2017 Running Review

Almost 365 days ago, I ran an 11k in North Carolina on 1-1-17. Not a whole lot of those offered. So why did the race coordinators plan that? The mantra was do a little more, which I translated, push yourself. So instead of running traditional 5ks or 10ks, we did 6ks and 11ks. I wasn’t terribly excited that morning, though. Two days prior I had some ridiculous stomach virus unlike anything I’ve ever had. So without much energy I lined up at the start line. Thanks to good training and raw stubbornness I managed to finish first in my age group.

What I took away from that experience was the goal to do a little more throughout this year in my running. So in setting a total mileage goal for the year, instead of 1,000 I set the goal for 1,111. Happy to say I met that, and a little more (1,133).

In my blog entry on January 17, the word I set my mind on for 2017 was thrive, and for the most part I did. Being a numbers guy, here are a few of my stats:

  • Completed 7 races: 5k, 10k, 11k, and four half marathons
  • Checked off 6 states on the goal to running in all 50: AR, DE, IN, KY, NC, TN (Total stands at 15)
  • Total miles for the year: 1,133 (For the last 9 months, mileage increased from prior month making December the highest total month for the year).

Looking into next year, my phrase is this-More of the Same. Here are my goals and current plans:

  • Total mileage: 1,200
  • Run an ultra marathon-(50k, 31 miles)
  • Check off at least 3 more states-(my eyes are on MS, OH, PA)

Running may not be your thing. Whatever your thing is, how did 2017 go and what do you want to achieve in 2018? 


Real Sabbath: God’s Sovereignty

My latest reading has been on the subject of Sabbath. Why? It’s a curious subject; we all need it; and I’m putting together a coaching program on the subject.

The two books I’m reading through this month are excellent; they’ve made the resource list for the program. Here are links to them: The Rest of God and Rhythms of Rest.

To give you a taste of the goodness of these books and what you could look forward to in a program on this subject, here’s a quote from chapter four of The Rest of God:

Real Sabbath, the kind that empties and fills us, depends on complete confidence and trust. And confidence and trust like that are rooted in a deep conviction that God is good and God is sovereign.

To give the reader a practical way to seek the sovereignty of God and therefore achieve an attitude of Sabbath, the author gave this challenge based on the storyline found in Acts 3-4 (you might want to read that now):

To practice the sovereignty of God today when you pray, start with God. Survey what he has made. Recite what he has done. Proclaim who he is.

So I tried that this afternoon as a journal entry. Give it a shot and see if your mind and spirit aren’t entered into a deeper place of trust and confidence. 

The Gift of Balance: Ministry and Service (Part 2)

(This is part two of the final topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. At the end of this entry are suggested resources.)

Tonya: The million dollar question is, “How do you distinguish God’s plan?” If we are making God first and really trying to follow the Holy Spirit, one thing is to pay attention to what’s in your heart, the passions of your heart. Pray that he will open and close doors. It doesn’t mean you won’t miss the mark sometimes, but then you have the chance to recalibrate. We don’t have to go forward fearfully; we can just go forward.

John: I thought about that question by comparing my plans to God’s plans, what characterizes them. So for instance, my plans tend to be my first choice and God’s plans tend to not be my first choice. The reason for that is my plans tend to not require a whole lot of risks, they are comfortable and fit naturally; God’s plans tend to require me to trust him more and to have courage. So for me, I have to say, “Just because it looks good and looks easy doesn’t means it is God’s plan.” God’s plans tend to require me to figure out new boundaries and to step out in courage. They mature and grow me. In that talent parable concept, I shouldn’t try to hide talents as much as allow them to be worked on and developed and let God take care of wherever they go and accomplish. That’s not easy, but the more I live in it the more fulfilled I am; his work is getting accomplished, not mine.

Tonya: He doesn’t always make it easy. He likes us to stretch.

Mark: Well, it’s at that point that we are really trusting and leaning on him, not what we can manage and control on our own.

Where I am at this point about this question about my plans versus God’s plans, first, there are times when God asks us to specifically do things, and as his follower, there really is just one choice. Even Jonah ultimately got to yes. Recognizing his voice and learning to listen over time makes it easier to hear those when they come. I also think there are lots of other opportunities where we just simply love others. There’s no law on how to do that. There are suggestions and guidelines throughout the New Testament of what that might look like, but really we have a lot of creativity and flexibility in being unique by how we were designed-like what you were saying, Tonya, following the passions of our heart. He’s already given us permission, wired us with gifts and passions to do that. Loving people inside of who he’s made us to be is part of being obedient to what he wants us to do.

Tonya: God gives us room and choices. When my husband first graduated from Bible college and we were trying to choose where we were go and sending out resumes, a couple of opportunities came that made it a tough decision. Everything about them was good. I remember asking, “How do you know which one?” A pastor friend once said, “God may be saying this is the direction I have for you, but which one you choose is your choice.” So I think there are those times.  I also believe there are times he is very specific about you needing to be at a certain place. I think he gives us freedom at times in some choices.

John: As you say that, I think that may go back to personality as well. I don’t live in the idea that I have to have 100% approval before I’ll step out. I know as I’ve moved from a church position to the next church position, there’s a moment of solid peace in that process that I know I’m supposed to be there next or I’m supposed to leave this place now even if I don’t know where the next place is. I’ve learned to wait for that moment or I’m not moving yet. That’s for me. Someone else could be willy nilly and be totally fine. I need to have that peace about those big ministry movements before I’m going to move in that direction.

Mark: I can relate to that, for sure. My thinking has also expanded into what Tonya was talking about. I often have this visual of a bowling alley. There may not be a whole lot of room in a lane, but there’s room to move left and right in the lane. I think of God sometimes as the bumper guards that keep us moving down the lane. Sometimes we drift right or left, but the guard rails keep us moving in a specific direction with freedom to move left and right in that lane.

