“It’s your choice…”

“It’s your choice.”

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

“It’s your choice.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was, I was, I was… what?

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

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

Which meant…

I could CHOOSE differently.

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

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

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

It’s your choice…

Deutschland 2023 – Day #17 – Home

Woke up at the crack of doom to put the final touches on our bags & gather & place all our belongings in the appropriate suitcase. Took our bags downstairs & across the courtyard (sorry for the noise. It’s hard to be quiet when you’re rolling a suitcase across cobblestones) & parked them inside the entryway of Alex & Linda’s building. Linda was ready for us with plenty of coffee & snacks to take with.

You know those last few moments you have with dear (& faraway) friends, those moments before the Uber arrives? Those are precious & those are hard. Together we rehearsed our thankfulness for the time together we had; for the great talks; for the food adventures; for the time shared. Too soon we had to navigate downstairs, grab our bags & then make our way to the sidewalk in front of #13, hoping that the Uber I’d scheduled (& had confirmed the night before) would come on time. Evidently there were threats of major snafus on the roads today as the Deutsche Bahn/transit system went on strike this morning. Woohoo.

Fortunately, our driver was just a minute over his scheduled time, &, after hugs & a tearful goodbye (yes, me) we piled into the back of the car & prepared for the loooong day of travels. Berlin’s new airport isn’t huge, but it is big. Even more fun is trying to figure out WHERE you’re supposed to drop off your luggage, because the system used in most other parts of the world isn’t organized even remotely close to what we know at home. I remembered seeing some numbers when I checked in the night before, & sure enough, those corresponded to the place we were to drop off our checked luggage. BTW – I happened upon a German couple saying their passionate goodbyes outside the entrance to security/what we’d call TSA. It stood out to me because I don’t think I’ve seen a make out session like that one since… maybe ever. The dude (he was staying behind, she was leaving) was left a disheveled mess, in need of a hairbrush & a towel. 2 points for Germany.


With that first exchange in the books, theBean & I made our way towards the gate for the flight that would take us to Munich, where we’d catch a flight to San Francisco, where we’d catch a flight home. Wandered the terminal looking at the snack options & finally decided to go with a version of a salami & cheese on brown bread. When it came time for us to board, we lined up with our carryon & backpacks, only to discover that the Lufthansa lady at the gate had decided we weren’t making it by her with our backpack… that we’d have to check it all the way through. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but the justice part of me was more than a little frustrated by being singled out (Merica!) amongst a virtual plethora of other passengers’ bags bigger & more numerous than our own Lil Samsonite. There was no stopping her, so, we scrambled to put as much of the ‘stuff’ we’d packed in there into my backpack, & sent the bag on its way.

The flight to Munich was uneventful, though I was more than a bit concerned that our international flight to SF had started boarding 10 minutes before we landed in Munich. These concerns were compounded when we discovered our gate was an estimated (thank you AI estimating tool used in the German airports) 20 minutes walk away. To further complicate the issue, I needed to find a WC before we did any fast moving.

We speed walked/jogged through the crowds, & slowly made our way toward the gate. Airline officials lined the spacious hallways, asking questions, then funneling us toward the appropriate lines leading to our eventual gate entrance. Caught our breath & headed down the tunnel toward the plane… where we stood for another 10 minutes waiting to board. Elation.

We made it – shortly we’d be on a plane headed to the US… but alas, our bags did not. At the switchover/customs check in in SF, we discovered that our bags hadn’t made the super-quick connection to Munich. After checking in with our carrier & reporting the issue, we were left with the understanding that NO, the bags didn’t make this trip, but YES, they knew where they were & had a decent guess when they’d show up. First world problems. Sigh.


By this time (14 hours into our day) I was feeling bleary, made worse by the fact that I didn’t sleep on the flight over. TheBean did, so she was in a little better shape, but still… Time passed slowly as we waited for the invite to board the last leg to Reno, but it did eventually pass. After landing at home, we met with the carrier again in the Reno-Tahoe Airport to officially file a missing bags report, & were assured they’d be delivered sometime the next day.

Our Gracer & the girls (Jane Alish & EloWEEZ) picked us up & transported us home. What a joy to hold family after a few weeks – the girls seem to have grown at LEAST 4 inches & 40 pounds apiece (I exaggerate, but you get it.) They came inside & Jane ran around Poppy’s house for a bit as EloWEEZ got herself together in preparation for her final 10 minute trip home. So good.

Home. No place like it.


The aftermath – the next day, 2 of the 3 bags showed up at our front door. The only missing bag? TheBean’s main suitcase. I talked to customer service again & it turns out her bag had always wanted to go to Anchorage, Alaska, so it would, hopefully, come the next day (Saturday) after a late fall excursion to the biggest state in all the land. It did arrive Saturday.


