Happy birthday Johnny! Some musings on his #48 & other stuff…

This picture of my brothers & me is precious to me. Not exactly sure WHEN it was taken (is there a date on it, Mom?) but using the info I have & the general ages of the 4 of us  I’m guessing it would have been approximately 1986, making me 17ish, Johnny 13ish, Joel 9ish, & Ben 5. “Why were we wrestling?,” you might ask… & I’d say, “Because we COULD.” And wrestle we did. Play-fight. Battle Royale, early WWF style. Me against the 3 of them, as it seemed to them that the logic made perfect sense. I was the oldest, & therefore the brothers deemed a 3 to 1 advantage in their favor to be a Just & Perfectly Fair match. No one really got hurt in these battles, although charley horses, head butts, & the  bloody noses were the occasional scars & battle wounds that resulted from our time together. (FACT: only person to ever give me a bloody nose besides theBean – I’ll tell that story another time – was my brother Johnny. And he did it with great joy at least 3 times that I remember, each time being such a fortunate accident. Looking back, it cracks me up – from a young age he knew that it was always easier to ask forgiveness than permission. “I’m sorry I kneed you in the face twice, Louie. Please forgive me.” Seriously?


Today marks Johnny’s 48th birthday; it is the 31st (!) birthday of his that our family has marked since he went to heaven on Father’s Day 1990. As I sit at my desk right now, I’ve been listening to a Spotify playlist with a bunch of songs that remind me of my brother. There’s a bunch of them… because he was the Original Master MixTape Maker. A big chunk of the memories that I have of him in his Jr. High years are sitting in my room (his was next to mine) with a big BOOM box w/dual cassette player & a CD player too. Made mixing his tapes a little simpler, for sure, & he was always sure to include a hand-written playlist of the songs. What a great insight into the music & words that moved him, that stuck in his head.

Nothing like a song (or a smell for that matter) to take you back to a previous time & place.


Didn’t really know the depth & breadth of the hole left behind by Johnny’s death at 17…

Sure I knew all of us WOULD (parents, brothers, family, friends, etc…) KNOW & FEEL it, but it got really real when my kids started getting older & asking questions about family, life, & WHY things are the way they are. Things like –

  • …why couldn’t they meet ALL their uncles? They’ve often said that it wasn’t fair or right. (I’d have to agree, but life isn’t often fair…)
  • …when they wondered WHY they didn’t have any cousins near their ages. And they grieved that loss, the loss of what could have been.
  • …when they didn’t understand why their dad cried at their sporting events, because their intensity, approach, mindset, & body language reminded him of his brother.

As each of them became adults & had their own kids, it has come full circle. I think they get it more now than at any time before. Might just be my own wishful thinking, but I think they understand a little bit more about what they missed out on growing up at least 10-12 years older than the rest of their cousins.

They see it every time their kids (our grandkids) play together; every time their kids ask for their best friends(their cousins) to come over & play; every time at all-family get togethers when everythings-as-it-should-be & it’s beautiful, wonderful, & heavenly… & yet someone is still missing…


It’s funny, but during the last 10 months of the pandemic, I’ve thought about Johnny even more than ever. About his faith in Christ, his love for God’s Word, his ‘big-picture’ life-perspective on what is ‘worth’ doing (caring for others, offering & asking for forgiveness, playing hard & often, turning the music up to ’11’ among other stuff,) & what ISN’T worth doing (holding grudges, indulging ego, petty fights & nitpicking, compromising values & personhood to fit in, etc…)

He was my ‘little’/younger brother, but the way he lived in & through the moments of trial, trouble, physical & health challenges – I really looked up to him & his example in those things. We were best friends for most of our lives, but especially as he hit 12 & his early teens. We spent so much time together (commiserating over chores, folding & delivering newspapers, participating &/or watching sporting events, talking before going to sleep at night, all of it.) There’s still a hole there.


And yet… Today, I am thankful more than ever for my brothers, Joel & Ben – the men that they have become is really quite impressive. Their character, work ethic, devotion to their families… hardly a week goes by that I’m not referencing one or both of them, bragging on them from afar to whatever poor sucker happens to be in a conversation with me that happened to trigger a thought about those guys. I’m so proud of them & I treasure them & their friendship… & I know Johnny would have as well. No malark.

Happy birthday Johnny – miss you terribly.

