Some thoughts on (Exodus) 20:7 & other musings…

One of the earliest Sunday school lessons (that I remember) that stuck out to me was the lesson (series of lessons?) on the 10 Commandments. Now, I know that there are more than 10 commandments; to be precise, there are actually 613 commandments, both “do’s” & “don’ts” in the Law of Moses, aka the Torah. But all of the commandments are kicked off with “the 10” in Exodus 20, & for reals, 10 is an easier number to remember than 613. And, since we’re on the topic – Jesus narrowed it down to 2, which is even SIMPLER to remember than 10. As a firstborn, I am generally partial to lists & rules, so I really paid attention that particular week. I ‘learned’ the commandments & over the years I have tried to internalize not just the letter of those commands but also the spirit of them (Jesus goes into more detail on that with His “You’ve heard it said… but I say to you…” scriptures. If you click on that link, it will at least give you an understanding of what I’m talking about.)


Like many of you, I’ve been pondering the events in our nation’s capital last week (here’s a sneak peak just in case you’ve been out of touch or out of town, both of which I was last week. Ah, Lake Tahoe, miss you much). There’s a whole lot to think about… & one of the things that is repeatedly coming to mind are the depictions of people “storming the Capitol building” while holding signs that identified their actions as being associated with being followers of Jesus & acting in His Name. Reminded me of the 3rd commandment (you knew I’d eventually get back to the 10 commandments.)

“You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain. – Exodus 20:7 – English Standard Version

Looking back, my parents did a phenomenal job of helping me to learn about & live out our faith; not just the facts of it, but the spirit behind it as well. And, I sure learned the 10 commandments. I can recall several conversations that we had on what it meant to take the Lord’s Name in vain. It meant:

  • Using the Name as an exclamation or a ‘replacement’ swear word;
  • Speaking/writing the Name in a casual, common, derogatory, or irreverent manner;
  • Avoiding words & phrases that were close to taking the Name in vain (&/or that were euphemisms for it. Stuff like “gosh, golly, god, etc…” You get the picture.

For us it WASN’T about a list of ‘approved &/or rejected’ good/bad words; it WAS about honoring God & treating the Name with the respect & honor it deserves. (FWIW: There’s a whole bunch of scripture on the Name of God & the Name of Jesus… For example, my brothers & I knew that the Name was never to be used in a cavalier, disrespectful, or common manner because of the significance of the Name – the only Name under heaven given for people to be saved; the power of the Name -power to save, heal, transform, & protect; & the authority of the Name – one day every knee will bow & tongue confess the Name.)


A few things that keep surfacing in my head/heart – for me/others to:

  • Live & act & declare the Name of Jesus in a way that does NOT reflect the heart, character, & nature of Jesus Christ = taking His Name in vain.
  • Apply Jesus’ Name selectively & incongruently to my causes, my beliefs, my politics = taking His Name in vain.
  • Use Jesus’ Name to endorse political, economic, &/or military campaigns = taking His Name in vain.
  • Use the Name of Jesus as endorsement of a course of action I am undertaking in an  attempt to add significance, weight, &/or legitimacy = taking His Name in vain.

I know this isn’t an exhaustive list of what it means to take His Name in vain, but they are 4 types of ways that we DO it, to the detriment & discredit of our witness as believers in Christ. I don’t have all the answers & I know I’ve got a 2×4 in my own eye, so long before I go looking to try & get the sawdust out of ANYONE else’s eye, I’m asking that the Holy Spirit would go to work & address the junk in me. 


So what am I supposed to do if/when I want to show Jesus is alive, active, & real in my life? Here’s a few ideas:

  • Love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, & strength. Mark 12:29-31
  • Love my neighbors. Mark 12:29-31
  • Be kind/show kindness (love in action) to all. Ephesians 4:31,32
  • Do to/for others what I’d want them to do to/for me. Matthew 7:12
  • Be quick to listen, slow to speak, & slow to become angry. James 1:19
  • To the best of my ability live at peace with all people.
  • Only speak that which is helpful, encouraging, life-giving, & builds others up. Ephesians 4:29

In & around these (& other) Scriptures, there is also a TON of instruction on getting rid of/taking off the the junk in my life: the anger, the language, the attitudes, the behaviors, the spite, the hatred, etc… & putting on the New/putting on Christ – that which reflects Him & His Nature.

Feels like there is a lot of repenting, reflecting, & soul-searching ahead… & that is a good thing. Allowing my actions to speak & letting my words be few… that is too.

 

Christmas music, hope, resilience, & 2020

I’ll be returning to the series I’m doing on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality soon, but I just HAD to write about this today.


