Deutschland 2023 #10 – Lumpia for Lunch & a Worship Night at CFA…

It was a slooow paced Friday morning, which was especially nice after the cold, windy, & intense visit with Street Church last night. TheBean was still trying to shake the cold from her toes over our late breakfast/coffee routine this morning… which probably led to drinking waaay too much coffee… which led to the jitters later for her. 

There is a pastoral transition happening at CFA; the founding pastor, Ewald Zelmer, is transitioning to lead missions to the ‘stans on behalf of Germany, for pastoral training, opening new territories to the Gospel, & maintaining new/long established relationships. He truly is an apostolic leader – a ‘sent one’ that establishes, builds, maintains, & ‘exports’ the Gospel in new locations within nations, people groups, cultures, & language-groups. He is so filled with joy & is also such a fierce person in prayer (in the best sense of the word.) He & his wife Kerstin have pastored CFA as long as we’ve been at Hillside, beginning in the same year (2000).

The new pastor couple at CFA is Toby & Ginny Huyssen – he’s from the US by way of the Philippines by way of Germany (his mom, Gisele, pastors in Frickenhausen – yes, that’s a real place.) Ginny is a Filipina as well & they are in their late 30’s, very charismatic & full of joy, & they love to worship & to lead people into worship. Anna Marie took us to their place & we spent a little time connecting at the lunch table while the food finished, while listening to their kids Zach 11 & Erica 9, entertain us with the happenings of their lives & Zach’s regular interjection of his best imitation of “Murica.” 

Lunch was lumpia, vegetables, fried tofu, & some incredible, ginger-based sauces to season the food with & dip the lumpia into. So good. The table was full of talk about life, family, origin stories, pastoral life & transitions, & navigating God’s call on our lives in changing & varied contexts. Toby is a very different pastor/leader than Ewald, but I have a sense he is going to do very well at leading the church in their next phase of life together. CFA is a church of & to the nations, with approximately 15+ nations making up the people of the congregation. They are truly learning to BE the united church around Jesus, not national identity, culture of origin, personal preferences, &/or language.

Tonight is a Worship Night Toby & Ginny are leading at CFA, so we departed & made our way back to Anna Marie’s flat to get some rest. We were out shortly after our heads hit the pillow & both took a good 45-60 minute nap in advance of the evening happenings.

We made our way to CFA (about 200 meters away down the street) & theBean found the cafeteria, where the worship team was eating a preservice meal of lasagna, which she was overjoyed to jump in on; it’s a favorite. Talked with some friends (new & old) at the table, then went upstairs to the sanctuary as the worship night began.

The focus for the night was worship with times of prayer for the youth of the church, city, & Germany (from what I could tell.) Toby & Ginny led a team of 8 or so excellent musicians & it was obvious from the beginning that this is an area of great skill, gifting, & calling for them. About half the songs were in English & 90% were recognizable, even the German translation songs, so it was simple to jump in & worship along with those in attendance. It was a glimpse of heaven, with a selection of people from many tribes, tongues, & nations gathered together singing, literally, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lamb” or some variation of that in their mother tongues. 

Worship, prayer, & celebration lasted from about 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm & people hung out & talked until 10. We did our best to connect over conversations & I got to talk in English with two young guys, about 25, from Pakistan & Syria. They learned their English from Looney Tunes Cartoons, & had all sorts of questions about cartoons & other American language sources, like rap, music videos, IG, TikTok, & YouTube. 

They both shared, in their own way, their testimonies of Jesus’ ‘rescue’ of them, how He brought them from being “lost & broken” & how He was making them whole. Precious young men who were excited to flex their English vocabulary & at the same time talk about their Jesus.

By the time we made it to Anna Marie’s we were tired, but we took an hour or so to talk & debrief about the night, sharing our perspectives, & also hearing hers as someone who is firmly inside the church. Headed to bed at 11:15 & read a bit before crashing hard. 

What a great day with great food & an incredible night of worship. Thank you Jesus.


Deutschland 2023 – Day #9 – “Street Church: blessings without strings, & other musings on a cold Thursday…”

Woke up this morning to the threat (promise?) of cold, wind, & rain… pretty much what the weather forecast (promise?) has offered every day since we’ve been here & looks to offer until we board the plane home from Berlin next Thursday. Instead of worrying about what might be, we’ve made a practice of just “rolling with it,” & trusting God in for our day-to-day. 

As has been our pattern so far this week, we took the morning sloooow & had a couple rounds of french press coffee along with our Bible reading & sporadic talks/laughs. TheBean tackled the creation of a breakfast scramble, of sorts, with eggs, a couple types of wurst (sausage) & onions. So familiar & also so different at the same time.

Anna Marie (American missionary of 11+ years & our hostess) has been leading the CFA outreach called “Street Church” since her arrival in Bielefeld 10 years ago. How can I describe it? There’s a place near the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) where those bound by addiction to drugs, alcohol, & other vices common to humanity, gather to indulge, to forget, to have a point of ‘community’, albeit without the love, compassion, & care associated most often with what you think of when you hear that word.  People experiencing addiction & (pseudo/practical) homelessness are often subsidized & ‘cared for’ by the state, leading to a vicious & repeating downward spiral from which there is (often, for many,) no escape. 

