Friday, August 30, 2013

Weekend Challenge


August has been a bad month as far as my quest for weight loss goes. I will have to be very disciplined over the weekend to end the month where I started it. The real challenge comes from two different (an difficult) aspects of the weekend.
1) I'm on the road. That always presents challenges both in getting any exercise and also in wanting to indulge in the foods that I encounter. And...
2) It's a holiday weekend and I expect to be challenged with holiday feasting.

I know the month actually ends before the holiday, but it will be after the holiday when I return to my own scale and am able to get a good comparative weigh-in.

Let the challenge begin!

I hope that you have a great weekend. It's the un-official end of summer in the US.

John <><

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tell Your Story

In reading through the Gospels,, we find stories of a people that had unusual encounters with Jesus. They were unusual in that Jesus was able to do what no one had ever done before. He healed lepers of their dreaded disease. He caused the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the mute to speak and the crippled to walk. He even caused the dead to come back to life!

Pretty incredible stuff!

The people that were touched by His miraculous ministry couldn't help but tell others about it. The crowds followed after him seeking more great signs and to listen to his teaching; to see for themselves if this was the expected Messiah.

As one who has had a spiritual encounter with Jesus, shouldn't I (and you, too, if you have had such an encounter) be telling my story? I know that not everybody has a fantastic "saved from the gutters of life" kind of story. Thankfully, most of us don't have a "prison salvation" or near death kind of salvation story. You may even think that you have a boring story.

How can an encounter with the God of the universe be boring?

Perhaps we've become too familiar with our God. I am so thankful that He allows us this wonderful relationship that the sons and daughters of God can come before Him as...well, as sons and daughters. We don't have to wait while the masses vie for His attention; we can walk right to the front of the line and speak with our Heavenly Father. We are the adopted brothers of His Son, Jesus.

It's a pretty big deal!

Even if your grew up in a home that knew Jesus; even if you first encountered Him at a young age--you have a story to tell. And our stories must go beyond that first encounter. What of the daily encounters with Our Lord and Savior. Have these become so common that we no longer value them? Have we taken for granted that we are lost and condemned without Him? Have we forgotten that spiritually speaking, we all have "saved from the gutter" stories? Have we become so puffed up with ourselves that we think that we deserve a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus?

If it's been a while since you've shared your story, share it with somebody--today!

You can use me as an excuse if you need one. Just say, "A blog I read was encouraging believers to share their conversion stories. I really haven't done that in a while. Can I practice on you?"

When you've finished (keep it brief if you can), you might ask them to share their story. If they don't have a story, you may have an opportunity to tell them about God's great love and how He desires to have a personal relationship with them through Jesus!

Knowing Jesus is a big deal!
Tell your story.

John <><

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Thoughts on Community

This weekend is little bit less active than the past few have been. Chris is working today (one of those few Saturdays that she gets scheduled to work) and I'm hoping that she can get an early shove.

I did manage a quick trip into the farmer's market in Springfield, a fill up on the del Sol (39.9 mpg) and a few errands. Now to spend some time finishing tomorrow's sermon notes.

It's been a little while since I've been to Charity Baptist is Springfield. I'm looking forward to being there again, although it does mean that I'll miss the concert at Hopedale tomorrow night.

This past week seems to have flown by. I guess that's a good thing. One of the things that I'm realizing is that I have a very small community of people in my life. I'm not sure that I can call the people that I work with a part of my community. Sure we are co-workers and serve a common purpose for a few hours each day, but I really have nothing else in common with them. They are not a vital part of my life (the job--well, the pay is) and I am not a vital part of their lives. I actually fell a greater "community" sense with a pastor that I just met than with the people I have worked with for years.

Is it that the shared ministry is more important to me than the shared mission of separating airplanes? Is there a greater sense of brotherhood with a fellow laborer in ministry than with other air traffic controllers? Although I get along with my co-workers, I can't say that I really look forward to seeing them everyday. For the most part, they are just a part of the job. That is not the case when it comes to ministry work.

Strangely enough, church life and work life share a lot of similarities. While I love my church and enjoy going there to worship and serve, in many ways the social atmosphere isn't very different from work. I'm not sure that I can call the people at church a part of my community. Other than sharing a few hours a week, I really have very little in common with most of them. They are not a vital part of my life and I am not a vital part of their lives.