If you’d have asked me this morning how I was doing, I probably would have answered “Doing ok, all things considered.” And I am/was/might be. The reason I’m waffling a bit on my answer now, 3 hours later, is that I heard some instrumental Christmas music just now.

NOTE: For years, I’ve contended that there “shall be no Christmas music played in/around the Locke household whilst I am around to hear it until the day after Thanksgiving.” 

I don’t fancy myself to be a Grinch, but (usually,) hearing Christmas music in October/early November bothers me because it feels like People are trying to rush me past where I currently am in the calendar & in life. I LIKE Christmas music, but I want to wait til Christmas time to listen to it. In the meantime, I want to listen to (just about) anything BUT Christmas music.

Until today.


As usual for Mondays, I was working on some preliminary notes for next week’s message, as well as taking care of the administrative details that I take care of in advance of the bookkeeper working her magic. Had my door shut to keep the sounds of the Kindergarten students & their classroom happenings right outside my door, outside :).

And then I heard a familiar melody. And my heart leaped in my chest & I felt a rush of emotion. Didn’t recognize it right off the bat, so I listened closer & more intently. And then I knew.

It was a piano/instrumental version of “O Holy Night.” But instead of being bothered or frustrated at the intrusion of Christmas music(!) into my world before I was ready for it, I wept. For a moment, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.

I don’t know for sure WHY hearing this song moved me so much, but I have an inkling… the theme of HOPE that entered the world > 2000 years ago is reawakened in me today.

Found myself singing along quietly, sobbing a bit through tears…

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world, in sin and error pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine
O night
O night divine
Placide Cappeau/translated by John Sullivan Dwight


After months of pandemic madness, quarantine, Stay at home orders, missing out on connecting with so many friends & family & dear ones, a complete & worldwide disruption to normal… this song gave me exactly this:
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks, a new & glorious morn…
I felt hope. I FEEL hope. It’s small, & I’m definitely not overflowing at this point, but it is THERE. And the thing is, I didn’t even know that I was running 3 quarts low in my HOPE tank… but Jesus did. And today, O Holy Night stirred me up, & has me looking to our glorious hope for THIS tumultuous & difficult time… a hope that does NOT & will NOT disappoint. The Living Hope that is Jesus Christ, the One who will never leave US or forsake US.
Sustain my heart. Build resilience into my soul.
Bring on the Christmas music. #2020

There is no chore list…

On September 21, 2015, I was in a hole. Not a physical hole; a dark night of the soul kind of hole. (This is best explained through the lens of Peter Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” – check it out.) Without getting into all the gory details, I was a mess: personally & in all of my “roles” (man, husband, father, son, friend, pastor, etc…)

That particular day, I came across an “ad” on FaceBook that my friend David posted, advertising a 9-month invitation to participate in Spiritual Direction (SD) with him. I was down & desperate, so I thought, “Why not? Could it get any worse?” & I reached out to him & set up my 1st meeting. Basically, I’d describe spiritual direction as the process that happens when a trained ‘director’ sits with a person on a regular basis (for me it is 1x/month for 1 hour,) for the purpose of pursuing spiritual growth within the context of Holy-Spirit led questions, silence, reflection, some conversation, & prayer. (Very oversimplified definition, I know. But, I wanted to give you something here… & it is definitely NOT “finding a spiritual guru who will tell you what to do & how  to do it. Sitting with someone & being fully present is an incredible gift to the one receiving the gift of presence – both of God & of the director.)


Anyway, over the last 5 years, I’ve seen how God used this 1 hour/month to transform & “grow” me in an ongoing manner. The focus rarely has been on my role as a pastor; it is 99.99% about me, the man, pursuing growth in my relationship & understanding of God. Spiritual direction has played a key role in the overall plan God has used in/on me to make me more like Jesus. This has never been more true than over the last 5+ months of the pandemic, quarantine, & chaos that we all have experienced due to the COVID-19 world shutdown tour.


Like you, I’ve been forced to revisit my WHOLE LIFE over these last months: my devotions, my life-rhythms, the things I do/don’t do on just about every level. One issue I’ve wrestled with my whole life is equating my worth/value with what I am doing/producing. This isn’t just a Louie problem; its something that many, many people embrace as our culture subtly (& not so subtly) reinforces the message that busyness, productivity, doing, & accomplishments are what are valued & important & should be pursued.

