Sunday, December 30, 2007

Notes

Well it is almost the end of another year. I feel very blessed to be able to look back and remember all of the great moments of 2007. The thing is, I can't really think of much in the way of disappointments. I know that there were a few, but there isn't any gain by dwelling on them. I was thinking that I'm ending '07 at about the same weight as I began it so I didn't do so well on that resolution. The plus is that I made it through the year without gaining any weight!

They say (who are they? and what makes them experts on everything?) that 86% of all New Years resolutions are weight/health related. In order to keep the stats up, I'll renew my annual resolution to eat better, exercise regularly and lose some weight. They also say that 25% of resolutions are broken by the end of January so I'll avoid the rush and surrender before the year actually starts!

I picked up a few books for Christmas and I'm looking forward to getting into them. I mentioned The Dangerous Book for Boys, I also have The Magician and the Cardsharp by Karl Johnson. It is a book about Dai Vernon, one of the greatest sleight of hand artists. I'm really looking forward to reading this one! I also picked up a "self help" book, The Science of Success, because we could all use a little help with succeeding in life or any other worthwhile endeavor.

By the way, if you write a book How to Become a Failure, and you don't sell any copies...are you successful?

I'm almost finished with the Pullman trilogy His Dark Materials, and will have my review on all three books (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) soon.

To any one that takes the time to stop by and occasionally read the ramblings of a preacher/magician/air traffic controller, thank you. I truly wish a happy and prosperous 2008 for all of you. I have no doubts that there will be disappointments along the way--maybe even tragedy in your year. But I do hope that the blessings of life will far outweigh its curses and we'll meet here in year to share our good fortunes with one another.

John

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

It's a few minutes before midnight as I begin to write. We had a wonderful evening service at church on Christmas Eve. It is always such a joy to celebrate with some of my favorite people in the whole world. I can't say enough about my church family.

As I write, the kids are in bed (earlier than expected), the presents are wrapped and under the tree, Chris is getting ready for bed and I have a few moments to reflect on the day and look forward to tomorrow. The house smells like pumpkin pie (just came out of the oven) and the taste of chocolate chip cookies is still in my mouth. We each opened one gift tonight. Aaron and Hannah exchanged gifts--a book and Starbuck's card for Hannah and some Pyrex bowls and lids for Aaron--and Chris and I opened one from the kids. Chris got some nail stuff and long lasting lips stuff(I know that there is a girl name for "stuff" that better describes what it actually is) from Hannah and I got a book, The Dangerous Book for Boys from Aaron. I've seen it before and I know that I will enjoy adding it to my reading list. It says, "The perfect book for every boy from eight to eighty."

It's now minutes into Christmas morning. The bed awaits. For a brief few hours we'll sleep and then enjoy the blessings of the day. I truly hope that the day finds you with someone you love. Please take a moment to remember to pray for our service men and women that are away from their families.

May your Christmas Day be full of joy and hope.

To all of my blogging friends and readers: Merry Christmas.

John

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas: It's all about me (and you)

I have a teen aged daughter. (Your prayers are welcome and your condolences are accepted.) I say this as a way of introducing the "It's all about me" subject of this post. I often acquiesce to her needs/wants/desires by using her favorite line--"It's all about you." In return, she often uses the "It's all about me" line as a part of her argument or justification for her immediate situation. In any case, the attached attitude is one that we generally associate with selfishness.

This Christmas, I want for each of you to consider being selfish.

Yeah, you read that right. I said that I want you to consider being selfish...just for the day. I'm not sure where the saying came from that says it's better to give than to receive, but I'm pretty sure that I never fully bought into the idea--not as a kid and not even as an adult. Oh I know that there are great blessings and good feelings that we get from giving (check out Rich's post on that), but I still like to receive. I've managed to be much more mature about the whole giving/receiving thing as I've grown older--but deep inside, I still like to receive.

If you've ever felt the same way--even a little bit--I've got great news for you: Christmas really is all about you!

It has always been God's plan that the birth of Jesus is for you. It has always been a part of God's knowledge that you would one day need a Savior, a Redeemer. It has always been that God loves each of us so much that He sent His son to buy our freedom, to pay our debt, to accept our punishment.

Having grown up in the Catholic Church and gone to Catholic school there was little doubt in my mind about who Jesus was (is). As a young adult, I knew that Jesus is the Son of God. I believed that His death was to pay the price for the sins of mankind and I believed that in His resurrection is our hope for everlasting life. This was the odd case of having the big picture and yet missing the detail of my world. You see, in the little picture of my world, Jesus comes for me. And in the detailed picture of your world, He comes for you. I had learned about the big picture and missed the most important detail--God loves me!

His birth; His death; His resurrection was for me.

Here is some more good news: God loves you, too.

And His birth; His death; His resurrection is for you.

Better to give than to receive? Not in this case. The best thing that you can do this Christmas season is accept the gift of God's great love. Receive His love. Hold it close. Know that He came for you.

I know that you will enjoy giving gifts over the next few days. I know that watching others receive your gifts will bring you joy. But I hope that somewhere deep inside, you will get a wonderful, warm feeling because this year you know that Christmas really is all about you!

Merry Christmas
John

"For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior which is Christ the Lord."
An angel to the shepherds near Bethlehem

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Golden Compass

I picked up a copy of the Philip Pullman's trilogy yesterday. I know that I'm asking for it (whatever that may be) from some of my Christian brothers and sisters. There has been much said about Mr. Pullman and his books (now a movie) within the Christian community.

I have not seen the movie. As with most movies, I'll probably wait until the DVD hits the $5 discount bin at the local Wal-mart or borrow it from somebody that pays the full price for it in a month or so. I haven't spent much time on fiction books lately but have set aside my other reading to read The Golden Compass so that I can decide for myself if this is more than a fantasy and if it is an atheist' attack on God and religion. I have to admit that I'm pretty bad about taking somebody else's word on this type of thing and I realize that there are people in the Christian world that are somewhat over zealous when it comes to boycotting what they deem to be offensive for the rest of us.

I suspect that I'll end up believing that Mr. Pullman has woven his personal beliefs into a work of literature--and what's wrong with that? Isn't that the same thing that C. S. Lewis did in The Chronicles of Narnia? I fail to understand why some would choose to boycott the Harry Potter books and movies and at the same time embrace Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Fantasy is fantasy. I think that I can choose to disagree with any theological beliefs that Mr. Pullman may or may not have and still enjoy the art of his literature...or not.

I know that is has been sometime since I've read the Narnia books, but so far the Compass reminds me of Lewis' work. I'm sure that I'll have more to write when I finish reading it.
In the mean time, the target is squarely on my chest...so fire away.

John

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Really Don't Get It

On December 11, the House of Representatives passed a resolution acknowledging the significance of Christmas and Christianity. The vote was 372-9 with 10 members voting "present" and 40 members not voting.

I serve on the Constitution committee of our union, (NATCA) and recognize that these resolutions are really nothing more that feel good resolutions. They take no funding; they provide no service; they merely make a statement.

Here's what I don't get:

In October, two similar resolutions passed without opposition. The first recognized Islam and the month long fasting of Ramadan. The vote was 376-0 with 42 members that voted "present" and 14 that didn't vote. The second resolution was for the Indian Festival of Lights (Diwali) and is a feast celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. The vote was 358-0 with 8 voting "present" and 66 not voting.

So why the 9 "no" votes on the Christmas resolution? Seven of the nine no votes voted yes on each of the other resolutions. Has it just become sporting to bash Christians? I am grateful to Congressman King of Iowa that wrote the Christmas resolution and I am happy that it passed. Perhaps this is the part where I turn the other cheek and get ready for the next slap in the face from a government that talks about religious freedom but only means it when their talking about other religions.

For anybody interested, the nine "no" votes came from Reps. Gary Ackerman and Yvette Clarke, both of New York; Diana DeGette of Colorado; Jim McDermott of Washington; Bobby Scott of Virginia; and Pete Stark and Lynn Woolsey, both of California. These seven voted yes on both of the October resolutions. Not voting on the Diwali measure was Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida. Not voting on the Islam resolution but also voting "no" on the Christmas resolution was Rep. Barbara Lee of California.

Maybe it was just a case of nine Democrats that didn't want to support a resolution that was written by a Republican. If that's the case...Grow up!

In any case, I'd bet that all nine of them will enjoy their Christmas recess and await the arrival of Santa Claus. Maybe this year he'll leave them a lump of coal!