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

Here’s to the New (Things)…

TheBean & I get to spend the first couple of days of what would normally be the “First Work Week of 2021” at one of our favorite places in the whole world: a small cabin on the shores of Lake Tahoe. It’s (thankfully) on the Nevada side of the lake, albeit just a couple of miles from South Lake (& Califor-kneee-yaaaah). We’ve been very fortunate to be able to come to this place over the years for several reasons:

  • It’s Lake Tahoe. C’mon man. This has got to be one of the most beautiful places in the whole world. I’ve not been EVERYWHERE, but over the years I have been places. Hawaii (Kauai & Maui). Italy. Switzerland. Germany. France. England. Poland. Mexico. Cana-dia. Been very blessed to see & stay in many beautiful locations, & hands-down, Lake Tahoe is the best.
  • It’s close. We can get from our front door to the cabin’s front door in < 60 minutes. Fully unloaded & ready to “BE” in < 90. It’s good.
  • It’s a rental. No day-to-day cost for maintenance & upkeep, let alone taxes. The cost of real estate in Reno/Sparks has gone through the roof, & Lake Tahoe is waaaaay beyond that. Coming to these cabins over the years has been a (relatively) simple & inexpensive way to do mini-vacations, with just the two of us & with all the kids/grandkids.
  • Off-season discount.  Coming to the cabins has been doable over the years because of an ‘off-season’ (Labor Day to Memorial Day) discount offered to clergy. It’s made places accessible that would have been WAAAY beyond the norm.

They say that all good things must come to an end. (Who is ‘they’? I’m immediately flashing back to my youth. I can still hear “Dandy” Don Meredith singing, 3-sheets to the wind, in the Monday Night Football booth, Turn out the lights/the party’s over/They say that all/good things must end…) We just discovered when we were attempting to sign up for our post-Labor Day cabin time that they off-season discount is one of the casualties of 2020 & will not be available going forward into 2021 & beyond. Bummer.

So… we’re taking a little extra time to soak in the time we have together here. To enjoy the beauty of the waves crashing & the wind howling in anticipation of the afternoon snow flurries. This has been a good place for us to BE. To learn (in the middle stage of life) what it means to recreate. To reconnect with each other. To stop. To rest. To celebrate. To reflect.


And still. I find myself wondering… Looking forward with anticipation… Here’s why:

There are a couple of points of inspiration, words of encouragement (WOE’s) really, that we’ve gotten in the last 3 months(& BOY have we needed those.) These 2 separate but related WOE’s state:

  1. Revelation 21:5 – Jesus is making ALL THINGS new. This is the theme that our mother-church organization is declaring for 2021, & I am holding on to it. Coming out of 2020, there are many things on my list that I would LOVE for Him to make new… but it’s not like I just submit a ‘wish-list’ to God & expect Him to cater to my wants & whims… His ways are much better & far more creative than my ways, which leads me to believe that the promise to make all things new is one that extends to me & theBean’s getaways. To our vacation, relaxation, reconnection, recharging, & reflection times. And that Jesus has something(s) in mind that will be New for us in these areas too. Even if we don’t see them yet.
  2. Completely separate from (but Oh So Related to) that WOE was a WOE that I received in my early morning coffee & Bible reading/pondering time. I was making my way through the Book of Isaiah (he’s a major prophet with most likely the greatest number of prophetic & insightful promises about the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One’s coming.) Anyways, it’s Isaiah 43:16-21 – God is doing a NEW thing. “NEW” here refers to 2 things: NEW as in unused, untouched, completely restored & whole kind of way; & NEW as in unprecedented, not seen before, groundbreaking. BOTH kinds of NEW spoken of here are encouraging, but the 2nd, the ‘unprecedented’ new… that requires just storing these things in your heart, watching & waiting & looking to SEE what God is up to. Because if it is unprecedented in our experience, we wouldn’t be able to anticipate it coming anyway.

Here’s to 2021. To the new. To the restored. To the unprecedented. To God’s blessings, old & new. To faithfulness, consistency, & connection with others. To living for more than just ME & MINE, & to being a tangible blessing in as many ways as possible to those that God chooses to bring into our path.

Reflect, repent, & resolve: 2020 edition…

It’s the last Monday of the year 2020, a year that in many ways shall go down in infamy for the sheer depth & breadth of calamity, change, & chaos it brought with it (all C’s. Didn’t mean to do that. But it works.) As the year draws to a close, I will be taking some time over the next 4 days to REFLECT & RESOLVE. Here’s what I mean.

While I’m not a fan of making New Year’s Resolutions, I am a BIG fan of LIVING:

  • Faithfully (in a way that reflects Jesus Christ & His Lordship in my life & my dedication to be the best husband I can be to my Bean)
  • On-purpose (vs. haphazardly, randomly, being blown hither & yon)
  • A principled life (according to my values & priorities)
  • An examined life (aka, a life that is reviewed, evaluated, & reflected upon with the intent of making adjustments to patterns of life to better align with the above goals)

So, how can I make sure I’m staying on target with my life? By embracing reflection & repentance. In a nutshell, for me, reflection offers the opportunity to examine what I’ve been doing & how I’ve been going about it; it assumes a posture of teachability, flexibility, & desire for growth; it reminds me that I’m a work in progress & that there are many areas of life where I desperately need God’s grace, transformation, & healing. So where does repentance come in? I’m glad you asked…

Repentance, to me, is the practice of making changes in how I think, act, & process; guided by the Holy Spirit, repentance allows for subtle (or HUGE!) adjustments to be made to “be moving towards”  God’s ways of thinking, acting, & processing. Repentance recognizes that I am not an island unto myself, nor am I the source of my own motivations, goals, & dreams. I have a Maker & I want to line up my life (& all that goes with that) with Him.


POINT OF ORDER: By the way, I don’t view God’s will as some sort of “BULLSEYE” on a target that only the few Mother Teresa-type folks on the planet can even begin to approach hitting. I believe God’s Will is more like a highway. I can choose to drive on just about any highway I can get ol’ Eugene to drive on (Eugene is my vehicle. He’s a 2001 Land Rover Discovery 2 with most of his good days behind him. He still has some of his mojo left, however. But I digress).

If I’m cruising on a highway somewhere & start to drift out of my land & towards the shoulder, what happens? Yes. You made the rumble sound by flapping your lips together. The rumble strips on the side of the highway alert me that I am getting off track & usually it just takes a minor correction to get back in the lane.

That is how I view repentance, the leading of the Holy Spirit, & God’s Will. I believe quite a bit of life is up to our choosing – what do we WANT to do? Is it biblical, ethical, & legal? Yes? Then do it, to the glory of God. When I get off track, the Holy Spirit functions, without fail, like a ‘divine rumble strip’ to alert me that I’ve gotten off track & need to make adjustments. So God’s Will isn’t so much a destination or a point of arrival, its a way-of-life & a process.


With REFLECTION & REPENTANCE comes RESOLVE. (Yes, I know that I said I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I am not going back on that statement. I do believe that I can have – need to have – resolve to make the appropriate adjustments in thoughts, words, actions, etc. to hit the targets I am aiming for. Think about resolve like this: it’s an on-purpose decision, a determination to DO something (or a bunch of somethings). For me, these are usually long-term, life-long decisions that get tweaked, revisited, &/or reaffirmed. The fact that this process just so happens to fall at a time the calendar year is shifting to a New Year is serendipitous & wonderful, as well as a cool way to participate in a natural rhythm of life’s changes.

I don’t know all that will be adjusted at this point (I still have 4 days to dig into this,) but here’s a couple:

I want to:

  • write more (in my journal, blogs, articles, opinions, & of course, work on developing – finishing? – some book ideas);
  • read more, esp. books on history & baseball;
  • play my guitar more often & return to song-writing
  • cook more often & master a couple new beef dishes

I want to stop:

  • procrastinating on projects at home
  • responding to people in frustration & impatience
  • being negative & critical of self (& others, but mostly self)

What do you do? In what areas of your life do reflection, repentance, & resolve show up? Any things you’re looking to DO/STOP DOING in 2021?

 

Wrestling with the (internal) governor on a Monday…

Years ago, (I’m guessing 1995, but I can’t be too sure,) my friend Jason & I drove a rental truck from a company that shall remain unnamed from Reno to LA as he & the BigWeez (his wife, aka Alyse Caroline, beloved namesake of our daughter, Weez, aka Alyse Elizabeth,) prepared to relocate to go to Bible College. We weren’t far out of town when we realized that our truck had a governor, aka “Speed Limiter” on it. Which meant that as soon as we hit 56 mph, there was a tangible realization  of ‘THIS IS AS FAST AS YOU CAN GO’ that made a 9 hour trek into a 12-14 hour odyssey. Nothing could be done to GO FASTER. Trust me. We tried, especially coming down the hill from Lee Vining into Bishop.

We weren’t trying to break the sound barrier nor the “Reno to LA” land speed record. We merely wanted to navigate the 395S between Bishop & Ridgecrest at a more pleasant speed.  (70 would’ve been a dream.) By Big Pine, we were both sure: We hates the governor. Not our friend. Now or ever. (And, BTW, this isn’t a political post vaguely disparaging the governor of the great state of                          . (The blank is there for you to fill in with the name of whatever place you reside. Or that you wish you resided in. But I digress.) The governor of that truck was revealed to be the enemy of our souls, though we hadn’t known it up til that moment.

So, how does that fit into today? I’m glad you asked.


Last Thursday, I had my monthly Spiritual Direction appointment. (Click on the link to find out more about what SD is. It would be a blog in itself if I tried to explain it.) Anyway, one of the things that came up as I answered my friend’s questions (there’s a LOT of good questions in SD,) was the presence of a governor near (but NOT within) my own heart & soul, so close & so seemingly imbedded in my consciousness that apart from the holy floodlight that the Holy Spirit often seems to be in my life, I would never have noticed or paid attention to. This governor‘s job? To engage with & evaluate my thoughts, reflections, words, etc… to measure whether or not they should see the light of day.

Before you start thinking that this governor near my soul was a good thing or a welcome component in my daily life & processings, let me tell you: it is not, & here’s why: This governor, in the name/vein of “Quality Control,” has served as an almost invisible, undetected filter… & instead of being the kind of filter that I’d associate with helpful & heaven-sent (aka the Holy Spirit, 3rd person of the Trinity,) this filter seems to have been instituted at some point for the purpose of evaluating & rejecting my creative hopes & dreams thoughts & words… to the point that I didn’t even recognize that the creative flow had been reduced to… next to nothing. Barely a trickle.

Initially, I realized I had come to see the Quality Control (hereto after QC) filter as a welcome & needed part of my life… It was only in reflection during my appointment & in the hours afterward that I’ve come to realize what the QC did was to shut me down, to keep the flow of life, new ideas, new possibilities & hopes for new things to a minimum, because the QC said they weren’t good enough. They didn’t measure up. They needed to be discarded, often before they even had the first chance to form, congeal, & gain any traction or momentum.


Haven’t done much with that this weekend, but I decided to take an hour today to think on the QC & its role in my life while I was doing some work that didn’t require my full attention (vacuuming #FTW).

What I’ve decided is: I don’t want that kind of governor in my life. I don’t want a Quality Control element regulating my soul, my thoughts, & my dreams, evaluating (& rejecting!) them without them even getting a cursory twice-over.

So, I’m asking the BEST governor, the indwelling Holy Spirit, to do some heart & soul surgery on me… to remove the QC & all of its tendrils, no matter where they’ve managed to wrangle their ways into my life. I’m intentionally slowing some of my thinking/planning/preparing processes down to make room for some changes. And, I’m challenging any & all outright rejections of ideas & the like, taking some extra time, energy, & resource for the purpose of making sure that what is getting tossed out is really stuff that needs to get tossed, & not merely stuff that the enemy of my soul, no matter how benign he seemed to be all these years, has conditioned my “evaluator” to function.

Don’t know where this goes or where it ends up – I can bet, though, that it is going to be interesting & maybe even a bit unpredictable.

2021 – never too late for the New.

Christmas music, hope, resilience, & 2020

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


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

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

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

Until today.


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The quest for “Life Abundantly” aka Emotionally Healthy Spirituality #3

I’m a couple blogs into a series exploring some of the signs of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality & how I’ve seen them manifested in my life in the past. For a refresher, here’s the list again:

  1. USING God to RUN FROM God.
  2. IGNORING anger, sadness, & fear.
  3. Dying to the WRONG things.
  4. DENYING the impact of the PAST on the PRESENT.
  5. Dividing life into SECULAR & SACRED compartments.
  6. Doing FOR God instead of being WITH God.
  7. SPIRITUALIZING away conflict.
  8. COVERING OVER brokenness, weakness, & failure.
  9. Living WITHOUT limits.
  10. JUDGING other people’s spiritual journey.

Today, I’m tackling #3 – “Dying to the WRONG things.”


I’ve always loved the simple invitation Jesus gave to those who were considering following Him… He just laid it out there, no frills, no exaggerations, no promises of glory, fame, &/or gain:

“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.”  Luke 9:23,24 English Standard Version

Straightforward. To the point. Easy to understand, right?

Maybe. Maybe not.


I used to read & interpret this passage, personalized for me, like this.

IF I want to follow Jesus:

  • I must deny myself (repress, ignore, reject my wants, my hopes, my dreams, my plans, my ideas for fun & celebration, & all enjoyment;)
  • Take up my cross every day (be prepared to suffer, to be persecuted, to not enjoy life, to be somber & serious about the tasks & mission at hand)
  • Follow Jesus (go where He goes, do what He does, knowing that the road will most likely be lonely, the existence bleak, the pain & difficulty close...)

For a big chunk of my early life with Christ (my teen years) I associated following Jesus & the Christian life more with things that I DID NOT/COULD NOT do (lots & lots of rules & lists of things to avoid & stuff not to do,) vs. embracing a loving, caring, compassionate, kind, generous, merciful, & hospitable way of living. I couldn’t tell you WHY I thought the way I did – I wasn’t overtly TAUGHT by anyone “Don’t have any fun, don’t enjoy your life, don’t pursue your own hopes, dreams, or goals because God does not approve of such a selfish lifestyle,” but those beliefs did shape my outlook on life, my behavior, & how I viewed & valued myself & others.


