Friday, July 12, 2019

What if ...?

Did Jesus live just so that he could die?

I'm beginning to believe that as evangelical followers of Jesus, we have focused so much on the death and resurrection of Jesus that we have forsaken all (or at least most) of his teaching and life examples.

I'm reminded of the saying of being "too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good."
It's a little disturbing that we have such a focus on salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we will do anything, say anything to convince others of it -- except actually demonstrate God's love.

Ultimately the one thing that Jesus asks of us is to become his disciple -- to study his life and his ways, and to follow him. Part of following him is calling others to also become disciples.
Jesus never asked us to condemn others, to judge others, to threaten them with eternal hellfire, to scare them into heaven, nor to abandon them. He simply says to love others -- all others!

It is so unnatural to not have rivals. Nature has set us up as competitors. As individuals we compete for survival. We naturally compete for food, for mates, for territory, and we protect what we have. In community we compete for the same things (except the mate). We use and abuse power to keep what we have and to get more for our side. If someone from "their side" suffers, it's not on us to care for them or to meet their needs. Our responsibility is to our own.
If earthy success and status is our end game, then I guess that makes sense.

But how do you feed your spirit? How do you protect your heart? Do you look to acquire more spiritual territory or is the spiritual realm so different that we have to --
Learn to feed other spirits by giving away spiritual fruit?
Make spiritual acquisitions by sharing our spiritual gains and territories with others?
It is difficult to love like Jesus when we are still focusing on getting ahead in this realm. Paul writes that we should take on the mind of Christ; that we should love like Christ Jesus and be concerned about the needs of others -- both the earthly needs and the spiritual needs.

The ancient Jews had 613 commandments to follow. Jesus was asked which is the most important. He gave them two. He said the most important one is to love God. He said the the second most important is to love others. Then he told them that all of the other commands were based in these two.
I would have a difficult time remembering 613 commands, much less obeying them. Two I can handle!

What if we change how we look at the life of Jesus?
What if we begin to see that he lived to teach us to love?
What if we study his life so that we can know the true nature of God?

I think this is the simple gospel --
He lived so that we can love.
He died so that we can live.

John <><

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Can you show too much love?

It's been a good week.
I can't say that it's been an exciting week or that anything exceptional has happened, but it's been good.

One of the best parts of the week has been that I've been able to spend some one on one time with the pastors of The Venues. I had lunch with student pastor Rob on Monday and a midday meeting with senior pastor Phillip yesterday. Visits with our associate pastor Ben were not really scheduled and I'm not sure if he enjoyed them as much as I did since I was dropping in on him in his hospital room!
In any case, I had great conversations with these men. Their passion for sharing God's love is evident in the work they do and in the way they speak about loving our neighbors as Jesus instructs us to do. I really do consider working and serving with The Venues to be a privilege and an honor.

I also ran into an old friend that voiced concern over our attending The Venues.
I get that. Perhaps it's best summed up with the words of The Venues worship leader, Joey --
"The Venues isn't a church for everyone...
...because it's a church for everyone!"

I wonder --
If people found out that God loves everyone just as they are (yep - everyone, even the people we think are deservedly going to hell), would they search for a different god?

It's weird that people are concerned that I might be showing too much love to the wrong people.
Is that even possible?

John <><

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Wednesday Wisdom

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it"

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Preaching vs Conversation: preaching is easier

It's been a pretty good June.
Tomorrow will be the third Sunday this month that I've been able to preach at a local church (the third different church). I was even asked to preach (by two different churches) on a Sunday that we had planned a trip to Chicago. And I had a couple of kids' camps, too.

I've also had several conversations about God's love and about people's own spiritual journeys. I believe that these simple conversations are far more important and have a greater impact than any sermon might have. It seems that we have a difficult time letting go of the idea that God is an angry, judgmental god that can't wait to condemn us for the least little infraction of the Law. I guess that's understandable if we continue to see him through the filter of a people that lived 4000 years ago and lived in a culture where the nation with the greatest warrior god ruled.

Didn't Jesus change all of that?
Didn't Jesus tell them (us) that they (we) had it all wrong?
Jesus came to set the record straight. He said no one has seen the Father but me.
Jesus said the he and the Father are one.
And Jesus came to show us that God loves us so much that he would die for us -- all of us!

