Delivered from bondage – Psalm 107

Today’s Psalms reading includes Psalm 107. I was especially captivated (no pun intended) by the following verses:

He brought them OUT of darkness & the shadow of death & burst their bonds apart; let them THANK the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man! For He SHATTERS the doors of bronze & CUTS in two the bars of iron. Psalm 107:14-16 – NIV

The Psalmist describes the incredible deliverance brought about by the Lord, the God who delivers His people from hopeless & impossible situations. God enters into the darkness & rescues His people, bringing them from dark to light, while completely destroying the bonds that held them stuck. His motivation for doing so is not nefarious or self-serving; it is due to His steadfast love & care for His people. The inescapable prison of bronze doors & iron bars are shattered & cut through by the power of God. The result? Deliverance. Freedom. Great joy. Thankfulness. Hope.


I spent about 15 minutes just pondering the ramifications of this Psalm: the significance of a God who saves; delivers; rescues; does the impossible, even to destroying the most impregnable & hopeless prisons the enemy could throw at us.

I imagined myself in bondage, broken down over time to not even consider that there could be a different way to live. My existence is futile & I hope for nothing because I am powerless to affect any change in my circumstances; if I could have gotten myself out of the mess, I’d have done it already. My efforts to free myself only made things worse.

But the Lord God…

That’s our hope. The mighty hand & outstretched arm of the Lord God. The One who does the impossible. The One who conquered death, the grave, & Hell. The One who brings us out of the Darkness through His mighty power. The One who breaks the bonds that have held us fast for who knows how long. The One who crushes the doors & bars of our prison cells with a word.

That’s why no matter how stuck we are, no matter how hopeless our situations seem, no matter how dark our days have become… there is still One we can turn to & know that He will not only HEAR us, He will ANSWER us.


Several times today – much more than a ‘normal day,’ I’ve heard of situations that people are facing that make me shudder. Situations that are terrible & hopeless & dark & complicated & impossible….

And yet, they’re really not. Because of the Lord God, the God who HEARS & the God who ANSWERS.

And when He sets us free, we are TRULY free.

“…Let us thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to us!” 

John Leavy Locke – 1/22/1973 – 6/17/1990

If I Stand…

This is the 34 year anniversary of my brother Johnny’s death… sometimes, some years, the grief waves are small & manageable, barely tinged with a sting. Others, the waves are wild, unpredictable, & unruly, crashing into me & dashing me around like a rag doll.

This is one of those “wild, unpredictable, & unruly” wave years.

And so I write. I’ve found that the combination of remembering & rehearsing memories – & writing them down – helps mitigate (or at least spread out to a manageable level,) the grief.


Grief. It is a weight that causes shoulders to slump, & backs to bend. It can approach slowly & almost imperceptibly, or it can slam you to the ground. Sometimes carrying grief feels like carrying a 5 gallons jug of water with 3 gallons of water in it; its uneven, unbalanced, & sloshy… making any sort of movement difficult to sustain, as the sudden sloshing of the water can throw you off balance & knock you to your knees. Or face.

I’ve found grief makes people uncomfortable… especially when its been a while since the passing & loss of a loved one. “Time heals all wounds,” is a mantra I’ve had stated to me more than once. Or “…at least you got him for 17 years…” There’s a whole bunch of “at leasts,” people throw out as leaden lifelines, meaning well, but doing nothing except to emphasize their own discomfort & disconnection with the feeling. (I’d recommend checking out Brene’ Brown’s short video on Empathy  – in a few short minutes she offers several great insights on how to come alongside someone without making the pain worse. But I digress.)

I’m thankful for the people in my life who will just sit with me, without having to say something to try to make it better. Who send a text, a note, or a phone call to say, “I’m with you today.” I’ve learned that one of the greatest helps for navigating grief is to feel it, to be where you are, & to acknowledge it as the present reality I’m experiencing. Denying it, ignoring it, burying it, minimizing it, etc… none of those things “fix” the grief… because, I don’t believe, it CAN be fixed. Nor should we try to FIX it.

At this point, I think the best course of action for navigating grief, FOR ME, is to ride it out. To talk to another person who will listen without judgement or excess word-spam. To intentionally make sure to do things that make the day bearable. To get a good work out & take a “mental & emotional health regulating” sauna. To read in the Psalms. And if I feel like crying, I cry.

Yesterday, on the actual anniversary, I wrote (typed out) a long blog with all sorts of things I remember about my brother Johnny – from our childhood up through (& past) his death. And right before I posted it, I had an issue where the whole thing was deleted. Unretrievable.

Instead of trying to re-create it immediately (or breaking things & losing my biscuits,) I decided to take the rest of the day to “be” & then to tackle a new blog today, taking it where it would go. I’ve decided to touch on a couple of the memories here.


I remember…

  • Folding newspapers in the wee hours of the morning. The smell of newspaper ink & rubber bands. The conversations about nothing & everything. Our beloved Giants & 49ers. Spiritual matters. Family, younger brothers, chores, & school.
  • Sharing a room in Carson. We’d had our own rooms in Reno so the forced shared space was a great gift & a time I treasure… especially remembering Johnny’s rants about me talking too long on the phone with theBean.
  • Johnny getting sent home from school on the 1st day of 9th grade for wardrobe infraction. He wore his Jetsons T with multi-colored board-shorts & vintage black-white-red Air Jordans. Carson Jr High had no clue what to do with him. Our great-uncle Bruce used to scratch his head & loudly declare, “That boy dresses like a clown.” The world wasn’t ready for Johnny’s style, & he didn’t care.
  • The mixtapes. Johnny & I spent hours curating our own ancient version of today’s Spotify playlists using our dual cassette boombox… Russ Taff, Steve Taylor, Rich Mullins, DeGarmo & Key, Rez Band, Altar Boys to name a few. The title of this blog IF I STAND, is taken from our favorite Rich Mullins song… something we both declared we wanted to aspire to be. People who STAND.
  • The cancer diagnosis, treatments, & battles… too many & too painful to go into detail again (did that yesterday & it helped. Don’t want to go there today.) I just know that throughout, Johnny didn’t complain or ask, “Why me?” He embraced his life-path as the one God gave to him – kind of like Hananiah, Azariah, & Mishael – aka Shadrach, Meshach, & Abed-nego in the fiery furnace. He knew God could heal him in a moment; but if He didn’t, Johnny was still going to worship Him with all of his heart.
  • The last days at home, where Johnny’s body betrayed him & he weakened. We talked around his home-hospital bed. I got up to leave & he said, “I love you brother.” And I kept walking up the stairs, echoing back to him, “I love you too.”  The pain & intimacy of the moment seemed too much to bear & went & stood outside by my car in the gravel at the top of the driveway, weeping, asking God to heal my brother. And I KNEW that He was there; I could sense His tangible presence. And in a way, His sadness too. But there wouldn’t be a healing this side of heaven. So many times I wished I’d gone back downstairs & just sat with Johnny some more instead of leaving. It is one of my life’s great regrets, & was a great source of pain & sorrow for me for many years.
  • The phone call from my mom in the late 4 a.m. hour of 6/16; the blur of the day(s) following. The memorial service. The songs. The eulogy. The people who came. The numbness.
  • Having to move forward with “normal” life again. The weird things people would say to try to make it better, failing miserably. The religious pontifications people would spout thinking they were providing answers, all the while filled with so much crap & lack of awareness that it was physically painful. Still fires me up a little. (Ok, a lot.)
  • Our family unit moving forward, albeit with a hole in it. There was a big gap where in a different world Johnny’s wife & kids would have taken their place in our hearts & my kids would have had cousins near their own ages. Birthdays & holidays & anniversaries & life. We’re still growing, & still moving forward. And still, there’s a hole.

One more thing – remember the “life’s great regret” I mentioned a minute ago? About 10 years after Johnny’s death, I had a vivid dream where I encountered Johnny in a vividly colored, almost too bright to see place… I had to squint to see, but he didn’t. He was older than I last remembered, somewhere between 18 & 35ish, the picture of health, with fair skin & ruddy cheeks, his signature flowing mullet (he pulled it off so well,) & he radiated LIFE. I embraced him for what seemed to be an eternity & then we talked. He told me stories that were wonderful & that are just at the edge of my memory today, things that feel like a promise of what is to come. I expressed to him my great regrets at not coming back downstairs & sitting with him, & rehearsed the fact that I love  him. He hugged me again & gave me reassurance that it was more than ok. The pain & regret I’d carried for years melted that moment, & have never returned. And then he had to go; he turned to me & smiled & headed out & I woke up.

It was healing & restful for the soul. I’m not sure how to define what happened, so I won’t. I just know my burdens were lifted.

Miss you Johnny. So much. Save me spot; I’ll be seeing you eventually.

Take 10 & get some sun: Embrace rhythm & rest

More often than I’d like to admit, I’ve exited my office at the end of a workday without having stopped work (study, in-person meetings, phone calls, Zooms, & the like) for anything other than bathroom breaks occasioned by the steady intake of “just one more cup of coffee.” 

Busy days. Full days. I have them. We have them. Hard work, perseverance, & the lot are important.

But so is stopping. Taking a minute (or 10) to regroup, reorient, take stock of life (values, priorities, practices, needs) to realign/readjust to make sure we’re staying congruent with our purpose. And not just our ‘work purpose.’ Our life purpose.

I recognize that my nose-to-the-grindstone life-pattern is part of how I’m wired; it’s also a symptom of my anxiety, worry, & desire to attempt to control the outcomes for my life. Without saying it out loud or admitting it to myself, it’s like I believe “If I just work hard, take care of business, & don’t slack/don’t quit, then everything will take care of itself & I will experience Good Life & have Enough & be Okay.”

But even if I don’t say it out loud & I only type it on my MacBook, it still shouts out to me, loudly with feeling, that I better keep the proverbial plates spinning. 

And I tempt myself to forget that control is an illusion & that much of my life that I think is under my control is not. 

Working in the same space as theWeez is a gift to me. She has a way of reminding me of my humanity, my needs to STOP, BE, & realign. TheWeez has every reason to have a busier life & schedule than I do: she is a wife & mom to 3 feral children between the ages of 3-6; she works full time as a preschool administrator; she’s a student midwife, on-call at least 5 times a month to go & assist with catching babies (the mom’s do the delivery; the midwifes do the catching. It’s a thing.)

And yet – just about every morning & every afternoon, on my way through the office & foyer to the bathroom for a pitstop & coffee refueling run, I will see her sitting outside on the concrete paver benches against our building, eyes closed, soaking in the sun. 

I have to confess – the first dozen times I saw her, I was jealous; I WISHED I could go join her for a few moments.

But I couldn’t. I was busy. 

So I went back to my office, filled with regret & yet doing nothing about it.

Until I did.

I went outside & sat next to her on the bench. Soaked up 10 minutes of sun. Talked about nothing & something with theWeez. Noticed how the warmth of the bench soaked into my bones. How the sun embraced my face & filled me with a renewed sense of vigor & life. 

When I eventually made my way back inside I knew I’d be back. I couldn’t wait to do it again.


Over the last few weeks, I’ve made it a habit, a practice to go outside (even when its windy & coldy) & sat on the bench, facing the sun (or where it should be) 2x/day, for about 10 minutes each time. 

I’m noticing changes in my energy patterns; my sense of well-being. I’m enjoying time with my daughter. I’m enjoying time with ME. The 10 minute sun breaks are life-giving, possibly because they serve as stark reminders that life is more than work & busyness. And that when I’m stopping & resting & (trying to) embrace a life rhythm without anxiety & unhealthy driven-ness, I’m doing something for me & for the people who I will interact with for the rest of the day. 

I love it. 

Take 10 & get some sun. Embrace a taste of rhythm & rest in the middle of your day. 

You’re worth the time investment.

Matthew 6:25-34

 

 

“It’s your choice…”

“It’s your choice.”

Years ago, a German friend confronted me in the middle of one of my “minor” fits of anger using just those words.

“It’s your choice.”

His admonition didn’t alleviate the slow burn I was experiencing; it made it worse. He obviously didn’t understand that I was JUSTIFIED in my anger, & that it was BECAUSE a whole series of things had gone WRONG & I was DISAPPOINTED & when I tried to share my disappointment using my WORDS, my wife (seemingly, to me in my agitated slow burn of a fit) DISREGARDED my (righteous) frustration. It was like she MADE me escalate my anger.

A disclaimer: It wasn’t one of those loud, visibly angry episodes; rather, it was my preferred kind of fit… kind of storming around with a furrowed brow, abrupt movements, fierce silence… I was mad, after all. And I was justified in being mad; all the things that hadn’t gone the way I WANTED them to go MADE me mad. Not “feeling” heard made me even MADDER.

At this rate of simmer & feeding the fires of indignation, I could have a full blown rage going pretty quick. Here it comes.

My friend interrupted my huffy-puffy-ness with a question: “What’s wrong with you? Why are you acting this way?”

So I let him have it… both barrels of explanation & indignation at all the things that were going WRONG, all the areas I was FRUSTRATED, all the things other people were DOING to antagonize me…

He listened for a minute & then… shrugged his shoulders, made a disinterested (to me) expression, & told me, “It’s your choice.”

And then he walked away. Leaving me speechless. I couldn’t believe it. How could he SAY it was my CHOICE? I was RESPONDING. I was FEELING.

I was, I was, I was… what?

…I was choosing to give myself over to stupid anger. I was feeding it with bits of indignation & throwing the fuel of misunderstanding on as well.. I was working myself up towards a rage under the guise of something happening TO me, completely ignoring that the response was coming from a force of will & my chosen action.

The rebuke of my friend turned into a time of soul-searching. I couldn’t help but hear the whispered conviction of the Holy Spirit, emphasizing, firmly & gently, that this response that I’d conditioned myself to accept as normal & ok & NOT my fault (or my choice), was actually 100% me. It WAS my choice to respond in anger. It WAS my choice to allow the offense to escalate. It WAS my choice to engage in self-pity. It WAS my choice.

Which meant…

I could CHOOSE differently.

Maybe not in my own strength & abilities; its not an easy thing to undue & break out of past patterns of behavior, especially those with such a strong dopamine hit of self-righteous pity & anger. But I could ask Jesus to do a work in me, by the power of the Holy Spirit – to CHOOSE something different. To still FEEL & PROCESS, but not to give myself over to self-indulgently negative, self-focused pity parties, masked with the ugliness of an on-the-edge anger that threatened (or at least made noise about) blowing up & really losing it.

That was A turning point. Not necessarily THE turning point, but A turning point. From that day forward, I would hear my friend’s rebuke, flavored with extra by the Holy Spirit: “It’s your choice.” And because it was my choice, I could CHOOSE differently. Consistently. Choices that led to stronger relationship with my spouse & kids. Choices that would foster relationship, trust, & healthy predictability with others.