John: I feel it’s important to add that we can’t always wait for the green light. We can’t always have every little jot and tittle clear before we’ll say yes. There are times we know enough, and it’s all we need to know. God will take care of step #29. If you know step #1 and #2, go on. You’re not going to get #29 because he’s not ready to give it to you. Those moments are trust tests on my part. “He’s given me the green light. Why am I not moving?” 

Tonya: That seems to flow us into our final question we wanted to discuss, which was “What one belief best fortifies your balance?” I asked my husband that and he said, “Do it Jesus’ way.” His example was he did what the Father asked him to do. That’s it. He came and did what the Father asked him to do. He discipled people, spent time with them one on one, and he took rest. That was his example. I always love pointing out that he was in ministry three years. He discipled twelve, and eleven of them then created the church which still exists. He walked side by side. He rested. That’s my fortification for balance. Do it Jesus’ way.

John: The scripture that came to my mind for this question was 1 Corinthians 6, “We are not our own. We are bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in what we do and in our bodies.” My best fortification is to be reminded that I am not my own. You could say Jesus’ modeled that also. He gave up everything for everybody. Another way to test myself when I’m not responding well to either current ministry or something new that I feel like God is pushing me to, “What is it I’m holding onto that’s not really mine or shouldn’t be mine?” That is a challenging statement to people in our culture. There’s this tension between “it’s not about you” but “of course it’s about me.” This presents the challenge to figure it out for myself, “How do I live in a surrendered place rather than a selfish place?”

Mark: I’m thinking, John, that takes a lifetime of practice to perfect. For me, the undergirding belief is twofold. Kingdom living is full-time, whether it’s called work or service. What works for me as someone wired to be drawn toward legalism, what helps me to stay grounded is just two laws that we’ve already referenced: Love God and Love Others. If I stay focused on that, I 100% agree with what you said, Tonya, things just work out the way God wants them to work out. They may not be my plans or expectations, but certainly better because it works out the way God wants it to work out.

Tonya: Yeah, it may not always be comfortable or feel good, but in the end it’s what he’s doing. Jesus always did what the Father wanted, but it certainly wasn’t always comfortable. He had to go through torture. It doesn’t mean it’s all going to be gravy, but it is all going to be good.


Suggested Resources:




The Gift of Balance: Ministry and Service (Part 1)

(This is part one of the final topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. This entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)

Tonya: All of us as Christians are called to some kind of service, in some capacity. The service may not be within the church, but it doesn’t mean you’re not serving. The right mindset is determining what God has for me and my family to do. Like when I’ve talked about hockey, those were moments when we are able to share with other families and coaches through what God had for us. It is seasonal, so we could also ask, “What does God have for me in this season, in what capacity am I supposed to serve?” This should take into account our gifts both individually and as a family.

Mark: Kingdom work is not constrained to church work. Often there is this imbalance or perception that our service is contained within a church activity. As Jesus’ followers, we are challenged to be doing kingdom work all the time, regardless of where we are. That is a key mindset for this topic.

John: When you mention seasons, Tonya, it reminds me of teaching on spiritual gifts in church membership classes and helping people find places of ministry.  One thing that is very clear is giving them the freedom to think seasonally. Maybe right now they don’t have the time to do the ministry they would like to do for multiple reasons. It’s also possible they’ve outgrown their current ministry of involvement.  They may be ready to move into a different type of ministry or into a different level of leadership. As believers grow, ministry is probably going to look different.

To answer this question, I was drawn to Matthew 22 where Jesus answered the question about the greatest commandment by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and the second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself.” With that mindset, ministry is not confined to a location or an organization. My ministry mindset is to love God with all of my being. Out of that flows how I am to love others. I mess that up all the time. When I realize I’m off track, this is my marker to come back to. “Where am I off track on these two things?”

TonyaI’m a strong believer that if we really do take that first commandment seriously the rest of it all falls into place. We will truly be trying to hear the Lord, to do His will. We are going to make mistakes because we are human, but we are going to know it right away because of conviction. Everything we’ve talked about is about keeping God first and truly loving Him with our whole being. We’ll better love our spouse, our children, even the person in line at the store.

John: This has been a particular step of obedience for me this year. In thinking about what to do during my sabbatical, I had to work through what I wanted to do versus what God wanted me to do. If I had done what I wanted, it would have looked differently out of my own selfishness. When I put myself back in the space of answering who am I living for when I’m given an opportunity to do something, who am I to say no? If I do the Jonah thing and run in the opposite direction, my balance is wrong because it’s all about me.

Mark: That makes me think of a book I read earlier this year, Love Does by Bob Goff. His personality is so different than mine, so I lived vicariously through him. What he says in the book is, “God presents me with opportunities all the time, and I want to just keep saying yes. I don’t want to miss out on the adventure that he has for me.” When we say no to something God is inviting us into, we miss the adventure he wants to take us on and how he wants to love and bless us others through what he’s asked us to do.

John: So that brings up a big question. Why do some of us tend to be the “no replier” and some tend to be the “yes replier”? I tend to be the no replier. Now, once I’m in I’m all in, you know, get out of my way. Getting me all in may take a little while. Whereas other people, like what you’re describing, are on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Tonya: There’s so much that goes into that-personality, past history, so many pieces that go into that. That’s a hard one to answer.

John: Maybe we can come back to that next year after we’ve had time to think about it.

Tonya: Yeah, that’s a book, a title to a book.

Mark: Actually it is a title to a book. It’s called Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly. His assertion is beyond just responding to God, but certainly set in that content. We often tend toward resisting happiness; and in the context of following God, it’s being the person and doing the things He’s created us to be and to do. There’s a tendency for some of us to resist the change or the difference or the invitation or the unknown. When we lean into that is where we can find happiness. Some people may have that figured out or are wired that way, and other people, like myself, tend to struggle. My tendency is to resist at first; and then when it’s really important, God makes it very clear and then I make the decision to be all in also.

