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.


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.

No Pain, No Gain

“No pain, no gain” is something I’ve heard repeated by gym teachers, coaches, fitness trainers, and leaders (and all manner of sadists!) throughout my life.

As trite as it sounds, there is truth to it.  In physical exercise and activity, and in sports training, there is a breaking down that has to occur before growth and building up takes place.  In life, we often have to learn from painful experiences and failures before we experience growth and then success.


And the same often holds true in our spiritual lives.  Dying to self daily is not a pleasant experience.  The journey to soul health, sanctification, and deep intimacy with God and with others is a difficult journey.  It involves the pain of exposing our wounds, our hearts, our failures and shortcomings; it means being vulnerable and exposing ourselves to the pain of rejection and judgment by others; and it involves the pain of losing false identities and excuses and other things that we use to cover our true selves…all so that we can experience the transformation of stepping into the freedom of walking in the light as our true selves, with God and with others.

As with so many things in life, our attitude in approaching this can make a huge difference.  Many – perhaps most – approach these opportunities for growth and transformation and allow fear to turn them back.  As a pastor and a leader, I have watched countless times as people have processed truth, a spark in their eyes lights as they get a glimpse of the freedom that’s available to them – and then the realization of what it will cost them sinks in.  Vulnerability.  Honesty.  Letting down the walls that they have erected so carefully over their lifetimes.  Repentance.  Change.  Fear then takes hold.  And then, sadly, like the rich young ruler, they turn away.

I know.  I’ve done the same thing, many times.

But I’ve had to realize that my attitude is my choice.

I can choose to face hard things that I don’t want to face with fear, and back away, and lose the opportunity for transformation.

Or I can choose trust in God’s love and belief in the love of my family and friends, and push ahead through the pain to the long-term gain.

I’ve had this lesson reinforced over the past several months.

As many of you know, I’ve been dealing with anemia and other related physical problems during this time.  I’ve been through a battery of tests, procedures, IV’s and blood draws that have left me just tired of the whole thing.  I’m ready to be done.  (I know, I know.  I’ve dealt with this for 6 months.  Some of you reading this have been dealing with far more painful and debilitating issues for far longer than I have.  But I can’t speak to your journey or your thoughts – just my own.)

I gained some ground for a couple of months, but over the last month, my hemoglobin has been dropping and my symptoms have been getting worse.  I was feeling worse and worse and getting more and more tired trying to hide it from everyone.  And I ran out of simple options.

This Wednesday, I met with a surgeon.  First time for me.  Oh, I had tubes in my ears 5 times as a kid, but that hardly counts.  This was a real-life, honest-to-goodness surgeon.  He talked about what he needed to do, and then used words like “staples” and “stitches” that my wife Jewel has had to deal with but that I’ve never had to deal with myself.  A part of me was glad – hopefully, my issue will be corrected and I can begin the slow process of getting my blood counts back up to where they should be.  But a part of me was filled with fear.  After all, surgery = pain.  And I’m not really that into pain of any kind.

But no pain, no gain.  And I had to have a conversation with myself about my attitude. 

I can face this with fear, or I can face it with trust and positivity.  It’s my choice.

But really, there’s no choice.  I need to deal with the pain so I can experience the gain.  And I can’t afford to live in fear.

Neither can you.

What opportunities for growth are you avoiding because of fear?

To quote my buddy Bernie, “think about 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.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE for $6.99 plus postage!  For ordering information, contact me at

“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.

climbing helping  team work , success concept

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?


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.

Being Silent

On Friday, I promised to begin sharing some simple but practical ways to “be” – to just spend time with God and to enjoy Him, without having to be busy “doing” for Him or serving Him.

In Friday’s blog, I shared with you how to “soak.” Today, I want to share a similar practice – just without the music!  It’s the spiritual discipline of silence.

We live in a noise-filled world – probably noisier than at any time in history.  Thanks to Pandora, Sirius XM, Amazon Prime, Apple Music, YouTube, and a host of other online services, for very little money any of us can enjoy basically any kind of music we want at any time – a situation that is unprecedented in history.  (I can remember growing up when you had to listen to either what was on the radio or what tapes you could carry to listen to in your Walkman.  How the world has changed!)

