decompression [dee-kuh m-presh-uh n] noun. the act or process of releasing from pressure.

I am officially on my sabbatical! It started last week but before I could really press into what God is leading me to, I realized I needed to decompress. I have heard that when you go scuba diving at a certain depth, you will need to slowly and methodically ascent from the depth. If you ascent too quickly, the body cannot adjust to the pressure and will experience decompression sickness commonly referred to as the “bends.”

While decompressing from ministry is not life-threatening as “the bends” can be, it’s still important. I decided I needed to take the time to decompress. As I struggled decompressing over the course of seven days, I learned or was reminded of some things in my life. Here’s some of the stuff I realized:

  • It is necessary for me to decompress before I can rest in the Lord.
  • Ministry is on my mind almost all of my waking hours and even as I try to sleep.
  • I need to have other interests that I enjoy other than ministry related matters.
  • I am wired or have become used to “doing” rather than “being.”
  • I need change. It hasn’t been the healthiest of mindsets.

I thank God for His leading to decompress. As I worked on removing all our kitchen cabinets, due to termites, tried to figure some semblance of order in our makeshift kitchen and bathroom dishwashing station, washing and polishing my car, fixing our screen door, working on all the details of our Japan adventure, washing and cleaning our living room rug, as well as other stuff, God was slowly helping me to let go of my “ministry mentality.” I guess being physically tired helps the process.

As the first week of the sabbatical ended, I felt a lot more ready to truly rest in Him. The primary focus of this sabbatical, learning to truly abide in Jesus, became a lot more important and motivating. I feel my spirit beginning to yearn for this. But I will need the help of the Holy Spirit to keep my focus and not worry about how quickly the days pass without noticeable improvement. I need His help to rest in the truth that this is a process, perhaps a lifelong adventure for me according to God’s timing, and the willingness of my heart. That’s the challenge for me.

Something that kept coming to mind over the last seven days is the importance of learning to decompress every week and really every day, and not just wait for a sabbatical. I kept thinking about Jesus and the pressurized life of ministry He lived while on earth. Some verses that came to mind.

“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” Mark 1:35

“Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them.” Luke 4:42

But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” Luke 5:16

“One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.” Luke 6:12

“Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives. There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.” Luke 22:39-40

“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” Mark 1:35

Something Jesus did on a regular basis was getting away from the pressures of ministry to decompress. I need to learn how to do that. In the busyness of ministry, it is vital to get away and decompress.

“Lord, like the disciples, I ask, “Teach me to pray.” And I also ask, “Teach me when to pray. Teach me to get away to spend time with you. To decompress from the pressures of ministry and just rest in your presence. You are the vine and I am but a branch. Teach me to abide in You.”

Another step…

a challenge revealed…and revisited

One of the real benefit in my journey to learn, or probably more accurate, to experience what it means to truly abide in Christ, is the lessons I learn about myself. Seeing myself for who I really am, the good, the bad and the ugly. And really more importantly, how God lovingly, gently, patiently, and yet persistently leads me to see myself and leads me to change. Seeing how God interacts with all the good, bad and ugly in my life helps me to lead and see others in a far better way.

Something I have struggled with for a long time has been the inability to disengage from “doing.” I am constantly doing. I am constantly thinking about doing. My mind is constantly doing. My soul is constantly seeking to do. God has been revealing to me how little I rest, not a rest from activity but resting in Him.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”   Matt. 11:28-30

Matthew 11 is very familiar to me, but I realize I don’t fully understand what Jesus is calling me to. I look at my life and it is not characterized by rest for my soul and an easy yoke and light burdens. The pattern of my life has been to work, continually engage in activities and service, whether as a leader/pastor, husband, father, or friend. It’s more a mindset and attitude than just mere activity. Sadly, even in prayer, or times with God in the Word, or even worship is about “work.” It’s about doing something. It’s an attitude of doing. It’s an attitude that has been a part of me for a long time, as long as I can remember. It’s an attitude that seduces me into thinking that “doing” is how I will feel like a successful person and a worthy follower of Christ. It’s something I learned from Elijah House called, “performance orientation.” It’s a faulty idea that a person has to earn the love of others.

My journey with Jesus has brought me a long way from where I was. He has administered much healing in my life. For that I am so grateful. So are the people around me. But alas I am a person still under construction. Recently, God has been revealing to me that abiding in Him is about rest, the kind Jesus was talking about in Matt. 11. He has revealed to me that instead of resting in Him, I go and go, work and work until I am exhausted, physically or emotionally or spiritually. Then instead of resting in Him, I just disengage. Maybe it’s sleeping more. Maybe it’s just vegging, forgetting about all my responsibilities and tasks. Maybe it’s just mindlessly watching Youtube or television. That is not rest, that is more like escaping and disengaging. Then, out of guilt or feeling the pressure of doing, I push myself to engage once again. Yes, I’m aware, keenly aware that living like that is not good or healthy. But more importantly, my Father in heaven knows and is leading me out.

