The Book of Amos Esch

NOTE: This is an updated version of a post I wrote back in 2016. The reason I’ve updated and reposted it is because its central figure, Amos Esch, just went home to be with Jesus at the age of 95 years old. Yep, he was born in 1924.

I didn’t know Amos very well. I only had a few, albeit significant, interactions with him over the years. One of those interactions is written about below. May it serve as an encouragement to you today, and in a small way, may it serve as a tribute to a wonderful man of God.

I am at my local Starbucks just about every day. And if I’m not at Starbucks, I’m at some coffeeshop around town. I know, I know: I have a problem (the first step is admitting right?). But in my defense, THREE of my four kids work at our neighborhood Starbucks and, well, I’m a good family man. Also, a silly amount of 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 Esch.

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 around 5:30 am. 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 (keep in mind that he is 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.

There was an Old Testament prophet also named Amos. In the biblical book named after him this verse is captured…“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” (Amos 8:11).

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 Esch of Starbucks who hungers and thirsts for the word of the Lord, and allows it to speak to him in fresh ways each and every day.

The Gap Between the Two Trapeze

Every so often a particular song grabs my heart and attention for an extended season of time. Usually it’s a recently released tune that I put on repeat until I’m flat out sick of it. Most often, admittedly, it’s a worship song, because of the way they tap into spirit and soul through my ears.

But this song is somewhat older (released in 2011) and it’s by Coldplay.

“Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”

I turn the music up, I got my records on
I shut the world outside until the lights come on
Maybe the streets alight, maybe the trees are gone
I feel my heart start beating to my favourite song

And all the kids they dance, all the kids all night
Until Monday morning feels another life
I turn the music up
I’m on a roll this time
And heaven is in sight

I turn the music up, I got my records on
From underneath the rubble sing a rebel song
Don’t want to see another generation drop
I’d rather be a comma than a full stop

Maybe I’m in the black, maybe I’m on my knees
Maybe I’m in the gap between the two trapezes
But my heart is beating and my pulses start
Cathedrals in my heart

As we saw oh this light I swear you, emerge blinking into
To tell me it’s alright
As we soar walls, every siren is a symphony
And every tear’s a waterfall

I resonate with the desire for solitude (“shut the world outside…”). I can often be found in a quiet space with “my records on.” This is how I tend to deal with feeling overwhelmed, tired or vision-less. And, by the way, this can happen often for me. I’m a fairly public person, with a lot of work, expectations, and stress. I can go for a quite awhile, but then I tap out. When I feel depleted, I withdraw. And, when I do, then my heart starts beating again. The lights start coming on. Heaven is in sight. From underneath the rubble I can start singing a “rebel song.” Bono from U2 says “joy is an act of defiance.”

Then purpose and vision start to return. I too don’t want to see another generation drop. Drop into despair. Drop into depression. Drop into death. I want to do something about it. I want to risk something again. I want to live in the “gap between the two trapeze.” This is the line that has captured my energy and passion as of late. What does it really mean to live in that gap? It’s the space between letting go of one point of security in order to reach another. You can’t hold onto both at the same time. You have to let go of something in order to grab onto something else. What’s at risk? Failure? Misunderstanding? Loss? Death, or worse, Embarrassment?

I don’t know. And that’s why it’s been said that “faith” is spelled R I S K. Faith and risk is the gap between the two trapeze. Wanna join me there?

There is Noah Way

I’m not much of a builder. I didn’t get those genes from my father. Actually, I must not have gotten his fishing, hunting, oil-changing and handy-man genes either. Sigh.

Here’s the deal: My wife does those things. She’s good at them, and, for the most part, enjoys them.

She’s the builder, painter, landscaper, and fixer.

I cook stuff. Don’t judge (unless I’m on one of those cooking shows, then you can judge for yourself and declare me the WINNER).