I’ve battled in the “being vs. doing” war for years, & I’ve seen great growth in my life… I (mostly) structured my life to give myself time to BE (being physically & mentally present with people, celebrating a Sabbath, taking regular vacations, not over-scheduling myself, etc…) The pandemic & forced stoppage has (temporarily?) taken away our ability to ‘get away.’ (I find it easy to get away & be on vacation when I am far from home. Mexico is nice.) Three short getaways & a 2 week Puerto Vallarta anniversary trip cancelled. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to God about this – “So, if I can’t GET AWAY for the times we scheduled for rest, recharging, & connecting with each other, WHAT am I going to do to make sure I don’t slip back into doing all the time?”


Yesterday during my spiritual direction time, this same theme (being vs. doing) came up. As I was pondering one of the questions David asked me, I got a picture in my mind of the interactions of the two sisters, Mary & Martha, with Jesus. (Luke 10:38-42)

You may have heard this one – its where Jesus goes to the sisters’ house & one of them, Martha, rushes around doing chores & sprucing the place up (the Savior is here! Of course the place needs to be clean, right?.) But while Martha is cleaning up a storm, her sister, Mary, just sits at Jesus’ feet. Martha gets ticked off & finally asks Jesus to make Mary help out… & Jesus’ gently corrects her & reminds her that Mary has chosen the BETTER part by just sitting & being with Him. (BTW: Kate Miner has an incredible song that addresses this, “Prodigal Martha” which for some reason I can’t find a free recording on the inter-webs, so you’ll have to do with just the lyrics. Buy the album – Prodigal Martha on her SITE. You’ll thank me later.)

The image of the 2 sisters has been one that God has used for YEARS to remind me of His invitation for me to JUST BE with Him… I don’t need to be constantly occupied with stuff (even good, well-meaning, church-y stuff…) but to be occupied with Him. These days, I’d even say that most of the time, I would readily identify with Mary the BE-er more than I would Martha the DO-er.

And then God interrupted my thought process with an image of a list of chores that I was rehearsing in my head, stuff that needed to be done if/when I’m with Jesus doing my Mary impersonation. Yes, I might be sitting at Jesus’ feet, but was I really listening to Him, or was I looking at my chores, my to-do list?

I felt a gentle nudge in my Spirit & ‘heard’ God say, “You’re coming to Me & you know that I want you to just BE here with Me, but you’re still thinking that somehow, someway, that it isn’t enough, that you aren’t enough for Me when you just BE. And you’re rehearsing this list & I want to tell you: ‘THERE IS NO CHORE LIST.'”


That realization cut me to the heart: there’s no chore list? God isn’t bored with the idea of me just BEING with Him? He’s not waiting impatiently, (in my head at least) for me to get moving & get doing? To get the chores done?

I am enough because HE is enough, & what He says, goes.

In the way that only God can, He took me on a mental review of how my Bible-reading time has shifted over the last several months. It’s no longer a minimum list of chapters or a minimum time to be fulfilled… more & more, it’s morphed into a “I read & then reflect until I’m done. There were several more examples He brought to my mind, but suffice it to say, He re-showed me that He IS transforming me, & is inviting me to:

  • Keep sitting at His feet on a regular basis
  • Put away the chore list, the mental arrangement of things to do because He said so – there is no chore list.
  • Just BE. –  (if you’ve never clicked on the “JUST BE” link, click on it. GREAT song by Jesus Culture & Kim Walker-Smith. You’ll thank me later.)

I wept. And I came away from that time feeling different. I knew that God said I am enough because HE is enough, & that He enjoys time with me just because… not because of what I can do, but because we’re together. My heart is lighter & I’m feeling some of my Type-A personality fading away to the point that it is getting difficult to hear the ticking of the clock that’s always run in my head…


You are enough because HE is enough. Just BE. And great news: There IS NO chore list…

The Gospel & racism… #1

“The question we have to ask is: Does the Gospel, as we currently preach it, have the power to deal with racism?” – John Perkins, Pastor & Activist.

(I came across this in a book I’m currently reading called, “The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb,” by Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel. For more about John Perkins, I’d recommend reading his book, “Dream With Me: Race, Love, & the Struggle We Must Win.” ) In a nutshell, he followed closely in the footsteps of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. beginning in the 1960’s & stood up (continues to stand up) to injustice & racism through a life-pattern of nonviolent resistance, which Dr. King defined as “the courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love of Christ.)


Pastor Perkins experienced unlawful arrests & imprisonments, countless beatings at the hands of mobs & police officers who were professing christians intent on maintaining the status quo of their segregated & stratified society. So his question, “The question we have to ask is: Does the Gospel, as we currently preach it, have the power to deal with racism?” is legitimate & demands an answer. And if the answer is, “No,” then something about how we’re preaching it has to change. Because the Gospel tells how, in Christ, all of the things humanity has used to stratify, to oppress, to create inequity are stripped away. (see Colossians 3:11 & Galatians 3:27,28)


Though I’ve never seen myself as an activist & I definitely am not a fan of (most) all things political, I am greatly disturbed by what continues to happen in our country with racially based inequality, injustice, persecution, murder, violence, & the like. And I want to do something about it. Not in a condescending or tokenistic manner, but something meaningful.

