Thursday, June 30, 2011

Half Past 2011

Wow! What has happened to the first half of 2011?
Actually, even though today marks the end of the first six months of the year, half way by number of days won't be for another day or so. Still -- the year seems to be flying by!

This will be my thirteenth post for the month of June; slightly off the 3 posts per week that I set as a writing goal. All-in-all, I'm happy with that. Vacation, camp, just being busy -- all are excuses that I've used, but still managed to post more than any month so far this year (and more than a third of this year's total posts).

I've noticed that more of my posts are centered around my spiritual beliefs and philosophy; less are about government, politics or general rants. There are still the occasional nobody-really-cares-about-my-personal-life-but-it's-my-blog kind of posts.  And of course, the rare post on magic, performing, etc. Out of My Hat has changed a bit over the past few years. It's still just a place for me to write. I certainly enjoy the wide readership that I have experienced over the years and look forward to your comments (so please leave them).  I never expected to have readers from around the globe and from so many different backgrounds.  As the regularity of my posts has declined, so has the overall readership. Thanks to the faithful that still stop by to see what's posted from time to time.

Somebody recently asked me if I'd done any more writing on my book (from my very first post).  The answer, of course, is no.  I have had some other ideas on books to be written, but none has managed to be more than that -- an idea.  It seems that I don't even have the time to record my random thoughts here. Where am I going to find the time to purposefully write a book?

I do have some new thoughts on blogging and will be asking what you think about them in the coming weeks.  If you read regularly and are on Facebook, I really appreciate it when you share a post that you like with your friends. There is a Facebook icon at the bottom of each post that makes it easy.  If you want to "friend" me and follow Out of My Hat from Facebook, you can do that here.  Please add a comment to your friend request to let me know that you're a blog reader so that I don't just ignore your request.  You can also add your name to the small list of followers about halfway down the right-side column.

I am looking forward to the second half of 2011.  I know that it will be filled with both challenges and opportunities (much like the first half was). I look forward to hearing from you in the remainder of the year and, as always, would enjoy the opportunity to meet you. If you are looking for a family getaway, Southwest Missouri has much to offer. Let me know if you're going to be in the neighborhood.

John <><

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bureaucratic Nonsense

Yesterday morning I was driving home after working the midnight shift and listening to the local NPR station.  They ran this story on the minting of one dollar coins and how the coins are piling up in vaults and going unused but are continuing to be minted because of a Congressional mandate.

Just as it takes forever for Congress to actually do anything; it apparently also takes Congress forever to stop doing something.  In spite of the fact that this program has no benefit and is costing both time and money, it continues because Congress set it in motion and there is no sensible force (since Congress is the only force) that can say, "Enough, already!"

It's lunacy at its finest.  Certainly, I'm not the only person that realizes that if you really want dollar coins to replace paper dollars, you might want to STOP PRINTING PAPER DOLLARS! Otherwise it's pretty much an exercise in futility (which is about as much exercise as some of us ever get!). 

Really it seems like a simple solution: either stop printing dollar bills and start distributing dollar coins or stop minting and storing dollar coins -- TODAY!  Why waste one more day? Why can't somebody in Congress just say, "Wow! That was one of our stupid decisions. Let's repeal it right away."  

No committee work. No debate. Just vote and be done with it.  Mint coins or print dollars, majority wins. Then move on to the next order of business.

Geez, no wonder we're so far in debt. Wasting money just seems to come naturally to our elected reprehensatives.

Sorry for the brief rant today.
I feel better.

John <><

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Love Wins

I just finished reading Rob Bell's controversial book Love Wins.  (Or maybe it would be more accurate to say I just finished reading the controversial Rob Bell's book, Love Wins.)

I know that I'm a few months behind the evangelical outrage over the book, but controversy doesn't always make me stop what I'm doing and get involved.  However, it often does compel me to read books that I would not normally read just to see what has everybody's panties in a wad.

As a book -- it was an easy read, though not necessarily a good read. I found his style to be a bit of organized chaos that seemed to be like conversing with a severely ADD person that managed to stay on the same topic but wanted to convince you of his opinion by using a hundred different arguments. I've never really minded somebody questioning my beliefs (and think that it's healthy to ask questions, myself), but Bell does seem to take it to the extreme.

Many of his questions are not new.  Even many of his answers are not new.  I think that his packaging of these ideas is new ... and confusing.

The book uses a lot of scripture in defense of his answers. He says a lot of the same things that mainstream evangelicals would say; but there is too much of Bell's thoughts mixed in with the biblical teaching to be acceptable for good theology.  I don't think that I would call him a universalist, actually I don't know how I would identify his theology. It is very confusing.

I am not much of a theologian and really not qualified to give a theological defense (for or against) of Love Wins.  If you are interested in a pretty thorough (and pretty long) review, I suggest you read this review from The Gospel Coalition.

In the end, we are all responsible for our own choices.  We can let others think for us or we can think for ourselves.  I don't think that I would put down Rob Bell for his thoughts. In fact, there is much in his book that I agree with.  Perhaps, that's the danger -- a little truth mixed with a lot of conjecture.  Where does truth end and conjecture begin?

Go ahead and borrow the book from your local library if you don't have anything else to read; but guard your heart. Any book that threatens what you hold dear should be read with caution.

I will say that he chose his title well.
After all, I do believe that:

God is Love
God wins
Love Wins

John <><

‎"Doubting everything and believing everything are equally convenient solutions that guard us from having to think."  --Henri Poincare, Of Science and Hypothesis

Monday, June 27, 2011

Time for a Break

Wow! Last week was a pretty busy week; too busy to be blogging.

Hopedale Kids' Camp was out on Monday. I was scheduled to work Tuesday but took the day off to have my knee looked at by one doctor and then had my annual flight physical by another doctor.  Tuesday night I was in Branson for the Missouri Baptist Pastor's Conference (MB125) to entertain the pastors and their families.  I finished out the work week and after getting off of work at 6:30 Saturday morning, Chris and I made the trip to Hillsboro MO for her dad's wedding.

The best part of the trip was getting to spend some time with Aaron and Jenny. We also got to see some of Chris' family that we seldom get to see.  Aaron's friend, Matias, was in the area, so we got to spend some time visiting with him, too. The visit was a short one and we were headed back home by 10 am Sunday morning.

I was home for about 45 minutes (enough time to shower, change and pack up my magic show) before I was on the road again to the First Baptist Church of Laurie MO for their VBS Kick-off.  By the time I got home at 9:15 pm, I figured that I'd spent about 15 of the last 37 hours in a car.  It almost makes me glad to go back to work ... almost!

So those are my excuses for not blogging last week.  I did get a little bit of reading done and I'll share those books and thoughts when I finish the second and find the time to write.  I don't think that this week will be quite so busy.

John <><

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Morning thoughts

It's Tuesday morning on the day after Hopedale's kids' camp. It's also the first day of summer.  Just some random thoughts from this morning as I enjoy some espresso from my recently acquired stove top espresso maker. (Thanks, Chris!)

Camp was pretty awesome. It was interesting to watch things unfold and find that our plan for camp and God's plan for camp weren't exactly the same.  It almost seemed as if God was a little impatient this year (no disrespect intended--just an observation).  Normally, the lessons and worship time messages build up to an evangelical message and an invitation to make a decision to follow Jesus towards the end of camp.  This year, there were nine decisions made on the very first night of camp!  And more were made at each of the worship times that followed!

We were blessed with many first time campers and several first time adult helpers, too.  I hope that they all had a great time and will make plans to return next year.

Children's camps always have their downside for me. There are so many kids that come to these camps that have terrible home lives.  Sometimes it manifests itself through bad behavior or attention getting means.  Most of the time we see it through their response to a few people that are willing to just love them for the weekend that we have them.  It is easy to see that some of them rarely (if ever) have anything positive said about them or to them. It appears that many never have positive physical contact like a simple hug. One child said that he was sent to camp as a punishment and doesn't want his mom to know that he had a great time so that he can come back next year.  Each year, there are kids that seem very upset that camp has to come to an end and wish that they could stay.  For some, it's just a normal response to a fun weekend that comes to an end.  For others, it's a very sad moment when they realize that this fun time is over all too soon and it's time to go back their crappy life.

