Category Archives: Sabbatical 2017

Ash Wednesday Thoughts…

Because I’m on sabbatical, this is the first time in years that I won’t be administering the ashes on the foreheads of my church family. I’m glad to be on sabbatical, but I’m sad to miss this. It’s one of the most intimate and meaningful things I do with my church family. Look each of them in the eye, remind them that they are dust, and exhort them to repent and follow Jesus.

My Ash Wednesday observance today consisted of – among other things – listening to a sermon on Romans 1 by the late Mark Ashton, Vicar of St. Andrew the Great in England. He died of cancer on Easter morning in 2010. Maybe in another post I’ll share some of his words about receiving a terminal cancer prognosis. They’re profound and moving. But today, I want to share some of my notes from his sermon on Romans 1. They’re profound too and helped me once again see the significance of observing days like Ash Wednesday. The notes are raw – I didn’t edit them for this post. So, please bear with me. I hope their significance will hit you like they did me today.

THE GOSPEL: Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The Gospel shows us a right/righteous God acting rightly/righteously to make us right/righteous before Him.

How could God be just in declaring human beings innocent when human beings are guilty? This was exactly what unjust judges did and do in the courts. Taking bribes and declaring guilty people innocent. Is God like that? NO! In the cross, God paid the full penalty by putting Christ on the cross. So, his holiness, righteousness, and justice remain intact.

The quote from Habakkuk in verse 17 reminds us that God has ALWAYS dealt like this with His people. In the OT and NT, the man who would be right with God has had to rely solely on God to grant him that relationship of rightness. By faith from first to last.

GOD’S WRATH: Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

The Gospel is necessary because there is such a thing as the wrath of God. This is “God’s wrath poured out from heaven.” It’s not just some impersonal cosmic process of cause and effect – like karma. God is not some morally neutral spectator of some moral process. It’s nonsense to say that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. Sin has no separate existence except as an act of rebellion carried out by rebels (human beings). And how does a rebellion get quashed…by removing or changing the rebels. Sin has no existence except by the thoughts, words and deeds of a sinner. Psalms repeatedly says that God hates sinners. There is no such things as a rebellion as an abstract thing. There are only rebels who rebel. There is no sin for God to hate; there are only sinners. Remove us from the universe, and you have removed evil. That’s why the Bible is so vague about where sin (beginning with the serpent) came from – so that you and I don’t pass the buck. Where does evil come from? Our hearts.

This is why the Gospel is so necessary – and those of us who have it are obligated to share it. Because people aren’t indifferent to God in their sin. They are rebellious and objects of God’s wrath. Without faith in Christ and the receiving of God’s grace thru Christ, we are enemies of God…and God is our enemy. An in all irony, God is also our only hope.

The Big Island

Michelle and I just returned from a week on the Big Island of Hawaii. Michelle had never been to the Hawaiian Islands before. I had 2 layovers in O’Ahu on my way to and from Guam 25 years ago when I spent the summer on Guam doing my college communications internship with Trans World Radio. My layover in Honolulu on the way out consisted of a night in a hotel and an attempted trip to Pearl Harbor that landed me at the gate of the military base and not the tourist site. Never saw it. On the way back, I went to Waikiki Beach for a few hours, accidentally fell asleep on the beach, and flew home horribly sun burnt. So, my Hawaiian experiences thus far have not been good! This trip was different.

First of all, I was there with my wife. That’s always a good thing as I remember being 21 years old on Waikiki Beach and feeling horribly alone as I watched young couples enjoying their romance in tropical paradise.

Secondly, this was a vacation – not a layover, so we had a chance to really explore the beauty of the island. (You can click on each picture for a better look.)

Our resort was located in Kona, which is on the west side of the island where the sun shines 350 days a year and the average temperature year-round is 85 degrees. That was nice! Here is the view from our balcony on the 4th floor.

On one of the days, we drove across the island (about 75 miles) to Hilo – where it rains a lot. And it did. All day. But, the moisture produces incredible waterfalls and plush green forests, and on our way there, we drove under a 13,000+ ft. mountain peak that was snow covered. Here are a few pictures of our day in Hilo – including visiting an active volcano, that when the clouds lifted, volcanic fire and lava could be seen.

One of the things we were really excited to do there was zip-line. There is a zip-line course on the north end of the island that takes you through a dense forest anywhere from 65 to 110 feet high. Michelle was really stoked to do this, and I was very encouraging of her stokedness…but inside, I was pretty apprehensive. Don’t get me wrong, I love the thrill of a good zip-line, but it’s standing on the small and packed tree stands that get me. Our group had 7 zippers and 2 guides, so at times, there were 9 of us standing on each small tree stand. We were securely fastened to the line at all times, but standing on the edge of these stands looking 100 feet down was a bit of a challenge for me. I survived – yea even thrived – but some of the high parts were really high! Here are some pictures.

And of course, it wouldn’t be Hawaii without the beaches. On the Big Island, there are some very diverse beaches – from rocky, lava beaches to soft sandy beaches. We spent time at both. The lava beaches were not as good for swimming, but the scenery and wildlife there were amazing. And the sandy beaches were incredible for swimming and boogie boarding, but the waves were pretty wicked at times. Take a look.

Lava Beach

Sandy Beach

There was a luau almost every night at our resort, and even though Michelle and I didn’t splurge to do the meal before (too expensive) we did get to see the show afterward – and it was pretty amazing. We could see (and hear) it from our balcony, and other than a few trees in the way, we had a great seat.

And finally, perhaps our favorite thing of all about our Hawaiian experience was watching the sunset every night. At our resort, we had a front row seat to the beauty. We actually made sure to be back at the resort each evening to see it. Pictures don’t do it justice, but this was the best I could do.

Grandbabies, More Food, and Politics (Sort of…)

My day today began with my grandson. A perk of my sabbatical is that I’m able to spend more time with my family – especially my grandbabies. Romeo is grandbaby #3 (of 4 with Danae due in May), and his mama had an appointment, so she brought him to me. I don’t think there’s anything better than grandbabies, and Romeo is a really good one!  We had a great time together.

I did some more cooking today, and this dish was better than the one I did on Monday. Garlic parmesan chicken was my next experiment, and Michelle agreed – it was really good! Here’s the recipe, but even more important…here’s the picture!

I plan to do a lot of reading on my sabbatical, and I decided to begin with one of my favorite pastors – a mentor of mine from the late 1800’s, Charles Spurgeon. I’m reading An All-Around Ministry, which is a book of the chapel addresses he gave to his pastoral students at the college he founded for future pastors in England. Ironically, I read this on the day that I watched Donald Trump give his first press conference as President-elect. I have no plans of getting political on you, but Spurgeon’s words to pastors back then hit a resounding cord with me today.

“Politically, we have come back to a condition in which there will be a respect for righteousness, justice, and truth rather than for self-assertion, national gain, and conquest. We shall, I trust, no longer be steered by a false idea of British interests, and the policy which comes of it; but by the great principles of righteousness, justice, and humanity. This is all I want to see: parties, as such, are nothing to us nor individual statesmen, except so far as they represent right principles. We are for those who are on the side of justice, peace, and love.”


My day ended with a bit of an emotional hit…and a victory. First, the emotional hit.

My dad passed away in 2013. He was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in the fall of 2012 and was gone by early 2013. I still feel the pain and the loss to this day. My sister posted this picture on Facebook this evening – a picture I hadn’t seen in years – and it sent me down memory lane. I don’t remember this specific day, but I vividly remember the night before. It was Christmas Eve 1975 (I think), and I was 5 years old. I must have been pretty excited about Christmas, because I remember waking up and walking out to the family room to discover my mom putting presents under the tree. I remember seeing the Yogi the Bear doll under the tree before my mom frustratingly sent me back to bed. I don’t remember if I was upset or if my mom was upset about the way she sent me back to bed. All I remember is that she came into my room a bit later and gave me Yogi to sleep with that night. I slept with him every night for many years after that.

And this is the victory…

Max and newcomer Vido sleeping together on the same pallet! Vido arrived a month ago as a birthday gift for Michelle from me and the kids, and Max was none too happy. However, over the last few weeks, Max has warmed up a bit, and for the first time tonight, he allowed Vido to share his coveted pallet next to my desk in my home office. I think this is going to work!

Retreating, Eating, and Confessing

Michelle and I just returned from a wonderful weekend at Desert Harbor Retreat. We’ve been there a few times now, and each time we go, we are blessed, refreshed, and encouraged. The location is breathtaking, the accommodations are perfect, the food is incredible, and the wise counsel we receive from Raymond and Wesley Jo Linam is invaluable. Desert Harbor is open to anyone, and Michelle and I can’t recommend it to you enough. Take some time to get away to reflect on God’s goodness and be renewed by booking a stay there. Here are a few pictures that you click for a better look.

