Thursday, April 30, 2009

For My Friend--Mary Jo

Today I'm blogging for a friend of mine. You can continue to read the post here, but I would like for you to stop by her blog and leave her a comment of support, if you don't mind. Tell her that you are a friend of mine and that you will pray for her. Thanks.

Here is the post for Mary Jo:

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9

This was the text that my pastor preached his message from on Sunday morning. As I read these words, I couldn’t help but think of Greg’s post and Mary Jo’s faith. One of the hardest things for us to deal with is the question of why good people suffer. At some point, we have to have the faith to trust that God is in control and knows what He is doing. We have to accept that when we put our faith in Him, we give Him our permission to use us as tools to bring glory to His name.

Not everyone is able to do this with grace and dignity. Not everybody is able to feel blessed in the midst of their trials. Not everybody recognizes that this life is but a vapor, here for a moment and then gone. Not everybody can cling to the promise of eternity while suffering the pain of our human mortality.

It has been many years since I have seen Mary Jo. I have recently reconnected with her through Facebook. In the few late night chats that we have had, I see Mary Jo in these verses. Greg’s post describes her faith much better than I ever could. Towards the end of his post, these words really caught my attention:

“God has not abandoned my sister, He has appointed her, knowing full well that her faith will see her through this and her love, hope and commitment to that faith will inspire others.

This speaks to Greg’s trust in God, as well.

So what can we do?

Every one of us knows or has known somebody with cancer of some type. About 15 years ago, a friend of mine had his five year old daughter diagnosed with leukemia. He told me that there were times when the treatments (chemo) would cause her nose to bleed so badly that they would have to take her to the emergency room for blood and blood platelets. The chemo destroys the platelets that help our blood to clot. At that time, I had never heard of apheresis. It is a process where the platelets are separated from the blood for donation. Most of today’s platelets go to patients that are receiving chemo therapy. The shelf life is only 5 days so there is need of a constant supply. You can contact the American Red Cross or your local blood center for information. I’ve been a donor since that time and am on the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry. It takes me about an hour and fifteen minutes to donate a double unit. It’s a small thing, I know...but it is something that I can do when I feel completely helpless to do anything else.

To say that we should pray for our friends seems like stating the obvious. Go one step further-- make sure that they know that you are praying for them. I know that it has to strengthen them knowing that others are bringing their name before God our Father. Call, write, send a card or an e-mail...just let them know that you are thinking of them and praying for them.

To the readers of Out of My Hat: if you are believers in the power of prayer...remember my friend Mary Jo. Ask God to remember her, too.

John <><

Saturday, April 25, 2009

That's a Winner!

Oh what a great day it was for baseball in St. Louis. The temps were right around 80 and the Cardinals were HOT! The Cubs...well not so much.

Aaron was right about the Cub fans being annoying. I was practically surrounded by them. They did quiet down for while after the Cardinals took the lead...but it didn't last too long. If they put a man on base they would fall right back into the false hope that they have been living with for the past century.

Actually, they have a decent team. When Lee starts hitting in the top half of the order and Soto starts hitting in the bottom half they'll have a good batting lineup. Cub fans will tell you that they're also waiting for Bradley to get back to good health but I think that he's a ticking time bomb that should be out of baseball.

After the game, I headed over to Ted Drewe's where I met up with Mike and Claudia.

I'm working off of the hotel computers (left the laptop at home) tonight. When I get home I'll post pics from Hannah's prom night. (or you can join the latest greatest time suck and visit me on Facebook)

Sorry that I missed Andy, Buel and Chad in SGF, but ministry calls (that and Cardinal baseball). Andy, Buel and Chad...the ABC's of St. Louis TRACON! Catch you guys another time! My vote is still for sale...wait that only happens in Illinois.

Have a great Sunday!


On the Road Again

In a few hours (after I manage a little sleep and a little packing), I'll be on the road to St. Louis for the weekend.  Sunday I'll be at Tower Grove Baptist Church.  I'm really looking forward to being there.  I'll be preaching the morning and evening services and performing at an afternoon lunch.

I figured that since I'd be arriving on Saturday evening, I may as well plan to arrive early enough to take in a Cardinal game--3:10 start.  I can already taste the ball park dog with the grilled onions and sauerkraut.  Mm, Mmmm.  And then a little Ted Drewe's frozen custard after the's the St. Louis thing to do!

Sorry about the lack of posts this week, busy you know...whatever.

John <><

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

For Earth Day I thought I'd share an interesting site.  I found this some time ago.  It seems appropriate to share it today.  Check out Running the Numbers and Running the Numbers II

John <><

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago tomorrow, the 20th of April, I was in Denver Colorado for a NATCA facrep meeting.  
Because we were in meetings all afternoon, we were unaware of the tragic drama that was taking place at a local highschool.  When our meeting let out, we headed back to our rooms to change clothes and then boarded a bus to go to Coors Stadium to see a Colorado Rockies baseball game.  

