Still No “Lite and Fluffy”

I really really really really really wanted and planned on writing a “lite and fluffy” blog.  Sun is shining, flowers blooming, happy people, all is right with the worlds, unicorns and rainbows.  Really.

But life just doesn’t cooperate.

Life is hard right now.  Last week, in my sermon, I said that I felt like every day was like walking through chest-deep mud.  This week?  It feels like the mud’s 3 feet above my head and I’m using a snorkel just to breathe while I try to push through it.

It’s not just about me.  I’m doing all right, slogging along.  Further along than I was last week.  But my family is hurting.  I have friends that are hurting.  I learned things Saturday, yesterday, last night that tear at me.  There are people close to me, intimate friends, acquaintances, even people who aren’t as close but who are still very important to me who are just dealing with a lot of pain and loss in life right now.  And the more you know about the pain of others, the more you tend to carry.

I’m in this season in my life that is not fun but in which God is working.  In the midst of it all, I’m re-visiting and re-learning some important lessons.  I’ll just share a couple with you this morning as food for thought.

  • I can’t control anything and I can’t fix anything.  As Danny Silk says, on a good day, I can control myself.  But beyond that?  Nothing.  I can’t control how others respond, I can’t control what people do with sound, biblical advice, I can’t control the choices other make with their lives, I can’t control the circumstances or the suffering of other people, I can’t control the level of anyone’s pain, I can’t control the hard times that some people are facing, I can’t control debilitating illnesses that people are facing.  None of it.  I want to.  I want to take their pain away, remove their obstacles, fix things, heal illnesses.  But I can’t do any of that.  Only Jesus can.  All I can do is trust Him and pray for them.
  • “You will never rise above your level of self-awareness.  It is the lid on your life.”  Dr. Rob Reimer taught me this in one of the first Soul Care conferences I ever attended.  The older I get, the more I realize it is true.  There is stuff in my life with which I will never deal, address, or change until I am aware of it.  I am thankful for a loving family and close, intimate allies (as John Eldredge calls them) who are courageous enough to point out my blind spots.  I am thankful for the voice of the Father and for journaling as tools of self-discovery.  But this truth affects us in other ways.  You see, the people in my life will never rise above their level of self-awareness.  And when you’re in a situation where you’re dealing with someone and trying to help them but they either can’t or aren’t willing to see, you can’t help them.  They will never rise above their level of self-awareness, and they will never receive help or encouragement or strengthening because they won’t see their need for it.  (That was exactly what Jesus experienced with the Pharisees – they were blind to their own hypocrisy and sinfulness and couldn’t hear or receive what He tried to speak into them.)
  • This is a season.  It may not be the best season or the worst season.  It may be a season that I hate.  But it’s a season.  It won’t last forever.  And I can choose to let God refine me through, or I can fight Him.  I can recognize I can’t control anything and do everything I can to love and care for people in this season, or I can withdraw and hide.  But it’s only a season.
  • And finally, I will continue to rest on God’s promises, like Psalm 46:1 – 5 (NIV) God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.  God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 

Book Review – Mansions of the Heart

A few years ago, one of my closest friends gave me a hardback copy of the book Mansions of the Heart by R. Thomas Ashbrook.  He told me it was a life-changing book.  I looked at it, began it, and set it aside because I had so many other books stacked up to read.  A few months later, I was dealing with some life issues that led me to pick it back up again and to read it through.  My friend had been right – it was a life-changer that helped me understand my own life’s journey, my spiritual growth, and where I needed to head on my journey.  Just a few weeks ago, I finished reading through the book for the second time after deciding late this summer that I needed a refresher.

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R. Thomas Ashbrook, the author, who also wrote the novel Presence – What if Jesus Were Really Here?, is the Director of Spiritual Formation for Church Resource Ministries, and he leads Imago Dei, which is CRM’s international spiritual formation ministry.  A Lutheran pastor with twenty-six years of experience in ministry, Tom has degrees in aeronautical engineering, management systems, pastoral ministry, and spiritual formation.  He lives in Centennial, Colorado with his wife Charlotte.

Mansions of the Heart is patterned after St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, a picture of spiritual formation that has helped many followers of Jesus in the five plus centuries since she wrote it.  It’s a picture that helps us understand the journey that we are taking and the process that God uses to transform us throughout our lives.

The book begins by dealing with four of the dead-ends that believers have tried time and time again, to no avail – pursuing personal holiness; service to God; spiritual wholeness; and enlightened study and understanding.  Ashbrook points out that while all of these are good and important, they rely upon our effort rather than abiding in Christ, which is the only real way to experience personal transformation.  Ashbrook uses the seven interior rooms that Teresa described as a road map to help us understand our pasts, our journey with Christ, and how He takes us deeper in our walk with Him along our life’s journey.

Here is a brief summary of each mansion (or room) – each stage of our process:

  • The First Mansion – a new beginning.  This is salvation – the place where we recognize our need for salvation, believe on Jesus, and place our trust in Him and in His work on the cross for our eternal life.
  • The Second Mansion – between a rock and hard place.  This is a place where our faith is deepening, and yet we struggle with temptation and are still engaged somewhat in earthly pursuits.  There is tension between what we want and what the Holy Spirit is revealing to us as we grow.
  • The Third Mansion – following Jesus.  It may take us years to get to this place, but this is the place where we are living consistent lives as disciples.  Scripture, prayer, church attendance, fellowship, a desire to please God – these are all consistent parts of our life at this place.
  • The Fourth Mansion – discovering the love of Jesus – a place of new depth in our walk with Jesus, where we experience a growing intimacy with Him.
  • The Fifth Mansion – longing for oneness with God.  Ashbrook describes it this way:  “The fifth mansion is a time of transition where our focus moves even further from doing to being, from serving to loving. God is calling us to begin to live according to the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17, the call to union with God. Our one desire is for God, Himself.”
  • The Sixth Mansion – the passion of God’s love.  This is where we have fully “fallen in love” with God, and are experiencing deep times in God’s Presence.  When it seems that God is absent, it is deeply painful.  This is where we are learning what it means to truly and fully live “in Christ.”
  • The Seventh Mansion – a life of love in the Trinity.  Ashbrook writes, “The seventh mansion represents the ultimate degree of intimacy with God that one can experience in this life: spiritual union with the Trinity. As is true with each of the prior mansions, this is still a season of our journey, not a milestone or destination. But in this season, we come to experience a complete integration of mind, body, and spirit in the life of Christ. At its fullest, it is the realization of the apostle Paul’s statement, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me’ (cf. Gal. 2:20).”

Ashbrook also devotes a chapter to the experience that John of the Cross called “The Dark Night of the Soul” – a season of loss, of dryness, of feeling that God is absent and that His voice cannot be heard.  That chapter alone is powerful and helpful.

For each mansion/season, the author walks through several important issues for that season, including our heart’s desire, key activities, what ministry will look like to us, how our prayer lives will change, how the enemy will most often attack us, and finally, keys for growth in that time.

You can purchase the Kindle edition here.  If you are serious about spiritual formation and about your journey with Jesus, this book is a great addition to your library.

Flee, Be Silent, Pray – Book Review

Book Review – Flee, Be Silent, Pray

When I read these words in the Introduction to Flee, Be Silent, Pray, I knew I had to read the rest of the book: “Evangelical Christianity in America is an anxiety factory.  As a life-long evangelical, I’ve absorbed the notion that I can never do enough for Jesus. Words like discipleship and obedience carry connotations of trying harder, doing more, and always bumping up the commitment another notch. Evangelicals affirm grace and ‘faith alone’ in theory, but we also worry that we can never pray enough, serve enough, evangelize enough, read the Bible enough, or ‘grow’ enough to satisfy God. Too many sermons revolve around an obligation to do more things or to try harder.”

Author and freelance writer Ed Cyzewski, who grew up Catholic and is now an Evangelical, draws on the Catholic and early Church traditions of contemplative prayer to write this informative and challenging primer on prayer and spiritual formation. He uses Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart as a guide. He points out that while most of us understand the importance of prayer, studying Scripture, and meditating on Scripture, we often miss the vital fact that it is God’s love that is the foundation of all Christian spirituality. Making space for daily contemplative prayer, he writes, helps us learn to rest in God’s Presence.

This is a switch for many of us – we’ve been programmed to do, do, do…serve, serve, serve…but this book calls us back to abide, abide, abide.

At nine chapters long, Flee, Be Silent, Pray is not a long read, but it is one that you will want to take your time working through. Cyzewski leads us through these important topics:

• Chapter 1- Praying with Scripture – learning to abide in Christ, using Scripture to focus ourselves.

• Chapter 2 – Cheating at Prayer – avoiding repetition while learning to treasure recited prayers.

• Chapter 3 – Mindfulness for Anxious Evangelicals – how to use Ignatius’ Examen to help yourself be mindful of God’s Presence throughout your day

• Chapter 4 – Fleeing to the Freedom of Solitude – why solitude matters, and why it is so hard for us as evangelicals

• Chapter 5 – Be Silent – finding freedom from distraction and learning that silence isn’t an accident.

• Chapter 6 – Repeating Silence – learning how to do “centering prayer.”

• Chapter 7 – Expectations for Prayer – learning to pray without condemning yourself or becoming discouraged and quitting.

• Chapter 8 – Evangelicals Don’t Have Dark Nights of the Soul – yes, we do. This chapter talks about what they look like and how they help us grow.

• Chapter 9 – Do Evangelicals Actually Have Hope? – yes, we do. But our hope is in Jesus, not in correct doctrine.

In Chapter 9, Cyzewski writes these words, which stunned and challenged me: “There is no escape from the darkness, doubts, and uncertainty of life. We cannot live in perpetual victory, forever advancing toward spiritual dominance where we’ll emerge as the sole guardians of truth and biblical knowledge. That quest is a fool’s errand that generations have failed at. I have seen one evangelical friend after another run empty as they realized that their faith largely rested on affirming doctrinal statements without a structure of spiritual practices that could keep them grounded before God. One evangelical generation after another earnestly studies the scriptures in search of Jesus, trying to get past the fact that Jesus said studying the scriptures is not the same thing as pursuing him.”

Wow!

If you aren’t afraid to have your thinking about prayer and about your relationship with Jesus challenged and stretched, then I highly recommend this book. I’m still mulling over some of the things I read in this book a month ago, and I will be re-reading it because I know there’s more still for me to mine from it.

You can purchase the Kindle edition here. At $2.99, it’s well worth it!

Dry Times

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?  Or more difficult yet, what do you do when you don’t want to do anything but you know you need to be doing something?

That’s where I’ve lived for the past two months.

I thought that having surgery would fix everything and that I would begin to feel more energized, more like my “normal” self, more like being productive and getting things done.

But honestly, I don’t.

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Everyone asks me, “How are you feeling?”  And I feel like I need to report some major progress, like the expectations on me to recover and be back to normal are very high.  Even though that’s not really the case – it’s just my projection of what I think other people are thinking.

And it’s not just physical or mental.

I’ve had a hard time getting back into any kind of a routine with my spiritual life.  (I know, I know.  Bad admission for a pastor to make.) But I’ve had a hard time getting into a routine with my normal disciplines – reading, journaling, etc.  And when I am doing those things, it just feels…dry.  I kind of feel stuck.

So what do you do when you’re in a place like that?  Especially when you are a leader?

I don’t know that there are any simple answers.  I know that I’m not in a “dark night of the soul” place where I’m not seeing God work or hearing His voice.  I know that I’m grateful; I know that He is good; I know that He is with me.

I’m just tired, and tired of being tired.

So what I do is this – I just keep on keeping on.  I’ve gone back to some basics – making sure I’m spending time reading the Bible every day, especially the Psalms and the Gospels.  I’m trying to make time every day to sit in silence with God, whether I journal or not.  I look for things for which to be thankful, and I give thanks for them.  I enjoy my time with my girls, and with my friends.  I play worship music and I soak with it.  And I take a little time each evening to sit outside, get some fresh air, and look at the woods.

I’m working on getting enough sleep and exercise and on eating healthier, because I can control those things.

I keep doing my job, and I keep doing my ministry.  I keep showing up.  I keep doing what I’m supposed to do, what I’m required to do, and what I know to do.

And, I wait.  Because I know this is a season, and I know it will pass.  I know that it won’t always be this way.  I know I can’t just will myself out of this; I know I can trust my Father.  I know He is with me, and I know He will work out something good in me through this.

And, I know that somehow, this will help me to be a blessing to others in some way in the future.

So if you’re going through a dry time…keep on going.  You won’t be there forever.  Even if it feels like it at times.

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (NIV) 

He will complete that good work in you.  And in me!

Play The Man

Play The Man

In 2006, I read In A Pit With A Lion on A Snowy Day by Mark Batterson and I was hooked on his writing.

Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C.  He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Regent University and is the New York Times bestselling author of 11 books, including Chase the Lion.

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Several weeks ago, I was surprised and delighted to discover that he had a new book out called Play The Man.  I instantly purchased it (I’m telling you, that Kindle app and One-Click Purchasing is a book lover’s dream and a budgeter’s nightmare!)  This is my first book review, so I’m doing on-the-job-training and would appreciate your patience!

Play the Man is a call to something greater for men, and for discipling the next generation of men.