Takeaways:

  • There is nothing like being physically present, in the room, with friends. I’m thankful for technologies that allow regular & close communications, but it isn’t close to the same.
  • One thing we heard in every place we went (Frankfurt, Achern/Ottersweier, Oberwesel, Bielefeld, & Berlin) was “Thank you for your encouragement!” I believe it is a superpower given to us to be able to share, authentically & regularly, with the people we interact with. This tangible thankfulness that emerges in the aftermath of a person who’s been encouraged by another, SEEN by another, has given me a new appreciation of Barnabas, the OG “Son of Encouragement.” Makes me want to grow in this area & be more intentional with encouraging others.
  • The enemy of our souls, the devil, seems to hammer humanity equally, with a barrage of negative thoughts & perspectives about ourselves, how God (& others see us) & to rub in our face our unworthiness, insecurities, inadequacies, & real/perceived failures. THAT is why encouragement, friendship, & real fellowship are so vital for us inside/outside the Church. Doing that, being that, sharing that… helps combat those destructive, hyper-critical voices.
  • I love to partner in life, love, & work/play with theBean. I KNEW this already, but man, nothing like a 17 day voyage to the other side of the world to remind me of the Good Thing God gave to me almost 35 (!) years ago.
  • We’re looking forward to future trips to Germany (& beyond), but for now, we’ll be enjoying home, family, familiar food, friends, & our very own bed.

Thank you all for your prayers, your support, & your ENCOURAGEMENT to us. It helped sustain us in perfect health & good spirits, with everything we could ever need or ask for. You are loved & appreciated.

Be an encourager today.

Deutschland 2023: Days #12,13 – Arminius, 1st generation Christians, & a whirlwind of a Sunday…

DAY 12 – Saturday – Arminius & dinner with Ewald & Kerstin

The forecast for most of our time in Germany has been rainy with a chance of rain, with occasional rainstorms, interrupted by rain. (You get the picture.) With that in mind, we were both pretty well prepared for the weather in advance of actually experiencing it. So, it’s been a pleasant surprise that it really hasn’t rained nearly as much as was promised (in true, pessimistic/realistic German fashion – “be prepared for the worst, & if it doesn’t happen… it still might, so don’t get too excited… I say this with tongue firmly in cheek). 

In reality, there’s been many days where it didn’t rain at all & we even saw the sun & (gasp!) some blue sky, which, we’ve been told, is very uncharacteristic for Germany in the late fall. Today, however, it rained, off & on. But mostly on. 

After a slow morning of coffee, breakfast, & rehearsing the message for Sunday, (yes, Louie, you are speaking this coming Sunday,) Pastors Ewald & Kerstin picked us up in the early afternoon for some sightseeing & exposure to German history, before we’d head back to their place for dinner. We drove with them about 30 miles out of the city to a little town called Detmoldthe location of an ancient (approx. 9 A.D.) battle that turned the tide of an ongoing war among the tribes of Germany & the Roman Empire. 

it was at Detmold that Arminius the Chernuskan, a tribal chieftain of one of the many warring tribes inhabiting Germany, convinced the other chieftains to quit fighting with each other & to unite their forces against Rome. This unity resulted in a resounding defeat of Rome which eventually led to the Roman withdrawal from what would become the nation of Germany, (which didn’t finally happen until about 1871, or 1989, for those that want to look at the German reunification as the real beginning of the nation now known as Deutschland.) 

A thick mist descended upon the hills of Detmold as we navigated the paths within national park toward the moment of Arminius, sometimes erroneously referred to as “Hermann the German” (possibly after the engineer/designer of the monument.) It was positively freezing by the time we arrived at the top of the hill where the monument stands, &, after snapping a couple quick pictures, we navigated our way back down the paths to their car, & made our way back into Bielefeld for dinner.


The Zelmers have pastored Christus für Alles (Christ for All) church in Bielefeld since 2000 (same time frame we’ve been at Hillside) & there are many, many similarities in Ewald & Kerstin’s story with mine & theBeans. We warmed up over an appetizer of  pumpkin soup & good talks, renewing our acquaintance, rehearsing our own stories, marveling at the different ways & means God has worked in our lives. These points of commonality serve as encouraging & heartwarming reminders of God’s goodness as well as illustrations of how much we can learn from each other & be encouraged by each other as we talk through & remember the goodness of God in our lives in each & every season of life. It is an incredibly faith building thing to hear how God has working in another couple who does what you do in a completely different context, with details that are almost identical to what He’s done in/through/around our lives, our family, our Hillside family. 

Dinner was baked chicken wings (! – as if we needed more proof of Jesus’ love & favor) & potato croquets, accompanied by a couple hours of talks about the changes in their assignment, & what that means for their church & Foursquare Deutschland. Starting in May 2024, Ewald will become the full-time Missions director for the movement, & will be helping to orchestrate ongoing missions, pastoral training & encouragement into the ‘stans, Mongolia, & other “1st generation Christian” peoples. What are those, you may ask? 1st generation Christian peoples are those in nations with no history of Christianity… meaning, these believers are thought to be the first Christians in the history of their people group. THINK about that for a second: it’s like the Book of Acts in real life, with Ewald & his teams coming alongside new believers, or even the ‘old heads of Christianity” in the nations, people with 20-30 years of Christian history under their belts. THEY are the apostle Paul, the foundation for what God is doing in Central Asia, as He advances His kingdom into places that had been, up to this point, untouched by the Gospel Good News. 

