Monday, August 13, 2018

Another cancelled ride

I'm going to cancel the ride for today. I actually believe that today would be a good day to ride, but I would have to ride home through thunderstorms on Wednesday. I suppose I could reschedule a Thursday doctor appointment and stay a day longer to avoid the rain, but the simple solution is to just drive the car.

Between necessary repairs, rain outs, and scheduling, I've done very little riding this summer.
Such is life.

I'll be able to listen to the radio, enjoy a drink, and stay cool and dry in the car, so it's not all bad. It's just not as nice as a day-long ride. I'll have to plan that for another time.

I know that while I'm driving today, my social media feeds will be filling up with more of the latest political circus and other stupid things. I want to give you an opportunity to bless me and my friends (both of them) with some good news today.
How about sharing a good news story?
You can comment here or on the feed where you normally link to my posts.
Tell me something good so that I'll have plenty of good things to read when I break along the way or at the end of the day.

John <><

Friday, August 10, 2018

Labels: When they work ... and when they don't.

I've been thinking about labels -- how they can collectively define us and how they can be used to divide us. I've come to the conclusion that we use them far too often to divide us and far too seldom to unite us.

Here in the United States, we are Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, whites and non-whites, rich and poor, Christian and non-Christian.
When did we stop just being Americans?
We worry more about what divides us than about the things that unite us. It's no wonder there is so much hate and fear in our country.

Unfortunately, the good people (Where's the sarcasm font when you need it?) of the church are no better and set a poor example for the rest of us. Evangelicals have labeled all democrats as baby killers so no true christian (lower case intentional) would ever vote for one. Nor should christians support the rights of the LGBTQ+ community because -- well, labels. And they're not us, right?
Christians have so many different ideas on how to follow God that we have hundreds of different denominations of Christianity. Some are so different that they are called cults by other denominations!

When the purpose of the church is to guard its territory/community/membership rather than share the love of God, it's easy to be afraid of what other sinners might bring to the table. When we are all interested in the things that divide us rather than the grace of God, we tend to point out the specks in the eyes of others rather than removing the beam in our own eyes and just sharing the love of God.
When the purpose of the church is to gain political power or influence then all heavenly bets are off and it is nothing more than a special interest lobby group.

Labels aren't always bad. Labels can be used to show the diversity of an organization, church or political party. They can show how much or how little it reflects the community around it or the people it represents.
Recently, I realized that I have been so very guilty of using labels to divide rather than to unite.

I was thinking about some of the people that we've been sharing life with lately -- people we've been worshiping with, serving with, socializing with. A year ago, these people would not have been in my social circle and certainly not in my church community. I caught myself thinking of them with the old, divisive labels -- a couple of same gender couples, a single gay man, a lesbian woman, a recovering alcoholic. While those label might fit, the simple truth is we are all just people that are trying to navigate life and follow the simple teachings of Jesus to love God and love one another.
In spite of the common ground of desiring to follow Jesus, I have a feeling that most of my old circle of friends would not approve of my new friends.

I'm going to make an effort to be more careful about using labels. I'm also going to try to remember that labels are a pretty poor way to define people. I think that most people would label me as a liberal, but that doesn't really work for me.
I'd say that I am fiscally conservative, morally conservative, politically moderate, and socially liberal. Though I tend to vote democratic (now), I don't generally agree with the extreme left and can often find good with moderate republican ideas (although moderates from either side are a rare find).

Please forgive me when I mess up. I tend to be a slow learner.

John <><

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

On the road ... again!

This morning I am preparing for another mini road trip; a brief 155 mile (according to Google Maps) ride to share an evening program at Enon Baptist Church near Holden MO. After the 7:00PM program, I pack up and make the return ride home.

I haven't spent a lot of time on the bike at night and hope to have an easy ride. On the few occasions that I have ridden at night, I tend to find a car or truck traveling at the same speed to follow. I can use their headlights to extend my sight range. I can also hope that they'll scare off potential wildlife ahead of me.