At the same time, I could never really reconcile that mindset/lifestyle with another one of Jesus’ declarations:

The thief comes only to steal, & kill, & destroy. I came that they might have LIFE & have it ABUNDANTLY. John 10:10 English Standard Version.

I tried not to think about this too much… because I just KNEW, I KNEW that what I was experiencing was not even on the same planet as abundant life. Chalked up my experience to some sort of sin &/or failure on my part… Jesus was TRYING to give me abundant life, but someway, somehow I was missing it.


Things really came to a head when my view of the world started to impact my marriage & my family. We didn’t go on vacation. We didn’t spend much time doing hobbies we enjoyed. We didn’t hang out with friends for no good reason other than to have a good time. (Hanging out for church reasons didn’t count.)

It got more & more difficult for me to reconcile the message of the joy of life with Christ that I was trying to share with the living, breathing example of ME trying to live that life in my own strength, & failing miserably… & taking my wife & kids into the abyss of despair with me.


Around the time I was exposed to EHS for the first time, theBean & I were on a 17 day mission to Frankfurt. It sounds like it would be great (& some of it was,) but it was really hard for me to actually enjoy being in Europe with my wife, spending time with friends (new & old,) & not having something tangible, something productive to show for it. To make matters “worse,” on this particular trip, a dear German friend, (Claudius Paul, now with Jesus,) who thought that theBean & I “worked too much” & “didn’t take time to enjoy God’s good things,” chose to hijack our mission trip with a 4 day all expenses paid trip to Rome. Rome, Italy. Yes, that Rome.

It almost felt wrong to accept the gift, but I couldn’t say “No,” especially after seeing the joy of a possible Roman Holiday in myBean’s eyes. So we went. (Thank you, thank you, thank you again, Claudius. So grateful for your kindness that was instrumental in helping make a change in my life direction & outlook.)


There was nothing to “do” in Rome. No lists of activities that had to be accomplished. And so we slept in We wandered. We ate at little hole in the wall restaurants with red & white checkered plastic tablecloths, drank some of the best red table wine ever (they had it in jugs! on each table,) & sampled gelato from the Gelato shops that seemed to dot every corner of every block. It was incredible. And SO. MUCH. FUN.

Upon getting back to Frankfurt, Claudius took theBean & I, along with a couple of friends, out to dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant on the Main River, under the pretense of inviting us to “compare the German version of Italian food to the real thing.” It was another wonderful experience with dear friends, great food, beautiful views (lights on water are theBean’s favorite thing) & life-giving conversation.

I will never forget Claudius’ encouragement to me that night. He said something like, “Louie my friend, God intended that we would ENJOY our lives, that we would EMBRACE His good gifts: friends, food, celebration, community, rest, & vacation. It is not GOOD to work all the time while taking no time for rest, for enjoyment, for pleasure.”

Back at home, over the next couple of months, I wrestled with WHY I felt guilty when we’d vacation, WHY it was so difficult to do FUN things, ENJOYABLE things that had no (seeming) direct or productive purpose. I had more & more difficulty maintaining the belief that I lived the way I did because God wanted me to; instead, it became clearer & clearer that the path I was walking was more one of my own making as I attempted to engage discipleship & the Christian life on Louie’s terms, in Louie’s way. Ouch.


I wish I could say, “And then everything was all better, & there was never again a struggle that I had when it came to embracing & enjoying the things that God MADE to be embraced & enjoyed.” It took several more years to get to the spot where rest, rhythm, vacation, time away, nights off, & the like became a part of our regular lives. But that time in Frankfurt & Rome was definitely the start of me learning to stop equating self-driven self-denial & asceticism with being a mature disciple of Christ.

Today, 15 or so years later, I feel like theBean & I are truly experiencing abundant life; it’s not perfect, but it more closely ties in with 1) Jesus’ invitation to follow Him & 2) Living out the purpose that He came… that we would have LIFE & have it ABUNDANTLY.

What happens when you ignore anger, sadness, & fear? aka Emotionally Healthy Spirituality #2

In THIS blog I wrote last week, I talked a bit about my introduction about 15 years ago to the idea of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. As I mentioned, one of the things that most intrigued me (still does to this day) was the list of “10 Symptoms of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality.” When I read these symptoms the first time, I couldn’t help but notice that I most likely would have gotten a “Perfect Score…” meaning, I could see ALL 10 of the symptoms in some way/shape/form evident in my daily life.

  1. USING God to RUN FROM God.
  2. IGNORING anger, sadness, & fear.
  3. Dying to the WRONG things.
  4. DENYING the impact of the PAST on the PRESENT.
  5. Dividing life into SECULAR & SACRED compartments.
  6. Doing FOR God instead of being WITH God.
  7. SPIRITUALIZING away conflict.
  8. COVERING OVER brokenness, weakness, & failure.
  9. Living WITHOUT limits.
  10. JUDGING other people’s spiritual journey.