I just read a quote from Eugene Peterson the Holy Spirit used to gently spank me.

Christian spirituality, the contemplative life, is not about us. It’s about God. The great weakness of American spirituality is that it is all about us: fulfilling our potential, getting the blessings of God, expanding our influence, finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can get an edge over the competition. The more there is of us, the less there is of God.   Eugene Peterson

Yup, there is it! The more there is of us, the less there is of God. So much of what I do is about me, not God. Even learning to abide in Christ has been about me! So there’s the challenge. How do I live a life where there is truly more of God and less of me? I mean to really live that way. I try to live and be aware of giving God the glory in all I do. I try to decrease so Christ can increase in my life. But, so often, even as I try to live with this  awareness, at the core, it’s still more about me. So therein lies the challenge.

Eugene Peterson said, “The more there is of us, the less there is of God.” Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” To live a life that is truly more about God and in doing so, discover the rest that Jesus is talking about. That is the challenge. And so, as I continue this journey of abiding in Christ, I take a step in response to Jesus’ invitation to come. I take a step to let Him teach me and find rest from my soul.

Less of me and more of God. Now that’s a great step for Lent. Thank you, Father. Thank you, Holy Spirit. And thank you, Lord Jesus. Please teach me to find rest for my soul.

another step…

more than a football game

Well, it’s been a couple days since our return from Phoenix. I thank God for His refreshment and goodness. God blessed in so many ways and it was truly a testimony of what life looks like when I choose to abide in Christ.

I find it funny that only now, I’m taking time to reflect upon the football game, which was the reason we went up in the first place. But again that is what abiding in Christ does. It puts everything in perspective. So what about the game? What was the blessings from being there? What did God teach me?

Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you. Ps. 25:4-5

What comes to mind are a number of things. First, I thank God for the opportunity and the blessing of being there. It was only the second NFL game I attended in my life. For Jo, it was her first. Having someone you know personally on the field playing is almost surreal. No, not almost, it is really surreal. Early on it was unbelievable to me, watching the game and realizing that it was Kirk Cousins on the field! It was exciting. But that excitement was quickly overtaken by a real sense of nervousness. Why? For the same reason it was exciting. It was Kirk on the field! It was Kirk trying to lead his team down the field. It was Kirk surrounded by huge, muscle bound men, attempting to plant him into the ground. Yes, excitement turned into nervousness. And I’m only an “uncle” from Hawaii. I can only imagine what his parents, Don and MaryAnn must feel every single game.

As the game progressed and the Cardinals continued to lead, a gnawing feeling filled my heart. I began to pray and ask God to bless Kirk and help him lead his team to victory. Not necessarily a bad thing, right? But I realized that the motivation was, well, weird, for lack of a better word. It was weird because I began to feel that if the Redskins lost, I would have let Kirk down because my prayers were ineffectual. I felt that he would be disappointed that we came all that way to pray and support him and we came up short. I came up short. If only I prayed more. Or better. Or like Aunty Sally! Now, as I write down my honest feelings, I feel like an idiot. I mean, who do I think I am, really. Do I really think that I have the power to control a game with MY prayers? So, so silly! But in the spirit of full disclosure and being totally honest with myself, that is what I felt.

But isn’t it like God to use situations like that to teach us? When we choose to humble ourselves and be honest with ourselves, God can come in and teach us valuable lessons, in this case, another lesson in abiding in Christ. I realized that when I am truly abiding in Christ, He puts things into perspective. He’s in control and I can just rest in Him and enjoy, in this case, a football game with a friend of ours playing. Even if they lose, God is in control and has the bigger picture in mind. Following the game, we visited with Kirk and although he was disappointed, majorly disappointed, he had come out of a really physical game healthy. I could see an inner strength and peace from God, a humble yet strong heart, and growing conviction that he was walking in a manner worthy of his calling. And I felt that even in the aftermath of a tough loss, there was so much to be thankful for because it’s than just about football. It’s about life and the journey of following and learning from God. I’m learning that abiding in Christ puts life in perspective.

I also learned how I can better pray for Kirk. The pressure and stress I felt about letting him down was but a miniscule taste of what he goes through week in and week out. The stress he feels day in day out, as a leader of the team and not wanting to let his teammates, family, friends, fans, and whoever else down. That weight must be almost unbearable. Now I can pray with a better understanding and feel for what he goes through. I find myself praying more that he would experience the joy of the Lord throughout his day and week. That he would experience the joy of abiding in Christ in a deeper way.