For the last 18 years I’ve served as a pastor to our church. I have tried my best to be faithful to the Gospel Good News, to the message of Christ, to live out the Golden Rule & to encourage others to BE & DO what Jesus would be BEING & DOING if He was walking in their shoes. Looking back, I’ve been Naive. Uninformed. Unaware. So, for the last couple of years, I’ve tried to be more intentional in my informal education & in challenging my own perspectives & points of view. I’m reading books, listening to podcasts, engaging in conversations, & trying to learn, trying to grow, trying to understand more about the continuing troubles flowing from racism & racist attitudes, thoughts, mindsets, & behaviors. I want to try to figure out what I can do to be a part of a solution, to be a help. I believe – anyone can be divisive, anyone can stir up trouble, anyone can tear something/someone down… but it takes intentionality, patience, grace, forgiveness, & more to BUILD & keep building something of worth.


I greatly admire & look up to my dear friend, David, a.k.a Opie for many reasons. One of the most prominent is because over the last 20 years, he has lived out his faith in Christ in practical ways in his job, his community, & his church. And it has led to him being a constructive & helpful voice in his city, as he is leading significant conversations & cultivating understanding between whites & African-Americans in his racially divided city. His grasp of the gospel, in action, gives me hope & an affirmative answer, YES!, to the John Perkins quote/question at the top of this blog.


 

Throughout 2018, I hope to revisit the topic of this blog in meaningful, thoughtful ways – & to find what path I’m supposed to take/keep taking to be able to answer “YES. The Gospel I’m declaring has the power to deal with racism.”

What’s in a NAME? A couple more ThoughtFormative books (pt.2), & other musings…

12 years ago, theBean had a dream – to start a preschool in our church. With the help of a dear friend & a lot of hard work (& through too many twists, turns, & versions to mention,) it is thriving & is functioning far beyond anything I could ever have imagined. She (& her team) rock. About 2 weeks ago, most/all of the Kindergarten-age kids transitioned out of the preschool & into “the Real World;” at the same time, the school has had an influx of kids (babies through age 5) that has not only kept our enrollment up where it was at the end of the last school year, there are actually more kids currently attending than at any other time in our school’s history. Very cool to see.

What’s also cool is that, through the school, we get to reach people from all over the world, right here in our town. Currently,(in addition to the U.S.) we have kids from:

  • China
  • Russia
  • Mexico
  • Syria
  • Nigeria

It stands to reason, we’d have our share of interesting names… & we do…  In that vein, I’ve noticed a baby name-trendSee if you can pick up the pattern – we have:

  • Jackson
  • Jaxon
  • Jaxson
  • Jaxzyn (also pronounced JACK-son)
  • Axton
  • Paxton
  • Daxon
  • (STACK-son)

True story. (Mom of Staqxson said she had invented the name. I believe her.) No judgement from me. It does make me wonder, however, what do people consider, what do they think about, what is the process for picking a name for their baby? In Bible days, kids were given names specifically because of what they meant, because of the significance. Take for instance the name –John it means, “the grace/mercy of the Lord” & “God’s gracious gift.”  I can totally get that (named my own kid that. Makes sense in the case of Zechariah & Elizabeth too. And in the instance of Hosea’s kid, the name given served as an object lesson from God to His people – the boy was named Lo Ammi” which means, “not My people,”  (Sorry kid. God told me to call you this. Nothing personal.) People could end up naming their kid after a favorite movie character like Edward. Jacob. Bella. The Twilight Saga.)  or after a favorite TV channel, like ESPN, (there are estimated to be 93 kids named ESPN in the US.) Made me giggle a little bit to see that there is even a web page dedicated to the topic, “How To Pick A Baby Name” which includes helpful insights like “5 Pitfalls to avoid when choosing a name.”

For me & theBean: we wanted all of our kids names to mean something significant to us & them. We named all of the kids after loved ones. We (mostly I,) also used a couple of tests to screen names. They were:

  • The SCREAM IT FROM THE BACK PORCH test – (patent pending). It’s pretty self-explanatory. You yell the full name, out loud, outside & then listen to what you said. Many things in life can be avoided by simply Saying Them Out Loud before you do it. Think on that.
  • The KINDERGARTEN FRUSTRATION test – I figured when my kids were in Kindergarten, they probably had enough issues to deal with other than trying to spell out a long, unusual, elaborate name (esp. if it was something many adults couldn’t spell.) We avoided this with my daughter because she went by Weezer, Weezie, or theWeez for the 1st 12 or so years of her life.