It's kid's night at the church's revival and I get to come in and share a message through magic. I'm looking forward to the 5+ hours on the bike as much as I'm looking forward to the 40 minutes of the actual program!
I really do enjoy the opportunity to perform a little magic and share the simple message that God loves you and Jesus died for you. When people respond to that message there is an energy that fills me up and drives me until I get the chance to do it again.
Currently, my August calendar is open. I am preaching in September, have a revival gig in October, and a youth conference in November.
Off of the ministry calendar, I have a road trip to central Illinois in August and (hopefully) another Chicago trip in November. I haven't been riding quite as much this year and only covered around 6,500 miles so far. Maybe I need to work on that!

Since tonight's event will wrap up my summer kid program schedule, I plan to write a little summary of the interactions I've had along the way and the things that I've shared through the programs, the planning, and the travel to and from the various programs. In spite of the negative stuff that we hear and see in the news and on social media forums, there are some incredibly good and kind people out there. They go about their days being kind because that's who they are. They come in all shapes and sizes and from all different walks of life. They're just good people.

I'll share more about them soon.
For now, I've a show to pack and a highway to travel.
Be safe and watch for old, retired guys on motorcycles!

John <><

Sunday, July 22, 2018

What's in your cup?

Recently I read a modern day version of an old story. I remember it as an old man and his grandson watching people in the marketplace. They observe a man leaving a shop with a cup of tea in his hands. He is bumped by another person and spills some of his tea.
The old man asks the grandson, "Why did the man spill his tea?"
The boy replied, "Because the person bumped into him."
"No," replied the grandfather. "He spilled tea because that's what he was carrying in his cup. If he had water in the cup, he would have spilled water."

The lesson is that we are always going to experience bumps along the way. What spills out is what we carry with us. If we carry anger, then we will respond with anger. If we hold on to frustration, then frustration is what will spill out.
We've probably all heard the saying that hurting people hurt people. Maybe it doesn't have to be that way.
What if we take the time and make the effort to fill our cups with love and joy?
What if we are filled with peace?
What if we refuse to carry anger, fear and hatred?
How would our response to life's sudden bumps change?

I wish that I could tell you that it's going to be easy, but today's life can be full of frustration and anger. We need to find a way to set that aside so that we can react to life's bumps with kindness and love.

What's in your cup?

John <><

Monday, July 16, 2018

Acts of Kindness Shouldn't be Random

It has been nearly three weeks since I've posted here!

I know that there have been several days that I started to write but then decided against adding to the steady stream of negative garbage that floods the internet these days. I'm not swearing off of the political or religious bandwagons but I am going to let you get most of that news from other sources.

Much has happened in the past few weeks -- a couple of kids's camps, a broken down motorcycle, serving breakfast to homeless people, an outing with church friends and one with old work friends, a day at the lake, and a few days of doing nothing, as well.

I'll get to the kids' camps after I've had time to put a little distance between the camps and writing. They can be a little tough sometimes and it helps me if I give them some time. I also need to let some of the adult drama and church politics settle a bit.

The motorcycle breakdown happened on the way to a camp and it was truly amazing at the amount of help that people were willing to provide. People took time to get me (and my bike) to and from a shop (that was unable to repair it until the following week). Daniel took the afternoon off from work to drive four hours to pick me up and tow the bike home. And strangers on the way helped us when Daniel's alternator on the truck went out.
In the end we had to have the truck towed the last 40 miles home and the trailer with the bike towed separately.

I am grateful for the kindness we received along the way and am paying it forward by serving with a group of people from The Venues. Every Friday morning, a group from the church provides the food and serves breakfast to about 150 homeless people at the the Veteran's Center in Springfield. It is just one of the ways that The Venues acts out the teaching of Jesus by caring for others. I plan to be a regular at this service event since retirement gives me the time to do it.

I've also arranged a night (next month) for our small group (also from The Venues) to prepare and serve dinner at The Ronald McDonald House in Springfield.
I'm finding it to be a great pleasure to be associated with followers of Jesus that are actively working to share his love by taking care of people in the community -- not once in a while, but as a regular part of who they (we) are. It's amazing how much you can learn about love from people that have been hurt by the traditional churches in the area or by other so called Christians.
Certainly, not everyone at The Venues has suffered church trauma, but it is a very different gathering of Jesus followers.

In any case, I wish you a grand week and I'll be back with more to share.
Show somebody that they are loved!

John <><

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Hot on the Highway!