One of those conversations was with a man that's still trying to atone for mistakes he made several decades ago. His religious belief is that God still holds those things against him. He rarely goes to church because he doesn't want to be reminded of his past failures and can't see a way to make them right before God. The guilt he carries is real and it is keeping him from knowing and understanding that God loves him.
I wanted him to know that God loves him.
I wanted him to know that Jesus came to set things right.
I wanted him to know that he could learn from his mistakes and let go of the guilt.
I wanted him to know that God desires a relationship built on love and not on fear.
I wanted him to know that God wants him to feel good about going to church.
I want him to know that God loves him.

In the end, I'm not sure which of us got more out of the conversation. It came as a complete surprise to me. A person that I didn't know, literally trapped me in a corner and began talking to me. I wasn't very engaged at first and was wondering, "Why is this guy telling me this stuff?"
Somewhere along the way, the Spirit opened my eyes and ears to what wasn't being said and I realized that this was a man searching for forgiveness and love.
It was actually pretty cool.

Maybe July will hold more conversations like that one, more one on one God loves you/Jesus died for kind of stuff.
I may have to start talking to more people.
Preaching is easier.

John <><

Thursday, June 27, 2019

It Beats Working for a Living!

I've had a couple of recent conversations with fellow air traffic control retirees. We all are of the retired and stay retired group as opposed to the group that retires and then goes to work as an FAA contractor. I'm way too happy in my retirement isolation and ability to make my own schedule without having to report to work several days per week.

The occasional preaching gig or camp added to the small amount of volunteer stuff is more than enough to fulfill my human interaction need. As a matter of fact, it appears that I'll be adding a couple of days per month of volunteer work as The Venues Church takes on another community project.

Yesterday was our first day volunteering at Crosslines food pantry. We (along with another church) helped 93 food insecure families "shop" for grocery items and commodities to help meet their needs.
The whole thing was a pretty amazing process.

There were volunteers working in the warehouse, volunteers stocking the "store," volunteers checking people in, volunteers "shopping" with clients, and volunteers to help carry items out to the cars. Some of the volunteers were very young (students) and some were in their 80s. Most were somewhere in between with younger retirees (like me) making up the majority.
Crosslines had a notice posted advertising a need for delivery drivers to get items to senior adults that can't make it into the facility. I left my name and number and expect to add that to my monthly volunteering.

As I finished shopping with one couple, all of the carry out volunteers were busy. I just grabbed some bags and helped them carry out their groceries myself. Like most of the people, the couple was so grateful for the food and for all of the people that volunteer to make it happen. This was the couple's first time to the food pantry. As we were walking out, the woman said, "If I had a dollar I would play the lottery today. I don't have a dollar, but I just feel so lucky and blessed!"

Volunteering to serve breakfast to the homeless and now to help provide for food insecure families is very humbling. None of these people are where they want to be or even ever thought they'd be. They come because they are in need. They come because they have kids to feed. They come because there are people in this community that don't have enough to eat -- and there are lots of them!
They are limited to how often they can come to the food pantry. Even though they are limited to only a few times PER YEAR, the pantry is open to serve families EVERY WEEKDAY.
We served almost 100 families on a Wednesday! I have to think that others days would be just as busy, if not busier.

I am truly blessed that my pension and savings allow me to be retired at a relatively young age. I am not as well off as many of my fellow controllers that worked longer and in higher paying facilities. But I realize that I am still very well off by most standards of living in the United States and around the world. Having a small part in helping someone to "...feel so lucky and blessed" sure beats any part time retirement job and is way more valuable than collecting another paycheck.

This morning I'm back on my couch, drinking my coffee (an Ethiopian single origin gift from my daughter), and recharging for my Downtown Venues outing tonight and my Breakfast Venues outing in the morning.
Yeah, as rewarding as it may be, being around so many people still drains my life energy. Quiet time restores my spirit.

John <><

Monday, June 24, 2019

Is Love Enough?

Not long ago, I was teaching at a kids' camp.
I used the story of a Jewish lawyer* that asked Jesus about how he could have eternal life. Jesus turns the tables on him and basically says, "You're the lawyer. How do you read The Law?"
The man replies, "Love God with everything you've got and love your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus says, "Do that and you'll be okay."