John: To be honest, I don’t look at these things as my avenue to happiness. I’d have to sit in that and marry the two together. My brain doesn’t naturally marry them together.

Mark: To play the other side, there are people who say yes all the time for the wrong reasons. They say yes looking for some validation, to earn something that can’t be earned through doing, or other emotional or psychological reasons. You can say yes out of an unhealthy place and contribute to some unhealthiness.

John: That makes me think of something that, Tonya, you’ve probably also witnessed. I have seen multiple guys really feel convinced that they were called into church/pastoral work and within a short amount of time they realized they were wrong and crashed and burned.

Tonya: Yeah, going in for the wrong reasons. Maybe they were a PK and felt expected to follow in dad’s footsteps, or the idea that they can only have impact for the Lord in ministry through church work. I had a pastor say to me not long ago that he has no passion for his people and he really despises being a shepherd. He was totally a square being pushed into a circle. He’s a professor; that’s what his passion is, not being a pastor.

John: To make that broader, you don’t have to be a church staff member to fall into that trap. Anybody can feel like they’ve been drawn into doing something and not fully aware of why they are saying yes. And once they get in, it doesn’t work, because of your analogy, Tonya, square and a circle.

Mark: My experience in this context is watching new believers say yes to everything and quickly get burned out. They were overbooked in this ministry space, and it wasn’t a good scenario for them.

Tonya: My husband was talking about this last night, how that pastors are doing so much of the work and people aren’t seeing themselves as helpers or servants. Some pastors also have a hard time giving up control in certain areas. Helping people find their gift and plugging into that one ministry, not ten, but the one ministry where they are gifted, the church that is plugged in like that, the labor is not overwhelming. People can get caught up in pleasing people instead of understanding what God has for them.

3 Heart Tests

(A post for the church-going reader)

This morning we were reminded in our American church to pray for believers attending church in Pakistan earlier this morning where terrorists struck. Terror striking churches around the world has certainly found it’s way to American soil. We know this in our heads. I’m wondering if it’s made it to our hearts.

Here are three heart tests we could personally administer to check:

  1. The heart purity test: Why am I here? Would I be here if I lived in constant threat because of my faith? 
  2. The heart condition test: How did I prepare myself before coming? What do my expectations about my church experience say about my heart’s condition?
  3. The heart openness test: What’s my level of focus and attention and engagement? What’s the posture of my heart to what I’m hearing, seeing, and feeling?

We live out of what’s in our hearts. We worship only at the level of our heart’s pure and open condition. May we enter our gatherings with ready hearts.

The Gift of Balance: Rest/Play/Sabbath (Part 2)

(This is part two of the fifth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. At the end of this post are suggested resources on this topic.)

John: What are the key components for balance in this part of our lives?

Mark: A couple of thoughts. One that Tonya has already expressed is that we are wired differently. We need to understand how we are wired and recognize what healthy is in terms of resting mind, body, and spirit. Another one is acknowledging and understanding that it is important.

I came up with this analogy of junk food. When we are hungry, we eat; but we don’t always eat the healthy foods. Our body and minds can be craving rest, so we have to feed ourselves healthy rest. Sometimes we feed ourselves junk rest where we are not fully disengaged or something like watching TV three hours a night and calling that rest. It’s not the same thing as unplugging from electronics or work, or going out for a bike ride or a run. So being able to distinguish between healthy and junk rest is also important.

Tonya: That’s really important.  I agree with that need to understand ourselves.  Like, I know what time of night my brain is shutting down. So it’s stupid for me to think I can push through and do a little more work, and I can’t.  If I try, I get frustrated or angry, and then I’m upset with people around me. So I have to know my body and set up my schedule to fit my body.  So I like that, knowing when you need rest and what kind of rest.

John: Using your junk food analogy, Mark, what is healthy food for you?

Mark: I have always been fond of sleep. I’ve often used the phrase, “Sleep is not overrated.” I’m in tune with what I need in terms of sleep. And if I don’t get it, I feel it physically, emotionally; I’m more irritable. Even 30-45 minutes in change of bedtime makes a difference the next day in how I feel.

On the flip side, I’m not so good with play. Part of me being comfortable and valuing play is continuing being present. Being in the moment to laugh, to see an opportunity with the kids or my spouse to be in the moment and just let go of everything else to be creative, whether it’s with a puzzle or a walk or a game, whatever it is to be in the moment.

John: What works in California?

Tonya: Well, we have lots of sunshine, just like you, so a lot of outdoor activities. I agree with the area of sleep; I have to get about eight hours of sleep. If I don’t get that, then I’m not good.  I also know that I need to be in my bed by 9 o’clock.  I might be reading, but I’m winding down. If I try to push past 10, it’s going to go all bad for me.

The other part for me is I need a quiet morning. I get up early, but I don’t necessarily like to talk to anybody. That’s my time with the Lord. I often take that time to go on prayer walks or sit and read in my favorite chair and read; that time helps me get my mind prepared for the day.  I don’t want to be up and moving fast.

Play has also been important to us as a family. Going outside and shooting hoops, just goofing around in the yard throwing a ball; that’s always been important to us. At times, the margin to do that was being lost with traveling with the boy’s hockey. So we had to adjust; sometimes that meant going early ahead of the team or stay a day late and just goof off. That was important to us, but we had to be intentional about it sometimes.

John: Following thoughts about sleeping needs, I read several years ago that the optimal hours of sleep is from 10-2.  That’s when your body most gets what it needs from sleep. When I started paying attention to that, I realized how helpful that was. So it’s rare that TV stays on past 10. I’m working more toward turning it off an hour or two ahead of that, which I believe is a key thing for a single person. If you allow it, TV can become in essence a companion, another voice in the room. So shutting that down let’s you start shutting down your mind, your emotions in order to give space for renewal to start.