So, when I read about Noah in the Biblical book of Genesis, I get a little bothered. OK, more than bothered…I get downright bugged by the guy. He not only constructed a very large boat, but he also took the helm of said boat and navigated open waters. Don’t even get me started about my boating fiascos, um, I mean, adventures.

The guy built an ARK, for crying out loud. This wasn’t a kayak or canoe. It was huge. About one and a half football fields huge!

But, catch this: he also built an ALTAR (see Genesis 8:20). The first thing he did after the waters subsided, and he was able to walk on dry land, was to build an altar.

One was his work unto the Lord and the other was his worship unto the Lord. He did both really well.

Friends, each of us have work AND worship…and they should be done well, and unto the Lord.

What is your ark?

Where is your altar?

Let’s do them both well, and do them as unto the Lord. That’s the Noah Way!

Fear AND Amazement

“In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this?”

It’s not like they weren’t used to being in boats.

And it wasn’t uncommon for a storm to kick up while they were in those boats.

So what’s the big deal?

 

Luke 8:22-25 captures a story in which Jesus invited his disciples to get into a boat and go over to the other side of the lake. Ultimately we read of them arriving in the land of the Gerasenes, where we read about Jesus restoring a demon-possessed man (8:26-39). Most likely the boat trip started in Capernaum and would have navigated out into the center of the Sea of Galilee.

I have personally been in a fishing boat in the middle of that very body of water, and have (jokingly) fell asleep on the boat as a reference to this passage of Scripture when Jesus fell asleep.

In my case, a slight wind (and some waves) picked up causing our touring team to wonder if we were going to experience something similar to that of the New Testament disciples. Thankfully it ended up being fairly mild…unlike what we read about in Luke 8. They were in a “squall.” They were “being swamped.” They were in “great danger.”

That may account for the fear and amazement the disciples felt. I know it would do the trick for me. I get seasick pretty easily. But that’s not the case here. Sure, the disciples did wake up Jesus with the wide-eyed declaration:  “Master, we’re going to drown!”  But these guys were sailors and fishermen that were undoubtedly familiar with boats and storms. So why were they “in fear and amazement?”

It didn’t have to do with what the storm was doing to them, but instead, what Jesus did to the storm. He rebuked it and it subsided. He commanded the winds and water, and those winds and waters obeyed him. Um, wow.

Storms can surely evoke an emotional response, but nothing will quite bring out the kind of fear and amazement that the disciples experienced like a storm stopping on a dime because someone told it to!

Talk about fear AND amazement.

There are times in our lives when we experience both fear and amazement at the exact same moment. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what we can’t control. Fear of failure and disappointment. AND also amazement at God’s hand of blessing. Amazement at his grace and wisdom. Amazement in the midst of the sheer sovereignty and majesty of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Fear AND amazement. Ah, the beautiful tension.

What if fear AND amazement were meant to be experienced together? Like a tandem bicycle, both peddle toward the same destination: the glory of God.

Why Then?

The New Testament text in our Pause Bible Reading Plan recently was Hebrews 4. Check out vs. 16 with me:

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

There are so many words in this verse that are powerful and noteworthy, but one especially grabbed me: “THEN.”

Let us THEN approach God’s throne…

One could say “Because of this, we can approach God’s throne” or “In light of what’s been established previously, we can approach God’s throne.”

THEN. Why can we approach God’s throne?

Here’s why…look with me at the few verses just prior to Hebrews 4:16.

1. Because Jesus is our great high priest. This speaks to His DIETY.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest…” 4:14a

2. Because Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God. This speaks to His AUTHORITY.

“…who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” 4:14b

3. Because Jesus can relate with our weaknesses. This speaks to His HUMANITY.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…” 4:15a

4. Because Jesus was tempted in every way, but did not sin. This speaks to His VICTORY.

“…but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” 4:15b

All of this is the “THEN.” This is why we can approach God’s throne with confidence. This is why we are able to receive mercy and find grace. This is why we can come to the Father during our times of need.