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Ps. 86:11

Looking back, I thank God so much for this now completed trip. In many ways, it has been life changing for me. Why? Not because of a football game. Not because of visiting a new place. Not because of a refreshing mini-vacation. It has been life changing because I experienced a taste of what it means to truly abide in Christ. A taste of the kind of life God wants me to live. I prayed that God would teach me and He did. I learned to rely on His faithfulness in greater ways. I pray that God would give me an undivided heart that I may fear and trust in Him and Him alone. I thank God for the taste of what it means to abide in Christ and to rely on His faithfulness.And having that taste, I want more. May I walk the rest of my life wanting more. More of a Savior who loves me with an amazing, unbelievable, and crazy love. Yup, it’s more than a football game.

Another step…

me, me, me, He, He, He, WE, WE, WE

As I sit here in a plane returning to Hawaii after a short but very, very nice vacation in Phoenix, I feel so blessed. As I reflect upon these past few days, I am encouraged by the huge difference choosing to abide in Christ has made. I would describe the difference as extraordinarily ordinary. I experienced God in extraordinary ways in what I would describe as ordinary situations. Now that shouldn’t surprise me because that is what God does. He enters the natural and makes it supernatural. He takes ordinary situations and makes them extraordinary with His presence and power. Over the past few days, I thank God for experiencing His presence and power in extraordinarily ordinary ways and situations.

Just being on this plane heading home has been quite extraordinary. In fact the flight to Phoenix and now heading back has been what I would describe as pleasant. I have never every described a flight as pleasant. I have always disliked flying, the thought of being cooped up for hours and hours in a rather uncomfortable seat. But these flights have been pleasant! I know this is the result of God’s hand and growing in abiding in Him. Trusting Him and following His leading has made all the difference in the world. I actually got some rest on the plane. I got some recreation, a crossword puzzle. I got some writing done. And before I know it, we are preparing to land. Wow! That’s God’s power and presence at work.

Looking back at the past few days, I would say the most exciting thing was seeing God move extraordinarily in ordinary situations. From His leading to the right hotel, which was truly a  sanctuary. Getting an unexpected upgrade to a junior suite didn’t hurt. All the divine appointments with people we met throughout our time there: Steve, the limo/taxi driver originally from Michigan, Casey the hardworking front desk employee, who Jo says will go a long way in her career, and Esmi at the Fossil store, celebrating the blessing of being employee of the month with a high five. Another ordinary time, meeting Kirk at his hotel, became extraordinary  as God showed up as we talked and prayed together. It was a very powerful time that God used in light of the tough loss that followed the next day. Having dinner and encouraging Don and MaryAnn in the Lord was another extraordinarily ordinary time. Then at the game, surrounded by Cardinal fans, feeling really intimidated cheering for Kirk and the Redskins and a few minutes into the game, Mike and Summer from Texas, come and sit right next to Jo. And Summer is a passionate Redskin fan, from Texas, if you can believe that! Well the next thing I know, Jo is talking with her and Summer flips out when she learns that Kirk is kind of like family to us. Then the ordinary  became extraordinary when Jo leans over and asks me to pray with her for Summer who has been trying to get pregnant. So there in the first quarter of Jo’s first NFL game, we pray for a new friend asking God to bless them with a child! Summer was so blessed she took a picture with Jo so she would remember when God’s blessing arrived. We met some friends of the Cousins on the way to the game and again God used Jo to encourage them in their walks with God.

Another really wonderful blessing was connecting with a high school classmate I haven’t seen since our grauation! God used Sara in so many ways during this short trip. She gave us her tickets to the football game, which were really great seats. She took us to Trader Joe’s to get some omiyage, stuff to take back home. As she drove us back to the hotel, Sara noticed a couple of homeless folks who had a handwritten note asking for a coat. She said she had one and made a mental note to find them the next day and give them her coat. For our flight home, she packed a healthy brea kfast for us. She’s a flight attendant and was heading home to see her mom on the same flight we were on. We were so blessed by her kindness. I saw a real life example of someone who exudes compassion and her example motivates me.  And she actually knows Joe Montana!!! We were blessed to pray with her, asking God to bless her and to give her wisdom for the future. And we will continue to pray for her that she would experience God’s love and faithfulness in her life.