Ewald more than once mentioned that he sees a ‘parenting’ spirit on theBean & I, something of a divinely given gift that he sees would be an incredible blessing to these 1st generation believers in the ‘stans & beyond; he also sees a huge need for this ‘Christ-like fathering & mothering’ of believers in Germany, of 21st century Barnabas, sons/daughters of encouragement to come alongside them on a regular basis. Both of us can see how God is opening doors for us to regularly return to Germany on “encouragement excursions” as well as the initiation of teaching, mentoring, coaching, & encouragement forays into the ‘stans & Mongolia potentially in well, all while pastoring Hillside. It’s definitely something that theBean & I are going to be praying about in this next season of life. We KNOW we are to remain at Hillside, & we are also feeling increasingly drawn toward the doors that are open to us in Germany & beyond.


We had a couple hours to ourselves at Anna Marie’s, so we re-packed & revamped our suitcases, prepping for our travel the next day. Headed to bed early-ish, so we’d be bright-eyed & bushy tailed for church & travels the next day.


Day 13 – Sunday – Church in Bielefeld & travel to Berlin

After a quick breakfast, we walked the 200 meters to the church & participated in the pre-service prayer; it took place in English, German, Russian, & another language I couldn’t identify. We got our marching orders for the day, & I met with the technical team to get my headset mic ready, as well as our translator microbes so we could understand the German parts of the service. 

Most of the worship time I spent praying & mentally rehearsing the message, all while thinking through the process of giving a message that is being translated into another language (in this case another 2 or 3 languages. When I spoke, Anna Marie translated it to German, which then was translated into Russian & Arabic by the translating team in the back of the church using some high-tech equipment right out of Star Trek TOS. Super cool. 

To me, the key to giving a message that will be translated is to speak in complete thoughts (not necessarily sentences) & to avoid flashy vocabulary that English seems to employ for fun & German seems to eschew. I don’t know how many flowery adjectives I’ve used (like ‘Awesome, cool, incredible, etc) that turned into “gut” (good) with the German translation.


I spoke from Acts 2:42-47 on being TOGETHER… & how God calls us to grow to full maturity as measured in Christ, so that He can & will work in/through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. You can listen to the message HERE if you’re so inclined. Thought it was well received, & I had many encouraging translated conversations afterwards over coffee.


After church, we had time for lunch at an American/Mexican chain called “Peppers – Home of the Best Ribs In Town.” And of course, I ordered the Ribs & Wings plate… while they weren’t as good as Pete’s Meat BBQ I am sure they are the best ribs in Bielefeld. Too quickly we had to head to the train station to make our way towards Berlin. 

And the chaos commenced.


First, we had plenty of time to make our 1st train… except it was no longer going to Minden (which evidently isn’t just a town in Northern Nevada, but also here in Germany) so Anna Marie pulled us off the train we were sitting in & helped us to navigate to a bus that would backtrack to a train stop which would allow us to use our already purchased tickets & take the 3 hours train ride to Berlin. It could be a perfect plan… if we made it to the station. 

We were hauling our suitcases & a carryon, plus a back-pack each. Though not big by American standard, they are WHALE sized according to German standards. Wish you could see the faces & the disdain we experienced over & over as we lugged those bad-boys over the river & through the woods to try to find & board Bus route 61. 

We made it. But…

…We were seated backwards facing on the bus, at the flexible junction point in the bus which allows it to swivel & flex (if you know, you know) while trying to hold onto our luggage for dear life. We had an idea where we were to get off the bus… & there was a lot of praying involved, both for our navigation & for us to hold down our lunches as our driver wheeled the bus Formula One-style through the countryside, headed for a place called “Bünde.”

Made it to Bünde, & frantically looked for the train station. Small town, so the station (2 tracks only, vs. the at least 14 in Bielefeld) kinda blended in with the other buildings. So we followed the only other people with luggage. And found the station. Almost ran to the appropriate track, hoping we’d be there in time to beat the train headed to Berlin, the train we KNEW would be operating with clock-like precision on a super tight, typical German schedule. Except… it was almost an hour late, so we had plenty of time to hurry up & wait. Until…

…the train arrived & we had 2 minutes to board in the appropriate car (#8)… unfortunately, the train pulled up so far we could only make it to car #6 before we sensed it was about to take off. So we threw our bags (50 pounders BTW) into the train car & determined to navigate the remaining 2 cars to car #8 through the aisles of a moving & sold-out couple of train cars. For all the introverts out there: this is THE WORST. Not speaking the language well, we pulled & pushed 2 monster, behemoth-according-to-German standards suitcases, plus everything else we had, through the too-narrow aisles, while attempting to avoid passengers walking the aisles heading to their cars… whapping people in the head with my backpack EVERY time I turned, saying “Es tut mir lied” (I’m sorry) every 2 seconds & “Entschuldigung” (Excuse me) every other second. 

Absolutely mortifying. Physically grueling. Relationally scarring. I feel we may have set back American/German relations decades with our journey of about 200 feet (100 feet per car). By the time we made it to car #8, I wasn’t even looking at people anymore. I was on a mission, just getting the bags to the baggage area (at the back of each car, by the exit) & hoping to NEVER EVER see any of these people ever again. 

Collapsed in our seats, #32 & #38 (which, in true German fashion are of course right next to each other) for some reason. Endured the next couple of hours until the Berlin Hbf (main train station) & navigated outside to (eventually) catch an Uber to the flat where we’re staying, very near our dear Alex & Linda’s flat (next building over, about 1 minute walk away.) 

By this time it was about 10 pm. & we had just a moment to greet our friends (thank you for the care package – it became our dinner) & get settled in the private room within the flat (with a private bathroom to boot)  that we’re renting for the next couple of days from a Vietnamese woman & her German husband, a couple young professionals with a couple of businesses & startups they’re working on. 

There is a monster TV in the room that I was able to connect to & stream some Prime Video from my collection at home… so we watched an episode of NCIS: LA (yay a touch of home) & crashed into dreamland. 

Thank you Jesus for Your hand of protection, for favor, provision, & providence, as well as the proverbial Traveling Mercies. And to Anna Marie for both being an incredible hostess for our time in Bielefeld, but also rescuing us from the right (now wrong) train & getting us headed to this, our last leg of our German journey: Berlin.


Deutschland 2023 – Day #3 – We call it “Friday…”

It was a super late night, & we were very tired but still didn’t get to bed until about 1 am (!) We slept in til about 9:30, & theBean & I woke up to the smell of good German kaffee delivered through a french press. TheBean & Julia worked together in the kitchen to craft a mashup of German/American breakfasts: scrambie eggs, bacon, good German bread; cucumbers; salami & cheese. And we laughed. So much. 

With the crush & press of activity that is coming, & out of a desire to relish our time with our Julia, Friday was very much a Sabbath rest day for us. We hung out at her house & talked, sat on the couches & read our books or magazines, then broke into spontaneous conversations, then read some more. Finally we decided there were a couple (few?) things we wanted to do (like plan dinner) so we got ready & headed out to a specialty store for some desserts & then to the grocery store to buy supplies for dinner. 

We bought 3 desserts to share – a black forest cake, chocolate cream cake, & sour cherry pie. These were glorious, esp. because German (most European desserts actually) aren’t overly loaded down with sugar & aren’t sweet-sweet. They’re tasty & subtle & you can taste the chocolate, the chocolate cream, the body of the cakes, the cherries, the subtleties of the flavors in a special way that doesn’t flood your body with sugar & cloying sweetness. I don’t eat dessert at home for that reason, but I readily jumped in to the ‘sampling party.’


The girls decided that they wanted to try to make a version of theBean’s white chicken chili soup, which is WAY more daunting than it sounds. One doesn’t just purchase American style food supplies at a German grocery store, often because the foods/staples we have/use are not available (or in some cases, not legal because of additives, chemicals, etc) here. So, in true theBean style, she improvised. Her white chicken chili soup turned into white bean & beef/pork/Italian sausage & greenish chiles soup. (BTW, theBean doesn’t agree with my naming of the soup, but this is my account of reality, so there’s that.) It was significantly different from her normal creation, but it was good. We turned on the music (theBean’s “Joanne” playlist from Spotify) & ate & laughed. 

We turned our attention back to the desserts, (yes, btw, desserts were harmed & significantly diminished during the making of our dinner. But we’re adults, so forks out!)  After dinner was clean up time & then we resumed our spots on the couch for more talks until it was time for bed. As Saturday afternoon & evening are spoken for (coffee & dinner with Julia’s parents & family), we wanted to get another good night’s sleep, then have a good breakfast in the morning & hopefully do a load of wash before we head to the Foursquare LIVE pastors’ conference.


I think (know?) the most difficult parts of this trip are ‘the limits.’ We are limited in our time/availability & there are many, many dear friends here in different parts of Germany that we won’t be able to connect with, not out of a lack of desire to do so, but because we are ‘limited.’ (I much prefer the idea/reality of ‘limits’ vs. ‘busyness.’ ) Everything we have said “YES” to for this trip, requires a very difficult “NO” somewhere. That goes for ALL of us, in ALL of our lives; some of our greatest struggles in life/in our schedules come from us ignoring the reality that we have limits on our time, energy, resources, etc, & we run ourselves ragged attempting to have it all, do it all, see it all, accomplish it all, often with destructive or even tragic consequences for our physical, emotional, spiritual, & relational health & well-being. 

I’m thankful for the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality lessons we’ve learned over the years, esp. when it comes to “Embracing God’s Gift of Limits.” It allows us to be fully present where we are & to acknowledge we CANNOT do everything we’d like to do… & embracing our limits, to me, equals embracing the fact that we’re human BEINGS not humans DOING. In a perfect world, we’d be able to be here for 6 weeks (or more?!) & be with each & every one of our dear friends in Frankfurt & beyond… into Poland… & Austria… &… you get the picture. 

To all of our dear friends in Germany & beyond – you are deeply loved, & we hope to be able to see & hug you again very soon. 

The pictures below are our desserts & a random shot out the window as we drove next to some beautiful vineyards (trust me! They are really there.) 