I'm really not sure where this rant is going. I just started writing and this is what has turned up on the page. In rereading what I've written, one might get the idea that I feel lonely in ministry or am dissatisfied with work, church or life in general. Neither is really true. Perhaps it is just a realization that I know very little about the people that I come in contact with every day. Maybe I need to find a way to expand my "community" by being better about connecting with people outside of the areas that define our relationships. Maybe my life is too segregated--work is work, church is church, family is family, etc.

Is that what we've become as a society? Are we different pieces of different puzzles as we wander through the week and find ourselves in different places and different roles? Is it okay that I see you everyday and know nothing about you? Do I care if you you know anything about me? Have we become so narcissistic that other people just don't matter?

I'm going to have to think on this some more. Any thoughts...?

John <><

Monday, August 19, 2013

Weekend Thoughts

It's nice to be able to sit on the deck with my coffee and computer and reminisce about the weekend. I really enjoyed my return to Zion Baptist Church (ZBC) in Cainsville MO. We were trying to figure out how long it had been since my last visit; I was thinking around eight years. One of the members said that he knew exactly how long it had been because I visited his wife in the hospital after the birth of their little girl--she is 6.

Although this was only my third trip to ZBC, it really does feel like a sort of homecoming. It is a small congregation with a huge heart for serving the community in the name of Jesus. I really love their pastor. He is a simple, hard working man that runs his business and pastors a rural church. He loves his Lord, loves his flock and loves serving others. Not surprisingly, the church has taken on the heart attitudes of loving God, loving each other and serving the community.

It's a pretty sweet fellowship.

There are so many thoughts running through my head this morning about the weekend that it is very hard to organize them into any orderly post. I think I'm going to just write them out in bullet form and expound on them as the thoughts come to mind.

*This was the thirteenth year of the Zion Gospel Jubilee.
Several music groups from the area (and some individuals) come to sing on an outdoor stage under a big tent. The event normally begins around 1pm on Saturday and lasted until around 10:30 at night with a break for an awesome dinner. (They smoked about 200 pounds of beef brisket and pork butts.) Sunday morning had an outdoor service under the tent followed by lunch and more music. This year, they added the Friday night session with music and magic--my part in the weekend. I also shared twice on Saturday (once in the afternoon, once in the evening) and preached the message on Sunday morning.

*The groups that come to sing look forward to this event.
This year's groups had all been to the Jubilee before. The event is well advertised and people come from some distance to enjoy the music. There was great talent singing praise to our God.

*Life isn't always what we've bargained for.
When you get in a mix of God's people, you find that there are a lot of suffering Christians. It's a myth that those that follow Jesus have great lives. We do have eternal life, but often times our earthly journey can be difficult and lonely. There were times that my heart hurt for the stories of struggle that were shared.

*We are family.
One of the things that always amazes me is the instant bond of fellowship with believers from another congregation. At a family reunion, you can often tell that the people there are apart of your family clan by certain physical characteristics. When meeting with fellow followers of Jesus, there are also characteristics that lead you to believe that we are of the same family.

*Other contacts.
I also had the opportunity to visit with some old friends that lived in the area (by in the area, I mean about 40 minutes away). I enjoyed getting to visit with them in their home and also saw a few other people that I have shared ministry with in the past.

*Blessings of service.
I'll be on a bit of a high for a few days. The blessings of service are grand. I know that this weekend will carry me into the week with a grand feeling and positive attitude. I have another program tomorrow night and am preaching on Sunday in Springfield. It sounds really busy and like I'm doing a lot of work, but the truth is that it's too much fun to be considered work.

*Random thought--
If it turns out that I'm going to keep the del Sol much longer, I'm going to have to put some work into it to make it more serviceable and more comfortable for long trips.

*Final thought (for now)--
There are a lot of hurting people out there. Some suffer in silence and in secret while others are more open about their pain. They need a bit of encouragement and love today. If you know of somebody that is carrying a burden, lend them a hand today. Call them. Offer them a time of rest or a moment that they can set aside their troubles and enjoy a short time of peace with a friend.
For those that suffer in silence, take care to be kind to everybody you encounter. Be a positive influence at work or school. Be kind and courteous to strangers. Smile often. Speak words of encouragement. Show the love of God in all you do.

God loves you.
Jesus died for you.

John <><

Friday, August 16, 2013

Just random notes...

It's a rare Friday morning that I get to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee. On most Fridays, I'm just getting off of work after a mid shift and ready to take a 3+ hour snooze. I used a day of leave and didn't work the mid last night. After a day of moving Hannah back to Columbia for her senior year of college and with travel for a weekend event ahead of me, I figured a good night's sleep was in order.

