Thursday, December 11, 2014

Not your typical Christmas story

Saturday is our annual Christmas reading meeting at the Ozarks Chapter of American Christian Writers. When I signed up to write something, I had no idea what I would write and never imagined that it would be anything like what follows.
It is a little dark (like the night), a little heavy (like oppression) but with a glimmer of hope (like a shining star).

On the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving Day, the unthinkable happened. A vehicle crashed in a nearby community and four young men were killed. Several others were injured. I heard this story from a woman that is a close friend of the family of one of the victims.

I heard this story, this testimony, just nine days after the event. The wounds, the grief and the hurt were still pretty raw.

The call came late at night...don't they all. The woman left her young kids with her husband, jumped in her car and hurried to the scene of the accident to support her best friend. On the way to the rural site, she learned that her friend's son didn't make it.

When she arrived at the scene, she parked at a distance and ran down the hill to where the first responders were. She was desperate to find her friend. She was stopped to be identified. When the chaplain that stopped her determined that she was not a parent of one of the boys but a friend, he stopped her and got her full attention. He made her focus on him and told her that he was going to pray for her. When he finished, he told her that he was sending her back up the hill (where the parents were gathered). He told her that if she couldn't do this, to come back to him and would pray for her again.

The woman was there for her friend.
He was there to make sure she was strong enough for the encounter.

When she reached the people at the top of the hill, the first person she saw was the dad of one of the boys that survived. She was still looking for her friend. They saw each other through the confused gathering of people. The friend ran to the woman, fell to her knees and cried, "Thank God he knew Jesus!"

Even in the midst of this tragedy, she found peace in knowing that her son was safely with his Savior.

Later that morning my thoughts turned to another mother that lost a son many years ago. He died never having made a profession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

And that torments her to this day. It has destroyed her life. It ruined her marriage. It cost her a relationship with a surviving daughter. She survives...but without hope.

I know that this doesn't sound like much of a Christmas story, but the hope and peace given to a grieving parent is why He came.

Without Jesus, we are all walking in darkness. Without Him, we are all helpless. Without Him, we are all hopeless.

He came on a dark night, to a small town. His birth was made known to the lowest members of society, the workers tending the night flocks. He was swaddled in strips of cloth and laid in an animal's feed trough.

He would pay the price for our salvation, ...and for the salvation of our sons and daughters.
He came to give us hope.
He came to give us peace.
He came to give us life.

We celebrate His coming because without it we are doomed to an eternity apart from God.
It is a tragedy if we don't take advantage of the season to tell the story of God's great love for all of us.
It is a tragedy that we don't tell the story year 'round and celebrate His coming every single day.

But the real tragedy is that today...today, somebody's son, somebody's daughter, somebody's mother, somebody's father will die not knowing that Jesus came so that they could have eternal life.

I know.
It's not a story that goes well with the festivities of the season.
It's a story that brings us to a somber place; a place of deep thought and reflection.
It's a story that makes us want to hug our kids and our loved ones.
It's a story that needs to be told.
It's the story of Christmas.

For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Merry Christmas.

John <><

Friday, December 05, 2014

Bah! Humbug!

Unfortunately, I am progressing well as a Curmudgeon in training.

For a short while, I thought that I was going to end up as a fairly nice older gentleman.
But then Christmas season has come along and inspired that curmudgeonly behavior to make its seasonal appearance.

Sigh.

I thought that listening to Christmas music would help put me in a cheery mood; it helps but I get frustrated with the format of the local Christian radio station.

Throughout the year, this station plays only Christian music. But for the holy season of Christmas, we get to listen to secular, seasonal songs that have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. That just seems wrong to me--the regular stations play music that include Christmas hymns, and the Christian station adds non-Christ centered music to their format.

I'm also more bothered than I used to be by the commercial aspect of Christmas. Especially by well meaning (or maybe not so we'll meaning) Christians that join in the commercial shopping fray but get all agitated by a clerk that wishes them "Happy holidays!"

We (well meaning Christians) are all about the gift buying, gift giving, Christmas partying festivities and still manage to be quick to criticize anyone else that only celebrates the Santa Claus and snowman side of the holiday. If we were honest about it, we'd have to admit that most of our holiday activities have little to do with Jesus and more to do with family and friends. Not a bad thing, just not really CHRISTmas, if you know what I mean.

I certainly get that family time and gift giving are joyous times. But does my giving gifts with a nativity scene under the tree celebrate the birth of Jesus any more than a neighbor that doesn't know anything about him?