During that day, two students went on a killing rampage at Columbine High School.  Twelve students and one teacher were killed by the teen aged gunmen.  Twenty-three others were injured.  The tragedy rocked the quiet suburb and all of the city.  It shocked the nation that such a thing could take place in one of our schools.  Needless to say, the Rockies cancelled the game.  Later they cancelled the rest of their homestand.  The city was in shock.

Several months later, Darrell Scott--the father of one of the killed students was at our church to talk to the youth of our community.  His talk was very moving.  They discovered that Rachel was prepared for this moment.  Her diary entries were a foreshadowing of the testimony that she would give in death.  It was as if she was created for that very moment.

His son was with him and told of his experience and escape from the school library.  He didn't know at the time that his sister was already dead in the school yard.  

There was also a younger brother that came with them.

On the first night that they were there (of two nights), a man asked me if I was on staff at the church.  I told him that I was a member and asked what I could do for him.  He said that there was a young boy that was downstairs in the kitchen.  It was the younger brother.  The man said that the boy always wanted to travel with his dad and brother but never wanted to listen to them tell the story of his sister's courageous life and courageous death.  He asked if I would stay with him and keep him company throughout the evening.

The work, the ministry of Rachel Scott continues today.  The loss of life that took place on that day a decade ago will be remembered and relived by many on this 10th anniversary.  The celebration of a young girl that has, in death, fulfilled her life's purpose is evidence of a great and mighty God at work in our fleeting human lives.

John <><

Friday, April 17, 2009

Day of Silence, Day of Truth

Today is the observance of a Day of Silence on high school and college campuses across the country. It is a demonstration to protest the bullying of homosexual, bisexual and transgender students.

Christian activists have their Day of Truth to counter the promotion of the lifestyle of those that they see as sexual deviants. These activist see the Day of Silence as a promotion of the homosexual lifestyle and perceive an agenda that goes beyond putting an end to bullying. They see it as a part of a conspiracy to force all of society to accept homosexuality as a legitimate alternative lifestyle.

At the risk of critism from my conservative Southern Baptist friends and followers, I have decided to weigh in on this issue.

I have no issues that would cause me to oppose the premise behind the Day of Silence. As a follower of Jesus, I cannot support the bullying of another for any reason. An outsider might perceive the opposition to the Day of Silence as approval of the behavior that it seeks to expose and bring to an end. This isn't necessarily the case.

In the same way, my approval of the Day of Silence doesn't mean that I approve of means that I disapprove of bullying. It doesn't cause me to be concerned that my daughter will participate in this Day of Silence at her school today. I don't think that it means that she is a lesbian and I don't think that it will make her feel that homosexuality is a lifestyle that is approved by God. I do think that she is already mature enough to leave that judgment to God rather than act as if she is the judge over others.

As for the Day of Truth...

The Bible speaks clearly against homosexuality. But I don't think that telling people that they are leading a sinful life (or that their behavior is wrong) is enough to change their behavior. If they are not believers of a religion that says that their behavior is wrong, they are not going to change because of what I believe. The Truth that they need to hear is not that homosexuality is a sin. The Truth that they need to hear is that we are all sinners and we all fall short of the glory of God. The Truth that they need to hear is that God loves them and has provided them with the gift of eternal life through His Son, Jesus. The Truth that they need to hear is that it is only through a personal relationship with Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us that any of us is able to overcome sin, follow Jesus and be acceptable to God.

Why do we have to preach a message that they won't hear (personal judgment) when we have the message that they need to hear (God's grace)? I think that we need to let God be God. I think that the job of conviction of our sin belongs to the Holy Spirit of God and not to the people of God. When will we do the job that God has given to us (be a witness of what Jesus has done for us) rather than to sit in judgment of others?

I have my ideas about homosexuality and where gays and lesbians fit into the Kingdom. (Yes, I do believe thay have a place in the Kingdom.) I'm not sure that it's necessary to go into them here. Let me just say that their sin is no greater than my own and that I believe that the sacrifice that Jesus made is great enough to cover them with God's grace and forgiveness...

And that is the Truth that we need to share.

John <><

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Posting from my cell phone.
This is a first for me. Actually, I'm pretty new to the whole texting thing. Mobile Facebook, now onto mobile blogging. Who needs a computer when you can do it all from your phone?

John <><

Monday, April 13, 2009

Blog Traffic

According to my Lijit widget, I had a good week (at least by Out Of My Hat standards) of blog traffic. I attribute this to a couple of factors.

First of all, I posted several times last week. Yes, as strange as it may seem, people have a tendency to quit stopping by when they see that there is nothing new!