There is more to the story and you can read it in the link below.
I'm stopping here today because I received some criticism for this teaching -- that loving God and loving others is enough to have eternal life.
The thing is -- that isn't my teaching. It's from Jesus.

To be fair:
--I believe that Jesus is the perfect example of love.
--I believe that he came to teach us that God is love, to show us how to love like God, and to remind us that we are created in the loving image of God.
--I believe that it is through Jesus that we learn love and are able to receive eternal life.

But love really wasn't really the focal point of the criticism. The main point of the criticism was that I failed to tell these first graders that they are sinners and enemies of God. I was informed that most kids are unaware of this and need to be told. Kids need to know that God is an angry God and condemns all of his enemies to a fiery hell.

I have been doing children's ministry for a couple of decades now. My greatest fear is that I will one day stand before God and have to answer for misleading children about His love and grace. I fear that there will be even one kid that goes through life thinking they are okay with God because as a child they responded to guy that asked if they love Jesus and want to go to heaven even though they didn't really understand what it means to follow Jesus.

As an adult, I have a pretty difficult time coming to grips with "You're an enemy of God," and "God loves you."  I don't know how a six year old can process that. Also, I really don't want to scare people (children or adults) into heaven.

And I don't believe we should.
Jesus said that he will draw people to himself.
We merely have to show Jesus to others -- by what we say and by how we love.

Is love really enough?
Well, I'm not going to argue with Jesus. In fact, I think I'll work on following the example he gives us and teaching others do the same.

John <><

*My version of the beginning of the story of The Good Samaritan. For the NIV interpretation you can go here.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Packing and Pitching

We have greatly neglected our trend to move every few years so that we can pitch out all of the accumulated junk. We lived in our last home for something like six years. That might have been the longest we had stayed in one home. We have been in this house for three times that long!

Holy crap!
We have definitely accumulated stuff to fill the available space. And we still have some stuff from the kids' childhood days. I am amazed at the number of books we (I) have. Between magic books, religious study books, health books, and just plain old books -- there are a lot of boxes of books being packed.
I'm sure that just in magic books, DVDs, and VHS tapes (yes, I still have some of those) I have well over $10,000 dollars invested. I don't even want to think of how much I have in gimmicks and apparatus. (I checked -- the plural of apparatus is apparatus or apparatuses.)

I have a lot of small effects that I bought because I liked them and not because I have a venue to use them. It's been a long while since I've spent much on magic. I now try to make sure that it is something I can use in a show before spending the money. It took me a long time to learn that lesson, so I have a LOT of stuff!

I did take pictures of much of what I have as I packed it away. I need to find a forum for selling magic stuff.
I should probably familiarize myself with Craig's List, Facebook Marketplace, and other more contemporary alternatives to the old school garage sale. Although I have purchased items off eBay, Craig's List, and Facebook Marketplace, I have never listed nor sold anything.

The plan is to downsize and build according to what we (and by we, I mean Chris) want.
In truth, it won't be downsizing by much, but it will be a new home, built for us. We are hopeful that the slight difference in size and relocating to a more rural setting will leave us in a pretty much cash neutral or slightly favorable situation.
The process kind of sucks, but I'm hopeful that the end result will be worth the hassle.

It's probably a good idea to do a little packing and pitching in other areas of life, as well. I think we have a tendency to hold onto a lot of ideas and beliefs that seemed right at the time. Maybe some life and personal experience has given us a different perspective and it's time to jettison a few old (and now irrelevant) ideas or once firmly held beliefs.
Just a thought.

John <><

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The End of a Long Day

Ever have one of those days that just can't end soon enough?
That was today. There was lots of work to do, but things didn't go quite as planned. Of course no one ever plans on a little fender bender being a part of the day. That's why they call them accidents. If it was a planned part of the day, I guess we'd call them an on purpose.

It was hot and humid (typical June day in the Ozarks), I was running behind schedule, and wasn't really thrilled about the pending $1100 dollar repair bill that's in my future to fix someone else's car.
Yeah, it was my fault.

But I got to end my day with the good folks at Downtown Venues.
As I've said before, I don't interact with very many people at Downtown Venues. It's just a good place to go and feel some genuine Christ-like love. I've missed Sunday morning Venues for three weeks in a row now (twice preaching, one week we were in Chicago).
There is still work to do -- stuff I didn't get to today, but it feels like the world has been righted and I get to start over tomorrow.

