2020: Restorative? 

Recently I received a copy of an essay about grief and COVID-19 entitled “This Too Shall Pass,” coauthored by Alex Evans, Casper ter Kuile, and Ivor Williams. My personal takeaway was I need to grow as a collective mourner.

However, the most intriguing content was the hope of restoration following the pandemic, following the grief. And believe it or not, they referenced two Old Testament concepts-Sabbath and Jubilee years-as their example. Here’s the excerpt:

The idea of self-sacrifice that leads to rebirth found its concrete application in the ancient concept of Jubilee. In the original biblical context, every seventh year was a sabbatical year: a time of “solemn rest for the land.” No crops were sown. Instead, people lived off what the land produced naturally, with the soil given time to lie fallow so as to maintain its fertility. Then, every seventh sabbatical year was a Jubilee, when in addition to normal sabbatical year observances, land ownership would be reset to prevent inequalities building up, debts canceled, prisoners freed, and everyone would return home.

In fact, Sabbath and Jubilee years were the socio-political version of atonement: a set of concrete procedures for how to correct economic, social and environmental imbalances through resting, slowing down, halting economic activity, and sacrificing the grasping ego that always demands more, in order to protect the covenant.

These principles turn out to be profoundly relevant to our own crisis today. Countries all over the world have released prisoners. Low income countries have seen $12 billion of debt payments suspended. Some governments are moving to find homes for all rough sleepers. Proposals for a universal basic income look closer to being implemented than ever before. With the world economy on lockdown, carbon emissions and air travel are in freefall while air quality has improved dramatically; in many cities, people can hear birds singing or see stars at night for the first time.

2,500 years after the rules for Jubilees were codified in the book of Leviticus, they have bubbled up from our ancestral memory once more.

Is there grieving? Yes. Most likely more than we may have taken time to grasp. 

Should we grieve? Yes. It’s natural. It’s healthy. It’s restorative.

Is 2020 restorative? Possibly. Looks like that might be up to us. You in?

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Jack Sharp

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (book review)

Love, joy, and peace are at the heart of all Jesus is trying to grow in the soil of your life. And all three are incompatible with hurry.

If that statement intrigues you, welcome to Pastor John Mark Comer’s new book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.img_1006-1

In a world of increasing speed, we all know it’s out of control. What we may not know is how to slow ourselves down in the midst of it. That is what Comer addresses convincingly, humorously, and practically.

Wisdom is born in the quiet, the slow. Wisdom has its own pace…When we uncritically hurry our way through the digital terrain, we make the devil’s job relatively easy.

After defining the problem and offering solutions in parts one and two, Comer offers four practices in part three that will eliminate hurry: silence&solitude, sabbath, simplicity, and slowing.

Mindfulness is simply silence and solitude for a secular society. It’s the same thing, just missing the best part-Jesus.

It is not as though we do not love God – we love God deeply. We just do not know how to sit with God anymore.

Contentment isn’t some Buddhist-like negation of all desire; it’s living in such a way that your unfulfilled desires no longer curb your happiness.

We achieve inner peace when our schedules are aligned with our values.

I’ve recommended several books with a similar theme as Comer’s (The Rest of God, Rhythms of Rest, Awe). Add this to the list. He offers a broader look at the theme with relatable application. I don’t think he’d mind if I suggested you hurry to get this book in your hands.

“We know how powerful those things are”

The smartphone, with its endless apps, is designed to whisper to you that the thing you are doing is not the thing you ought to be doing. The phone isn’t encouraging your progress; it’s causing you stress. Want to know what hostile AI [artificial intelligence] looks like? You’re holding it.


That’s a quote from chapter six, Set Tech Limits, from Ben Sasse’s book Them. There’s a reason that this chapter is the longest in his book. He’s preaching, quite convincingly, that the quick advancement of technology is a major contributor to the cultural challenges in America. These challenges are apparent by the fact that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs creating these advancements don’t want their own kids to have iPads and smartphones. “We know how powerful those things are.”

There’s so much in this chapter that, unless you keep up with all the latest tech news, you have no idea about-the possibility of living to 200 because of advancements like our skin transmitting information to the internet or microscopic computers swimming around in our bloodstream repairing cancers before they are diagnosed, to name a couple. These sound like good things. Sasse shares also some bad things, particularly those that will impact the generations who don’t know a world without AI.