Second, I believe that I am getting some additional looks from Facebook friends. I changed my "status" when I posted on my blog and left a link. Thank-you Facebook friends for stopping by. Feel free to leave or on Facebook.

I have a few mutual friends from the blogging community and on Facebook. For those that are on Facebook--if you have a blog, please let me know. For readers, lurkers and fellow bloggers--if you are on Facebook, I'd like to know. I find that our different cultures and backgrounds are far less dividing than one might think. Among conservative Christians in the United States, there is a fear of a one world mentality. I know that it has to do with end time prophesies and they have doom and gloom as its outcome. For my own beliefs, doom and gloom are not the outcome of the end times. In fact, I find myself looking forward to the fulfillment of the Second Coming of Jesus--even to the point of praying for it.

But I digress.

I find that we are so much more alike than we are different. To be sure, our governments can be very different. Certainly we face different daily challenges. Opportunities and prosperity can be very different from one country to the next. Some have liberties that are greatly restricted and others treat their great liberties irresponsibly.

But still, we all love our families. We want the best for our children. We want to be a part of a community. We want to help others and we look for relationships that can be helpful to us and our loved ones. We would like to find a cure for the illnesses that ravage our part of the world and take the lives of our neighbors and friends. We would all like to live in a world where there is peace and harmony.

Though our spiritual beliefs are greatly different, I truly believe that we are created with an inner being--an inner voice, a spirit--that drives us toward one Supreme Being. Each culture has endeavored to find God. There is no doubt that we have many different concepts of God and indeed, some cultures have many different gods--but to say that there is no God strikes me as either arrogance or foolishness. The complications of nature are enough to satisfy most intellectuals of an Intelligent Designer.

We can focus on our differences and expand the gap between cultures, or we can find the areas that we agree on and build bridges. We can keep our conversations and writings to trivial matters of daily living or we can address the more complex issues of what happens when our daily lives are no more. Perhaps, we can each look for somebody with whom we can share something of value...something more important the the Cardinals being ahead of the Cubs, or if the Republicans or the Democrats can leads us out the economic crisis or the great restaurant that we found. Maybe we can share our own ideas of who God is or how much He loves us. Maybe we can share an act of kindness. Maybe we can pull a brick off the wall that separates us and begin to build a bridge to bring us together.

I believe that long after contract disputes are settled; long after wars have ended; long after we have ceased to live as physical beings confined to earthly bodies--there will still exist a God in heaven that has called for us to join His great feast. If you plan on attending, you have to RSVP through His Son, least that's what I believe.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Have a Donut This Morning

This is one of those stories that is unverifiable. Snopes would call it glurge--a feel good story. Whether the story actually took place or not--it illustrates the sacrifice of one for the benefit of all. It also reminds us that we each have a choice to make regarding that sacrifice.

(Author unknown)
There was a boy by the name of Steve who was attending school in Utah. Brother Christianson taught at this particular school. He had an open-door policy and would take in any student that had been thrown out of another class as long as they would abide by his rules.

Steve had been kicked out of his sixth period and no other teacher wanted him, so he went into Brother Christianson's class. Steve was told that he could not be late, so he arrived just seconds before the bell rang and he would sit in the very back of the room. He would also be the first to leave after the class was over.

One day, Brother Christianson asked Steve to stay after class so he could talk with him. After class, Bro. Christianson pulled Steve aside and said, "You think you're pretty tough, don't you?" Steve's answer was, "Yeah, I do."
Then Brother Christianson asked, "How many push-ups can you do?"
Steve said, "I do about 200 every night."
"200? That's pretty good, Steve," Brother Christianson said. "Do you think you could do 300?"
Steve replied, "I don't know... I've never done 300 at a time."
"Do you think you could?" again asked Brother Christianson.
"Well, I can try," said Steve.
"Can you do 300 in sets of 10? I need you to do 300 in sets of ten for this to work. Can you do it? I need you to tell me you can do it," Brother Christianson said.
Steve said, “Well... I think I can... yeah, I can do it."
Brother Christianson said, “Good! I need you to do this on Friday."

Friday came and Steve got to class early and sat in the front of the room. When class started, Brother Christianson pulled out a big box of donuts. Now these weren't the normal kinds of donuts, they were the extra fancy BIG kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was pretty excited-it was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get an early start on the weekend. Bro. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, "Cynthia, do you want a donut?"
Cynthia said, "Yes."
Bro. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, "Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?"
Steve said, "Sure," and jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Then Steve again sat in his desk.
Bro. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia's desk.
Bro. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, "Joe do you want a donut?"
Joe said, "Yes."
Bro. Christianson asked, "Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?" Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut.