Anyway – should be an interesting school year.


ThoughtFormative Book List, pt. 2 (pt. 1 can be found HERE.) 

  • The Monday Morning Church: Out of the Sanctuary, & Into the Streets – Jerry Cook – in a nutshell, this book explores what it could look like if every person who follows Christ would pray, think about, & then act as if they were doing what Jesus would be doing, if He were walking in their shoes, in their world. Because, in essence, that is EXACTLY what our mission is. And we are all little pieces of JesusEphesians,, & we all know how much the people of our world need that. It’s also a study through the letter to the & it is a (30 years later) sequel to Love, Acceptance, & Forgiveness.
  • A Long Obedience In the Same Direction – Eugene Peterson – this ThoughtFormative gem is a breath of fresh air & a slice of real-life Christianity on the topic of discipleship – the process of becoming like Christ. Life w/Christ is NOT all emotional, “on-fire,” mountain-top experiences where it seems God is SO close, all the time. Many times, it feels like God gives us an encouragement, a direction to head in, & then… nothing (real or perceived.) It details the need for perseverancea never give up, never surrender , a stick-to-itiveness, life outlook (ala, Isaiah 50:7). The clincher for me is the quote Peterson used for the name of the book: The essential thing in heaven & earth is…that there should be a long obedience in the same direction, there thereby results, & has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good & Evil. 

Enough for today. Look for opportunities today to BE & DO what Jesus would be BEING & DOING in your shoes. Because He is. And you’re it. #BeTheGood

Monday afternoon musings…

This morning I observed the normal hustle & bustle of our start to the week – thePastyGangster dropped Mason on his way to work so that Auntie Weezie could take him to preschool. He entered the kitchen in a whirlwind of energy & didn’t slow down. Frank came bounding down the stairs so theBean could take him to school… then rushed back upstairs at least 2 more times because he forgot something. (For such a little guy he sure makes a lot of noise.) iDoey was up & at ’em making breakfast… everyone was headed in different directions at 100 m.p.h. Still, it was a good morning.

The flurry of activity common to our weekday mornings stands in stark contrast to our Sunday afternoons/evenings.  The afternoons are peaceful, quiet, & restful, with only the occasional football game related noise (cries of anguish for 49er fans like me,) breaking the silence It’s a time for rest, catching up on a good book, eating a favorite snack, or just hanging out. The evenings we gather around the dinner table (or counter,) usually with family & friends for a good meal, even better discussion, & time together to be savored. I love it.


I’m really enjoying our current series, “The Jesus Way,” a study through the gospel of John. The thing that really stands out to me is Jesus’ use of the words/imagery of LIGHT & LIFE in describing what He came to bring for any/all who would put their trust in & follow Him. In my studies, I came across the Didache(a.k.a. the teachings of the 12 Apostles,) a document most likely put together in the 2nd century. Like its name suggests, it shares teachings of the early church on topics such as water baptism, communion/the Eucharist, prayer & fasting, etc…

An area that really jumped out to me was the section called “the 2 ways.” In a nutshell, it says there are 2 Ways – one that leads to LIFE (trusting & following Christ) & one that leads to DEATH (anything else.)  It reminds me of Jesus’ declaration from Matthew 7:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide & the way is easy that leads to destruction, & those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow & the way is hard that leads to life, & those who find it are few.


I have been on a ‘soup’ kick for the last few months. Seems like I just can’t get enough. My current favorite is made with grilled onions & garlic, cumin, green chiles, diced jalapenos, black & white beans, chicken stock, & the meat of a Costco rotisserie chicken. Lots of flavor & a little bit of spice. I think I’ve been eating it an average of 2x/day.


In the mornings when Mason comes over, I’ll hear him call out, “Hey Grammy.” And I look, expecting to see a grandmother… & I see theBean. Sometimes this doesn’t quite feel like real life, like somehow I have been transported into a future that isn’t my own. And then I look around for my little kids & instead I see 3 adults… 2 grown men with grown man jobs, & a grown woman who’s working really hard & setting herself up for the next chapter of her life. And I wonder, “Is this real life?”

And then Mason says, “Whatcha doing Poppy? Can I have a doughnut?”

And I remember, “Ah, yes. This is real life.”


Just signed up to be a part of a spiritual direction program for the next 9 months. It’s a 1x/month meeting via Skype & I have no idea what to expect, except that I am expecting good things.