The truth is, I could go on and on. It was truly an extraordinary time! And I haven’t written anything about the game, which was the reason we went to Phoenix. I’ll write more about that in another post. The most amazing thing is that this trip was  a testimony of what life can be if I would truly and continually abide in Him. Everything changes. My attitude. My feelings. My perspective. My focus. Instead of me, me, me, abiding helps me to focus on He, He, He. And when I do, I experience, WE, WE, WE! The ordinary becomes extraordinary. The natural becomes supernatural. And life with God, experiencing His presence and power becomes amazing.

“Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.”    1 John 2:24

Thanks, Father, for the wonderful testimony and taste of what abiding in Christ can be everyday. I pray that I would take heed. I pray that I would learn to truly abide, enter Your presence and stay there. That I would move from me, me, me, to You, You, You, and experience the joy of WE, WE, WE. I ask for your grace to walk in that way.  In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Another step…

my heart rejoices

Focus-the concentration of attention or energy on something. That’s a pretty cool definition of a word that is at the heart of abiding in Christ for me. Concentration is defined as gathering into one body, mass, or force. Attention is defined as the application of the mind any object of sense, representation or thought.

I realize how much my focus wanders. As I take time to abide and focus on Jesus, my concentration is often lacking. I find it trounding how scattered my focus and concentration can be. No wonder math was so hard for me. It took focus, concentration and attention. Same for chess.

But the more I think about it, there is something lacking in the definition of focus, concentration and attention. Yes it has much to do with my mind. Abiding in Christ is about focusing and concentrating and giving attention with my mind. Yes. No question. But it also is a matter of my heart. It’s about focusing and concentrating and giving Jesus the attention of my heart.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. Ps. 13:5

A very intriguing verse in the Bible for me is found in Ps. 16:7, where the Psalmist is saying that he will praise the Lord and at night, his heart instructs him. The takeaway for me is that his heart leads and guides him to praise God. His heart teaches him to praise and really to abide in Christ. It really resonates with me because so often, it’s at night that I stop and look back on the day and my heart rejoices in God’s salvation and love for me.  It’s my heart that spurs me on to give praise to Him.

“I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.”                                       Ps. 16:7

I am going to try to take time to focus my heart as I abide in Christ. Instead of just thinking about the things I am thankful for, I will ask myself, “How does it feel knowing that God has been so faithful?” Instead of just thinking about who God is and His great love for me, I will ask myself, “How does feel to know that the Lord God Almighty really and truly loves me?” I think that is what the Psalmist was getting at when he wrote,  “My heart rejoices in your salvation.”

As I think back on the past few day I see God’s fingerprints all over our trip to Phoenix. From a great staff who allowed me to go on this trip. From the love and care of our elders who provided much to make it possible. From making the flight to Phoenix a very pleasant one. In leading us to the perfect hotel to stay. In all the ministry opportunities He set up with divine appointments. For Chipotles. In spending fun times with Don and the Cousins family. In seeing Kirk play in person for the first time. Seeing a high school friend for the first time in 40 years and being able to spend some time with her. The weather. His peace throughout. It was a testimony of God’s faithfulness and love for us, His kids. As I think about these past few day, my heart rejoices in His salvation. My trust grows deeper in His unfailing love. As I get ready for bed, my heart instructs me and leads me to praise and abiding in His presence. I feel so blessed that Jesus my Lord would lead in such a way and all I needed to do was to abide in HIm, trusting in His unfailing love. My heart rejoices! What a nice feeling as I return home. Thanks, Jesus!

Another step…

God smiles!

Wow! I am finally making time to write some thoughts again. A few days turned into a few weeks. How easy it is to neglect writing thoughts. So much has happened! And being as honest as I can, sadly not much has happened as well. That’s a funny thought. How can so much happen and at the same time so little has happened? As I think about that, I realize it’s another important lesson in abiding.

So much has happened! There was the ministry transition that has taken place since Jared left to Makapala and the preparation for Pastor Sunny’s arrival. I got sick and it knocked me out for a week or so. Then I got a relapse and that knocked me out again! There were special events and a bunch of regular meetings and gathering that added to the festivities. And if you add on the challenge of getting a good night of sleep, what you have is a pretty good case for why I haven’t take the time to write down some thoughts. And far more important than that, you have a pretty strong case for why it’s so difficult at times and seasons to truly abide in Christ. As a write all this down, I have myself almost convinced.

But alas, the truth is that it’s all a bunch of excuses. Everything and anything I say that keeps me from truly abiding in Christ are really excuses. Yes they are. How so? The truth is, everything I can list that keeps me from abiding are really opportunities to abide in a greater and deeper way.