So now I am getting ready to get things going for the day and really don't have the time to be on the blog and sitting with my coffee, but...

Sometimes it's good to slow down--even if only for a few minutes.

I'll be spending a good portion of the next couple of days on the highway and won't have the time to read the posts that I normally follow, keep up on Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites and may have some limited cell coverage--all a part of travelling in rural Missouri.

Enjoy your weekend, friends! I'll catch up with you next week.

John <><

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Livin' the Good Life

I have a pretty good  great life.
You probably have a pretty good life, too; maybe even a great life.

However, I have found that I can take my great life and turn it into a crappy life by changing nothing more than my outlook. I don't have to give up any of the things that make my life grand. I don't have to work at a harder job, nor do I have to lose the job that I have. I don't have to give up my health (which isn't perfect but free from anything major) and I don't have to worry about a daily food provision--as a matter of fact, I still get to eat some pretty tasty (if not so healthy) foods pretty much as I choose.

I get to keep my modest home and my beater car. I get to keep all of my friends (both of you guys) and I still get to enjoy a great family.

All I have to do to turn my otherwise great life into something that is unbearable and crappy is to start thinking about all of the things that I don't have (whether or not I need or want them) and all of the things that others have (again, whether or not I want, need or have earned them) and all of a sudden, I am burdened with life's woes and am a miserable person to be around.

I can complain about the government and how "the Man" is oppressing me. I can complain about my job and how management doesn't care about my needs. I can complain about my weight and my health as I shovel in another fast food burger or junk food snack. I can complain about pretty much anything I feel like as long as I can think of a way that my own little world would be better if I had or didn't have whatever it is that would make life better.

I can envy those that have larger, fancier homes even though they may have worked very hard to acquire their wealth. I can complain about the young people that drive nicer vehicles even though I've chosen to drive the no car payment beater.

I can complain about my neighbors or the people that I work with that care more about themselves and their needs than they do about me and my needs--in my world, it's okay if it's all about me.

I hope you get the idea.

We can choose to be negative.
We can choose to ignore our blessings and find fault with every situation.
We can choose to be miserable.
We can choose to be victims of a cruel world.
We can choose to have a crappy life.

Or not.

We can also choose to acknowledge our blessings.
We can choose to value the people around us.
We can choose to appreciate our freedoms.
We can choose to be positive.
We can choose to be a blessing to others.

We can decide that in spite of whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, we will be grateful for the people and the things that we have.

I hope that today is a good great day for you.
I hope that somebody offers you a word of encouragement today.
I hope that you will choose to be a blessing to somebody today.

A smile
A kind word
A kind act
It could be enough to change somebody's day--to change somebody's life.

Blessings to you,
John <><

Monday, August 12, 2013

Trust Issues...

Most of you have heard of or experienced the "trust fall" where one person falls backwards, trusting another person or persons to catch them. We did a few different exercises to demonstrate trust this past weekend at our youth retreat.

It got me thinking about trust--Who we trust? Why we trust? What does it take to earn our trust? Am I trustworthy?

On the surface, most of us would say that it's better to trust an honest person or one that always does the right thing: but is that really the case?

What if somebody does something that is wrong--anything from spreading gossip to taking something that doesn't belong to them? Do they really trust an honest person or somebody that always does the right thing to keep their misdeed a secret? Wouldn't they be more likely to trust somebody that has the same values (or lack of them) as they have?

I suppose there are many different levels of trust as well as different areas of trust. I may trust a coworker to have my back in a difficult session of air traffic control, but not really trust them in other areas of life. A person might trust another person to be honest about fixing their car but not feel like they would leave them to care for their children. Things like these are based on experiences and knowledge of situations as well as people.

So how does somebody earn your trust?
By keeping their mouth shut?
Or by telling the truth?
By doing what's right?
Or by doing what you need them to do?

Is an honest person really the kind of person that you want to trust?
Or would you rather trust a person that has pretty much the same level of dishonesty as you have?

Is there honor among thieves? Do we count on the bad deeds of others to keep them silent about our own bad deeds?

Are these really the kinds of things that we want to base our "trust" of others upon and are those really the kinds of people that we want to trust?


Just thinking.

John <><

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Tell Your Story

Last Sunday, I once again issued the challenge to tell somebody that needs to know Jesus as Savior that God loves them and Jesus died for them.

