Closer: 52 Devotions to Draw Couples Together – Book Review

closer-52devotionscouples-burns-frontThis last year has been a journey for my wife and I. Earlier last year, we attended a youth ministry-focused marriage retreat. It was great, and at the end, they gave us several books. One of them was Closer: 52 Devotions to Draw Couples Together by Jim and Cathy Burns. We had been looking for a good devotional, and here, one was given to us for free. So, we started to meet weekly for lunch, read through the devo for that week, and discuss it. It has been a great resource for us, so we wanted to pass it on to others.

This book is filled with 52 devotions that are usually between three and four pages in length. There is a Scripture, a short thought from the authors, and some discussion questions. Sometimes, they even have “homework” for you and your spouse. While some topics were perfect for us to discuss, others were not as critical. Don’t get me wrong – our marriage is far from perfect, but there some things we struggle with more than others, and there are other things we don’t struggle with as much right now.

One of the biggest things that we gained from this book was to have a daily prayer time. The authors mentioned that a couple that prays together stays together. So, we started praying every night together for a couple minutes about our marriage, and it has been great. Another thing we learned was that marriages need to have different meeting times throughout the week. One is a time for prayer, another is a time for spiritual discussion, and another is a business meeting. This is still something we are working on putting in our schedule, but we love the idea. Another idea we gained was to start a journal of all the things we appreciate about each other.

We could go on and on about the advantages of this devotional book, but instead, we will leave the book to speak for itself. Do yourself a favor – carve out a little room in your busy week to have a purposeful devotional time with your spouse. And if you’re looking for something to get you started, try out this book. We don’t think you will be disappointed.

Closer: 52 Devotions to Draw Couples Together

Sermon – Marriage Thoughts from 1 Peter 3:1-7

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Back in October 2013, I was given the opportunity to preach at RCC, while our lead minister was on a mission trip. The message was a part of our worship series called, “Christian,” where we were walking through 1 Peter. Specifically, I was given the first seven verses from the third chapter, where Peter addresses husbands and wives. My wife joined me for a portion of the message, which I thought was great, because I do not have a direct connection to what it’s like to be a wife. Ha! I only wish we had somehow recorded our actual conversations about this, instead of trying to recreate it on stage. She had so many great thoughts, and I loved our discussions. I hope we can do even more together like this in the future.

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Orange Conference 2014 Bound

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This year, I'll be heading back down to Atlanta for the Orange Conference. I'm really excited to be blogging for them again this year. So, what does this mean for you, as a reader? This means you can expect daily posts during the conference about the main sessions and workshops I attend. It might also include some interviews and maybe even a giveaway or two. You never know.

In terms of preparation, I want to make sure I am covering the things you want to hear about. So, let me know in the comments what you would like me to cover at OC14. There are a ton of workshops, which are already filling up. I've done my best at signing up for the ones that I think will be most beneficial, but if you see something on the list, be sure to point it out.

During the week, I will also be post little tidbits on Twitter, so be sure to follow me there, too!

Noah – Movie Review

noah-movie-poster-2014One of the most popular stories from the Bible has made its way to the “silver screen” this year. Hollywood has taken the epic tale of Noah’s Ark from Genesis 6-9 and created a major motion picture, complete with top-name actors like Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, and Emma Watson. While I knew the movie was going to take some artistic liberties, I wasn’t sure how far it would go.

While the overall story is still the same, the truth is that the Bible does leave many holes unfilled. So, in order to create a two-hour movie, they needed to fill in some gaps. Similarly, there are some things that are a bit unclear, due to the different world/culture in which they lived compared to the world today. So, I get why they felt the need to embellish the story here and there, adding to the plot to make it more “movie worthy.”