It was a beautiful day. We call it “Friday.” And now sleep.

Acts 3 & 4, with some musings on what it is to be ‘ordinary…’

In the aftermath of the healing of the the unnamed lame beggar in  Acts 3Peter & John were arrested & jailed for a day – here’s a partial account of what they’d done, from Acts 3:11-26

  • in the Name of Jesus, they healed a man who had been lame from birth, which created quite a stir; 
  • they attributed the lame beggar’s healing to the power & authority of Jesus Christ;
  • they declared the error & injustice of the conviction & crucifixion of Jesus;
  • they declared that Jesus is the Christ & that God raised Him from the dead;
  • they challenged all who heard them to repent of their own sins & to put their faith in Jesus; 
  • finally, as a result of the healing (& of Peter’s message to the crowd) several more thousand men put their faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:4)

The next day, they were called to give testimony in regard to the charges against them by the Jewish High Council, the Sanhedrin The High Priest demanded to know, “By what power or by what name did you do this (heal the lame beggar)?”  Acts 4:8-12 states: 

Then Peter, FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT (all emphasis mine) said to them, “Rulers of the people & elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to ALL of you & to ALL the people of Israel that by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God RAISED from the dead – by HIM this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders which has become the cornerstone. And there is SALVATION found in NO ONE ELSE for there is NO OTHER NAME under heaven given among en by which we must be saved.”


Pretty incredible stuff… all who heard him speak were stunned: the High Council, all of those hearing it in the courtroom, & ME reading it thousands of years later.

Consider that this is the same Peter who denied even KNOWING Christ three times a few short weeks before, & now he is declaring, with boldness, conviction, & prophetic insight that Jesus is the Christ, that believing into His Name is the only means to receive salvation, & he is quoting Old/First Testament passages & attributing their fulfillment to the bad judgment & actions of the High Council. These powerful men were used to having ordinary people cower in front of them because they held the power of being able to revoke participation in Temple worship (or worse.) But in this situation, they were stunned. Acts 4:13 continues:

Now when they saw the BOLDNESS of Peter and John, & perceived that they were UNEDUCATED, COMMON men, they were astonished. And they recognized that THEY HAD BEEN WITH JESUS.


As I read over this passage I am struck by the contrast between the 2 groups of people in this religious courtroom: the High Council, men who were educated to the highest levels possible, experts in the Torah/Biblical law, steeped in Jewish traditions from their earliest days. Wearers of fine, expensive clothes, highly respected in society, even among the Romans. 

Peter & John, common fishermen from Galilee; uncultured, uneducated & unrefined, who had long since been passed over as not good enough-smart enough-enough enough candidates to be a talmidim (or disciple). They had little to no social standing, & up until about 3 years prior, had been living largely anonymous lives, scraping out a living day-by-day. Until Jesus called them. And then they spent (just about) every day with Him for more than 3 years. And by being WITH Him, they were changed. And it was evident to all.

I love this. I can’t necessarily be remarkable according the standards of the world we live in – educationally, economically, culturally, etc. But I CAN be WITH Jesus. 


One of the other things that this story brings up for me is the idea of being “ordinary.” When I think about being “ordinary” I wonder if somehow I’ve failed. If I’ve not given enough or tried hard enough, or I settled for less than what I could have if I’d only… And yet I wonder if those thoughts come from an idea/set of values & worth rooted in what I DO more than what I am? 

If I think I’m exceptional, that I’m above the crowd in ability, intelligence, & any/all other ways to measure myself against others, I run the risk of valuing my self much higher than I possibly should… while at the same time devaluing people who I am… well, better than. I can start to get proud of me & all I can do. And pride is a killer.

2000 years ago Jesus chose these ordinary, uneducated, common men & women to be His disciples, the ones He would serve as His ambassadors to the world… & He did it to show that when we are WITH HIM, all we are (or all we are not) in our natural selves doesn’t really matter. That WITH HIM, we’re just fine.

Even if we’re ordinary. Some food for thought. 

Have a great week.

Some musings about trust… & other stuff from a Friday.

I was sitting in a training today for one of the side gigs I pursue (more on that later,)  & one of the facilitators made a comment about trust & communication. She said, “In a group where there is a ‘culture of mistrust,’ EVERYTHING can be weaponized. It can be a church, it can be an office, it can be a manufacturing plant, it can be a professional sports team… if people don’t trust each other, comments, suggestions, & other types of input made with the best of intentions can be refashioned into weapons of war to be turned back on the persons who offered them up.”

At that point I kind of drifted into contemplation mode; it got me thinking about how many different scenarios I’ve seen that very principle played out. I started wondering about what it takes to BUILD trust… both among individuals & within organizations. It can be difficult, because usually it takes someone (or a couple someones) going first, going on on the proverbial limb to risk, to try, to reach out with (appropriate) vulnerability over an extended period of time – risking rejection, misunderstanding, & conflict, among other things.


Its definitely oversimplifying an answer to the “what’s it take to build trust?” question – but I think its worth mentioning that if I want people to trust me, I need to be trustWORTHY. To be able to have a resume (track record, life pattern, etc) that shows trustability, faithfulness, commitment to a common good, humility, teachability, & a willingness to go first in asking for forgiveness & in extending grace to others.