If you had a great day today, I hope it carries over into tomorrow.
If your day was like mine, tomorrow brings a new day.
Heck! Tomorrow brings a whole new season!
Happy Summer Solstice!
I guess I need to include a Happy Winter Solstice for my friends and family Down Under!

As the dawn breaks on the new day, remember that God loves you and Jesus died for you.
And if you are already a follower of Jesus, remember to share that love with somebody else.

So long, Spring.
Welcome, Summer.

John <><

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Weird Life Encounters

I had a few strange encounters with people last week. They were all re-encounters; seeing people that I hadn't seen in a while and don't really know well.

The first was Chris. Chris is my barber. I hadn't seen Chris in about a year. I'm not real diligent about keeping my hair cut and sometimes go a few months between visits to the barber, and the last several times that I've been in for a cut Chris wasn't there.

My first encounter with Chris was when I preached at a small country church. I didn't really meet him and would not have remembered him on my own. It was sometime after that when he began cutting hair at the barber shop I go to. My place in line put me in his chair and we began to talk. He remembered me and liked my style of preaching. I remembered him, too. The dude has a pretty righteous beard (noticeable enough on its own) and gauged earlobes aren't common is small, country, Baptists churches. He was no longer going to church. His wife had left him and marital problems are something that small, country, Baptists churches sometimes have a difficult time dealing with. Feeling more judgement than compassion, he stopped going to church altogether. Over the past few years we've talked about God, church, relationships, cigars, and life in general. I've always enjoyed my few minutes in the chair and generally skip my turn until his chair is open when he is there.

When I went in for an overdue haircut last week, he was there. He greeted me with a huge smile and a big hug. The only thing weird about it was that it seemed perfectly natural. A half dozen or so 15-20 minute conversations over several years had built enough of a relationship to warrant such a greeting after an extended absence. Maybe he enjoyed our conversations as much as I did!


A couple of months ago I had some physical therapy done for my left shoulder. It turned out that my physical therapist was also the worship leader at a local baptist church. Naturally, the conversations during our sessions tended towards faith, living that out in the work place and in life. Just after I finished my sessions with Matt, I preached a revival at a church about 80 miles away. I was talking about sharing faith in life and mentioned my encounters with my physical therapist. After that service a man inquired about the physical therapist that was also a worship leader. It was his nephew!

Since I was going back to that church (last Sunday) to preach again, I thought I'd stop by and check in on Matt (the physical therapy place is only a mile from my house). He was working with a patient when I walked in, but saw me. I chatted with the receptionist until he could break away for a moment.
After just nine therapy sessions and a couple month absence, once again I was greeted with a hug. And once again I thought it was weird that it didn't feel weird at all.


Both of those guys were young men -- 30ish. The last guy is closer to my age. Our daughters went to kids' church camps together and are now married. Clint and his family moved away and left our church many years ago. Other than going to the same church and having daughters the same age, we didn't really share much else and were never close friends. A chance encounter at Baptist Hill last weekend was still celebrated with a hug.


The only thing these three encounters have in common is that each of the relationships with these three men was solidified because of personal relationships with God and common beliefs that Jesus is Lord and Savior. The last one I met through church. The others were just guys I met on the road of life.
On the one hand, I probably have far too few encounters like these.
On the other hand, each one is enough ... until the next one.

John <><

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Submitting My Resignation

Today is my fifty-ninth birthday.
In reality, birthdays are no longer a big deal. After all, I've already had 58 of them (59 if you count the day I was born).

I have decided that I don't want to be a grumpy old man. I don't think I am ready to invite everybody over to walk barefoot in my yard, but I don't want to be the neighborhood curmudgeon that yells, "GET OFF MY LAWN!"

I think that I am becoming a little less grouchy than I once was. I seem more likely to make allowances for people's poor behavior than I used to. Realizing that nobody really cares about what I think about other people has given me the freedom not to judge others on how they look/act/think/talk/believe/etc./etc.
That doesn't mean that I'm very good at going out of my way to actually be nice to people. It's been a pretty big step just not to be mean or grumpy. I still need some work on the nice/kindness/loving part.

I am submitting my resignation as a Curmudgeon in Training.
Maybe I'll re-apply at a later date. Maybe not.
Life really is too short to be grumpy most of the time, so Don't Worry, Be Happy!

John <><