What I don’t yet understand, though, is the things they outright changed from the Bible. Sure, they all seemed to make sense and go together to tell the story they set out to tell, but I just don’t understand why they would tell that story. The biggest example of this is that only Shem took his wife on the ark with him. The others did not have wives in the movie. Genesis 7:7 and 7:13 seem to clearly state that the wives of each son joined them on the ark:

“And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. [...] On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark.” (NIV)

Why would they change it? If you watch the movie, it makes sense. The writers obviously had another story to tell that involved Noah’s internal struggle and his assumption that God was not necessarily going to repopulate the world with his family. I could also go on and on about the rock-covered “Watchers,” which just made the film seem like a fairy tale or something out of Narnia or Middle Earth.

What I did like, however, is the way the movie-makers delve into Noah’s psyche. I never really thought much about it before, but I am sure he went through a lot as he struggled with God’s decision to wipe out the entire earth. What would it have been like to know that so much death was just outside the walls of your ark? It must have been an incredibly difficult time to go through, which probably explains why he turned to the vineyard after they finally got back to dry land. (Right decision? Probably not, but I now understand it a bit more.)

Similarly, I think the movie does a good job at exploring what life could have been like for them at that time. They could have very well felt like God was not present or hearing their prayers. If that was the case, and I think it was, they would have felt like it was up to them to make decisions on their own. They did not yet have the covenant of Abraham, the prophetic words of Isaiah, or the sacrifice of Jesus. They probably felt alone, even during the time when they were being saved in the ark. I’m sure the whole process was very stressful. And while Noah’s family was righteous, they were not perfect, so they probably had their doubts along the way.

Overall, the movie was well made, and the actors did a really good job! Sure, it kind of felt like, in the words of one of my friends, “a ‘mash-up’ of The Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, and Passion of the Christ,” but I do think it is worth seeing. Does that viewing have to be in a theater? Not necessarily. I don’t think you need to throw $10+ at a ticket, but maybe a $1.50 Redbox rental would be okay.

The movie was far from perfect, and they used their artistic license quite a bit. I did some reading ahead of time, so I knew a bit of what to expect, which I think helped me prepare for it. If I hadn’t known anything, I may have been very disappointed that they didn’t stick closer to the Biblical narrative. Still, I believe the biggest benefit of a movie like this is that it can get people talking about the Bible more. Hopefully, it will get them into the Bible, though, instead of just believing everything they see on the screen. To that end, I will keep praying!

Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters – Movie Review

Ecstasy-of-Order-Tetris-Masters-PosterThe world of Tetris has always intrigued me. I am often shocked by the speed and accuracy of the game’s top players. When I was a kid, I can remember passing around our family’s two Game Boys between my parents and sister. We would often compete for the highest score and most lines. (Yes, we are a bunch of nerds; I have embraced that!) I always thought I was good, but eventually, when I was able to take my game online via Tetris Party, Tetris Plus, and other modern versions of the game, I realized how much I was behind the competition.

Recently, I ran across the 2011 documentary, Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters. The movie covers a group of the best Tetris players in the world as they compete for the 2010 Tetris World Championship. Robin Mihara brings together these top players, including Thor Aackerlund (1990 Nintendo World Champion), Jonas Neubauer, Harry Hong, Ben Mullen, Jesse Kelkar, Dana Wilcox, and Alex Kerr.

The film does a great job of catching up with each of these players, getting into a bit of their history, and finding out what makes them tick. It is really interesting hearing their stories, as they all have a reason why they initially got into Tetris. Following these stories, you quickly begin to look beyond their quirks and get to know the people behind the high scores.

As the movie progresses, the day for the competition is upon them, and the viewer is able to catch a glimpse into each player’s practice regime and routines. Some rock the controller a certain way, and others focus on one side more than another. The list goes on and on, and the viewer soon realizes why they are the best. They have all figured out what works for them, and they have perfected it over much trial and error.

When I originally began watching this movie, I did not have high hopes. I just wanted to see how crazed some Tetris players can be. What I found out, though, was the stories of several top players. I got to know them for 90 minutes, and I began to root for them to do well in the tournament. Not only did I pick up some great tips for doing better in the game, I also gained more respect for those who are the best at playing it.

While it may not be the highest quality film you have ever seen, this documentary is done well. So, if you are looking for a quality video game documentary about one of the most classic games, look no further than Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters!