And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut, and down the second aisle, till Bro. Christianson came to Scott. Scott was captain of the football team and center of the basketball team. He was very popular and never lacking for female companionship. When Bro. Christianson asked, "Scott do you want a donut?"
Scott's reply was, "Well, can I do my own pushups?"
Bro. Christianson said, "No, Steve has to do them."
Then Scott said, "Well, I don't want one then."
Bro. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, "Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn't want?"
Steve started to do ten pushups.
Scott said, "HEY! I said I didn't want one!"
Bro. Christianson said, "Look, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don't want it." And he put a donut on Scott's desk.

Now by this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. He just stayed on the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and down. You could start to see a little perspiration coming out around his brow. Bro. Christianson started down the third row.
Now the students were beginning to get a little angry.

Bro. Christianson asked Jenny, "Jenny, do you want a donut?"
Jenny said, "No."
Then Bro. Christianson asked Steve, "Steve, would you do ten pushups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn't want?"
Steve did ten, Jenny got a donut.

By now, the students were beginning to say "No" and there were all these uneaten donuts on the desks. Steve was also having to really put forth a lot of effort to get these pushups done for each donut. There began to be a small pool of sweat on the floor beneath his face, his arms and brow were beginning to get red because of the physical effort involved. Bro. Christianson asked Robert to watch Steve to make sure he did ten pushups in a set because he couldn't bear to watch all of Steve's work for all of those uneaten donuts. So Robert began to watch Steve closely. Bro. Christianson started down the fourth row.

During his class, however, some students had wandered in and sat along the heaters along the sides of the room. When Bro. Christianson realized this; he did a quick count and saw 34 students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it.

Bro. Christianson went on to the next person and the next and the next. Near the end of that row, Steve was really having a rough time. He was taking a lot more time to complete each set. Steve asked Bro. Christianson, "Do I have to make my nose touch on each one?" Bro. Christianson thought for a moment, "Well, they're your pushups. You can do them any way that you want." And Bro. Christianson went on.

A few moments later, Jason came to the room and was about to come in when all the students yelled, "NO! Don't come in! Stay out!"
Jason didn't know what was going on. Steve picked up his head and said, "No, let him come." Bro. Christianson said, "You realize that if Jason comes in you will have to do ten pushups for him."
Steve said, "Yes, let him come in."
Bro. Christianson said, "Okay, I'll let you get Jason's out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?"
"Steve, will you do ten pushups so that Jason can have a donut?" Steve did ten pushups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.

Bro. Christianson finished the fourth row, then started on those seated on the heaters. Steve's arms were now shaking with each pushup in a struggle to lift himself against the force of gravity. Sweat was dropping off of his face and, by this time, there was not a dry eye in the room.

The very last two girls in the room were cheerleaders and very popular. Bro. Christianson went to Linda, the second to last, and asked, "Linda, do you want a doughnut?”
Linda said, very sadly, "No, thank you."
Bro. Christianson asked Steve, "Steve, would you do ten pushups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn't want?" Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow pushups for Linda.
Then Bro. Christianson turned to the last girl, Susan. "Susan, do you want a donut?"
Susan, with tears flowing down her face, asked, "Bro. Christianson, can I help him?"
Bro. Christianson, with tears of his own, said, "No, he has to do it alone. Steve, would you do ten pushups so Susan can have a donut?"

As Steve very slowly finished his last pushup, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 pushups, his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.

Brother Christianson turned to the room and said. "And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, plead to the Father, "Into thy hands I commend my spirit."
With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, he collapsed on the cross and died.
And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten."

He is risen. He is risen indeed.
Happy Easter

John <><

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Trivia

According to Orthodox tradition...Mary Magdalene, a prominent follower of Jesus that was at the crucifixion, once had an audience with Caesar. She told him of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and presented him with an egg as a symbol of the new life that he could have in the risen Jesus. Caesar laughed and said that the chances of Jesus being raised from the dead were as likely as the egg in his hand turning red...and it did!

I don't know if the story is one of history or tradition...but it is a good story to be told while coloring eggs this year.

John <><

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Cookies

I wanted to share something with you...especially if you have kids. We can really get into the Easter Bunny and all of the candy and treats that the little critter brings into the house each year. Here is an Easter treat that you can use to tell the story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

EASTER COOKIES Make these the night before Easter. Preheat oven to 300 degrees first."Preheating" is important -- don't wait until the cookies are ready to go into the oven.

