What should have happened

It’s funny. I was just sitting here thinking about my immediate family. I’m turning 60 in a couple of months. My older brother turns 65 today. My younger brother is a couple of years behind me. And my mom is a central figure in our lives (thankfully).

The part that is funny… I don’t think any of us have really changed all that much in the last 40 years or so. Sure we have changed a bit. But we are way more the same than we are different.

I look back at my youth with the knowledge that I squandered an inheritance. I encountered a fork in the road in high school… and I chose badly. The inheritance I’m referring to is the legacy of a solid Christian family life with parents that loved God. And… grandparents that loved God.

After I got a little older… and maybe a tiny bit wiser, I have been trying to gain back what I lost. But it seems that those bad decisions and the experiences that went with them have become a permanent part of me. And yes… scripture teaches us that God forgives… and erases our sin. But I really think I forfeited being the person that I would have been had I taken the other path. But I will keep trying.

The main epiphany that I had was… that I have been spending most of my life trying to become what I would have been had I made different choices when I was young. I guess that’s ok. It does make me thankful. To a large extent I feel like I was rescued. And I thank God that He doesn’t give up on us. He keeps drawing us to Him.

I’m going to leave you with the following song… which illustrates my feelings on this matter.

What makes you a Christian?

I was thinking. I’ve been in the Church quite a lot over my lifetime. I know a little. And one thing I know… is that most pastors will tell you that going to church does not make you a Christian.

As a matter of fact, one of my favorite Christian artists… Keith Green, was famous for saying… going to church no more makes you a Christian than going to McDonalds makes you a cheeseburger.

And of course, everyone knows that a good Christian should give to the needy. But that doesn’t make you a Christian.

As Christians I think we are constantly told this whole list of things that do not make you a Christian. Reading the Bible is good. Praying, also good. There are many good things that Christians should do. None of which makes one a Christian. That begs the question… if those things don’t, what does?

Well, most churches will tell you that you can’t earn it. It’s a gift. And this is clear. And most churches will also tell you that it really just comes down to believing a fairly specific and agreed upon set of things and affirming that belief. The better churches will also say that repentance is a key component. But not all.

Ok. Then what about all these things that don’t make you a Christian? The way it seems, is that they are all pretty much optional. Sure it’s a good idea to do them. But you cannot earn your salvation, so doing these things clearly cannot save you.

But there is something else that I know in my heart. A person cannot simply affirm a set of facts and then go about their life and expect anything to come of it. I am convinced that being a Christian is not the result of a one-time event or decision. Sure, that’s where it starts. But if that’s where it ends, then it truly does end. I think it can also be discarded at a later time. But that gets into the weeds. Let me just say that I would surely not wish to bet on the outcome of making that particular choice.

I have often thought that living as a Christian isn’t so much about where you are at morally or spiritually, as it is which direction you are moving. I think being a Christian is about moving toward God. Getting closer. Putting behind us things that are not from Him. This of course takes effort. Effort and sacrifice.

Sacrifice? What is that you say? Yep. While salvation is a free gift from God. It will literally cost you everything. Because that’s what it’s about. Only when we give up all the ungodly things we continually clutch to, all the things we think we want, can these temporary things be replaced with eternal things that are so much better. Of course this is a fantastic opportunity for us. But letting loose of things that we are comfortable with in favor of what is essentially unknown to us just seems so counterintuitive.

You have to give to get? That is a truth found throughout the Bible. Jesus is even quoted as saying this very thing twice in the book of Matthew.

“He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

The only way you can really have life is to give it up. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Hey, I thought it was free?

Here’s what I think. God did all the work. He came and died a horrible death at the hands of His own creation. Just so that we could have this path to life. He did the hard stuff.

When you hear people say… that all you need to do is “accept” this free gift. I don’t think God ever intended it as a singular event. As a matter of fact I’m sure He didn’t. I think that the act of accepting it is truly a lifelong process. And this ongoing process of accepting it results in us giving up our lives in exchange for what He is truly offering us.

I recently had pretty much this whole discussion with a friend. And when asked what I thought was the answer, here’s what I said. I think that the answer to all these questions and living in a way that truly does “make one a Christian” is the by-product and natural inevitable result of an ongoing relationship with Jesus.

Ok, and what on earth does that mean? I ran across a verse that drove this home a few days ago. I realize the truth I gleaned from this was not the full meaning of what was being said. But it was a pretty good nugget. It was a promise. And it starts like this:

“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you…”. You know, I think that kinda sums it up. There are a bunch of cools things in the Bible that we get where those are the actual requirements. And what does that mean? I figure it means that we regularly spend time talking to God. And we regularly spend time in the Bible. That covers both abiding in Him, and His words abiding in us. And that’s what actually constitutes the “relationship”.