Yeah, boy!
It is going to be a hot day for riding!
The temperatures for today and tomorrow are forecast to be in the upper 90s in the Midwest US. That's 36-37 for my Celsius friends.

Today I'll be riding to Grand Oaks Assembly campgrounds for a magic show at a kids' camp tonight. Tomorrow I'll make the return trip home. It's 225 miles (362 km) from my house to the camp.
In case you were wondering, riding in hot weather isn't cooler on a motorcycle. There is a point at which riding on hot asphalt (or concrete) through hot air while sitting on a hot engine is just plain... well, hot.
Here's a motorcycle wind chart to show what I'm talking about.

I'll be comfortable enough and it's worth the exchange of riding the motorcycle vs being stuck in a cage (car).

I need to get a walk in before I hit the road.
Watch for old, retired guys on motorcycles.

John <><

Monday, June 25, 2018

Who is my neighbor?

The Gospel of Luke -- according to John (that's me).
If you were at church with me on Sunday morning or if we were having a simple conversation, I would probably use the more familiar title of Story-time with Pastor John.
As it is, I'll try to lay this simple story out the way I would tell it in preaching or in conversation. It's a story that most people have heard in some form or fashion. If you'd rather read it for yourself, you'll find it in the tenth chapter of the Gospel According to Luke.

Jesus is doing his thing and teaching about how we should live and a lawyer (probably a Pharisee since they were the ones that were all about living by the 613 laws of the Torah) asks the simple question, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus answered, "You're a lawyer. What does the Law say?"
The lawyer responds with an answer that Jesus has given, "Love God with everything you've got and love your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus says, "That's right! Do it and you'll live!"

Although the answer seems simple enough, the lawyer asks for some clarity. I mean if we're talking about eternal life, we need to make sure of the details, right?
So the lawyer asks, "Who is my neighbor?"

That's when Jesus tells his story:
There was a man that went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. While on the way, he fell among thieves that beat him, took his clothes and all of his belongings, and left him badly beaten and bloodied at the side of the road. A priest passed by but saw the man and passed by without stopping. Later, a servant of the temple passed by, looked at the man and then crossed over to the other side of the road and continued on.
Finally, a man of Samaria passed by and took care of the beaten man. He cleaned and bound his wounds, and transported him to a nearby town. He left him in the care of a local townsman and paid for his care. He also promised to return to pay for any additional charges.
Then Jesus asked, "Which man was the neighbor to the man that had been robbed?"
It's a no brainer, but even the lawyer's answer reveals something about the story. He said, "The man that showed mercy."
And Jesus said, "Yep! You be that guy!"

It's pretty easy to read that, glean a simple lesson about being kind to strangers and move on.
But there is much more to the command "You be that guy!" than just be kind to others.

The Samaritans were a people of mixed race and despised by the Jews.
To understand why this was so, one needs to go back to the divided kingdoms and the rebuilding of the southern kingdom at Jerusalem. Those Jews felt that they had kept their race pure while the northern kingdom (Samaria) had lived with their captors, intermarried with them, and corrupted the Jewish way of life. The Samaritans were considered to be unclean, unholy, and a people to be avoided and despised.
When Jesus asked, "Who was the neighbor?" the lawyer didn't even acknowledge the man's race. He simply said, "The man that showed mercy." It's like he purposely avoided saying the Samaritan was the good guy.

And the command of Jesus wasn't to show mercy to people you don't like. It was to show mercy, even to people that don't like you!

This Samaritan traveler stopped to care for a man that would likely have left him to die if their positions were reversed. Even the priest and Levite (servant of the temple) wouldn't stop to help one of their own. A person's dislike for us is no excuse for our treating them poorly.

There are many people that are applauding the actions of a DC restaurant owner that asked the White House press secretary to leave based on the poor morals of the current Administration.
Some say that they (the White House staff) deserve it.
Many say that if a baker can refuse to bake a cake based on moral differences, a restaurant owner should be able to refuse service based on moral differences.

I think that Jesus would hold us to a higher standard. I'm pretty sure that he would tell us to love those that hate us, to be kind to those that are unkind to us, and to show mercy to those that disagree with us.