John

Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's Beginning to Feel Like Christmas

I've been waiting for that magical moment when I start to get that Christmas Spirit. I think that last night was the beginning. Our church choir, along with the choir from the First Baptist Church of Ozark, presented An Evening in December. Last night, Hopedale was the host for the Christmas concert, tonight First Ozark will host the concert. The combined choirs sounded magnificent! I really enjoyed the accompanying videos, the wonderful solos and the sharing of the telling of the Christmas story in the music of the season.

The promise; the story of Christmas is truly a mind boggling story. I think that it is important to remember that the story of Christmas is as much a story of the cross and resurrection (Easter) as it is a story of the manger and the birth of the Christ-child. As a matter of fact, we so often talk of the great sacrifice that Jesus made at the cross and I truly believe that the sacrifice that was made at the manger, the sacrifice made at Christmas was a greater sacrifice.

We see the sacrifice of the crucifixion through the pain and suffering of human emotion, of human feelings. In the manger we see a baby and hear the stories of angels, shepherds and wise men. We feel peace and joy and celebrate the birth of the Savior and again we look through the eyes, through the heart of our humanness.

It is only when we try to see the promise of God through the eyes of God that we are able to see the great Gift, the great sacrifice of the manger. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes that Jesus set aside the very characteristics that made Him God to become man. We think of God as all knowing (omniscient), all powerful (omnipotent), and able to be everywhere (omnipresent). Jesus gave all of that up to humble Himself and become human. Think of it--this once omnipresent being now finds Himself bound in the flesh of humanity. Though He was once omniscient, the Bible says that as a boy He grew in wisdom and stature before God and man. And the very God that spoke the universe into existence, is now as helpless and as powerless as a new born baby. It is hard to grasp the idea that even though He was still God, he surrendered His godly characteristics to become man and this once all powerful being now has to cry if he gets hungry and wants to be fed, if he's cold and wants to be held or if he's soiled himself and needs to be changed. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time thinking of God with a poopy diaper. Talk about humility!

For thirty some years He was bound by His humanity. He was tempted by the lusts of the flesh and yet He lived a sinless life. He was perfect and pure and became the sacrificial lamb. He took on the sin of mankind to pay the price and to offer us hope; to offer us salvation.

I have to ask--Why do you celebrate Christmas?
I'm not asking about another winter holiday...I'm asking about Christmas. Do you celebrate it with gifts? Do you hang stockings by the fireplace and wait for Santa? I hope so. We do at our house (although not so much with the Santa these days). But at some point this holiday season, I want to encourage you to look at the name--CHRISTmas. Yeah, Christ is in there for a reason. Christmas is a celebration of the promise of God being fulfilled in that baby, born of a Virgin, lying in a manger. The proclamation of heaven is for peace on earth to men of goodwill.

It is my hope and prayer that you, dear reader, find hope, peace and joy this Christmas. It is my hope and prayer that you will, with me, celebrate the Promise of God fulfilled in Jesus.

It's Beginning to Feel Like Christmas!

John

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Politics and Religion

Yesterday Mitt Romney made his speech about his faith and his candidacy for President of the US. I want to post my own beliefs on the subject and will forewarn those of you that think that every conservative or every evangelical has to be a Republican and every liberal or every heathen has to be a Democrat...I make little connection between faith and political party ties.

I do think that you can tell a lot about a person's character by their faith. I think that it is important to know what things are important (personally) to a candidate, knowing that it is hard to separate personal beliefs from political agendas. As a matter of fact, ones faith ought to be reflected in their actions. Inconsistencies between the two(faith and actions) will probably also lead to inconsistencies between pre-election promises and post-election actions.


Until the late '70's there was very little that tied religion and political parties to each other. It was largely Jerry Falwell's moral majority that began the notion that the Republican Party was the party of the moral people in America. The initial endeavor was to elect presidents that would appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court to overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision on abortion. Since that time, pro-life and pro-choice platforms have dominated much of the debate surrounding elections for House, Senate and Presidential candidates. For voters that choose to use this as a litmus test on whether or not to support a candidate for office, I have some bad news for you...they lie. That's right, they'll tell you anything to get your vote.

Okay, so maybe "lie" is a bit strong. At the very least they imply that if they campaign as pro-life, they will vote pro-life and make an effort to overturn RvW. However, in the first six years of the current Republican Administration we had a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, a majority of Supreme Court Justices appointed by Republican Presidents and yet Republicans failed to take any significant action. At some point, somebody has to wake up and realize that they are being used to put liars into office. Perhaps I'm just really miffed that the party that I once subscribed to, has become a party that I don't even recognize. If Republicans are supposed to be the conservative party, where are the conservatives?

I say that I am a "Conservative." That means (to me) that I am morally conservative. I believe in right and wrong and those definitions can be found in the Bible. Far too many elected "conservatives" have found themselves to be the subjects of inappropriate activity; many have resigned leadership roles or have resigned from their office.

I am fiscally conservative. The recent past Republican Congress spent more money than any previous Congress and their Republican leader in the White House failed to veto a single outrageous spending bill!

I am also socially conservative. I believe in taking care of society's needy and believe that proper policing of social programs is the way to cut spending (back to the right and wrong thing). Cutting funding and letting needy children, elderly and disabled fall through the cracks is not my idea of social conservatism.

I also believe that we have an obligation to be conservative where our environment is concerned. Do I need to address logging in our National Forests or strip mining or any number of ecological issues?

It's pretty obvious to me that neither Republican nor Democrat is synonymous with "conservative." I have taken a lot of heat in the past for crossing party lines to align with the immoral heathens. I have had enough of religious leaders telling me how I should vote. I'm a big boy now and know how to research candidates on my own. Most of the "conservative" broadcasters/pastor/teachers seem to be very narrow in their focus of what they want in an elected official. That's fine. They get a vote. But please, don't tie my hands at the polls because of what you think a "good Christian" ought to do. I will research the candidates (without your input, thank you); decide how they stand on issues that are important to me and that I feel they will do something about (I guess that leaves abortion out--not because it isn't important but they won't do anything about it!); and I'll cast my own vote. While I'd be happy to explain my decision to you, perhaps even try to persuade you if you're undecided, I'll not judge you for your decision. That's all a part of what makes our country the great country that it is.

In the end, if I decide to back the former NYC Mayor (doubtful), it won't be because he's Catholic; if Huckabee, it won't be because he's a Baptist minister (yeah, me too); my decision on Romney won't be about his Mormon background; or any of the other candidates from either party. I don't think that Billy Graham would make a good President (and not because he's a Democrat!) any more than I think George W. would make a good preacher (even though he's a Republican).

How about we base our vote on a candidate's ability to be a good President of the US of A; to represent us well among the nations of the world; to take care of business at home and to uphold the Constitution?

Pardon me while I step down from my soapbox.

John

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, etc.

Well it is once again the time in America that we begin the cultural wars over the holidays that once brought times of celebration, joy and good will. When I was a kid living in a small Midwestern town, I didn't know about any holiday other than Christmas. I knew that not everyone that celebrated Christmas celebrated the birth of the Christ child. But everybody I knew still celebrated Christmas. Nobody was offended by a "Merry Christmas" and every retailer took full advantage of the season to make their year profitable. In my small world, everyone enjoyed the "Christmas" programs at the schools, the kids all looked forward to the "Christmas" break from school and there were no law suits over any decorations or infringement of somebody's rights.

As a young man, I spent a year in New Orleans at Tulane University. It was there that I had my first exposure to some of the Jewish holidays. Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) and Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year) were two holy days (holidays) that came in the fall. By the time Christmas rolled around, I was at home and so I still hadn't learned anything about Hanukkah. We celebrated our Christmas much as we had always done--mostly the whole secular commercial version with occasional reminders that this is really about the birth of the Christ child.

Today I can tell you that Hanukkah is a celebration of the re-dedication of the Temple. You won't find the story in the Bible (unless you're using a Catholic version). It is found in the historical books of the Maccabees. (A side note about the Apocryphal books: don't dismiss these books just because they weren't a part of the canonized 66 books. They are still great reads with much history and insight and great lessons to teach.) When the Israelites went to re-dedicate the Temple, all of the oil for the lamps had been profaned. They found a single container--enough oil to light the eternal flame for a single day. Miraculously, the flame burned for eight days--the time it took to press and consecrate new oil!

It doesn't take a theologian to tell you that our Jewish friends don't celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Having worked in a retail jewelry store (Jewish owned) at Christmas time, I can tell you that business is business. Christian, Jewish or atheist--no good businessman is going to refuse your sale based on the holiday that you choose to celebrate. It would be a bit hypocritical to take offense on the one hand while raking in the cash with the other.

