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    Youth Ministries Blog

    Pastor John's Blog

    Monday
    Jan042016

    Expectations

    Welcome to 2016 and farewell to 2015.  It’s hard to believe that 2015 is behind us.  With the New Year upon us there are many wonderful opportunities ahead.  2015 was certainly filled with God’s blessing in Big-5 and Crosswalk.  It also had its challenges, but hopefully there was growth that came with each struggle and trial.  We read in James’ epistle “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”  All in all, 2015 was filled with much growth—spiritually, physically and mentally!

     

    So we enter into 2016 with high expectations.  Moving into 2016, I expect to see God at work primarily in my life, then in the lives of students, parents, my community and the world.  I expect to see real transformation take place in 2016 as I keep my eyes focused on Jesus.  Some would say setting expectations for anyone other than myself only leads to disappointment.  However, in this case the expectations I hold are for God to act as promised.  Last year was filled with God acting in the world—which is nothing new.  And, it is certainly wise to expect God to work in 2016. 

     

    Having expectations tells us who we are.  To some degree our expectations are an extension of our goals, dreams and aspirations.  In middle school if someone asked me, “John—what do you want to be when you grow up?”  The answer was always, “I’m going to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.”  (I’m still a Lakers fan-even when it hurts and it’s hurting a little right now.)  Well, that was clearly a goal, but at the time it was an expectation.  I expected to be playing basketball professionally when I graduated college.  There were few days I didn’t spend on the basketball court shooting free throws, practicing dribbling skills and challenging others who were better than me.  All this energy invested was intended to get me closer to my goal, but it also increased my expectation. 

     

    Well, what happens when our expectations are not met?  What do we do then?  We spend time getting excited about the future only to be let down.  Then we find ourselves disappointed, disenfranchised or simply discouraged.  We begin to feel like a failure—what else are we supposed to feel—especially in light of failure?  I can tell you this, for God there is no failure.  (hint: I’d recommend reading the last book of the Bible). That’s where we often get confused and our wires get crossed.  We think because our goals were not met—we are failures and therefore our expectations are useless as well.  I recently read a blog that suggested taking all our expectations and throw them into the ocean to watch them float away.  The blogger is telling us to live life without expectations to never feel disappointment or ever be let down.  The problem I see with this position is applying that same reasoning for our relationship with God. 

     

    Having realistic expectations is healthy.  It’s appropriate and it’s biblical.  Throughout the Old Testament God’s people expected God to hear their prayers and defend them.  One of my favorite narratives takes place on Mount Carmel with Elijah.  Elijah faces up against the prophets of Ba’al to see whose god is the True God.  As the narrative unfolds, the prophets of Ba’al put forth their best efforts expecting Ba’al to respond—with no avail.  However, Elijah offers up a simple prayer ““Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.   Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1 Kings 18:36-37).  If you are not familar with this narrative, I would highly recommend reading it.  For Elijah’s prayer is powerful and full of expectation. 

     

    But what about when our expectations are not met?  Do we simply throw in the towel and say, “God must not be with us?”  Do we begin to believe the lies that claim God is not listening?  Or, that God doesn’t care?  Or, God isn’t really concerned with the affair of humanity?  Absolutely not!  It’s those moments that James is referring to that develop perseverance.  The trials test and strengthen our faith and trust in God.  My fear is we buy into the lies.  Lies that infiltrate our lives and convince us to live outside the Kingdom of Heaven. 

     

    Believing the lie is exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden when the serpent said to Eve, “You will not certainly die… “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).  Yes, their eyes were opened.  But the lie was about “being like God.”  Adam and Eve believed they could be like God.  Guess who certainly did die?  One thousand points to you for knowing Adam and Eve are surely dead and not just mostly dead.  Just like Adam and Eve, we believe the lies of the enemy and not the Truth that God speaks to us every day.  The truth is you (and I) are fearfully and wonderfully made.  We are loved and worthy of love.  The most compelling truth of all is that Jesus accomplished what we could not.  Jesus offers forgiveness and life everlasting through his death and resurrection. 

     

    We make decisions everyday based on lies.  The goal for the rest of this school year is to shine light on the lies we live out of and replace them with God’s truth!  Stay tuned for more about the truth of God’s love for you (and me) in 2016.  That’s an expectation you have my permission to hold onto for me!

     

    Happy New Year, 

    Pastor John
    Associate Pastor

    Friday
    Dec042015

    Hustle & Bustle

    This is the month when everyone is trying to fit a year’s worth of activities into 30 days—give or take a few days.  It all starts on Thanksgiving when stores opened for “Black Friday” on Thursday at 6pm.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a great bargain, but there was something very wrong with “Black Friday” starting on Thursday at 6pm.  I even remember thinking to myself as I was loading up my plate with all the delicious food that was prepared, “it’s almost 6 o’ clock, should I be out shopping?  Maybe I’ll find the best gift for Kim and the boys!”  The thought didn’t linger very long.  I was quickly reminded to live in the moment with my family celebrating the blessing of family, friends and so much more.