Today, I’m tackling #2, “Ignoring Anger, Sadness, & Fear.”


Many of the lessons we learn in church about God, about following Him, & about how we treat other people aren’t the ones we’re supposed to learn. They’re (usually) not overtly taught; they’re more “caught” through observation, interpersonal interactions, & sometimes even the pain that comes from being rejected, marginalized, ostracized, &/or avoided. Here’s what I mean:

Jesus tells us to love one another – in our words & in our actions.

Sometimes, as I experienced “love” from other Christians, I also experienced a (not-so) subtle judgment when I shared with another person about struggles I had with anger. With sadness. With fear. With a lot of things. Sometimes I’d get the “I’ll pray for you” which was usually code for, “I can’t believe you’re admitting that & it makes me uncomfortable to be around you now.”

Sometimes I received the MORE encouragement: Read the Bible MORE. Pray MORE. Worship MORE. (One buddy told me the best thing I could do was to get a punching bag so I could hit it.)

I also got “Bible-versed” (yes, that is a verb) quite a bit: “You’re feeling angry? Well Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry & don’t sin!” So don’t let it get out of control.”

“You’re feeling sad? Don’t you know that “Nehemiah 8;10 says, “the joy of the Lord is our strength? Be filled with joy brother.”

“You’re afraid? What do we have to be afraid of? The Bible is full of instructions telling us not to be afraid. Plus 1John 4:18 tells us that Jesus’ “perfect love casts out all fear!’ So don’t be afraid.”


Looking back, I had plenty of reasons I was feeling each of those emotions – & I didn’t know what to DO with them. Turns out, many/most of the people I talked to didn’t either.

And so I stuffed them into a little tiny space somewhere in my heart & decided that any time I even began to feel even the first hint of one of these terrible, negative, unchristian feelings, I’d stuff those. Deny what I was feeling. Keep going. And I never cried.l

Ask me how that worked out for me.

Poorly. It worked out poorly.

Simply stuffing, denying, &/or spiritualizing away those inconvenient feelings didn’t make them actually go away; they just went under the surface like a sewage spill, affecting & infecting every area of life, albeit without being acknowledged.


I was able to Keep It Together (KIT) pretty well around most people, but it was EXHAUSTING. I’d get home from work/from being around people & drop my guard pretty quickly. TheBean got most of the brunt of the overflow of junk… on a scale of 1 to Volcano, I was running at a constant 7-8, & it didn’t take much to push me over the edge into “eruption” mode.

One day, when I came home from work & I was approaching the front door, I heard one of my kids yell, “Dad’s home!” & then I heard the joyous sound of 3 sets of feet running. Running AWAY from the front door. To hide in their rooms. They were running FROM me. Scared of me & whatever the evening might hold. And it freaked me out.

Had a very pointed conversation with theBean – & when I asked her what was going on, she bravely & directly stated it like it was, without regard for any response or outburst I might have. “It’s you. You’re out of control. The littlest thing sets you off. You snap. We’re walking on eggshells when you’re around, & we’re scared.” My oldest son, ThePastyOne, who must have been about 9 at the time, agreed, & yelled from  the relative safety of his room, “It’s true, dad!”

Therapy helped. I learned a lot about emotions & about my inability to identify let alone process the strong negative ones that I was having. When I talked to Chuck, I didn’t have to pretend that I had it all together. I didn’t have to deny there was a problem (it was obvious there was one. Can’t deny what is out in the open.) I could be vulnerable & speak from my heart… & as I did, it felt like the floodgates opened up. It felt a little out  of control but it also felt wonderful to no longer have to attempt to Keep It Together (KIT). I could just FEEL, & I could just BE.

Through EHS, Chuck introduced me to the idea of “Praying the Psalms.” In a nutshell, praying the Psalms involves using Scripture, (the words penned & originally expressed by the Psalmist for worship & interacting with God,) & making them your own. I found that the Psalmist used words & expressed feelings that I was uncomfortable expressing. He told God how angry he was. How disappointed he was that God wasn’t responding to him & his situation. He shouted at God, asked God to break his enemies necks & bash their teeth in. I could picture David on a hill somewhere in Israel, screaming at the top of his lungs.

And the funny thing? God could handle David’s rawest emotions & strongest words. Didn’t phase Him one bit. So I tried it – & found that while I started with reading the Psalms out loud, I grew to praying my own prayers from the depths of my heart. I expressed ugly stuff, the kind of stuff I’d repressed, avoided, & dodged my whole Christian life. And God handled it. It was like every time I finished with my prayers, with expressing all the junk, I felt a nudge from God saying, “Ok. Are you done? You feel better? Now, ask Me what I have to say about that.”

And I did.

It wasn’t that long (6 months?) until theBean noticed something was up – “You’re not as angry as you were. You’re not agitated, you’re able to sit & just BE with me & the kids. What’s going on?”

I told her something along the lines of “I’ve been praying the Psalms. Actually, I’ve been yelling at God then listening to what He has to say in response.”

That was really the beginning of the healing that God wanted to do IN me – that I’d be able to feel, identify, & process my emotions, no matter how inconvenient. And it wasn’t unchristian to do so… it was actually INHUMAN not to.


I discovered all the places in the Bible where God shows emotion. That God is the One who actually gave all of us the emotions we have, & that they serve as indicators of something going on in/through/around our lives, something that needs to be paid attention to. In & of themselves, the emotions aren’t bad or wrong – I’ve found over time that they’re usually pointing at something that God wants to address, to challenge, to change, to bring growth.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality has helped me to leave behind a life of denial, out of control emotions/behavior, & relationships that were on the rocks. And it’s been a great tool for me (& many others) to grow deep in God & with those around us.

I’ll be tackling #3 “Dying to the Wrong Things” next.

In the mean time:

  • What has been helpful for you in feeling & processing your emotions in a healthy, life-giving manner?
  • What are some of the obstacles that can get in the way of acknowledging the “negative” emotions of anger, sadness, & fear?

People are complex… aka Emotionally Healthy Spirituality #1

I first encountered Peter Scazzero & his “Emotionally Healthy” books in 2006. TheBean & I were in therapy together & we were coming to the realization that a big chunk of the issues we were facing in our marriage stemmed from unresolved “Louie-issues” (aka things, behaviors, attitudes, practices, etc… related directly/indirectly to my own emotional immaturity, unresolved hurts, & a Type-A bent.) As our therapy transitioned from “US” in therapy to “ME” in therapy, my counselor suggested I read through Scazzero’s book & then process with him the things that stood out to me, the things the Holy Spirit was speaking to me, & the areas I saw that needed something more than a little change… I needed a wholesale extreme makeover. A transformation. Something not orchestrated & conducted by me, attempting to put my life back together again in my own strength & resources, but a transformation instigated, worked through & completed by God the Holy Spirit.

During this time, I clung to the verse: “…and I am SURE of this, that He who BEGAN a good work in you WILL BRING IT to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6


One of the first things that stood out to me was the “10 Symptoms of Emotionally UNHealthy Spirituality.” They are:

  1. USING God to RUN FROM God.
  2. IGNORING anger, sadness, & fear.
  3. Dying to the WRONG things.
  4. DENYING the impact of the PAST on the PRESENT.
  5. Dividing life into SECULAR & SACRED compartments.
  6. Doing FOR God instead of being WITH God.
  7. SPIRITUALIZING away conflict.
  8. COVERING OVER brokenness, weakness, & failure.
  9. Living WITHOUT limits.
  10. JUDGING other people’s spiritual journey.

(List taken from “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” by Peter Scazzero. (re) Published by Zondervan in 2017. p.22.)

Today, I’m going to tackle how #1, Using God to Run from God, showed up in my life.


1 – USING GOD TO RUN FROM GOD

I have been a Christian since I was 3 – prayed the prayer with my mom on Easter 1973. My earliest book I read was the Bible. All of my earliest memories involve our family going to church. Being involved in church. Leading others in the church. I am eternally grateful for the foundation that was worked into my life: a foundation of God’s love, grace, compassion, stability, & faithfulness, esp. as revealed in the Scriptures.

The problem was, I often never considered HOW living as a Christian would involve Jesus as Lord & Master of EVERY area of my life (physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, & emotional.) Mostly I just focused on the accepted, tried & true “spiritual practices” of church, worship, Bible study, serving, etc.  How I “felt” was irrelevant, don’t you know? Because feelings would LIE to you, & feelings CAN’T be trusted to drive the Louie bus.

At the time, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate this, but the answer to just about every challenge was strongly implied: Read the Bible MORE. Pray MORE. Get MORE involved in church. Do MORE. (This isn’t something I was taught by my parents; it was more ‘absorbed’ through observation & participation in the daily/weekly life of the church.)

MORE always seemed to = BETTER.

The real world has a way of blowing up our illusions of being in control of our lives.


At about 30 years of age (right when i began as the Lead Pastor of our church, BTW) I was angry. I was frustrated. I was volatile. I was in all sorts of turmoil inside my head & heart & I had no idea what the issue was. So I did what I’d always done when I didn’t know what to do about how I was feeling: I did what I was currently doing, MORE & with MORE gusto.

It didn’t help.

