Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Giving Thanks: Part 3

It's the end of November and time for Part 3 -- #21-30.

In these last ten items of thanks, you will find some more materialistic items of thanks. It may seem shallow, but they are things that do make life easier and for which I give thanks.

21. The internet (Thank you, Al Gore!). I use today's technology far less than most, but I really do enjoy the access to knowledge and information available on the 'net.

22. Cell phones. Same as above. I don't have a 'smart' phone. It's not exactly a 'dumb' phone, but it is primarily just a phone for talking and texting. I do realize that they are both a blessing and a curse, but at least we have some control over how much of a blessing or curse they are.

23. Books. I haven't read as much in recent weeks as I would like, but I am thankful for books. The sharing of knowledge, ideas or stories through books is just awesome.

24. 2011. I am so happy that I live in the 21st century. 125 years ago, it would have taken all day to travel the distance that I drive to work each day. I have gas heat, reliable electric service, hot and cold running water and indoor plumbing. I know that these things are hardly noteworthy in the US, but still unavailable in much of the world today.

25. Music. I am not a musician. I am not a singer. I am not even a great lover of music. But I do appreciate all kinds of music from classical to classic rock and pretty much any other genre. Music can change your mood. It can amp you up or calm you down. And it can just help pass the time on a long drive.

26. Quiet time. I like a few moments of quiet time with a good cup of coffee. Thankfully, I get this on most days.

27. Food. I'm not just talking about having enough food; I'm talking about good food. I do need to learn to moderate my appreciation and enjoy the good taste without over indulging...working on it.

28. Baseball. While I enjoy following the game, there is nothing like the experience of a day at the ballpark and no hotdog that can rival a ballpark hotdog.

These last two bring me back to the beginning.

29. Freedom. The freedom to write, to speak, to worship, to buy, to vote, to travel and so many others.

And finally...

30. Once again, I am grateful to God and for God. This is not a cop out by reusing my first thing. It is an emphatic statement that He is the beginning and the end. Above all things, before all things, during all things, after all things--He is! Without Him, none of these other things have any meaning or purpose.

Merry Christmas.
Enjoy December.
Finish well in 2011.

John <><

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Giving Thanks: Part 2

It's the day after Black Friday and I've slept a couple of hours after having worked the mid. I've had a couple cups of coffee and am getting ready to pour a third. Time to begin writing part two of the thankfulness list:

11. Chillicothe, IL. I grew up in a small town in Central Illinois. Some would say that it's just like any other small town in the Midwest. What makes Chillicothe different from the thousands of other small towns is that Chillicothe is home. We played Little League baseball and anybody that wanted to play got to play. After the games, the winners would pile into the coach's pickup truck or station wagon and meet at the A&W for a celebratory root beer. When there wasn't a league game, we met at the park or at a field and played a pick-up game. We rode our bikes all over town, met at the Chilli Bowl for an order of fries or at St. Ed's for a game of HORSE at the basketball courts. There was a comfort to living in a small town. Even though I am grateful for my small town heritage, I am also happy to have moved on.

12. Ozark, MO. I have come full circle. When I quit college many years ago, I made the statement, "Chillicothe is a great town to grow up in and a great place to raise your family; but I'm all grown up (I wasn't) and I'm not ready to raise a family." I stayed in New Orleans and after a couple of moves, ended up in the Chicago area. When our kids were still young, we moved to another Midwestern small town--Ozark. Aaron has already moved to Chicago and I fully expect Hannah to move away from her small town home at a future date, too. I hope that they will value their small town upbringing and raise their families with the values that were a part of their early lives.

13. Diversity. In between living in Chillicothe and moving to Ozark (15 years ago), we have lived in a number of other towns and cities--a few months in New Orleans (after dropping out of Tulane), the greater Chicago area, St. Louis, a few months in Oklahoma City (while at the FAA Academy) and a couple of smaller towns. In spite of the fact that our kids haven't been exposed to a great deal of diversity in our home community, they have turned out to have very few prejudices and are interested in the cultural backgrounds of the people they encounter in school, work, church and other areas of their lives. I believe that they are certain of their own beliefs and feel comfortable sharing their beliefs. And they are also comfortable and interested in the beliefs and philosophies of other cultures.