Mark: In a similar way, I’m thinking about how noise can be a challenge in a family as well. We can all be together and yet there’s noise in the background, whether it’s music or TV.  I think it’s a struggle for families also, to feel like we have to have this constant companion of noise.  I’m driving in the car and I have the radio going. Why is that? Is it a habit? Is it healthy? Or do I need to unplug and rest from input and work on being comfortable in silence?

John: Which is anti-cultural. Everywhere you go you are inundated, maybe feel like you’re in Time Square all the time. Your house is where you can control that. That’s up to you, how inundated you and your family are going to be.

Tonya: From a counseling perspective, when it’s silent you have to deal with yourself, your thoughts. If that’s painful, you keep noise. So it’s something to pay attention to. “Why is this hard?” There are times, by the way, when it all has to be off in my car.  I love listening to worship music, but sometimes it needs to be silent.

John: I have to tell you about the best day of my month off in October. Mark, it was the day I left your house and drove to New York. It was a nine-hour drive. I had no structure to the day, other than I knew where my hotel was in New York. I hadn’t traveled that highway before, so I determined in my mind that I was going to enjoy this road that I haven’t been on before; I got off on exits that I was curious about. When I got to New York I realized I had never turned on the radio, never had music on, didn’t listen to any podcasts. It wasn’t intentional. It was just the rhythm that worked for the day. When I realized it, it shocked me. It was just me and God and what I was looking at. It was revelational. “I need to pay attention to that.  I feel quite refreshed, and the only input was what I was seeing through my windshield.”

Mark: That’s a great reminder of being present and being in the moment.

John: We’re talking a lot about day to day. For the person who is committed to a weekly Sabbath idea, what’s your thoughts on establishing that for you or your family?

Tonya: I’m a big believer in a day off from work, and that includes house/yard work. We are not just the lay-around-sleep family. It usually means some type of sport, watching or playing. At least one day that is disconnected from work. For me, it is about making it a family day.

John: How does spiritual connection happen in that time frame?

Tonya: Typically when they were growing up that was Sunday. We’d do church together; I liked to have a tradition for going and getting donuts or coffee on the way to church. After church, we might discuss the message, but that was it for us.

Mark: Our family rhythm has been a lot like Tonya has described. Monday through Friday was school and career work.  Saturday has tended to be house work, chores, whatever. Sunday we try to put that down and not to work. Sometimes we are more successful than others; it’s more a guideline than a rigid rule. Sometimes we shift days because of weather, but that’s been the rhythm we have pursued.

In my career, I don’t think I appreciated the importance of unplugging from work for a day until I’d go through really long days weeks at a time. Growing up I had this perspective of Sabbath being a very spiritual day. Practically when Monday through Saturday is jammed packed, Sunday or a day can be very beneficial to give your body a chance to heal and recover so you can hit Monday on a full battery and not running on empty.

In terms of spiritual, for a significant period of our lives it was traditional church attendance with processing and discussion afterwards. For the last ten years, it’s been more of the home context where we set aside time as a family that we label as “God time.” It involves many of the components in a church context just in a smaller setting. We’ve always prioritized the spiritual together as a family for at least a specific time in the week to indicate it is a priority.

John: I just got this imagery of you passing the offering plate around, just the five of you. You should try that just to see what happens.

Mark: We have joked about that at times.

Tonya: That’s not a bad idea because kids are expensive.

John: To answer this for myself, sure Sunday is the day. As a staff member, it can very much feel like a work day; it’s labeled one. I have to play around with other times.  That’s going to look different. Sometimes it’s Friday; sometimes it’s Saturday; sometimes it’s a mix of those two days. I have to be intentional. When I’m good about it, there’s nothing else on the day. It’s probably little engagement with other people; it keeps me from expending energy and resting. I’m trying not to take in too much because it moves my mind toward work. I have to find things that make me disconnect. Running is usually in there somewhere, but the rest of the day goes better if I leave it more unstructured since I am a very structured person.

Tonya: We’re talking about something that is very much a western culture problem. We have so much information bombarding us, and people are moving fast. These are things we know, but it’s still hard. We have to really work at rest. I think it’s much more about where we live.

Mark: I think you’re right. The two words coming to mind are doing, which is how our western culture is biased, versus being, which may be found more readily in an eastern culture. We are raised to do, but we are talking about being.

John: Shelly Miller in her book hones in on that quite a bit. There are some things that we do that are okay to do on Sabbath or while resting, but if we forget the need to just be, or have any intentionality to be, we are not getting the full effect of what the commandment is really all about.

Anything else come to mind for you that you have to focus on to maintain balance?

Tonya: My big motto lately is living out of your values. “Does your time, your money, your life reflect that? What’s the evidence in your life that matches what you’re stating?”

Mark: We have to give ourselves permission to do the things that are beneficial and healthy for us. That’s not selfishness. It’s more about recognizing God’s context for wholeness and healthiness requires these things. Because of this, then you are best able to bless others through your service, your creativity, your relationships, your time. The ripple effect cascades through your impact of creating legacy.

John: I’ll add to that the importance of giving yourself permission to say no. When you are asked to do things that interfere with your normal rhythm of rest, you need to be okay to say no or make rearrangements so your rest is not put aside. It can be tweaked but shouldn’t be put aside. If you have to say yes to something, where else are you going to say no to create balance.

Mark: The image that comes to mind is putting boundaries around rest, just like we’ve talked about putting boundaries around work.

John: And not to be legalistic. You determine what it is.  You and God work it out.  You know what feeds, restores, and refuels you. So don’t let anything else take that away from you.

Mark: Honor the Sabbath and keep that holy and set apart.


