Sunday, June 26, 2016


Today Joelene and I had the privilege of spending our Sunday in the smallest republic on planet Earth - San Marino.  I know the picture doesn't even look real, but it is.

San Marino
I've always wanted to come here but never had the chance.  San Marino is the world's fifth smallest state - 61 square miles small.  Only 32,000 people call San Marino home.  It lies 30 minutes southwest of Rimini, Italy and is entirely surrounded by Italy.  

Yet, San Marino is an independent nation - the world's oldest surviving republic - a reminder of the times when much of Europe was comprised of hundreds of small political units.  It is governed by a framework of parliamentary democracy, where two Captains Regent are the co-heads of state, elected for a period of only six months, until two other Captains Regent lead and rule.  The unique system dates back to the 13th century and is still in use today.

Dual Chair of the Captains Regent
The red chair pictured is the 'dual throne' of the two Captains Regent.  Yeah, both guys sit on that seat together - at the same time.

Crazy, I know.  I bet they have to be pretty good friends.

But this simple and seemingly odd fact is what caused me to reflect today on my own recent ministry and past.  Two people leading together?  Two people sitting on the same seat of leadership?  Sounds awkward.  Bound to fail.

And yet Journey Church employed a very similar form of leadership for nearly 10 years as I served as a Co-Lead Pastor.  

I remember when we began the structure of dual leadership in 2006.  There were people who told us a Co-Pastor system of leading was destined to fail.  Some thought it was a terrible way to lead - two heads, sharing the chair 50/50.  It'll never work.

I got their concerns.  We had concerns, too.  But we felt it was God's direction for our church so we did it.

We never sat on the same chair - not that I remember at least - but we led as co-brothers - co-leaders - co-visionaries - co-speakers - co-administrators - co-ministry partners.  It worked.

We aren't still leading that way today.  After 10 years of sharing the role, we've moved on to something else now, but I had to pause today to be thankful for that time period in my own history and in the history of Journey Church - as well as be thankful for my ministry partner for that span, Dan Remus.

And I have little San Marino to thank for the reminder.  I guess two guys sitting on the same chair making decisions isn't so wacky after all.

And be blessed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


We had the privilege of sitting in the piazza in San Gimignano, Italy this week, just doing a little people watching for an hour or so.  We'd walked all through the town and decided to plunk ourselves down in the center of the piazza at a fountain well and watch people walk by.

In Italy, this is known as la passeggiata -- (a leisurely stroll, especially in the evening for the purpose of socializing).

Piazza in San Gimignano
So you sit there with your cone filled with gelato and watch folks pass by as entertainment.  It works.  Especially in Italy.  You'll have to trust me on that.

So while we're lounging on the steps of the fountain, we notice the pigeons.  They're everywhere.  Two are evidently courting.  It's quite the scene.  That stud-bird won't stop bothering that little cutie-bird.  He's following her all over the square, matching her gait bit by bit - she ducks, he ducks, she turns, he turns, she coos, he coos, she speeds up, he speeds up - it's kind of sick.  But we couldn't stop watching them.  And smiling.  That's also sick, I suppose.

The other thing of note was how the pigeons went after dropped crumbs from gelato cones, bread, crackers, etc.  They'd peck at those little pieces on the ground.  When they found one too big to scoop up, they'd beat it to death with their beaks until it was reduced to milli-crumbs.  All they knew how to do was peck.

Peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck.

It reminded me of the old saying (some say from Abraham Maslow, others say Mark Twain, Buddha, Abraham Kaplan, also known as The First Law of the Instrument): "If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

I used to work for someone who only had a hammer in his toolbox.  He just went around beating on everything and everybody irrespective of the problem.  That was fun.

Sitting there watching the pigeons peck away at those crumbs made me wonder how many times I'd pecked at people like I had no other tool than a beak.

Knowing and experiencing God's grace personally hasn't always caused me to show that grace to others.  Sometimes it was just ...

... peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck.

There are so many ways to use something other than your beak when you're interacting with people.

-- Use words that are kind and gentle.  Even when you have to correct someone, it doesn't have to be done hatefully or with a mean spirit.  There's a graceful to say what needs to be said.

-- Look out for the needs of someone else.  This can be done in small ways.  We aren't just called to fulfill monumental needs.  We can affect someone every day with a simple kindness.

-- Keep short accounts with folks.  When it's time to right a wrong relationship, do it swiftly.  The sore doesn't heal on its own if you wait.  I will admit one of the most tempting times to peck at someone is after they've pecked at you.  You may get hurt but the way you respond can help the healing begin right away.  A soft answer turns away wrath.  That's Gospel.  A smile and a calm spirit is your friend.  That's PK.  So keep short accounts.