And that is still my prayer – that I CHOOSE well, in each moment where I am tempted to fall back into the well worn rut of what is now a 20 year ago path. I don’t want to fall back into that behavior, & neither do I want to lose ground that was gained with a lot of blood, sweat, & tears.

It’s your choice…

“What’s in your hand?” & other musings

Last week, theBean & I went to Cannon Beach OR for the Compassion First  Pastor Retreat with about 25 or so other pastoral couples… it’s an event we’ve attended the last 3 years, & each time we’ve been refreshed, encouraged, & revitalized by our time together – just the two of us. We also greatly enjoyed our time with others who have the Compassion First fam in common, & our time hearing from some incredible men & women. This year’s main speakers were Jo Anne Lyon – President Emeritus of the Wesleyan Church, & Randy Remington, President of the Foursquare Church. All that to set the stage for the context in which I heard God speak to me in an answer to prayer just about an hour after I prayed it.


Sometime in the early morning of the 2nd day there, I was journaling through a series of partially formed thoughts, mental pictures, & hints (allegations?) of ugliness within… feelings of inadequacy & insufficiency. Feelings that seemed like the beginnings of temptation to be jealous of Others, to engage in negative self-comparison to Others; a general dissatisfaction & lack of contentedness that wanted to take up a more permanent space in my heart, mind, & life. There were (are) no specific OTHERS that come to mind when I’m hit with those feelings; just a general sense that somehow, someway, something vital was handed out to everyone but me, & I missed out because I’d stepped out of the room when it was distributed. Nebulous, I know, but I think it paints the picture. You might have experienced something like it in your own journey; I haven’t had this pointed & strong a set of ‘those feelings & thoughts’ for quite a while. 

So I journaled about it – & my prayer was “I don’t want to give time or space to this, Lord. Create in me a clean heart & renew a right spirit in me. Whatever this is, wherever it is coming from, I don’t want it. But I DO want to know what you have to say about this. And me.”

And so theBean & I went to the gathering.


JoAnne Lyon spoke that morning on something – what I heard her address was inadequacy & how silly it is when it comes to God working in & through us. He doesn’t NEED us to be ADEQUATE; He wants us to be AVAILABLE. She spoke from Exodus 4, where Moses is disqualifying himself from God’s call for him to go to Egypt for the express purpose of calling on Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. 430 years & countless generations of slavery. Moses tells God, “they won’t believe me or listen to me because…” 

And God says to Moses, “What do you have in your hand?” 

If you read the story, you know Moses had in his hand a shepherd’s staff, the tools of his trade for the previous 40 years, something not special, yet useful in the hands of one who knows what to do with it. With sheep. 

And yet God chooses to use the staff of Moses BECAUSE IT WAS HANDY. He could have used anything, but He chose to use what Moses had in his hand. 

It wasn’t Moses’ skill, leadership, or general awesomeness that caused God to call Him; it was his availability. And God chose to use what he had in his hand to start the deliverance process in Egypt for ALL the Israelites… with God getting all the glory & honor & praise in the middle of it.


She had me at “What do you have in your hand?” 

It was like God Himself was speaking directly to me, answering the questions & prayers I’d written down less than 60 short minutes before. And He was reassuring me of my place with Him; the inadequacy & insecurity melted away. The images & thoughts & worries were exposed for the shadows they were, & the bright light banished them back to the shadows from whence they’d come. 

I knew. My job, my purpose is to be available, & God will use what He chooses… maybe what I happen to have in my hand at the time. 

Freedom. Peace. Thankfulness. Thank you Jesus.

He’s working for my good, & for His glory. Booyah.


Over the last week I’ve been reflecting a bit on this experience & while I don’t necessarily have anything figured out, I do know that the temptation to compare myself to Anyone is a dark abyss of trouble; to worry about my inadequacy steps into fear & casts doubt on God’s abilities to do the miraculous in whatever way – through whoever – He wants to. 

I don’t want to worry too much about “me.” What people are going to think of “me” or how I’ll stack up in a crowd of others. 

I do want to live in such a way that I continue to DECREASE & Jesus continues to INCREASE.

Snow days, a little perspective & other musings… + a current read

It snowed last Wednesday. And when I say, “It snowed” I mean it snowed about 9″ in just a couple of hours. From nothing to “we’re headed to a snow-pocalypse.” It was interesting to hear how the sudden intrusion of winter weather into our January affected peoples’ sense of well-being. There was a plethora of cries of “Woe” at the thought of having to drive in the snow (I get it.)

Others bemoaned the onslaught of what could only be the beginning of The Long Winter in which our snowfall would probably rival the worst (best?) in the Nevada history. (Remember February 2019? The month where it snowed more than 26 feet in 28 days? THAT was a lot of snow.) 

Still others celebrated the forced slow down (stoppage? limit?) that a heavy snow inevitably enforces on the peoples’ lives where it falls. That Thursday was full of school cancellations & delays, Official Declarations from the State of Nevada, & (much) longer times in the car as the snow (coupled with frigid temperatures) combined to create virtual ice-rinks all over Northern Nevada as people crept & slid & spun from place to place, longing for a day when the Snow Would Someday Be Gone.


Fast-forward to today – Tuesday – a mere 5 days removed from the carnage that that particular storm wrought upon the land & the people. Just about ALL the snow & ice is gone, save for some piled high from the plowing of huge parking lots. The temperatures are settling into the high 40s & even low 50s #FTW. All the worry, all the anxiety, all the doom & gloom about the pain & suffering that Would Come from the Snows is all but forgotten. 

5 days. What a difference it makes.


The last 5 days of rising temperatures (sure its not Summer or even Spring, but it was 51F yesterday) revealed that though we got hammered with snow on 1/10, it wasn’t the end of the world nor the beginning of the Snow Times. The last 5 days provide us with much needed perspective & a strong reminder that no matter what we’re getting hit with in the moment, there is most likely relief coming in the (very) near future. 

This speaks to me on a multitude of levels… about dealing with rising stress & challenges at work; navigating relational difficulties & conflicts; walking amidst spiraling mindsets, the blues, & other anxieties. 

Perspective. Time. A lifting of the head beyond the immediate, looking to the One who provides not only our help in times of trouble (all of them, all kinds,) but also gives us perspective, perhaps allowing us to see, if only for a moment, from His perspective. Which reminds me… iDoey & family came over the other day to take care of business (showers & washing clothes) because their hot water heater is in process of getting replaced. We’re just a couple weeks post Christmas, so the grandkids brought a Christmas present to play with. 9 year old Lucs got a remote controlled crab that looks all mechanical & steam-punk, & it moves really fast… & it freaks his (almost) 3 year old sister, Jane, out to no end, which probably makes playing with it 10x more fun. But not for Jane. She cried & ran & practically jumped into my arms, & began complaining about the “spider” & how much she didn’t like it… but from the perspective of my arms, it was ok. She still didn’t like it. She definitely didn’t want to get down (didn’t mind that one bit). But she was ok. Because she was safe.

Same for us. Same. Check out Psalm 121.


In other news, I just started reading a book that I’d picked up in the last year or so, (anybody else have “gonna get to them” book piles?) called “When Narcissism Comes to Church,” by Chuck DeGroat. Seems like the word “narcissism” is thrown around more & more on the daily, & people with seemingly self-centered, exploitive, bad-behavior towards others are given the title or label of being a “Narcissist.” I’ve done a bit of research on my own exploring the Cluster B personality types, & I’ve also seen (& heard of) a lot of very bad & even abusive behavior from people leading in the context of church (pastors & other church leaders.) 

A couple things that stand out to me so far (still only 2 chapters in:) NOTE: These aren’t points the author makes; they are just my ‘takes’ on what I’m reading in light of what I’ve seen.

  • The American church “system” seems to be especially susceptible towards narcissistic behavior, because we are drawn to superstars & superheroes, as if the pastors & leaders of our churches are Something Special, kind of like the Heroes of the Bible who were chosen because of their incredible giftings & abilities. (Wait. No. They were actually chosen to show the power of God & HIS abilities to work the miraculous & impossible, EVEN through the insignificant, very normal people He chose.) We (America) want bigger than life; we want special; we want charisma. And we’re often willing to overlook terrible behaviors for the “greater good” of “look at all God is doing in/through/around them.”
  • In a world that idolizes influencers & those with huge social media platforms, the church joins right in & champions church leaders, men & women who often seem to be utilizing the Gospel Good News for what it can get for them. (It’s not a new phenomena: Paul references those who preach the gospel out of selfish ambition & envy HERE.) 

I’m interested to see what else pops up & stands out over the next 10 or so chapters… & as I’m reading, I feel more & more led to embrace the “Jesus-style” service approach to life.

Obedience vs. Sacrifice, God’s guidance: musings on a Monday…

When I started pastoring @ Hillside in January 2000, I decided to intentionally incorporate listening to & meditating on good Bible teaching messages from a few “chosen mentors,” many of whom had no idea that they were mentoring me through their teaching (I hadn’t even met most of them at the time). Due to the tasks I had to complete on most Mondays (administration, office work, errands) I decided to make Monday my main listening day. Most of the time, I just listened to the previous day’s messages posted on the somewhat fledgling interwebs from Ralph Moore @ Hope Chapel Kaneohe-Hawaii & Daniel Brown @ the Coastlands-Aptos CA. I’m so thankful for the many hours of good stuff I was subjected to, listening through the speakers on my computer, as I tackled mundane tasks every week.