It’s especially true when someone (let’s pretend its you or me) is not known well by others… it requires a lot of patience to begin to move forward in a manner that will plant seeds of trust, couple with congruent behaviors that reinforce it. To me, there’s a lot of wisdom found in the Psalms & Proverbs that helps to govern & guide our lives, that helps us to be becoming trustworthy people, regardless of what is going on in the lives/workplaces/teams/groups around us. And the vast majority of the wisdom that’s found there centers on looking to God as the example of what trust looks like, lived out.

Its much easier to focus on the untrustworthiness of others, to revisit their (real/perceived) shortcomings, & to blame them for any/all problems with trust that arise. But its not helpful. I can’t control or direct others; I CAN make good choices. I CAN respond with kindness & patience with others. I CAN live a life that is faithful & dependable & trustWORTHY, regardless of the messed up situations we will encounter in our lives.


The side gig info: I’m a “Certified Assessor” for the Working Genius productivity assessment, created by Patrick Lencioni & the At The Table. It’s a great tool that helps people identify their “Geniuses” (areas they thrive/gravitate towards in a project) & their “Frustrations” (areas that suck the life out of them when they’re doing them working on a project.) Check out the Working Genius podcast HERE to get a better idea of what I’m talking about. Over the last year that I’ve been using the assessment, I’ve found it to be an incredible tool not only for being more intentional & aware of how you tackle work, but also how you navigate your significant relationships (friendships, teams, marriage, people you volunteer with, etc.)

Ultimately – its 80% about productivity & 20% personality… It doesn’t tell you WHAT job you should or shouldn’t be doing, but it can give you an EXCELLENT idea on HOW you will attack that job to get stuff done.

Take a look & see for yourself… For what its worth. Any questions about it? Hit me up :)

Happy Friday friends.

Day 8 – home sick before Thanksgiving

Today marks day 8 of me being home sick… it’s never gotten terrible, & at the same time I’ve not gotten significantly well enough to actually try to work from home (at least until today.) As a by-product of this unforeseen down time, I’ve been reflecting on several topics, including:

  • This Summer’s sabbatical; 
  • Things I take for granted (until I don’t have them/have access to them); 
  • The value of work & purpose in everyday life;
  • How everything has a time or a season; 
  • God’s “gift” of limits

I decided to write about the limits I’m currently navigating.


Today, I’m experiencing limits with:

  • MY ENERGY. I ain’t got none. I’ve been averaging 2 naps, minimum a day (with gusts up to 4) but the energy level has remained in the “yellow” at best, but mostly in the “red.” (The fact that I have energy to think & focus & write THIS is a good sign).
  • MY APPETITE: I ain’t hungry, & nothing sounds appetizing. 
  • MY VOICE: I ain’t gone one, it is a labor to try to speak at a volume that can be heard by others (& it inevitable ends up in a cough from exertion anyway)
  • MY HEALTH (aka my ability to get better); I’m doing all I can, all I know to do to get better. I’ve got a plethora of friends praying for a boost to my health. 
  • MY LOCATION: I am ‘stuck” at the house for at least the next 2 days while the new HVAC units are being installed; 

I’m sure there’s more, but I just wanted to illustrate a few of them. And not in a complaining way; in a ‘reality’ way… this is true for me now, & there’s nothing I can do to overcome them. I can’t be victorious; I can’t push beyond them without potentially severe consequences; this is me through at least tomorrow. 

The rest & rhythm muscles I developed this Summer on Sabbatical are showing themselves to be helpful in this. Being content (not thrilled, but ok) with being stuck in a spot I’d not choose to be, doing what I’d rather not do, for a time longer than I want to… I can either complain about it & waste the time I have home to rest, or I can embrace it as the current season of my life… a season that I’m hoping & praying will be a quick one, followed post-haste with good health & normal.  I can’t change anything by complaining or worrying, & I won’t get well any quicker by trying to push into physical reserves that aren’t there.


So I’m thinking thoughts, letting them wander a bit. Watching the USA World Cup game against Wales. Reviewing my notes for last week’s message (which will hopefully be NEXT week’s message.) Thinking about family time at Thanksgiving. Reading a book. Pondering possibilities for the SF Giants 2023 roster as the MLB Hot Stove League kicks into full swing.

And I’m reviewing texts & Marco Polo’s from friends & loved ones wishing me health; listening to a podcast from a friend’s church (because I want to feed my soul too!); plotting putting together a lunch style meal. And I’m thinking about things I’m thankful for. Because there’s a lot.

Learning patience, or “Is there a lesson or purpose in everything?” & other musings…

I like to know WHY… maybe its the bent I have towards teaching, or perhaps its because it makes difficult/frustrating situations more bearable if there is a discernible WHY.

Know what I mean? Where you can go, “Ahhhh. I get it now. THAT’s why that happened.”