It’s into this world that Street Church reaches & extends the love of Jesus in practical, tangible ways. There is a powerful declaration of the Gospel Good News every week, but not in a typical evangelistic message; instead, the Street Church team prepares salami & cheese (salami & käse) brötchen (bread rolls)… Not on the same rolls, but separately, as, evidently, Germans don’t mix their cheese & meat on sandwiches. They bring canisters of hot coffee, tea, & bouillon, & of course some sweets, & set up a table in the midst of the gathering of humanity, all experiencing varying degrees of the lowest & degrading situations you can imagine… many fallen to the level of selling themselves without regard to the consequences, only thinking of how to stop the craving & suffering brought on by addiction. Rinse, lather, repeat. You can almost touch the hopelessness.

And Street Church sets up a table, open for business, in the middle of this. The volunteer staff man the table & cheerfully offer food & drink with a smile, an encouraging word, & more than a touch of human dignity, worth, & blessings. It’s easy to see that the majority of these people fly under the radar of normal human interactions, tolerated at best, despised at worst by those busily passing by/through/around the swelling mass of humanity. The Street Church staff take the time for conversations, for truly human & divine interactions, treating each person they interact with with an incredible amount of dignity & worth, quietly offering love, acceptance, & forgiveness with a love reminiscent of a mother caring for the wayward & motherless friends of her own children. Truly a joy to behold. 

Other members of the team spread out into the crowd & pick up conversations where they are wanted or available. Some days they break up (redirect) conflicts & outright fights; they don’t focus on trying to get people to pray the “sinner’s prayer” but are quick to offer a listening ear, a heartfelt petition to Jesus, & an encouragement to those who want to hear to begin (continue?) to increasingly put their trust & (feeble) hopes in Jesus, looking to obey Him in the middle of the perpetual storms of life they’re living through. 

Sometimes they lead a few songs of worship, incorporating guitar, saxophone, & a haunting, soothing, hug-of-the-Savior sounding violin… all without amplification or microphones, a joyful noise amidst the cacophony of human suffering, conflict, & pain. We didn’t play tonight until the very end, not wanting to compete with the boom box held by a couple of the guys as they listened to a selection of German punk, 80’s German rock, & some Bryan Adams (Summer of 69!)  You might wonder WHY one wouldn’t do worship if/when there is a boombox playing… I’d say it has to do with respect. We are in their ‘house’ & their place, & it felt wrong to step into this Holy Ground, this place where Heaven meets some of the worst of earth, where the Jesus-question, “What can I do for you?” rings loudly in the actions of the Street Church team, & to insist that WE get to do OUR thing. There are no strings attached to what Street Church does – all of it is an offering to Jesus, to be experienced & hopefully embrace by the ‘least of these,’ who, hopefully, if only for a moment, are reminded that they are worthy of love, care, & compassion, & that the God of the Universe has more for them than cycles of suffering & destruction.

So we served. I felt mostly worthless, as my German consists of ordering food, & (mostly) understanding & singing worship songs. TheBean & I prayed, in English & the Spirit, & helped serve the coffee, tea, & bouillon, hoping we got the number of sugar cubes right for the coffee & tea. The clients love their sugar… it takes the edge off the cravings for their drugs of choice… so 6-8 cubes for a 8 ounce coffee wasn’t unusual.

An anti-war protest of about 300 people gathered at the Hauptbahnhof just about the time we were packing up & heading out… the boom box gang left, & I’d already put the guitar away in the van as the cold wind & rain that had been held back all day began to threaten that it was coming, & soon. A young woman, H, (hard to tell ages. She could have been 25, she could have been 40) took the opportunity of the silence to ask Anna Marie if we would PLEASE play at least one song with her. H produced a small djembe-style drum & I grabbed the guitar from the back of the van & prayed silently that my fingers would be able to A) move coherently & B) remember the chords to some songs.

As I began to strum the opening chords to “Open the Eyes of My Heart”, Anna Marie pulled out her saxophone, & H put her hand on the guitar while I strummed in order to feel the rhythm & the beat of the song. I started to sing, the saxophone began to sing, & the drum slowly emerged, its rhythm skillfully moving in & out of the melody, playing a harmony to what I was playing. H had skills… a distinct & poignant reminder that, though caught in addiction & suffering, there is a gifted, valuable, & tender woman here, longing to play with others, to belong, to be a part of something. One song turned into two, as I willed my fingers to move, my strumming hand to somehow hold the pick. I strummed & sang, “Jesus I Worship You” by an old friend in the NW. We declared the Lordship of Christ over ourselves, over this people, over this place. Simply connecting with Jesus & with each other. My fingers fumbled to a close & we once again packed our instruments, leaving too soon for H, but leaving none the less. I gave her “knuckles” in a gesture of what I hoped was honor & thanks for her playing with me, with us. She gave me a smile in return, communicating that she understood, even as the sadness returned to her eyes & countenance. I could hear her continuing to play the drum as we loaded up the van & waited for the protest to pass us by.

We did a little post-Church debrief, cleaned up the supplies, & said goodbye to the rest of the staff, people we (most likely) won’t see again this side of Heaven. When we do see each other again, it will be a joyful reunion, not bound by language challenges.

Came back to the flat & ate some wurst & a peppers/onions mix theBean had made earlier in the day. After some talks, we said goodnight & headed towards bed. The wind & rain began to howl & to fall in earnest. We thanked God we’d avoided that on the street tonight, while also thinking of those who have no place to retreat to, no respite. 

Jesus is close to the broken-hearted. And oh, how we need Him.

Deutschland 2023 – Day #8 “Walking in Bielefeld…”

Had a slow-ish wakeup today, our first complete day in Bielefeld. Felt great to take the time to have a couple cups of french press coffee & to read my normal Bible reading plan with no rush to be anywhere or do anything. 

