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.

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.




Life, right side up, & other musings…

Friends@FenwayI never thought I would have the opportunity to go to Fenway Park… Boston is on the other side of the country, a mere 2,888.2 miles (by car) from where I live. And then some dear friends moved there to take the pastorate of a church just outside the city… & then there was a hope that somehow, someway, we’d be able to visit them. One day.

One day happened. Jason & Alyse (our theWeez’ namesake) invited theBean & I to come be with them, their family & church for a week in early August. And, Jason said, if we came then, the Red Sox were in town. BOOM! It took me about 3 seconds to consider the invite & we accepted. It was a fantastic trip.

There were a lot of highlights from our time there – here’s a few:

  • walking the streets of downtown Boston in beautiful weather
  • visiting the park known as Boston Common, a place that I saw the whitest human beings in the history of the world attempting to add color to their skin through exposure to the Glowing Orb, which evidently doesn’t make many appearances in the great Northeast
  • watching theWeez & iDoey ride the trains like pros.
  • dining at the fabulous Regina’s Pizza in the North End
  • spending precious time with theAge & Sandra Nell, & getting to check out their new place
  • entering Fenway Park from the crowded street lined with vendors, getting a little weepy at the realization of a dream I’ve had since I was 10.
  • trying to squeeze into the oh-so-small bleacher seats in right field.
  • the anticipation of the space between the top & bottom of the 8th inning – its the time Fenway faithful erupt in a Boston rendition of the Neil Diamond classic, “Sweet Caroline.”
  • Singing “Sweet Caroline,” & catching the experience on video. It was SO GOOD, SO GOOD, SO GOOD!
  • Hanging out, doing nothing at our friends’ house in the forest.
  • Touring the Sam Adams brewery with theAge & Sandra… (it’s free, & if you go, you will enjoy it.)
  • Getting the opportunity to spend an intensive 3 day period with another church family… & rediscovering the commonality & bond that we have because of Christ.
  • hearing one of the people who attended the conference we spoke at tell us that the speech that evening was “Wicked Awesome!”

Happy sigh.

Our time invested in family, friends, & fun stands in stark contrast to a big section of the life I have lived up to this point. I haven’t vacationed much, relaxed much, let down much. Instead, I work. Study. Pour myself into my tasks. Something in my brain tells me that this is how life is supposed to go, working & producing, & yet I have found that in doing so, I have robbed my family of time that would have been better spent doing nothing. Somewhere fun. Something simple, time away, not working, being together. I have lived a portion of life Upside-down.

Rather than bemoan the messed up priorities & practices of days passed, I’m making changes – turning life right side up. Saying a resounding “No” to the voices & inner clock that drives to dominate my mind, & saying “Yes” to the things that matter. To the pursuit of abundant life, life in all of its fullness. To the taking on of the yoke of Christ, the One who promises rest & restoration of our souls.

It’s not too late.

And as long as I have breath, I will continue this pursuit.

Man Night, home, & other musings…

Sitting in the coolness of my office with a fan blowing on me drinking an iced-coffee. All to try to avoid the heat of the day, the heat that has been turned up to “11.” Thinking over the soon-to-be-happenings of Man Night. Proverbs 27, especially verse 17.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the countenance of another

Got me thinking about the ‘act’ of sharpening… & how in order for a tool (like an axe, a knife, or a sword – c’mon, it’s Man Night, so I’m thinking of wielding Manly tools) to be sharpened, one has to strike the item to be sharpened, skillfully, in just the right places with an item or implement that is stronger & harder than the item to be sharpened.

So how does ‘iron sharpen iron?’ One way for this to work is for the ‘sharpening iron’ to have been tempered – or put through a process of controlled reheating to harden & strengthen the implement. Interesting….

I wonder how this ‘tempering’ translates to people, to me. What does the heating process do? I don’t think of getting heated to red-hotness being something that is desirable.

But the process makes the forever-changed implement useful. To shape other implements. Hmm.

Regret raises her head occasionally, usually at times where I’m most pensive & introspective. Kinda like when I’m doing the deep cleaning of a room at home… opening up ALL the drawers, going through the corners of the closets, making sure the lights are on in order to see just what is in there… & then I discover a Mess. A big Mess that I distinctly remember thinking that I’d eventually get around to cleaning up. A big Mess that was forgotten, due to the forgetfulness caused by falling into routine busyness. A big Mess that begs to be addressed. But it’s such a big Mess. The only way to deal with the Mess is to put on the special gloves & head into it. A little bit at a time.

Even if it hurts.

Home is ultimately not about a place to live but about the people with whom you are most fully alive. Home is about love, relationship, community, and belonging, and we are all searching for home. Erwin Raphael McManus – Soul Cravings – Entry 8

That resonates with me – I think its because when I think about home, I don’t think about a place. Granted, I live in Sparks, Nevada, & have been a resident of Northern Nevada within 35 miles of my current home, all of my life. But instead of Sparks, I think of people. Faces flash through my minds eye. People that are intimately associated with being ‘home.’ Home is people, & being in a place without those people would be unbearable. No matter how ‘cool,’ elegant, spacious, or desirable that place is.

I see that I have changed. I’m changing.. Will continue to change. At one point in the not so distant past, home was being in my Cave. The place where I could be by myself & get lost in a book, a TV show, or a good movie. Alone. Where I didn’t have to be WITH people. Looking back, I can see times where even in the presence of people I’d try to be apart from them, to be by myself, to isolate & withdraw in the name of my (very real,) introversion. I regret that. The lost opportunities to discover “home” with others. With myself. Where I’d been so focused on my own discomfort that often comes being around people that I missed the joy & wonder of being WITH people.

A hard thought: in not being WITH people, I missed out on things that God wanted to do in & around me THROUGH people.

I don’t want to ‘miss’ God & ‘miss’ others in the name of a misguided self-sufficiency. Fear has stolen enough from me: fear of rejection. Inadequacy. Pain. Being unloved & unlovable. Of making a mess. Saying the wrong thing. Saying nothing. (like the lyrics from REM’s “Losing My Religion” “oh no, I’ve said too much; I haven’t said enough…” ) How many things, friendships, experiences I missed out on because of fear. Knowing that if I couldn’t do it perfect, I wouldn’t try it at all.

Heavy sigh.

So I’m thankful for the process & act of redemption. That as long as its still called today, its never too late for things lost to be regained, restored, healed, & transformed.

Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010, Day #13

Meeting for breakfast with an old friend, Claudius – took the u-bahn in the brisk morning air to the Willy-Brandt-Platz (named after a German politician.) I got there a bit early, & spent some time people watching. Met a guy from Brazil who is playing basketball at Westerm Michigan U in Kalamazoo, Michigan, & talked hoops a bit. He’s traveling with friends, & I took some pictures of them in the park, standing under the big “E” monument celebrating the European Union.

Claudius arrived & we made our way to a café we’ve visited many times over the last few years. He is something of a ‘romantic’ in that he likes to plan surprises & this time was no different. The breakfast that came out for me was nothing short of incredible, with an American style omelette with all of my favorite ingredients; fresh squeezed orange juice, a croissant & brotchen (little bread) & of course a bottomless cup of coffee. It is truly meaningful to be thought of & planned for. I greatly appreciated our talks, the opportunity to catch up & hear about the happenings in each others lives. Good times.

Made my way to the KonstablerWache (a kind of police station in the downtown of Frankfurt,) & met with our dear friend Dudi (sister of Philip, who I got together with for breakfast a couple days ago,) for my next meeting. TheBean & I connected with Dudi on our first mission trip to TPLF in 2005; over the last few years as she’s been working her way through university, she’s had a couple of opportunities to come & stay with us in our home, most recently this last September. We made our way from the KonstablerWache to a quirky little restaurant called, “Maingold” – reminded me a lot of Reno’s own Java Jungle crossed with Deux Gros Nez…

One of the themes that came up (again!) was fatherhood – the need for positive, encouraging, supportive-without-being-controlling male input in the lives of 20-somethings. Its something that I’m meaning to write about in more detail soon – but hearing Dudi talk about the great need for this encouragement, positive pouring in to help young men & women step into their own calling & stage of life, made me a bit weepy. Its something that I’ve felt the Holy Spirit’s ‘nudge’ about for the last couple of years, & it’s very gratifying to hear the confirmations over & over & over again from such a variety of sources… reminds me that I might be on to something. ☺

Walked along the Main River for what seemed like an eternity – the sun has finally come out after 10 days of wind & rain. I’m just soaking it in, thinking back to the happy times along this river with myBean, pondering my initial ‘tug’ to Germany so long ago that happened in this very place.

It’s Saturday, which means the downtown area is hosting a festival – this time it’s a wein & sausage party with wall to wall people. I took a couple of snapshots & enjoyed the feeling of being surrounded while at the same time being anonymous. Enjoyed a glass of the Dornfelder with a few passersby, & listened to the live music coming from a stage setup nearby. We’re in Germany, so the band must be playing “Winds of Change,” by the Scorpions. I think this just might be the unofficial national anthem of Deutschland

Walked to the Hauptwache (main station) to catch the U-bahn to Alex & Linda’s. Caught up with Alex at the WeisserStein station… & drove to their new flat. Alex & Linda are very special to me, & I always love spending time at their home. This time was no exception. After giving me a tour of their new place, the 4 of us (Alex, Linda, & their dog Jonathan,) took a walk in the park next to their home – felt great to stretch our legs & catch up.