Suggested Resources:




The Gift of Balance: Rest/Play/Sabbath (Part 1)

(This is part one of the fifth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. This entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)

John: This topic brings a level of discomfort to most of us.  It’s foreign; we don’t do it well. Those kind of emotions. Does that ring true?

Tonya: It causes you to evaluate. All these conversations have been good for reflection and evaluating. “Where am I?”

John: So thinking through these three words-play/rest/sabbath-what are the differences?

Tonya: My mindset about sabbath has been changing a bit. But they’ve all gone together for me. Sabbath for me has meant I’ve been checked out of work and checked into fun with the family. So when I think about these three, they all intertwine for me.

Mark: When I thought through this I came back to the concept of rest, specifically rest for the mind (play), the body (rest), and the spirit (Sabbath). That encapsulated it for me.

John: That’s helpful because it’s important to know what we mean when we use these words. Just like that simple differentiation was helpful to you, it shows how all these elements are important.

Tonya: I say my views are changing because of the work I’ve been doing with different pastors who have different views. I like that layout also. You have to rest your body.  Playtime can be wonderful and refreshing, but it can also be exhausting physically.  So you have to have time of rest for your body, mind, and emotions, which may all look different.  I’m starting to see Sabbath as more of a personal time that is away from everybody and time with the Lord. That could be an hour in the morning, a whole day sometime in the month. But I’m starting to have a more spiritual approach to the Sabbath idea.

John: In a book I’m reading right now on this subject, the author mentions studies about how the brain requires periods of rest  There is an alternating period needed from structured work followed by unstructured rest. In some people’s minds, Sabbath may be a pretty rigid idea. “There are certain things I must do, or it’s not really Sabbath.” She’s presenting the idea that it can be unstructured, your brain may need it to be unstructured.

Mark: I’m not an expert in the science, but I’ve read enough to know that sleep is so beneficial for your brain. Your brain doesn’t stop; the rest of your body slows down, and your brain has the time to process, organize, and structure thoughts and memories. It’s amazing what your brain is doing while your body is sleeping.  Then there’s also the component of how sleep benefits the rest of your body-your organs, your health, your immune system, and particularly your heart. So that’s sounds a lot like what you’re reading.

John: She talks a lot about rhythm, the need to figure out the rhythm of life that you are wired for, what is physically and spiritually good for you. Ignoring it or not being aware of it is where many people fall into. We may not even understand it is a rhythm that we need.

Tonya: In one of our earlier conversations I referenced a book by Archibold Hart who has written a lot on sleep, how it rejuvenates us and how much sleep we really do need.

Mark:  In that aspect of play, until recently I don’t think I’ve had a full appreciation for play and what that is. My personality tends to be a little more serious, “color inside the lines” kind of thing. I’ve been reminded by articles, things Michael Hyatt has published, about the importance of play in the same way that sleep helps. By unplugging, you tap into creativity, which reminds me of what we used to do as kids. It’s a challenge as adults to reconnect with that in order to get the benefits to the mind and soul, to feed them.

Tonya: Along with that is the idea of laughter.  Laughter is such a healing thing as well. Learning how to laugh and let go of the stresses that we have through work is so powerful and rejuvenating to be able to handle the problems and have creativity.

John: Mark, you mentioned creativity. Since I’ve been back from being on sabbatical the month of October, people have asked me questions like, “Did you get what you needed? Do you feel refreshed?” I’ve answered that the creative juices have been flowing better and more naturally just because I was away from anything that had to do with life in Florida. The space for creativity was created. Taking time on a rhythmic basis is going to help all those juices keep flowing more naturally.

Tonya: The idea of just building in time for fun in your week, even a moment to take a longer drive home or go for walk, and allowing ourselves to do those things without feeling guilty. One of the things for me is to learn to relax and enjoy without feeling guilty.  There’s still a pile of work, but it’s okay because it’s not my work hours and I’m living out of that value. It’s okay to forget it and just relax and have fun without feeling guilty.

Mark: There’s an irony and a tension there.  If you make time for rest, then you can be more efficient, productive, and creative in all the areas of your life.  Whereas we tend to think that “I just need to work more, work through this creative block. I just need to push through it. I don’t have time to sleep because I have a deadline.” That thinking ends up being counterproductive. It’s irony that what we need is the opposite of what we think we should be doing.

John: As you say that, my immediate thought goes to napping. I’ve taken the time over the last several years to allow myself to listen to my body. On my day off if I find myself dozing off or having a hard time concentrating, that’s a sign to me to go take a nap and that’s fine. If it lasts thirty minutes or an hour, whatever.  I don’t set an alarm. I wake up when I wake up. That feels congruent with the idea of rhythm. If your body is giving you signs, pay attention.

Mark: What was that like, to give yourself permission to do that when you first started?

John: When I woke up, it felt fantastic. But I realized I don’t have a routine about this, and I’m going to give myself the permission to do this whenever and however often my body tells me it needs it.

Tonya: What this brings me back to is that rest and Sabbath looks different for everybody. The key is that you’re resting; you’re finding those times that you’re resting your body and your mind, having moments where you can laugh and not living under serious or heavy emotions all the time.

John: These thoughts are giving me flashbacks to growing up in the South in the 70’s. The culture definitely was built around the idea that there were things you don’t do on Sundays, like shopping or playing sports. Well, that didn’t mean when I became a teenager with my driver’s license that I always obeyed the rules; I’d find ways to get around them and observe rest a little differently, like going to play tennis. So yeah, it’s going to be different, and giving yourself the permission to figure that out is huge.

Tonya: I think even permission for your family. This goes back to what we talked about last week, finding the balance between legalism and letting them find it out. I have a son who is moving all the time, and to ask him to do nothing on a Sunday would have been just pure torture for him.

Mark: My upbringing was not too different. Sunday was mostly at home, couldn’t go out and ride my bike; at the time I felt really trapped inside the house. With some time and reflection, I realized that my parents were basically creating space for themselves to rest physically. That left me wondering, “My experience was this, and what does Sabbath look like in this New Testament, post-Jesus context?” 