More about Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters:

  • Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters is available from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, YouTube, and Google Play. It is also currently available on Crackle to view for free.
  • Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters won several awards from the 2012 Phoenix Comicon Festival, 2011 Austin Film Festival, 2011 IDFA, 2011 Cucalorus Film Festival, 2012 Glasgow Film Fest, 2012 Big Sky Doc Fest, 2012 Wisconsin Film Fest, 2012 Gothenburg IFF, and the 2011 SF Doc Fest.
  • Find out more about Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters at http://www.ecstasyoforder.com.

Official Movie Trailer:

(This review is also posted on the Nintendo site I blog for, NintendoFuse.com.)

I am Divergent

Divergent_book_coverWhat comic book character are you? If you were a fruit, what would you be? Take this test to figure out what Disney Princess you are most like. What does your dialect say about you? What TV show or movie to you belong in? Oh, the ever-popular personality tests… How I do not like taking them! In addition to the silly quizzes found online, there are also some serious tests. Between counseling classes, work, and premarital counseling, I have taken my fair share of the DISC Assessment, Myers Briggs, and others.

Recently, I finished reading the first book of the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. I really enjoyed it; partially, because I felt I could really identify with the main character. Without spoiling the book, I’ll just explain the main idea of the story. It takes place sometime in the fictitious future where people have been split into five different factions based on what they value most. The Abnegation are selfless, Dauntless value bravery, Erudite focus on knowledge, Candor are honest, and Amity value peace. At age 16, everyone is required to take an assessment, which will tell them for what faction they are most fit. They must then decide if they will choose to go to another faction or stay with their family. The main character, Tris, was caught in the middle. She did not fit in any one faction more than the other, and they gave her the label of Divergent. She must then wrestle with that outcome, because the world does not appreciate it. Instead, they want everyone to fit into one category.

I have often despised having a label, and I don’t like giving them to others, either. While I understand their purpose within some settings, they can also have negative effects on people. Because a person has been labeled as a certain personality, they are now expected to act a certain way or do certain things. The same goes for other labels that society or doctors give, like depressed or awkward. All the sudden, that is who the person is. They begin to think of themselves a specific way, and others think of them in that way. What happens, though, when that person doesn’t truly fit everything about that label? When someone says that I am a particular personality, I feel I have now been labeled and certain things are expected of me. If all those things were true, I wouldn’t have much of a problem. However, they are not all true. I also have tendencies toward other personalities, too. Does this mean I don’t know who I am?

The first time I took the DISC Assessment, and recorded my results as almost in the middle (all levels were about the same), I was told by the test administrator that I apparently “do not know myself.” A couple years later, I took it again with basically the same results. And again, a few years later, I had only slightly moved. In fact, my movement was even closer to the middle of the pack. Other types of tests often offer similar results.

After reading the book and then talking to a trusted friend, I realized that I am  wired differently. (No big surprise!) While most people can find themselves with tendencies toward one personality or way of thinking more than another, I tend to gravitate toward the middle. Hmmm… This sounds familiar. She described me as adaptable. If I need to be a team player, I will be. If I need to be the leader, I will be. If I need to be the enthusiastic one, that can be me as well. If I need to research something, I can do that. As I write this, though, I struggle, because I don’t want this to come across as arrogant or self-righteous. That is definitely not my purpose. Instead, I am sharing this, because of my newfound self-awareness. Just like Tris, in the book, I am what that world would call Divergent. I do not like being pinned to a specific “faction.” Instead, I like to be free to adapt in various situations.

I have realized, though, that this can come back to bite me, if I am not careful. While I am adaptable, there are some things that I am certainly not. However, these are sometimes incredibly hard realities to face. My tendency to adapt make me feel as if I can do whatever is necessary for the task at hand, but that is not always the case. This is my problem. I have a desire to be everything. As one of the characters in the book said, “I want to be brave, and selfless, and smart, and honest.” I value being an extrovert and an introvert. I desire to be a servant and a leader. I am not perfect, though. Tris had to realize that while she also kind of wanted to be everything, there are just some things that she was not. With a personality like mine, that is sometimes hard to grasp, and it has often left me thinking, “But why can’t I be that way?” especially when that particular personality would be helpful in a certain situation.