Sometimes the conversations can take different turns. When you begin to talk about your own personal relationship with Jesus, you also find out about other people's personal relationship with Jesus. I like this. It helps me to get to know my brothers and sisters in Jesus and it helps all of us to get more comfortable in telling our story.

Have you told your story lately?

It is your story.

Not every story has to be a "saved from a life of drugs" kind of testimony. There should be no shame in telling your ordinary "grew up in a church family" story. You should be proud to share your blessing of having grown up in a family that was dedicated to following Jesus and sharing their faith with their kids of grand-kids. It is a great story.

But the story doesn't stop there. It begins there. What is Jesus doing for you now? How is He working in your life and in your family's life today? It is still your story; you're still living it; and you should still be telling it.

God loves you.
Jesus died for you.

Tell your story.

John <><

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Quiet Homes and Dysfunctional Families

Have you ever had that experience of family coming to visit--it could be grown kids coming home, parents coming to visit, siblings or other relatives--and then experiencing the quiet and almost lonely feeling when they are gone?

I'm talking about people that you really love and really miss and really don't want them to go--or you don't want to have to go.

I realize that there are families that don't get along. Families that rarely, if ever, keep in touch with one another. When they do call or visit, it's more out of a sense of guilt or obligation than out of love for one another.

I wonder if that's how God feels on Monday mornings. The kids have all gone about their own busy lives and won't be back again until next week--makes for a kind of lonely and quiet week. They may gather together once or twice during the week, but they don't really plan on including Him in their mid-week get-togethers. There will be no conversations during the week--unless we need something. We'll drop by on the weekend because we're expected to; not because it's what we really want to do. There are other things--more important things--that we would rather be doing. Things like being with our kids for sporting activities or a day at the lake. Surely God would understand our need for family time, right? Maybe we'll just skip our visit for this week...and maybe for next week, too. After all, what's the big deal with going to church? Isn't God everywhere?

The problem is that we don't acknowledge God everywhere. In fact, we pretty much ignore Him everywhere. He's like an old parent that is troublesome to acknowledge before our friends. We would rather that they didn't know that we belong to Him.

Weird thoughts, I know.
Just wondering...

John <><

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Walking the Walk

As a follower of Jesus, how does your walk draw people to Jesus? Do the things that you (we) do and say help or hurt the advancement of the kingdom?

Shouldn't the belief of a Christian (that salvation is in Jesus Christ alone) compel us to share the gospel with urgency? Shouldn't a follower of Jesus be a student of the things that He teaches in The Word? Didn't Jesus say that we can know a tree by its fruit?

Just things running through my mind this morning...

John <><

Friday, August 02, 2013

Self Assessment: It's not all it's cracked up to be

I spent some time reading some of my past posts the other day. It started as a project of finding some past information that I've posted and ran into a hour or more of just enjoying some of my past reads. In one post from last month I linked to four previous posts that are about me. In re-reading them, I noticed that I'm a pretty good guy. Feel free to go read them. There is a lot of good stuff there. There is also plenty of stuff missing.

Truthfully, I'm not all that grand. We seldom come clean about our dark tendencies in self evaluation. If given an anonymous opportunity to point out my faults, I'm pretty certain my friends and family could come up with a list that would be long. If not long, at least emphatic about the negative traits on a shorter list.

It's not too difficult to be a nice guy at church. There is a certain expectation that people at church be...well, nice. And since we're only around church people for a couple of hours per week, how hard is it to throw on a fake "nice" persona for a couple of hours? Piece of cake, right?

What about work? Work is a little bit different in that some people appear to want to be jerks at work. I'd say that it's a pretty easy environment to be a jerk and a not so easy environment to be a nice person if being nice is still an act. It's more difficult to be nice because there are people that are not nice. At church, at least everyone is either nice or pretending to be nice. At work, there is more of the survival of the fittest, dog eat dog mentality that gives us permission to act without regard to others. Some meanness is in response to a previous act of meanness and will, of course, demand an additional mean response until everybody acknowledges mutual hatred for one another and agrees to live in relatively peaceful hatred with only an occasional jerk action to remind everybody that the contempt still exists.

Yeah, sometimes it reminds me of kids on the playground where bullies get away with bullying because everybody knows that nobody is going to do anything.  In any case, our work personas can be our work personas and they don't necessarily mean that we are like that outside of the work place. If it's an act, it does require us to be a better actor than the church actor because we're at work more than we are at church. Our work personality is probably a better indicator of who we really are than our church personality.