Church Idols

(A post for the church-going reader)

We have idols. Some we know and hear sermons about. Some we don’t recognize or acknowledge and hear fewer if any sermons about. Before I list four of these and suggest how to address them, here’s how I’m defining an idol.

Oxford gives two definitions for idol:

  1. an image of a god, used as an object of worship.
  2. A person or thing that is the object of intense admiration or devotion…

My definition uses the second of Oxford’s with a few caveats.

  1. …which may tempt me to develop anger, gossip, slander, argue, or vilify.
  2. …which may cause division in my family or my church.
  3. …which may disrupt my worship in a church service.
  4. …which may be the source of spiritual attack.

A complete list of these idols would be longer, but here are four of these idols that are continually present in our churches.

  • Translation preferences-if you are disturbed if someone reads from a different translation than you prefer in any setting, this may be an idol of yours.
  • Preaching style preferences-if you are disturbed if a preacher’s style of speaking is other than you prefer or you sit in judgment regardless who is speaking, this may be an idol of yours.
  • Music style preferences-if you are disturbed by the song choices for a worship service and resist engaging with the rest of the congregation, this may be an idol of yours.
  • Leadership preferences-if you are disturbed by the leadership style of a staff member because they lead differently than another past or present staff member, this may be an idol of yours.

We all have dealt with and observed these idols both personally and corporately. For those of us who deal more directly with them on both of these fronts, I offer these suggestions:

  • Read from various translations in your own study time. Open your heart to the truths found in God’s Word regardless of the translation methodology.
  • Give grace to the following aspects of God’s work through a human being: their experience(s), their personality, their humanity, their gifts, their calling, their struggles, their uniqueness. Open your heart to the truths found in God’s Word regardless of someone’s speaking style.
  • Recognize your opportunity to engage music as you choose seven days a week. Open your heart for the short window of time during the worship service where you are not in charge of the choices and allow yourself to engage with the body of Christ.
  • Pray for your leaders. Spend time with your leaders. Accept that God moves leaders in and out of ministry locations. Resist the temptation to compare and grip unfair expectations. Open your heart to God’s work in this season of all the people in your church.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)

The Gift of Balance: Marriage and Singleness (Part 2)

(This is part two of the fourth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. At the end of this post are suggested resources on this topic.)

John: Besides making decisions together and balancing giving and getting, what other commitments are their between you and your spouse?

Tonya: The hard and fast commitment to the Lord is certainly there. But I also believe in the strong commitment to grace and forgiveness. You are going to hurt each other; it’s part of human nature. So a commitment to give each other grace and to forgive is very important as well.

John:  Does that get easier?

Tonya:  We’ve been married over 25 years. I do feel like we’ve found a certain rhythm. It’s interesting though, because it feels like we are coming back to the beginning-getting into emptynesting.  We spent the first five years without children, so we had a lot of time together to hangout and be spontaneous. Now we are getting back to that. Parenting for us had different stressors because we saw the world so differently. So now flexing that muscle is a little easier.

Mark: I wish I could say it’s gotten easier for us. I still resist the apology.  In fact, in some ways I’m more quick to give apologies to my kids than to my spouse.  I don’t know what that is. My wife is always so graceful and forgiving. You would think with all the mistakes I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve had to apologize that it would get easier, yet there is still that resistance like, “I don’t won’t to have to admit that I made a mistake, that I could be wrong in this situation.”  All those things are me, not really the relationship. Maybe that’s more rough edges that still need to be smoothed out. We both recognize the importance of it and offer it fairly freely to each other, but it’s the coming to ask for it part that still requires swallowing the pride and just apologize.

Tonya: I wouldn’t say that’s been an easier thing for either of us either, but it’s amazing how much better it feels when you do it. It’s so freeing but so hard to do. It’s true for a lot of people. It’s hard to humble ourselves. It’s probably even harder for those of us in helping professions. We are supposed to know better. For me it was, I mean come on, I’m the therapist.  I’m supposed to do everything right. That’s just not the case.  We’re all human.  We’re all going to have issues. My favorite saying has always been, “Everybody has issues and the one who says they don’t have issues is a liar and that’s one of their issues. “ Acknowledging that is not always easy.

John: I know when forgiveness is challenging for me-not to ask for it but to give it-what I’ve learned about myself revolves around my expectations. Number one, I have unmet expectations of that person. Number two, my expectations were mine, they weren’t theirs. A lot of times I made up the expectations; we never talked about it, and they didn’t live up to it. All of that right there is on me. And the more I can look at it, “This is more your fault than their fault. You’re going to need to work on your own perception of them and lower it,” there’s where the grace comes in. I have to work at looking at them the same way God does.  I can’t have a higher standard than he does.

My challenge has been more about giving the forgiveness than asking for it, for that reason, which is a very judgmental perception.  I grew up with that, so it’s innate in me. I’m very quick to judge, very quick to create unagreed-upon expectations. Those are my things I have to deal with, not theirs.  And I’ve learned I need to say that to them. “I created an expectation here that we didn’t talk about, and we didn’t agree upon.  I am sorry for doing that.” And for me, by the time you get to that stage, I’ve usually totally forgotten about the thing that I was irritated by. “I don’t even remember what we are upset about here.” The core issue is that our relationship is built on some shifting sand.

Tonya: Expectations are huge. I love that my husband’s first question when I brought this up to him was, “What do you mean by balance?” Our expectations may be different. I think we have to talk through our expectations. “What does vacation look like? What does time together look like?” Not clarifying that is a big issue and gets a lot of people.

Mark:  The antidote to that is just communication.  And not just communication like what’s on the to-do list, but deeper communication. Going deeper into other issues is critical and healthy, and will relieve some of the pressure of these unmet expectations.  Creating the dialogue where you can talk about it is how relationships grow.  It’s critical.