-- Forgive with grace.  I'm not sure why forgiveness is so hard.  Well, I guess that isn't so.  I do understand it.  I just don't excuse it.  This is the great sin of the Christian church today - believers who love Jesus with everything, yet they convince themselves they don't need to forgive the one person they hold something against.  They justify it.  They argue it away.  They look the other direction.  They blame the other person.  And in the end, they peck themselves a sore that everyone but them can see.  Swallow your pride and go the final step to forgive.

-- Think how as much as what.  The way you say something is as important as you actually saying something.  There might be a few words in your regular vocab that need to be excised because they aren't helping you be peck-free.  They aren't words that bring healing.  They aren't grace words.

-- Say thanks.  That doesn't cost you anything and it goes miles to showing gratitude and gratitude brings people toward you rather than pushing them away.  A simple 'thanks' can make a grace difference.

-- Show interest in other folks.  There's no better way to practice grace than putting someone ahead of yourself.

'Let your speech always be with grace ... that you might know how to answer every man.'  (Colossians 4:6)

** This is a peck-free zone.

And be blessed.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


Riomaggiore, Italy - The Cinque Terre
Most of what you say isn't verbal -- it's physical.

We love being part of other cultures -- other languages.  The weird thing about Americans is that we seem to have an innately snobbish form of thinking our way of doing things is the right way rather than a different way.

Why isn't the restaurant open at dinner time (6pm)?  (Many restaurants in Italy do not serve dinner until after 8pm.)

Why can't I get the internet anywhere?  (We are dying to find a hotspot as if our lives depended on it.)

They take a break and close their shop at 3 in the afternoon?  (Yes, they do.)

Why do they push two beds together to make it queen sized? - and - Why are the sheets not tucked in rather than just laying on top of the bed?  My feet stick out at night and get cold.

Why are the portions of food so small here?  No refills?

I have to buy water at the restaurant?  It doesn't just come free?  I have to pay to go to the public bathroom?  (Yes.  No.  And yes.)

Why won't they bring me the check?  I'm ready to go.  (This is classic in Europe.  You could sit there for an hour or more waiting unless you get up to ask for it.  Once you sit at a table in Europe, it's yours for the night.  Nobody will rush you away by bringing the bill.  There's a concept.)

As we're traveling to La Spezia, Italy for a few days, this idea that Americans like us know less about other cultures than they do about us bears itself out in a different way.

Vernazza, Italy - The Cinque Terre
La Spezia lies along the rugged northeastern coast of Italy, adjacent to a place called The Cinque Terre (Five Lands), part of the Italian Riviera and comprised of five small towns accessible primarily by boat, train or on foot -- Manarola, Riomaggiore, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.  You can make a whole day of it and hike from one little village to the next on manmade paths along the rocky coast.  We took a boat which pulled up to each dock to let people off and on and eventually ended up in Monterosso al Mare, the largest of The Cinque Terre.  

A beautiful day of exploring.

We found ourselves at breakfast each morning where we were staying in La Spezia with a variety of other tourists/couples, sitting in the outside patio at close together small breakfast tables, high above and overlooking the Ligurian Sea, a bay of the Mediterranean.  

We noticed all the couples could speak either a little or a lot of English.  We could speak very little or nothing of their languages - couples from France, Germany, Italy, Belgium on these particular days.

What we also noticed was the power of a 'smile and a nod.'  Everyone understands those actions when combined.  Nobody has to guess at what you're saying - the translation is universal.

Good morning.
Have a nice day.
Monterosso al Mare, Italy - The Cinque Terre
I like you and accept you.
You're looking grand today.

We've found the 'smile & nod' combo very powerful.  Just 14% of communication is through words and 7% is through intonation.  The other 79% is body language.  So the 'smile & nod' is powerful if you do it right.

Along the way we're trying to be a little more language ready:
'Posso avere il conto, per favore?'  (Could I please get the bill? - Italian)
'Guten Morgen.'  (Good morning - German.  Fortunately the word for 'Hello' in German is 'Hallo,' so that works grand.)
'Tu es d'ou?'  (Where are you from? - French)

But for now, the 'smile & nod' seems to be working really great.

And be blessed.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Fussen, Germany from our apartment window
Fussen, Germany has to be one of Joelene's and my favorite places outside of Italy.  It sits in extreme southern Germany on the border with Austria.  

We checked in to our upper room flat this week and opened the top floor windows to spy Neuschwanstein Castle across the way.  Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for Cinderella's Castle at DisneyWorld.  We spent the day meandering down the wet cobbled streets in brightly colored rain jackets - watching people walking dogs - alternately abhorring and enjoying the smells of sauerkraut and apfelstrudel - wandering into shops selling cuckoo clocks and sporting lederhosen and Bavarian hats - passing old men with traditional German walking sticks.  We love Fussen.  It's a dream place.