With the proliferation of Bible message podcasts (estimated to be about 60,000 in the US at this time) its gotten easier to find Bible messages, but I really don’t KNOW about many of the people speaking or the churches they are a part of… I’ve had a few “swing & a miss” moments where I started a podcast at random & got about 20 minutes (or a couple episodes in) & found it to be wacky or “unique (read: non-orthodox) theology.” I’ve also most connected with churches led by pastors with a similar worldview & mission to what I have; doesn’t mean I don’t listen to people different than me: I do. It does mean it often feels like a waste of time to listen to people talking from leading a church with an attractional, program, & church building-driven model of ministry when that is the opposite of what I believe we (me & the Hillsiders) are supposed to do.

NOTE: Reading back over the previous paragraph makes me think it is a digression from what I was wanting to actually write about, but I decided to leave it in there, just because.


All that to say – I am re-embracing the practice of listening to good Bible messages; some are current (check out our friends at LIFE Church Chico or Modesto First Foursquare, to name a few – I’ve got more suggestions if you’re interested. Hit me up in the comments) & some are vintage. Like from the archives of my childhood.

Today’s message was from 1978 & it is by my mentor Jerry Cook, taken from a Sunday service from when he was pastoring East Hill Church in Gresham, OR. I was given the mp3 access to about 30 of his teachings by his daughter Christy in 2022, & I’ve listened to just about all of them at least once; some as many as 3x.  This is one I’ve listened to several times – its called “Abraham #1: Genesis 12 & 13” & in it Jerry talks extensively about Abraham’s obedience to God’s call to him:

Go from your country & your kindred & your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, & I will bless you & make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, & him who dishonors you I will curse & in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went…  Genesis 12:14a

This is where the OBEDIENCE vs. SACRIFICE in the title comes in, especially as related to God’s guidance. (After all – this is the story of Abraham going without knowing WHERE he was being sent, only knowing the WHY – for God to bless him & bless all the families of the earth THROUGH him.)  Some highlights for me:

  • God wants our OBEDIENCE more than He wants our SACRIFICES. (You can read some of the biblical backing for this principle HERE in the story of God’s rejection of King Saul from 1Samuel 13-15.) There’s nothing God needs us to DO for him or to GIVE to Him or to SACRIFICE for Him; He wants us to learn to OBEY Him, to follow His commands.
  • There are many people who are willing to sacrifice but who aren’t willing to follow simple obedience patterns. God is not impressed with nor needs our sacrifices; He wants our hearts & won’t settle for less.
  • It’s in the act of our OBEDIENCE to God’s commands that His GUIDANCE comes… as obedience is a forerunner & key ingredient to receiving God as Lord & Master of our lives.
  • The kind of obedience God calls those who would be His people to isn’t mindless or driven by blind faith; it is rooted in faith in the proven character of God.
  • Sometimes we won’t know exactly or specifically what God is doing in/through/around us until we take the first steps of obedience to what He’s already spoken to us about.
  • Something Jerry closed with: “Ok, Abraham, you don’t know WHERE you’re going, but that’s ok, because you are SAFE with Me.” I want to lean into this one more & more.

As I’ve been musing on this this afternoon, other Bible passages come to mind, like from Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission, where Jesus emphasizes the “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” part of the Message from verse 20.

Simple patterns of OBEDIENCE > all the SACRIFICES we can make.

To me, a core truth from this seems to be: Want guidance & direction from God? Then obey/put into practice what you already know God has spoken to you about.

And as you take steps of obedience, God will reveal Himself more & more. And even if/when you don’t know 100% (or 20%) where you’re going, you can be sure that you are safe with Him.

Some musings from the last week of 2023 – Part 1 – Enough

I’m mostly off for the last week of the year, that ethereal time & space between Christmas & New Years Day, where it seems the actual real days off (or celebrated days off) outnumber the days on. And in the spirit of that, I’ve been purposing to do more musing, to end this year called 2023 with some things that jump out to me from my thinking timFes. Don’t know how many of these I’ll do before 1/1/2024, but I’m-a-fixing to do a couple.


I’m noticing the older I get, the more I feel tempted to attempt to accumulate stuff… to try to make sure that there is enough. Which made me push back a bit on that word — ENOUGH — to define it. To explain it. To answer the question, “How much IS enough?”

It seems like the only answer I get is “just a little more.”

I get several emails a day (which I never signed up for) that all seem to have the same theme:

“Be very afraid, & scramble to protect your assets because someone is coming for you & what you have. But if you would only do what WE say, you’ll be protected, you’ll be provided for, you’ll be fine.” 

This afternoon I’ve been rehearsing one of my life Scriptures (its actually a life Scripture for any/all who want to be a disciple of Christ, but I digress…) It is Luke 9:23-25

And He (Jesus) said to all: If anyone would come after Me, let him DENY himself, & TAKE UP his cross DAILY, & FOLLOW Me. For whoever would SAVE his life will LOSE it, but whoever LOSES his life for My sake will SAVE it. For what does it profit a man if he GAINS the whole world & LOSES or FORFEITS himself?” (emphasis mine)


From this I’m reminded that my daily goal isn’t the preservation &/or accumulation of stuff so I have ENOUGH… my goal is to be a faithful disciple of Christ. I know that if/when I follow (OBEY) God’s instructions for me in every area I know to follow (OBEY), I am walking in His way… in which I experience His provision, care, & blessing.