We got ready around noon & headed into town. First stop was the Christus für Alles Foursquare church; we had never been in their ‘newish’ building so we got to see the office space, the sanctuary, & the myriad classrooms, workrooms, storage areas of a church that is literally used every day, most of each day. This church is instrumental in reaching “the ‘stans”, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, & all the other ‘stans’ in the region. They’ve got 4 translation stations set up in the sanctuary for English, Russian, & any other languages for people groups that happen to be in demand at that time. Got to hear quite a few of the stories from the last few years; was especially interested in hearing how they navigated ‘Corona’ (as the majority of people here call “theCovids”) & how the church in general has bounced back & reinvented themselves as they work to reach the people in their communities. I’ve been at 3 different churches over the last week & have heard 3 radically different ways they ‘rolled with it.’ Truly inspiring to see how God works in each people/church in each community.

After walking through the city for about 90 minutes with our hostess, Anna Marie narrating the whole time (as good or better than any US Park Ranger Guide I’ve ever had) we voted to stop & eat at one of her favorite Turkish döner shops. Bean got lamb skewers & I got a lahmucun döner with extra meat. So good. I finished mine but theBean had a skewer left over; I called ‘dibs’ for it to eat for dinner.

From there we took the car up to a scenic overlook of THE place to see in Bielefeld: the Sparrenburg. Click on that link & take a look – VERY cool & a great way to overlook the city & also to hear the stories about the founding of Bielefeld as a trade route to distribute the linen for which it has been know for several hundred years. (The link above will take you to the “Linen wear factory museum”. )

It was windy & cold-ish, so we decided to move on to the next phase of the day – meeting up with Anna Marie’s friend, Petra, to go visit a housing project to walk through/around it & pray. It’s a place that they (& the church) have been targeting for prayer & worship with the hopes of being able to reach the myriad people from all over the world who happen to live there. We talked & prayed into the darkness… & then went to a spot in a courtyard where Petra played her violin & Anna Marie played her guitar. The sound of the violin bounced back & forth off the buildings like a comforting hug from Jesus, & the two instruments together melded & harmonized beautifully.

Tomorrow late afternoon/early evening is “Street Church” – a church/outreach Anna Marie has been leading for the last several years. So, we went with her to the grocery megastore (think Target meets Best Buy) & shopped for some breakfast items while Anna Marie & Petra stocked up on essentials for feeding the Street Church congregation. 

There is nothing like feeling like a fish out of water like being in a grocery store in another country. Just familiar enough to lull you into feeling comfortable, but radically different enough to royally mess with your brain when you go looking for anything specific that you want on your list. My heart was happy though, because I found legit Skippy chunky peanut butter in the jar. #FTW

Came home & ate leftovers (lamb skewers & soup, & some chow mein that theBean scrounged up.) We’re now relaxing & having what Anna Marie calls “Baboon time,” aka “time set aside to stare at the wall & decompress, think, & relax.” 

I like that. Baboon time. I do that already, both in the morning & the evening. 

We walked more today (approx. 8 1/2 miles) than we have in the last 5 days combined, so I’m feeling it tonight. Heading to bed soon – thinking of loved ones, praying for Hillside & our Hillside family, asking for divine appointments over the next few days (esp. tomorrow on the Street.) Would appreciate your prayers.

A map of the 'stans
A man, his new German spoon, & Skippy Chunky Peanut Butter

Deutschland 2023 – Days #4-7 – Church in Ottersweier & Foursquare LIVE

Day 4 – 

Saturday was a slow day with not much on the agenda until the afternoon, other than reading, having talks, & rehearsing the Sunday message with Julia who would be doing the translating for me. It was great to be able to see Julia in her natural habitat, & also to enjoy the time together. We took about an hour to compare Bible translations/languages, work through specific points & word choices, & then to answer any questions each of us had for the other…  Arche Ottersweier (The Ark of Ottesweier) has been Julia’s home church ever since it was planted by pastors Roland & Manuela Lorenz; she’s involved there leading worship & in a variety of other areas, so she also provided a bit of a play by play to bring us up to speed since my/our last visit there in 2009 (Joni had never been there to the church/city/her parents house; I’d visited a few times & spoke at the church with her translating on one of the trips.) 

That afternoon, we made our way to the house of die familie Kern (her parents home) for kaffee & apfel strudel with eis (ice cream.) Goodness. And this was to be our ‘appetizer’ for dinner. I’m glad we had a couple hours to let it settle because I was STUFFED after we ate & my stomach was already hurting because of all the food & laughter :). 

Dinner was with Klaus & Pia (Julia’s parents) & Linda & Joah (Julia’s sister & nephew) at “Mucho Macho” an Armenian-owned tapas-style restaurant. We had Middle-Eastern, Armenian, German, & Spanish tapas in a family-style presentation (it makes sense if you see it) & ate until we couldn’t eat any more. SO. MUCH. FOOD. Klaus & Pia both have such a great sense of humor we find ourselves laughing almost constantly. 

It was raining as we left the restaurant, so late that I thought I’d turn into a pumpkin before we got home. But I made it. And went quickly to sleep to get good rest for Sunday.

Day 5

Woke up early-ish & had my normal Sunday am breakfast (Cafe Latte protein shake & a Quest bar) & a good cup of Julia’s french press coffee. We arrived at the church 1/2 hour early for prayer & spent the time in the upstairs praying in our native languages for the day, for the service, for the people in attendance, & for the churches in the town. 

The sanctuary/building is set up in an inverted “V” pattern with chairs set up on both sides of the sanctuary so that the people in the middle rows on back in each section can’t see each other. I (& Julia) spoke on being TOGETHER from Acts 2:42; we touched on maturity, selflessness, the power of the Holy Spirit, unity, being on mission together, learning to prefer & defer in our people connections, & stuff like that. 