In the first part of the book, Batterson helps us understand what it means to be a man of God by working through what he calls the “seven virtues of manhood:

  1. Tough Love – Using the examples of Charles Lindbergh, Jesus, and others, Batterson walks us through the idea that playing the man means “loving others when they least expect it and least deserve it” – a difficult task indeed, but one for which a man is created.
  2. Childlike Wonder – Teddy Roosevelt, who lived an incredible life, is Batterson’s example for this chapter.  I love the quoted description from Edmund Morris of Roosevelt’s nightly bedtime ritual – “The president would brush his teeth, jump into bed, put his revolver beside his pillow, and read a minimum of one book per night.  Then, there being nothing further to do…Theodore Roosevelt will energetically fall asleep.”  Roosevelt was a man’s man who squeezed everything he could out of every moment of life – and we can do the same.
  3. Will Power – Louie Zamperini, the subject of the book and movie Unbroken, serves as an example here.  A former US Olympian, Zamperini survived a World War II plane crash into the Pacific Ocean, 47 days adrift at sea, and then over 2 years of torture and debasement in a Japanese POW camp.  Batterson uses the examples of Zamperini and others to show how manhood means learning to say “no” to yourself in the short run so you can say “yes” to more important choices in the future.
  4. Raw Passion – Batterson describes this as “a lust for life that doesn’t settle for status or status quo. It’s an insatiable energy that motivates you to live each day like it’s the first day and the last day of your life.”  He points out that the Holy Spirit enables this passion within us.
  5. True Grit – Men need danger in their lives.  Men need adventure.  Men need to put ourselves into positions that will push us past our previous limits and we need to do hard things.  Batterson’s story of hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim gives an exciting taste of what this can look like, and how it can empower you!
  6. Clear Vision – General and President Andrew Jackson said that he “was born for the storm.”  So were all men – we were created to handle adversity and push through, standing on God’s Promises to achieve greatness for the Kingdom of God!
  7. Moral Courage – We were created to make difficult but right choices.  Batterson quotes something God gave him for his own journal that struck me as powerful – “Don’t wash your hands like Pilate.  Wash feet like Jesus.”  One thing that will make a sorely-needed difference in our world is godly men standing up for what is right, loving as Jesus loved, and doing hard things in the service of our King.

The second part of the book is much shorter – just three chapters.  In this section, Batterson outlines how to call out a boy into manhood.  He details how he, with the help of family and friends, created a rite of passage for each one of his children.  I thought the examples of how he did this with his sons were practical and inspiring.  I wish he had spent more time talking about how he and his wife called their daughter in womanhood, but granted, it’s a book about men.

I found Play The Man to be challenging, practical, and thought-provoking.  It helped me to examine my life and consider prayerfully areas where I still need to grow and to be transformed.  I highly recommend it for all men, and for all parents of boys.  Here’s a link to the Kindle version.

The Power of Story

Warning – this is a longer-than-usual blog post, and it is no way at all devotional.

I have always loved to read, and specifically, to read stories.

Don’t get me wrong.  As an adult, I serve as a pastor, and so I read a lot of non-fiction:  the Bible; books on leadership, communication, history, attitude, planning, different aspects of theology, sociology, the Church’s role in our society, living as follower of Jesus in a post-Christian, post-modern era, soul care and spiritual formation, sermons by other pastors, politics, Western civilization, philosophy – I am a voracious reader.  I believe it is important for me as a leader to be a life-long learner.  My Dad, who has been a pastor for well over fifty years, taught me early in my ministry that for a pastor, a wide variety of books and knowledge were tools as vital to ministry as a well-stocked, even overflowing Husky Tool Chest and Rolling Tool Cabinet Set were to an auto mechanic.

But I’ve always loved to read stories.

I can remember finding an old, red-covered hardback mystery novel in my Grandpa Hunter’s den called The Ghoul.  It was a gothic mystery about a haunted house and a frightened heir and a crazed twin brother who imitated his deceased wealthy brother, trying to scare off the heir and killing several servants in the process.

I remember hearing Mr. Young, my fifth grade teacher, reading a large portion of The Bridge of Khazad-dûm – a key chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring, book 1 of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I went home from school that day determined to  learn about the rest of the story, and saved every penny I could until I could purchase a paperback set of the trilogy. I fell in love with the rich fantasy world that Tolkien created – a world of elves and dwarves and orcs and ents and hobbits, a world with both deeply flawed men and women and heroic men and women.  That amazing fantasy world led me next to Narnia, C.S. Lewis’ incredible fantasy world.  Both of these series taught me much about life, about the power of story, and about being a follower of Jesus in dark and difficult times.  I began to realize that story wasn’t just entertainment; it was also a powerful way of communicating truth.