Chronologically, Hanukkah obviously predates Christmas. In fact, Christmas in December wasn't until the fourth century. Predating both of these religious celebrations are celebrations surrounding the Winter Solstice. Many cultures have watched the sunlight fade and made their appeals to whatever gods they believed would answer their pleas and bring the sun back and lengthen the days. Large fires were set and many rituals performed to appeal to the gods. The origin of the Yule Log is from these celebrations. Evergreen boughs, wreaths and trees were symbols of life in the midst of the cold darkness of winter. (So for anybody that has said, "It's not a holiday tree, it's a Christmas tree!"--it is actually a holiday tree.)

And new to the winter festivals is Kwanzaa. This one doesn't have the long traditions attached to it that other winter celebrations have as it is only entering its fifth decade of existence. It was the brain child of Ron Karenga (changed from Everett) and began in 1966. It is a celebration of the African/American culture. I'm not sure if Karenga didn't get the Christmas celebration or really felt the need for a way for the African/American to celebrate their culture and history. (I thought February was Black History Month) He is quoted as having said, "...it was chosen to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society."

I guess I never thought of Christmas as the practice of a dominant society.

Here in Southwest Missouri, we have already had our Christmas politics. On the campus of Missouri State University a Christmas tree went up, was taken down and went up again. You can read the story here.

For myself, I am most offended by everybody that wants everything to go their way. I am not offended when somebody wishes me "Happy Holidays." Why should I be? It's a good wish for me. I would not be offended by a "Happy Hanukkah," either. Again, why should I be? I don't know if "Happy Kwanzaa" is the appropriate wish, but I can think of no reason to take offense. I hope that others will not be offended by my "Merry Christmas." It really isn't meant to offend. The first wishes of Christmas were from angels and the tidings were for peace on Earth to men of good will. Comedian Brad Stine says, "Which part do you find offensive--the peace on Earth or the men of good will?"

I would encourage you to be gracious...to everyone. Make your holiday wishes with sincerity and genuine love for your fellowman. Everybody gets to decide for themselves if they will be offended.

For me, Christmas is about the birth of the Christ child. It is an amazing story of love; a story of a promise fulfilled...but a story for another day.

Merry Christmas,
John

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Read This Post

I have to admit that I got up today without plans to write anything post-worthy. But after reading this post from former air traffic controller John Carr, I knew that I had to share his post. Before you continue reading--stop and read his post.

You might wonder why anyone would seriously make the offer that he and Jill have made. Or you might be asking, "What makes them qualified to take on more kids?"

I first met John Carr in Tampa during the 1994 NATCA Convention. John typifies what you would expect of an air traffic controller. If you've read any of his previous posts on The Main Bang, you already know that he is passionate about promoting what is right and exposing what is wrong. By and large, air traffic controllers do what ever they do...hard. We work hard and we play hard. We take that passion with us in all aspects of our lives. We are made up of people that party and party hard; and people that don't party. There are fitness freaks that work out hard and over eaters that love to eat...hard. To be sure, we have our lazy ones that don't fit the typical mode, but for the most part we are extreme in the things that we believe in.

You only have to see John, Jill and Team Carr for a short time to know that John is extremely passionate about his family. I would trust him with my family if need be and I know that you could trust him with yours. While it may be unlikely that anybody would actually take them up on this offer, I am absolutely positive that it was not made flippantly.

If you are reading this and find yourself needing help and don't know where to turn, leave a comment and tell me. My comments are moderated and will not appear if you want confidentiality. I'll do everything I can to find you help where you are, hook you up with John or help you myself. Maybe you know somebody that needs a much needed break or something to help relieve some pressure to keep their kids safe...Help them, PLEASE.

We can all do something to help the helpless.

In the weeks ahead, there will be many parents that face depression over not being able to give gifts to their kids. If you can help...help. A gift through a charity, an anonymous gift of cash in the mail, a timely meal, an invitation to join your family, a shopping trip. There are so many ways that we can impact the lives of kids, so many ways that we may be able to save the life of a child.

Keep your eyes open; people, little people, are all around us and they need our help.

John and Jill, thanks and God bless you and the little ones.

John

Friday, November 30, 2007

First Impressions

This morning found me at the American Red Cross to donate a pint of blood and double unit of platelets. The process took a little bit over an hour plus all of the time to take care of the necessary paperwork. Having an hour sit and chat with whatever staff person has been assigned to you for that day can bring about some interesting conversation. I should point out that I've always thought that the entire staff at the Aphresis/Blood center is very friendly and they really do cater to you as their special guests while they are sticking needles in your arm to take away the life giving substance in your veins.

After talking about my family, her family, the banquet from a few weeks ago, etc., she says to me, "When I first met you, I thought you were stuck up." She assured me that she didn't think so any more and I laughed about it at the time, but it does give me a reason to pause for a little reflection. After all, I'm a people person. I like (genuinely like) people. And I think that most people like me too.

I'm hoping that it was just a matter of timing. I have been going in to donate at 7 in the morning after having worked a mid-watch and just getting off work at 6:30. Maybe it was one of those mornings that I could barely stay awake and the nasty alarms on the machine kept going off to signal that I needed to pump more blood. Today, I was a little more alert and she was very talkative which helped, I'm sure. In any case, I'm sure that I'll be paying a little more attention to those first encounters.

While I'm on the subject of first encounters, I met a woman at my daughter's orthodontist's office yesterday that seem very nice. Her daughter is in band with Hannah and they are relatively new to the area. I asked if they have found a church home yet and they are still looking. When I invited her to Hopedale (my church), she said that they had visited and have been meaning to come back. Though larger than what they were used to, she said that everyone was very friendly and they enjoyed their visit. Attaboys for the gang at Hopedale! I love it when I hear those kinds of things about my church family! I think that they (we) are the best. It is a great place to come together for worship and for fellowship.

So my lesson for the day (and maybe yours, too):

Be good to people. Treat them well. You know the saying..."You never get a second chance to make a good first impression."

John

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Give me a Break

I know that "burn-out" is a common malady among church workers--both paid staff and volunteers. Among the lay leadership of the churches, I think that burnout often comes from utilizing people outside of their gifted areas and taking advantage of good hearted, well meaning people by not offering any support or additional resources.

Paid staff can suffer from burnout from trying to do too much with too little, not adequately budgeting their time and from letting a few well meaning members dictate their schedules and monopolize most of their time.

Face it, people need some down time. It's important to guard your rest time. It's important to be able to tell people "no!" But I've noticed a trend among the lay ministers--common members doing uncommon work. Today's volunteer worker/teacher/musician/singer/etc. is much more likely to just...well, quit--to take their "break" without any preplanning or coordination with others that will be affected by their failure to continue or find a substitute.

When asked they will simply say, "I'm just taking a break." or "I need a little break."

Their break might take them out of a Sunday School class, away from working in the church nursery, out of the choir or even out of church attendance! Have they forgotten that people are counting on them? A last minute call in or just not showing up creates a great burden on others.
Are you taking a break from filling a job in the church or are you deciding that you're taking a break from serving God?

What if your pastor--or my pastor showed up Sunday morning and said that he wanted to take a break? You can put you own church, your own pastor into the following scenario.

For my church, it would be Pastor Terry announcing on Sunday morning that he really didn't feel like studying this past week. He kind of needed a break from sermon preparation. He might tell us that church would be dismissed as soon as Rich and what ever choir members showed up were finished with the music service. Nobody will have to pick up their kids from the nursery or children's church because most of those workers are taking breaks, too. Since several teachers were wanting to take breaks, we would be canceling Sunday School for the next month or so. With any luck, Satan will decide to take a break too!

It would be ridiculous, wouldn't it? God doesn't take a break from being God and we shouldn't take a break from serving Him.

Paul writes to the Romans that because of God's goodness and mercy, we should offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices. He says it is our reasonable act of worship. Giving our life to God; living our life for God should be what we consider reasonable for His blessings.

Someone once said that the problem with living sacrifices is that they have a tendency to want to crawl off of the altar. I guess that means that we want to take a break from serving God. It kind of makes me sad. I imagine that God isn't thrilled about it either.

John

Monday, November 26, 2007

Have it Your Way

Some of you may remember that Burger King used to use "Have it your way" as their advertising slogan. It told us that our burger would be made for us the way we wanted it.

Hold the pickles
Hold the lettuce

Special orders don't upset us.

All we ask is that you let us

Serve it your way.