He doesn’t drop the fear and leave. Sasse provides doable suggestions for setting technology limits for yourself and your family. He shares his personal boundaries for how long he engages technology and at what time of day. For his family, they observe a “digital Sabbath” for a big chunk of Sundays. Other practical suggestions include turning off notifications, stop checking likes, read comments only at a predetermined time, and unfollow politics addicts.

This post is my final post referencing Sasse’s book. My recommendation is:

  • If you are American, read it
  • If you are a parent, read it
  • If you are culturally concerned, read it
  • If you are desiring healing encouraged by love in your family and your community, read it

Sabbath Model

The subject of rest and Sabbath has become a constant for me over the last twelve months through leading a coaching program and co-leading webinars. If I’ve learned anything in this time, it’s that we could all use more conversing about this as well as more examples of it.

In that light, I thought I’d share how mine went yesterday with some notes.

It didn’t last all day. First thing, I had to deal with some car stuff. Finished and back home at 11.

The next seven hours were my time to “embrace that which gives life.” (Sabbath’s golden rule according to Mark Buchanan, author of The Rest of God.)

Those seven hours included reading devotions and two other books, blogging, meditating, napping, and going to the gym (in this period of my Sabbaths, the TV is not on). None of this felt like work. (Another aspect to Sabbath’s golden rule.) At the end of those seven hours, I could say I had more “life”; you could even say more peace.

No one model of Sabbath fits everyone. While reading may give one person life, it may drain another person. Similarly, playing golf would drain me (probably more like kill me) but would completely bring joy to some friends of mine. So to give us all some kind of guide, here’s a reminder of the golden rule for Sabbath: cease that which is necessary in order to embrace that which gives life.

What could you embrace during your next Sabbath?

Sabbath Webinar

Over the years, the subject of Sabbath has created some interesting conversations. This year, it’s gotten more intentional as I’ve led two groups through a coaching program about it and watched the participants walk away with a new perspective and personal plan about Sabbath.

For readers in the U.S. and around the world, it would be even more interesting to hear from one another about your Sabbath practices, or lack of it. Earlier today, I teamed up with fellow coach Tonya Waechter to share a webinar, part one of three, regarding Sabbath. You can watch it here: Webinar.

Tonya and I would love to hear your insights and then have you join us for webinar parts 2&3.

Realignment Day

Five weeks ago I self diagnosed a need. I had a need for a day unlike any day I’ve experienced before. This need was driven by various things. Did I need rest? Yes and no. Did I need time with God? More yes than no. What did I most need was my question. I took this to my coach and what I came up with was this: I needed realignment.

I’ve never heard of a realignment day, but it resonated with me. Since it was self diagnosed, that meant I had to come up with the “treatment plan.” I went into the day with some structure, but very loosely held. I knew prayer and reading would play a major role, but how long and with what content I wanted to be fluid and hopefully spirit led. I’ll share some of how the day went and give you something to consider for your own realignment day.

  • To establish why the title of realignment, I considered these definitions: 1. To place back in line, to bring back into line. 2. To rejoin as an ally. In the consideration, I looked at biblical examples of folks who needed and received realignment such as Adam and Eve, Samson, David, Jacob and Esau, Hosea and Gomer, Moses, Jonah, the prodigal son, and Peter.  This led me to a personal conclusion: I need to realign with how God sees people, with his grace, and with who I am in his eyes. This foundation led the rest of the day’s activities. These activities including reading, praying, and worshipping through music.
  • Reading: four scripture passages and portions of two books about these passages. Some of this was planned and some not. I knew that I was drawn to reading prayers and conversation between Moses and God. But in the moment I was led to other passages from Daniel, Job, and I John. These passages illustrated what is needed for realignment and how to pray for it.
  • Praying: confessional and covenantal. The truth about realigning with God is that he isn’t the one that got out of line. So realignment should include confessing where you got out of line and covenanting about staying in line. But before I wrote out those two prayers I started the conversation with God by asking him this: “What messages do you want to share with me?” To my surprise, he had a lot to say-a full page, a total of 13 clear and specific messages. Those alone were worth the effort and intentionality of the day.
  • Music: listening and creating. Again, to my surprise I was led to listen to one particular song throughout the day. Then as a result of reading and praying, a new song was birthed in my spirit. By the end of the day, where I ended up at a bayside park, not only was I realigned but I also had a song of offering to give back to God and to others what my realignment day had given to me.

Not everyone requires the same type of realignment, but I’m convinced we all need it occasionally. 