At the same time, I’ve learned through experience, circumstances, & Scripture that sometimes “rain falls on the just & on the unjust.” That there is no easy correlation between something happening & the readily apparent REASON for that thing happening. Yes, it would be great if “everything happens for a reason,” or that the sources of frustration, pain, etc could be immediately & directly identified (& therefore, have the resulting pain mitigated, even if just a leeetle.)

But it doesn’t always. At least I think it doesn’t.

On the subject of patience & being content with trying circumstances… you may have heard me tell or write about the time we were on the way to Do Something in the City (back in the olden days, the 80s,) & my mom was driving our trusty manual transmission VW bus from our home in Golden Valley towards Civilization (it’s been a minute…. there was NOTHING in Golden Valley back in those days… just houses. If you wanted Things, you had to travel.) We were at the 4 way stop-light that was 395N, (now its a real life dedicated to Golden Valley off-ramp!) waiting for the light to change so we could hurry on our way (as fast as a 70’s VW bus could hurry.) The light changed & …. nothing. Clutch is popped. We’re not moving. This is Not Good.

This kind of thing didn’t happen much when my parents were driving, as both of them could navigate a VW shifter with the best of them. Just not this time. So, my mom went to start the car, & it took a bit for it to catch (not unusual for a VW bus – if you know, you know….) Finally the engine squirreled to life & we started to move, just in time to see & feel the WHOOSH of an 18-wheeler as it ran the red light at the intersection.

Any frustration we’d felt (ok, that I’d felt as an 11-year old backseat driver) melted away in awe… even I knew that if we’d pulled out when the light turned green, we’d have been a schmear of cream & tan German auto parts. Thank you Jesus – THIS was easy to see; we’d been spared from becoming schmear by a popped clutch.

But what about…?


 

Most Thursday mornings, we (me & some guys) meet for prayer & talks in the Loft at our church at the Crack O Doom/Dawn… 6 a.m. As a creature of habit & routine, I like to Be Ready & Prepped (whatever that means) so when its time to pray, I feel like its not the first thing I’m doing during the morning… (FWIW, this Ready & Prepped list involves coffee, reading & finishing my morning Bible time, & making sure our meeting space in the Loft is Ready-To-Go.

This Thursday started like they usually do: I rolled out of bed at 4:34 & hit the shower; quickly dressed & headed downstairs with My Stuff to make my coffee (& to prep theBean’s coffee cup so all she has to do is hit the “GO” button on the KCoffee machine.) Now, an aside – after talking with my friend Antonio before our last Snow Sunday at Hillside (where we only did online church because, SNOW,) I discovered that we both are what the kids might call “Bougie“/Boujee (aka “Extra Fancy) when it come to our coffee & how we like it/make it. I don’t know that I’d agree, but say I do – if Antonio is bougie, then I will be bougie with him. Good company, that man. Anyway, I digress.

In our pre-church discussions, we talked about how we USED to drink coffee (black as the night, strong as the universe,) & how we drink coffee NOW (you can ask Antonio how he takes his coffee & decide for yourself just how things have changed for him.) As for me – I like to PUT THINGS into my coffee:

That is it. And trust me. It is tasty & it is > black coffee.

I do this EVERY DAY, with little to no trouble, no mess, no wasted motion… except today, I dropped the plastic dish holding the chocolate salt. Which means I spilled the WHOLE dish on the counter & floor. This very fine, very powdery chocolate salt, all over. At 4:50 a.m. I gotta be on the road in 2, people.

Might have gotten a little huffy-puffy. I wasn’t leaving the mess for theBean, so cleaning it up NOW was a must. And so with broom (& vacuum) in hand, I made the best of the mess & cleaned it up. Even rescued some salt off the counter (hey! There’s a win for me.) But…

Turns out I overfilled the to-go mug I was using that day. My usual mug was in Eugene (my 2001 Land Rover beast machine, where it doesn’t belong,) so I used the backup to a backup. And I miscalculated the size of the cup. Which overflowed with coffee & MCT oil & creamer & chocolate salt. BAHHHH! (Or something like that) came out of my mouth – no big deal. I can do this. I’ve already conquered one dragon this morning – I’ll just take it sloooow & dump a little coffee out of the to-go cup into the sink & be on my way.. Except…

MCT oil is oily. Slippery even. So slippery on plastic that when I attempted to pick up my cup, I dropped it. And the liquid flowed as only liquid & oils & creams can flow. All over. Everywhere. On the counter. Into the cabinets. Into the drawers. Onto the floor. Here. There. Everywhere.

I saw red (& other angry things.) And then I KNEW I was going to be late for my routine. Late for prayer maybe. And this mess wasn’t going to clean itself.

And the second thought that came to my mind (the first one wasn’t helpful or constructive,) was this: “Ahhh. I remember the VW bus incident, & several others like it where I was spared something terrible by an unfortunate & frustration circumstances that bothered me tremendously in the moment, but turned out to be a Blessing in Disguise.. Maybe THIS is THAT…”

Almost as soon as the thought crossed my mind, I ‘heard/felt’ God speak, “What if this is just one of those things that happens? What if there’s no visible, easily traceable lesson to discover? What if THIS is just a THING that happened, & you get to CHOOSE how you will act/respond/move forward?”