Have it your way

At Burger King.

Funny how that jingle sticks in your head decades later.

This isn't a post about Burger King, although I like Burger King. I once ate six Whoppers at a single sitting. Unfortunately, I only tied the facility record. I knew that I couldn't finish a seventh and they said that partial burgers didn't count. But this isn't a post about gluttony either. It's really a story about some of the stupid things that we do when we are allowed to have it our way--without having to be accountable.

I heard a story recently that upset me very much. It was about a church pastor that was so intent on doing things "his way" that he has literally destroyed a growing ministry. Many of the established teachers, deacons and long time members have already left. Some of them will be starting a new church next month. I'm not sure if there is a particular agenda behind the actions other than he doesn't feel accountable to anyone. He enlisted spies to inform him of members private conversations so that he could know who was for him or against him. He quietly cultivated a following to be able to have control over ministries in the church and demanded that all leaders, deacons, teachers, etc. sign a loyalty oath that basically states that they will not oppose him. Most of them, being freethinkers, refused and were removed from their ministries.

Unfortunately, there is much done in the name of God, or in the cause of religion that is wrong. We can do what we want, say it is God's will and convince others and ourselves that everything is okay.

To be fair, I have to admit that I've only heard one side of this story. However, it was from a man that I've known for almost thirty years and I have a great deal of respect for him. It is also not my place to be in judgment of this pastor, that place is reserved for one far greater than I. But I am greatly concerned about the image that is presented to new Christians and to those that are outside looking in. This is not the love that Jesus talked about. I absolutely hate it when someone on the inside gives someone else a reason to want to remain on the outside. This kind of behavior drives away the very people that Jesus wants for us to attract. For that matter, it drives away good people that have served well. Most of them will find new church homes and continue to serve in some ministry. But some will miss church for a week or two...or three...or a month. Soon it will be easier to to fall into the habit of not going to church than to go back to the habit of going.

We must always be careful about exercising self will. We must really ask ourselves, "What would Jesus do?" (WWJD)

To anyone that judges God by the actions of those that claim to worship Him, I caution you...Don't. We are so far below His goodness that if you look to His people to judge Him, you will see a God that is small and not worthy of your adoration. We fail miserably when trying to live according to His will. It is a daily struggle to live well. My nature is to be sarcastic, self-centered, and mean. I have to work hard at being "nice". It's a lot easier today than it used to be. I think that I've made great progress in becoming less like John and more like Jesus. But I've still got a great distance to go and I still struggle with the inner nature of being John.

I hope that you do well in your endeavor to live life well...today. It's easier one day at a time.

John

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Hill Family Clan

Okay, ready or not, here we are.

This is my family; these are our families--from oldest to youngest.



This is my sister, Theresa. To the far left is her husband, Mike and she is flanked by their two sons; Jason and Justin. Mike and Theresa are in the Oklahoma City area, Jason in Florida, Justin in OKC.








This is me with my wife Chris with Aaron and Hannah. Before you all feel the need to comment, it has already been suggested (several times) that I update the photo on my blog to reflect the more mature (older) me. Trust me, the younger, thinner guy without the grey beard is in there somewhere.




Steve is here with Austin and Laura. They are in the DC area (Maryland) with Laura a college sophomore in Minnesota.
She plays rugby, Austin plays soccer.












You can see that each of the three oldest kids have two children. I don't know what got into the younger three. It's like they're having a contest or something.






This is Mike and his wife Christine. Between them is Andrew and in the front are triplets Ben, Zach and Ty. They are in the Chicago area.








Mary and husband Chris (yes, that's the third spouse named Chris or Christine!) live in the Indy area with Joe, Haley and Amelia (left to right).










The youngest sibling is Pat. He here with his wife Jeanna and daughters (left to right) Amber, Morgan and Grace, and son Ryan.
Pat is in the Navy and stationed in Virginia.








For anyone not counting that's six kids, five spouses and seventeen grandkids (from age 29 down to 1+). Add in Mom and Dad for thirty in all. We are Republicans and Democrats, meat eaters and vegan, from big city suburbs and from small towns. We are in management and we are in labor unions. Some of us have dealt with divorce and custody issues. We go to Catholic, Baptist, Christian, Assembly of God churches...or not at all. Some are musically inclined with instruments or voice and some can barely play the radio.




Each one of us kids lives in a different state and we rarely get to see each other. But we are family. We have a blast when we are together. You would like my family. If you wandered into one of our gatherings you would soon be assimilated. You would want to be a part of us. We always have other friends and relatives that want to hang out with us. When you're with us, I can promise that you'll laugh. We laugh with each other and we laugh at each other. We tell stories about our kids and our lives and we love to hear others tell their stories.




Mom and Dad are here, surrounded by the rest of us. This is my family. Can you tell that I love them all?






John



Thankful

It is now early in the morning on the day after Thanksgiving. Chris did an outstanding job with our feast. We had an enjoyable time with Jenny (Aaron's girlfriend) and her parents. Chris' mom and dad made the trip across the state to join us as well. Trace (Hannah's boyfriend) stopped by to visit with Hannah before heading off to his grandmother's for their family dinner.

It is really hard to think of all of the things that I have to be thankful for. I really have a tough time figuring out how I get to live the life that I have. My own family, the one that I grew up in, is the absolute best. Oh, we're not the perfect family--not by a long shot, but we truly love each other, miss each other and have the best of times when we get together. I'm going to have to get some of the pics from our reunion last summer to post and show off our great clan.

My family today is more than I could have ever dreamed of. Chris is tops. She really wanted to do the mom thing right. In a time when many of our peers worked as dual income families and utilized babysitters, relatives or daycare--we made the decision that we would raise our own kids. She was always there. She taught them to read. She taught them manners. She took care of them...and of me. Back when I worked long hours in the factory, she made sure I got the rest I needed, the food I needed and the time I needed with the kids. Our household joke was that Chris' idea of a two income family was John with a part-time job! Truthfully, it was much easier for me to have a part-time job (and I've had a few) than for me to try to take over any of the many chores that she was doing. It was never anything that we considered to be a sacrifice--it was just a life decision that we made...and we made it work.

When the kids hit school age, she went back to school, too. Today she enjoys working as a surgical technologist. She works three days a week and still takes care of us.

Aaron is in college! I can't believe it! He is a great young man and I am very proud of him. He is pretty much self sufficient. He earned a full scholarship to the only school in the Midwest that offered a degree program in his chosen field. He saved money from his summer job so that he wouldn't have to work while in school and really asks for very little from mom and dad. He volunteers at an elementary school a few blocks from campus and helps a third grader read once a week. If this young boy is like others that Aaron has had contact with, he probably thinks that Aaron is some kind of hero or something. Aaron has a way of making other people feel important.

And Hannah is driving! Having just turned 16 a couple of weeks ago, she is now able to drive on her own. It's nice for me to be able to send her to take care of the horses by herself--although I think that we'll still do that together most of the time. It's remained the one thing that this teen aged girl does with her dad! She is getting straight A's in school and loves to read. She is rarely without a book and thinks about a purse's ability to carry a book before buying it. A trip to the library is a must before we leave for vacation or any trip that will take longer than her current book will last. Her latest new adventure is going out for the swim team. Hannah is somewhat of a loner, having only a few really close friends--although I think that there are many more that would like to be her friend. I still tell her that she's my favorite daughter in the whole world...and she still replies that she's my only daughter in the whole world.

I have a good job and will be eligible to retire in just four years, 1 month and 14 days (but who's counting!). I like our town and love our church. We have so many good friends. I have been blessed with a wonderful ministry and feel like maybe I have made a difference in some lives along the way. I'm really looking forward to what God has in store for me when retirement gets here. This past year, I was invited to be a part of five revivals, pastored two children's camps, participated in two evangelism conferences and a number of community, children's, youth and outreach events. I was in several schools and am looking forward to expanding the magic part to include more schools and some corporate/motivational work.

I realize that I am just a simple man from a small town. I have no real education other than what I have read and/or picked up along the way. Among the six children of my parents, I am the only one without a degree. It won't be long before both of my own kids have their degrees and Chris already has hers. I am thankful that God has watched over me and shown favor towards me by providing me with opportunities and income in spite of myself. I doubt that I would encourage anyone else to do things the way that I have done them. I also doubt that things could be any better for me if I had done them differently. I am where I am and I am happy to be here.