You will need:
1 cup whole pecans
1 tsp. vinegar
3 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
1 Ziploc bag
Wooden spoon
Scotch tape
Electric mixer
Baking sheet
Waxed paper

Place the pecans in a Ziploc bag and let the children beat them with the spoon until they are in small pieces. Explain that after Jesus was arrested, he was beaten by Roman soldiers. -- Read John 19: 1-3

Let each child smell the vinegar. Put 1 tsp. of vinegar in the mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was on the cross, He was thirsty and the soldiers gave him vinegar to drink. -- Read John 19: 28-30

Add egg whites to the vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain thatJesus gave his life for us. -- Read John 10: 10-11

Sprinkle a little salt into each child's hand. Let them taste the salt and brush the rest into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears that Jesus' followers shed and the bitterness of our own sin. – Read Luke 23: 27

Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died for us because He loves us. He wants us to know and belong to him. -- ReadPsalms 34:8 and John 3:16

Beat the ingredients on high speed for 12-15 minutes until stiff peaks form. Explain that the color white represents purity in God's eyes of those whose sins are cleansed by Jesus. -- Read Isaiah 1: 18 and John 3: 1-3

Fold in the broken nuts. Drop by rounded teaspoons on to waxed paper covered baking sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus was buried. -- Read Matthew 27: 57-60

Put the cookie sheet in the preheated oven, and turn the oven OFF. Give each child a piece of tape to seal the oven door shut. Explain that the tomb of Jesus was sealed. -- Read Matthew 27: 65-66

GO TO BED! Explain that they may be sad to leave the cookies in the oven over night. Jesus' followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed. -- Read John 16: 20 and 22

On Easter morning open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The Easter cookies are HOLLOW! On the first day of Easter, Jesus' followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty. JESUS HAS RISEN! -- Read Matthew 28: 1-9

I've never made these cookies. And I don't remember where I picked up this recipe. If you use it, please let me know how it goes!

John <><

Thursday, April 09, 2009

A Gift to You

I don't have much to post about tonight. It has been a violent night in the weather department with severe thunderstorms and some tornados making their way through the Ozarks.

We had a very nice Maundy Thursday service at church tonight and I don't a the mid-shift for a change on a Thursday night. It wil feel strange being at work on a day shift on Friday.

I wanted to share a couple of blogs with you (as if you don't have enough to read already). The first is one that I have been following for quite some time. The author is a free spirit living in South Africa. I can't really tell you why I like her blog, I'm just drawn to it. She has an easy way about her--a little sassy maybe, a little mischievious. She definitely has her opinions but isn't mean about posting them. I think that I would like her. The thought just occurred to me--I wonder if she would like me? No matter, we're half a world away. Check it out--I'm adding her to the Blogs I Frequent list under Inside Candy.

The second is a blog from a friend that has just started blogging. He's only made a few posts, but I have enjoyed reading them. I also like the title to his blog--Thoughts That Roll Around in My Head.

I hope that you enjoy them.

John <><

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Telling My Story: Part III--The Call

We moved to Waterloo Iowa in the early '90's. The para-church organization Promise Keepers was in its heyday. The men's group at the church that we were attending had sent a small group (about 35) to Kansas City's PK rally the year before. One of the men wanted to see a larger group go to the upcoming rally in Minneapolis for the coming spring. He put 50 tickets on his credit card and the pastor announced that there was a sign-up sheet in the foyer and that you could pay Dean for the tickets. I had never been to a PK rally, although they had been around for a couple of years.

The following Sunday, the pastor mentioned that the tickets were going fast and there was only one left. I got up from my seat, left the worship service and went out to the foyer to get the last available ticket--my ticket (later I would feel that God was saving that one for me!). That weekend really refocused my life. The rally itself was quite motivational, but it was the aftermath that really made the difference. We formed small accountability groups when we got back home. They were called triple-cords...from Ecclesiastes 4:12--"Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."

I'm still not sure how I ended up with the two guys that I did, but I couldn't have asked for a better triple-cord--one was our pastor, the other was the guy that had the faith to put 50 tickets on his credit card! The three of us met weekly. Some weeks I really wasn't looking forward to our get together. I knew that they were going to ask about my prayer time, my Bible reading, how my relationship with my wife and kids was going, what kind of an example I was setting at work...they were going to ask the hard questions that we should be asking ourselves--but don't. They were my own conscience on steroids.

But I grew.

My sentence in Waterloo only lasted four and a half years (the first winter in Iowa seemed to last four and a half years!). Then we moved to Ozark, MO. We found a home at Hopedale Baptist Church (that's a story all its own) and God continued to place men around me that would help me to grow in His wisdom and will. At an annual business meeting, Pastor Terry was looking back at where we had been, reminding us of how we arrived at where we were, and casting the vision for the future. He suggested that we each do the same type of annual review in our own spiritual lives.