I also want to be a good steward of what He’s provided, for me & theBean & our family, while at the same time not getting caught up in the chase to attempt to store up treasures for me/us HERE at the expense of storing up treasures in heaven.  Some of the Scriptures I rehearse to keep my head straight are:

  • Psalm 37:3 – Trust in the Lord & do good. Dwell in the land & enjoy safe pasture.
  • Psalm 37:25 – I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.
  • Philippians 4:19 – And my God will supply all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus. 
  • 1Timothy 6:6-10 – But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, & we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food & clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation & a trap & into many foolish & harmful desires that plunge people into ruin & destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith & pierced themselves with many griefs.
  • 1John 2:15-17 – Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, & the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world & its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

It’s just stuff & other musings as Christmas fast approaches…

This past Monday, theWeez asked me to go with her to a FaceBook marketplace “meetup” so she could finish the purchase of some goodie or another. I’m all for accompanying my daughter (or any daughter for that matter) who is going to meet with a stranger, even if (esp. if?) its in a wide open & public space (like, say, Arby’s Northtowne) & so the two of us piled into theBeans Buick Enclave, her pearly white ride & glide, her cruiser, aka “Maxine.” 

As we started down Sutro Street, we were talking about her student midwife schedule & if she thought her Christmas would involve helping catch a baby or 4, when out of the corner of my right eye I saw a silver flash that registered TRUCK. There was no one in oncoming traffic so I swerved to the left to attempt to avoid a “truck on passenger door” impact. The good news is I did avoid the contact on the passenger door (behind which my precious cargo, the one & only theWeez was sitting,)  but the bad news is Maxine got hit, t-boned really, on the rear passenger door & rear panel something FIERCE.

The next 30 minutes went like you’d expect it to have gone: checking for immediately apparent injuries, getting the car to a safe spot, & then interacting with the other driver. It took a while to get pictures to document the damage & get the drivers pertinent information (drivers license pic, current vehicle insurance pic, etc….) but as soon as we were finished, we turned ol’ Maxine around & made our way back up the hill to our work parking lot. TheBean met us at the top of the driveway; she wasn’t pleased that her car was smashed (who would be) & we spent the next 30-45 minutes rehearsing with her what had happened & also making sure that theWeez & I were really ok, as sometimes the aches & pains from a sudden collision can take a minute (or 60) to show up. 

I went into my office & turned on some calming music (Jeff Deyo‘s “From Eternity.” Highly recommend it, & I’m listening to it as I type.) I’d attempted to use the iPhone app for our insurance company to get the ‘claim’ started only to find the app to be < functional, meaning, I had to do it the old fashioned (think 2020) way & use my laptop through the company’s webpage. 

Total time from accident til claim fully filed: approximately 100 minutes. Sigh. 

Throughout this process (3 days in now) theBean & I have focused on how Maxine, how the car, no matter how beloved & full of more potential future years of driving fun, is Just Stuff. It’s Just Stuff. I KNOW that. She KNOWS that. But at a time when there’s a lurking set of questions where there wasn’t a question before (stuff like: “is the car repairable? will the insurance company total it? will it ever be the same? if the car IS totaled, what will we get for it? & if we have to look for a car will we be able to find one that fits our needs?” etc…) we’re (ok, I’m) struck by how much this Just Stuff is occupying my brain space.

I’ve wrestled through anger & frustration at the other driver, wondering HOW could she NOT see us, which I know completely dehumanizes her, & removes all the human processes, distractions,  & interruptions that cloud every single one of us at times. I’ve intentionally not vented, mostly because I know if I do give myself over to that, with all the frustrations & inconveniences that are arising from this accident, I’d ponder & muse & pout & spew all sorts of grossness. 

So, silence. Which led to more deep thoughts with Louie… I thought about Christmas coming up & Christmases past, & specifically THIS Christmas with just me & theBean sharing our permanent address right now; I thought about our couple decades long pursuit of decluttering (aka “reducing the amount of Stuff we have in our lives;) I thought about other times when the desire (masquerading as “Deeply Felt Need”) for Just Stuff has preoccupied my thought processes & consumed my attention & my finances. I thought about times I’ve been places where people didn’t have much Just Stuff; it often seemed that they were just barely squeaking by, albeit with a level of contentedness & joy far surpassing their circumstances. I thought about Scripture & Jesus’ admonition about our Just Stuff (aka ‘treasures’). Specifically this, with some of my own words & emphasis added:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures (Just Stuff) on earth, where moth & rust destroy & where thieves break in & steal, (or where distracted drivers can tbone your wife’s car,)  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys & where thieves do not break in & steal. For where your TREASURE is, there your HEART will also be. Matthew 6:19-21 English Standard & Louie Processing Version

All of this, all of it, to say: theBean & I are in a great spot where even the unanswered questions & challenges & inconveniences of being down a car for however long this takes, are not insurmountable or soul-crushing. We’re not in danger of going under, of losing our jobs, or being hospitalized, or worse. We are finding thankfulness & contentedness in the midst of inconvenience. Things we’ve thought & felt & said “It’s Just Stuff” gets challenged & we get to see just how we navigate when our Just Stuff goes the way that Just Stuff Always Goes. 