The day was over far too quickly and we ended up back in our apartment to a simple in-house dinner of cheese, crackers and fruit.

The day had been exhilarating; the night would prove to be anything but.

It had rained off and on all day but once the sun set it began pounding down so hard outside I could nearly feel the drops pelting the roof only a few feet away from my head as I lay in bed.  I tossed and turned and willed myself to go to sleep.

I had suffered from jet lag the night previous and I knew it had thrown off my schedule, but this night was worse.  I went to sleep on demand but lapsed into the worst night of dreams I can remember for some time past.  I dreamed the worst things possible and though I was unaware, there was a sense that I could feel myself tossing and turning, thrashing my body and gritting my teeth in my sleep under the weight of the nightmares.

I dreamed our house in Pleasant Prairie had been destroyed by a tornado.
I dreamed my church back home was going to let me go.
I dreamed my wife had died while we were out of the country together.
I dreamed I was being chased by vicious animals and I knew there was no escape.

It was about then that I woke up, drenched in my own sweat, covers completely tossed to one side.  I lay there, my heart beating so fast I felt I would soon be overcome.

I remember trying so hard to tell myself these were only dreams - they meant nothing.

I remember trying so hard to tell myself these were only dreams - they meant nothing - go back to sleep.  Hard as I tried, I could not.  I stared at the ceiling with a fear inside that made no sense, listening to Joelene's ironic, peaceful breathing next to me.

The 2 Corinthians Scripture about 'taking every thought captive and making them obedient to Christ' came into my spirit and I began to recite it over and over.  I began to make both God and the devil aware of what I fully believed, just in case either of them wasn't sure or had forgotten.

I put on the armor of God piece by piece, starting at the top -- the Helmet of Salvation -- the Breastplate of Righteousness -- the Belt of Truth -- the Shoes of Peace -- taking up the Shield of Faith and the Sword of the Spirit. 

I began to conquer my mortal enemies one-by-one.

'God, thank You for Your provision - my home and possessions.  I know they're just stuff and only temporal, but I am grateful for Your goodness and grace on my behalf to supply every need.'

'Lord, thank You for the privilege to lead one of the great churches in America.  Thank You for the folks who call her home.  Protect them, move through them by the power of the Holy Spirit, heal their families and marriages, provide for them supernaturally.  Give them peace and joy.'

'God, thank You for my wife.  Continue to bless her with every spiritual blessing.  Let her lead with wisdom and passion.  Make her gifts supernatural.  Cause her to thrive in her personal walk with You.  Give her good health and long life.'

'Lord, grant me protection from fear.  Give me miraculous courage, incredible boldness.  Let nothing separate me from You.'

Over and over I prayed them.

I won't lie - it took some time - but eventually I felt my spirit began to strengthen - my pulse slowed to normal - my body began to relax - knowing that the God of all peace was in the room with me, pushing back the power of the enemy.

It had been a good three hours I lay there battling and wrestling in the Spirit.  I wondered if I would be able to get back to sleep and if there was even a point.  I glanced toward the window and thought I noticed the first peeks of sunrise, but I wasn't sure.

At about that moment, Joelene turned my direction, still in deep sleep and subconsciously laid the back of her palm lightly against my face.  It was what I needed.  It was God's sign coming thru her to be at full peace - release it the rest of the way.  I was not alone.

I fell asleep about 5 minutes later.

2 Corinthians 10:5 - "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ."

This was the answer and antidote to my Night of Dreams.

And be blessed.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


I got saved every weekend in church while growing up.  Yup.  Every service I'd raise my hand - if not outwardly, I did on the inside.

I was scared I was going to end up in hell for sure.

How many times I came into the house as a kid and couldn't find my mother or grandmother and was positive Jesus had come and whisked them off to heaven while I wasn't looking and left me behind.  I'd end up cowering in a dark clothes closet waiting for the Antichrist to come root me out and punish me.

But he never did.

There were times I heard that God was mad, mad, mad, mad, mad.  I was a sinner in the death grip of an angry God.  Then at some point that whole message swung to how much God loved me no matter what I did or how often I did it.  I sure did like that a whole lot better.

Which was the truth?  God is angry?  Or, God loves you?

Your disobedience - your sin -- my disobedience - my sin -- breaks the heart of God.  But let's be real about it.  It also inflames a holy God.  Because the cross of Christ is a picture of the rage of God against sin ... and His indescribable mercy toward sinners.

How marvelous.

And be blessed.