The why is JESUS.
It’s ALL because of JESUS.

What I’m into Right Now: Books

If you actually KNOW me then you would know that I’ve been into books for a very long time. That’s nothing new. It’s not a current fascination.

Bottom line:  I read a lot.

And by a lot, I mean…a lot.

As of this writing I’ve finished reading my 67th book of 2017. And I currently have approximately six other books in the pipeline. I’m on target to hit, and perhaps exceed, my goal of 75 books this year.

To find out more about my love for books and reading, check out a few previous blog posts:

1. Books I tackled on my 2016 Summer Sabbatical.

2. The kinds of books that my reading is focused upon.

3. The best books I’ve read (as of 2012).

So, yah, I read a lot, but it’s not the only thing I do. I don’t have countless hours to just “sit and read.” I’m a pastor of a large church (is this where you insert a joke about pastors only working one day a week???). I’m a husband, father of four, grandfather of two. I’m involved with my denomination, speaking at churches and events, as well as leading biblical tours to Israel, Greece, Rome, and Turkey and missions trips to various countries. I’m an adjunct college professor and guest lecturer at two universities. I could keep going, but you get the point that I’m not just sitting around with nothing else to do but READ A STINKING BOOK.

So then, the question I get asked often is: How do you read so much?

Here’s a few ways how:

1. I always have books close by. They are in my car, backpack, office, bedside, and home office. I use my iPad Kindle App when I fly, especially overseas, but primarily I reach for paper & ink to read from when I have some down time. It’s staggering how much you and I can read when we pick up a book instead of our phone.

2. I’m a huge fan of the public library. Any time I get a book recommendation from someone, discover something of interest in a bibliography, or see something I like on Amazon or at a local bookstore, I will try to reserve it at my local public library…for free! Sure, I do also purchase books, especially when I want or need it immediately, but for the most part I put them onto my online queue and wait for them to arrive. It’s exciting for me to get an email regarding a “book on hold” and it keeps a steady flow of reading material coming to me without cost.

3.  I have less Screen Time.  I’m gonna be brutally frank here:  if you want to read more books you simply must watch watch less TV, scroll through less Facebook, scan less Instagram and Pinterest. Sorry. There’s no judgement on my end. I love my social media. I too cry during each episode of “This is Us.” Oh, and I’m pretty bummed that Chip and Joanna are filming the last season of “Fixer Upper.” So, hey, no judgement. But if you seriously want to read more, then the trade-off has to be with your screen time. One last jab:  have you ever heard of someone on their deathbed saying: “My only regret is not spending more time on Twitter and Facebook?”

Here’s a few closing, miscellaneous thoughts regarding books and reading:

• If you don’t like the book, or don’t connect to it somehow in the opening 40 pages then put it aside. Life is too short to read something you don’t enjoy.

• This may not work for you, but I like having a bunch of books going at the same time, so that I can grab a specific one for specific times and situations. For example:  right before bed I don’t like to read business books or other topics that get my mind racing. I need to slow my brain down, so I choose a book accordingly. That’s why I have 5-6 books in varying degrees of completion, and I will often finish them all up on a rainy, slow weekend or vacation.

• When I finish reading a book, I post it online. This is a public form of motivation for me, but it also let’s others see what I’m enjoying. I will often hashtag my posts with #leadersarelearners because I really believe that I as a leader must always be learning and growing. Books are not the only way to do that, but they sure are a good way!

• I almost always read with a pen in my hand (unless I’m reading a novel). I mark up the book with underlines, asterisks, and comments. Later I can look back and see the most impacting portions and thoughts from each book. However, I don’t recommend you do this with the library books!

• Books are great gifts. I give them away often. I know how something I’ve read has powerfully been used to unlock growth in my life, so I want that same possibility for others.

• The first and most important book I read is my Bible. Nothing can or should replace the Word of God.