Every ministry transition can be a great opportunity to press in and allow God to lead me through. Every thing, every plan, every idea, every decision I made to prepare for Sunny’s arrival could have been a wonderful opportunity to draw even closer to Christ. To hear God’s heartbeat for next steps. To hear His voice. To see His leading. To see Him personally prepare for Sunny’s arrival. Being sick is a time to just bask in my Savior’s presence. Resting in His care and healing, which is much better stressing over what course of action to take, what medication to take, all the work that is not getting done, or how long is this darn thing going to take. An overcrowded calendar is an opportunity to see how God is going to get me through it all. It can be a real testimony of His faithfulness in my life, His hand and presence, active in my life. What I easily say are excuses are really golden opportunities to abide in Christ.

But looking back, what comes shining through, more than the thoughts of what could have been, is something really wonderful and fills me with such wonder. What comes shining through is the incredible, patient and amazing love of my Father in heaven. He didn’t scold me. He didn’t ask me why I haven’t learned this yet. Why I mess up in this same way, time and time again. As I look back, He looks back with me and smiles. He smiles that I am learning to recognize all the opportunities that are before me to abide in Christ, even if it is after the fact. God smiles at me.

The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.  Zeph. 3:17

What a precious thing! As I go through things and learn stuff the hard way, my Father is there. And He loves me. And He smiles!

Smile on me, your servant;  teach me the right way to live.  Ps. 119:135

Another step…

hi, my name is…

“Hi, my name is Mark and I’m a …….” As I am sitting here praying and entering God’s presence, that thought came to mind. How would I introduce myself? At this time, at this moment, I honestly think I would say, “Hi, my name is Mark and I’m a leader who is more fragile than I would care to admit.”

frag’ ile – easily broken; brittle; frail; delicate; easily destroyed.

I don’t like feeling  fragile. Easily broken. Brittle. Frail. Delicate. Easily destroyed. Each a sad description. Then you apply that to someone who is supposed to be a leader. A leader who is easily broken. A brittle leader. A frail leader. A delicate leader. A leader who is easily destroyed. That’s just great! And yet, fragile is what comes to mind when I think of where I am.

The truth is, leading is hard, at least for me. I care about people. I care about how they feel. I care about what they say. I care about what they do. And I admit I walk a very fine line between truly caring about others and caring about what others think of me. The Bible calls that “the fear of man.” Caring about others leads me to do things that are good and healthy. Caring about what others think about me leads me to do things that are unhealthy, especially to me. It’s a fine line that I need to gain greater awareness of when I cross that line. Much of the fragility I feel stems from that unhealthy care of what others think of me. To some, that’s silly, but that is the challenge I face, especially as a leader.

Now couple that with something else I feel…passion! There is a passion in my heart to walk in everything God has for me. To be the leader that He has called me to be. To truly and fully walk in a manner worthy of my calling. To see as many people as I can walk in God’s call for their lives. I live for that. I would die for that, I think. It’s that passion to walk in God’s call and to see people become all that God created them to be that keeps me going. It’s what motivates me to continue to step out in faith and become the leader God has called me to me. Fragile and passion. What a crazy combination!

Now here’s the revelation. I realize that this is part of the process of truly abiding in Christ. In order to abide, I need to be honest with myself. I need to go to God just as I am. I need to go to God with all my frailties. The truth is, He knows me inside and out anyway. I am realizing that feeling fragile is a step closer to where I need to be.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Cor. 12:9-10

When I am weak, then I am made strong. I want to be strong. Not as the world describes strength. I want to my heart to continue to be soft. I don’t want a harden heart or a thicker skin. I want to be strong like how Jesus was strong. I want to experience a strength that is supplied by grace. And if God’s power works best in weakness, then I am on the right track! How wonderful it will be when I can actually take pleasure in my weakness. When I can take pleasure in the insults of others. When I can take pleasure in the hardships, persecution, and troubles I suffer for Christ. When criticisms  or the disapproval of others do not affect me like it does today. When I can face all that, not with a hard heart or thick skin but in a strength that is found in God’s amazing grace.

The more I take steps on this journey, the more thankful I am to God for lovingly leading me. I can see that it’s more than just communing with God in a deeper way. It’s living life from a far greater perspective. It’s living life with a far greater power. It’s being, “glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” It’s about tapping into the power to live and walk in a manner worthy of my calling.

“Father, help me to see life through your eyes in a greater way. Help me to take pleasure in my weakness. Help me to be a conduit of your grace and if your power works best in weakness, so be it. I thank you for my weakness. I thank you for my fragility. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Thank you!  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

another step, a big step!

a note: I believe this is still going to post on FB even though I said that I would be taking a break. I don’t know how I got this linked up to FB and not sure how to unlink it. So for now, I guess it will continue to post on FB. As I said on FB, I will be taking a break from FB so I won’t be checking things on there. Thanks!