How I used God to run from God:

  • My schedule was so packed there was literally no room in it for any of life’s surprises, emergencies, &/or challenges. Keeping busy made it so I never actually had to evaluate (let alone invite the Holy Spirit to review) how my life was going & if there were any changes/course corrections necessary.
  • Instead of following clear Scriptural instruction (stuff like, “If you have an issue with somebody, go to them & work it through;” or “Forgive in the same way Jesus forgives;” or “Don’t be harsh with your wife,”) I would “pray about” the issues – I was having, almost as though Scripture wasn’t clear enough for me so I had to triple-dog-clarify with God what I should do & how I should interact with my spouse.
  • Things were never my fault. There was always a very valid (& RIGHTEOUS I’m sure) reason WHY I was acting the way I was acting.
  • I didn’t really ask for God’s directions for me – my prayer life was more of a wish-list looking for Divine validation of my priorities & values.
  • I blamed God, to others, for my own opinions, thoughts, & preferences.
  • This list could go on, but I think you might get the point.

In my solo-therapy, I was forced to STOP & CONFRONT the fact that the wheels had come off of my life, my marriage, my family life… the only thing that was going “well” was church, & that was only through force of will & the denial of the inner storm, struggles, rejection, turmoil, & pain I lived with.

Chuck, my therapist, asked me a few questions. Went something like,

  • “What do you really think that Jesus NEEDS you to do for Him that you are constantly so busy?”
  • “What are the reasons you believe that God loves you?”
  • “What evidence is there in your life today that you believe & live out the fact that God’s grace applies to you & not just other people?”

I couldn’t answer the questions adequately. I could ANSWER them, but even I, in my state of turmoil, could see that I was merely offering up platitudes & not touching on what was going on in the depths of my heart & life.

And so I gave up. Surrendered. A little bit at a time. And God met me.

To be continued…

Monday Musings on “September” day…

Do you remember the 21st night of September?
Love was changing the minds of pretenders
While chasing the clouds away…” – 

One of our favorite movies is “Dan in Real Life.” (BTW: if you haven’t seen this one yet, it is time. And if you have seen it, it is time to watch it.) And one of our favorite scenes in the movie is the “family workout on the front lawn” scene where they do some Jazzercise (?) to Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “September.” (Stop, click on the link, & dance! You’ll thank me later.)  I needed that today.


I’m finding myself sending out a lot more “Help me God’ quick prayers lately. Feels like we’ve been “knee-deep in the proverbial alligators” for a while & it is only getting more intense. Also, I’m thankful for the Psalms. Just about every day, I find one in my daily reading that says EXACTLY what I want to say/pray… & so I make it my own & pray/read it.


Had a conversation with a 20something the  other day & realized that the majority of my “pop-culture” references (stories, analogies, & the like) are older than they are… which can really undermine the whole point of the analogy.

On that note, I turned 51 on Saturday. That probably has a lot to do with the previous observation. I’m contemplating starting sentences with “Back in my day…” (Not really. But I could.)


I have a confession – I am a serial book collector. And I currently have a stack of new (to me) books that I haven’t read; that stack continues to grow & (sometimes, like today) that stack seems to be looming over my desk like an insurmountable peak that will never be climbed. Over the years, I’ve tried to self-impose a moratorium on all future book buying until I thin the herd of current selections. (BTW – the new stack always has competition from my “old friend” books; you know, the ones that you re-read every year or 2? That stack isn’t shrinking either.) Inevitably, I hear about/read about a book that sounds SO interesting or good that I just have to make an exception for the book. And I buy it. And I put it on the stack.


A few of my favorite books to re-read:

  • Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan” & “Jack Ryan, Jr.” series
  • Conan –Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” collections
  • Pretty much anything CS Lewis, but especially “Mere Christianity,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” & “The Space Trilogy.”
  • Same for JRR Tolkien, though “The Lord of the Rings” is my favorite of his.
  • Same for Eugene Peterson – I love to re-read, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction,” regularly, as well as a handful of his other classics.
  • Jerry Cook’s “Love, Acceptance, & Forgiveness,” “The Monday Morning Church,” & “A Few Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew It All.”

What are your “go-to’s” for re-reading? What are your current reads?


Waking up & being able to see across the valley is underrated. Here’s to the fires in the vicinity (all of them actually) getting under control. The smoke can GO AWAY, post haste. Please & thank you.


I love talking to my elders (those who have a few years more experience & life under their belts.) I love getting their perspectives on our current difficulties, & hearing how they’ve experienced life disruptions (similar to the current one) at various times in their own lives. Inevitably, I come away encouraged, strengthened, & more resolved(?) to keep on keeping on.


A rainy day or 10 right about now would be greatly appreciated. (With no thunder & lightning, please.)


I’m discovering, more & more, that intentionally (& daily)  practicing gratefulness & thanksgiving has a way of completely shifting my outlook on life… for the better.

Happy Monday to you –