Happy Reading.

 

What I’m Into Right Now: Oolong Tea

I just finished reading a great book called “The Longevity Plan:Seven Life-Transforming Lessons from Ancient China” and it got me thinking about my current fascination with Oolong TeaThe author discovered a remote region in China, known as “Longevity Village,” that has the highest concentration of people living over one hundred years of age. From it he derived a number of lessons regarding health and well-being. It sounds all “new age-y” but it’s actually not, which is good, because I’m not into that stuff. I’m into Jesus (but I DO read broadly, because leaders are learners).

The book doesn’t outright mention “Oolong Tea” but it sure got me wanting to blog about What I’m Into Right Now.

Oolong Tea. Sounds kinda funny. I forget exactly how I stumbled upon Oolong Tea, but I do know I read about it in a book around June of 2017, because my Amazon.com purchase of Oolong Tea was around that time.

There’s a lot of detailed information about Oolong Tea in Wikipedia, but that’s not what inspires me about this semi-green fermented tea. There are numerous kinds of tea in this big, big world, but in my research, Oolong tea is one of the most beneficial.

Some of the health benefits include the reduction of chronic health conditions such as heart diseases, inflammatory disorders, and high cholesterol levels. This last one is what got me. I’ve had high cholesterol for many years. It runs in my family, so I’ve been taking statins every day for a long time.

Now, I’m not a doctor, and I’ve never played one on TV, so this is just my experience and not to be taken for actual medical advise…but as I started to read about high cholesterol and look for alternatives to statins, I discovered some things that were very helpful to me.

First and foremost…REAL FOOD.  I am eating better (primarily vegetables and lean meats). I’m also working out consistently. In a nutshell:  moving more. Among a number of other lifestyle changes, I added Oolong Tea into my day. It is usually the first cup of “something” very early in the morning. I hold off on getting my Iced Grande Triple Espresso until after I’ve worked out (motivation…what ever works baby!).  I tend to get up most every morning between 5:15-5:30 am and have a cup of Oolong Tea first thing. Check out my previous blog on The Top Seven Things I Do Before 7 AM. 

Oolong tea is rich in antioxidants. It also contains vitamins and minerals such as calcium, manganese, copper, carotin, selenium, and potassium, as well as vitamin A, B, C, E, and vitamin K. Now to be honest:  most of that doesn’t thrill me. I don’t sit around trying to figure out how to get more vitamin K or selenium into my life. But I do think about my weight.

Ah, yes…weight. My cursory research has shown that Oolong tea is pretty effective at controlling the metabolism of fat in the body as well as reducing obesity. Apparently, the active components (polyphenols) in Oolong tea makes fat work for you (about stinking time!).

For me, it’s been working. In combination with eating better, moving more and other important things for weight loss, I’ve been drinking Oolong tea since June 2017 and am down 16 pounds (from 202 lbs to 186 lbs).

So, I like it. Now, it’s certainly not the Holy Grail, but, in the words of the old white-bearded guy from the Indiana Jones movie about the Holy Grail, I feel as if I’ve “chosen wisely.”

Cheers.

What I’m Into Right Now: Ramen Noodles

Just spend a few moments on my Instagram feed and you’ll quickly realize that I am absolutely in love with Ramen. Now, classically, the next question I get asked after making such a claim is this:  “You really like that Top Ramen stuff?” To that I say emphatically:  “NO. That’s garbage.” I’m talking about authentic Japanese Ramen.

Wikipedia would describe it like this:  Ramen consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a tonkotsu (pork bone broth), beef, miso or fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork, dried seaweed (nori), and green onions.

I would describe it as my favorite food obsession right now.

If my memory serves me well, I recall experiencing my first bowl of ramen noodles in Los Angeles a few years ago. The only thing I had to gauge my expectations to was the cheap, nasty Top Ramen that I used to eat at Bible College in my 20’s. This was so much more. More Flavor (umami). More Depth. More interesting ingredients.

Since that first encounter in Los Angeles, I have been on a Ramen Hunt. I set a Summer of 2017 goal to eat at every Ramen joint in Portland. I estimated about 20 of them in the greater Portland area, and I was able to get to about 6-7 of them (with a few repeats). I also had a goal of losing 15 pounds, and it’s entirely possible these two goals we’re at odds! I’ve since eaten Ramen in New York, various places in Southern California, the Bay Area, Hawaii, and most recently a Ramen Crawl in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN, which has a strong Ramen game going on right now.

I get asked what my go-to places are in Portland. Here’s my Ramen Report:

  1. Kayo’s Ramen Bar. Order the signature TanTan Ramen, and add the soft-poached egg. You’ll thank me.
  2. Marukin Ramen. They have a rotating daily menu, with a couple standards offered every day. You can never go wrong with the Tonkotsu Red. It’s a bit spicy, but the flavor is amazing. If you go to the Marukin off of SE Ankeny in Portland, then you’re right next to my all time favorite food in Portland:  Nong’s Khao Man Gai.
  3. Boxer Ramen.  There are a number of locations throughout Portland. If you wanna blow your mind, order the $6 side of Okonomiyaki Tots.

That’s the latest Ramen Report. More to come, I’m sure of it!

Chow!

John

What I’m Into Right Now: Gin Gins & Pipe Tobacco Candles

Well, here begins a series of blog posts about What I’m Into Right Now. I’m excited to spotlight some great hobbies, products, habits, and experiences that I’m finding joy in, and love to tell people about!

Obviously, as a Christian and a pastor, I could tell you that I’m into JESUS, and yes, it’s true that I am. He’s a massively important part of my life. So is my wife Denise, my kids Jordan, Josh, Anna, and Issac. So are my daughter-in-laws Lindsey and Shannon, along with my two grandkids: Emmy and David. Those are givens. Never to be under-appreciated, but yet givens.

So, now onto ginger and tobacco scent. 🙂

But first, let’s talk about TJ Maxx. I don’t how I missed this store for so long, but I found it and now I can’t get enough of it. For two primary reasons:  Gin Gins and Warm Tobacco Pipe Candles.

 

The Ginger People Gin Gins Original Chewy Ginger Candy 3 Oz (pack of 2)

I don’t go anywhere without a handful of these. I’ve got ’em in my backpack, office, car and home study. They are especially helpful when I fly. And I fly a lot. Ginger is good for “tummy strugs.”  When I fly, or am on a boat, I have to pay close attention to this. I’ve never had to use an airplane sickness bag, but I always have to know that it is within reach. Always. It’s the first thing I look for when boarding a flight, and I always put in front of the in-flight magazines with the little flap hanging out. It has to be visible. And I always make sure I have a stash of Gin Gins in my pocket. I love em:  gluten free, vegan, fat free, and no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. One note though: they can be spicy hot. It’s ginger, people. If you don’t like the taste of ginger, you probably won’t like Gin Gins. But, boy, I sure do.

 

Decoware Richly Scented Warm Tobacco Pipe 2-Wick Candle 14.82 Oz. In Glass

While attending a graduation party at some friends home, I was immediately struck by the scent throughout the house. Not in a bad way (which can sometimes be the case with certain scents). They showed me the burning candle, and the stash of extra ones they had in waiting. I was now on a mission to find that candle.

Enter TJ Maxx.

I bought a couple of them, and now each time I’m there I pick up another one “just in case.” I have a problem, I know. But it’s a good problem. It’s a good scent. I know it doesn’t sound like “warm tobacco pipe” would be a good smell. I was especially worried about my wife, who can’t stand the smell of any kind of tobacco. But, she likes this. Whew. Good, because I have roughly 12 of them. 🙂

 

Well, that’s What I’m Into Right Now. More to come. Stay tuned.

 

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