I am also thankful for all of you that stop by to read the ramblings of a simple man. I never would have imagined that I would have regular readers from around the globe or that I would look forward to reading your posts from so many different backgrounds, places and cultures. Thanks to Bilbo for this award. If you haven't read his blog, I'd recommend it. It is one that I check daily. I always enjoy it, usually agree with him and figure that I'd probably like this guy if we were ever to meet in person.
I hope that you all had a great day.
Black Friday awaits!

John

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Back, Again

Wow! It has been some time since my last post. I had to deal with a computer virus and had quite a time getting rid of it.



In the mean time, I kept up on reading other blogs during breaks at work but didn't really feel like spending enough time to write out a post.

I had a great weekend travelling to my folks' home with my son Aaron for their 50th Anniversary Open House. They had a good turn out and I got to visit with many people that I haven't seen in quite some time.

I dropped Aaron off at the Amtrak station on Monday morning. He went to Chicago and I drove the 7+ hrs to work. He and Jenny just arrived home a few hours ago.

I know that my US friends are looking forward to a great Thanksgiving Day Feast. Feast or not, I would encourage all my readers to pause and give thanks to God for all of your blessings of life.

John

Side note from a news program: The average American consumes 7100 calories on Thanksgiving Day!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday at Hopedale

I hope that you have all had a wonderful weekend. Today was a great Sunday at church. Our Sunday School class is an exceptional study. It is a men's class taught by Dr. Burris. The guy is one of the the best Bible teachers that I know. The dynamics of the class are great and everyone participates either by offering input, asking questions or both.

The worship time was great (as always). Rich really does a grand job seeking the Spirit's guidance and preparing a great worship experience. Pastor Terry's message on doing church God's way really address how we, as believers, need to be ever mindful that church is not about us--it's about Him.

I managed a brief nap before making it back to church for our Deacon's meeting and the evening service. Our Sunday evening service was super! We had a musical family come for an evening concert. The Crist Family has a wonderful blend of voices and a real desire to share the love of Jesus. You can tell when performers are performing for themselves and when they are performing for their Lord. I really believe that this family desires to bring people to Jesus just by lifting up His name.

I the Bible Jesus says, "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me." He was telling of the type of death that he would die but the reference to being lifted up was to story told back in the Book of Numbers.

The children of Israel had been delivered from 400 years of captivity in Egypt. During their time in the wilderness, they began to grumble against Moses and against God. God punished them by sending "fiery serpents" (poisonous snakes) among them. Anyone bitten by one of these snakes would die. When Moses interceded for the people, God told him to make a bronze image of the fiery serpent and lift it up on a pole in the midst of the camp. If a person was bitten and looked upon the bronze snake, they would not die; they would be saved.

Now it doesn't take a modern day, educated person to know that there is nothing about the sight of a bronze snake that provides any kind of anti-venom. It wasn't looking at the snake that saved them. It was about being obedient; about trusting that God would do what He said He would do. It was an act of faith. I can imagine that there were people dying in their tents that wouldn't get up and go look at the snake on the pole. It sounded too ridiculous to be true. I can imagine that even though neighbors dropped by with words of encouragement and personal testimonies that they had been saved from death by looking at the snake, some people wouldn't believe and would choose to die rather that to admit that they could be wrong about the ridiculous notion that that God would only save them if they lifted their eyes to look on the snake.

The same is true of the cross. If we will only lift our eyes to look at the cross and realize that it is still an act of faith that saves us today. It is still about trusting that God will do what He says He will do. It is still about obedience. It is about trusting that in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, is salvation. We can believe that it is ridiculous to think that the only way that God will let us into His heaven is to trust in Jesus. But that is no different that those that chose to die in their tents thousands of years ago. It is about the act of faith.

That's a long way to get to the point of encouraging you to go see the Crist Family if you get the chance. I'm adding a link to their website with the others on the right side of the page. I also encourage you to check Wess Adams and Poet Voices from time to time to see if they'll be in your area. I can't tell you how much I admire those that have given their lives to serving our Lord and Savior.

John

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Night at the Movies

I'm not a big movie goer. I usually end up waiting for a movie to hit the discount bin at Wal-Mart or at the video rental place before I see it. Chris will see movies with her friends and the kids often want to rent something that I don't really care to watch. Tonight, however, Chris and I went to the local discount theater and saw a pretty good movie...The Brave One, starring Jodie Foster.

It was a bit of an action movie, a bit of a suspense movie and brings up some interesting questions for our society. In many ways, our sense of fair play caters to the guilty more than to the innocent or to the victims. It would seem that our over flowing prison system (full of repeat offenders) would indicate that the system itself is not a deterrent to criminal actions. Showtime has its series Dexter with a modern day vigilante. In my own mind, I have to wonder if a movie like Brave One and a series like Dexter doesn't sanction or at least encourage some kind of modern day vigilante activity?

Do we as a society guard those that take the law into their own hands and rid us of criminals when the law seems to fail? Do we make them out to be a sort of hero? Remember Bernie Getz? He shot four African-American teenagers on a New York subway in 1984. He ended up serving a year on a gun charge but was otherwise hailed as a hero at a time when crime in NYC was going crazy. I wonder about our system when it would appear that justice is often for sale.

Even something as simple as a traffic ticket can be bargained away at the prosecutor's table. A speeding ticket can raise your insurance rates. In Missouri, it can add points to your license that can lead to suspension or revocation. But rather than have that go on your record as a moving violation, you can plea bargain for a non-moving violation. The fine may be the same, but you don't get the points and you get to keep paying the same insurance rates as the safe, law-abiding drivers even though you may be a higher risk. The prosecutor's office gets to keep their conviction rate high since you did agree to the fine for a lesser violation (that you didn't actually commit).

It works pretty much the same way for more serious crimes. No wonder victims and victim's families often get so upset and feel like the system has let them down. I often believe that we are soft on crime and criminals. But I do believe that our system is a good one that works most of the time. If you've seen this movie or the show Dexter and want to comment, please do. Or maybe you haven't seen them but would like to weigh in just the same. I'm interested to hear your thoughts.

John

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Another Milestone

We have reached another milestone at our home--Hannah has her driver's licence!

Yes, my baby is driving. It was about this time last year (when she was getting her learner's permit) that I was reminding a friend that Hannah was just a baby when we met. I asked him, "Doesn't that make you feel old?" His response was, "No, but it makes me feel like I have a friend that's old!"

I remember the day that Hannah first learned to ride her bike. We didn't see her all day! I knew then that I would be in trouble when she got her driver's license. Now she is feeling like she has this license to freedom but is restricted because she doesn't have her own car to drive and can only drive when and where we let her. (Like having her own car would make a difference!)

This morning I'll get home from work in time for her to skip the bus and drive my car to school. She has plans to take a friend to Starbucks after school, then straight home; a little freedom but not quite like the freedom she must have felt as a five year old riding up and down our country lane to all of the neighbors' homes. I know that we'll soon have to buy another (fourth) car and that it will make life easier for mom and dad, but I'm just not sure that I'm really ready for my baby to be growing up. Although she is somewhat of a free spirit, I know that she is a responsible girl. She is getting good grades and stays out of trouble. But she's still a teenager and subject to the irrational thoughts and actions of a 16 year old. What's a dad to do?

Like any other father of a newly licensed 16 year old, I guess I'm left to pray hard and warn everyone I know---Hannah's got her license!

John

Monday, November 05, 2007

Story Time

One of the things that I do as an Evangelist is to encourage people to tell their stories. I want others to know that God is alive and well and a part of our lives. If our story begins and ends with a day long ago when we prayed a prayer or made a confession of Jesus as Savior, then our "savior" is as dead as any wooden or metal idol that we condemn others for worshipping.


While I believe wholeheartedly in telling the story of our conversion, I also believe that it is a meaningless story if we haven't grown in our knowledge of the teachings of Jesus and if the evidence of our actions doesn't demonstrate that we are growing in that knowledge. Too many of us want others to believe in the redeeming grace of God but we give them little reason to believe that it will make any difference in their lives because they can't see that it's made any difference in ours.


Our approach has been that they need Jesus or they're going to go to hell. This doesn't do much to really convince them of their need for a Savior. First of all, we assume that they believe in a place called hell and secondly, we assume that they think it is a terrible place. It's odd that we use hell as a "selling point" for salvation as much as the benefits of eternal life in heaven (which they may not believe in either!).


Anyways, the reason I started down this trail was to tell you part of my story. I don't want to go all the way back to the beginning (too long ago and too boring). Instead, I'll borrow from the Star Wars Saga and begin my story in the middle.


