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.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving, gratitude, & Christmas starts on October 28th…

A few days before Halloween, I walked into Costco to pick up some supplies for dinner. I made it 30 feet into the store & was confronted by a huge snowman, who just happened to be fronting a mega-sized Christmas display. Christmas display.

Christmas carols emanated from somewhere in the pile of holiday cheer. Anchoring the display were several large ticket items, each promising to be the core of many present-wish lists. I stood staring for a good minute, soaking in the spectacle. Someone stopped next to me & commented, “Awesome, huh?! I can’t wait for Black Friday!” Me: “Help me Jesus.”

This reminded me that our culture is a consuming, self-indulgent culture – it’s in the DNA of our human-sinful nature. 1John 2:15 speaks of it when John writes: “Don’t love the world, or the things of the world…for all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh, & the desires of the eyes, & the pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away, along with its desires…”

To me, John is warning us against 3 HUGE temptations: the desires of the flesh (self-indulgence,) the desires of the eyes (a never-fulfilled longing for MORE stuff) & the pride of life (selfish, me-focused ambition.) These things each have the ability to shipwreck us & our faith by pulling our focus (& priority) onto things that are temporary at the expense of the eternal. What are some ways that we can battle this when it is so much a part of our culture it SEEMS normal that stores would open at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day?

One way is by asking the Holy Spirit to sensitize us to values & priorities that are eternal (Think Matthew 6:19-24,) Another is asking Him to reveal areas of our hearts where our priorities have gotten out of whack. If/when we discover something is off, we repent & make a shift in our thoughts/directions/actions.

Ultimately, in this season of thanksgiving, cultivating contentedness & gratitude will help establish priorities centering on the things that really matter.

The pursuit of happiness & the gratitude experiment…

The preamble to the Declaration of Independence states a belief that the Creator has given us certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness. Even if we haven’t been in a civics or government class in a while, we know, as Americans, these things are our birthright.

It’s interesting to me that Jefferson (& his editors) included the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” – & it makes me ask the questions, “What would it take for us to BE happy?” And “If I’m pursuing happiness, what does it look like when I CATCH it?”

Think about it: what would make you happy… for a long time? Think big. Winning the lottery? Being able to live in a tropical paradise? Your favorite sports team winning the Super Bowl/World Series/etc…?

It seems like that would do the trick – surprisingly, however, statistics say something different. For example, a study of lottery winners showed an initial spike in happiness immediately following their winning the big bucks. However, within 9-12 months of the win, lottery winners reported that they felt no more “happy” than they had before they won all the money.

People adapt to their life circumstances – & in order to “be happy” we need to do something/try something new. Which works for a while – until we adapt again. It’s like being on a “pursuit of happiness treadmill,” always chasing, but never quite attaining it permanently. (The scientific name for this phenomena is “the hedonic treadmill.” Read about it HERE.)


So what can a person do to increase their longer-lasting feelings of happiness? Again statistics reveal that people who regularly express gratitude & thankfulness to those in their lives have a significantly higher sense of happiness. I think that the reason for this is expressing gratitude involves being mindful of our life circumstances, & actively looking for the areas where we have been blessed, loved, & cared for. Check out this brief VIDEO for some really great info on the ‘gratitude/happiness’ corollation’

Over the next couple of weeks at Hillside, we’ll be in a series called, “The Gratitude Experiment.” I’d like to encourage you to take time to write some lists of the people, places, & things that you are thankful for. Then, write a brief note to/call the people in your life that you’re thankful for & blessed by & share that with them.

Deutschland #4 & #4.5

Woke up early on Sunday & got ready for church – on a whim, I decided to try to FaceTime theBean (it was midnight at home, so I thought my chances of catching her awake were slim to none.) Imagine my surprise when she answered on the first ring. There’s nothing in the world like the sound & sight of myOne. Our brief connection made the rest of the day seem doable.


After a quick breakfast, we headed out to church. Actually, it was to a regional church service – every 8 weeks or so, the 5 Foursquare churches in the area get together for a joint service. On a rotational basis, each church takes part of the responsibility for elements of the service (kids ministries, hospitality, worship, announcements, preaching/teaching, etc.) The reason behind the get-together is two-fold:

  1. Fellowship & relationship building – there aren’t many Christians in Germany, so opportunities for getting together with other Christians are rare. The kind of encouragement & ‘life boost’ that comes from these get-togethers is huge.
  2. Many of the “free” (non-Catholic/Lutheran) churches in Germany are small – 40 people & under. Partnering with other churches allows them to share resources & do more than they could do if they were organizing a gathering on their own. It’s a cool picture of parts of the body of Christ functioning well for the benefit & growth of the whole body. It really makes the self-focused, “doing church my way for my church’s benefit” that is emerging in the Western Church seem pretty silly, petty, & shallow.

Tim spoke on the 3 marks of a disciple from Mark 3 – emphasizing that disciples have 1) been with Jesus; 2) been sent by Jesus; 3) have lives marked by the power of God as evidenced by declaration of the gospel & overthrow of the kingdom of darkness. He did a great job bringing things into a context that made sense regardless of our nation of origin/language. Made me proud, & I’m loving watching he & his wife Deborah fall in love with the people, church, & nation of Deutschland.

IMG_1557I was whisked away right after church to the house of Julia’s sister, Linda, & her husband Heiko. I haven’t seen them since right before they were married a couple years back, so I really looked forward to catching up with them. They spent the morning prepping a BBQ for us – & goodness, it was tasty. We ate steaks, white sausage, tater salad – German style, cucumber salad, & a kind of meat that came from France that no one really translated. It was French, but even so, it was palatable. Here’s a picture of Heiko & Julia, representing Nevada & the Wolf Pack, surrounded by German flags. I had to tell them to put their index fingers up to make “#1” – because in Germany/most of the rest of the world, they start counting numbers with the thumb being #1. They were happy to look like ‘real Americans.”


IMG_1558We’d barely finished lunch when Linda decided to take us on a brief walk through the forest near their home, overlooking a green, tree-filled valley. Didn’t walk too fast – didn’t want to hurl. It was a beautiful, refreshing walk through the trees – except for the 50 meter section where the midges showed up in force. Mr. Frodo, I feel your pain. I ended up with several bites on my right leg – evidently that one is much tastier than the left.


Unfortunately, I had to leave early from the family dinner to head out. Julia drove me to meet Jochen (the regional leader) & Tim & their families for a dinner in a local biergarten in the village of Ulm. Think Great Basin-Sparks outside sitting area x3 & covered with a well-trimmed & lush grass patio blanket, surrounded by 30 foot tall trees. It was nice. Over the pub-brewed beer, we discussed Foursquare, both the US & Deutsch churches, & went back & forth asking/answering questions… there were a few times as we talked that I could see that some of the political/bureaucratic activities that unfortuntely happen as denominations get larger really struck a nerve, & gave me new & fresh eyes to reconsider what has been our (US) normal for church life.

For the most part, we schemed different ways for an interchange to take place between the US & German churches… & have a couple potential dates on the calendar for next year. We’re meeting to firm them up over dinner tonight.


Got back to the house of Kern in time for a snack – salami, cheeze, pretzel bread, & some vino from a local vintner. One of my highlights from this trip has been time around the tables, both in the kitchen & on the patio, with the Kern family: Klaus, Pia, & dear Julia. They’ve taken great measures to ‘stop life” & make the days I’m here very, very special. Words are inadequate to describe the special, special gift that this has been to me, & I am very, very thankful for this ‘chosen family’ who have become some of ‘my people” on the other side of the world.


The storm hit about 10 p.m. Rain. Thunder & lightning. Wind. Reports of a tornado touchdown in nearby Rammstein. It was hot, humid & loud. Made it very, very hard to sleep. I guess I eventually drifted off around 2:30 a.m., as my last iMessage to theBean was at about 2.


Woke up on Day 5 (4.5 for blog purposes) with a start at 8. FaceTimed theBean again as she was off to bed. Weirdness to be starting & ending our days at exactly opposite times. Winding down while the other is winding up. But the 9 hour time difference is cool too, as it provides a great communication window. This morning, I wished I was home getting ready for sleep in my own bed. And I would have turned on the air. TheBean told me she turned the air off upstairs because she likes to be warm. Evidently, 90 degrees in our room is just about right. No exaggeration, no kidding. That girl.


IMG_1563My man bag has died. I bought it 7 years ago in Frankfurt, & it has survived travels all over the world, carrying my lappy, journal, notebook & all my other ‘go-tos’. It has holes in the sides & bottom, & it no longer zips. Therefore, I decided to replace it – Julia took me shopping a couple of places until I picked out the newby. Here it is.

Found out that the store we were shopping in had a familiar name, so I decided to get a pic of the sign with Julia in it. IMG_1565

A successful shopping trip deserves a reward, so Julia & I drove a whole 7 minutes to get out of town & go to McDonalds. It was an experiment really – I wanted to see if the beef in the McDonalds burgers tastes the same as it does at home. Got a McDouble w/extra ketchup. Turns out, they taste totally different. It might be that they use Australian beef here like they do in Eastern Europe. Not sure, but the burger tasted… beefier? More real? Its not like I eat at McDonalds at home very often; more like 2 or 3 times a year. Maybe it was because I was a hungry elf & anything would taste good. It was time well-spent.


Picked up a couple of gifts & then headed to the house to study a bit for next Sunday (I’m preaching in Mainz, Germany at the church of Jan von Wille, a pastor & the national leader of Foursquare Deutschland. I’m doing a variation on the last message I preached at home: We Are On A Mission From God, text John 20:19-22. For the last hour or so, Julia & I have been sitting at the table, not talking, working on our laptops. She’s my kind of people, & I’m so thankful for this wonderful adopted German daughter. Love being her Ami-Papi (the name she gave me, means “American Dad.”) I’ll finish my Monday blog sometime tonight or tomorrow morning, after I live it. :)

I close this blog before I head to take a nap with a picture of the old Man-Bag next to the new one. Distinctly heard the old one say to the new one, “Carry on.”