After church, Linda’s husband, Heiko (sound guy today) came up to me excited & said, “You spoke to BOTH sides of the room today. The regular section AND the youth section. NO ONE has ever talked to the youth section.” I didn’t know it had been that divided up, but in retrospect I guess it was. That might explain the excited reaction from the youth a couple times during the message… 

Right after church, a young lady named Jana (13 years old) came up to me with a cup of coffee, light cream & gave it to me. She told me, “I wanted to make sure you got a cup of coffee before the end of service. Sometimes people come & want to talk to the speaker so long that we run out of coffee before they can get a cup.” Yeah, that’s the kind of girl she is. She was absolutely glowing with the joy of the Lord, full of life & the Holy Spirit. She (& her mom) were just radiant; Jana speaks English better than me, German, French, & is tackling Spanish & Japanese now. She said, “God is going to work through me & my ability to speak languages well, so I want to work to give Him some good material to work with.” SMH, but in awe & thanks. 

As we left the church, we said goodbye to Klaus & Pia – & Klaus followed us out of the building, waving us a majestic & heart felt “GOOD BYE.” My eyes may have misted over. 

For lunch, we went to Roland & Manuela’s home – take out pizza & home grown field greens. We talked with them & their girls (Desiree & Deborah – 15 & 13) & our Julia. The time went so fast we had to pack up & head out to the conference – Goodbye with Julia was so difficult. We love this woman, & are so proud of who she is & who she is becoming. Leaving our German daughter behind was the hardest thing we’ve done so far on this trip… definitely planning on making it back next year…

After a 2 1/2 hour trip, we arrived in Oberwesel at the Youth Hostel where the conference “Foursquare LIVE” was being held. As we were checking in, we ran into Alex & Linda Krieger, dear friends we’ve known & stayed in regular touch with for 16 years. We’re going to end our trip with them in Berlin, so it was extra special to be able to have these couple of days with them here at the conference.

The theme of the conference is Discipleship – led by an American, John Lewis of Kingdom Story Ministries. He’s a great dude partnering with the Foursquare Church to prepare our churches worldwide with strategy/intentional plans for creating discipleship pathways (in the US its called D.L.T. Discipleship/Leadership Training. And it is good stuff.)

Foursquare Deutschland joined with the US Foursquare church to celebrate 100 years of Foursquare with their own celebration this year at this conference. After the meeting, we had late night talks with Alex & Linda, then headed to bed.

Day 6

We ate breakfast with Brandon & Marcie Brazee, Foursquare missionaries & pastors to Köln (Cologne) Germany, along with their kids, Kaitlyn (14?) & Hudson (almost 8). Great time getting to hear their story & sharing a bit of ours; we share a lot of dear friends in common, so we really enjoyed the beginning of what felt like a good friendship. 

Full day of meetings & interactions… so during our afternoon break, we (theBean, me, Alex & Linda) went to the castle next door for some desserts… Yes. The CASTLE next door. For reals. It was a 5 minute walk from the Hostel & we had our drink & watched theBean & Alex kill their cheesecakes while viewing the Rhein river below us. 

Right before dinner, our dear friend Eddy (who we stayed with Day 1/2) hand-delivered a bag to us. 90 minutes each way. It contained 50 pounds (23 kg) of goodies we’d brought for the Brazee family, but that we couldn’t take with us to see Julia in southwestern Germany… it was a brief reunion for us, & also for Alex & LInda with their beloved former pastor. To me, Eddy’s selfless 180 minute journey to drop off a glorified (& Oh So Awesome) goody bag illustrates the kind of friend, man, & pastor he is. Truly one of the best men I know.

The food at the conference, served by the hostel, is super low in protein. Like nonexistent. And after a day and a half of greens & pasta offerings, we (theBean, me, Alex & Linda) decided to go to the Castle again for dinner. Alex & I had “beef cheeks, mashed potatoes, greens, & a nice Cuvee. TheBean had salmon, & Linda had a veal cutlet. Our protein cravings were satisfied, if only for a day.

That night was a night of extended worship, with prayer & prophetic ministry available as well. Specifically, prayer ministry was set out for the ‘stans (the countries that are Germany’s missions focus including but not limited to: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, & a few others). Several pastoral reps from each country were there, & there was a very powerful time of prayer. We allso heard from one of the pastors from Turkmenistan, a man who’d spent much time in prison being tortured & threatened with his life… for the crime of becoming a Christian. Inconceivable.

Day 7 

Last day of Foursquare LIVE. We were dragging a bit this morning, but were buoyed by the worship time. This was followed by a Q & A with John Lewis, as German (& other) pastors in the room asked him clarifying questions about discipleship. One of the things that is an obstacle to discipleship in many/most Western countries is what John Lewis referred to as ‘consumer Christianity” which he defined as living Christian for the benefits & easy parts, while not necessarily taking the steps to obey & put into practice all the teachings of Christ, ala Matt 28:18-20 (see ‘teach them to OBEY’ in verse 20.)

Anyway, the Turkmeni pastor asked a question, which, by the way, was translated from Russian to German to English (!) to be heard / understood by the speaker. He asked, “What IS this consumer Christianity? In my country, you are Christian or you are not. You are disciple & as a result you may die. There is NO question about it. It is truly a life & death choice.” 

He didn’t say it in a condemning fashion, but rather in an incredulous, you’ve-got-to-be-joking-me kind of fashion. Like somehow, someway this was just a joke his other ‘stan” buddies were pulling on him.