It was in the fall of 1998. I was beginning to feel like I needed to be doing something for God. I wasn't sure what that was, I just knew that I wasn't having any impact on the Kingdom and wasn't doing anything for the God that had given me everything. I should mention that I wasn't completely idle, I was a Deacon in our church, served on the nominating committee, helped teach Sunday School and other things that were "church related service." But that was really just busy work. None of it was helping to grow the Kingdom. What I wanted--want I needed was an area of personal ministry. As I looked to the types of personal ministries that other were in, I discovered that many people were doing the things that they loved to do and giving glory to God at the same time.



Musicians were writing, performing and praising Him through their music. There was a professional bass fisherman that would give fishing seminars and also tell these fishermen about his personal relationship with Jesus. A motocross rider was jumping over bands playing on stages at outdoor youth rallies and then telling kids that Jesus was the most important thing in his life. It was the heyday of the Power Team, a team of strongmen performing feats of strength but telling us that their real power comes from Jesus. It seemed that God rarely called people to suffer for Him. He was more likely to use them where they were, doing the things that they loved to do.



The question was, "What about me? What was it that I could do?"



Up to that point in my life, magic had only been a hobby. It was never something that I was serious about and I had never performed any magic for anyone other than my family or a few privileged (or cursed) friends. Somehow I got the idea that maybe I could use magic to teach biblical truths. It would be my unique ministry. I knew that I would have to get serious about it if I was going to move from hobbyist to performer so I did a couple of things.



I went to a meeting of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM) in Springfield. I think that on that day I was wearing a Promise Keepers shirt. Anyway, during a break a woman approached me and said that I might be interested in another magic club that met regularly--The Fellowship of Christian Magicians! So much for my unique ministry. It turns out that there is this international organization with the same unique idea for serving the King! I've been involved in our local chapter ever since.



Also, I figured that if I was going to be performing magic for audiences, the best way to practice was...well to perform magic for audiences. I knew that the magic shop at Branson's Silver Dollar City did short 15-20 minute acts on a little stage just outside of the shop. I figured that this would be a good way to get used to working in front of people. So I applied for and got a part-time job at the magic shop. I worked one day a week (one of my two days off from controlling airplanes) and really enjoyed the interaction with guests of all ages. It was more like playing than working and I had a lot of freedom to use whatever magic I wanted to draw a crowd. I made some great friends and got a few gigs out of the deal.

It soon became apparent that there was more to this "calling" than doing magic. As a matter of fact, it turns out that magic was my way of dodging my true calling. Using magic was my deal with God; my way of answering His calling on my terms--not His. It was as if I was telling God, "I'll do magic as long as I don't have to preach or anything like that!"

With some great encouragement from fellow evangelist, Ron Mills and from my pastor, Terry Kendrick, I accepted God's call to ministry through the preaching of the Word. In October of 2000, I was licensed into the Gospel Ministry. I feel incredibly blessed that God has allowed me to continue playing with magic as a part of my evangelical ministry. I have had some wonderful opportunities to preach revivals, children's camps and supply for churches (including my own) as needed. I have performed in many different venues including public schools and am growing as a performer and as a minister of the Gospel. I have often been challenged by the circumstances and have done some things that I never would have guessed I'd do (like children's camps!).

I know that I'll soon be taking the next step of ordination as an evangelist. I am looking forward to the opportunity to speak at next year's Missouri Baptist State Evangelism Conference. It is such an incredible honor to be able to share with those that are my heroes in ministry. God continues to grant me opportunities to perform and to preach although I rarely feel deserving of the "work" that seems to come my way. When August ended this year, my calendar was empty except for one revival in September. I ended up with eleven more events for September and October. God is truly awesome. (I should mention that I do no marketing. Most of these bookings come from repeat bookings, word of mouth or the Fellowship of Missouri Baptist Evangelist's directory.)

I am looking forward to what is ahead in 2008.

John

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Jeremiah 29:11

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Fall Back

I hope that everybody gets the opportunity to enjoy the extra hour provided by our annual change from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time. I know that there is all kinds of documentation to show actual energy use and savings by being on DST and that the dark months of winter have the least amount of savings, but it still seems silly to change back and forth.

Here is a site with a little history, a little documentation and some little known facts.

I, for one, plan on an extra hour of sleep. God knows I can use it. Hopefully the internal body clock won't mess up my intentions by popping the ol' peepers open an hour or so before the alarm gives me the official "time to get up" signal.

Enjoy the waning moments of DST. Beginning tomorrow, the sun sets early in the evening.

John

Thursday, November 01, 2007

You Get Out of It--What You Put into It

How many times have you heard that phrase? I even hear it about church. Somebody will say that they just don't get anything out of church or that they can't get into church. And then somebody else will respond with that worn out phrase--"you get out of it what you put into it!"

Here's my take--"It's not about you!" We are not supposed to be going to church for we can get out of it. We are there to worship God. It is all about giving of ourselves and expecting nothing in return. We are to worship Him because He is worthy of our worship. It is not about the kind of music we like. It is not about the kind of preaching we like. It is not about the programs available for our kids or for ourselves. It is about God (Period)

I'm not saying that you won't come away without a blessing. It is the nature of God to bless those that come into His presence for worship.

Years ago there was a man at our church named Gil Mitchell. I used to wonder how much chewing gum Gil bought each week. Every Sunday he had enough gum to give a stick to every child that said "Hi" to Mr. Gil. You didn't have to ask Gil for gum. If you said good morning to him, he would respond with a "good morning, sweetie" (didn't matter if you were a boy or girl) and hand you a piece of chewing gum. If Gil was talking to another adult, the kids would wait patiently for him to finish. (Interrupting was not going to get you your gum any faster.) Often, Gil might keep right on talking as he reached into his pocket and handed out the gum. The kids would offer their quick thank you's and be on their way. For a kid at Hopedale Baptist Church, being in the presence of Gil Mitchell meant getting blessed with a stick of good ol' Wrigley's Doublemint.

I think that Gil has given us a wonderful picture of God. If we will honor Him with our worship; if we will acknowledge His presence; we will always come away with a blessing. If we can come without seeking His gifts (without seeking His hands) but rather seeking His face (His presence) then I believe that we will be truly blessed.

The next time that you go to church how about trying not to get anything out of it? Try not asking God for anything--not for yourself; not for somebody else. There will be another time for that. Come only to worship; only to give; only to honor the Creator; only to praise God. If you would care to share your encounter with Him, I'd love to hear about it.

John

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

Well I guess it's time for me to weigh in on the question of celebrating or participating in Halloween.

Personally, I've always chuckled at churches that offer a "Halloween Alternative" event. They usually call it something different like Harvest Festival, Fall Festival or some other seasonal name. But if it is on the 31st, kids will come in costume and expect and receive lots of candy. Many churches (Hopedale included) offer the community a safe and convenient environment for the kids to "Trick or Treat." Regardless of what you call it or what activities you have, if you have it on the 31st of October the public perception is that it is for Halloween.

For the religious fundamentalists that are opposed to participating in this pagan holiday, I say that we are only getting what we have asked for. When the Church moved the religious holiday (holy day) of All Saints Day to coincide with the Celtic New Year, they had to know that the traditions of one holiday would blend with the traditions of the other. We run into the same type of situations at Christmas time. Many of our traditions are rooted in pagan practices--including the time of year that we celebrate.

The Apostle Paul tells us that we should not be a stumbling block to others. Sometimes I think that our self-righteous arrogance is the biggest stumbling block that we throw out there. My suggestion is to have fun, love others, and live as you believe Jesus would.

John

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Halloween--Did you know?

Having grown up in a Catholic home, I always associated Halloween with All Saints' Day. It turns out that I was only partially correct.

The actual origins of Halloween go back to a time several hundred years before the Catholic Church had an All Saints' Day. It wasn't until the mid 700's that Pope Gregory III moved the feast day to November 1.

2000 years ago, the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) was held. They celebrated their New Year on November 1. It was the end of the harvest, the days had grown short and it was time to begin anew. They believed that as one year ended and another began the world of the dead and the world of the living came close together. Sawhain was October 31. They believed that ghosts would return to the earth and blamed these nocturnal visitors for damages to their fields, homes and anything else that was worthy of blaming an unseen visitor for. The Druid priests used this time to consult the dead to make predictions for the coming year. They would build a huge fire. Animals were sacrificed to gain the attention of the spirit world. The priests would wear costumes of animal skins and tell fortunes. As the night ended, fire from the sacred bonfire was used to light the fires in the homes. This would bring good fortune to the home throughout the cold, dark winter.