14. Prosperity. Money and material things may seem out of place in a list of things that are more focused on the intangibles of life. However, I am very much aware of fact that there are many people in my own community that live in need...every single day. Our home is a modest one. There is nothing notable about any of our cars (other than the fact that I own three of them, two with 150,000+ miles). We don't own a boat, an RV or a vacation home. We share a laptop computer, have only the most basic cable service and live in the technological dark ages without a smart phone, iPad, iPod, x-box, PS, Wii, DVR or any of the other digital toys that many of you own. My home is warm. My freezer and pantry are well stocked. My gas tank is full and will get me to work next week. I am not wealthy by any means. I fit into the 99% when measured against the wealthiest of this country. But I also know that the simple fact that I have a home, multiple cars, a job and more food than I need places me closer to the 1% when measured against the poverty of much of the world.

15. Living in the USA. I really don't know what I can add to that. I know that our current gang of elected officials make it difficult to give our government any kind of positive credibility, but we have the power to change that. I love my country and am proud those that serve to guard our freedoms. I have to say that I am disappointed that there haven't been more citizens to stand up and support the nation's public employees when it has become popular to characterize us as overpaid, under-worked, self-serving, incompetent people. Ohio came through in a recent election and perhaps we would see more support at the polls for future votes. Occupy Wall Street has been the movement for this fall. I hope that Occupy the Voting Booth will be the movement for next fall. In the words of the Branson comedian Yakov, "WHAT A COUNTRY!"

16. Health. I can honestly say that any health issues that I have are self-inflicted. It is said that knowledge is power--unless, of course, you choose to ignore what you know. I am thankful that I have accessible healthcare and that I have insurance to guard against a major expenditure.

17. Knowledge. I'd put "education" but my formal education is pretty non-existent. As a young man, I dropped out of school and began to make my way in the work world. I wouldn't recommend this to others, but it has turned out quite well for me. I've been blessed with a desire to know and I enjoy reading. The two have worked together to help me learn much in spite of the lack of formal education. I was very proud of Chris when she made her way back to school and am proud of my kids for their pursuit of formal education. I have come to value education more than I once thought I would and chalk that up to the foolishness of youth.

18. Along with education, I have to put teachers. I have had some really good ones; so have my kids. Recent governmental policies have painted teachers (especially Union teachers) as overpaid and spoiled rotten public employees. I think that this is shameful. Not only have we taken away the tools that they often need to be successful in the classrooms, we have made education into a business of being able to pass state tests (to get more funding) rather than teaching our kids the joys of learning. To all of my teachers that have loved teaching, "Thank you!"

19. Friends. Maybe it's just a guy thing, but I have few people that I would put in the category of close friends. Over the years, there have been just a handful that I would feel comfortable calling on at any time, for any reason. On the other hand, I have so many that are much more than acquaintances and enrich my life in so many ways. I work with great people. My church family is awesome. My extended networks through both work and ministry have put me in touch with people from all over that encourage and inspire me by the way they deal with life on a daily basis. Of course, some are closer than others and all for different reasons and in different ways. The common ground that I share with each of my friends varies greatly and really do cherish my relationship with each of you.

20. Extended family. I grew up knowing my cousins (on Dad's side of the family). We got together often and always seemed to along well. I wish that my kids were able to see their cousins as often as I saw mine. I am enjoying reconnecting with many of them through Facebook and even meeting some of my cousins from my Mom's side. I never thought of my cousins as being way older than me, but since most of them have grandkids now, I guess they must be! It's been a very long time since I've seen most of my extended family. I managed to see some this past summer and hope to see more of you soon. growing up with you guys was great!

Well, that's 11-20. 21-30 will becoming soon, hopefully before the end of the month.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

Since the beginning of the month, many of my Facebook friends have been posting some of the many things that they have to be thankful for--one each day.

I didn't take me long to decide that this was one of the many Facebook trends that I would choose not to participate in. It's not that I don't have much to give thanks for; I just don't like to conform to the crowds and I figured that I'd mess up and miss somewhere along the way. Maybe it's the easy way out to write a single post and name 30 things that I have and am extremely grateful for.

1. Not only am I grateful for my God, I am grateful to my God. While I can't imagine why, I truly believe that I have found favor in His eyes and He has blessed me beyond what I can imagine and far, far greater than what I could possibly deserve. While there are many that might say the following things are merely coincidence, I choose to believe that they are the abundant blessings of a mighty God. Would He still be my God if I lived in poverty? If I was homeless or unemployed? If I was sick or in poor health? Yes, He would. The blessing of eternal life through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son is more than I could ever earn or deserve. Even the gift of my life, my ministry, my love, could never repay my God for what He has done for me. I am thankful for The Gift.