IMG_1566

 

Rosarito, Day 1

Met at the church today at 5:30 a.m. & had the van packed by 5:50… on the road by 6. Quickest pack job ever. 9 of us prayed & piled into the van for the long trip that would eventually end with us in Rosarito, Mexico for day 1 of our mission.

I was the driver today… didn’t initially plan to drive the whole way myself, but it worked out… & I don’t feel like a zombie. The only difficult part was when everyone in the van went to sleep, leaving me cruising down the I5 attempting to will any drowsiness away. Didn’t turn on the radio until we hit LA traffic.

Made it to our destination, Carl’s Jr in San Diego where we met up with Don & Sandy Godwin, the pastors of Hope Chapel Rosarito, & their daughter Emily (who lived with theBean & I for several months last year.) They will be serving as our hosts for the next week. Don & Sandy guided us the remaining 3 miles to the border, & led us across. Our van was stopped by a border agent – he asked a question or 2, looked in the van, & sent us on our way. Rosarito here we come.

20 minutes later, we were reminded WHY we have been told over & over that we need to be flexible – the place we were supposed to be staying for the next week turned out to be double booked, & we, like Joseph & Mary at the time of Jesus’ birth, found there was no room at the Inn. Stables, anyone?

A few phone calls were made & we found that we would be able to stay at the same children’s home we did last year – this could be a win-win situation, as we are already familiar with the home & many of the children… our only wild-card is we don’t know how the ‘cooking our own food while the children’s home staff are in the kitchen prepping their kids food” thingy will go. Here’s to a couple of necessities: Flexibility & Humility.

Emily prepped us for some of the outreach work we’re doing tomorrow, & gave us all a lesson in cultural norms & appropriateness. We wrapped up our day with a short debrief & a quesadilla snack. The weariness of the day’s travel is setting in. Please pray for us over these next days – our team is safe & doing well.

O Holy Night #1 – Where is God in the silence…?

In preparation for our Christmas series, “O Holy Night,” I’ve been studying the Inter-Testamental period (a.k.a. the 400 years of time between the book of Malachi & the Gospels) leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. Part of the reason I’m wrestling through this is that I love exploring the history & context of Scripture; another reason is that this time period is often referred to as “God’s Silence.” That grabbed me. WHY is it called that?

Well, there was no prophetic literature added to the Scriptures during this time; no insights, visions, or directions recorded from God to His people. Israel had been scattered from the Promised Land in 583 B.C. (see 2Chronicles 36 for the story,) & had experienced oppression & persecution from Babylon, the Medo-Persians, various Greek empires, & finally, Rome. Throughout the 400+ years, Israel suffered, attempted to rebel to gain their freedom, were put under occupation & dominion over & over, & at no time is there a record of God addressing His peoples’ plight, let alone stepping into the situation to bring deliverance & redemption.

Was God really silent during these years? Was He just letting Israel twist in the wind as a payback for their hundreds of years of disobedience, unbelief, grumbling, & serving idols & other gods?

I say, “No.” Here’s why.

Even though there wasn’t any prophetic messages added to the Bible during this time, & even though Israel endured terrible persecution & unmentionable ordeals at the hands of their enemies, the LORD God’s “mighty hand” & “outstretched arm” were very clearly & powerfully at work:

  • Throughout centuries of bloody & terrible war between ruthless rival empires, wars over possessions, resources, & strategic territories, God protected His people, keeping them from repeated attempts to annihilate them (read the book of Esther for one such account.)
  • God used the evil of Alexander the Great’s greed & quest for world domination for good as Alexander brought the known world together, from the East to the West, under a common culture, Hellenism, & a common language, Greek.
  • This common culture & language, coupled with a dictator’s desire to create the greatest library with the best books on the planet led to the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (called the Septuagint) at Alexandria, thereby making God’s Word readable & accessible to all Greek speakers/readers on the planet. The Septuagint Greek Scriptures were what was used when the Old/First Testament was quoted in the New Testament by the apostles & disciples.
  • God used Augustus Caesar, the murderous & tyrannical self-proclaimed “Prince of peace” to bring about the “Pax Romana” a period of relative peace (enforced by soldiers & the Roman war machine) which helped create the relatively stable time period into which Christ was born.
  • And there’s much, much more.

I hope you can begin to see where God is at work, behind the scenes, between the lines, in the activities of the pagan nations, in the middle of the oppression of His people, in order to bring ultimate deliverance to humanity: relationship with God, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God & man through Christ Jesus our Lord.

During this coming Christmas season, especially in the areas of difficulty & throughout the  times of silence, be on the lookout for God at work in, through, & around our lives. Because He’s always at work.

Even in the silence.