Not too long ago, a co-worker said that I was a nice person. The truth is that I have to work very hard at just not being a jerk. Of course, the comment came from one of the "nice" people and nice people are easier to be nice to and more forgiving when you are not.

I think there are a lot of bad actors out there--both at church and at work. It may be that I am one of them. It's pretty easy to write a post that inflates good qualities and claim them as the real you for readers that don't really know you and never interact with you outside of the blogosphere. It's not too difficult to fool a few people for a few hours a week at church. It's certainly possible to shield coworkers from your true personality and keep them outside of your life away from the work place. It's pretty impossible to fool the people that you live with.

Unfortunately, the people we love the most are also the people that get to see our ugliness the most. If there were ever people that could testify to the poor qualities of character that are mine, it would be my family. Sorry, guys. I'm still a jerk--working on it, but still a jerk.

Maybe it would be easier if everybody just realized it. Most people are self-centered jerks. Most people really don't care about our lives and only pretend to be interested in our stories about our kids/family/hobbies/whatever, so that they can tell you about there meaningless lives--which you probably don't care about, either.

Are there really people that are "nice people" in the world?
Yes! I believe there are.
And I believe that I know many genuinely nice people.
I believe there are also a great number of people that really want to be nice people--people (like me) that have to work very hard at not being a jerk all of the time.

I think that these are the people that make me smile. Maybe it's because there is a sort of kinship with them. Maybe knowing their struggle makes it easier to forgive their transgressions. Maybe seeing their "niceness" gives me hope that the good guys are holding their own in a world full of jerks that are waiting to help them fail and then laugh as they struggle to regain lost ground.

These are my people. We are jerks, but we don't like it. We are working on being nicer people. Please have patience with us. I realize that we don't deserve your patience and we haven't cut you any breaks in the past. But remember, you're better that we are. You are the nice people.

Recovering jerk, apprentice "nice" guy,
John <><

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Walk a Mile...

Given that I've been working on getting a little bit of exercise lately (and I want to emphasize the little bit part of that), one might think that this is going to be a post about the health benefits of walking...'s not.

It's a post about the adage of not criticizing somebody until you have walked a mile in their shoes.

Perhaps it's age, or perhaps it's being more aware of people around me that are finding themselves in situations that they once criticized others for being in. In any case, I seem to have encountered several recent instances of people having eye-opening experiences that have helped them to see people in a different light and to help me see people differently, as well.

I saw this picture posted on Facebook recently:

I think there are some good rules here--numbers 2 and 4 really jump out for me.

2) What others think of you is none of your business.

I don't buy into that completely, but I do understand that I don't need to be obsessed by what others think of me. Often, their thoughts are more about how I fit into their experiences than about what I might actually be experiencing. Number 4 turns it around and reminds me that I may not have the information to make an accurate judgment of somebody else.

4) Don't compare your life to others, and don't judge them. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

I hear a lot about people that are receiving some kind of social assistance--welfare, unemployment, disability payments, WIC--you get the idea. Often times, such recipients are looked down upon or thought to be too lazy to take care of themselves. Many times they appear to be able bodied persons and so we think that maybe they just don't want to work or are too lazy to find a job.

I do not doubt that there are wide abuses in programs that are designed to help people that are in need. But it is also true that there are real needs. There really are people that are terribly under-employed or are working without much needed health benefits. There really are people that have lost their jobs (through no fault of their own) and find themselves desperately needing help to feed their families. There really are people that appear to be perfectly healthy but are suffering from chronic pain or are unable to concentrate or use extremities because of an injury or illness.

And there really is such a negative stigma attached to getting help that the people in need are often humiliated and made to feel like second class citizens when they apply for the assistance.

If a person that we know to be on welfare or disability has a nice phone, expensive camera, nice clothes, nice car, whatever; it's not okay for us to make negative assumptions about their character. They could be gifts. They could be possessions from before a life changing event. They could be from a settlement that came from an injuring party. The thing is--we don't know.

In churches, we might look down on somebody that has been divorced. We don't know if it was an abusive relationship. We don't know if a spouse was unfaithful. We don't know if every effort was made to save the marriage. We just know that somebody is divorced and that must mean--well, it must mean something! Right?

What about an unmarried single parent? Now that's a situation that we can make a judgment on, right?
No. It's not.

Rather than continuing to go on ranting, let me just say that I think these are some good rules to follow.
Here's a quote I like that is attributed to several different people:
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

John <><