 

I’m convinced that whatever you look for in somebody, you’ll find.  If you’re looking for the good, for the areas that God is at work in & through, you’ll be able to uncover it, even if it’s small. And if you look for the negative, the bad, the ugly part of us that everyone has, you’ll find that too.

On that note, there’s always something in life to be complaining about, but really? Why? Why complain about life circumstances, another person who isn’t meeting your expectations about how they’re living their life, etc… ? It doesn’t help, & it makes it not very fun to be around you. Trust me. I’ve been that guy – & one of the best days of my life was when someone told me, “You are SO negative, & you complain about SO many things. It’s tiresome.” I was forced to look in the mirror of my soul & I found a lot of discontent – stuff that was for me to address about myself… & the complaining & negativity were just symptoms, a distraction maybe, that oriented me towards living as a pessimist/realist/negative Nancy. a real downer who was very critical of myself & others. No fun. Don’t want to go back to that.

Here’s to a great day.


 

 

 

Do I ever REALLY stop? & other musings…

Just looked at the calendar. Five Mondays from today, theBean & I will be on our first day of sabbatical. I’m trying to prepare for this time away, with the purpose of being as intentional as possible about what we’re doing. So, I’m revisiting some studies that I began about 10 years ago on the Sabbath & Sabbath rest. I’ll be blogging some of my thoughts, discoveries, wonderings, & questions here over the next several weeks…(If you’re interested, you can read more about WHY we’re taking a sabbatical HERE)


 

A couple of my favorite ways to study something in the Scriptures are to

  1. find the word in the original language, along with a working definition of the word;
  2. do a word-search & find the first place in the Bible the word is found…
  3. ‘popcorn’ around to other places the word is found, referenced, discussed, etc…

I looked up Sabbath & found the first time the word itself is used is in Exodus 16:23  & it shows up quite a few more times, most notably in Exodus 20:8 – the place in Scripture where God gives Moses the commandments (of the most famous “10 commandments,” the command to remember the Sabbath & keep it holy is #4. But I digress. Fun rabbit trail though.) The definition of Sabbath is “to stop; rest; come to rest; cease.” The more I dug, I discovered that though the word first showed up in Exodus, the first time the concept or practice of Sabbath appears in the Bible is in Genesis 2:1-3 as a part of the creation narrative. It says:

Heaven & Earth were finished, down to the last detail. By the seventh day God had finished His work. On the seventh day He rested from all His work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day, because on that day He rested from His work, all the creating God had done. The Message

Think about it. The final ‘act’ of creation was God creating Sabbath, Holy Time –This was so important that He built it into the fabric of creation by working six days, then on the seventh day, He STOPPED. And then He RESTED.


The more I roll this around in my head, the more I see how tied together the two are: you cannot rest until you stop. So I think about what it takes to stop, to REALLY stop. And I think about myself & my own life patterns & pace of life. I reflect on our cultural norms, behaviors & attitudes that are normal, at least until they are held up to the mirror of God’s Word. And I ask myself, “Do you ever really stop? Do WE?”


We live in a 24/7 city – in a country that celebrates busyness, activity, & multi-tasking. We rarely think about let alone embrace the fact that we have limits – on our time, our physical/mental/emotional capacity, & on what we can do & do well. We often push ourselves & our schedules to the limit, cramming as much activity into our days & weeks as possible. We usually don’t get enough sleep & survive/re-engage with life because of coffee/energy drinks. (An interesting fact – in 2006 when I began my studies on Sabbath, I researched the caffeine, how much was consumed in the US, & how much money was spent on it. Here’s what I found: In 2006, more than $12 Billion was spent on coffee, & another $1.1 Billion was spent on energy drinks, most of which were consumed by people in the 18-25 year old range. Fast forward to 2014 – close to $40 Billion was spent on coffee last year & a staggering $13.5 Billion was spent on energy drinks, a figure which is estimated to rise to at last $21.5 Billion by the year 2017. And the reason more than 60% said they drank coffee/energy drinks? In essence it was, “I need it to get going & keep going. Can’t do what I do without it.”)

When we have time off, we use it to get everything done that we couldn’t finish during the work week, &/or we pack our free time with all sorts of activities. Technology doesn’t help us out here – the modern conveniences of ‘staying connected’ through our smart-phones, computers, omni-present wifi, mp3 players keeps a constant barrage of stimulation & noise bouncing around our brains.

No wonder silence seems strange.


 

Do I ever REALLY stop? When was the last time I took a day, set apart as Holy Time, & didn’t work… didn’t get preoccupied/distracted with something… just intentionally set myself up to BE?

