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


Night of a Thousand Memories…

October 26, 2009

Last night was the yearly pastor appreciation service that my church holds for its pastors. Being that I have only been on staff here since February of this year, I have never experienced one of these services (or maybe I should say “roasts”) before. The theme of the night was, “Night of a Thousand Memories,” and it definitely did provide a thousand memories for me. Some were scary (as you will soon read) and some were encouraging, but they were all good!

The evening opened up with a dinner (soup and salad) and then moved into the sanctuary for the pastor appreciation service. The worship band opened with a song my senior pastor picked (God of This City) and one that I picked (Revelation Song). Then one of the MC’s for the night (the head elder) read through and spoke briefly about each pastor’s favorite Bible verse/passage. After the serious stuff was out of the way, the laughs began!

Two of my youth group leaders came out and said a few nice things about me and how they’ve enjoyed working with me for the last 8 months. After they were done with the nice compliments, they presented me with my gifts. I got two garbage cans, some hand towels for my bathroom, some hand towels for my kitchen, and some sponges. I received these “gifts” because I let the girls in my youth group and the female leaders use my apartment a few weeks ago for a “girls only dinner and a movie night!” Apparently, they were not too impressed with the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of my apartment. What did they expect? I’m a 24-year-old dude that lives alone!! It seemed clean to me! Everyone at the service got a good laugh out of my gifts and the stories behind them. After that, a parent of one of my students (also one of my leaders) introduced the next guest. She started out by saying that it was one of my favorite artists/movie stars and that I have been in the fan club for quite some time. She then announced that this artist/actor was a teenage girl named Hannah Montana. After that, our office manager came parading out dressed up as “Olga Oklahoma” (Hannah Montana’s made up cousin)!

Some background info:

I will admit (and am not ashamed to do so) that I went to see the Hannah Montana movie when it was in theaters. I took my friend (now girlfriend) to see it in exchange for her going to see a manlier movie with me sometime. I saw it as an opportunity to hang out with a potentially awesome girl, and to get two dates out of one!!! It was our first time hanging out and the movie wasn’t as bad as people make it out to be. There were a few different country stars that made a cameo appearance in the movie, one of which was one of my favorite groups (Rascal Flatts)! In the movie, Rascal Flatts performed their hit songs “Bless the Broken Road” and “Backwards,” which are very good songs! I really like movies with a down home, country feel to them, and this movie provided just that.

Now that the background info and mini movie review is out of the way, allow me to get back to the service recap from last night!

After Olga Oklahoma made her parade around the sanctuary, I got called to the front to receive a hug from “her.” She then said, “Pastor Paul, is it true that you need a little help with your Sunday wardrobe?” To which I answered, “hmmm…not that I know of!” “She” then went out of the room and came back with a brand new suit that the church purchased for me.

Side note: I do not need help dressing nicely for church. Olga Oklahoma was just doing ad lib and had nothing planned to say. I learned this today when the above mentioned parent/leader called me and made sure I wasn’t offended by Olga’s comment!

Regardless though, it is a very nice suit and I’m happy to have received it.

This was the last of my humiliation for the night. Oh wait, no…it definitely wasn’t!!!! After I got my suit and Olga thanked me for being a fan of her cousin Hannah, “she” put her hand on my shoulder, paused, and then gave me a kiss on the cheek! It was very sweet of “her!” How many other youth pastors can say that they got a kiss from their male office manager while they were dressed up as a female?

At the end of the service, the head elder had both of the pastors come up front and take our shoes off. He then asked those from the church who are willing to support us and go on the journey with us to bring their shoes up front as well. Everyone in the church was shoeless to show that they are along for the ride, no matter what! They showed that they are willing to follow their shepherds and walk with us on the journey. Then he had everyone gather around their pastors to pray for them! It was an excellent ending to an excellent service. It was awesome to see and experience the support that my church shows to its pastors!

I am extremely blessed to be a part of a church that loves its pastors so much. I’m glad to be here and I know that I am where God wants me to be! Thank you!

– paulg


Handling Distractions Well…

September 23, 2009

Last night (I wrote this on Monday) I had my youth group over for a football watching party and youth group lesson. I didn’t want to miss the Steelers game, and I definitely didn’t want to miss youth group, so I had the genius idea of combining the two and teaching the lesson at half-time! I had the game playing in my living room (on my 60-inch TV that was given to me for free) as well as in another room on one of my leaders 42-inch flat screen TV’s! It was a great event and everyone seemed to have a blast. I had the opportunity of teaching in front a wide spectrum of ages (from 9 months old to 50 years old). I got to teach in front of other people besides just my youth group kids. There were about 17 people there total. Good thing I have cool neighbors and they don’t mind the noise! The reason I am writing though, is to talk about distractions in youth ministry…

When I think about a distraction, the movie “Shooter” immediately pops into my mind. The part I think of is when Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) is training Nick Memphis (Michael Pena) to not be distracted while being a sniper. He tells him to look through the scope at his target and to never let anything distract him. Right before Pena’s character is about to pull the trigger, Wahlberg’s character sets off and explosive charge he has placed inside of a watermelon 20 feet from the target that Pena’s character is attempting to shoot. Pena’s character jumps off of the ground and gets distracted of course and Wahlberg reminds him that he is not supposed to let distractions distract him.  I guess that’s easier said than done when watermelons are exploding all around you!

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Anyway, back to my topic of distractions in youth ministry…

In the span of about an hour this afternoon I received two emails complimenting me on my ability to handle distractions well. The reason for this is because there were a few distractions at youth group last night. Some of those were: people arriving late and someone from my group needing to go down to let them in, a baby crying, some students talking and not paying attention, a student breaking my sliding blinds, etc… Although some of the distractions were, well…distracting, God took control and did what I asked him to in my prayer time before the lesson; to speak through me and accomplish what He would want accomplished that night! And I believe that God did that. He spoke through me and I felt 100% comfortable with teaching my lesson in front of all of the visitors that were there!

One of the emails I received was from my pastor and the other was from a parent that was in attendance at the event. They both had some really encouraging words for me, and they couldn’t have come at a better time. I have been feeling down and a bit discouraged as of late due to certain reasons that I will not be discussing publicly and these emails really lifted me up! One of them said:

“I was IMPRESSED with how you handle the youth….last night I got to sit in on a little bit…how you handle the word, the group, distractions, and go with flow! I told the folks at church that our youth are in GOOD HANDS with our Youth Pastor and sponsors….”

And the other said:

“You have a good group of kids to work with – and you handle the minor distractions that you seem to have every week very well.  : )  ”

I’m not writing this to brag or anything, but I am writing to let you know how awesome God is! I was in need of some encouragement, God saw that, and sent me two very uplifting emails…well, God didn’t actually send them, but you know what I mean! God has blessed me with patience beyond belief. Whenever things get out of hand or kids act up, it doesn’t bother me. God geared me that way and trained me by allowing me to be the pastor of a group of 30 crazy middle schoolers for a few years in New York!

I don’t have an amazing and powerful closing to this post, but I would like to hear from others on how you handle distractions in your youth ministries (or in your particular business setting)? Comment and let me know!

–          paulg


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


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