And I’m reminded of Christ’s coming, His 1st Advent we celebrate each year at Christmas & His pending 2nd Advent which I look forward to with increasing amounts of longing as each year goes by. 

Merry Christmas. 

 

Au jus, indelible marks, sin, & forgiveness…

Sunday after church, I had a church council meeting. Even though lunch is provided, I don’t normally eat AT the meeting; I wait until AFTER the meeting to ravenously scarf up any remnants of the lunch that remained. Though this usually works for me, (in that I survive it,) it really doesn’t work for me, as the chances of me ending up hangry after a full day of church, lots of people interactions, & a church council meeting, all done without a meal, are about 99.44 out of 100%.

So this week, to the rejoicing of theBean, I chose to eat lunch during the council meeting, at the same time everyone else was eating. And the food was so good – mini-cuban & mini-roast beef slider-sandwiches baked, casserole style, using King’s Hawaiian rolls.

Somewhere in the midst of the meeting, eating, talking, & multi-tasking, I found a way to get a noticeable sized amount of au jus on my left pant leg, probably from an overzealous dipping of the roast beef into the au jus, & even though I’d tried to rush the food into my mouth, some of it, the juicy part, had gotten on my pants. No worries; I’d take care of it at home.

We’d (meaning theBean) made the au jus using lots of fat & drippings & yummy goodness, so I wanted to make sure when it came time to wash my pants I did the appropriate amount of “pre-treatment” on the au jus stain so it would actually come out of the pants, & not serve as an indelible mark, a visible reminder of both that lunch & also my propensity to miss my mouth when I’m eating.

  • NOTE: TheBean offered to help me (translation: do it for me) but, hey, I’m in the 4th grade, (Dan in Real Life reference) so I figured I’d handle it myself.
  • NOTE 2: I was watching the 49ers/Eagles game, so I maaay have hurried through the application of the Spray & Wash (though I am 50% sure I sprayed the spray on the correct spot on the correct leg)

At some point during the game I heard the washer stop so I ran & very responsibly, threw the clothes into the dryer & rushed back to the game before the commercial ended.

  • NOTE 3: I have DVR. I could have pressed the “PAUSE” button & taken my time, but instead I did it, 70s style.
  • NOTE 4: TheBean asked if I had checked the pant leg to make sure the spot had come out in the wash. I distinctly remember telling her, “I didn’t need to because I treated the pant leg.” Who’s a great big boy?!

In the aftermath of the 49ers total domination of the Eagles, I decided to pull my clothes from the dryer & fold them as I watched highlights of the game I’d just watched, beginning to end. (Anybody else do that?)

When I went to fold my pants I decided to admire my handiwork… And I discovered that the au jus spot was still there. In all its glory. Oh no. Even I know what happens when you dry clothes that have stains in them; you set the stains in the clothes, FOREVER. My favorite pants. Forever to be marked by a very visible reminder of some really great au jus.

TheBean said she’d try to look at them for me later, but I wasn’t holding out much hope.


TheBean opened at work the next morning so I was left to my own devices. I sat staring at my stained pants, wondering, thinking, pondering…

Soon my thoughts weren’t on my pants; I was thinking about sin & the mark it can leave in our lives… & how our best efforts to ‘clean up’ the mess left behind through our actions (intentional or otherwise) are woefully inadequate. And how its only the blood of Jesus that takes away, washes away, truly cleanses us from all of our sin.

And I had an idea – I decided to try Dawn PowerWash mixed with Spray & Wash on both the inside of the pant leg & the outside. I liberally applied both substances to the pants while crying out to Jesus about the state of my pants (but it really seemed like it was about more than that, like my soul was involved too.)

I put the pants into the washer, said one last prayer, & started the wash.


45 minutes later, I pulled the pants out of the washer & checked the pant leg for the stain.

Nothing.

I checked the other leg, thinking I must have looked at the wrong one.

Still nothing.

I didn’t trust it enough to put it into the dryer, so I hung the pants on our stair railing & left for work.


When theBean & I arrived home late that evening, I rushed upstairs to check on my mostly dry pants to see if the stain was still visible… it was not. Every trace was gone. Couldn’t even tell where it had been. There was great rejoicing.

And again thoughts of sin & forgiveness crossed my mind, along with the hymn “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus.” 

Scripture verses sprang to mind as I heard the reminders of God’s goodness, in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, of the promise of forgiveness of sins; not just some of them, or most of them, or parts of them… ALL of them.

And I wept with thankfulness. Not just about my pants. But about my soul too.

 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18

If we confess our sins, He is faithful & just to forgive us our sins & to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1John 1:9