Honestly… I’ve heard pieces of this my entire life as well. And I’ve practiced it to varying degrees. But I just happened to put it together in my head for the first time in quite awhile. Figured I would share. While I started out talking about the things that don’t make you a Christian (and might seem optional)… the relationship with Jesus is the one thing that is not optional. Particularly since all the rest of the things are a result of that. And it would follow that doing the things that actually cultivate and foster that relationship are way more than just a good idea.

Celebration of life

My wife and I went to a memorial service for a 13-year old girl yesterday. No one was really talking about it, and you don’t really ask, but word was that she committed suicide as the result of bullying.

It was a nice service in that folks shared their memories of her. And I got a small glimpse into this young life of someone I did not know. By all accounts she was an amazing young woman. So very sad how her life ended.

There was a noticeable absence of any mention of Jesus or salvation… or God in general. There were two “clergy” there. I don’t know what kind of clergy they were but IMHO they were not deserving of that designation.

The service made me think a little of my own life, and what my memorial service would be like. Or perhaps my wife’s memorial service. What focus would it have? I have to admit… the current focus of my life is really not God. It would almost seem disingenuous to attempt to have a memorial service centered on God when one’s life clearly was not.

To be fair… I do toy around with the idea of God. I read a devotional on occasion. I try to think about right and wrong and doing the right thing. I definitely know and believe the truth of the Bible with regards to Jesus, His death and resurrection, etc. But my life is a far cry from what my honest idea of a committed Christian should be like. It’s possible that my idea is not accurate. After all, there is real life to deal with… working, eating, sleeping. Not everything is about God right?

In my experience, trying to make everything about God has a tendency to cause one to sort of go off the deep end. And yes, been there, done that, and got the t-shirt.

However, I do think that God’s idea of a committed Christian would be considered “off the deep end” by the world’s standards. So I would say, there is a good off-the-deep-end and a bad off-the-deep-end. I’m not sure I know how to tell the difference between the two.

And I have no doubt in my mind that the majority of people who are off the deep end in the bad kind of way honestly believe that they are walking in truth and right on track.

Christianity is nuts in a good way. But how do you know you’re not just nuts? Because many folks would probably think that you are. One of the tools I use to gauge the general acceptability of things I say or ideas I have is by people’s reaction to those things. That lets me know when I’m off track. However that doesn’t really work that well with Christianity. Because the indications would be highly misleading. I think that with Christianity, it’s totally possible to be perfectly in line with God’s will, and have others think you’re crazy… even other Christians.

So that’s leaves us without a good measurement gauge. Hmmm…

Memorial Day 2017

Good Morning. I am the proud mother of a great American hero from Keizer Oregon, PFC Ryan J Hill. I want to begin by thanking Glenn for this opportunity to share our story. And a very special thanks to all of you who set aside a few moments to honor some very brave men and women.

Memorial Day for many means a day off, great shopping deals, family barbecues, camping, the beginning of summer; honoring loved ones who have passed or veterans who have served. While all these are great, it really doesn’t represent what Memorial Day is really about. Memorial Day is the one day set aside to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending and protecting the freedoms that we all enjoy. Since the American Revolution almost 670K men and women have been killed in combat.

Before I go into the events that have brought me here today, I would like to give you a glimpse of who Ryan was.

On April 26, 1986 at 2:00 in the afternoon God entrusted me with one of him most precious treasures, Ryan J Hill. As a single mom it was up to me to teach and guide him. Little did i know that he would in the end be the one to teach and guide me. Ryan had a compassionate heart from the beginning. He was always drawn to the underdog. I didnt want him to be the outsider while growing up as I had been, so i really tried to help him be cool and hang out with the “right” people.

(Story of andy, Aaron and Mike)

Ryan was sharp and a quick learner. I should have known when he came home from the first day of school in the second grade at Keizer Elementary and I asked how was school and he said stupid….

When he attended McNary High school my biggest concern was, would he fit in. High school can sometimes be brutal. Little did I know he would ace the social aspects, but given his view in the first grade of “I’ve already done that” his academics left a little to be desired. He would finish High School at the Oregon National Guard Youth Challenge Program, a military school. He originally went to make up credits so he could graduate on time, but he ended up completing 2 1/2 years in 5 months with an a minus average. It was obvious that he excelled in this environment. His nickname…make me do push ups please.