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I remember checking out Bram Stoker’s Dracula from the school library as a high-school student.  I had to sneak that one home, because my parents didn’t want us reading sci-fi or horror or anything like that.  But I read Dracula in two nights, staying up after everyone else had gone to sleep.  And I discovered that I loved to be scared, which eventually led me to Stephen King.

You know that a lot of people would consider you to be a pretty unusual person when two of your favorite books are The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer and It by Stephen King.

But I found in some horror stories a pronounced world view of good versus evil, in which good eventually triumphs over evil.  And again, I recognized that story is a powerful tool for communicating truth.  (By the way, if it bothers you that I’ve admitted to reading horror at times in my life, you might want to check out my friend Mike Duran’s book, Christian Horror: On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre.  It’s an in-depth theological look at the genre in light of Biblical teaching on the importance of our thought life and Paul’s call to live with a renewed mind.)

Early in my ministry, I finally figured out just how important stories were in the Bible as a whole, and in the teaching ministry of Jesus.  At times, it seemed like Jesus went out of His way to tell a story instead of directly answering a question or addressing an issue.  For example, there’s this classic:  Peter:  “How often should I forgive my neighbor?”  Jesus:  “There was a guy who owed his king a couple of lifetimes’ worth of gold…”  And of course, there’s this one:  Religious leader:  “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus:  “A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and he was robbed…”

About a decade ago, I read John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart and discovered his amazing insight that part of the power of story is that we actually live in a story – the story of our lives.  Not only that, but we live in our Father’s larger Story.  And because God has writing eternity on our hearts, you can actually discover a representation of the gospel in many of the popular movies and stories in our culture, even though unintended by the authors or movie directors.  Gladiator, Braveheart, The Hunger Games, even Harry Potter – you can find a summary or a demonstration of gospel truths in these.  (That’s not the point of this post, but if you’d like to engage with me about that idea, I’d be happy to do so.)

So where am I going with all of this?

As I have begun to seriously pursue writing, I have recognized that I enjoy writing both non-fiction and fiction.  I set a goal this year for myself of completing both a non-fiction and a fiction book each year from now until when I retire.

But as I write non-fiction, I know that I am not a serious theologian like Tim Keller or John Piper.  Nor am I as creative or deep a communicator as Andy Stanley, Mark Batterson, or Bill Johnson.  I’m not a controversial pot-stirrer like Mark Driscoll or Brandon Hatmaker.  I am an encourager; I am a writer who tries to lift people up.  I’m not as funny as John Ortberg or as much of a wordsmith of Max Lucado, but I AM learning my own voice.

And as I learn, I am learning that while I love writing both non-fiction and fiction, fiction is my preferred niche.

And that’s the reason for this post.

I am going to be changing the format of my blog.

It seems like a natural time to do this, after having over a month-long hiatus due to surgery.

Over time, I will be transitioning more and more to fiction, perhaps even creating a separate blog for just that.

But in the meantime, this blog will change to a varied schedule.  My plan is that it will look like this:

    • Mondays:  A devotional or commentary on current events.
    • Wednesdays:  A book review or recommendation, mostly non-fiction spiritual growth books.
    • Fridays:  A short story or part of an ongoing serial story.

I’m letting you know about these changes because some of you will be excited and want more.  And some of you will decided “this isn’t what I signed up for” and will want to unsubscribe.  I will hate to see you go.  But it’s okay.  There’s no point in your reading these posts if you don’t feel they’re going to benefit you.  (However, I would ask you to consider waiting until Friday and reading the first fiction post before unsubscribing.  You might find yourself pleasantly surprised or intrigued by what you read!)

I just wanted to give you a heads-up as to what’s coming so you understand why and can decide for yourself.  I hope you decide to continue on the journey with me.

Thanks for reading!

“Don’t Judge Me!”

I don’t hear it quite as much recently, but a few years ago, it seemed like everyone was saying “don’t judge me…” for just about everything – eating ice cream, wearing pajama pants in public, eating weird combinations of things, cheering for a certain sports team, watching certain TV shows, etc.  It was usually meant as a fun way of saying “let me do my thing, even though I realize it may look weird to you!”

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The truth is, though, that none of us like to be judged.

However…even though we don’t like to be judged, and as followers of Jesus we know it’s wrong to judge others, the truth is that if we’re honest, most of us judge others fairly often.  We usually don’t express it out loud, but we can think some pretty harsh things.  (Well, I’m confessing I do that more than I should.  Probably none of you ever do that, right???!!!)