The defense mechanisms kick in quickly. Countless reasons for WHY I do what I do, & WHY taking much time (let alone a day) is just about impossible with all the things that fill my busy schedule come to mind.

And then I think about what I read last week from Matthew 11:25-30, especially the part about finding God’s rhythms of grace for life… & I contrast that to the driven, life-sucking pace & practices that lurk around me… And I want that rhythm, God’s rhythm for me. And so I invite Him in to the mess of me… & I trust He will FINISH what He starts.

Ready? Set? LISTEN…

At Hillside, we just finished up our most recent series, “Who am I REALLY?” (You can listen HERE & HERE if you’re interested.)  It was an exploration of WHO God says we are, in Him, & WHAT the ramifications of that are in our lives. I really enjoyed it, & got to hear lots of feedback from others on the things that they were learning & hearing from God as He did work in helping them grow in Him.


My process for deciding where we go next involves prayer, planning, looking at the calendar, & thinking… all of which usually happen (& are completed) in advance of needing to start another series. Not this time. Finished the series yesterday – no idea where we were going next… that is a bit of a feeling of desperation, exacerbated by the fact that theBean & I are starting a sabbatical June 22 at the strong ‘urging‘ of my district supervisor, Ron. In a nutshell, here’s how it went down:

Last Summer, theBean & I had a conversation with Ron, & he asked very specific questions about our lives & about our time in Reno. And when we affirmed that we were celebrating year 15 in our city, he said, “It’s time for you to take a sabbatical.” I knew what those were… And my mind raced. And he continued: “And it needs to be at least 6 weeks. Preferably more. Make it happen.”

And when one’s supervisor says such things, you does them.

BTW: Here’s a SUM UP of what a sabbatical is (it’s wikipedia – don’t sue me:)  – & here’s some INFO on why sabbaticals are helpful to pastors:  – & here’s MORE.  


I had to take a 2 hour drive this morning (1 hour each way.) Time in the car + a car with a broken antennae = lot’s of quiet time. My time was filled with prayer (open eyes… I didn’t ask Jesus to take the wheel) & pondering something deep in my gut. It was a couple of verses that I have a lot of history with:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me & you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me & work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me & you’ll learn to live freely & lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

And it hit me – a strong nudge from God – “I want to you come to Me & recover your life, & as you prepare for your sabbatical, bring Hillside along in the process.”


 

This might sound to you like a no-brainer – if the pastor’s going to be gone for several weeks, wouldn’t it be a good idea to talk quite a bit about it & to prepare the community for it as well? I would say, “Yes. Yes it does.” And, to be fair, I have talked about it. A little. And so I repented. Asked God for forgiveness for getting caught up in the speed & race of life. And for dis-remembering what it means to live life at God’s unforced rhythm of grace. Cause a sabbath (& a sabbatical) are not just meant to be a recovery time so that we can jump back, helter-skelter, into the out of control mess of life. Rather, they are to form a pattern for how life is lived the rest of the week/month/year, etc… a life lived at God’s pace, with His values, purposes, & goals directing every step. It’s counter-intuitive to the world-system (& even church-system) & requires both LEARNING to walk at God’s pace & REMAINING dependent upon Him for what comes next… Here we go!

 

Jesus Revolution –

The Jews lived through hundreds of years of captivity in foreign lands, and they were finally returned to their homeland, Judea, one of many nations dominated by the massive military might of the Roman Empire. Every Israelite knew the prophecies about a coming Messiah, the Anointed One who would deliver their people. The Messiah would be a direct descendant of Israel’s greatest king, David, the psalmist & fearsome warrior who led Israel in the overthrow of the Philistines. He ruled & reigned in power & might. As David’s descendant, it was thought the Messiah would overthrow the Roman oppressors & ascend David’s throne as King of Israel.

When Jesus came declaring, “the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent & believe the gospel,” His people kept expecting that if He was the Messiah, He would lead the fight for freedom, & start a revolution.

Except He didn’t.  He didn’t provoke rebellion against the Romans like so many in Judea had done before Him. He didn’t try to stir up Israel in a nationalistic fervor. He didn’t focus on all the elements of a kingdom that seemed so obvious to everyone: political, economic, & military power.

Instead, He proclaimed a kingdom that was unlike any other  – a Jesus REVOLUTION– centered on loving God & loving people. And the world hasn’t been the same since.

This Christmas season at Hillside, we will be inviting God to do a Jesus REVOLUTION  – & exploring where it begins, how it spreads, & how it applies in each of our lives.