Just to give you some insight into his mindset, Ryan loved football and played at McNary……..

In July 2005 he would leave for Ft Benning where he would attend Boot Camp and AIT and would go on to be assigned to the 1/26th Infantry Division (Big Red One) in Schweinfurt Germany. When he was in boot camp the drill sgt said as Ryan reached for a piece of cake, Hill you eat that cake your gonna do push-ups; Ryan’s response “I’m gonna do push ups anyway” so he reached for a second piece.

In July 2006 I got the call from Ryan that they were deploying to Iraq into a very bad area. He said to me Mom if i come home God has more for me to do, if I dont then I’ve finished my job.

On Friday January 19th a little after 8pm the earth stood still… I got the dreaded knock on the door. I looked out the peep hole and there they were 2 officers in uniform. I opened the door and told them they weren’t supposed to be there. Shortly after midnight in Baghdad Ryan’s group would be making their final patrol of the night, an IED that was command-wire detonated by cowardly insurgents hiding in the shadows would steal a great man. The unit would come under several hours of heavy fire and Ryan would be the only KIA for Charlie Company that night. Although Ryan was the first among many killed on the deadliest day. Ryan had finished his job. God Almighty said okay you’ve had enough and allowed him to go home. See several of Ryan’s fellow soldiers had already been killed and he took each loss personally. Just like his job here was to protect his family and friends, he viewed his job there as to protect his fellow brothers. In fact he always wanted to be in the lead vehicle which was most likely to be attacked. So when there was a loss he felt like he had failed. I believe he was spared from events that were to come. The attacks got more severe. As the unit found ways to mitigate the insurgents actions, it caused the cowards to escalate the type of attacks they would use. In June 2007 Charlie Company would receive an award at the US embassy from special forces with Ryan’s name on it for the work that was done on January 20th.

The Blue Spader Task force is considered the hardest hit since Vietnam. The commanders were continually asking for help but the requests seemed to go unanswered until July 2008 where the 110 who patrolled Adhimayah were replaced with a unit of over 1000. All in all the task force had 34 soldiers KIA, and 122 wounded. Charlie company suffered the most with fourteen men killed 9 of which were from Ryan’s second platoon.

In 2012 the Blue Spaders received the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism against an armed enemy.

One of my sons biggest fears is that he would be forgotten. And today you have sent a message that we remember. I remember getting a phone call from him after one of his brothers had been killed. It was during election time and he was struggling from all the negative news reports about the war. He said Mom my friends are dying for people who don’t give a rip. All they care about is did the barista get my coffee right, o did you know Brittney Spears is bald, Lindsey Lohan has a drug problem, what in the world am I fixing for dinner? Meanwhile my buddies are dying and not only do people not know who they are, they don’t care. I reminded him that he told me after he got to Iraq; Mom don’t watch the news it’s really not what’s happening. So don’t watch the news it doesn’t represent all of Americans.

The question for you is do you care? As you drive up and down the freeway and you see my license plate that says “gold star family” do you know what that means? (well probably most of you do, or do now). Please don’t get me wrong with what I am about to say. I don’t want your sympathy. I just want you to think about your freedom, the price that has been paid for it, and not take it for granted. For you to truly understand you would have to experience it. And that is really something I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Imagine your child or grand child one day stolen from you. Not just them, but of their hopes and dreams, their future, the children that you will never know. Perhaps their son or daughter would have been the one to walk on mars, or discover the cure for cancer or be the next brilliant president. Or perhaps they would have been just like Ryan and been one of the most kind, funny, and loving person you ever met, whose goal in life was to protect their family and friends and to make a difference.

There are many days when I am out and observe people and wonder, does anyone remember? As I watch them go about their lives, I wonder do they know the price that was paid for them to drive thru Starbucks safely and buy a coffee or push the granddaughter on the swing at the park. You see for Gold Star families we live Memorial Day every day. This is my 10th Memorial Day since Ryan was killed and yet it seems like it was still yesterday.

On October 5, 2006 Ryan sent a small group of us this email: “2 days ago one of my good friend was lost for doing his duty for our country. He was shot by a sniper and didn’t get a chance to shoot back. He was doing what he was asked of him regardless of the risks at hand. I ask that as you read this you hold a moment of silence within yourself for another of America’s finest that lost the battle he was told to fight. I ask that you remember your freedoms and that we willingly gave ours up to protect our loved ones back home. That you keep us in your thoughts and prayers in good times and in bad. Because to tell you the truth all we wanted was a better life for us and our loved ones. Some of us won’t make it back from this place and we shall never forget them. The rest of us who are here will keep fighting for you and those you love. Thank you for reading my thoughts and the few minutes it took our of your lives….”