And it’s not just music that’s available to us. 

If you want to learn how to do almost anything, you can look it up on YouTube.  If you want to grow as a person, there are TED talks.  If you want to grow in your walk with Jesus, you have podcasts at your fingertips.  If I had the time, I could listen to sermons by Bill Johnson, Mark Batterson, Danny Silk, Andy Stanley, Ed Stetzer, Mark Driscoll, my brother Dave, Tim Keller, and a ton of others every week.  The problem isn’t that I don’t have choices – it’s that I have too many choices and not enough time.

Then there are audio books, the radio, and the list goes on and on and on.

If that’s not enough to intrude on your thoughts, there’s that wonderful thing that we cannot do without – our cell phones.  Now, you can’t get away from noise and from people, no matter where you go! 

I used to look forward to trips, partly because when I was in the car, I was “out of the office.”  No one could bother me, and I had a lot of time to think and to process.  But no more.  With our wonderful cellular technology, we are reachable all the time, almost everywhere.

Our society, our culture, and our lifestyles have almost completely eliminated silence from our lives.  In fact, many of us can’t even go to sleep in silence – we need to have music on or the TV on or a sound machine going in order to fall asleep.

So why silence?

Silence is simply one way of obeying the biblical command to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

In sitting in silence, we are deliberately quieting all the voices that shout for our attention.  We are sitting, waiting on God.

And when we wait on God, in the stillness and silence, that is where we hear His voice the most often.

(If you struggle to hear God’s voice and know His will, one place to start looking for answers is this place of silence.  Do you ever sit still and deliberately take time to just be quiet?  For more than, oh, say, 45 seconds???)

I promised you practicality, so here’s how to practice silence:

  1. Find somewhere quiet where you will be undisturbed.  (You CAN do this, even if you are a mother with young children.  Sit in the garage in your car for 15 minutes.  Find a closet.  Go to the basement or the attic.  Susanna Wesley, who had 10 children and lived in a one-room home, promised God she would spend one hour with Him for every hour she spent on entertainment.  In order to do it, she had to sit in the corner with her apron over her head while her children played.  But she was committed to being with God and hearing God, so she did what she had to do.  You and I CAN do this.)
  2. Put your phone on “Airplane Mode.”  (Seriously.  And yes, you can do this.  If someone needs to get in touch with you, they will leave a message.  You can survive without being connected for 30 minutes.  We used to do it all the time before cell phones.)  Don’t put on any music or background noise.  Turn everything off, and prepare to be silent.
  3. Close your eyes.  (I know, this sounds a lot like soaking.  It is.  But being silent gives you space to be attentive to God.  Listen quietly.  Just sit in the silence, and wait on God.)
  4. Have a pad of paper nearby.  If things start coming to mind – “I have to remember to call this person…I have to do this…I can’t forget that…” then just write it down, set the pen down, and go back to being still.
  5. If you want, pray a simple prayer of declaration.  Similar, again, to soaking, pray something like “Come, Holy Spirit.”  Or “Father, I just want to be with you.”  Or Samuel’s prayer is pretty powerful – “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
  6. Now just be with the Lord.  Just sit with Him.  Let Him love you.  If He speaks, listen and welcome His voice, but the point isn’t active listening.  The point is to sit (or recline, or whatever you’re comfortable with) and just be with Him.  Be still and let Him love you, and if He desires, speak to you.

That’s it!  Not that difficult at all, really.  It’s just a matter of stopping, removing distractions, and choosing to be silent.  As with soaking, I recommend “small bites.”  Start with 2-5 minutes.  (You could even do that a couple of times during the day – right after each meal, for example.)  Work towards 15-30 minutes, 3-4 times per week.

And here’s what you can expect – when God has your attention, He will speak in the silence.  He will encourage you.  He will challenge you.  He will respond if you ask Him questions.

In other words, in the silence, you will encounter Him.

Why not begin today?

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.

Learning to “Be”

“To be is to do.” – Socrates

“To do is to be.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

“Do be do be do.” – Frank Sinatra

You didn’t realize there was such a long-term discussion in the world of philosophy on being and doing, did you???!!!