I'm glad that we have the opportunity to share a little bit of God's love with them. But I also fear that it's very difficult for a child to believe that God loves them when they live a life that is absent of love.  It almost makes me want to ... well, it just makes me angry. How can parents not see the hurt in the eyes of their kids?

And, although I trust that God knows what He's doing, sometimes I have to wonder -- How is this child's pain going to bring glory to you?  Questioning God's motives or methods isn't meant to make God look like the bad guy; it just shows that I really have no idea of how He works, how He thinks or how He loves.

Wish I had time to share more, but life calls ...

John <><

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Just a quick note to say that we had an awesome first day at Hopedale's Kids' Camp. The weather was great; the kids were great; everything went well in spite of a few minor setbacks.

I am looking forward to the rest of the weekend and can't wait to see all that God has planned for us. Several kids have already made commitments to follow Jesus.

Expect a full report when camp is over and I'm not using my cell phone to type.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Starting the Day

It looks like it's going to be another beautiful day in the Ozarks today.  It's not often that Chris and I work the same schedule and are able to car pool, but this is the second day this week. I suppose the fact that I haven't traded into the additional mid-shifts this week has something to do with it.

I have a little bit of additional time this morning while Chris is getting ready, so I thought I push out a few words on Out of My Hat.

Tomorrow is the first day of Hopedale's Children's Camp. As of last night, we have 71 kids signed up! I'm not sure of the number of adults, but I do know that there are several first time adult helpers coming this year. Even though I'm not completely ready for camp, I'm really looking forward to it this year.  There is just something about the way the Holy Spirit has been moving at Hopedale recently that makes my expectations of camp ... well, it's hard to put into words--exciting doesn't seem to get it. There is just an anticipation of something great and I can't wait to see what happens.


I joined the small group study on David Platt's Radical last night.  It's a killer book but I'm not sure how I feel about it as a group study, especially one that has so many people in it.  It's really the kind of book that you have to close the door and take your spiritual beating in private. It's the kind that forces you to ask God questions about your own spiritual growth and there really is no way for somebody else to help you with the answers.  That said, it was a good class.

Reading through the 100+ year old book In His Steps is like reading through the 1897 version of Platt's book.  It's like a century old version of the struggle of Christians to impact their world with the Gospel the way that Jesus meant for the church to impact the world.

Both books get my recommendation for a good Christian growth book.  Check them out.

Time to finish getting ready.

John <><

Monday, June 13, 2011


Friday is the start of our Hopedale Baptist Church Kids' Camp.  Our theme this year is about the priorities of the heart.

In examining the theme and preparing the messages for the kids, I can't help looking at the priorities of my own heart with a critical eye. Perhaps they are in need of some adjustment.  Certainly, one has to begin with the question, "What is the priority of my heart?"

As a follower of Jesus, I think of the lawyer that approached Jesus to inquire about the greatest law (there were over 600 laws according to the Jewish tradition).  Jesus responded by saying, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. and the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."  

There are many of us that say we are Christians; followers of Jesus, but how many of us are really His disciples?  How many of us are students of His teachings?  Isn't that what it means to be a Christian?  How can we follow the Great Commission command of "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" if we haven't studied the things that He has commanded us?

Paul wrote that he wanted to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection; to share in His suffering; to become like Him in His death (completely submissive to the Father). I think that this is the mark of a true disciple--to want to know Jesus; to want to know how He lived and what He taught ... and how He died.  And to understand the power of the resurrection that we might also experience eternal life through Jesus.

In the end, I have to ask myself, "Is following Jesus the priority of my heart?"  And if it's not, then what is?  Am I more concerned with the things that I want for myself? Or the things that the world tells me that I should strive for?  Am I driven by peer pressure and motivated by money and the comfort that it buys?  Do the cares  and worries of everyday life have a greater influence on my decisions than the teachings of Jesus?

Really...what is the priority of my heart?