So one thing I ask is that as you drive around going about your day being a productive member of the community pause once in awhile, maybe when you see that glorious flag flying, and just whisper thank you.

In closing I would like to challenge with a quote from Ryan’s my space… “A True Champion is one who wants to make a difference, never gives up, works hard and never gives up their dream”. So for Ryan, go be a champion.

Thank you. Freedom isn’t free.

Rock music… pride comes before a fall

I’ve recently been driving our convertible more than normal. I always drive it with the top down whenever I can. We’ve been pretty blessed this year with many sunny days.

As I am driving with the top down and the sun shining, I tend to crank the tunes. I often find that Christian music just doesn’t capture the mood. Although I can’t for sure tell you why. Except that the SiriusXM Christian station is way more pop than it is rock. And I’ve always been a rock fan. Pop often makes me cringe.

So I will often find a secular rock station and crank it to 11 while I’m cruising down the highway.

That’s all good right? Or is it? Here’s where I wrestle. As I observe my own behavior and the music I choose, I’ve noticed a few things.

First, let’s establish one thing. God hates pride. A lot of folks think that God is love and everything is good. Well God definitely hates certain things and pride is on the top of his list. Here are a few quotes out of Proverbs.

“These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19).

“Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 16:5)

There are many other quotes I could add, but that is a small sample. As I was listening to certain secular rock, I was thinking to myself… I don’t know anything at all in this world that exudes pride more than secular rock. I mean think about it! Much of it really boils down to artists thumbing their nose at God and authority in general. And according to the Bible, God really hates that. He doesn’t use the word “abomination” lightly.

Does all secular rock fit that stereotype? No. But I believe the great majority of it does. I think maybe it was AC/DC that I was listening to when I had the thought about pride. But there are any number of bands that fit that description.

The other thought I had was this… why do I listen to the music I do? Of course part of it is the enjoyment I get. I really love a wailing guitar. But there are people I know, maybe not very well, whose main knowledge and information they have about my personal life consists of the music they hear me listen to.

And maybe I listen to what I do in part, because I sub-consciously want to send a certain message. It’s sort of fun to listen to “cool” music and have people be a bit surprised that this 54 year old guy is rocking out.

Jesus tells us that His people will suffer persecution because they believe in Him. I wonder if He appreciates one of His children essentially identifying with the rebellion and pride of the world by way of what music they listen to. Should one of His children really want to gain the acceptance of the world in this manner?

When I have Christian music turned up loud in the convertible, do I turn it down at the stop light so those around me don’t hear? If there is a really good ZZ Top tune on… I might be way more tempted to leave it cranking at the light. Maybe?

This is my observation. That much of secular rock exudes pride. And when we listen to that, we are participants and are actually identifying with that mindset. And we are likely transmitting that to others around us.

Well, I don’t think that’s something that God feels very good about. Historically I’ve pretty much blown this off as a “gray area” that cannot necessarily be categorized as sin. But not caring about this is quite prideful in and of itself.

In psychology there is information about a phenomenon that is quite interesting. When we view movies or listen to music. Our brains play certain tricks on us to make us feel like we are participating. Can anyone identify with playing the air guitar? or invisible drums? Of course! And when you see a very moving film. Why do you think it has that effect on you? Because you feel part of the story!

So there you go. Maybe the choices we make about the “media” we consume are not as benign as we like to think.

We sold our soul

I recently posted something about Led Zeppelin on Facebook. I thought perhaps I should reveal my true thoughts on that sort of music. Just for the record. In the past I was one of their biggest fans. And there is a part of me that still really loves that music. However, I don’t think that’s a good thing.

I have wrestled for many years in my head over the morality of rock music. When I was young, Led Zeppelin were far and away my favorite band. The first rock concert I ever attended was Black Sabbath. And one of the first rock albums I ever bought was their album “We Sold Our Soul for Rock and Roll”. Little did I know that I’d be fighting these demons for the rest of my life.

When I turned my life over to Jesus I had the standard ritual “album burning” in my driveway where I doused my worldly music with flammable liquid and set it on fire. In the years following that, I have gone back and forth quite a number of times. As a matter of fact, if my life history is open to ridicule, this would be one area where I am vulnerable. On four or five occasions I have sold large collections of rock music worth multiple thousands of dollars, at a huge loss, primarily for moral reasons.

In the Bible Jesus states “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.”.