But judging people is dangerous for our souls – more dangerous than we may realize.

I was reading a devotional from Ted Dekker’s “The Forgotten Way” today when I read something that helped me understand this more clearly.  So just to be clear, this is not original with me.  But it was such a strong realization that I wanted to share it with you.

Jesus warned us against judging others in Matthew 7:1-5, where he said, “Stop judging others.  Before you point out the speck in someone else’s eye, get the telephone pole out of your own eye.”  (That’s the HP version – “Hunter Paraphrase.”)

But why is judging so bad?

Ted Dekker helped me realize something about judging that I had never seen before in Scripture.

In Genesis 2:16-17, God commanded Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. 

Think about that.  The fruit of that tree was the knowledge of what was good and what was evil – in other words, the fruit of that tree was judgment.  Not just knowing the difference, but deciding what was good and evil.

Dekker puts it this way: 

“Yeshua (Jesus) made it plain:  when you judge others, a plank of offense blocks your sight.  When you begin to see, your might be surprised to discover that your whole life is full of judgment against people, things, places, nations, groups, and above all, yourself.

Why?  Because the flesh was born out of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, which is condemnation.  Thus the flesh loves grievance and is addicted to negativity, which is its food for survival.

But if you remove that plank of offense against others, you will see clearly.  Surrendering judgment frees you from its harsh judgment of you.”

Do you get that?  Our very sin nature was born out of the fruit of judgment!  So when we judge (which is, in essence, taking the position of God over others), we are feeding our sinful nature and not our nature as a new creation in Christ.  In judging, we are choosing to live as who we once were, not who we are in Christ!

When you see that clearly, you begin to understand that judging is one of the most harmful things that you can do to your own soul.

“Ahh,” but I hear some of you say, “but what about discernment?  Aren’t we supposed to discern?  Isn’t discernment even a spiritual gift???”

Quite true. 

Let me suggest an important difference.  Discernment, which is of the Spirit, is based on hearing from God, and will not result in us treating the other person with anything other than love.

Judgment, which is of the flesh, is based on condemning others, and will result in us acting out of a critical spirit or at least looking at others out of a critical spirit, rather than out of love. 

In other words, discernment reflects the Father’s heart; judgment reflects the flesh, and a pharisaical heart.

Another way to consider it:  Discernment is restorative and protective; judgment is punitive and often takes offense – or takes the offensive.  (I know; I’ve done plenty of judging.)

I know, I know.  “But what about…what does that look like…how about…”

This is a blog, not a chapter in a book.  What I’ve tried to give you this morning is food for thought about our thought lives, not a completely developed theology or a guide to how to walk this out.

Let me suggest this for today – take a few moments and ask the Spirit, “how do I judge others, and myself, without realizing it?  How badly am I hurting my own soul when I do that?”


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

Be All You Can Be!

I remember seeing ads for the Army a long time ago that used the tag line, “Be All You Can Be.”  I looked it up on Wikipedia and found out that it was the official recruiting slogan of the U.S. Army from 1980 to 2001.  It must have worked pretty well – it stuck in my mind, and I’m sure it stuck in the minds of many others!  And I lived in Canada for 4 of those years!

“Be All You Can Be” sounds exciting; it’s motivating, it creates an image of excellence in your mind when you imagine it, and it opens your thinking up to new potential and possibilities.  And it has multiple applications!  Who wouldn’t want to be all they can be – as a spouse, as a parent, as a professional, as a friend, as a whatever-your-hobby-is.  I love to write – I want to be all I can be as a writer!  And I enjoy playing tennis – I want to be all I can be as a tennis player!  (Although realistically, there are some major physical limitations that come into play there as I get older.  And there are certainly some issues with my form and habits and style and overall ability and…wow, now I’m depressed about my lack of real tennis skills!)

“Be All You Can Be” isn’t a bad tag line when we’re thinking about spiritual formation and “being” either.  At least, it’s not bad unless it creates a “performance mentality” within us about “being.”

Because “being” isn’t about performance.  Not at all.  It’s about simply being – being with our Father.

But we live in this competitive, performance-based, action-oriented, pressure-filled world in which we are constantly challenged through advertising, social media, peer pressure, and cultural norms to be better and better.  Look better.  Feel better.  Have better hair.  Better skin.  Better muscle tone.  Better eating habits.  More hydration.  More exercise.  At work, get more done.  Be more efficient.  Be a better employee, or employer.  At church, be a better follower of Jesus.  Be more compassionate, more generous, more active, more serving, more involved.  The lists go on and on and on and they get tiring just reading and thinking about them all.