That fall, I began to look for a personal ministry. I was already pretty involved in "church" life. I was a Sunday School teacher, a Deacon, I served on a couple of committees and was generally at church when something was going on. I was serving the church, but I wasn't certain that I was really serving God. As I looked around to see what others were doing in personal ministry, I noticed something that they had in common. They were all doing things that they loved and using those things to bring glory to God. Some were singers, singing praises to God. Some used their instruments or wrote music. There was a professional bass fisherman that went to churches teaching men to fish...and sharing his personal testimony. I began to look at the things that I liked to do and wondered how I might use these things to glorify God.

I had always had an interest in magic. I never went beyond learning a few effects to share with friends and family. Now I was looking at magic as a way to talk to people about Jesus. I began to take magic much more seriously...if you are doing something for the King of Kings, you want it to be your best! I practiced effects. I practiced performing. I read the Bible for the stories and lessons. I worked hard to make magic an effective ministry tool.

But something was still missing.

Have you ever made a deal with God? Looking back, I can see that magic was my deal with God. It was as if I was saying, "I'll do this, God. Just don't ask me to preach."

Preaching the Word of God; the office of an evangelist; that is my true calling. I feel incredibly blessed that God still lets me use magic and I still get to "play" in the ministry. (It is hard to call anything that is so much fun work.) I'm getting more and more calls for preaching and I really feel that God is moving me in that direction. I still get asked to use magic, but I am feeling less excited about it than I once was. The more I move toward sharing the message of Salvation, the less important the magic is. John the Baptist (the guy from the Bible, not me) said that He (Jesus) must increase and I (John the Baptist) must decrease. I sense that it is becoming the same with the magic part of my ministry. I recognize that is always going to be a tool that I have available...I just think that it will become something that is used less often in my work for the Kingdom.

What about you? Have you ever considered that God has been preparing you for a Kingdom Ministry? Have you ever thought that you are not serving Him the way that He has called you to service? Have you made your deal with God?

If you have a marker; an event that you can go back to in your memory, look back and see how far you've come. If you can't think of one, drop a stone today. Look back in a week and see if you've moved forward at all. Look again in a month, a year. Figure out what is helping you to grow and what is holding you back.

Or better yet, look ahead. Are you growing closer to God? The Apostle Paul says that we should forget the past--just keep moving forward!
Paul wrote, "...I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14.

Press on, readers. Press on. Move toward the high calling of Jesus.
Trust Him.
Embrace Him.
Walk with Him.

John <><

Monday, April 06, 2009

Telling My Story: Part II--growing up

So I find myself as a young man that had no real knowledge of the Bible. I knew some of the stories and I knew what it is about...but I had never actually read my Bible. This practice was not encouraged in the Catholic Church at that time. (I don't know if it is today or not.)

In any case, I was starved for some real knowledge and understanding of the Bible. I started to read. I remember spending a lot of time listening to Christian radio stations...not the ones that played music, the ones that have program after program of preaching. I was ashamed that young kids had Bible verses memorized and I didn't know even one from memory--not even John 3:16! I felt like I was so far behind and that I really needed to catch up on my Bible knowledge and on my understanding of who God really is. In many ways, God (as a personal God) was way different than the God that I had learned about in the Catholic church.

Chris and I joined a small church in Merrillville, Indiana. They had a men's discipleship study that I joined. One emphasis of the group was scripture memorization. This was the first scripture that they gave to all new members (and the very first verse of scripture that I ever memorized): "But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today, lest any of you become hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." Hebrews 3:13
It was a reminder that we need to encourage each other and a great verse to learn and understand the truth behind it.

Chris and I didn't stay there very long. We packed up our stuff and moved to St. Louis. We were young and foolish...we had the promise of jobs and a lease on an apartment. We didn't have any friends or family there...we just wanted to move to St. Louis. We found a great church home in South City--Christy Park General Baptist Church. It was a little bit odd that we didn't think much of the pastor. Our Sunday School class was great. The love of the people there was great. We felt like we belonged there. Eventually we had to ask the pastor to come visit us so that we could ask about joining the church.

It was at Christy Park that I really grew up as a Christian. I learned about loving and serving others. I learned about reaching out to unbelievers. I learned about personal discipleship and about teaching others. I met a man that would have a greater influence on my Christian development than any other. It was at Christy Park that God began to prepare me for a ministry that was still many years down the road.

After several years, a couple of job changes, buying a house and starting a family, life found us in Oklahoma City. I was trying to pass the screen to become an air traffic controller. Half of the 220 people that started went home without jobs. I had no choice but to pass. I had quit my job. We had a 2 1/2 year old and a newborn--and a house payment. It was the most stressful time of my life. I prayed--hard--everyday before I went to class. For twelve weeks I was focused on ATC. My baby girl didn't know me. She just cried whenever I would hold her.

That was 17 years ago. Today I'm counting down the days to retirement--2 yrs, 9 mos, 1 day!