2. Chris. A life long blessing. We have spent most of our lives together. We laugh together--a lot. We are very different people. She tends to stay in the background; I'm generally in the middle of things. She is more organized; me--not so much. She is the saver; I am the spender. She knows the artist and year for most popular songs from the 60s until today; I surprise her if I know that it was Michael Jackson that recorded "Beat It." She is my friend, my partner, my wife. For more than thirty years, I have thought of her, spoken to her, and loved her--every day. I can't begin to imagine what life would have been like without her. She is the best part of us.

Together, Chris and I have raised two incredible kids.

3. Aaron. I miss him. Oh, I talk to him often and share texts or tweets, too. But I miss him. I miss going to a ballgame or out to watch a UFC Fight night. I miss beating him in a game of Scrabble (and wouldn't even mind the occasional loss just to be able to play a game). I am very proud of the man that he has become and is becoming. I think that he has a wonderful wife and I miss her, too. I am disappointed that he married a Cub fan, but it seems to be her only glaring fault so we have gladly welcomed her into the family and are praying for her conversion. Jenny and Aaron just seem to belong together. I am looking forward to seeing them over the Christmas holidays.

4. Hannah. My very independent daughter. She is a great young woman! I remember the day I took the training wheels off of her bicycle. We didn't see her for the rest of the day (except for the occasional ride past the house). We lived on a 1/4 mile long cul de sac with only ten homes. The neighborhood kids pretty much spent the day outside moving from one house to the next. At the end of the day, I remember telling Chris, "When she gets her driver's license, we'll never see her!" It's pretty much turned out that way. Hannah has school planned out to graduate a semester early. She is working and earning scholarships to minimize her post-graduation debt. She is outspoken, hates prejudice, has little tolerance for incompetence but is as loyal as they come to her closest friends. I'm looking forward to watching her as she continues to mature. I wish there were more days to share a cup of coffee with her. I miss those days during the school year and am grateful that she's planning on spending the summer at home.

5. Jenny. I couldn't have picked a better daughter-in-law. She loves my son and he loves her. She is smart, hard working and pretty, too. I remember one of Hannah's classmates telling Aaron, "You're so lucky. Your girlfriend is smart and good looking!" Jenny is Aaron's partner in ministry and is looking forward to being a pastor's wife. Each time that we get to see her and hear of her work and career as a young engineer, I am so proud of her. She has become more assertive and is making her way in the world.  I just wished that they lived closer.

6. Mom and Dad. I could put this as two separate things, but the truth is that they belong together. They are "Mom and Dad" not "Mom" and "Dad." To family, they are "Jerry and Bebe" (that's two syllables -- short e sound -- be be). I have no idea how they managed to raise six kids that are all pretty fantastic people. Since I've written about us before, I won't go on and on again. But before the rest of my family, "Mom and Dad" rate a top spot in the thankful for these things list.

7. The rest of the Hill Clan. I could finish out the thirty things by naming everybody one at a time, but I won't. I won't even go on and on about how great my family really is. (I actually doubt that many have stayed to read this far). I'll just direct you to a previous post if you want to know about us.

8. My church family. Hopedale Baptist Church. I love this place. God truly answered our prayers when we asked Him to direct us to a church that would become our home. We prayed for a place that would love our kids and would be a place that our kids would want to was. We prayed for a place that would minister to us and provide a place where we could minister to has been that. We prayed for a place where we would make close Christian friends that we could share our lives with--both in church and away from the church...and Hopedale has done that, too.

9. My ministry call. I really have a hard time believing that I get to do something as fun as magic and call it ministry. It seems like ministry should be harder and require greater sacrifice. I know that sometimes it is long hours on the road without a lot of sleep. I know that it takes time away from my family and often cost in other ways, as well. But I cannot even begin to describe the high that comes from being a witness to somebody giving their life to Jesus. Though I've never kept a count, I know that over the past decade or so, I have witnessed more than a thousand souls come to know Jesus as their Savior! After a night like last Sunday when five college student made professions of faith in Jesus, one doesn't need a 5-hour energy shot to make it home at 1am; the energy and excitement of the evening is enough to get me home and pumped up for the next outing.

10. ATC. What a blessing my career has been. It has provided for my family quite well. It allowed us to choose to have Chris be a stay at home mom. I know that not everybody has that choice. And I know that not everybody that has the choice, chooses that option. I'm glad that we did. Chris is a great mom. While we never home schooled our kids, both Aaron and Hannah were reading and doing basic math long before they were in school. Through NATCA, I have met and made friends with a very diverse group of people from around the country. In spite of the things that you have heard in the press, trust me--these are the people that you want guiding your flights. They are the best in the world at what we do.