But it wasn’t. And it isn’t. It is a thing.

How would you answer his question?

The conference ended, we said our goodbyes (& see you soon to Alex & Linda) & got in the van to Bielefeld, where we were transported with 9 other people in their church van about 4 1/2 hours to Bielefeld. We talked some with new friends in the car & by the end of the trip, the woman sitting next to theBean told her, “You would be a great mentor. After sitting next to you for a couple of hours, I hear God speaking to me & directing me & answering my questions through the wisdom you share.” So yeah, it was a good trip. That’s my theBean.

Our hostess, Anna Marie, a Foursquare Missionary to Germany (from Washington) met us at the church & we walked to her place about 100 meters from the church. She got us situated & fed us a great dinner of soup & rolls, & we’ve been sitting quietly, decompressing for the last last hour while I type this blog & try to recover from the wall-to-wall people of the last several days. 

I’ll dial in with updates tomorrow on what we’re doing here in Bielefeld for the rest of the week (leaving Sunday after church)  but for now I am TOAST & am ready to head to Dreamland with theBean.

Thank you for your continued prayers. Thank you Jesus for the kind of friends who would drive 180 minutes to bring a goody bag. For dear friends to share life & talks & cheesecake with. For men & women who love You more than their own lives & embrace obedience as their life’s call & Godly mandate with a tangible grace & love for You & for people that is contagious.

Good night. 

Deutschland 2023 – Day 2… “Time with family…”

Sleep. It’s what we needed after a “i’m barely able to keep my eyes open but I’m pushing through it” travel day. Ended up crashing at about 8:30 p.m. according to my never-too-happy-with-my-sleep score Garmin watch.  And still, it tells me we got 11 hours (!) , albeit with a middle of the night “who/where/what am I doing?” moment followed by a couple hours of both of us trying to convince ourselves & each other that “Yes, we were indeed Ready, Willing, & not quite Able to return to the Land of Slumber.” But eventually we both dozed off again & slept well until about 9 a.m. 

Woke up to the smell of coffee & a spinach, bacon, onion, & shrooms frittata graciously prepared by the gifted Eddy & Laura. (In their 1st year of marriage, Laura made 365 different dinner meals for Eddy. For reals. She cooks like that & does mathematics {M.I.T.} too, ladies & gentlemen. But I digress…)

All the ‘kids’ (Taylor, Elliott, Max, & Kira) were either at school or in their space doing school online, so we settled down to Psalm 90, a prayer of thanksgiving, & to a couple hours of talks, interspersed with coffee & water refills & lots of laughter. 

We talked about family & the changes that come over time. About seasons of life & church, the  Working Genius assessment & how it can help within the context of life, relationships, church & work; God’s continued process of growth & healing in our lives; vulnerability, friendship, partnership, marriage, etc. Could have gone on for days.

The ‘boys’ come home from/finished up with school. I say ‘boys’ but they’re  20 & 18… young men.. both with a killer sense of humor, & definite/obvious gifts & applied intelligence. Taylor & Elliot added all sorts of joy & insight & perspectives to our conversations. 

In addition to pastoring a church Eddy is the VP at a worldwide company that does digital platforms for businesses, so he had to tackle some work meetings. My theBean & I started the process of getting ready, packing up & preparing for today’s travel by train to Baden-Baden late this afternoon to see our Julia.

The 90 minute train trip to Baden-Baden was uneventful & Julia met us right on the train exit. It’s been 7 years since we’ve seen her in person (we text & send Marco Polo’s to each other on the regular) & it was so good to see her! She swept us (& our luggage) into her car & transported us the 20 minutes or so to the house of her sister Linda & her incredible brother in law, Heiko. We first met them back in 2008 when they escorted teenage Julia to the US. For Hillsiders – imagine Cole had a German cousin who loved to cook & help as much as he does, (church, home, & Royal Rangers,) & add in a bevy of ATV’s, & you get a glimpse of this man.  

Also joining us @ the Casa de Tilgner (Heiko & Linda’s last name) were Julia & LInda’s parents, Klaus & Pia. Such gracious people who adopted us into their tribe when Julia originally came to stay with us. What a joy to be brought to the table of a family to celebrate life, eat great food (tonight it was round after round of different types of Flammkuchen – savory, veggie, & sweet) & tell stories, laugh til it hurt, & catch up on what God is doing & what is happening in their lives.

The time today (& the times over the last couple of days with the Dueck family) really make Acts 2:42 come to life… the powerful connection with God & each other that happens around shared meals, + shared time, space, & experiences. It requires that we give of ourselves, that we stretch into sharing a type of  ‘divine hospitality’ that reaches beyond the comfortable & invites the Holy Spirit to the table in a manner that develops, establishes, & maintains kingdom of God family connections. This is the way.

Around 11 pm, Julia drove us to her flat – so cute. After a quick tour, we headed to bed & ended up crashing pretty good shortly after midnight. Woke up the next morning to the smell of coffee (Julia has grown a lot & even incorporates coffee into her daily routine. If you know, you know.) I decided to finish this post (yesterday’s/Day 2’s) post & then dive into the day of fun, relaxation, & good talks. 

Thank you for your prayers – we are seeing the goodness of God & divine appointments set up for us on the daily. 

The pictures are Julia, theBean & Pia; theBean, Julia, Pia, Klaus, me, Heiko, & Linda; Klaus & me

Walking through life, navigating obstacles, taking on challenges… KEEP WALKING

One of my current joys in life is the 2-3 days/week morning walk around the Marina with our Grace, & the newest granddaughter, Eloise Joanne. I joined her walking routine shortly after Eloise was born, & I greatly anticipate our talks, both in-depth & silly; about meaning-of-life stuff & the things that are trivial.  More often than not, we end up talking about spiritual things, including points of life where we’re being challenged to grow, things God is talking to us about, obstacles we’re experiencing, fun family dynamics, friendships, & childhood trauma… just to name a few.

Monday we were laughing about the every-day interactions we have as we traverse the Marina 2x each morning… (She sometimes goes 3x… she’s a beast!) & I joked, “All the obstacles & interruptions we face on this walk remind me of the 80’s video game ‘Paperboy,’ where you try to finish your daily route while dodging people, dogs, road hazards, & crazy situations.” We came up with several things we run into EVERY walk, as well as an “Ease of Dodging” score from 1-10, with “1” being the easiest to dodge, & “10” being the grabby octogenarian grandma who SEES the baby & wants to TOUCH the baby…

  • Dogs; dogs on leashes; dogs off leashes; dogs in strollers; dogs being carried by their owners; dogs being chased by their owners; dogs running free. 6/10
  • Attack geese & other water fowl... you know the ones on the side of the Marina closest to I-80? The ones that must get regularly fed by SOMEBODY because they seem to look at every passerby as a sure-fire food source as they waddle & hustle towards the paths, occasionally reaching out their long necks to attempt to snap at us. 5/10
  • Attack squirrels: somebody feeds these things, because they have NO fear of humanity. They also see us as a source of snacks, because they inevitably dodge in & out of traffic, hoping beyond hope that we’ll drop them something scrumptious.  in the back of my head, I remember my iFit trainer, John Peel, telling me about his trek through the Grand Canyon where he was repeatedly bitten by aggressive squirrels, seeking snacks. 5/10
  • Poop: The dogs, ducks, geese, mud-hens, squirrels, & other animals leave their messes behind. If the dogs have their human with them, they will usually pick up their mess, but more often than not, the piles are left on or near the walking path. 7/10
  • Pedestrians: on any given day, the walking path is full of people, walking either clockwise or counter-clockwise around the Marina, all at varying speeds; some painstakingly slow, others going like the proverbial bat out of Hades. Some groups walk shoulder to shoulder, blocking (most of) the path, ensuring we have to either RUSH or SLOW way down to get around them. 7/10
  • Cyclists: Hopefully, if you’re approached by a cyclist, they have a bell & let you know they are coming; sometimes you just sense imminent danger, turn around, & virtually dive for your life. One guy MUST be trying to set the Marina land-speed record. 7/10
  • Skaters: usually these are roller-bladers, but occasionally, they rock old-school roller-skates. See the notes above on pedestrians & cyclists. 7/10
  • Moms w/Strollers: these are the easiest to dodge; they (like us) are hyper-aware of their surroundings & are enjoying themselves to the max, breathing in the fresh, clean air, all the while hoping & praying their little one(s) remain asleep, or at least content. 1/10.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses: every day I’ve walked with Grace, I see at least 2 groups of 5 (sometimes as many as 20 people) setting up tables with signs & plenty of Watchtower literature to distribute. These are usually easier to dodge, as they’re stationary, & we’re moving on a mission. 3/10
  • Grabby Octogenarian Grandma: inevitably the “El Guapo” of obstacles; she sees the stroller from a distance & begins to determinedly totter her way towards it, moving ever closer to the precious cargo inside… I’ve learned to position myself on the inner-lane of the walking path lane to provide a human grandpa buffer to (hopefully) allow Grace & baby Eloise to hug the edge of the path until they can race to freedom. 10/10
  • Naruto-Running Man: Yes. He exists. He hangs out on the volleyball beach, usually by himself, (although we did see him with either a) a captive or b) a buddy. He does exercise moves that most resemble activities I’ve seen in anime (hence the Naruto run); he also does chanting & randomly yells out as he exercises. Once when we got close, he earnestly (& a little fiercely) questioned us: “Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ & follow Him?” We assured him we did… that was the right answer & he resumed his activities. Most days if we pass him & he makes eye contact, I just say “Good morning” & keep going. 5/10

With all those real life obstacles, interruptions & challenges that appear EVERY DAY at the Marina, you might ask, “WHY do you go then?”  My answer is: “Because its WORTH IT! The time with Grace, the interactions with Eloise Joanne, the fresh air, the great talks, the shared time/space/experience that helps grow & cement relationships… its WORTH IT.”

And, this daily walk is a metaphor for life… every day we encounter ‘versions’ of the obstacles (some funny, some really difficult) that “get in the way” of what we’re trying to do. They may make our lives more challenging, & even make them difficult. In our walk with God, there is a never-ending parade of things & people & events & STUFF that could trip us up, distract us, or sometimes even cause us to stop walking all together.

My encouragement to you:  keep your eyes on the prize, the REASON & the MOTIVATION for WHY you’re walking –> Jesus.  And keep going.

Just watch out for the grabby grandmas…


This morning I was walking the Marina with Grace & EJ (newest granddaughter) & I ran into something. Not physically… I ran into something in my head while Grace & I were catching up on what is happening with each of us.

I ran into Worries.

She asked me if I was excited to go to Germany at the end of the month, & as I answered, I realized I had stepped right into the middle of of a pack of Worries (cares, anxieties, unknowns, & the like) that initially stuck to me like goatheads stick to your pantlegs, socks, & shoes when you walk through the Nevada brush.