I was assigned to a tower in Waterloo, Iowa. (yeah, I had to look on a map to find it, too) In Waterloo, I met a couple of guys that helped me continue to grow in faith. More about that in the next post.

John <><

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Telling My Story: Part I--the beginning

The problem in telling a story that covers a lifetime is in determining where to begin and just how to condense it so that it doesn't take a lifetime to read. Some of the stuff--like how cool my family is--I've already posted about in the past and so I won't say much in this post. Other stuff, though relevant to who I am and how I think, isn't really relevant to this particular part of the story. And yet other stuff, though very much a part of what I have become, is stuff that you just don't want or need to know.

If we take a look back to the end of the '70's, we find a young man that is struggling with the decision of whether or not to stay in school. I had already quit once (after the 1st semester of college) but was talked into staying another semester. After the 2nd semester (actually a few weeks before it ended), I quit for good. I gave up a full scholarship to a very good university and struck out on my own. (For anybody contemplating dropping out of college--don't. I've had a good life, to be sure, but it has been more difficult because of that decision.)

Work (Zales Jewelers) eventually took me to the Greater Chicago Area and I met the woman that would become my wife. (She was also working for Zales at the time.) Just after I turned 21, I got my own store (manager). Chris and I got married that fall and I left my job at Zales in November. I went to work for 84 Lumber and was a rising star in sales. I often led the store in sales for the month and was soon promoted to co-manager and assigned to a store in Northwest Indiana. At that store, I met a person that would change my life.

Hyles-Anderson College is located in Crown Point, Indiana. It is an independent and very fundamental Bible college. A student from the college worked part-time at the lumberyard. One day, David Presson, asked me this question: "If you were to die today, do you think that you would go to heaven?"

I grew up in the Catholic Church. I went to a Catholic grade school, served Mass, and was a part of a family that was active in the church. I already knew a lot about God, Jesus, heaven, hell and that kind of least I thought I did. I remember telling David that I would like to think that I'd go to heaven, but that I didn't think that there was any way to know for sure. I was under the impression that you have to be a good person to get into heaven.

David shared some verses out of the Bible with me. I didn't know it at the time, but I would become very familiar with those verses and the pathway known as The Roman Road. They are verses from Paul's Letter to the Romans that point out man's depravity, God's judgment, man's need for repentance and God's deliverance by grace through faith in Jesus.

I already knew (believed in my heart) that Jesus is the Son of God. I already believed that His death on the cross was to pay the price for the sin of mankind. I already knew that God raised Him from the dead and that it is in His death,burial and resurrection that we have the hope of eternal life. What I didn't know was that I was so close to the assurance of eternal life with Him and yet far enough away that I would be left behind unless I was willing to take one more step of faith.

What I didn't know was that His death was to pay the price for my sin. What I had failed to realize was that in His death, burial and resurrection I have the hope (the promise) of eternal life with Him. I still thought that I needed to do something to earn the right to enter into heaven. However the Bible teaches that I can never be good enough (perfect) to enter into heaven. I am a sinner. I have sinned and therefore cannot enter into heaven. But Jesus took on my sin. Jesus took on my punishment--my sentence of death. And Jesus, being God, conquered the grave and lives today...something that I could never do.

It wasn't hard for me to see that there was something that I needed to do about Jesus...but I needed some time to process this new information.

The following day was my day off. You might think that I had a reprieve and wouldn't have to address this decision about Jesus for a few days...not so. David knew the family living across the street from me...Phil Pins was also a student at Hyles-Anderson...and sent him over to talk to me. Phil asked if I had any questions. I really didn't. I knew that I had to make the decision to trust Jesus as my Lord and Savior. That afternoon, in the living room of our apartment in Crown Point, Indiana, I asked Jesus to be my Savior. I was baptized the following Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Hammond where Jack Hyles was pastor.

That is the beginning of my walk with God. There is much more to tell, but it can wait for another day, another post. Before I leave you today, I want you to walk with me along that Roman Road. I want to share with you the scriptures that helped to change my life. Maybe the Holy Spirit will speak through them to your heart.

Man's depravity: Romans 3:10 As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one;"
and Romans 3:23 ...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,...

God's Judgment: Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death,...

God's Grace: Romans 6:23 ...but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. And Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Man's repentance: Romans 10:9-10 That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

God's deliverance: Romans 10:13 ...for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Maybe there is something here that is speaking to your heart today. Maybe you've always thought that you could be good enough to get into heaven. You may have thought that you just needed to believe in God and go to church. Those are great ways to live...but they won't get you into heaven. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

If you would accept that truth today; if you believe it in your heart (as I did), you are half way to heaven! The only thing left for you to do is to confess it--say it with your mouth--"Jesus is Lord!" Tell a friend--Jesus is Lord! Tell me through comment or e-mail--or call me so that you can say it with your mouth--Jesus is Lord! Study His teachings. Become a disciple. Live like you have eternal life in heaven...because you do!