Those thoughts stopped me in my oily, creamy, chocolate tracks… I didn’t like that idea. That was DUMB. Its better if there’s a REASON. Something I’m being spared from… But what if if IS just an opportunity to be patient, to slow down, to clean up, to laugh at myself? What if THAT is all THIS was?

It has to be enough, today. And so it was.


Got to the church at the same time as Matt – not late, but not on my schedule. Thought quite a bit about all the things I’d experienced that morning… All the frustrations. The messes. The (surprising) NEED for all of it to be more than just a life obstacle to navigate… one of those things that every single one of us faces all the time. Told the guys about it. Laughed together. 

Been thinking about it for 2 days now. I aim to choose patience whenever it comes to mind that it IS a choice how I respond. To not have to see or know the WHY about my (petty) inconveniences… or even the not-so-petty ones. I’m asking Jesus for transformation in my heart, mind, & character. To reflect Him. To laugh quicker. To slow down. Even if I can’t see the WHY or the lesson in it. 

Do I ever REALLY stop? & other musings…

Just looked at the calendar. Five Mondays from today, theBean & I will be on our first day of sabbatical. I’m trying to prepare for this time away, with the purpose of being as intentional as possible about what we’re doing. So, I’m revisiting some studies that I began about 10 years ago on the Sabbath & Sabbath rest. I’ll be blogging some of my thoughts, discoveries, wonderings, & questions here over the next several weeks…(If you’re interested, you can read more about WHY we’re taking a sabbatical HERE)


 

A couple of my favorite ways to study something in the Scriptures are to

  1. find the word in the original language, along with a working definition of the word;
  2. do a word-search & find the first place in the Bible the word is found…
  3. ‘popcorn’ around to other places the word is found, referenced, discussed, etc…

I looked up Sabbath & found the first time the word itself is used is in Exodus 16:23  & it shows up quite a few more times, most notably in Exodus 20:8 – the place in Scripture where God gives Moses the commandments (of the most famous “10 commandments,” the command to remember the Sabbath & keep it holy is #4. But I digress. Fun rabbit trail though.) The definition of Sabbath is “to stop; rest; come to rest; cease.” The more I dug, I discovered that though the word first showed up in Exodus, the first time the concept or practice of Sabbath appears in the Bible is in Genesis 2:1-3 as a part of the creation narrative. It says:

Heaven & Earth were finished, down to the last detail. By the seventh day God had finished His work. On the seventh day He rested from all His work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day, because on that day He rested from His work, all the creating God had done. The Message

Think about it. The final ‘act’ of creation was God creating Sabbath, Holy Time –This was so important that He built it into the fabric of creation by working six days, then on the seventh day, He STOPPED. And then He RESTED.


The more I roll this around in my head, the more I see how tied together the two are: you cannot rest until you stop. So I think about what it takes to stop, to REALLY stop. And I think about myself & my own life patterns & pace of life. I reflect on our cultural norms, behaviors & attitudes that are normal, at least until they are held up to the mirror of God’s Word. And I ask myself, “Do you ever really stop? Do WE?”


We live in a 24/7 city – in a country that celebrates busyness, activity, & multi-tasking. We rarely think about let alone embrace the fact that we have limits – on our time, our physical/mental/emotional capacity, & on what we can do & do well. We often push ourselves & our schedules to the limit, cramming as much activity into our days & weeks as possible. We usually don’t get enough sleep & survive/re-engage with life because of coffee/energy drinks. (An interesting fact – in 2006 when I began my studies on Sabbath, I researched the caffeine, how much was consumed in the US, & how much money was spent on it. Here’s what I found: In 2006, more than $12 Billion was spent on coffee, & another $1.1 Billion was spent on energy drinks, most of which were consumed by people in the 18-25 year old range. Fast forward to 2014 – close to $40 Billion was spent on coffee last year & a staggering $13.5 Billion was spent on energy drinks, a figure which is estimated to rise to at last $21.5 Billion by the year 2017. And the reason more than 60% said they drank coffee/energy drinks? In essence it was, “I need it to get going & keep going. Can’t do what I do without it.”)

When we have time off, we use it to get everything done that we couldn’t finish during the work week, &/or we pack our free time with all sorts of activities. Technology doesn’t help us out here – the modern conveniences of ‘staying connected’ through our smart-phones, computers, omni-present wifi, mp3 players keeps a constant barrage of stimulation & noise bouncing around our brains.

No wonder silence seems strange.


 

Do I ever REALLY stop? When was the last time I took a day, set apart as Holy Time, & didn’t work… didn’t get preoccupied/distracted with something… just intentionally set myself up to BE?

The defense mechanisms kick in quickly. Countless reasons for WHY I do what I do, & WHY taking much time (let alone a day) is just about impossible with all the things that fill my busy schedule come to mind.

And then I think about what I read last week from Matthew 11:25-30, especially the part about finding God’s rhythms of grace for life… & I contrast that to the driven, life-sucking pace & practices that lurk around me… And I want that rhythm, God’s rhythm for me. And so I invite Him in to the mess of me… & I trust He will FINISH what He starts.