And if we’re not careful, we can bring that performance-based mentality to “being.”  We can feel guilty over how poorly we think we do at it.  We can assume others judge us for how we “be” or fail to “be.”  In fact, realistically, there are probably some of you who are reading this who think that because I’m writing about it, I think I’m better at it than you are and that I’ve judged you for not being better at “being.”  (That’s not true, by the way!)

Being is just that – being.  Just being with your Father. There’s no right way, no wrong way.  Over the past several blogs, I’ve tried to share some simple tools and methods that are effective in helping us slow down and “be.”  But “being” is about you and your Father, and because of that, it’s a very personal thing.  Ultimately, you are the only one who will know how you are best able to set other things aside, slow down, be silent, and just be with your Father.  It will take time and intentional trial and error to learn that about yourself.  But it’s well worth it.

And ultimately, you are the only one who can make the choice for yourself to slow down and make space to just be with Him.  No one else can do that for you.  No one else can do that for me. 

All the blogs, articles, podcasts, and books in the world won’t change that.

So let’s start with today.  Sometime today, will you choose to just be with your Father – to just sit with Him and enjoy His presence?  Why not take a moment right now – decide when and where, and put it on your calendar.  And then show up when the time comes.

The more often you “be”, the easier it will become, until one day, you will wonder how you ever made it through a day without “being” with Him.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

“Being” Together

I spend a lot of time with people.  I love people; I care about people.  I have a lot of compassion for hurting people, and whenever I am with hurting people, I find myself desperately wishing I could do more to help them.  It’s difficult going through painful things, and it’s difficult watching friends go through painful things when you feel helpless to do anything about it.  But I’ve learned that sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is just to be with someone in their pain.

One of the reasons I am in full-time ministry is because I want to help people grow and experience all the life that Jesus has for them.  People matter.

And people matter to God.  Jesus proved that at the cross.

But people are also problematic.  They can be cruel and hurtful and they can stab you in the back.

My journey with people has been complicated.  As a PK (“preacher’s kid”), I watched my parents go through a lot of pain because of things that people said and did.  And so as a result, I often judged people internally, assuming I knew their motives and personalities – often without taking the time to get to know them.

I spent a lot of my life closing people off.  Oh, I was friendly and went out of my way to help people; I would have said I loved people.  But inwardly, it was another story.  And trusting people?  That was very difficult.  I decided as a high school student that it was much better to not let too many people “in” – to not be vulnerable with too many people.

I would still get hurt, but not as deeply.

And then one sunny Florida afternoon, I was having lunch with a friend.  He was a church-planter; I was pastoring an established church.  We were both bi-vocational, struggling just to make ends meet, and working on the same job together.  That day, we were talking about some different experiences we had gone through in ministry, life in general, and I don’t recall what else.  He asked me something, and I brushed off his question with a vague response.  I will never forget what he said to me next:  “Don, you don’t make it very easy to get ‘in.” 

I knew exactly what Tim was talking about.  I was vigilant about keeping the walls up.  Even with my friends.  And he was frustrated because he was opening up to me about deep life stuff, and I was happy to listen to him and be there for him – but I wouldn’t take the same risks of opening up to him as he was taking with me.

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What does any of this have to do with “being”?

One of the ways that we learn to “be” and that we just are able to “be” is to spend time in community with people.  And the deeper you go, the more vulnerable you are, the more intimate the community becomes, the deeper the “being” becomes.  In other words, in the act of being vulnerable and opening up and sharing your life, you are “being” in one of the ways that God created you to “be.”

That’s hard for me.  But after that conversation with Tim a couple of decades ago, I’ve pushed myself to take risks.

It hasn’t been easy and I haven’t always been as “real” as I need to be.  But I’m taking the journey, and I’m taking it with friends.

Here are a couple of ways I’ve intentionally tried to lean into community:

  • A group in our church meets every week for “Coffee With Jesus.”  Over the past few years, the make-up of the group has dramatically changed.  It was difficult for me.  It went from a “safe place” to a group with a few safe people, but many more people with whom I wasn’t sure I felt safe.  But I took the risk of being real.  And I survived.  And now, that group is a safe place – which I would never have known if I hadn’t taken the risk of being willing to be vulnerable with my own life.  (I’m learning, among other things, that you can’t really lead without being vulnerable.  It’s important to set boundaries – Jesus certainly did – but a certain amount of self-disclosure is vital to effective leadership.
  • A few years ago, a good friend invited another friend and I to spend a day with him in Erie.  We went to Presque Isle and spent the day hanging out.  We had a conversation about creating intentional, vulnerable, honest community within our group.  It was exciting and terrifying at the same time.  We talked that day about things that we had never talked with anyone about before.  It was a huge risk.  But after a few years of intentionally getting together monthly, we talk about anything and everything.  I’ve been asked some pretty hard questions in our times together.  In fact, we’re getting together this afternoon because I asked them for some help with processing some crap in my life that has been stirred up with the physical issues I’m dealing with right now.  It’s not always fun or comfortable, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
  • Over the past few months, Jewel and I have had opportunities to connect deeply with two other couples who are going through some serious life struggles right now.  We’ve shared openly with them about some very difficult issues in our lives, and they have done the same with us.  Each time, it felt like a huge risk to me – old “stuff” tends to come flooding back, and the issue of “I’ve been burned before” rears its ugly head.  But we are finding deep friendship and Christ-like support in walking through some very hard things.  Without these friends, we would feel very alone in some of the things that we are journeying through right now.  But with these friends, we feel loved and accepted and we know we’re not in this alone.

So what’s the bottom line of this long, rambling blog?  It’s this – if you really want to learn to “be” you need to “be” in community.  You need to take the risk of opening up to some people and talking about the deep things of your life – the joys, the pains, the trials, the fears, the doubts, all of it.  You need to be wise; choose your friends wisely.  But go deep.  Being with the right people can help you “be” on a whole new level as you experience the Presence of God in deep community.

It’s a huge risk, I know.  It sounds terrifying.

And it is.

But it’s worth it.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.

“I Think, Therefore I Am”

French philosopher Rene Descartes posited the idea that thought, even doubt of one’s existence, was enough to prove existence.  Thought, he thought, was proof of life, among other things.

If thought is an important element of existence, then thought is intimately involved in “being.”  What we think, how we think, the things that we think about, taking time to just think – these are all a part of “being.”

I want to focus in on one biblical concept of thinking, though – meditating on God’s Word.  Remember, we are considering some practical ways to help ourselves make space to “be.”

There are a number of passages in Scripture that speak of meditating on God’s Word, but this is one of my favorites:  Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”  (Joshua 1:8, NIV)

What does it mean to meditate on God’s word?  How do you do that, exactly?

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Fortunately, the word meditate itself gives us a couple of pictures that can help us understand:

  1. To meditate is to ruminate, to think deeply about.  It literally means “to chew the cud.”  We talk sometimes about “chewing on something.”  It comes from the picture of a cow chewing on its cud.  So to meditate is to take a thought – in this case, a phrase or verse of Scripture – and to ponder it, chewing it over.  Thinking about it intently.  Perhaps thinking about it, moving on to other things, and then coming back to it, just as a cow would regurgitate its cud and chew on it again.  (Wonderful picture, isn’t it???!!!)  So a practical way to “be” with God is to pick a verse or a phrase of Scripture in the morning, write it on an index card so you can carry it with you, and take a few moments at the beginning of the day to sit with God and meditate on the verse.  Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through that verse.  Then throughout the day, pull out the card again several times and read the verse again.  Take a moment again to consider it.  Finally, end your day by taking a few moments to again meditate on the verse.  Since the Bible is God’s inspired word to us, by spending time meditating on His Word, you are considering His thoughts and words, and “being” with Him!
  2. To meditate also means to mumble or to murmur.  This picture is that of someone muttering under their breath – like an actor, rehearsing his or her lines in the process of memorizing them.  So to meditate on God’s Word is also to rehearse it, to repeat it quietly to yourself – declaring God’s Word over yourself, in other words.  This is also a simple thing to do throughout the day.  Let me give you an example, using a phrase from 1 John 4:8 – “God is love.”  It’s a simple thing to remind yourself throughout the day, “God is love.  So therefore God loves me.  And God loves everyone around me.”  You can also make declarations about it:  “God is love.  And Jesus is in my heart, and the Holy Spirit fills me.  So I am full of love today.”  Or, you can simply repeat the phrase or verse, emphasizing different words:  “GOD is love.  He is the source of love, the definition of love.  God cannot not love!  God IS love.  He exists as love – no one can change that about Him.  God is LOVE.  Whatever I or anyone else thinks about love, God is true love.  The truth about love and what it looks like is revealed by God, and in God.”

So those are a couple of ways to meditate on God’s Word, which is another simple way to “be.”  Why not try it for the next couple days?  In fact, imagine what your experience of worship could be on Sunday if you take time to “be” with God, meditating on His Word, for just a few moments before going to church?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.  A paperback version will soon be available.