to think through and attempt to process the situation, and try (do you remember what I said the keyword here is?) to view things from God’s perspective. When I do that and leave things in God’s hands, I can’t fail!

– 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


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