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: 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: 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

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!

The Pastoral Roles of a Shepherd

Writing about what I do as a pastoral leader is like showing people how sausage is made. I lot of folks like sausage, but most don’t want to see the strange process with their own eyes. Pastoring can often be messy, hard to define, and, because it deals with matters of the soul, as well as the “Man Upstairs,” it is somewhat of a, well…MYSTERY.

I love how the late Ron Mehl put it: “When people come to our church, we want them to feel comfortable and simply connect with Jesus. They don’t need to see all the processes and machinery. We keep all that ‘under the carpet,’ but make no mistake, we do have a lot of machinery under the carpet.”

The intent of this particular blog post isn’t to go headlong into all the ‘machinery’ (i.e. administration, processes, etc), but rather to give an overview of the pastoral craft, especially to those that are just starting out in your ministry calling.

What do pastor/shepherds do? Using the metaphor of a shepherd and his/her sheep, the following three concepts serve as a construct for our calling.

1. Guide.

A shepherd gets the sheep to good pasture. The calling of a pastor is to guide, instruct, point, steer, nudge and encourage the congregation towards Godliness. Note something important:  we guide, but we don’t drive. Guiding involves speaking truth in love. Driving is a subtle form of brutality.

It’s also important to note that guiding sheep to good pasture is not a “one-size-fits-all” venture. It take creativity, and a unique approach with each of the sheep. Like various children within one particular family, a parent quickly realizes that not all the children can be guided in the exact same way. Therefore, pray and get a sense of leading from the Holy Spirit as you give leadership and guidance to those under your care.

The goal is to lead our people to Jesus. Not to ourselves, or to our organization. Lovingly guide them to Jesus.

 

2. Graze.

A shepherd provides the sheep with good food. This is an interesting aspect of our calling, especially in our modern culture in which so many folks decry “I’m just not getting fed at my church.” Now, to be fair, that may very well be the case in some churches. But, by and large, my belief is that most pastoral teachers are providing good food (the teaching of God’s Word), but our sheep are choosing to not eat. They don’t have an appetite. They’ve gotten full on the junk food of the world. To them I would say:  “Good food is being provided. Eat up.”

One of the primary roles of a pastor is to provide sheep with solid and sustaining instruction and direction from the Scriptures. We get them to places where they can graze on truth and life. Not all will…but keep trying. Some will want you to spoon-fed them. Don’t do it. Others may want you to say what they want to hear in order to feel good about their poor decisions. Don’t do it. Still others may press you to address every wind of doctrine or hot topic. Don’t do it.

Preach the Word. Unpack the text in context. Lay out a Bible Buffet of clear and applicable instruction and allow the sheep to graze.

The goal is to lead our people to Jesus, who is the Word made flesh.

 

3. Guard.

A shepherd protects the sheep from predators. Those predators may be actual people with evil or disturbing intent. Or it may be a point of confusion, false teaching, gossip, relational unrest, or the like. These are wolves, and many are hiding out in sheepclothing.

Make no mistake, the enemy of our soul comes to steal, kill and destroy, and his plans are often partnered with by seemingly well-intentioned folks in our faith communities. One of the roles of a pastor is to guard and protect. This is not permission to witch-hunt, police people, or demand unequivocal allegiance to our leadership. Rather, with discernment, prayer, kindness and care we cover the flock with a spiritual ‘umbrella’ of protection, often unseen nor obvious. Occasionally, shepherds need to make their presence known and felt though a timing word, clear rebuke, or training in righteousness.

The goal is that people would have all obstacles removed for them to get to Jesus. He is the Great Shepherd. We are his under-shepherds. We want people to get to HIM, and anything or anyone that attempts to thwart that need to be gracefully, prayerfully and lovingly dealt with. May God give you wisdom should that be necessary.

 

Is this all there is to pastoring?  No way. Remember how Ron Mehl said “there’s a lot of machinery under the carpet?” There’s so much more to the pastoral craft. This is only one slice from one person’s perspective. May you continue to discover all that God has created YOU to be and what He has called YOU to do! Blessings.