At just 10, I can see that this is a long post. I'm going to leave it at ten for now and post another 10 in a few days. As a bonus, I'll leave you a link for an article that will comfort you as you travel over the holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving!
John <><

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rejoicing in the Victories; Weeping for the Wounded; Longing for the Lost

I've had a pretty fantastic fall season as far as ministry goes. I've been blessed with great opportunities, great audiences and great responses to the callings of the Holy Spirit. This past weekend found me in Trenton MO for two magic events and one Sunday morning message. Friday night was a youth rally; Sunday night a college Thanksgiving dinner.

I recently wrote about celebrating our victories, so I wanted to share some things with you.

The youth rally was sparsely attended but it is a ministry that is just getting started and is in a building phase. Even so, there were several kids that brought their friends and some (6) that responded to the message of salvation through our Lord and Savior, Jesus. I'm extremely grateful for the adults that are working to build an associational youth ministry and provide activities that kids and their friends can enjoy and know that there are people and a God that love them dearly.

The Sunday night Thanksgiving dinner at North Central Missouri College is a very interesting venue. NCMC is a two year college that has limited on campus housing. As with most two-year colleges, the majority of the students live in the area and commute daily.  However, NCMC also has students that are from distant areas of Missouri and even some from out of state. These students live in campus housing. Every Sunday night, volunteers from the local Southern Baptist association prepare a meal that on campus students can enjoy--free of charge! As such, there are followers of Jesus that come, and there are many that are not followers that come. The meal is free. The love is free. There is no condition that you have to stay and listen to somebody preach, nor is there any kind of requirement to make any false promise or claim that you share a common belief. Just being hungry is enough to get you in and get you fed.

For the Thanksgiving feast there was turkey, ham, roast beef, beef and noodles, and chicken and noodles. There were mashed potatoes, stuffing, salads, dinner rolls and a great number of pies, cakes and other desserts. When every body had their fill, plastic containers were handed out to the students that wanted to take some food with them for a late night snack.  I had some fun sharing some close-up magic with some of the students before dinner and then had an after dinner show and also talked to them about my Savior. There were 60+ students that came for dinner and five that made first time professions of faith. I know that the volunteers that work with them weekly will be following up to help these young men and women grow in their faith and walk with Jesus.

In between these two events, I got to share a Sunday morning message with the fellowship at Coon Creek Baptist Church. They were a warm group of people and were generous in their blessing.

I wish that I could say that all is well in the churches of our God. Unfortunately, I am still hearing the stories of those that have left the church; left religion; and left God because of the human failings and judgments of those that claim to follow Him. My heart breaks for those that have forsaken God because of the way that we (the church) have failed them. I hope that they can find it in their hearts to forgive us and that they can love us and love God with the love that they expect from God and deserve from those that claim to follow Him.

Several years ago, I heard this statement from a woman in our Sunday school class:
"If you're willing to let a hypocrite come between you and God, then you must also realize that the hypocrite is closer to God than you are."

Followers of Jesus are far from perfect. We still need forgiveness, too. I firmly believe that my church is unlike most churches when it comes to that. I'm not saying that you won't run into those that harshly judge others and appear to be self-righteous and better than most other Christians. We have a few of those, to be sure. But for the great majority, we are a loving family of believers and would welcome you into our fellowship.  Others that have been hurt by fellow believers are healing and growing in a new found relationship with Jesus.

As an evangelist, I get to visit many churches...
...and there is no place like Home. I truly enjoy my calling to go and preach at every opportunity. But I miss my Hopedale family when I am gone. I had a recent opportunity to query another evangelist that was visiting my church. I asked him what he thought of my church. He responded by saying, "I can see why you love this church!"

Made me so proud of my church family!

Sunday morning, the pastor of the Coon Creek church challenged members to come on Sunday night to pray for the lost. I thank God that there is a growing concern for the lost in our community among the members at Hopedale. More and more, we are seeing people move the focus of ministry away from ourselves and onto those that are separated from God by their sin and by their choice.

As followers of Jesus, we do need to rejoice in the daily victories.
As followers of Jesus, we do need to weep for and work to restore the ones that have been hurt by religion.
As followers of Jesus, we do need to long for those that Jesus came to save. We need to bring the message of love and salvation to a lost and dying world. We need to share His story.

