The Challenge of Here & Now

One of the main ways to gain more readers is to blog frequently and consistently. I’m where_noweak in both areas. I desire to improve in these areas, but January added a new dimension in daily life; that is, I’m back in grad school, this time in a doctorate program. Yes, it’s my own decision to pursue this next level of study, and I do enjoy it; but WOW, does it take a lot of time. My normal blog writing time is now commandeered by paper-writing. Alas, somehow, I’ll figure out how to return to consistency!

In the meantime, however, I’ve been pondering the future; more specifically, my future. I’m not pursuing a doctorate degree for laughs and giggles, but because I have a dream of a second career. And even though I’ve blogged before about being a dreamer; I’m also realizing some significant drawbacks in always looking toward the future.

A first drawback is future-looking makes living in the present difficult. A portion of my mind is focusing on something else. This means that I’m not giving 100% attention to the here-and-now, I’m not fully living in the moment. Instead, what ever is going on or whom ever I’m talking with, is only getting partial attention. This means I am not fully present in the discussion and I miss details or fail to grasp the significance or gravity the situation poses for the other person.

In recognizing this propensity, I’ve been able to adapt new thought-behaviors. I’m intentionally reigning in my thinking so that I can better zero in on the moment. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Part of the discipline of living in the moment is stilling my inner voice. Much of my internal thinking is verbal, so I need to quiet that inner verbosity so that I can focus on the external stimuli coming in from the outside. If the external stimuli run into the wall of inner verbosity, then that stimuli becomes diffused, losing much of its impact. But stilling the inner voice opens this wall like a curtain of a stage and the stimuli can stand on the stage of my mind unhindered.

A second noticeable drawback about future-looking is that, since the desired future is not here yet, discontentment can move in, clouding the skies of joy that God is intending for us. Such discontentment filters the present into nothing but tasks to accomplish, hurdles to leap, or moments to hurry through. Such filtering leads to the development of unrealistic expectations which eventually lead to disappointment. If left unmitigated, such thinking will lead to attempts at overcoming the disappointment by setting even loftier goals, eventually leading to more profound disappointment. It is a doom cycle of thinking that the more I do the better life will be. It is dehumanizing and perpetually self-defeating; devoid of any sense of God’s peace or contentment (see Philippians 4:4-7 and 11-13).

The antidote? Prayer and balanced thinking. God encourages us to bring our concerns to Him so that He then can bring peace into our souls. Alongside this is also realizing that balanced thinking is important. It is important to have dreams and goals; these give us reasons to keep on keeping on. They breed a desire to not settle but to continue to explore improvement.

But they must be balanced. Or to put it another way, we need to be more grounded in the reality of our present situation. I only have so much time in a day; so I need to carefully make room to be present in whatever situations come my way. I still have task lists, but they need to be somewhat flexible. If everything doesn’t get done today, there’s always tomorrow’s list. If someone needs my help now, then I need to recognize that they deserve me to be fully present; this is right thing to do, and I can always return to the other thing I was doing at a later time.

So, here’s to being content in the present moment!


A Forced Rest and Contentment

“Forced rest” was a phrase a friend of mine used a few weeks ago during a prayer time. I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot since then. The phrase wasn’t directed at me but even so, it got my attention. The pain in my lower back is so intense that I am forced to seriously edit what activities I engage in. Typically, I’d be ultra-busy during my vacation; there are workouts to do, hikes to take, blogs to write, books to read, home improvement or other fixer upper stuff to do, and so on. Instead, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on my rump simply reading or journaling.

Then yesterday my devotional was about contentment; another area that has recentlycontentment garnered my attention. Pain sometimes causes contentment to be elusive if not wholly absent. Still, Scripture states we are to learn contentment.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

—Philippians 4:11

Paul is stating that he had to acquire the knowledge to be content in all circumstances. Such learning is an active pursuit of knowledge with the goal of applying that knowledge in everyday life. In other words, Paul is continuing to expand his understanding of contentment. Interestingly, contentment actually means “self-sufficient;” however, Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes onto say in verses 12 and 13 that he has learned to be content when life is going well and when life is not going well. But he is careful to note that this ability, this learning, is enabled “through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13). No, this isn’t some sort of mystical strength allowing Paul to somehow change his circumstances through enhanced faith; it’s much more practical than that. It is the Holy Spirit enabling Paul to contentedly endure whatever circumstances he’s facing.

This is easier said than done, of course. One exercise that helps me in contentment is from a song in the movie White Christmas, “Count Your Blessings.” It is so simple to do and yet, for some reason, seems archaic; but it works. For instance, despite the pain, I have a family that loves me that includes a wonderful Bride that is cheerfully picking up chores I’m currently unable to do, two healthy sons that are loving and helpful, a beautiful home, great friends, a career I enjoy…you get the point. To my knowledge, Paul had none of these. In fact, many Bible scholars and historians suggest that Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Hello!? In prison and he’s still writing about contentment? That’s a sobering thought; so who am I to wallow in self-pity? Contentment is a much happier space to be in.

Another tool I’ve discovered on my journey toward contentment is to stop the “what-if-ing.” Though no specific event caused my current pain, I still am tempted to second-guess things I’ve done in my past that may have contributed to increased wear and tear. This is fruitless and only leads to self-shame.

I also strive to stop daydreaming about what I wish I was doing. We recently bought some snowshoes, but they’re still in their packaging in the garage. My bike is primed and ready to ride, plus the weather has been decent; but it, to, sits in the garage. And I’ve recently learned about some hiking trails close to home we’ve never ventured on. None of these activities are doable right now; so why focus on them in wishful bitterness?

I can still walk and do a few other little “exercise-y” things, so I’m choosing to embrace those with thankfulness. And, of course, I pray—often! I pray that my joy may be full (1 John 1:4, John 15:11 & 16:24), that my peace may be deep (Philippians 4:7), that my love is real (Matthew 5:44, John 13:35 & 15:12-13, Romans 12:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and, of course, for healing (Matthew 4:23, Acts 9:34 and 1 Peter 2:24).

Leaning into Christ will enable us to endure through any circumstance with contentment. And one day, all pain will cease (Revelation 21:4); but until that day, we can be thankful that the Lord is with us no matter what we are going through.

Christmas Joy and Update

We’ve had a great week of music and fun excursions!

First off, Caleb’s school’s Christmas Concert was quite a treat. We got to see all the grades singing and playing musical instruments. And not only that, Caleb sang a solo on one song and debuted his cello playing during the prelude! One of the other treats is watching the parents. They’re waving while kids are singing or they’re crouching near the foot of the stage with iPhones poised to snap just the right pic of their singing child.

The next day they sang in the Capitol Building’s rotunda. Ah, that brought back


Caleb is way up on the right in the second to last row.

memories, I was able to do that in high school! Nothing resounds vocal music so majestically as the harmonizing chords ringing up through the marbled rotunda dome! Listening carefully reveals the delicately fading notes with more piling up behind them.

Comfort_joy_marqueeA couple of days later we took a jaunt up to Portland, Oregon. Portland may be known for riots and roses or microbeer and artistic donuts; but it also has a vibrant music scene that includes the Oregon Symphony. Our end goal was to enjoy our second year in a row of the symphony’s Comfort and Joy classical Christmas concert. This year, though, we decided to spend the night rather than have a quick daytrip. Staying overnight opens opportunities for new and fun adventures.

For instance, we rode an actual streetcar! We wanted to get to the Tillikum Crossing bridge, the new pedestrian-friendly bridge (it’s the largest car-free bridge in the United States). It’s also known as the Bridge of the People (Tilikum is a Chinook word for people). It was a relatively long walk from our hotel, so I asked a friendly Portland police officer her recommendation for getting there. She suggested the streetcar which stopped only three blocks away. So off we trudged to 11th and Taylor.

It took a minute or two to figure out the ticket-buying kiosk; I am from the ‘burbs after all. And adding to the pressure was the streetcar lurching up the hill towards us two blocks away. Just in time, though, three receipts slid out of the kiosk and we boarded on our first trip on a bone fide streetcar!

We got off the streetcar on the northwest side of the bridge. Then we walked across the bridge back to the southwest side. From the bride we enjoyed the skyline of tall and diverse skyscrapers, the west hills, and the Willamette River rolling along its northward trek toward the Columbia.

Back in downtown we sauntered over to Pioneer Courthouse square. The square has thePioneer_tree_2017 biggest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen in person. We also had another first: real chestnuts roasted over an open fire! Well, it was actually a large wok sitting atop an open flame; but hey, we had roasted chestnuts. As the purveyor said, they tasted more like sweet potatoes than like nuts. And, frankly, they’re labor-intensive to peel and eat. But at least we briefly lived out a scene from a famous Christmas choral.

Inside_symphony_2017After some shopping, gawking at all the lights and dinner, it was off to the symphony! It was wonderful. We were in the fourth row on the aisle on the violin side of the orchestra. Oh, the music! Beautiful, lyrical, and layered with the sounds only a symphony orchestra can produce. There was also a sing-a-long and the director provided brief and often humorous commentary. It was definitely worth the price of admission and I’m already looking forward to next year!

What a fun few days in this festive season!

Now The Update

Following up on my last post, my doctor did order an MRI. I had that Wednesday and got the results yesterday afternoon. I won’t elaborate, but the news isn’t reassuring. It does, however, clearly explain the cause of the pain. The next step is consulting with a neurosurgeon. I am, of course, quite concerned about this. But a recent devotional reminded me of a record from Daniel:

“Our God will deliver us from the burning fiery furnace … but if not, let it be known to you, O king, we do not serve your gods.”

—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego addressing King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:17-18.

I know I’m not facing a fiery furnace, still, I will face whatever is coming with faith and strength in God. Eventually healing will come, I’m just not sure what avenue it’ll come through. Until it does, though, I pray for protection from the worldly “gods” of discouragement and self-pity.

A Pastor’s Question

“Are you willing to trust God in anything He sends into your life whether you understandannunciation it or not?” That was the question posed by our Pastor this morning. It was posed in the context of what’s known as the Annunciation; where the arch angel, Gabriel, appears to Mary and says:

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

—Luke 1:28

Mary is “very perplexed” (NASB v.29) or even “troubled” (NKJV) by this sudden visitation from the arch angel. Gabriel goes on to encourage her to “not be afraid” then drops the bombshell statement on her:

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.”

—Luke 1:31-32

Though you likely know the account of this record, May was currently a virgin. It was impossible for her to conceive except then Gabriel states that God the Holy Spirit, will cover her and she will conceive and bring forth what Matthew refers to as Emmanuel (God with us, Matthew 1:23) and what John the Baptist declared as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, see last week’s post for more on the Lamb of God). In other words, May is going to bring forth God incarnate.

Astoundingly, Mary’s response is:

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

—Luke 1:38

mary_josephShe was young; most theologians and biblical historians place her from 14 to 16 years old. And she may have lived a simple life, but she was not ignorant of her culture or ignorant of what she was saying “yes” to. She knew that saying “yes” in her culture would mean significant ridicule up to and including community banishment. Here she was, an unmarried teenage girl and pregnant. Yes, she was betrothed to be married, but she was not married yet, so her fiancée could easily tell her to take a hike; in fact, it is likely that that is what was expected of him—to send her away in shame. And on top of it all she was proclaiming she was still a virgin and carrying the Son of God.

Simply stated, she demonstrated great courage. But not only that; she also demonstrated equally great humility and trust. She trusted God even if she didn’t fully understand His logic or His approach.

This brings us back to the Pastor’s question. Do I have the same trust? Or courage? Or humility?

This question really hit me upside the head today for this reason: pain. I was not intending to blog about this, but I got to thinking about another blogger’s question from earlier in the week. It’s from A Fractured Faith Blog and the post was Why Do You Blog? I blog because I desire to be an encouragement to others and to help make Jesus real for people. So now back to pain.

I evidently haven’t properly healed from this summer’s hernia surgery. My left side has significant muscle and nerve pain. I am now also experiencing pretty serious lower back pain as well. The back pain can at times be so intense that I lose my balance and well up in tears. Just rolling over in bed at night causes intense pain shooting through my back like a thousand hot needles burrowing into me. I pray for healing, but the pain remains relentless. I’ve tried alternative methods of treatments only to have increasing pain by the day. I will go and see my medical doctor later this week. I fear seeing her because I fear what she may find. Actually, she probably won’t find anything but will instead recommend yet another MRI (if so, it’ll be my ninth). I like to fancy myself in robust and indestructible health. I’d like to be able to workout as insanely as I used to. Maybe someday I will; or maybe the insane workouts of my past have contributed to my painful present.

But the question from my Pastor, inspired by a 14-year-old girl from over 2,000 years ago, rings loudly in my brain. Do I still trust God even though I desperately want the pain to go away? And even though I really don’t understand why I must endure this will I still pursue after the Lord?

Honestly, the overall answer is yes, I will still trust God and pursue after Him. But I admit it’s a lot harder to when my eyesight is blurred by pain and I have to be careful with every single move I make, whether making dinner or simply sitting down.

But I also know that, unlike Mary, I’m not alone because many others around me suffer from chronic pain as well. No one has gone through, or will ever go through, what Mary bravely and humbly went through. Perhaps, then, this is where my humility gets a little bit of a test in that I am challenged and humbled by a 14-year-old girl. And, frankly, I’ve never really found inspiration in Mary—that is, until today. Oh sure, like so many I admire her and am definitely grateful for her decision; but this is the first time I’ve found her to be an inspiration to keep-on keepin’ on. Who, except God, knew that it would take me over 50 years to be inspired by one of the greatest persons that ever walked the earth. Yes, we still call Mary blessed (see Luke 1:28, 42 & 45)!

Raindrops and Angus Dei

Rain dropsLooking out the window this morning I saw lingering drops of rain drooping off of tree limbs in my backyard. I was praying at the time and was suddenly moved by such a common sight. I thought how fleeting such a sight is. Granted, the rain is likely to return in the afternoon, but for the time being, the sun was coming out and the drop would soon fall to the dirt below or evaporate into thin air.

Such a short life-span, yet it was beautiful as the slanting morning sun sparkled through its prism-like features, glinting and winking its way through the crisp morning air. And in a way, it would finish its short life by either helping to nourish the earth or the atmosphere. So, it had beauty and practicality.

But was it pure coincidence that at that moment I saw this drop? Or was it some sort of God-ordained natural metaphor? Typically, I don’t have my morning prayer time in that room, our living room with the gas fireplace and the large picture window. I typically have it in the den where there are books, lower light levels and a tiny window that peaks upon the roofline of our neighbor’s house.

Fast forward and I’m at church and one of the worship songs we sing in Angus Dei. The phrase Angus Dei is taken from John the Baptist’s bold and startling declaration about Jesus:

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
—John 1:29

Angus Dei is Latin for The Lamb of God. Jesus is referred to as the Lamb many times. In Revelation 5:12 heavenly beings are singing:

“Worthy is the Lamb who is slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

Revelation 12:10-11 speaks to the “accuser of our brethren” being overcome “by the blood of the Lamb.” And there are many other deeply rich and theologically significant references to Jesus being the Lamb of God .

But for me on this morning, it reminded me that, as the drop of rain, my life is also short:

All flesh is a grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away. But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
1 Peter 1:24-25 (quoting from Isaiah 40:6-8)

And yet the word of the Lord states that I have eternal life through faith in Christ (see John 3:16, 10:28 & 17:2-3; Romans 10:9-10; 1 John 2:25). This means that my earthly life is short compared to my eternal life. The question is what am I doing with my time here? Does my life nourish others as the little raindrop brought nourishment to earth and sky?

Perhaps the metaphor is a gentle reminder that my life is more than just grinding through every day. It’s more than traffic jams, nice dinners, prayer and work. My life is to be a light to others; hopefully drawing them closer to the Lamb of God, the Lamb of God that takes away sin and offers us eternal life. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the eternal things of life. Yes, living in the present is important, but it’s a real art to learn how to live in the present while still retaining an eternal perspective. The present is not the end-all, be-all of existence; it’s really just the starting point, the warm-up band before the Big Act. And the Big Act is to be forever with Jesus where there is no more pain, suffering, tears or death (see Revelation 21:1-4). It’s living life as God truly intended it to be: whole, healed and forever with Him.

How has God spoken to you in brief moments of life? How has He inspired you to ponder the eternal nature of life through the natural elements around you? If so inclined, feel free to share some of your thoughts; it’s always valuable to hear how God works in other people’s lives.

Thankful is Cool and Other Lessons


Turkey 2017

24 pounder smoked on our pellet grill.

We had a great Thanksgiving this year. Plans were changed, requiring the celebration to be at our house unexpectedly; but it worked out okay. We got the place cleaned, dishes prepped and cooked, and even the turkey (pictured here) turned out okay. I’ve prepared three Thanksgiving turkeys these last few years, and this year’s was by far the best. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the best turkey I’ve ever eaten, just the best one I’ve ever prepared (I think because of the brine and the herb butter under the skin). I’m finally getting the hang of the relationship between the pellet grill and that big ol’ bird. Although I do recommend grilling two smaller birds rather than one pterodactyl-sized bird; after brining and all the other stuff, the thing is almost as big as I am!


But what makes Thanksgiving a blessing rather than just a gathering are the people. It seems that more and more people are increasingly unthankful nowadays. Maybe they feel they have good reason to be, or are somehow entitled to live in a world of dark, stormy clouds. But this last Thursday, even amid such global ugliness, we were family together in one place at one time. We were thankful for each other, for the ability to have such an ample feast, and very thankful for our merciful God. And to top it all off, the rain stayed away as the turkey grilled in the corner of our deck under the branches of the leafless red maple tree.

The next day we had the great privilege of spending time with some good friends of ours.

Tree 2017

Our tree from Brooks Tree Farm.

They’re a couple we don’t get to spend too much time with. But on that day, we went together to cut down our Christmas trees. And once the trees were cut down, twined into easy-to-carry bundles and loaded into the back of our friend’s pick-up truck, we got a tour of the farm. The owners of the farm are members of our church and they were delighted to give us, including our eleven-year-old son, a tour of their facility. We got to see wreaths being made, trees being prepared to be shipped all over the world, including to Dubai (who knew they had Christmas trees there!). We saw the many large greenhouses where baby trees, called plugs, matured enough to be planted or shipped to nurseries. We saw all kinds of cool equipment as well.


After heading home and getting our trees set up and decorated (and eating a turkey lunch, of course), we reconvened and continued our day engaged in other activities. As the day came to a close, my family and I sat around our dining room table in flickering candle light and twinkly tree lights, feeling thankful that our last two days were spent with special people. We were also beginning to recognize that God was blessing us through the lives of others. We spent a lot of time with people that care for and love us as we care for and love them. Perhaps this is why there’s so much “unthankfulness” in this world, people don’t have meaningful relationships in their lives. Or maybe their hope, their future wishes, are based on flimsy philosophies or broken promises rather than on the God of the universe. Perhaps this helps me realize how important it is to be as much of an encouragement as I can to others. After all, Jesus did say:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
—John 13:34-35

Maybe if I take Jesus’s words seriously, I can help an unthankful person see even an inkling of something to be thankful for. And if nothing else, at least I won’t add to their reasons to be unthankful.

A Discussion of Time

Time“Does anybody really know what time it is?” asked the rock band Chicago back in 1969 (from their debut album Chicago Transit Authority). I am also asking the question because invariably, my perception of time is drastically different on the weekends than it is during the work week. C. S. Lewis said of time that, “Humans live in time … therefore … attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself and to … the Present” (The Screwtape Letters, pp. 67-68). Maybe my perception changes because my “present” changes.

Still, usually, time doesn’t really seem to be my friend. When I have plenty of it, I lose track of it; like on Sunday mornings when I’m always late for church (thusly, my entire family is late as well). When I don’t have enough time, I become task and outcome-oriented, more focused on accomplishments than relationships.

Barry Parker, in his biography on Albert Einstein, wrote, “If you asked several people what exactly is time, you would no doubt get a different answer from each of them. And the truth is: nobody really knows. It’s easy enough to point to your watch and say, ‘It’s what that thing is measuring.’ But does that really tell us anything? No, it doesn’t, and even if you quizzed scientists, they would admit that they don’t understand time any better than anyone else” (Albert Einstein’s Vision: Remarkable discoveries that shaped modern science, pp. 101-102).

Time seems both easily discernible and mysteriously elusive. Scripture says that “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Genesis states that, “God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day” (1:5). Interestingly, the concept of day and night is defined early in the creation account, even though the sun and moon don’t come onto the scene until verse 16. This also clearly indicates that God is not bound at all by time. In fact, as I stated a few blogs ago, He created it.

But it is in this context that we define time. That is, we define time based on divisions of what we call a “day.” A typical day is 24 hours and we divide that 24 hours up into 1-hour increments. So much of our lives are based within this framework of 24 hours, of which around eight of those hours are spent in or around sleeping. And we can get even more technical and explore how sunlight affects our differentiating of time.

But really, is life based off of minutes and hours or is it based more off of experiences and outcomes? For instance, our accepting of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior occurs in a segment of time; but is the segment what’s important or is what happened in that segment important? I know that’s a rhetorical question, but it sort of gets at the heart of things. A project is due to be completed by x-date; but why and who said it? Is the date based on some other set of issues or on an arbitrary selection in the attempt to get things started? Do people lose their lives if deadline is missed? Or, more likely, will a new deadline be established?

Bottom line is, we live in a structured environment that is highly regulated by our perception and application of time. But isn’t it interesting that many cultures around the world are not as bound by time as we are? Did Jesus wear a watch? Did the Apostles have deadlines and quotas to fill by certain times? Well, no, they didn’t. But we sure do.

Now please don’t get me wrong, we have bosses that tell us when to be at work and when we can go home. We have discipleship groups, youth groups, and church gatherings that all start at certain times, and we invite our dinner guests to show up at specified times. So, yes, time and time-setting are important; they keep us organized and they assist in setting and meeting expectations. But somehow, we need to have more unstructured “times” in our lives when we can just be rather than do. That’s why my perception of time changes on the weekends; I am shifting from a doing-orientation to a being-orientation.

I hope that makes sense. Now it’s time to make dinner.

The Maze of Numbers and Milestones



Pumpkin Patch maze near Jefferson, Oregon.

“Age is just a number,” she said. This was from a school official in a meeting a few months ago about our youngest son. It was a tough meeting, one of the toughest I’ve been through as a parent.


When I was a kid, parent-teacher conferences weren’t that big of a deal. Sure, I got in trouble here and there for being a class clown, but I always managed to earn good grades. But somehow, somewhere, things changed on my way to being a father. Now the conferences are more serious and intense. There’s a lot more tests and man-made standards kids must achieve.

At this meeting we had to consider making a very difficult decision. The decision would cause delays in typical age-related milestones, to which the quote above was about.

Since then I’ve been thinking. Who came up with age-related milestones in the first place? What’s so special about 18, 21, 30, 50 and so on? I don’t even see that it’s biblical.

For instance, Abraham and Moses were in what today’s society considers retirement ages. Daniel, Timothy and especially Mary were in what today’s society considers the younger, or more immature years. And we don’t know how old Paul or the first disciples were. And check this out:

Beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.
—2 Peter 3:8

God is above time, He is not bound by time; he created time (see Genesis 1:3-25). And God will accomplish His work regardless of time. He will accomplish His work in spite of us and He will accomplish His work through us, regardless of our age.

My point is that perhaps age is nothing but a number. Maybe I’m too hung up on age. Maybe expecting my kids to accomplish “x” by age “x” is unrealistic and maybe even ungodly. Maybe I shouldn’t put the same pressure on myself either.

Case in point, in my late twenties I went back to graduate school to work on a Master’s Degree. My goal was to have it finished by the time I was 32. This was before the internet caught on, so classes were brick and mortar classes. I’d drive up to Portland once or twice a week for three-hour evening classes. At this rate, it’d take three years to complete. But I was single, and I had the time (and money) to pull it off. Except I didn’t consider actions the school would take.

What happened is other state schools closed their communications departments and sent these students to Portland State University where the Master’s program was. To accommodate the large influx of new students, the school changed much of the curricula to more traditional offerings. That is, once-a-week evening classes were now going to be offered three times a week in the mornings. This meant that for me to continue I had to either quit my career, which was beginning to really take off, or quit school because I couldn’t attend classes during working hours.

I chose to stay with my career; and that was a great choice, my career has been rewarding, fun and I’ve met and worked with so many great people over these many years.

Another interesting thing, though, is as technology changed, so did God’s leading in my life. This led me to eventually return to graduate school utilizing new, online technologies. And I did finally complete a Mater’s at 54; only it was 22 years past my original age-related goal.

However, the significant shift came in the subject matter: I was originally pursuing a degree in Organizational Communication, but my actual degree is in Christian Leadership and Teaching. My previous studies have come in handy from time to time, but that’s not the subject area of my passion; Jesus is. Had I stayed the course all those years back, I may have missed God’s real call on my life and now be a miserable wreck.

So maybe she was right, maybe age is nothing but a number. Maybe most of my age-related goals are nothing but numbers; and numbers are subject to change and so is our sense of God’s work in our lives.


Chair Thinking


blue deck chair

The Blue Chair.

Prayer times outside are my favorite areas for prayer. For instance, from this blue chair I can see the woods behind our house in all of their God-ordained splendor. This particular chair has nice arms for my coffee, my journal and my Bible (which is actually on the iPad that took the picture). And I’m spending time in nature; well, sort of, because the comforts of suburbia are only a few steps away (not to mention coffee refills). But the air is fresh and slightly crisp, the birds are all aflutter and the tiny and shimmering humming birds are especially vocal with their signature squeaky-chirp sounds. back fall tree


Jesus spent time in nature. There are many passages indicating Jesus stealing Himself away to be alone in nature with His father. One great example is in Matthew 14:23:

“And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when the evening came, He was alone there.”

This is interesting for a couple of different reasons. First, Jesus is alone in the mountains; He’s alone in nature. There’s something about nature that draws many of us closer to God. In nature we see much beauty alongside the wild. Much of nature is predictable but much of it is not and cannot be tamed. God reveals much of Himself in Scripture and, of course, Jesus was (and is) God in the flesh. Still, this same God, the creator of all that is, cannot be tamed, put in a box or outguessed. I get a sense of all this in nature.

Second, Jesus is alone; He’s alone by choice. Oh, I know, God is always with Him; but my point is He is purposely away for other human contact. Not to read too much into this, but alone-time seems to be an important ingredient in our relationship with our Father.
Alone-time means no distractions, no email chimes, news alerts, TV chatter, or side conversations. And, frankly, in this day and time, it is hard to find quiet. In fact, I would not be surprised to discover that many of us are afraid to be alone, to be quiet, to truly be ourselves with our Father. Jesus being alone with His Father is He being fully open and honest with His Father. This means He must be open and honest with Himself; so, do you and me.

What’s really going on deep in the soul? Am I as carefree as some think I am? Am I shrinking in my faith somewhere? On the other hand, where am I truly strong? Is my faith truly enlarging?

Many of these deeper issues crack into the darker recesses of our soul and are best accessed while being alone with our Father in prayer. These are quiet but courageous moments, because it takes courage to be real and be vulnerable with anyone, even in prayer with our heavenly Father.

But another thing you’ll notice about Jesus is He’s not always by Himself. In fact, He is just as often seeking the company of His friends. In other words, Jesus lives a balanced life. He balances time alone with His Father and time with His friends and family. Hmm, pretty practical if you ask me.

And all of this started in the blue chair on the back deck.

Oops and Grace

I was late to an early morning meeting yesterday. It was our Elder meeting; and I’m the chair. Talk about a recipe for how not to be a good leader! And it was all just so silly.

The meeting started at 7 am and my alarm went off at 5:30, the same time as my work week mornings. I had plenty time to pray, to read, to “coffee,” and hop in the jalopy and head across town. All was going as planned and I was on pace to be early. But as I was nearing the main artery leading over to the east side of the river, I realized I forgot mySatchel wallet. Not only that, I forgot my bag which included my wallet, cell phone and iPad that had my Bible app and the agenda for the meeting! I did, however, remember my coffee.

Crap! I had no choice but to turn around and fetch my satchel. Now, not only was I not going to be early, but I was definitely going to be late; like ten minutes late.

Grumbling before leaving my driveway for the second time, I texted our pastor letting him know of my oops. I was so angry with myself and frustrated. I don’t want to be the reason for the delay, especially since everyone else is sacrificing time on an early Saturday morning.

Finally arriving at the meeting, I felt pretty low and a bit defeated. But the reception I got dispelled my brooding gloom. The others treated me cheerfully, welcoming me with warmth and only polite ribbing. There were no scowls or rebukes or terse greetings. I was welcomed and immediately included in the meeting.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is grace in action. Here I had an oops that was countered by grace. Bullinger defines grace as “an inclining toward, courteous or gracious disposition, friendly willingness; on the part of the giver of a favor, kindness, favor; on the part of the receiver, thanks”*. I was being extended kindness rather than rebuke, and I was, of course, thankful for that. I didn’t deserve the grace I received; but even so, grace is what I received.

God also gives grace. His grace has eternal gifts with it. It is purely by the grace of God that we have salvation in Jesus Christ. Scripture says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
—Ephesians 2:8-9

A couple of verses before this the Apostle Paul speaks eloquently of mercy and grace working in tandem:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
—vv. 4-5

We have access to salvation in Christ through faith through no work of our own. We can’t buy it, we can’t earn it, we just express faith in Christ to receive this free gift from God:

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
—Romans 10:9

That’s it! There are no rituals, no works to accomplish or hoops to jump through, just a simple expression of faith from a sincere heart.

As the Elders showed me grace, so God shows us all grace; but His kindness opens up an eternal destiny to be forevermore with Jesus. So, have you experienced God’s grace yet?

*Ethelbert W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, p. 341.