Some believe that the Church moved the All Saints' Day date to November to place a similar feast day near the popular pagan holiday. The eve of All Saints' Day, or the Eve of All Hallows, or All Hallows' Eve, later became known simply as Halloween.

There is evidence that the dates may have at one time been spring dates, but it is generally held that the above festivals and feast days are the beginnings of our modern day Halloween.

So should churches and Christians participate in this holiday with pagan roots and ghoulish practices? I guess that's a matter for another post.

John

Too Much Regulation

In years past, our church has had a fall event called "Trunk or Treat." It provides a family friendly place to bring kids on Halloween. Members that choose to participate back their cars into a large circle in the parking lot. The trunks are opened and filled with candy for our guests. Many of the cars are decorated with prizes given to the best.

We have had a chili cook-off and pie baking contest and our guests have been able to agree or disagree with the judges picks by sampling for themselves (free of charge, of course). There is face painting, cotton candy, hot chocolate, coffee and corn dogs...all under the big tent.

This year's event will be minus two of the favorite activities...the chili cook-off and pie baking contests. It seems that the government has decided that these events can only take place if all of the cooking/baking/preparing is done at the church kitchen! The church kitchen has to meet health code standards because of the Wee Hope Daycare.

Now I know that there are other events taking place around the area that have not yet met with this governmental bureaucracy. More power to them. I also know that it's only a matter of time. Last May's Community Day was also restricted by not allowing us to use homemade cookies for desserts. I guess I'm a little confused about the standard being applied and why.

At the local farmer's market, you can bring in homemade products and sell them without any health restrictions. Let the buyer beware. At our church event, you cannot give that same products away for free--even if they are prepared by the same people in the same kitchens. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, cheerleaders, bands, etc. can have bake sales at the Wal-Mart entrance. What's the difference? If the government is truly looking out for the health and well being of our society, perhaps we can create a bureaucracy large enought to inspect all of our homes. (or at least sign a bill to provide health care for our poorer families!)

Am I just being cynical or is this a government agency that has too much power and too little to do? Or maybe I was just lookng forward to a bowl of chili and piece of pecan pie.

That's my rant for the day. Have a nice weekend.

John

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Playing in the Kingdom

Wow! It has been a great weekend. On Saturday, Aaron and his girlfriend, Jenny stopped by to have dinner with us. It was a quick visit but we really enjoyed seeing them. Aaron has plans to come home next weekend because of a friend's invitation to do something. It will be Thanksgiving before we see Jenny again.

On Sunday morning, I was at Living Waters Community Church in Nixa MO. It was their Fall Festival Celebration. After a morning of praising God in song, we had a fun time with a little magic and sharing what the Bible says through the use of illusions. They were set up with food, fun and activities for the afternoon. It is always a privilege to be asked to come back to a church. The staff at Living Waters is great and I am sure that they are having an impact on the community around them.

For the Sunday evening service, I was at Southgate Baptist Church in Springfield MO. I was there to talk to them about what their role will be on Halloween night. That will be their annual Fall Festival and they expect 800-1000 guests to stop by for inflatable games, activities and lots of candy. I'll be sharing the gospel through magic and it will be up to them to find out if their guests have a church home, believe in God, what they think about heaven , hell, Jesus, salvation, etc. It will be their job to make their guests feel welcome and to encourage them to come back.

Again, a great honor to be asked back to Southgate. I have been there twice for Easter programs, once for a community/church picnic, several times for backyard Vacation Bible Schools and once for a Sunday School Class. They are always an excellent host.

Tomorrow, the work week begins anew. I am looking forward to hearing about blogger Bilbo's trip to Vegas. On Wednesday evening I'll be at Cedar Ridge Baptist Church to do a program for the kids. I'm looking forward to visiting with Pastor Mike and my friends down by the lake. Saturday will find me at Finley Crossings. Pastor David is another great pastoral friend and I'm excited about being asked to share in their Kingdom work.

I hope that your week will be as exciting.

John

Friday, October 19, 2007

Shooting Stars

This is a great weekend for looking upwards. The peak night for the Orionids Meteor Shower will be tomorrow night (Saturday night/Sunday morning). The best time for viewing will be after the moon sets sometime between 1 and 2 a.m. If you can find a dark area away from city lights, look eastward toward the constellation, Orion. This fall meteor shower comes when the Earth passes through the orbit of Halley's comet.

It has been 21 years since Halley's comet was within visible range of the Earth and will be another 55 years before it makes another appearance. The cosmic litter that is left in its orbit will streak through the Earth's atmosphere for anybody game enough to stay up (or get up) to watch. Peak times should yield around 25 per hour.

The order of God's universe always amazes me. I hope that you have a clear beautiful night for viewing the heavens.

John

"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?"

A Psalm of David, King of Israel

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fear of Flying

You know, I really don't like this kind of post. At work, I tend to take on extra mid-shifts to keep away from the negative talk and away from the stupid things that management is always coming up with. I guess it's a way of guarding my overall attitude. However, as an active union member, I can't help but be exposed to some of the nonsense that seems to be running rampant in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) during the Bush tenure in the White House.

If you've been reading any of the articles posted by past National Air Traffic Controller Association (NATCA) President and retired controller, John Carr on The Main Bang, you already know what I'm talking about. If you haven't read any of that stuff, reading this article may be enough to make you check the Amtrak (the unofficial airline of NATCA) schedule before taking your next trip. I'll tell you that I have known Kevin, Scott and Howard (three controllers interviewed for the article)for quite a number of years and have a lot of respect for them and their dedication to this once grand profession.

If you are planning a trip via the nation's airways anytime soon, check out this site before scheduling your flights. It's put out by NATCA and offers many tips on avoiding delays on your trip.

Sorry about the bummer post. Consider it to be information that's nice to know. I'll try to have something more uplifting real soon.

John
Eligible to retire in 4 yrs, 2 mos, 20 days.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Family Weekend

Well it's Sunday morning in a hotel room in Columbia MO. Chris and Hannah are still snoozing and I'm enjoying coffee and browsing blogs.

This weekend was the Family Weekend at Columbia College. Yesterday rained nearly all day. I don't know how things went on campus because after lunch we grabbed Aaron and went downtown, then the mall and spent the day as a family. It was really a great time.

During lunch, Dr. Terry Smith came by at sat at our table for a few minutes. Dr Smith is Executive Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs. Aaron, one of five Presidential Scholarship Winners, said it's pretty cool when the Dean knows you and calls you by name. Our conversation some how got around to politics and Dr. Smith told Aaron that he should take his poly-sci class next fall. It's an advanced class that Dr. Smith does in conjuction with a Presidential campaign and will require students to work on a candidates campaign.

We had a fun time visiting some stores downtown. Hannah bought a ring. At the mall, Aaron got a new pair of shoes (I told him he's like a girl with all of his shoes!) and so did Chris (get new shoes, not tell Aaron he's like a girl). We had Starbucks while at Barnes and Noble and managed to make it out with nary a single book purchased! Everybody found books they would like but said they already have too many to read!

We had a wonderful dinner at Macaroni Grill and finished the night back at the hotel with the girls reading and the guys watching baseball--just like home(but not as comfortable).

In a few minutes, we'll meet Aaron for brunch and then head home. It's good to see him growing up and developing into a great young man. I am so proud of him and Hannah. In spite of our bumblings as parents, they have turned out to be well adjusted young adults.

I hope that your weekend was a good as mine.

John

"If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family in the world, all you have to do is go to the state fair. Because five minutes at the fair, you'll be going, 'You know, we're alright. We're dang near royalty.' "

Jeff Foxworthy

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Lol :)

My wife has a funny sense of humor. Last night she said, "What do you think it was like for the first person that laughed? How did they know that what they were laughing at was funny? and What was their reaction to the sound that they made?" Weird, huh?

Well it made me start thinking about how kids develop their own sense of humor and about how many different laughs there are. Why is it that some things appear to be funny to us and not to others? How much of it depends on our perspective and how much is just funny?

Picture a man about 6 ft tall (around 1.8 meters). He has a large forehead that is emphasized by a receding hairline. Now picture seeing him from a two year old's height. I was with Hannah in the church kitchen when this happened . She just started giggling. So I asked, "What's so funny?" She pointed right at the guy's head and said in a loud, giggling two year old voice, "Daddy, that man's head's too big!"

I'm sure that from her perspective, it was. Heck, I look the guy right in the eye and could say that he had a big head. But why was it funny?