John <><

Monday, November 14, 2011


It seems to me that it is so much easier to give criticism than it is to give praise.  I'm not certain if it is because we're afraid that if we give away something good it diminishes us or if we feel that we would rather tear others down and make ourselves look better.

I'm not talking about politicians. I'm talking people like you and me.

Yeah, I'm guilty. I try not to be too negative or judgmental, but it happens. I have had friends that have called me on it and it's not an easy pill to swallow. Sometimes I see it myself, but by then it's too late. I've already done the dreaded deed.

I think that Christians are often critical of one another to the detriment of all believers. One area of criticism comes from expecting all followers of Jesus to act at or above our level of Christian maturity. We often fail to make allowances for others to grow in their faith and in spiritual maturity. We forget that we were once where they are. Unfortunately, I've been guilty of this.

But not today.

Today I want to offer praise; freely and abundantly.

Some months ago I offered some harsh criticism of our Youth Minister at Hopedale. Not only was that inappropriate in the way it was done, but it was also a case of failing to allow a young man to make mistakes and grow in his spiritual maturity. Since then, I have seen great growth in this young man. Today, he addressed the congregation and delivered a challenging message to all of us.  The youth group is growing in number and in knowledge of how we can follow Jesus, our Lord and Savior.  They are demonstrating their faith through acts of ministry and learning to defend their faith by knowing why they believe what they believe.

One of the additional responsibilities of our Youth Minister is to oversee our education department. The Sunday School material that we used last year and the material that we are using this year is really helping us to grow as a church in the knowledge of our God.

There is a great movement of the Holy Spirit within our fellowship. It is not a time for tearing down but a time to encourage each other and build one another up. Many of our youth were at church 7 of the past 8 days; 4 days for the Crusade and 3 for the D-Now weekend. In the past week, we have seen 50 professions of faith and nearly as many believers make re-dedications or other commitments to following Jesus and serving God. These decisions have come from all age groups from our children to our senior adults. It is an incredible time in the life of our church.

I am so thankful that God is working in and through His people at Hopedale.
...And I can't wait to see what great work He does next!

John <><

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Not Your Typical Saturday

I'm not too sure of what a typical Saturday actually looks like; I'm just pretty sure this isn't it.

I woke up with a bit of a headache this morning and so I closed my eyes to catch a few more moments of sleep before facing the day. A couple of hours later(!) I woke up feeling better but missing a meeting that I had wanted to attend. Rats!

Chris made coffee for me -- that definitely qualifies the day as a special day! Thanks, Chris. It was very good!

We took our time getting around and then went to Hopedale's WMU bazaar. Chris went with the idea of looking for a few Christmas gifts but just ended up buying a few things for herself. Now we're at the mall. She is shopping and I am sitting in the Starbucks sipping a 5-shot venti Americano with a little cream and killing a little time on the internet.

Like I said...not your typical Saturday.

It's actually pretty nice to have the excuse to just sit and do nothing for a few moments. It's been a pretty full fall up to this point.  Hopedale just completed a very successful crusade. That made this past week full. Next weekend I'll be in Trenton MO for the BSU (Baptist Student Union) Thanksgiving dinner and will be preaching and doing a couple of other magic shows, as well.  I just bought a new effect and would really like to use it next weekend--going to have to practice a lot this week.

That should pretty much wrap up the year--except for the senior adults' Christmas dinner at Hopedale in mid December.

I've been moving my magic "stuff" from the large storage area under the stairs to Aaron's old room. The storage area is really a large walk-in closet plus the under stair storage so it holds a lot of stuff. I'm finding things that I had forgotten all about. Some of it is stuff that I'll probably never use in a show, other stuff I've used in the distant past and should probably find a way to use it again. Some stuff I've just never become as polished as I would like to be before making it a "show worthy" performance. All-in-all, I'd say the moving project and the subsequent magic practice is a much larger project than I anticipated.

Along with the new effect that I purchased this week, I have a couple of new ideas that I would like to incorporate into my programs and some new ways to present old effects. Working on them will be fun. It's just hard for me to stay focused on any one thing for too long.

I have booked a couple of school assemblies for next January and would like to redo the show that I used this past fall. With only two months, it will take a focused effort. I think that I can come up with a really good high school program. We shall see.The slow winter months should be the ideal time to work on this kind of thing.

Have a grand weekend.
Come visit us at Hopedale if you are in the Ozark area and need a place to worship on Sunday!

John <><