Rediscovering Thanksgiving…

I have a confession. Up until about 6 years ago, I didn’t like Thanksgiving. As in dreaded it. Couldn’t wait for it to be DONE. OVER. PAST.

While you pick your chin up off the floor, & scratch your heads, wondering, “How could a guy not like Thanksgiving?,” let me answer a couple of the inevitable questions that follow such a declaration about one of the United States’ most significant holidays:

  • Football is one of my favorite things
  • I am an American & have been for as long as I can remember
  • Why, yes, I am a Foursquare pastor who loves Jesus
  • And no, I don’t kick little dogs just for entertainment

Why did I have such a hard time with Thanksgiving?

Every year around November 1, an almost tangible dark cloud settled over me, often remaining until December was in sight. My attitude was negative, my forecast was gloomy, & the dread of enduring a day that was supposed to be about remembering God’s faithfulness, the people & things we’re thankful for, & making memories was overwhelming. My wife, Joni, who I affectionately call TheBean, even tried to lift my spirits by allowing the Thanksgiving menu to include MY favorite food, BBQ beef ribs, & by exempting me from any turkey consumption. But I digress…

Then Julia came to visit.

Julia (pronounced YOO-leee-ahhhh!) is a young woman in her early 20s from a small town in southwestern Germany called Achern. I’d met her, her family, & her pastor on one of the many trips I had taken to Germany to visit the Foursquare churches (& our sister church in Frankfurt.)

Julia had always wanted to visit the States, & experience American culture up close & personal by staying in someone’s home. I talked with theBean about it, & we made the necessary arrangements for Julia to come stay with us for 6 months, starting in September 2008.

While Julia spoke English, our Western American dialect was totally foreign to her, & her puzzled expression while she tried to figure out the meaning, significance, & nuances of such Americanisms as “Dude!,” “Awesome!,” & “Sweet We loved the new perspective that Julia brought us as we got to see ourselves (& our lives) through her eyes.

She started asking questions about Thanksgiving some time in October. Evidently, she’d been told by one of her friends about this “Significant American Holiday,” & she wanted to make sure she was ready for it. I tried giving her the standard, elementary school take on the origins of Thanksgiving, complete with tall tales about the Pilgrims & Squanto. That wasn’t enough for her; she wanted to know more. WHAT? WHY? HOW? WHEN? Julia’s questions came in a deluge.

About a week before Thanksgiving, I finally told her: “Julia, I don’t like Thanksgiving & I can’t wait for it to be over & done.”

She looked at me with a bewildered look “So, it’s about family, being together, thankfulness to God, & good food, & you don’t like it? It seems AWESOME,” She said.

I responded, “I know it does. But not for me.”

In my desperation, I cried out to the LORD. This was something that I’d done many times before, but this particular time, there was a response:

Look at what Scripture says about thanksgiving.

So I did. I broke out my Bible software & I searched, researched, & studied thanksgiving, giving thanks, thankfulness (& all possible permutations of the word.) I pored over the plethora of verses and Psalm 100:4, 5 filled my heart.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, & His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His Name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, & His faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:4,5 ESV

As I meditated on this passage, I felt a ‘peeling away’, almost like my soul was experiencing a “power-washing” like the do-it-yourself-ers do to their home in preparation for painting it. The layers that were exposed contained elements of thoughts, feelings, & emotions that I readily recognized:

Frustration. Anger. Fear. Anxiety. Ungratefulness. Negativity. Unforgiveness. Unbelief. Bitterness. Grief.

I don’t know where they all came from, but there they were. I can remember numbly saying, “Well, God, I’m a mess. A big one. Please help me.”

The following Scripture came to my mind:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. 1Peter 5:5-7 ESV

I took it as a holy nudge, & knelt down as a sign of humility. I asked the LORD to search my heart, to clean it, & to heal me. Words poured from my mouth almost faster than I could mentally grasp them; words of confession, repentance, sorrow, declaration, & petition for His grace.

Something changed.

Thanksgiving Day arrived, complete with lots of food, family, fun, laughter, & of course, football. Before dinner, we gathered to pray a blessing, & each of us took a second to share something that we were thankful for. I participated. And meant it.

When it came to Julia, she asked if she could pray a prayer of thanks. She prayed, first in English/American (she even said AWESOME!) then in German. As she flowed into her mother tongue, tears of gratefulness poured down her cheeks; I didn’t understand all of the words she spoke, but I firmly grasped the spirit of thanksgiving that filled the room.

I wept; tangible thanks filled my soul with life & with the oil of joy sealed up the cracks in my soul with a healing salve.

And all I could think of was how thankful I was. And still am.

Thank you YOO-leee-ahhhh! And thank you, Jesus.