At the suggestion of a preacher friend, I've started reading the book In His Steps by Charles M Sheldon. The book was first published in 1897 and has sold more than 30 million (yes, that's more than 30,000,000) copies.  I'm sure that countless others have read the book by borrowing from friends, the library or reading it for free online (as I am). It is the book that may have inspired the widely used question, "What Would Jesus Do?" (WWJD)

I'm only a few chapters into the book but can already see the struggles faced by those that choose to live by Jesus' principles in a capitalistic society. I haven't yet reached the part about the blessings received (I am assuming this part is to come) from following Jesus.  If you would like to read this book and don't mind online reading, you can find it here.

So, what are your priorities?
God, family, country?
Is it important that we list our priorities?
Or is it possible that we could just focus on one thing?

What if our only priority--our only concern--is a right relationship with God through Jesus?  Wouldn't everything else fall into its proper place?

If our relationship with God is right, then we can't be a poor spouse or a lousy parent; the nature of our relationship with God won't allow it.
If our relationship with God is right, then we can't be a poor employee or an over-bearing employer; the nature of our relationship with God won't allow it.
If our relationship with God is right, then we can't be a rebellious child, a cranky neighbor, a self-centered citizen, a complainer, gossip, trouble maker or just a grouchy person; the nature of our relationship with God won't allow it.

If our relationship with God is right, then everything else does fall into its proper place.

I hope that you'll excuse me, now.
I have some relationship work to tend to.

John <><

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Purpose Driven: Thinking Out Loud (so to speak)

In Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Church, he identifies five purposes of the church: worship, discipleship, ministry, fellowship and evangelism.

I was thinking of these purposes and how they fit into our local church (Hopedale Baptist) in particular and most churches, in general.  I found that we (Hopedale) are doing three of the five well (worship, discipleship, fellowship), one that we're working on (ministry) and one that seems to have been set aside (evangelism).

Let me say a few things about my observations:
I make these statements looking at the church addressing each of these purposes corporately.

We worship well as a church body.  I really love the spirit of worship that is found at my church.  I know that our Heritage service is not for everybody and I know that some don't care for the music of the Neos service.  I am at both services on most Sundays (that I'm home) and really enjoy both of them.

Our Adult Bible Study programs on Sunday morning and Wednesday night are designed to help a person develop and grow in their Christian knowledge and faith.  Our AWANA program, Sunday School and Children's Church are teaching our kids about the Bible and the Christian way of life. I think that as a body, we are doing discipleship well.

When it comes to fellowship--well, I just like hanging out with my Hopedale friends. Large groups, small groups, or individuals; I really like being with these people.  Sure, we could do more in promoting 'out of church' get togethers, but the times that we are together for fun are ... well, fun.

I think that we are really beginning to develop into a ministry minded church.  I see evidence of our looking outward towards people in need more every day. This pleases me.  And I believe that it pleases God, too!

Corporately, we are working on these four of the five purposes quite well.

However, (with the exception of AWANA) we are doing little in the way of corporate evangelism.  For the most part, we seem happy to leave that to the paid staff; the clergy; the professionals.  While individuals develop relationships with non-believers, we rarely take it to the point of sharing our faith and often feel ill equipped to do so.  I think that we were really working on good corporate evangelism several years ago when we were using FAITH.  We were encouraging, teaching and providing the opportunity for many members to tell others about their faith in God.  But, like most 'programs', it ran it's course, got old, and was replaced by something newer and less effective.

What would it look like if a church was to be purposeful about corporate evangelism?  How would you go about encouraging every believer to tell the story of God's great love and saving grace?
I know that we say that's what we do--encourage individuals to share their faith. But what if we got serious about it and really encouraged, equipped and helped them to share their faith?  What if we quit using worship as a tool for evangelism (you know that's what we do) and just let it be worship, but used everything else (discipleship, ministry, fellowship) as tools for evangelism?

What if we became purposeful about evangelism?

John <><

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Kids Against Hunger

This morning several of the kids from our youth group and four adults joined with a few other people to package dried food packages to be sent overseas. We met at the Springfield Kids Against Hunger facility and worked for just under two hours.

Each package of dried food contains rice, soy protein, dehydrated vegetables and a vitamin packet. We were told that each package would make six meals, although it seemed more like it would make six side servings to our normal American size meals.  A 'meal' (a single serving) is just under 230 calories. (A McDonald's McDouble is 390 calories.)  

I almost talked myself out of going this morning. I was pretty wiped out after working the mid-shift. I'm glad that I went. I enjoyed the work and the conversation with our Jr High boys' teacher. At the end of our two hours, we had boxed up enough product to supply 6,264 meals. I'd say it was a pretty productive couple of hours.

We bought enough product so that we could prepare it for our youth Sunday School class tomorrow and let each of them have a 'meal' tomorrow morning. It is a great reminder of how abundant our blessings really are.

John <><

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tell Your Story

You have a story. Tell it!

John <><

And the Fun Begins...

Last night was a grand evening at Baptist Hill Camp in Mt. Vernon MO.  This was the first time in several years that I was not at the Tri-County Baptist Association Children's Camp for the entire week.  By all accounts, they had a great week.

I feel very blessed to have been invited to share the Gospel on the closing night of camp.  I don't know what happened earlier in the week, but I do know that there were several kids and one parent that committed to become followers of Jesus last night. I know that the kids got to hear testimonies from the college students and workers about what Jesus means to them and that has a far greater impact than anything that I might do or say.  I am so impressed by students that give their summers to minister to kids and serve in His Kingdom.

Next weekend is Hopedale's kids' camp.  They keep asking me back as camp pastor and I keep having as much fun as any of the kids.  The advantage for me is that while the kids are limited to few years from second to sixth grade, I've been there long enough that the kids that were there my first year are already in college!

Officially, summer doesn't begin for another ten or eleven days -- but it looks like it's going to be a great one!

John <><

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Back to real Life ...

I have a few moments this afternoon so I thought I'd write a few words about our vacation.

Chris and I had a wonderful time. It was our first trip to Mazatlan, Mexico and our first vacation without kids in a very   l   o   n   g   time.

Honestly, part of vacationing in Mexico always bums me out a little bit. So much of the country is very poor.  Even in the resort areas, evidence of the poverty is all around you. Having said that, I am even more thankful for the many blessing that I have.

We spent more time at the hotel than we have in the past.  Most of our time was spent in the pool with our new friends from Canada. It seems that Canada supplies Mazatlan with most of its tourist money with the USA falling in at third behind Canada and Mexico.  I only met four -- count 'em, four -- other English speaking tourists from the US and the rest of them were from Canada.

Notes about Canadians:

I think that it's common knowledge that 'eh?' is an all purpose ending to just about any Canadian sentence, eh?  What I didn't know is that 'yeah, yeah, yeah' is a common beginning phrase when conversing with our friends from the north.  It's not the same slow 'Yeah,    yeah,    yeah' that you might hear from a US native--you know the kind that really means "Whatever! I'm not really paying attention to you and I have something of real value to add to the conversation."  It's said very quickly; like a single word--yeahyeahyeah, and is a way of agreeing with what you just said before continuing with their contribution to the conversation.

We've been to Mexico during the World Cup and everything really slowed down when Mexico was playing.  Large screen projectors were set up for watching the games (along with the snack bar and drink bar) and hotel employees went out of their way to slowly walk past that area and get a glimpse of the game.
This week was Canada's version of soccer's World Cup--the Stanley Cup.  And true to their national sport, they tracked down a small sports bar that showed the hockey games so that they didn't have to miss a single minute of ice time.

Chris learned that it's best to be careful when saying something funny to a Canadian. One of our new found friends spewed a mouthful of drink right back into Chris' face one afternoon.  Another Canadian just nodded her head and said, "That's the problem with telling a joke to a Canadian -- they're always drinking!"

We talked about family, work, travel, food, weather and life.  We shared our experiences on day trips into town, island excursions, horseback riding, fishing trips and restaurants. We ate together, watched the evening entertainment together and laughed together.  We exchanged e-mail address and parted with a hope that we might meet on vacation another time.

All-in-all, a good week!

Now it's back to work and back to fun. I'm getting ready to head out to a kid's camp where I get to have a little fun with magic and sharing of the Gospel story. Then I'm off to work for another mid-shift.

God is great.
Life is good.

John <><