WORRIES. Worries about being able to sleep with a 9 hour time difference from home. Worries about navigating the German inter-city train system. Worries about train schedules. Worries about getting lost. Worries about our health. Worries about traveling in another country. Worries about the German language. Worries about bringing too much stuff. Worries about not bringing enough stuff. Worries about getting stranded. Worries about what’s happening at home. Worries about not being liked. Worries about not being received. Worries about worry… you get the picture.

As we talked, I spoke up & identified to Grace that I was indeed experiencing a whole pack, a virtual plethora of Worries… & that I was simultaneously tackling the temptation to worry head on… I KNOW (& I spoke out loud) that I cannot address ANY of those potential Worries right now, as I’m HERE in the present, not a month in the future. I KNOW (& spoke out loud) that I have committed our trip, our ways & means, EVERYTHING about it to Jesus, & therefore, it does me no good to embrace (or even pick up) a worry that doesn’t even belong to today.

Further, I KNOW (& I spoke out loud) that God has, is, & will care for all of my & our needs, hopes, plans, etc., & that the temptation to Worry is not something He’s giving me so “I can be prepared,” for it in the future. Instead, I KNOW (& I spoke out loud) that I am making the choice & the commitment, today & going forward, to reject worry & to replace it with THANKS. Thanks to God for provision. Thanks for His care. Thanks for His favor. Thanks for His protection. Thanks for divine appointments. Thanks for the continuing of decades-long relationships. Thanks for His care over our home, our family, our precious babies, our church community, & our workplace.


This is (& I am) a work in progress & process… but I am determined.

And may I encourage you as well? If (WHEN) you encounter your own pack of Worries, consider responding with persistent, persevering THANKS instead. To the One who holds us, our days & times, & all we are, in His hands.

Weighed down by the ‘SHOULDS’ vs. rest for your souls…

The SHOULDS can crush us. 

They feel tangible & nebulous at the same time… bouncing around in our heads & our hearts, somehow finding ways to minimize, mock, & deride our efforts as insignificant, inadequate, & feeble. 

The SHOULDS are joy stealers.

They show up as we take baby steps to begin something new. As we stretch & try our best to grow, to learn, to embrace new life-patterns & life-habits. They show up as we change our eating patterns or as we launch into a Bible reading, prayer, & journal practice for ourselves (for the twenty-third time). They show up in the face of our small victories as they attempt to rob us of the satisfaction & encouragement of making ANY progress. 

No matter what we have done or accomplished, the SHOULDS cry out for more. 

And the SHOULDS are never satisfied.

I believe this is especially true in our relationship with God. Here’s what I mean:

In the Gospel of Matthew, I see two contrasting pictures, two “ways & means” of life that we have in front of us.

In the first, Jesus tells how the religious leaders of His day (& ours?)  “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, & lay them on peoples’ shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.’ (Matthew 23:4).Those burdens, those SHOULDS, weigh heavily on people, tiring them out, wearing them down, stealing every ounce of forward progress, every potential bit of joy, freedom, & LIFE, turning our focus from the good towards the empty hopelessness that will never be satisfied, because there are always more SHOULDS lurking.

In the second, Jesus addresses ALL of those people who are weighed down, who are carrying the heavy burdens. Those who are so bone-weary & worn down they haven’t looked up in who knows how long?  He says, “Come to Me, ALL who are weary & burdened, & I will give you REST. Take My yoke (teachings, practices, way of life) upon you & learn from Me, for I am gentle & humble in heart, & you WILL find REST for your souls. For My yoke (teachings, practices, way of life) is easy & My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

My encouragement to you? Take a look at the list of SHOULDS that presents itself to you & ask Jesus: “Are these from You? ANY of them? Do these give me LIFE? Does listening to/attempting to do these SHOULDS bring any FREEDOM? Am I experiencing something that could be described as ‘rest for my soul?’  

And if/when the answer to those questions is “NO,” reject those SHOULDS & go to Jesus. Ask Him about His teachings, practices, way of life, about what it looks like to walk with Him. 

I pray you will experience the rest He promises, deep in your soul, down to the very marrow of your bones. I pray that you will receive a joy & a peace beyond description, not dependent upon circumstances or situations. 

Be at rest. Be at peace. 

Blessings to you today.


Fishing TOGETHER & other musings…

This post isn’t about actual fishing, or more pointedly, about Louie going fishing. I can only imagine people that know me thinking, ‘Fishing? Louie? What?’ 

It’s not that I don’t know HOW to fish; I fished quite a bit with my family in my early years… it’s just that I really don’t ENJOY the fishing, partially since I don’t enjoy eating the fish. At all. But I digress. 

This past weekend theBean & I were in Chico with dear friends at LIFE Church Chico & we spent a lot of time in conversations about the concept of being TOGETHER (aka in one accord, of one mind, one passion, one heart & one soul…) It’s a reality that has strongly impacted me as I’ve read (& taught) through the first 5 chapters of the Book of Acts.  Specifically, there are several situations in those chapters where the disciples of Christ are gathered TOGETHER & it is much more than sharing a physical proximity to each other. It’s a devotion to Christ that shows up in the willingness to:

  • be being transformed & to humbly submit themselves to the will of God in Christ Jesus for the cause of Christ.
  • embrace God’s definition of the Kingdom of God, partnering with brothers & sisters of every tribe, tongue, & nation, for the cause of Christ.
  • NOT insist on one’s own ways, preferences, & needs above those of others for the cause of Christ.
  • compromise with others & work together WITH others for the cause of Christ.
  • give & live sacrificially with their time, energy, & resources for the cause of Christ.
  • look beyond historic & deeply held people-separators, things like culture, customs, prejudices, racism, sexism, & bad blood for the cause of Christ.
  • relentlessly forgive, extend grace, look for & think the best of others for the cause of Christ.