  • Are you due? 
  • What could assist you in realigning? 
  • How vital should a realignment day be in order for you to make it happen? 
  • What surprises could God have in store for you on your realignment day?

Missing God’s Gift (Something Misplaced?)

Yesterday a friend told me how different he is from who he was just 18 months ago. Earlier this week a group discussed how a coaching program has altered their life’s rhythms in just 7 weeks. These people were expressing how receiving a gift from God, such as leaving a successful corporate job to start all over or exiting the routine of life to enjoy Sabbath, has changed who they are. And they want more.

God’s gifts come to us in various formations. Sometimes they are clearly seen as coming straight from God. Other times, we are a little more challenged to determine if an opportunity or unforeseen blessing are indeed gifts from God. That is, unless we live from the viewpoint that God works at all times and through all things in our lives. Until we reach that viewpoint, it’s likely we will often miss God’s gifts.

Why don’t we automatically have this viewpoint? What keeps us from it? How can we move toward it? In talking with these people, I’d say they would say they had some things misplaced.

Misplaced Contentment-Yes, it’s possible to be so content that you miss noticing an offer from God. Our contentment can often lead us to settling, stubbornness, and even pride. So a God-given opportunity can appear unsettling, unnecessary, maybe even unworthy. Think rich, young ruler.

Misplaced Fear-In this case, fear of just about anything (loss of job/income, ability, identity, power/influence, health, security) or anyone (family, peers, leaders, employer, yourself) has been given higher rank than God. Think Moses’ initial bush response.

Misplaced Stewardship-Stewardship covers more in our lives than just finances. Stewarding your family, your talents, your choices, your time, your emotions, your mind, your body, for example. Think about most kings in the Old Testament.

Misplaced Allegiance-Satan is committed to leading us to misplace our allegiances. We can become more allegiant to so many earthly kingdoms that we miss God’s leading us toward his heavenly kingdom. Think about the Pharisees and Paul’s warnings about false teachers in the church.

Misplaced Commitment-Commitments lead to routines, obligations, and expectations-some short term, others long term. These can become idols causing us to be completely blind to something more aligned with God’s plans for us. Think Eli, Saul, or Martha.

We often miss God’s gifts to us because our misplacements lead us to consider way too many “what ifs.” So consider a few reverse thinking “what if” results when God’s gifts are missed:

  • What if you miss God’s gift because you ignore a burning bush?
  • What if you miss God’s gift because you run toward Joppa instead of Nineveh?
  • What if you miss God’s gift because you always look backward rather than forward?
  • What if you miss God’s gift because you follow the crowd and declare, “Crucify him!”
  • What if you miss God’s gift because your faith is so small that your reply to God’s offer is, “No thanks.”

2017 Library

Throughout 2017 you’ve read posts referencing books I’ve read. Below is the library, in order which I read them. You’ll notice several books about coaching, which was required reading for classes I took during the year. Something else I noted this year on the list for the first time-whether I read the book on kindle (13) or hard copy (10). Something for the curious to know and chew on.

God is in the Manger, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (hard copy)

The Salvation of Souls, Jonathan Edwards (hard copy)

Christian Coaching, Gary Collins (hard copy)

Co-Active Coaching, Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandahl, Laura Whitworth (hard copy)

Becoming a Professional Life Coach, Patick Williams, Diane S. Menendez (hard copy)

The Next Level, Scott Wilson (hard copy)

The God-Shaped Brain, Timothy Jennings (kindle)

The Critical Journey, Janet Hagberg, Robert Guelich (kindle)

Brain Savvy Leaders, Charles Stone (kindle)

The Phenomenon, Rick Ankiel and Tim Brown (hard copy)

The Myth of Equality, Ken Wytsma (hard copy)

Business for the Glory of God, Wayne Grudem (kindle)

Business by the Book, Larry Burkett (kindle)

The E myth Revisited, Michael Gerber (kindle)

1,000 Churches, Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im (hard copy)

How to Become a Rainmaker, Jeffrey J. Fox (kindle)

This Is Your Brain on Sports, L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers (hard copy)

Awe, Paul David Tripp (kindle)

Law and Ethics in Coaching, Patrick Williams and Sharon K. Anderson (kindle)

Ethics & Risk Management for Christian Coaches, Michael J. Marx (kindle)

Effective Group Coaching, Jennifer J. Britton (kindle)

Rhythms of Rest, Shelly Miller (kindle)

The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan (kindle)

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: 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:

Mark’s:

Tonya’s:

John’s: