Sunday, June 28, 2015


I love cars.  Always have.  I used to sit on the floor with dozens of little Matchbox cars, running them around our oval braided rug one at a time entertaining myself for hours on end.  That was last March.

A few years ago I blogged about all the cars I've owned.  I did a message two weekends ago with cars as the main 'hook.'  In my office I have two wall-length shelves full of 1:18 scale model 1940's and '50's cars.  So being in Europe for awhile has re-salivated my appreciation for things with wheels.

What I mean by that is that in Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and all over, cars that are head-turners in America are counted by the scores here as everyday vehicles:
We've been driving a rental Ford, which is a head-turner for completely other reasons.

So - just for fun - I have to share a sampling of the fun Fiat car show we unexpectedly happened on in central Germany after coming out of church onto the platz (town square) one Sunday.


One can always dream.

And be blessed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


In Italy, once you set yourself at a table in a restaurant or on a piazza, you own the table until you decide to leave.  It's one of the things I'd forgotten about being in this wonderful country.  

Another is the way they make resting into an art form.  Every day from about 1p-3p, many of the shops close while their owners enjoy lunch, rest, etc.  Restaurants on the piazzas don't serve full menus from noon till 5p or later, instead offering drinks and lighter fare like pizza during that time - not much else.  They save the il primo (first course - pasta or soup) and il secondo (second course - meats and fish) menus for the evening guests, beginning around 6p, or even more fashionably Italian, closer to 8p.  This is when the 'less barbaric' eat dinner.

But either way, no matter when you sit or how much you order, you're there until you're ready to leave.

In fact, they don't bring your check (il conto) until you insist they bring it.  Super frustratingly for an impatient American, they walk right past you a thousand times serving other guests and leave you to yourself because that's how you rest and that's how you enjoy life in Italy.  Joelene and I have waited more than 45 minutes on a number of occasions just to get the check after a meal here.

I was thinking about what would happen if, in America, two people walked into, say, Olive Garden, and sat at one of their premier booths and when asked what they'd like to order just said, 'Coffee, please.'

'Just coffee?'

'Yes, just coffee.  That's all we're having.'  (That happens a lot here in Italy.)

And then proceeded to take full possession of the prime booth for the next 2-and-a-half hours.

What do you think would happen?

I have several theories.

But I digress.

Another of the Italian customs is something called la passeggiata.  This is basically the evening stroll - somewhere between 6p and 8p.  It happens in virtually every town, village and city in Italy, primarily down the main drag and square.  During the week it marks the end of the workday - something to be celebrated.  It offers a moment of sociability before dinner.  On weekends it becomes in many cities the social event of the day when entire families take to the streets.  It reinforces a sense of community belonging.

Franciscan Hermitage of Le Celle
Today Joelene and I entered the Franciscan Hermitage of Le Celle, one of the most beautiful and spiritual places in all of Cortona.  It was founded in 1211 by St. Francis of Assisi and some of his followers.  As we entered the quiet chapel, there sitting in the second row, completely alone, was a Franciscan monk, his head bowed in prayer.  We remained quiet in the back, snapped a few pics, and whispered to one another.  Not once did he turn to see us or shush us.  He kept his head down and continued his private worship.

What we may have lost in America in this regard - and what I have lost personally that I'd like to regain -- is -- margin.  

We're in a pretty fast moving race, except few of us have noticed there's no finish line in sight.  There's little opportunity to stop - to rest - to celebrate - to enjoy - to bow - to renew - to be.

Life at its very best is built around rhythms.  We are biologically wired to move from periods of engagement to periods of withdrawal to periods of rest - and back again.  Unfortunately, not every country seems to come with built-in rest stops.

So my suggestion is -- what if we used this next season of life to stop the treadmill a bit -- take a slow passeggiata -- grab a booth and ask for nothing but coffee and sit there with a friend longer than is acceptable -- sit in a chapel and bow our heads for awhile -- because every day you're given by the Creator is a glorious gift.

What would happen?

My theory is that this kind of margin wouldn't make our lives worse - it would make them better.

But the only way to test my theory -- is to try it.

And be blessed.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


In our course of travels thru Central Europe, one of the highlights has been visiting the great churches erected in what seems like every neighborhood, every platz, every piazza, every square of Europe's great cities.

St. Mark's in Venice ... 

St. Vitus' in Prague ...

St. Mary's in Erfurt, Germany ... 

The Duomo in Florence ... 

Majestic, ornate, inspiring edifices all.  But many of them buildings today - not so much churches.  Many empty of worshippers.  Because what began as a movement 2,000 years ago driven by the power of the Holy Spirit became full of tradition, history, lifeless, inward, predictable, programmatic -- and in some cases destructive -- with little resemblance to what the very first church was about.

We can be thankful for buildings - I'm thankful for ours.  But what we're involved in together is about a mission with extraordinary power -- never more alive than it is today -- and from here on, until our very last day, we'll be charged to continue the mission that Jesus began -- to go, and as we're going, to make disciples.

May our church always be gatherings of folks who have a passion and a calling and a hunger to be at the center of what God is doing.

And be blessed.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


One of the things I'm learning while on Sabbatical - I hate to say it because it's an admission of a fairly serious character flaw - is patience.

It's never been a strong suit of mine.  My wife knows it.  My kids know it.  My team knows it.  Probably half of my church knows it.

I've always thought patience was highly overrated.  I know, Job and all, but it seems to me the real reason people have patience is because there are too many witnesses standing around.

When my Sabbatical began three weeks ago now, I thought:  'Patience is the last thing I'll have to worry about.  I have ten weeks.  That's all the time in the world.  What will I have to be impatient about?'

It's amazing how God uses circumstances to work on you, even when you don't think you need it.

One evening in Bologna, Italy, I opened my Mac and it started making the most ungodly sound -- scratching, whirring, whizzing -- it sounded like it was about to take off.  It was making such a racket Joelene recorded it on my iPhone.

We decided it was something that couldn't wait.  It had to be looked at now.  Right now.  We figured Italy had an Apple store.  It isn't Cambodia after all (no offense to Cambodia).  Sure enough there was one right in Bologna Old Town (every Italian city has an old town -- it's Italy).

So we navigated our car through the super narrow, cobble-stoned streets of Old Town Bologna (more patience required) and finally found Apple.  We got to the Genius Bar and discovered they could help us ---- in three hours.

Seriously?  I don't have the patience for that.

So we put our heads together -- Joelene and me -- and decided we would head on to our next destination which was Florence and look for the Apple store there -- because after all, Florence isn't Camb ... I already said that.

On the way down the Italian AutoStrada, going around 80mph, the traffic started to slow.  I hate slowing traffic.  It's so un-American.  Must be some minor construction or something.  Then it began to creep.  If there's anything I hate more than slowing traffic, it's creeping traffic.  Finally we found ourselves at a dead stop on the toll road.  In fact, we were stopped inside a tunnel, with miles of traffic lined up behind us.


We didn't know what had happened but we sat in that tunnel along with other travellers - with my sick Mac wheezing in the back seat - for an hour and a half.  I ended up turning my engine off like everybody else and just sitting there in the black of the tunnel.  Joelene and I had stopped at a grocery store on our way out of Bologna (Joelene never passes up a grocery store when we're in other countries - it's just a thing - but I'm glad she didn't) -- we had a long picnic right there in the car, waiting for traffic to start up again.

Patience?  Oh yeah.  Definitely needed.

Once we got going again we discovered a semi had overturned all its contents about a mile ahead of us.  Only a mile.  So close to not needing any patience whatsoever.  My luck.

But we were back on the hunt for Apple.  The day was already half over.  Fortunately our GPS took us right to it in Florence.  Apple was located where it should be located -- in a swanky, modern mall far from anything Old Town, just outside Florence.  We waited in a line to talk to the guy who made the appointments and when it was our turn, we discovered we could get an appointment -- in three hours. We explained that we were helpless Americans lost in a foreign country and really needed help soon. Fortunately, our Apple rep was sympathetic to our cause.  He said we could definitely see a Genius -- in three hours.


So we loitered around the swanky mall for that whole time (yes, I bought something) and when it was at last our turn we passionately explained our Mac predicament - how sick it sounded.  We even played the recording Joelene had captured on my iPhone.  It was now 7 p.m. and the Genius told us it could definitely be fixed -- tomorrow.  We'd needed to leave it and come back -- tomorrow.

Tomorrow was not in the patience plan.  Our lodging was an hour from the swanky mall and it wasn't something I wanted to do but I did need my Mac back with a non-wheezing attitude.

My patience was being tested big time today.

Just before we turned to leave, he stopped me.

'You know what?  Maybe I can rush it thru tonight.'
'Really?  You can do that?  We are helpless Americans lost in a foreign country, you know.'
'Yes, I think I can manage it tonight after all.  It will take another hour.'

Grateful, we said that would be wonderful.  What's another hour after you've spent an entire day of Sabbatical in a dark tunnel with your Mac rasping in the back seat?  None of this was in the plan.  But when the hour was up and the Mac was fixed, it felt good.  And I had learned a lesson on the importance of patience.

The good character of patience isn't formed in a week or a month (especially in my case).  It is created little by little, day by long day.

And be blessed.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


Steve and Patti Gray are serving International Christian Fellowship in Padova (Padua) Italy.

They've been part of the church for 17 years.  

The church has people from all over the world attending, many of them from Nigeria and the Philippines.  Two-hundred eighty people call ICF home.

They were prepping for 7 weeks of Vacation Bible School when Joelene and I dropped in on them this week.

I'm so proud of what the Assemblies of God is doing all over the world to reach people for Christ.  And it's so good to be associated with the Grays.

And be blessed.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


One of the best-as-of-yet stops on our Sabbatical trip has been Budapest, Hungary.

Buckleys and Taylors in Budapest, Hungary
The reason it was the best is because we got to spend time with our friends Dave & Karmi Buckley.  The Buckleys served with us at what was then First Assembly in Kenosha as youth pastors while we were worship pastors.

About 17 years ago, God called them to a mission in Hungary.  Journey Church has been part of their support system since Day One.  The Buckleys pastor Riverside Church in Budapest and it was our greatest privilege to be with them in the service this past weekend.

Aside from the personalized all-day tour of the city they took us on (which was amazing), it was very cool to see their work in Budapest with the International Church there.

I'm so proud of the people Journey Church supports who are doing work for God all over the world.  The Buckleys are part of that Kingdom work.

And be blessed.