TOGETHER is a powerful thing, especially when it is for the cause of Christ.

So where does the fishing come in? Glad you asked…

During one of our times together, our friend Chris, talking more in-depth about TOGETHER, shared a picture that he had… in Matthew 4 & Mark 1, Jesus calls the brothers Peter & Andrew, James & John, to leave the life they know (as fishermen) to come follow Him, wherever He may go, with the promise that if they do, Jesus will make them Fishers of Men. I got it. 

What I immediately pictured when he said “fishermen” was dudes fishing solo, with poles & gear. One pole/line/hook in the water as the dude explores the fishing hole looking to catch fish. It’s the most common picture in my head of what I think of when I think “fishing.” It’s a solo pursuit… esp. in the context I’ve participated.

But Chris kept talking. The context for the disciples (Near-Eastern, 1st century) fishing was with nets. Nets requiring a team of people working TOGETHER to bring in a catch. We see a couple examples of this TOGETHER partnership happening when Peter experiences a miraculous catch of fish that threatens to split his nets & overturn his boat because there were SO MANY fish (Luke 5:1-11.) And Peter’s first response? To call out to his fishing partners to come work TOGETHER to bring in the catch. 

Because that kind of fishing requires teamwork. Partnership. Pulling the nets in a coordinated fashion, TOGETHER, to bring the catch in.


So, over the last week, I’ve not been able to get that fishing TOGETHER image/concept out of my head. I think its because (or at least I feel) I’ve known that 1st century, Jesus-style fishing was a TOGETHER activity, but whenever I worked it out in my head, the TOGETHER part never translated to my own context. 

And it serves as a powerful reminder to me that the call & cause of Christ  are not individual pursuits; they are TOGETHER pursuits. Reminders of our need for a community to be a part of; a people to partner with/come alongside; a local context where we get to ‘work out our salvation’ in the context of relationships centered on Christ & committed to the mutual benefit & encouragement of our fellow believers.

I know TOGETHER is often messy. Imperfectly done. Challenging. Costly. Even risky. 

But it’s worth it. 

“Don’t quit. Keep going.” & some thoughts on encouraging others…

In the quiet of the morning today, I was thinking back on the many times someone gave me words of encouragement. Those memories still bring a smile to my lips.

Like when I was 25 & trying to teach myself to play guitar so that I could play for worship. I was in the early stages of thrashing about with my strumming & painstakingly forcing my fingers into some semblance of a correct position for chords, & even to my untrained ear, I could tell it was NOT going well. I was down in a hole. Frustrated. Defeated. Discouraged. That day had been particularly bad because I had risked… by dragging out my beater, an acoustic Aspen guitar (which I’d purchased for the sum of $100) & attempting to play along with a couple of much further along in the guitar-playing process friends, only to find that not only was I at least as bad as I’d thought, I melted under the pressure & forgot how to form the chords I DID know. I took my guitar & put in away in its beaten-up, chip-board case, thinking, “I won’t do THAT again.” 

And then one of the guys pulled me aside later & said, “You’re doing really well. Don’t quit. You are on the verge of getting it, when the strum & the chords & the timing & everything all comes together. I remember when I was learning, & the spot you’re in right now in the learning process is a HARD one… but it is SO CLOSE to coming together for you. Keep going.”

His words were sincere… acknowledging the reality of my “playing” but also offering the perspective of someone who had been down the road before & survived. And he shared what HE saw from his spot something in me that I was about to give up on, & because he did, I stuck with guitar. I kept playing. And sure enough, it wasn’t more than a month or so later that I had turned a “learning corner” to the point where I could play a (simple) worship song without being too distracting with my mistakes, mis-strums, & mis-chords. I had been DIS-couraged. He spoke words of life to me & I was EN-couraged.

I could relay 10 stories about different people who gave me words of encouragement related to playing the guitar… Kelly the small group leader; Rocker dude in Winters who showed me ‘cheater-power chords;” Ron the boss; Chum who kept sending me chord sheets; the list goes on. 

And that’s just one area of my life.

So it’s because of that story (& 100’s of others like it) that I purpose to be diligently looking speak life, hope, & encouragement to others when I see them making an effort, no matter how “on-point” or excellent their efforts appears to be. Because I know what it did to me when those people shared with me their perspective, from their own experiences, & looked for (& somehow found) in me a sign of hope. Progress. Life. Change. 

I think my favorite area to encourage people is in their steps of faith in Christ… esp. because I know the internal battle each person faces as they attempt to live life differently, no longer according to the pattern of this world, but according to the pattern of Christ. And I know intimately the belittling words of criticism our enemy the devil throws at us, mocking our every effort as insincere, inadequate, inauthentic. Where he reminds us of all our past (failed) efforts, & attempts to bully & intimidate us into putting the guitar back into its case, never to take it out again. 

And its the exact opposite of how Christ Jesus looks at us & our (feeble, struggling, inadequate) efforts. He looks at the steps we’re taking, at the simple, crayon-scribbled, monochromatic picture we’re creating with with our life & pursuit of Him, & He calls it beautiful. And He puts it on His proverbial fridge, like He’s actually proud of us. 

Because He is. And He speaks to us about things in & around us that ARE NOT YET, as though they ARE. And because He believes in us, we can start believing in us as well as we continue in Him.

So I will speak truth, life, & encouragement with everything I’ve got. Knowing that when I do, my perspective & my words are reflecting those of Christ. 

And that’s the goal… to be a little piece of Jesus, every day.