I wonder how different things would be if the owner of the restaurant had taken Ms. Sanders aside and said, "Listen, I want you to know that I really disagree with what is being done by your boss. I honestly don't know how you can work for him and do the things you do. Having said that, I want to thank you for choosing to eat in my restaurant and I hope that you and your party enjoy your meal and choose to comeback in the future."

Martin Luther put it this way --
"The Christian shoemaker does his duty, not by putting little crosses on shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship"

How we treat others shouldn't have anything to do with how they treat us.
Ms Sanders comment about the owner's actions saying more about the owner than about her were spot on.

It's funny how easy it is to see the right and wrong of the actions of others and how difficult it is to see our own misdeeds.

Who is my neighbor?
You are.
You are even if we disagree ...
on religion
on politics
on social issues
on civil rights
on economy.
You are my neighbor based on my choice to follow Jesus.
You are my neighbor even if you don't consider me to be your neighbor.

This following Jesus thing can be difficult.
Please be patient with me.

John <><

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer Solstice

Seasons change; life goes on.
At a little past 5am in the US Midwest, the sun reached its northern most point as the Earth makes its orbit around it -- 23 degrees, 26 minutes above the equator, touching the imaginary line we call the Tropic of Cancer.

Around the world, few people will take notice of the annual event.
Most people in the US are on their way to work or have already begun their work day. West coasters may still be sleeping or snoozing their alarm clocks for a few more precious minutes of rest..

It is said that light overcomes darkness as good overcomes evil.
Perhaps this will be the day

For thousands of children, the longest day will turn into a longer and lonelier night -- a night that will not end. Their summer begins in a room separated from their parents or anyone they know. Although they are with a multitude of other separated children, they are alone.
Some are infants.
Some are toddlers.
Some are preschool or elementary school age.
Some are young teens.
All are too young to have been torn from their families.

The longest day and the longer nights will also be experienced by the parents that have had their children taken from them. Parents seeking safety from the violence and turmoil of their native land have traveled thousands of treacherous miles to reach the uncaring and evil border of the USA.
They came with hope.
They were met with evil.

I am ashamed of my country.
I am ashamed of so many of the associations I have with people that have supported an Administration that has taken such heinous actions on innocent people.
I am ashamed of the willful ignorance and the political bias that keeps people from seeing the truth.
I am ashamed that people make comparisons like summer camps or playgrounds or ball fields.
I am ashamed that we have listened to that and not removed them from office or from their career positions.
I am ashamed of myself for not having done enough to prevent this from happening.
I am ashamed that I feel so powerless to do anything to undo the evil that has been done.

Today will be a long day.
Tonight will be a long night.

May God have mercy on me
And on my country,

John <><

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Silence is Deafening

I'm waiting....

Still waiting...

When are the evangelical leaders going to stand against the immoral acts of a government that is deliberately separating young children from their parents?
When are the president's religious advisers going to say, "This is wrong."
Is there no one with character and integrity left to stand against policies that are evil?
And while leaders should be certainly speaking up, what about the rank and file christians (lower case intentional)? When are they going to admit that the guy they put in the White House is a monster for imposing such heinous policies?

Are our elected GOP Senators and Congresspersons so blinded by party politics and dark money that they can no longer see evil as evil?

Though uneducated, I have never really thought of myself as a stupid man.
But I cannot come to an understanding of how any person thinks that these policies of this Administration are anything but evil.
If holding kids hostage to get leverage for legislation isn't official government human trafficking, then nothing is.

Speak up!
Call your Senators and Representatives and tell them to put an end to this.
The US Capitol switchboard number is (202) 224-3121.
They will connect you with your Senators and House Representative.

Tweet them.
Publicly demand that they take action.
This is not something that can wait until November.
Do it now.

John <><

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Working Weekend

Ha ha!
It's not really working.
I'm serving as camp pastor for Baptist Hill's Intro to Camping weekend.

This year that's about 75 kids and 30 adults. Since it's only around 50 miles to camp, I choose to ride home to sleep in my own bed and then get up early enough to make it to camp for breakfast.
One of the parents and the camp's assistant administrator are expecting me to bring some good coffee with me this morning. I have that kind of reputation since on the occasions when I have stayed at camp, I bring my own coffee.

We have been blessed with a gorgeous weekend on the weather front -- sunny and hot! It will be perfect for the early morning motorcycle ride.

Have a grand weekend!

John <><