When Aaron was only a few months old, he would sometimes pretend to be asleep when we came into his room in the morning. His eyes would be closed but there was this big smile on his face. If he wasn't smiling at first, he would be as soon as you said, "Aaron, time to wake up. I think he's still asleep. Should we let him sleep a little longer?" The more we would talk about "waking him" the harder he would pretend to be asleep with only that big smile to give him away. Again, how did he know that was funny?

And why is it funny when people are clumsy and hurt themselves? I remember once when a boss of mine walked right into a sliding glass door that he thought was open. Oh my gosh! It was all I could do to keep from laughing. Or the time that Hannah and I were out with the horses and the young gelding got out from under me. There I am lying flat on my back in the pasture with the wind knocked out of me when Hannah comes galloping up on her horse. At least she asked if I was all right before she started laughing!

And laughs can be funny, too. From little chuckles to all out guffaws. Some girlish giggles, some hearty ha ha ha's, some that snort when they laugh. There really is nothing like a good sustained laugh to clear the body, mind and spirit of what ever ails you. And laughing is contagious! I hope that you have the opportunity to laugh today. Make it cleansing laugh. Even if life has you down a bit, fight back with a good laugh.

And when you're finished, after you've caught your breath and regained your composure, come back here and tell me why you thought whatever you were laughing at was funny. I really want to know.

John

" The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter."
Mark Twain

Monday, October 08, 2007

Fun for the Eyes

I love optical illusions. I find it so very interesting that our brain can so easily misinterpret what our eyes see. In the picture below, you can see a black and orange line that spirals through the geometric shapes of triangles and diamonds.





Actually, if you will follow the line with your finger, you will find that each is a complete circle. There is no spiral!




This is another fun picture. Squares A and B are the same shade of gray.



I know that you may have a more diffucult time believing me on this one. Right click on the image and save it to your computer. Then open the image with Paint or other similar program. Then just cut out a piece of one and move it to the other square. Or you can print the image and then cut or fold the paper to prove it to yourself. The contrast of light and dark created by the shadow fools our brains into believing that B is lighter than A.


And then there are those that can draw what is an impossible reality.

Have a great day...but don't always trust your eyes!

John

Payback Time

In the past year, I know of two wonderful older men that have attempted to commit suicide. One, I knew personally, the other is close to a friend of mine. Neither was successful in their attempt, although my friend had given up on life and living and slowly gave way to death. Both men were found by their wives, who intervened to save the lives of their husbands. Both were in their eighties. Both had led very active lives. Both had kids and grandkids that they loved, were proud of and lived relatively close by. Both were loved.

So why is it that these two men would try to take their own lives? I have to address this question because my own father is approaching mid seventies. If the answer lies in a generational philosophy, I need to know.

From what I have gathered from the families of both of these men, though they were once strong, capable and active men, they now felt useless. They were the ones that always took care of their families and now they were needing to be cared for. They were often frustrated that they could no longer do things by themselves and for themselves. They often refused to see their own inabilities or tried desparately to work through them in hopes that others would not see them. Somehow, growing old had become their greatest failure in life.

One man's attempt caught the family completely by surprise, the other--maybe not so much. Both have had an impact on me. So many older men have had their influence on my life. They have so much more to offer than what their physical bodies are able to do. They have a lifetime of experiences and wisdom to share with us. I think that we have forgotten the skills of storytelling and (more importantly) listening to stories. We have placed so much value on doing and so little on the wisdom of confronting life. We receive so much information today via the internet, cable TV, satellite radio, news posts via cell phones and pagers, that we have tuned out talking to people as a way of gathering information. It is a most inefficient way of transferring information and one for which we are unwilling to make the time. It is also the very best way of ascribing value to those that have lived life before us and forged the way for us to continue onward.

In a world where the lastest and greatest invention is obsolete in a matter of months, have we as a society set our older men and women on a self to collect dust as if they were as obsolete as a Pentium processor? Shame on us! King Solomon wrote in Proverbs that "The gray head is a crown of glory, if it is found in righteousness."

I would encourage you to call or visit your dad or grandfather--today. Do it as soon as you finish reading this short rant. Give them some of what is most valuable to you--your time; yourself. Honor them by listening--even if you've heard their stories before.

When we were kids, they held our hands and slowed down to walk with us at our speed. Now it's our turn to slow down and take life at their speed. We owe them so much. Certainly we can find a few moments each day to thank them for their contribution to life.

John

The glory of young men is their strength; and the beauty of old men is the gray head.
King Solomon, Proverbs 20:29

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Yard Work

While attacking my overgrown lawn this afternoon, I was thinking about the endless futility of yardwork. I remembered this story and thought that I'd share with you. I'd credit the author if I knew who wrote it. Enjoy. (the story, not the work!)

YARD WORK AS VIEWED FROM HEAVEN:

God: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature; what in the world is going on down there in the U.S.? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistles and the stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought, and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees, and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of color by now. All I see are patches of green.

St. Francis: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. They are called the Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers "weeds" and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

God: Grass? But it is so boring, it's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, bees or birds, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want grass growing there?

St. Francis: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it has grown a little, they cut it....sometimes two times a week.

God: They cut it? Do they bale it like hay?

St. Francis: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

God: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

St. Francis: No sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

God: Now let me get this straight...they fertilize it to make it grow and when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

St. Francis: Yes, sir.

God: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

St. Francis: You aren't going to believe this Lord, but when the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

God: What nonsense! At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep the moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves become compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.

St. Francis: You'd better sit down, Lord. As soon as the leaves fall, the Suburbanites rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

God: No way! What do they do to protect the shrubs and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

St. Francis: After throwing the leaves away, they go out and buy something called mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

God: And where do they get this mulch?

St. Francis: They cut down the trees and grind them up to make mulch.

God: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore.

Saint Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

St. Catherine: "Dumb and Dumber," Lord. It's a really stupid movie about....

God: Never mind--I think I just heard the whole story from Saint Francis!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Playing the Game

I was reading It's a Numeric Life and got to thinking about the ultimatum game. There is no negotiating in this game, but we play similar games everyday.

I know that many of my readers live where haggling over prices on just about anything is practically a national sport. I really enjoy travelling where this is the case--just to play the game. I began teaching my son this game when he was just about five years old. We were at a garage sale and he saw a basketball that he wanted. It was four dollars. He asked me if I would loan him four dollars and said he would pay me back when we got home. I told him that I would only loan him two dollars. "But, Dad" he insisted, "the basketball is four dollars."

I told him that he would have to see if the lady would sell it to him for two dollars. I remember the look from this little boy. I know that he thought his dad was nuts and wasn't real sure about what I was telling him to do. But he took the two dollars and the basketball and asked the lady if she would sell him the ball for two dollars. She told him she would sell it for three. Aaron said that he only had two dollars but would see if he could get more from his dad. (I think he had already realized that he just saved a dollar!) I gave him two quarters and he made the deal for $2.50. Hannah has been a little harder to teach, you can tell when she really wants something so she doesn't always get the best price. Aaron knows that you can get the best price walking away from the deal. Hannah is learning. She did fairly well on our last trip to Mexico.

I've learned that you can still get deals in the US, usually just for the asking. My family knows that if we are travelling and looking for a hotel to spend the night, we probably won't be staying at the first place we stop. If it is past 9 pm, we both (the desk clerk and I) know that those empty rooms aren't going to get filled up and discounting the room so that I'll stay there is better than letting the room stay empty.

Once, we were going to my wife's family holiday gathering. Her sister had done some checking for local hotels and found the best rate/location at a hotel through priceline.com. I checked the priceline rate and then called the hotel direct to book the room just a couple of days in advance and asked for the rate. It was only a little higher than the internet rate. I said to the clerk, "Now if I check on the internet, I'm not going to find a cheaper rate, am I? Because if I do, I'll cancel this reservation and I'll find a different hotel to stay at." The rate I ended up with was much less than the priceline rate.

Cardinal baseball tickets are another "game" to be played. With Aaron along, you get no deals. He wants to be in the park when the gates open and watch batting practice and try to get a few autographs (he's got quite a few over the years). But if you can wait 'til the game is starting...BONUS! The last time I got a $42 ticket for $25 and only missed the first half inning! I've introduced the "game" to some of my friends that have begun to ask for the discounts and they are amazed and how often they can save a little cash. There are not many areas in the US that you can play this little game, so you have to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. If you've never tried it before, give it shot...ask the question, "Is that the best you can do?" if you live where you are always playing the game...I'm a bit jealous.

If you have a "game" venue that you'd like to share, please do. I'd love to play, too.

John