We were given much to consider, pray about, and work toward while we were there. Among many other things we were counseled to consider doing during my sabbatical, we were encouraged by Raymond and Wesley Jo to cook together. They are such good cooks, and the meals they provide their guests are very healthy and VERY delicious. Unfortunately, Michelle had to return to work today, so I took up the cooking challenge myself. We will be cooking together in the coming days, but I just couldn’t wait. Last night, we discussed 3 new meals we’d like to try, and I hit the grocery. Took me over an hour to find everything we needed, but it was so worth it. I made Quinoa Risotto with Carrots and Asparagus – a crock pot meal that was very easy to make and VERY easy to eat! I’m a novice, so I needed to start with the crock pot! You can find the recipe for it here. If you have a healthy meal you love, please send me the recipe at

As the delicious smell of the meal slowly poured out of the crock pot, I spent some good time in the Word and in prayer. Part of my devotional rhythm consists of a time of confession.  There’s a prayer of confession I often pray from an old puritan book called The Valley of Vision. It is such a thorough and powerful prayer that encompasses so much of what I want to and need to confess to the Lord regularly. I want to share it with you in hopes that you will make this a regular prayer of confession too.

Holy Lord, I have sinned times without number, and been guilty of pride and unbelief, of failure to find Your mind in Your Word, of neglect to seek You in my daily life. My transgressions and short-comings present me with a list of accusations, but I bless You that they will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ. Go on to subdue my corruptions, and grant me grace to live above them. Let not the passions of the flesh nor lustings of the mind bring my spirit into subjection, but rule over me in liberty and power.

I thank You that many of my prayers have been refused. I have asked amiss and do not have, I have prayed from lusts and been rejected, I have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness. Go on with Your patient work, answering ‘no’ to my wrongful prayers, and fitting me to accept it. Purge me from every false desire, every base aspiration, everything contrary to Your rule. I thank You for Your wisdom and Your love, for all the acts of discipline to which I am subject, for sometimes putting me into the furnace to refine my gold and remove my dross.

No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin. If You should give me choice to live in pleasure and keep my sins, or to have them burnt away with trial, give me sanctified affliction. Deliver me from every evil habit, every accretion of former sins, everything that dims the brightness of Your grace in me, everything that prevents me taking delight in You. Then I shall bless You, God, for helping me to be upright.

Maximize the Benefit

With my sabbatical comes a new 6-month “rhythm.” My daily and weekly rhythm of ministry is being replaced with a new daily and weekly rhythm. Because I’ve been immersed in ministry for the last 10 years, switching to this new rhythm is a challenge. The elders of my church had me make a plan several months ago for what my life would like like these 6 months, and that has helped, but the transition is not that easy.

One of the pieces of my ministry rhythm that I will not change during my sabbatical is my weekly meeting for prayer with Peter Briggs. For 10 years, Peter and I have met weekly to pray together. Sometimes, we’ve been joined by others, but rarely has a week gone by when we haven’t met. This rhythm is just too important not to continue. Today Peter prayed that I would “maximize the benefit” of my sabbatical. He has always had a way with words, but this phrase especially impacted me. I immediately wrote it down and have been thinking about it all day. This is what I desire to do. I desire to maximize the (wonderful) benefit (for which I am so thankful to Foothills) of my 6-months away.

This weekend, Michelle and I will travel to the mountains outside Albuquerque for a weekend stay at Desert Harbor Retreat where we will receive our first session of counseling and life coaching. I plan to press into this phrase with the counselors there to get their guidance on how I can best “maximize the benefit” of my sabbatical – spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Would you please pray for us this weekend that we would learn how to do this? Thanks!

Sabbatical: Day 1

Day one. A Sunday. It was weird not getting up this morning and doing my final preparation to lead worship and preach at Foothills. This is going to take some getting used to…

My in-laws are in town, so all of my kids and grandbabies came over for brunch. We watched football together, and then after the Steelers victory, Michelle and I took her parents on a beautiful drive to Chimayo, NM where we visited the El Santuario de Chimayó – a Roman Catholic church built in the early 1800’s.  The Christmas lights were still up making the already beautiful location even more beautiful.


After spending some time looking around, we drove over to the Rancho de Chimayo restaurant for dinner. This is the second time Michelle and I had been there having taken the elderly couple Michelle cares for there a couple months ago. The ambiance was wonderful and the food excellent. When we walked out of the restaurant, we were greeted with a fresh dusting of snow. A perfect ending to a wonderful evening.