The funny thing is that even though Trist didn’t fit in an obvious faction, she was still given a label — Divergent. Why are we so quick to give labels to everyone? Yes, we want to understand ourselves, understand each other, and work better with our teams. While the intentions are mostly good, I think those labels can also have negative results.

So, let’s get biblical. What does the Apostle Paul really mean when he says these words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NIV):

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

Is Paul also what the book would call Divergent? Perhaps. So, should we follow his lead and try to be all things to all people? Here is the conclusion I have come to for now… While that is a lofty goal, most of us are probably not able to truly be “all things.” Some can do it more than others, but few will be able to do it all. So, the answer, in my opinion, lies in the first and last lines. Paul identified with no one so that he could try to identify with everyone, because we all have the same need — a Savior. Further, everything we do should be for the sake of the Gospel. So, while the world may throw a specific label on you, don’t feel as if you have to always adhere to that label. Whether you are a High D, an ESTJ, Bi-Polar, Princess Jasmine, or Dauntless, it really doesn’t matter. Let’s not get caught up in all that stuff. What matters is that Christ died for you, making you His child. Let that thought alone occupy your decisions, for that is who you are! Our actual label should be “child of God,” and that is the one we should carry with us everywhere, doing all that we can for the sake of the Gospel, so that we may share in its blessings.

Flapping Through Fame

flappybird_01Flappy Bird. Other than the Olympics, this has probably been one of the biggest topics of discussion in recent weeks. On the surface, it looked like any other mobile game — you control a bird’s flight by tapping on the screen, helping him to fly through pipes. Seems simple, right? It seems that a ton of people thought it was so simple they would try it. Then they tried to beat their high score. Then they tried to beat their friends’ high scores. Then they were addicted. The game soared (pun mostly intended) to the top of the charts. People were playing it all the time. Our youth group played every chance they got in between lessons and small groups (and sometimes during). Adults were playing it at work. The frustration levels arose, and the addiction became overwhelming. To whom? No, not the players. The addiction became overwhelming to the game’s creator, 29-year-old Dong Nguyen.

Right before he pulled the game from the mobile stores on February 9, he tweeted a couple things:

  • February 4: “Press people are overrating the success of my games. It is something I never want. Please give me peace.”
  • February 8: “I can call ‘Flappy Bird’ is a success of mine. But it also ruins my simple life. So now I hate it.”
  • February 8: “I am sorry ‘Flappy Bird’ users, 22 hours from now, I will take ‘Flappy Bird’ down. I cannot take this anymore.”
  • February 8: “It is not anything related to legal issues. I just cannot keep it anymore.”

After reading back through a ton of his tweets, I realized one big thing. His life took a huge turn once this game hit the charts. In fact, he hardly ever tweeted before, but after it got in the top 10, it seems like all he did was respond to people’s tweets. Many of them were great, but a large number were nasty and mean. There were even death and suicide threats. Yes, they were probably just joking, but still, I think you can see how he might have gotten overwhelmed by all of this.

flappybird_02Nguyen then told Forbes, in an exclusive interview on February 11, “Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed, but it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it’s best to take down Flappy Bird. It’s gone forever.”

I am not here to add any insightful news into why exactly Nguyen took down this game. What I do want to discuss is that I kind of understand where he is coming from. As many of you know, I had a video that became “viral” last summer. It was a silly video that I took while on a flight home that I never really thought would take off (another pun mostly intended), but after a few days, I was getting email after phone call after tweet after Facebook message about this video. The press wanted to do interviews, the cable companies wanted to use the video, and, of course, there were a ton of haters along the way too. Before long, I felt incredibly overwhelmed by the popularity and attention gained from this video.

It is ridiculous how fast things can get out of your hands. Before I knew it, my video was everywhere, and so many people were talking about it in both positive and negative ways. I am certain this is something Nguyen experienced, but on a grander scale. This game that he made, probably in his bedroom, in just a few days had blown up to something much larger than he ever imagined. Not only did he get a lot of positive publicity, which I’m sure helped generate revenue for his game, he also experienced the negative impact of large-scale popularity.

A few months after my video went live, I talked about it with our high school youth group one Sunday evening. We were discussing how many people today strive for popularity; they want to be famous. I shared that my limited experience with it taught me a lot. I shared that I do not wish fame upon anyone. Many were shocked by this statement. Yes, there are a ton of famous people who enjoy it, but I can say from personal experience that it is not as glamorous as it seems. One day, my wife and I realized that we hadn’t eaten anything all day long, because we were in one interview after another. It was a ton of work to keep up all the appointments, manage comments, not let the negativity get to you, and still do your normal routine and job. While I have never talked with Nguyen myself, I can only assume this is what he experienced, and this is probably what he meant when he said, “Please give me peace,” “It ruins my simple life,” and “I cannot take it anymore.” I had similar thoughts myself.

flappybird_03Something else I learned during that whole process was how tempting it is try and escape from the chaos. We even got to where we were struggling to sleep at night due to our anxiety. At one point, my wife and I told each other how we understand why some celebrities turn to drugs and alcohol. While it was never something we did, we could begin to see how others might see that as a way to turn everything off and just be. The recent death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman reminded me of that again. His apparent drug overdose was only part of his constant struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. In the midst of all the attention, I now know for a fact that there are times when you just want to escape and wish you could just go back to how things were before. For many, this is incredibly hard, so they begin looking for ways to cope.

Like I said, I have not personally talked with Dong Nguyen. I don’t even know him, nor will I probably ever know him. What I do think I know is a bit of what he went through. Granted, my experience was on a much much smaller scale. Most people have forgotten about my video by now. But what I experienced in that short time was enough to open my eyes. Honestly, that’s all I planned to say today — that I might know a little bit of why he feels like this.

I do want to close with a quick note to anyone out there who feels like life is out of control. Perhaps you are a celebrity and face this sort of thing day after day. Maybe you’re a middle school student who is just overwhelmed with school, clubs, and all the other junk that goes on every day as a teenager in our world. Others of you might be single-parents who don’t know how to balance raising your kids, working a job, and maintaining your home. My guess is that you all struggle a bit with the feeling of being overwhelmed by life. So, I want to share something that has always helped me, especially when I felt it last summer. There is a God who loves you, unconditionally, and He wants to have a relationship with you. That’s all that matters! In the middle of all the chaos of life, the negative comments, the busyness of trying to keep up, the pressure to succeed, and the feelings of loneliness, there is a God who has never given up on you. That is who I leaned upon through my struggles, and He is who I lean upon every day. My prayer is that He would make Himself known to you and you would begin to know what it is like to hand your problems over to the One who provides peace.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. (Psalm 29:11 NIV).

What Students Want to Know About the Bible

This last month at our youth group, we taught our students about the Bible. We talked about who wrote it, when it was written, how was it compiled, how the stories are connected, and more. Overall, it was a lot to cover in just a couple weeks. Although, we felt it was necessary. We talk about the Bible all the time in church, but so often, our students don’t know the basics.

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Our high school students’ small groups were not given suggested questions. Instead, we encouraged them to just ask whatever questions they have and discuss the Bible. Our middle school students did not have small groups during this series. Instead, they were combined into one big group and encouraged to anonymously ask questions by submitting them on a note card. Then, we discussed them as a group. Their questions were quite interesting. It gave a bit of insight into what they knew and didn’t know about this Holy Book. Here are some of their questions that stood out the most to me:

  • Why do some people in the Bible write more than others?
  • Were all of the authors of each story in the Bible Jewish?
  • Why did God think He needed to write the Bible?
  • How many people wrote the Bible?
  • Are some stories missing from the Bible?
  • What is so special about the people who God chose to write the Bible?

Maybe your group of middle schoolers are different, but here are a few things our students are wanting to know about the Bible. Maybe church youth ministries should address the Bible, as a whole, a bit more. If this book really is as special as we say it is, then perhaps we need to help our students understand why it is so important and what all had to happen for us to have it today.

Here are some additional questions from me, and I would love to hear your responses!

  • Does your church teach students about the “basics” of the Bible? If so, how do you go about it?
  • What are some ways you are succeeding to get students reading the Bible themselves?
  • How have you helped your students understand how all the stories of the Bible come together in one big story?

Also, here is a fantastic video of Matt Papa, who explains the entire story of God in 10 minutes. We showed it during our last teaching time, which really helped our students understand the big picture.


 

What Orange Means to Me

orange_logo.jpgDuring my college internship, I was asked to read the book “Family-Based Youth Ministry” by Mark DeVries. This was the first time my eyes were open to the idea of youth ministry reaching beyond the teenagers, themselves. He gave several good ideas about how to connect with the parents of teens. While it was a great book, that is all it really was for me. I never really took it further than starting to say hi to the parents more or making sure they had our youth group calendars.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I attended my first Orange Conference, that I really began to understand the importance of connecting with parents. This concept goes way beyond putting information in their hands. It’s about working on the same thing at the same time. Before I get into it, I do want to admit that I still have a long way to go in truly implementing this concept to its fullest potential. What I have seen, though, has blown me away. Why? Because it is not about just keeping parents in the loop. It’s about coming alongside them in their efforts to raise their children to serve God all the days of their lives. It’s much more than just sending that calendar home. It’s about talking to them about their struggles of talking about the Bible at home. It’s about giving them suggested questions to ask their teenagers. It’s about offering times for them to connect with other parents of teens. It’s about partnership.

Speaking of partnership, one of the other benefits of the Orange philosophy is that I get to work more with our children’s minister and early-childhood minister. When I was in college and in my early days of ministry, I never really considered that to be something I would enjoy. But since we have been thinking about an entire church mentality, we have begun to “silo” our ministries less and less. The end result is a partnership that I have grown to love. When we get together to talk about ministry, not only do I know what is going on with the little children, but they know what is going on with our teens. Then, we are able to develop strategies together that span birth through graduation, and beyond. On top of that, we come up with plans to strengthen that partnership with the parents.

As I look forward to the future of our church and my ministry, I have begun to think of it less and less as mine. Instead, it belongs to God, ultimately, but He has given it to the church, as a whole. We need to stop siloing our ministries and begin thinking of them as one big ministry who partners with the family. This not only includes the “traditional” ones like youth and children, but it includes men’s and women’s ministries, preaching, music, and beyond. Yes, it is important to share Christ with one person, but think of how much greater it would be if you reached the entire family! That’s my vision and goal, and I thank Orange for helping me see it!

More info about Orange:

 

Oh, How I Enjoy Connecting with Others at the Orange Conference

orange_logo.jpgThe other day, I posted my top 10 reasons for attending the Orange Conference. A couple of the reasons centered around meeting and connecting with others. The more experience I have in ministry, the more I get excited about this. I have realized I cannot do it alone, and I do not have all the answers. I need to meet up with others, hearing their ideas, learning from their experience, and sharing wisdom. This is one of my favorite things about the Orange Conference.

Ok, so this is not something special just for the Orange Conference, but the people you get to meet at this conference are there for much of the same reasons. This makes a huge difference. They are also there to learn how to do a better job at reaching the entire family for Christ. They are there to stop silo-ing their ministries and to begin working on the same thing at the same time.

Also, it is important for student ministers to know that there is usually a big party for all of us on the first or second night of Orange. We get together to share ideas, but we also have a ton of fun! A couple years ago, we went bowling. They’ve also did trampoline basketball. We’ve hung out at Dave and Busters. Seriously, it is a blast!

If you have been desiring a connection with others in family ministry, Orange is the place to go!

Find out more at TheOrangeConference.com.

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