Tonya: Communication is the number one thing that couples come into counseling for.  They say, “We need to improve our communication,” which usually means, “We fight alot.” There’s that balance of understanding we are different and we communicate differently. I like to tell the story of me and my husband.  I have a lot of words and he has very few.  So when I would ask him questions, I had to learn to be quiet, bite my tongue, and sit for a long time because it would take him a while to formulate the words he wanted to share. I had to learn patience. He didn’t talk like my dad; my dad’s a talker.  My husband is not. So I had to learn to accept him for who he is and give him that room.

John: So how has communication grown from when your first were married to now, twenty years later?

Tonya: In order to communicate well you have to make time.  The idea you can have quality relationship without quantity is just false.  You have to make time.  This comes back to how you balance time in your marriage.  I like the work of Joyce and Cliff Penner.  They talk a lot about the intimacy in a marriage.  They say that you need to have some eye-to-eye contact every day, whether that is hugging, embracing, even if it is just for a few minutes together.  They are also committed to praying together. So they focus on spiritual, emotional, and physical contact every day. They talk also about weekly time as a couple. I tell the couples I’m working with to find at least two to three hours a week that is just them.  Then that talk about once a quarter getting away together for a full day, then they talk about once a year going on a vacation just the two of you.  All those things are super important.  Time together helps build that communication.

Mark:  I asked my wife for her thoughts on this topic last night, and she came back to a couple of things that have been present with us.  The first is being intentional, which is exactly what you’re saying.  That’s a word that we use all the time, sometimes as a reminder, sometimes as an encourager. The other thing she said was more comical.  She said, “Remember when our kids were toddlers, and we couldn’t even communicate in complete sentences because of getting interrupted by screams, or something on the floor, or food flying across the table?  We couldn’t get a sentence out without being interrupted.”  That was difficult, but it comes back to being intentional to maintain the balance. Now the difficulty is it’s just different. As you progress through life together, the needs change.  Now we need to steal away together because our kids are older, they stay up later, and there’s not as many quiet places in the house that we can go.  It just changes, and you have to be able to dance with it.

Tonya: Those young years are some of the hardest and have the biggest strain on a marriage. I have vivid memories of my husband walking in the door from work, and all three of us being on the floor crying. Those were tough days. We also didn’t have the financial means to get away. But the intentionality was being there together. He came home, took over, gave me a break, and we were together in the kitchen with kids on our feet. Finding those moments in those years is possible.

Mark: The thought I have always used is maintaining a relationship is a lot like exercise. It doesn’t happen on its own.  If you don’t do it, you atrophy.  If you are doing it, you have to keep it up.  It’s not a one-and-done thing.

Tonya: I want to reemphasize the power of commitment. My parents were divorced multiple times along with other family members; that was my example. My husband comes from a family with no divorces.  So we made a commitment that divorce was not an option. Leaving was off the table.

John: Mark, when you compare this to exercise, I immediately think of goal setting.  So, I’m curious if goal setting is helpful, and how do you do it if it is.

Mark: That hasn’t been part of our equation. It is a little bit how we are wired.  For us it comes back to two things.  Number one, we were and are best friends. We had a long dating period and were able to develop a friendship that is just phenomenal. We’ve continued to maintain that friendship.  There is a natural desire and draw because of the depth of the friendship.  The other thing is going back to the commitment and intentionality of making this work.  We recognize that if we don’t there could be pretty tragic consequences, and we don’t want that.  We don’t want to let it get to the point that it’s on life support either; then it’s not benefiting either of us.

Tonya: I don’t know if it’s a goal or not, but we made the decision that we were going to be first. We were not only going to be able to say our priorities but walk our priorities. In the last five years, maybe we have some unwritten goals. We’ve talked about life after kids, things we’d like to do. Travel is a big things for both of us, so how do we set our finances up for that to happen. Neither of us relish the idea of retiring and setting around the house all day; that’ll never happen. My husband has some vision for mission work and different things, so those are goals to set up life that we haven’t necessarily sat down and written it out on paper.

Mark: One last thing about this topic I’d like to bring up is space for “me time.”  I’ve become more aware of this importance. It maybe more personality driven, but I definitely need time away from the kids and my spouse. It can take various forms in order for me to recharge, reset, unplug from some of the responsibilities. Recognizing and taking the opportunity helps maintain balance.

John: I’ve always maintained as a single person and in talking with other singles who may not be happy in their singles status, “If you can’t be happy in this status, I’m not so sure you’re going to be happy in a marital one. You better be able to figure out how to be happy in this state so you don’t bring stuff into a marriage that doesn’t need to be there.” 

Tonya: Figuring out what “me time” looks like is key.  I remember asking my husband, “Is there a night a week I can go away and do something that I would like to do?” And the same for him. That was important and gave us something to look forward to.

John: That relates to something I wanted to bring out from a singleness versus couple basis. I believe single people have to come to terms with living life outside of the expectations they believe others have of them to be like. I had to really work on it, and probably didn’t find the balance until about ten years ago, my late thirties. I finally stopped saying yes to things out of the mindset that an invitation to something meant I had to do it. Just because I may come across to some people as an extrovert doesn’t mean I am one and therefore must be one or continuously function as one. That took me a while, and I’m going to guess it probably takes single people longer than married couples. They don’t have to deal with this challenge under their roof.  I can do what I want at home and don’t have to figure this out with my spouse. A couple is forced into figuring this out. A single person is going to be much more balanced if they just own who they are and not try to live in the mindset, “Everybody expects me to do this, so I must need to do this.”