To me this is what it boils down to. It’s the attitude, the lifestyle, and the culture. In the day, Led Zeppelin went hand in hand with rebellion, dope smoking, and partying. I think it’s undeniable. As much as I’d like to say that I just “appreciate the music” or attempt to detach the music from the activities and attitude that typified those who listen to it, I just don’t think it can be done. And believe me I’ve tried.

You could take ZZ Top, Motley Crue, and any number of rock bands you want. Their whole style really amounts to thumbing one’s nose at God. And I think listening to that type of music makes me a participant in that.

In the last 6-8 years or so, I’ve tried to diversify my listening habits. I wanted to listen to stuff that was spiritually and morally neutral. But’s that type of music is extremely hard to find. I don’t even know that it exists.

Even if you chose the instrumental variety of “new age” music that supposedly has no connection to any sort of religion or spiritual belief, there is a high risk that you will be exposed to music expressly designed for use by folks practicing a set of very real spiritual beliefs that are decidedly contrary to Christianity.

Music appeals to our passions. And in a fallen world, it will frequently appeal to passions that are of a fallen nature.

Regarding Led Zeppelin… I read a recent interview with Robert Plant. Even he is a little creeped out by the music they did together. Asked what the meaning of their song “Stairway to Heaven” was… they really don’t know. And calls for a reunion of the band are met by them with clear hostility. Maybe they are fighting some demons of their own.

Call the Whaaaambulance

I tend to be a bit of a whiner. It just seems like sometimes it’s way easier to see the negatives vs the positives. Sort of like how the news tends to report way more negatives stories than it does positive ones. Or how typical conversations are often about what’s wrong with our government or the economy or how that Chinese restaurant messed up my order yesterday.

As a Christian, I like to consider what pleases God or what bothers him in our behavior. The journey of the Israelites in the desert with Moses was a picture of the Christian life. Out of a million Jews… only two entered into the promised land. Why? If you read through the story, those people experienced many awesome miracles from God, but they were largely ungrateful. They whined a lot. And that did not turn out well for them. They whined about not having food. Then, after God started providing food for them daily, they whined about the lack of variety in their diet. At one time God caused the earth to open up and swallow several thousand of them in one fell swoop. Because they wouldn’t stop whining. This is a big deal to God.

If one believes the Bible, one must conclude that things and circumstances in our life occur for a reason. One of God’s primary wishes for us is that we grow. This is way more important to him than our “comfort”. When we encounter things that we consider unpleasant, it’s often an opportunity for personal growth, specifically engineered by God for our benefit. What kind of people would we be if everything always went our way? Spoiled brats perhaps.

Do we really believe that God is in control? Then what exactly are we doing when we whine about our circumstances or problems in our life? We are essentially questioning the fairness of God. It’s like saying that we don’t approve of His handling of us or the affairs of our life.

In addition, consider how Christ suffered on His way to the cross. More than we can possibly imagine. After all, He was God. And He submitted Himself to the most humiliating suffering and death that was possible. At the hands of His own creation. He did this for us.

And we complain when we have a stomach ache.

New Diet Plan

Shawna and I started a new diet yesterday. This isn’t one of those “we’re going to eat healthier” diets. It’s a Medi-Fast diet. You eat six times a day. Five of those “meals” are provided by Medi-Fast. The sixth meal is a “lean and green” meal. It consists of 5-7oz of lean meat and a veggie. This meal you provide yourself.

Each of the Medi-Fast meals is 100 calories. And they are entirely interchangeable. There are about 70 different things you can choose from. They all have basically the same nutritional profile.

So what we’re talking about is basically around 800-1000 calories per day. They actually warn you against exercising during the first 3-4 weeks of the diet. And they give you measures to take if you suffer from headache or dizziness as a result of the low caloric intake.

The Medi-Fast meals are interesting. Many of them are simply powder that you mix with water and microwave. Two such meals I had yesterday were eggs (egg whites) and vegetarian sloppy joes. These were both surprisingly good.

The program also calls for drinking a gallon of water per day, or 1oz of water for every 2lbs of body weight, whichever is greater.

It’s certainly too early to draw any conclusions. Based on our experience with day one, we think this is something we can do. And with one month of Medi-Fast food coming in at over $600, we had already decided that this was a commitment we were determined to make.

I personally think that one of the bigger factors in the success of this program will be the almost complete removal of decision making from our diet. We totally don’t have to think about it.

Great C.S. Lewis quote

I posted a portion of this quote on Facebook today. Then I found myself wanting to read the context in which it was written. Well here it is!

“But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away “blindly” so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity