Archive for Personal Health

What I’m Into Right Now

Hey Friends,

Periodically I get a request from folks about “what I’m into right now.” Such as, “Hey John, I know you read a bunch. So what’s your favorite book right now.” Or, “Hey John, you’re always talking about Ramen Noodles. What’s the best place in Portland?”

So, I’m gonna start a series of blog posts called “What I’m Into Right Now.”

First, you need to know that I’m a guy that gets into things for a while then moves on to something else when I get bored or discover something new. Call it “Rotating Hobbies!” I’ll blog about some of those things from my recent past, as well as what I’m into now.

My hope would be that you would get inspired, try some stuff out, explore, experiment and see what happens. You may find something you love or you may think I’m crazy (i.e.: charcoal toothpaste…blog post coming soon!). Feel free to click on any of the links I’m providing in the blog post and give it try!

I have a motto (actually a bunch of them, but this is one I’m crazy about now)… Leaders are Learners.

So, here’s to learning!

Grace and Peace,

John

Flee • Follow • Fight

The Apostle Paul wrote his letters to Timothy during the latter years of his life. His clear and compelling mission was to “finish strong,” which included passing the baton of leadership to the emerging generation. The wisdom he imparted to his young protege Timothy I believe is essential for every person that desires to be known as a “Man (or Woman) of God.”

But you, Timothy, man of God, run from all these evil things, and follow what is right and good. Pursue a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for what we believe. Hold tightly to the eternal life that God has given you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:11,12

FLEE
In other words, the Apostle Paul is saying: run fast and far! Don’t hang around with anything or anyone that would compromise your walk with Jesus. In the text surrounding this passage we can see examples of what Timothy, and the rest of us, are to flee from:

  • false doctrines
  • constant friction
  • foolish desires

These are the kinds of things that simply will not get you where you want to go. They will keep you from an effective and fruit-filled Christian journey. Flee in the same way that Joseph ran away from Potipher’s wife in the Book of Genesis. His future was shaped by his fortitude and determination in the challenges that were presented. Paul reiterates in his second letter to Timothy by saying: “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace…” (2:22).

FOLLOW
It’s simply not enough to just run away. We must now run towards God! Pursue, or follow, after that which will fill you up spiritually.

The text tells us to pursue:

  • Righteousness (what is right and good)
  • Godliness (the realities of a Godly life)
  • Faith (trust and dependence upon the Lord)
  • Love (the most powerful mark of a Christian)
  • Endurance (perseverance)
  • Gentleness (the heart of God expressed)

The test of human character is in the making of critical choices such as these. God wants to construct a character in us based upon the truth of His Word and upon righteous traits. We must consistently keep “choosing wisely” and following hard after God.

Your challenge will not be separating out the good from the bad,
but in grabbing the best out of all the possible good.
Gordon MacDonald in Ordering Your Private World

FIGHT
Paul uses imagery such as that of “straining, pressing on, and fighting” often. This is an important reminder that the Christian journey is not a “cakewalk.” It is, rather, a battle of biblical proportions! The fight between sin and the flesh is huge, and it affects every follower of Jesus regardless of age or stature.

We are called to run away from sin (FLEE) then to pursue the things of God with all our hearts (FOLLOW). In this adventure expect a challenge (FIGHT) in your soul, understanding that it won’t be easy, and cannot be avoided.

Face it head on. Don’t be apathetic or indifferent.

Men, in particular, can be associated with spiritual passivity and detachment, but I believe there is MORE in the heart of men. We were made for the fight! I love how John Eldridge, in his book Wild at Heart, puts it: “Men need a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue, and an adventure to live.”

Let’s take up the Apostle Paul’s challenge to Timothy as our own. Let’s take hold of the life we were meant to live!

Altars & Lamps: A Look at Long-term Planning vs. Short-term Obedience

It’s not uncommon for me to be dreaming and planning 2-4 years out. Part of being the leader of an organization is that I have to regularly “forward-think” in order to effectively, well, lead.

 

Here’s a few examples:
• I’m thinking about leading the charge on a multi-church event for 2020.
• I’m trying to nail down dates for a Greece/Rome/Turkey journey in 2018 as well as another Israel trip in 2019.
• I’m working on my next “ManDate” with Isaac when he turns 18. It needs to be epic. As well, I’ve been thinking about taking all my boys (Jordan, Josh and Isaac) on a collective “ManDate” somewhere overseas as a capstone to all the previous “ManDates” we’ve been on. That too needs to be epic.
• I’m pondering on what to do for our 30th wedding anniversary. We just celebrated 25 years, but, I’m a guy and I think I have to keep topping the last milestone!
• I’m praying about future campuses or church plants that could be birthed out of our congregation in the next 5 years.

All that to say…there are times that my brain can hit the point of exceeding it’s bandwidth. You know that “spinning ball of death” on your computer screen that lets you know the your hard drive is stuck or shutting down? Yah, I feel that some times. And in the process of the good work of forward thinking and dreaming, I’ve discovered that what is affected most are the day to day, moment by moment things.

Let’s call it: Long-term planning vs. Short-term obedience.

I’m certainly not saying that long-term planning is bad or unfruitful, but it shouldn’t take the place of short-term obedience. When God called Abram in Genesis 12, He told him to “go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (emphasis mine).

This denotes an ongoing awareness of God’s presence and an obedient response to His progressive leading. Abram wasn’t show the entire map. He wasn’t given the full picture. It’s quite possible that if he HAD been shown the entirety of God’s plan for his life it would have “exceeded his bandwidth.” Abram, instead, had to obey the Lord and trust His leading at every juncture of the journey. Of course, he had moments of failure. Don’t we all.

And yet, Abram modeled for us what short-term obedience looks like. He consistently would “build an altar and call on the name of the Lord” (12:7; 12:8; 13:4; 13:18; 22:9).  It was these times that gave him the next step in the journey. His direction was determined by his devotion.

This is an important pattern for us today. Build an altar. Call on His Name. In other words, slow down and sit with God. Listen. Worship. Pray. Fast.

Then move forward.

God “will show you” which way to go. It may not be the direction that you and I plotted out on an Excel spreadsheet, or blocked out in iCal. It doesn’t mean that we should never forecast, dream or think into the future, but our long-term planning can never become a substitute for our short-term obedience.

Reminds me of Psalm 119:105 when it says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” We would all love to have one of those high wattage, blinding spotlights that would illuminate way out ahead, revealing everything about our future and the direction of our lives. But alas, we have a lamp, and that lamp gives us enough light for each step, and the immediate path we’re on. This requires us to be aware, attentive and responsive to the moment.

Short-term obedience. 

Curiously, when we are obedient to the Lord in the day to day, moment by moments things, He has a wonderful way of getting us “to the land I will show you.” It may take a while but what He promised He will perform.

Starbucks Amos and Amos 8:11

1093659-largeI am at my local Starbucks just about every day. I know, I know: I have a problem (the first step is admitting right?). But in my defense, two of my four kids have worked at our neighborhood Starbucks and, well, I’m a good family man. Also, I believe approximately ten or so baristas attend our church, which makes it one of those “return of the tithe” kinda things!

So I think I’m justified. Stop judging me. 🙂

Sure I’m a espresso addict, but more than anything I’m here for the people. I love to see folks…you know, the coffee shop regulars. One such regular is Amos.

Amos is 92 years old. He’s a kind elderly gentlemen that exudes warmth. He is usually in his seat right when the doors open. Then, after chit-chatting with the other patrons, finishing his tall Pikes Place, and perusing the newspaper, he will make the long, slow shuffle to the door. I always give Amos a glance and a friendly “good morning sir” but we’ve never had a long conversation.

Until today. 

He told me about how his morning was shaping up. Tidbits from the newspaper. His next stop was to go to Snap Fitness to exercise a little bit (remember he’s 92!). Then we talked about his knees and hips and how he was able to avoid surgery by simply moving and being active rather than sitting in his chair for too long.

Then before he walked out the door, he stopped, came back to me and asked: “Are you the pastor at the church up the hill?” I acknowledged that I was.

He said: “Young man, heaven and earth will pass away, but word of God endures forever. Every day before I do anything I read the Word. Then at night before I go to bed, I read the Word. It is my life.”

I leaned forward because he had my full attention.

Then he looked me in the eye and said: “May the Lord richly bless you today and may God speak to you in a fresh way.” I nodded in agreement and whispered an “Amen.” He then smiled and shuffled his way out the door to this truck.

Amos of Starbucks.

The Old Testament prophet named Amos captured this in Amos 8:11…“The days are coming when I will send a famine through the land, not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.”

I can’t think of a worse kind of famine. Let’s pray that we don’t experience a famine such as this again in our land or hearts.

How?

Well, let’s be like Amos of Starbucks who hungers and thirsts daily for the word of the Lord.

I Love Books

c6c20c6a0a3398b203a24f2200f3f796I love to read, no surprise there. I read a lot. A LOT. But, this summer, during an extended pastoral sabbatical, I read significantly more. I counted 30 books completely read, but here’s a list of 25 of them that I remember. At the end of this blog post I’ll mention a few books that I’m currently tackling.

Happy Reading!

 

 

Simply Ramen: A complete course in preparing ramen at home by Amy Kimoto-Kahn

The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future by Steve Case

The Angels Game (a novel) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Destiny of the Republic: a tale of madness, medicine and the murder of a president by Candice Millard

Girl on the Train (a novel) by Paula Hawkins

The 10-second Rule: following Jesus made simple by Clare De Graff

Rolling Nowhere: riding the rails with America’s hoboes by Ted Conover

How to be a Man: (and other illusions) by Duff McKagan

Before the Fall (a novel) by Noah Hawley

Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch by Alea Milham

Koreatown: A Cookbook by Deuki Hong and Matt Rodnard

Disappearing Church: from cultural relevance to gospel resilience by Mark Sayers

Design Your Day: be more productive, set better goals and live life on purpose by Claire Diaz-Ortiz

Sea and Smoke: flavors from the untamed Pacific Northwest by Blaine Wetzel

Visual Theology: Seeing and understanding the truth about God by Tim Challies

Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: inside the minds of history’s great personalities by Claudia Kalb

Good Faith: being a Christian when society thinks you’re irrelevant and extreme by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman

Mind Hacking: how to change your mind for good in 21 days by Sir John Hargrave

Mexican Hat (a novel) by Michael McGarrity

Eat Street: the ManBQue guide to making street food at home by John Carruthers

How to Pray by R.A. Torrey

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

The Amish: a consist introduction by Steven Nolt

Prisoner of Heaven (a novel) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

 

Here’s what I’m currently reading:

Facing Leviathan by Mark Sayer

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger

Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church by Kara Powell

The Seven Levels of Intimacy by Matthew Kelly

• People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue

 

Summer of Sabbatical

I have been given the gift of a pastoral sabbatical this summer. For this I am extremely grateful. My sabbatical will last a little over nine weeks and begin on July 1.

What is a sabbatical? It’s a good question, not least because ‘sabbath’ is a lost practice in our day. We all get vacations and “time off,” but a sabbath is something altogether different. Sabbath is a time to stop, to rest, to delight, to play, and to be renewed by the Creator and Sustainer of all things.

A sabbatical is meant to be an extended sabbath. Some may wonder if there is any sin, frustration with the church, or desire to move on to another ministry assignment. The answer is no. Some have asked if I am taking this time to focus on my doctoral work, or to write a book. The answer is no. I had considered starting my doctorate soon, but opted to wait until another season, and I have had a couple of book ideas on my mind, but don’t feel like the time is right to develop those yet. Although I will be reading and journaling…a lot. The point is to have an extended sabbath—a holy space to rest and be renewed.

For pastors, the practice of a sabbatical becomes particularly important because of the role we carry in the church. The weight of spiritual leadership is hard to explain or quantify, and yet it can take a very tangible toll on a leader’s soul. Many leaders don’t stop because they don’t feel that they can for fear that the church may fall apart without them. But I believe that Jesus is the Head of the Church! I think you agree.

Jesus withdrew in silence and solitude, even when the crowds were pressing in. Therefore, it’s important that pastors do that too. A sabbatical obviously is no substitute for regular rhythms of rest and renewal. And yet, our church council was so gracious to give me something extra, something longer, something special as a gift. This gift is really the gift of time. Thank you.

So, what will Denise and I do on my sabbatical?
We have intentionally crafted the weeks to make space for rest, recreation and renewal. There will be times for just Denise and I to be together, as well as fun memory-making adventures with the kids, cherished moments with family and friends, as well as some solitary blocks of time with just me and Jesus.

During this summer, we will be commemorating a number of milestones:
• My 45th birthday
• My 25th year as a licensed Foursquare pastor
• My 7th year as the lead pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church
and finally (and most amazingly)…
• Our 25th year of marriage (the result of the grace of God and a good lady)!

So, we’re gonna do some wonderful things, but there are also things we will NOT do. For my sabbatical, the things I will deliberately cease from are:

• Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (checking and posting)
• Email (all my addresses are being forwarded to my assistant)
• My phone (I’m shutting it off often, using it sparingly and not for business)
• Content-creation (no sermon writing, blogging, planning, etc)
• Speaking at any churches, camps or conferences

The things I will intentionally delight in are: family (including our sweet grandbaby), friends, reading (lots of fiction, mostly soul care books and a few theological ones), walking, working out, riding bike (I just bought a bike and am excited to start riding it…gotta get ready for the new bridge to Minto Brown park!), and watching The Olympics (The Fehlens really love watching the Olympics together!).

What about West Salem Foursquare Church?
Well, as you know we have an amazing team of staff, elders and servant-leaders! Our Navigational Team will continue to oversee our staff and day-to-day operations. Each Sunday service will have great communicators sharing the Word of God. Along with our staff, we have a number of incredible friends and partners in ministry that will be joining us throughout the summer.

Sunday, June 26th, will be my last Sunday before the sabbatical. I will be back in the pulpit on September 11th.

Pray for us. Pray that the Lord would surprise us with joy in beautiful ways, and that our hearts would be drawn closer to Him and to one another as family during this time.

The Best is Yet to Come,

John

5 Kinds of Books I Focus On

Ask around and the people closest to me will heartedly confirm that I read a lot of books.

A LOT.

I have a book going ALL the time. Actually, I have a bunch of books going all at the SAME time. I realized recently that I’m a “binge reader.” I tend to get a handful of books from the library or Amazon and then I dive into them all and see which ones “catch on.” Some of them don’t really grab me so I simply set them aside. No worries. Perhaps I will engage them at a later time. Perhaps not.

Other books (plural) gain traction, and I love it when that happens. I’ll keep one in my backpack. Another 4-5 are bedside. Still others are available in my “currently reading” piles at my office and home study. I even keep books in my car (currently there’s about 15 in the backseat), on my iPad for when I fly, and, yes, by the commode (don’t judge).

Solomon, in the Book of Ecclesiastes, had it right: “There is no end to the writing of many books and reading many of them makes the body tired” (Ecc. 12:12).  With all these books at our disposal, one may wonder how I choose WHAT to read.  Glad you asked…

Here are Five Kinds of Books I Focus On…

1. Resource Books.

These kinds of books are those that are currently popular or people ask me about. As a pastoral leader, I get asked often about certain books. Folks wonder what I think about it or if it’s the kind of book they should read themselves. Obviously, I can’t read every such book, but I think it’s important for me to be somewhat conversant.

ExamplesLove Wins by Rob Bell, Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson

2.  Research Books.

Many of the books I read serve as background for a particular preaching or teaching series. These may be commentaries, topical studies, or textual/expository (verse by verse) materials. These can often be dry, so I read research-like books sparingly.

Examples:  Ben Witherington III Socio-rhetorical Commentaries, Jon Courson Bible Commentaries or The Reason for God by Timothy Keller.

3.  Recreational Books.

Occasionally, I want to immerse myself in a good novel. Give me a well-written “political, who-done-it, edge of my seat, thrill-ride” of a book and I’m in my happy place. Toss in a Iced Triple Espresso and I’ve transported into the “third heaven.”

Examples:  Anything by writers like John Grisham, Brad Thor, or Vince Flynn. Pretty much if it’s under $10, fits in my backpack, and I can get ‘lost’ in the action, I’ll read it.

4. Renewal Books.

This is a pretty broad category for books that benefit my personal growth, leadership development, and character development. These may be new releases from Christian authors, but I try to limit those because so much of what is being currently written is nothing new or revolutionary. Therefore, I lean mostly towards biographies. Biographies let me do the work of gleaning the lessons, growth points, and leadership concepts rather than having them spoon-fed to me.

Examples:  Biographies by David McCullough (John Adams is my favorite), Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson, and Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull.

5. Retreat Books

Throughout the year I have scheduled retreats for prayer and solitude. During these times I bring with me contemplative works – often old and classic. These are far from “pop fare,” but rather, deep wells of wisdom from seasoned sojourners.

Examples:  The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence or anything by Eugene Peterson.

Ah, books. I love them.

By the way, if you’re ever asked what book you’d choose if you were to be marooned on a deserted island, you may be quick to say “The Bible.” I can’t argue with that choice too much because The Bible is without a doubt my favorite book in the world. But, I would tend to agree with G.K. Chesterton when he responded to that question with: Thomas’ Guide to Practical Ship-Building.

Think about it. 🙂

Our Emotional Health

Every morning I step onto a scale in order to weigh myself. I don’t HAVE to do this, but I CHOOSE to. Some days I’m encouraged by the progress I’m making in terms of “dropping a few lbs” and other days I want to get the scale professionally checked for accuracy (know what I’m talking ’bout?).

Being faced with the truth can be frustrating. But the numbers don’t lie, and neither are they personally invested; they are merely reporting information. It’s our responsibility to consider those numbers and give them subjective weight (pun intended).

What will we do with the information that the scale has revealed to us?

How will we process it?

What actions will come as a result?

Information should lead to introspection.

Truth begets thoughtfulness.

To get physically healthy we must wrestle with what the scale reveals. Such is the case with the physical, but what about the emotional? We can’t weigh JOY like we can pounds. Can we say no to ANGER like a donut? Friends, it’s difficult to quantify our emotional health, and much easier to hide than the physical aspects.  Don’t you wish we could simply step onto a scale, get a read out of emotional health, and then take appropriate steps? But alas…

What are some things that we can do in order to enhance our emotional health?

1.  Enlist Coaching and Accountability.  Get yourself a team of quality people that are rightly aligned with your desires for better emotional health. You cannot afford to go at this alone.

Who will coach you?  These ought to be people that are further along in their life journey, and have seen a degree of success in areas of emotional health.

Who will cheer you on?  These are folks that you can be completely transparent with, and that will in turn spur you on.

For me personally, I have enlisted a couple of older, wiser, Godly men that graciously serve as my coaches. These are not “buddies” (although we have mutual friendship), but rather they are “clear voices” that I have chosen to listen and respond to. As well, I have those that cheer me on;  “emotional health running partners”, if you will, that are on a similar track as I am, and get the rigors of the race.

2.  Set Goals and Plans.  Once your team is in place, then together you are able to set some targets and timelines. Perhaps you are determined to focus your energies towards increasing your joy quotient, lowering stress, or getting a handle on depression. Set some goals regarding those areas of emotional health, and then expand upon that with clear and reasonable plans (how the goal can be achieved). This all seems very ethereal, I know, but the process is well worth it.

Perhaps you may set a goal of waking up happier three days a week. Or you may want to respond to adverse situations with less anger. Set those goals and plot out the plan. It’s important to write it down and then communicate it with your avenues of accountability. In other words, inspect what you expect!

3.  Celebrate Wins and Forward-Progress.  An important step in our emotional health is to celebrate successes (or even hints of success). It’s been said: “What gets celebrated gets repeated.” Of course, we know from various schools of thought such as child psychology, that positive reinforcement is an important facet in the forming of habits (hopefully good ones).

So, if you or those you’ve enlisted to help you, see areas of emotional growth, then be quick to celebrate! That kind of energy can be marshalled in order to tackle other aspects of emotional health and growth.

Why is all of this so important? Well, because Proverbs 4:23 tells us “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  Other translations of this passage call our heart the “wellspring of life.”

In other words, our emotional and spiritual heath matters.

Keep up the good work.