Tonya: It comes back to that expectation thing again. So we all have to get to that place of living for an audience of one.  How do we put God first?  We’re all constantly learning and growing in that area.  You’re right, I think it is more of a challenge for a single person.  My husband who is an introvert and has to have time away, I can notice when he’s getting frazzled.  I can say, “It seems you need a little break here.” We can see that in each other.  A single person has to monitor that on your own.  Of course, the Holy Spirit can speak to you and help you be okay with the possibility of someone being mad at you for not meeting their expectations.


Suggested Resources:





The Gift of Balance: Marriage and Singleness (Part 1)

(This is part one of the fourth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. This entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)

Mark: When you think of maintaining balance in a marriage, the initial thing that may come to mind is relationship.

John: It seems there are two things to consider. One, what do you individually have to do to bring balance to the relationship.  Second, how does the couple work together to keep balance in check.

Tonya: One of the things that I remember probably halfway through my marriage was a moment when I felt God spoke to me to tell me that as a couple you don’t complete each other; you compliment each other. God completes us. He’s the lover of our soul. We can’t find that in our spouse.  But we can compliment each other, help each other grow.  So I remember that moment when he made it clear to me that when I walk closer with him and stay intimate with him, I actually don’t need as much from my husband. I still want closeness and intimacy, but when I’m close with the Lord I’m not trying to get things from my husband that he can’t give me anyway.

John: That reminds me of the triangle/pyramid illustration for marriage you’ve probably both seen where the two in the marriage are at the bottom on either end and God is at the top.  The more the two work toward God the closer you are together.

Mark: I just literally drew that on my notes.

John:  As simple as that is, it seems to be an easy tool to evaluate where I am working toward God as a person and also how we are working together toward him.

Tonya:  That speaks to singles also.  If God is first and the lover of our souls, then it brings peace to those who maybe are in transition and not wanting to be single that they are still whole and complete.  They don’t need a spouse to complete them.

I remember my dad used to use the picture of a coffee cup to illustrate it.  The cup is full of the Lord, and everything else is on the rim.  So if it falls off, it’s not that it won’t be painful, like if you lose your spouse or kids, but you can survive if your cup is full of the Lord. That’s always stuck with me-keeping the cup full with God first.

Mark: In order to have a healthy marriage, you really have to see yourself as healthy and whole first and not seeing all your needs met in the other person but in God. There is nuance and tension between relationship and companionship. It’s foundational to not look at the other person as meeting all your needs, or you’re going to be disappointed.

Tonya:  Because no person is capable of that.

John:  In light of being a married person, what’s different that you have to keep in check in your relationship with God?

Tonya: I’ve been writing a series on preventing leadership exhaustion and just recently wrote on marriage. To be married and have children, it does take more focus and energy, so it’s a little harder. When I was single and just met my husband, I was on top of the world spiritually and had no interest in dating. But when you fall in love, it becomes more challenging to make sure you’re still nurturing your time with the Lord.  You have to work at that a little bit more. You have to work at finding that balance for your time alone as well as your time together. You have to learn how to grow and encourage each other together.

My husband and I are as different as night and day, literally. The way he walks out his faith is very different than me. So how do you do that together? Finding that can be a challenge.

Mark:  I agree. From a different angle, there is an opportunity in a marriage to more deeply grasp what is means to love unconditionally. In this work you’re talking about, there are many opportunities to love this other person. By love I mean way beyond the emotion and feeling.  It’s the service, sacrifice, and action of unconditionally loving this companion.  Sometimes it’s easier than others, but it’s always front and center. You get this tangible opportunity to love this person in the way that Jesus loves us. I’m not sure that is about balance as much as it the difference between being single and being married and the opportunity it presents in what it means to love someone.

Tonya: Sacrificially.

John: Tonya, referring back to your “everything on your plate” exercise you talked about last week, the plate just looks different. There’s more on the plate-another person, kids come along-your plate is just different. There’s more on it, so the balance is keeping a healthy relationship with God based on what’s currently on my plate.

Tonya:  One of the things I’ve done since then has to do with a bull’s eye.  God is in the center, then your spouse, then your children, then your friendships, and then your ministry.  When I would teach pastors I would ask, “How do you do ministry starting with God and moving through your marriage, and then also back in?” The idea is that you don’t just make your own decisions.  They have to go through God, your spouse, your children.  It has to be right for your family first, then out through your ministry. But that’s for all of us in all the things that we do.

When I asked my husband about this, one of the things he said was that we make decisions together. So we make big decisions together-work decisions, moving decisions.  They take time and money, and impact everybody. So many of the leaders I work with have trouble grasping the impact of their decisions on their whole family. So this idea of using the bull’s eye was a different way to help them see it.

Mark: That’s an excellent point of being on the same page. Tonya, you and your husband are different.  My wife and I are very similar, so it’s fairly natural for us to be together on a decision and think the same way. That comes very easy.  For others who have differing personalities, it may be harder but it’s not less important.

Tonya: For sure, and I would not have any clue in how to just flow in a situation like that because we totally see the world through completely different lenses.  But you are right, so one of the things it comes back to is commitment. We made a commitment that means something; we meant it. When decisions have been harder, we’ve come back to our commitment to our vows, to taking the time to work it out. A lot of couples fall apart in those moments. “You don’t see it my way.”  They start to fall apart because they don’t have that strong commitment.

Mark: The picture coming to my mind is the balance between giving and getting in a relationship.  A commitment from both sides makes that easier. It’s harder to do when you feel like you’re the only one fighting. If both people work to be about giving first before getting, it’s like the oil that just makes the machine work better. The machine may break down at times, but the oil provides the lubrication when the friction comes when you are doing life together. Staying focused on the giving part first makes it more likely you’ll get the things you need out of the relationship as well.

Tonya: That’s right. When you are focused on giving and giving, your spouse will most of the time turn around and give back. You’ll get what you want when your heart is to give.  It’s that upside down thing we talked about before.  God’s kingdom is not the way the world’s kingdom is.