"Jesus is Lord!"

John <><

Friday, April 03, 2009

Remembering the Past

Today has been quite the day. I finished my work shift at 6:30 this morning. Since I knew that I had a 9 o'clock meeting, I figured that there wasn't any point in going to bed when I got home. I caught up on the blogs that I follow and headed to the title company to sign a few papers on behalf of our church. We (Hopedale Baptist Church) just purchased the lot and building adjacent to our current property. The purchase is a huge step of faith on the part of the church. Even in the poor economic times, we have such a need for more space to be able to reach out to the community around us. I truly believe that God will bless our faith and the work that is done to bring glory to His name. The 9000 square foot building (new) and the corner lot of prime commercial real estate certainly tests the will and resolve of the church. I know that as we are faithful to Him, so He is faithful to His people. It was a great way to start the day.

I managed a short nap (two hours) and then was up and off to another meeting. This meeting was with the young couple that will be getting married at the end of May. I'm not real sure how I ended up with the privilege of getting to perform the ceremony for them, but I am truly honored to be doing it. They are a great young couple and I am very excited for them. Ain't love grand? It doesn't seem like it could be more than 27 years that Chris and I were in their shoes.

I met my daughter at Starbuck's for an afternoon coffee and had dinner with my wife at the local Catholic Church's Lenten fish fry. Then Chris was off to church for the women's annual weekend conference and Hannah is downtown Springfield for the First Friday Art Walk. I have the house to myself. You might think that after only two hours sleep I'd be off to bed...but things happen when you're sleeping. I don't want to miss anything. So....

Tonight I spent some time getting reacquainted with a friend on Facebook. I am really enjoying the connections that I've been making. There have been a lot of years and lots of life lived since I have seen these old friends. Some has been grand; some has been very difficult. Many have been divorced, some have lost loved ones, some are dealing with cancer or other difficulties. I am encouraged by the faith in God that many seem willing to share openly. I enjoy hearing about their families almost as much as I enjoy telling them about mine.

Their stories remind me of the great blessings that I have been given. They connect me to the past and I remember the fun that we had in that small little town. I remember when we did the musical Li'l Abner in the eighth grade. We would walk home at night, a couple of miles--eighth graders! We would start out with a small group that got smaller as we passed each ones home. Mine was the farthest, just a little bit farther than my friend's. The two of us walked the last mile past the cornfields together. I can't imagine letting our kids make that walk today!

I also connected with an old neighbor through Again, life has a way of dealing out some good stuff and some tragic stuff.

Tonight, I am feeling blessed. I can't think of a single reason that God would choose to favor me with His blessings...but He has. I have a grand life! I love my family! We have fun. I love my church, my little town, my job and my call to ministry. I have the best friends and am remembering that it has always been that way. I pray that when the day comes that I have to face tragedy, I will face it as many of my friends have--with my faith in God steadfast and sure; with confidence that He will see me through; and with a story of hope to tell on the other side of whatever comes my way.

John <><

April Means Baseball

Well it has been weeks since I’ve written a real post. I’ve even been called out as a slacker blogger by a non-blogging friend!

And it’s not like there hasn’t been anything to blog about...the Obama budget, the GM firing of their CEO, the big international plan to save the worldwide economy. Face it—there is plenty to rant and rave about. I just haven’t really felt like it.

Oh, there were a few days when I was ready to blast all of those that were whining about the great debt that we would be in if the Obama budget passes—but I got over it. If their memories are so short that they have already forgotten how we arrived at this point of national bankruptcy, I doubt that I could say anything that would change their minds. Besides, I agree that we are handing a great debt to our kids and grandkids (and I hate it). It’s just that I didn’t hear them complaining about this great national debt during the previous eight years. All of a sudden it’s Obama’s fault.

At any rate, I’m glad that the faithful bloggers have kept everybody current on the great atrocities of life—not to mention the status of Idol, Dancing w/ Stars and other must watch TV.

To bring things back to the good life...Baseball season begins this weekend. If all of the plans hold up, I’ll be at two professional games before the month is over. Our church men’s night for April is a trip to the Springfield Cardinals (AA) game on the 23rd and I have to be in St. Louis on the 25th so I’ll do my best to catch the Cards/Cubs game while in town. I can already taste that Ballpark dog with the grilled onions, sauerkraut and mustard!

In order to keep this blog focused in the more important things of life, I’ll be posting my personal testimony in a few days. Some old friends have asked and I believe that it is important for us to remind ourselves of where we’ve been, where we are and where we are going. Our story is one that we should never tire of telling and one that continues to grow as we grow in our walk with God.

‘Til then...

John <><