I think I need to be more clear about what I believe about Christmas. Too often, our actions betray our words.

I want to encourage you all to enjoy your holiday season--however you choose to celebrate. But at some point, you might want to ask yourself if the "eat, drink and be merry" part of your Christmas is all there is to life. Luke 12:13-21

Merry Christmas!
John <><

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Planning Ahead for Churches and Pastors

Working my ministry calendar has never been a real priority. My work calendar has always dictated just how much I could put into ministry. I have often been amazed at how I could make it to the end of August with few dates for the fall and then have one of the busiest seasons ever!

Because income has never been an issue for me (God has provided me a great career), I have never worked to get bookings for revivals, shows or special events. And I have never worried about not having anything on my schedule. Income still won't be the issue in the future, but I feel that I need to make the most of my available time by planning for working in ministry.

Here's where I'm going with this--

You have your church calendar planned out for next year. When are you planning to fill in the blanks on who to invite as your guest preacher, entertainer, camp pastor, etc.?
Sometimes I get calls for events that are annual events (like Upwards Basketball or VBS), but I don't get the call until a month (or week) before the event takes place!

I still don't plan on being the guy with calendar in hand, looking for bookings at conventions or conferences, but I do plan on being a little more proactive when it comes to looking for ministry opportunities.

For all of the evangelists, entertainers and missionaries I am urging all of the pastors, planners and committees to book your events as early in the year as possible--like January! If you plan on spring revivals, I hope that you have already booked a speaker! You can be a blessing to those that count on meetings and calendar dates by allowing them to plan ahead for your event and giving them a little peace of mind that they have work ahead of them.

I am so exited to have a couple of spring events already on the calendar! I am hoping to have some camps (kids/youth/families) for the summer as well as a VBS event or two.

Let's plan on a grand 2015!

John <><

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Why They Call it Retirement

It's another beautiful weekend here in the Ozarks! It's the end of November, sunny and temps in the 60s. In a little bit I'll be outside building a new roof for our shed. Anybody that knows me knows that is well outside of my skill level, but I'm sure that I'll enjoy it, just the same. (yeah, right!)

The shed has been a three sided shed that I built with material from an old dog run that was here when we moved in many years ago. The roof had rotted away and was replaced last weekend. Chris has decided that we need to close it in on all sides so I'll put a new section of roof on the front and then build a wall to close it in and put a door on the front. Hey! It's just a shed. I think I can do this. It will take me longer than it should. I'll have to make an unexpected trip (or two) to the store for something I need for the job. But I'll get it finished...eventually.

Tomorrow, I'll spend my afternoon going north a little ways for a Thanksgiving Dinner magic show at a church an hour or so from here.
Pack up.
Drive there.
Set up.
Show.
Pack up.
Drive home.
Unpack.

That's a full afternoon.

I think I'll have plenty of weekends days like this in the near future. Maybe that's why it's called retirement. You stay busy all day and get tired. You sleep until you need to get up. You get busy with the next day's projects and get re-tired.
I might need to get a job in order to take a break from all of the projects ahead of me!
NAH!

Can you take a vacation when you're retired?
Does that mean you go back to work for a couple of weeks?
Or does it mean that you just spend time without any projects/plans?
Hmmm...maybe there is a slight learning curve on this retirement thing.

I'll think I'll get it figured out.

I'd better get busy before I run out of Saturday. I'm not retired yet! Sixty-three days to go!

John <><

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

God Loves You (but I'm His favorite)!

I stole the title of this post from a bumper sticker. It fits.)

The Thanksgiving holiday always gives us the opportunity to pause and examine our lives and the many reasons that we have to be thankful. As I look around and see the trials and struggles of so many good people, I can't help but believe that I am truly favored by God.

I am not a believer in luck and coincidence is too random to account for the blessed condition of my life. I can offer no reason for my position other than God's grace and mercy.

I am not subscriber to fate, nor one that believes everything happens for a reason. I do believe that we were all created to glorify our Creator and gifted to do so. While there are many that give Him glory and honor in trials and tribulations, I have not been asked to do that...at least, not yet.

I don't think that I'm going to get out of this life without suffering or extreme sadness. Life has its cruel nature of pain and torment.
But for today, I am thankful.

And I feel compelled to share my blessings with others.

I'm not really sure of how to go about that. I think that sometimes we get to planning so much that we miss the simple opportunities to bless people that make their way into our days. We often hear the term "random acts of kindness" and yet I am convinced that these are not at all random acts. They are purposeful acts by random people that have made it their mission to be a blessing to people they encounter.

I want to be one of those people!

Would you care to join me?
We can be a purposeful army of people doing purposeful acts of kindness for people.
And not just random people we meet; all of the people we meet!

I honestly have to ask, "Is it even possible to be kind to everyone?"

I don't know if I can do that.

I'm up for trying.
How about you?

John <><

Monday, November 10, 2014

Missed... or not

With retirement just around the corner, I've been wondering a little bit about how I'll be remembered at work...or if I'll be remembered at work!

The reality of life moving on and nobody giving a second thought to my not being there is the most likely scenario. Others have retired before me and air traffic continues to flow as somebody else fills that gap in the schedule. Over the years, I have had little contact with those that have retired or moved on to other facilities. They simply move out of my little ATC (Air Traffic Control) world and we each carry on without thinking much about the other.

I imagine that will pretty much be the case at SGF ATCT (Springfield Air Traffic Control Tower, for my non-ATC friends).

However, it occurred to me that now isn't really the time to be thinking about how one will be remembered. Thinking about how you want to be remembered and acting accordingly is way better than thinking about how you will be remembered. There is no going back to unsay harsh words nor undo unkind acts. I can't travel back in time to offer help or to be a friend. I wonder how differently I might have acted if there was a voice inside that quietly said, "Is this the way you want to be remembered?" before each action or sentence.

Unfortunately, many of us end up with regrets over the way we have acted or the things we have said. One friend suggested that it may take some time before people actually realize that they miss having me around or before they recognize that I did have some impact in their life. At some point in the distant future, they may find a way to let me know.

I don't know if that will be the case, but it did make me think that maybe we should let people know when they are doing a good job and having a positive influence over us or others.  There are people that have encouraged me and helped me along the way. There are those that have inspired me and made me want to be a better co-worker/employee/friend. Perhaps a word of recognition would serve to encourage them to continue doing that for others.

Telling someone that they're being a jerk probably won't have much impact in changing them, but encouraging someone to continue doing good may give them a boost when so many kind acts and kind people go unnoticed.

Personally, I'm not looking forward to any kind of retirement send off. I'd be perfectly content with handing in my headset and walking out the door. I expect that there will be a couple of people that I will maintain some contact with for a short time, maybe a couple that I'll see once in a great while; but for the most part, I expect that I'll leave my ATC world in the past and move on.

Several weeks ago I deleted over 300 Facebook friends. Most of them were people with whom I have no contact and share little in common or people that I see on a regular basis and can have real conversations with instead of checking each others status throughout the day. Most of my co-workers were deleted because the fall into the second category and will most likely stay deleted because they will soon fall into the first.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not at all sad about my decision to retire. I'm not sad about the people that I'll be saying my goodbyes to, either. I am a little disappointed that I didn't pay more attention to how I'd like to be remembered when I had the chance to do that.

But we can learn from the past. And while it may be too late to change what has been done, each of us can begin to live purposefully to leave behind great memories and to encourage the people that we encounter today!

We don't even have to plan to leave a life long legacy behind. We only have to think about how people will  remember us -- tonight; at the end of the day. Will anybody think back (for just a brief moment) about a kind word or kind act from someone that they may or may not have known?

Let's face it. Our memories are pretty short. After nearly two decades at SGF ATCT, March will come and go and nobody will have even a thought of good ol' JH. But maybe tonight someone might have the thought, "That was a nice thing he said today," or "That was a nice thing he did."

I think it's fair to say that I'll not be missed much; and not for very long. Why should it be any different for me than it has been for others? I guess it's really not that important, is it?

Maybe we work too hard at leaving behind legacies.
Maybe not being remembered isn't such a bad thing.
Maybe living to do well in the moment is what legacies are really made of.

John <><


Monday, November 03, 2014

Family Visit

It;s rare that I would be up early on a Monday morning. My work week typically starts at 3pm on Monday afternoon, so there is no need to get up with the sun (or slightly before as is the case today).

However, this weekend we have been blessed with a visit from Aaron and Jenny and our traditional send off is to have breakfast out with both of their families. Hannah and Daniel have opted out of the early morning send-off and said their goodbyes at dinner last night.

I really am so blessed with a grand family!

The times that we get to spend together are so few. I was very happy that Aaron and Jenny went out to lunch with Hannah and Daniel yesterday (and a little jealous that parents were not invited!). It's been interesting to watch as Aaron and Hannah have grown through the buddy stage, the bugging each other stage, and back to being good friends as adults. Sometimes I suspect it may be an alliance against their parents as much as a real sibling friendship, but I do think that they actually like each other most of the time. Having everybody together for a couple of days was great!

I hope that we get to see Aaron and Jenny more often in retirement than we have in the recent past and fear that we will see less of Hannah as she makes her transition into living as a completely dependent adult woman. I guess that is the way of things in our mobile society. I suppose that it is difficult to complain too much as I am one of six siblings, soon to be back to living in six different states!

I enjoyed watching the fights with Aaron on Saturday night. It has been a long time since we've been able to watch them together. We often watch from our own homes and tweet or text back and forth during them but this was way better! I know that Chris sometimes feels that she doesn't get to spend as much time with her boy as I do, but I think that she understands the father/son thing, too. Weekend visits are tough on everybody as both families want to spend as much time as possible with the kids. I'm afraid that we put a lot of pressure on the kids to be more places than is possible in just a couple of days.

I imagine that they are happy to be on their way home and back to their normal routine, sans parents!

We are also back to our normal, unexciting routine.
Work, household chores, a little exercise...you know, not exactly boring, but far from exciting.
All-in-all, it's a good life.

I hope that yours is also a good life.

John <><


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Easy Transition

I really don't think I'll have any problems transitioning into retirement.

I know that taking a few days off is nothing compared to being retired, but still -- I think I'll manage the change quite nicely.

I took last Friday off and had a nice long walk at the Springfield Nature Center with Chris.
Saturday was an easy day with Chris working and me doing very little.
Sunday night I had the opportunity to preach for a group at the Laclede Baptist Camp.
I also took a couple of days off (Mon/Tue) to hang out at the Fellowship of Missouri Baptist Evangelists' booth at the Missouri Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. I was excited to be able to share about my winter retirement plans and how that meant an open schedule for 2015. I was able to talk to several pastors about possible dates and events for the spring!

I have a magic show to prepare, lesson plans to write (apologetics), a book to work on (writing, not reading) and plenty of household projects. I seriously doubt that I'll ever be pacing in my living room and saying I'm bored as I often do in the tracon.

I'm sure that there will be plenty of adjustments to make, but I'm looking forward to them.

I expect that I'll be cooking more and we'll be eating out a little less often. I'm not sure how Chris feels about that but we'll be eating better (than eating out). I'm not too big on salad prep. I love eating them, but Chris is the salad chef in the house, not me.

In any case, the days off have really helped me to feel like it is time!

They very first week of retirement is the Missouri Baptist State Evangelism Conference, here in Springfield. They end of February is the Pulaski Association Evangelism Conference. I need to work on a March trip to Florida for a little spring baseball. April is Easter and my first tentative spring revival.

I don't think I would have time to go to work...or to be bored!

I am a happy boy!

John <><

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Random thoughts on my pending retirement

It's not often that I post from my phone, but this morning finds my with time on my hands, thoughts in my head and my phone as my only handy media device.

With just fifteen work weeks left in my incredibly average ATC career, "What's next?" is a question I hear (and think about) often.

I really doubt that I'll have to get used to not going to work everyday. I'm pretty sure that I'll fall into that habit quite easily. I do expect that it will take some time to adjust to a new normal and allocating my time to a new schedule.

I do not expect to be bored!

I have been unable to devote the proper time to working on and marketing the magic show that I bought last year. That will be a priority. I've never really considered myself as a professional magician; perhaps the new show and new market will change my personal perspective.

Another thing that I haven't done in the past (haven't had to) is to be proactive about booking revivals, camps or other ministry events. With no work schedule to get in the way, I'm looking forward to a more active ministry calendar.

I've considered going back to school. A degree in Biblical studies would be nice for the pedigree, but I'm not sure how necessary it is at this point. Chris has pointed out that I read and learn plenty on my own and sees little practical benefit from the official piece of paper.

If I were to consider a different area for continued education, it would be something along the lines of herbal medicine or some kind of natural wellness or natural health studies. Once again, I'm not sure that I'd need the degree since I doubt that a professional practice is in my future. It would just be for my own interests and those that might share them.

And there is writing...
I do want to have a daily writing time. I don't know if I'll ever write a book or a magazine article; I just know I need to write.

And travel!
Yes, definitely need to plan a few trips.
Spring training in Florida.
Spring in Australia (our Fall).
Beaches in Mexico any time the sun is shining.
Philippines.
And there is weekend camp in Canada that we need crash in the summer.

No, I don't believe that I'll be bored.

When the fun stuff runs out, there are plenty of household projects to keep me busy.

Life is good!

John <><