     

    All this hustle and bustle is pretty amazing.  There is a lot of energy and resource dedicated to finding the perfect gift.  We are urgently reminded, “hurry while supplies last!”   What’s even more amazing is the feeling that comes over us because we really don’t want to miss out.  We really want to get the best gift.  If we do miss out—what then?  Is all lost?  Absolutely not!  Of course all is not lost, but we can’t help but feeling like we missed out on the chance of a lifetime—the perfect gift and the best price.

     

    Maybe all the hustle and bustle of shopping isn’t your thing.  Maybe it’s something totally different like—being at the best parties in town and making sure all the right people know you’re you.  Or, maybe it’s making all the decorations because that’s what other people do.  Or maybe this time of year there is an expectation to volunteer with all the great organization working to help people in need.  Whatever the hustle and bustle is in your life this year, I would encourage you to take a moment to reflect on what God is doing in your life.  This is a perfect time to think about and reflect on what God has done and where God is leading you.

     

    It was this time last year we were making preparations for Daniel to arrive.  Daniel is our youngest son and he will be 1-year this month.  Where does the time go?  Someone told me while ago, “Blink twice dad and your boy will be in kindergarten.”  My friend was absolutely right.  It seems like yesterday we were preparing for Daniel’s arrival—now he’s walking.  What happened in the last year?  Did I miss all the important stuff in his life?  Sometimes that’s how we experience God.  Time passes so quickly.  The phrase “time flies” was not joking.

     

    So in all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas Season, with all the opportunities to serve in our community and all the celebrations to be at and even the last minute shopping that needs to be done—the only thing that we really is to spend time with our Creator.

     

    So find the quite space in your house and have a conversation with the One who loves you unconditionally.  Take time to listen to what God is saying to you this time of year.   God is certainly moving in the world—don’t let another year go by without spending time with the One who created time.

     

    Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

     

    Pastor John

    Associate Pastor

    Friday
    Nov062015

    Overflowing Attitude of Gratitude

    For more than 14 years, students and parents at Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church have worked together to bless our lower level enlisted personnel by provided a Thanksgiving meal in a box.  Each box is created and packed with love and blessings.  This years box will include a $25.00 commissary gift card, fresh veggies, stuffing & gravy, an apple pie, a coloring book for young children and encouraging reading material as we enter the Christmas season.   Over the 14 years, we estimate that almost 1675 families have received a Thanksgiving Box and we plan on increasing that number by 175 this year.

     

    For the past three years, we have included a survey card asking each recipient to give us some feedback on the items in the box.  Our intent is to make improvements every year based on need rather than our perception of need.  Since the start of the survey we have received an overflowing attitude of gratitude.  Here are some of the responses we have received:

    “Thank you so much for your kindness, it has touched me at my core.  I have never received something like this before.  May God bless you too.” (2014)

    “The personal handwriting by the youth ministries is special to me.  It’s comforting to know that my husband is being appreciated for his service.” (2014)

    “Thank you to those who put time and money to make this box.  My family and I greatly appreciate it.” (2013)

    “Thank you so much Graham Memorial for this great gift to my family for Thanksgiving.”  (2013)

    “We were in desperate need-our pay check gone and then Praise the Lord this came!  Right one time, if not for it were would have had no Thanksgiving at all!!  THANK YOU! (2012)

    “As a military family we have many hardships.  To see people who care like this…words can’t express how GRATEFUL we are!  Thanks : )” (2012)

    Wow!  And those six replies only scratch the surface of the responses from families who received a Thanksgiving Box.  To top it all off, we hear from students every year “we love putting together Thanksgiving Boxes ever year.  We hope that the families can have a wonderful Thanksgiving like we do every year.”  Another student said, “We love delivering boxes because we get to see the gratitude on the faces of people who receive the box.”

     

    This is certainly one of the highlights of the year for our youth ministry.  There is an overflow of gratitude all the way around—from the military families who receive a box, to the students and parents who volunteer on the build day, to the generous contributions that make 175 Thanksgiving boxes a reality.  If you are interested in volunteering, join us on Tuesday, November 17th at 5:00pm in the Parish Hall to work alongside of students and other adults as we bless our military and they have blessed us!

     

    Finally, this is truly the time of year to express gratitude.  People around the world will gather together and share their thanks for family, friends, a job or new opportunities.  For us at Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church, we believe thanksgiving is a proper attitude throughout the entire year—because of God’s faithfulness!  It is because of God’s faithfulness and blessing upon the world that causes us to express our gratitude first and foremost to the Creator of the universe.  It is God who holds all things together.  It is God who offers forgiveness and redemption through Jesus Christ.  And for that-we are overflowing with an attitude of gratitude living faithfully as children of the King!