We were all hungry, so we headed home, where I hung out with Alex as he grilled… chicken wings(!) that he had started prepping the day before. Linda brought a great salad, some weissbier, & potato wedges to the table & we spent a couple of hours in conversation. Alex & Linda started a church since I was here last in November, & they are affiliated with the Vineyard movement. I loved hearing their stories of what God is doing in their church, & most exciting to me, with them in their lives as they step out into new areas.

We wrapped up our evening with the most recent episode of the Office, something we always do when I’m here. Shared routines are special too. ☺ It was getting late, so they graciously drove me back to the Dueck’s so I could finish packing my bags & prepping for my early afternoon flight tomorrow.

Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010, Day #11 & 12

In the evening, I headed over to TPLF for the meeting of the Twenz – aka ‘college group’, better known as the Flying Ducks. I have to confess, I was walking the Kurfuerstenstrasse, & smelled the doener from Bistro Sahin… & next thing I knew, I was inside, eating one. With a hot Turkish tea that hit the spot on the rain-soaked, chilly evening.

At the Ducks, we spent time in worship & then in talking through the difference between being a “believer” in Christ & being a “disciple,” using John 8:30-34 as our text. Got to meet several great people, most notably a bubbly, inquisitive, & really smart young lady, Aggi, who’s studying to be a teacher. She kept me on my toes with a series of probing questions throughout the message, each of which built on the previous one. Her developing understanding & the “a-HA!” glimmer that sparkled in her eyes as we processed as a group reminded me just WHY bible study & discussion groups are my favorite thing in the whole world.

After the meeting & before I made my way home to catch some much-needed sleep, Aggi asked me to pray for her: that she would make good marks on her final exams before becoming a teacher; that she’s be a blessing, a real blessing (her words) to her family & friends; & that she’d be able to walk. Aggi was born prematurely & had some areas of her motor development that don’t function right yet. And still, she’s hoping & contending for healing, to be able not to have to depend on her chair to get around. And even better, Aggi isn’t waiting around in solitude for this event – she’s actively living a great story that speaks to the power of God’s love in & through her life.

This morning, I woke up at about 5:30, thanking God for the early wakeup call. The mens’ breakfast for Kingdom Life Church started at 7, so after getting ready, Eddy & I walked over to TPLF. One of the many things I am appreciating about Eddy is that like me, he is a quiet person in the morning. All’s I can say is we are truly kindred spirits in this regard.

There was a great breakfast prepared, with lots of steaming hot coffee, which is just what I was praying for on the brisk walk. A parfait that would have made theBean proud was served, along with a great assortment of German breads. I spoke from Psalm 126 – talking about God’s restoration & living in the “middle” between sowing & reaping.

Got back to the Duecks & sorted through my bags in what has become a ‘preparing to come home’ routine. It’s where I take stock of what’s in my suitcase – folding what needs to be folded, separating dirty clothes, laying out my outfits for the next 2 days, making sure all is where it should be for the voyage home.

Today was also the day to get my manly (oh so manly,) shoulder bag that I shopped for yesterday. I jumped on the U-bahn to Hauptwache, & made my way to the “Street Culture” store… only to find that this was the only store in the downtown that didn’t open at 10. No worries. I’d wait. In waiting, I got hungry for 2nd breakfast (I am on a journey, so maybe some Hobbit-like tendencies are emerging,) so I stepped over to the McCafe next door for a coffee & chocolate croissant. Amazing.

Finally, the store next door opened & I literally stumbled in, absolutely nailed my right knee cap on a seemingly invisible bench that emerged out of nowhere. Goodness. Made my way upstairs & debated between the black, white, & grey bags… finally deciding on black with grey accents. (Not quite Raider-esque…) Take a look. I think it is quite the Manly shoulder bag.

This afternoon, I was invited to go to take a tour of Levent’s workplace. He works on the 22nd floor of the building, which provided for some great views of the surrounding area. We got to eat in the Cantina… I had a canneloni that tasted like Spaghetti-O’s. Which is a good thing. I absolutely loved the conveyor belt that took our dishes into the kitchen. We are in Germany, I keep reminding myself.

Eddy & I are now off to Gau Algesheim for dinner & also to hang out with theology school students, as well as many of the pastors from Foursquare Germany. We’ll be there for the evening, returning late tonight, where I’ll be hoping for some good sleep, as I have a full day of meetings tomorrow…