     

    We pray your Thanksgiving is filled with family and friends as you celebrate together God’s blessing for everyday!

     

    In Christ,

     

    Pastor John
    Associate Pastor

    Monday
    Oct052015

    Ordination & Installation

    On Sunday, October 4, 2015, I was ordinated and installed as the Designated Associate Pastor at Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church.  The mission and vision of Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church is “To Know Christ and Make Christ Known.”  And, to say I am excited about being ordained and installed is a complete understatement.  It was (and is) truly a day to celebrate!  I was overwhelmed and blessed by all our family and friends who participated in the ordination and installation service.  The service was a worship service giving God the honor and adoration that is due.  Remember, worshipping God is not a passive actively in the pew—it is highly active!  Annie Dillard wrote, if we truly believe in the power we invoke during worship, “…we should all be wearing crash helmets…[and] ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews” during worship.  And the best part is the Lord of heaven and earth is blessed by our worship! 

     

    Even more, we are blessed by the Lord Jesus Christ for walking alongside of us everyday.  There is not a day in which God’s strength and mercy does not carry us - especially when the burden is too heavy to carry.  And everyday we can honestly say, “Thank you, Lord.”

     

    In honoring God, during my ordination service, I would be remised not to acknowledge several people who have encouraged me along this journey.  The celebration is as much for my wife, Kimberlee, and family as it is for me.  My wife has been a steady stream of blessing and encouragement through the entire process.  She has relentlessly reminded me of God’s call on my life and gently offered godly wisdom.  Kimberlee is God’s gift and helpmate as we raise our three boys: Isaac, Andrew and Daniel.  Our prayer for all three of them is to never know a time outside of God’s family.    And on the say day as my ordincation and installation, our youngest Daniel was baptized!

     

    Everyday is an opportunity to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Just as each of these fathers of our faith were obedient to God’s call, there are several men that have been a father to me.  My father, Nazmy, has taught me what it means to be a loving and patient husband.  Pastor David has helped me grow into a man of God trusting God with the outcomes of life. My father in law, John Mucci, challenges me to think deeply about my faith and its lasting implications.  And Ralph West, my session liaison has faithfully prayed with me and for me offering encouragement in the difficult times.  Of course, each of these men has a godly wife supporting him and, therefore, each wife as cared for me in ways I cannot begin to fathom.  

     

    Finally, in honoring God, I am grateful for our church family who affirms my call and have enthusiastically watched me grow into the man I am now.  I am also in debt to the Presbytery of San Diego—especially Linda Therien, the members of Committee on Preparation for Ministry and Committee on Ministry.  There are many others I would like to honor God and thank, but this blog would go on forever.  Please know each of you are special and truly a blessing to my family and me. 

     

    In Christ,

    Pastor John

    Newly Ordained Pastor

    Tuesday
    Sep012015

    Advancing the Kingdom

    The fall is always very exciting for us in youth ministry.  We love to hear the stories from family vacations filled with destinations all around the world.  We love seeing friendships reconnect on campus and the joy that brings.  This year, there is an added bonus that is exciting for me.  Isaac and I see many of you going to or from school as we ride to and from kindergarten each day.  Most of all, we cherish the God moments in the coming months as we walk together following Jesus’ example.  These are the moments that transform us into the people of God we are created to be—therefore advancing the Kingdom.

     

    We have officially launched Big-5 and Crosswalk for the fall.  Just like every new season of life, there are great opportunities to be involved in kingdom building.  Kingdom building is following what Jesus taught us in the New Testament and recognizing God’s reign in our lives.  Allowing God to be God and not trying to take control of things we have no control over.  It is living moment-by-moment guided by the Holy Spirit.  In the process of living in the kingdom, we touch lives around us—in Jesus Name. 

     

    This year is filled with opportunities to touch the lives of students.  Each Tuesday parent volunteers prepare a delicious meal for middle school students.  While each Tuesday at Crosswalk parent volunteers provide a delicious snack for high school students to enjoy.  Either way, it's at this table that adults build on relationships and walk with students to share life’s ups and downs.  Another building moment, starting on Thursday, September 24th we launch Uplift Tutoring where we work with elementary students from Sherman Academy on their homework.  Not to mention small groups and Sunday school.  These are only a few of the Kingdom building moments.

     

    Be sure to read our September newsletter to get involved. Jesus taught us how to live into the Kingdom, for living as Jesus lived is filled with love, joy and peace.  Who wouldn’t want more of that in their life? 

     

    Blessings,

    John Joseph