Well, bad humor aside, the truth is that most of us are much better at doing than at being.  In fact, as I wrote on Wednesday, it’s what we are trained to do, it’s what our society encourages and rewards, and it’s what is most familiar to us.  So if “doing” is so deeply ingrained in our society and in each of us, then the truth is that in order for us to learn to “be” we will have to be intentional about it.  It will take a willingness to learn new skills, it will take a commitment to understanding ourselves and our identity on a deeper level, it will take a commitment of time, and it will take self-discipline to regularly “do” the things that will help us to “be.”

Yep, you read that right.  It’s counter-intuitive, but there is some “doing” involved in “being.”

So what I would like to do over the next several blogs is just share some simple, practical ways to “be.”  Some of these are things that I’ve written about and spoken about in relation to spiritual formation and hearing God’s voice.  Some of these are things that I’m great at; some are things that I’m really struggling to incorporate into my life and to make a part of my walk with Jesus.  To be honest, not everyone will connect with all of these.  I’m learning that one of the keys to making progress in our walk with Jesus is to learn how best we connect with Jesus and lean into those ways.  Don’t judge yourself against someone else, or by comparing yourself to what works for someone else.  Find what works for you, and go for it, and then if it begins to become stale, switch it up as you learn to spend time just “being” with Jesus.


Today, I want to begin with a simple practice.  A lot of people who do this call it “soaking.”  Just as you would soak in a bathtub, so in this way of “being” you just spend time “soaking” in God’s presence – sitting with Him, being with Him.  Not doing anything.  Not reading your Bible, not journaling, not praying, not worshiping (although worship music can be helpful in this).  Just sitting with God and soaking up His presence.

Here’s how you soak:

  1. Find somewhere quiet where you will be undisturbed.
  2. Put your phone on “Airplane Mode.”  (Seriously.  And yes, you can do this.  If someone needs to get in touch with you, they will leave a message.  You can survive without being connected for 30 minutes.  We used to do it all the time before cell phones.)
  3. Put some soft worship music on.  I prefer instrumental worship music, but use whatever works best for you.  The point of the music is to cut out other distractions, to create a “space” for God’s presence (remember, He inhabits the praises of His people), and to help you focus on just being with God.  The point of the music is not to draw you into worship, although worship is good.  But this is soaking, not worship.
  4. Close your eyes.  (This helps you avoid distractions.  And if you’re afraid you’ll fall asleep, well, maybe you need some sleep.  Guess what?  God can be with you in your sleep.  He’s powerful like that.)
  5. If you want, pray a simple prayer of declaration.  Something like “Come, Holy Spirit.”  Or “Father, I just want to sit with You right now.”  Or “Jesus, I want to soak in Your presence.”
  6. Now just be with the Lord.  Just sit with Him.  Let Him love you.  If He speaks, listen and welcome His voice, but the point isn’t active listening.  The point is to sit (or recline, or whatever you’re comfortable with) and just be with Him.  Just soak up His Presence.

That’s it!  My suggestion is that you set a time period – half an hour, or an hour.  If the thought of this is intimidating, then start with fifteen minutes.  But try it 3-4 times a week for a month and see how you are able to develop the skill of just soaking in His Presence.  It can be difficult – for some of us, it’s hard enough to slow down, let alone slow down and just “be” with God.  But soaking is an amazing, simple, practical way to just “be.”

Try it this weekend – and let me know how it goes!

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 or Doing?

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a little time in a message I preached on “Why Am I Here?” talking about the importance of being versus doing.  Here’s a quick summary of a couple of important points:

  • We are human beings, not human doings.  (This quote is not original with me.  I’ve heard and read it a couple of different places, although most recently on a DVD teaching on Soul Care by Dr. Rob Reiner.)
  • In the creation story of Genesis 2:7-10, God created Adam and put him in the garden to enjoy the beauty and to fellowship with God (to BE) before God instructed Adam to DO anything else.
  • In Mark 3:13-15, (NIV) Jesus calls the Twelve.  Mark tells the story like this:  “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.  He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.”  The interesting this is that Jesus called them to BE with Him, and then what would follow out of their being with Him would be their being sent out on mission.  We often put mission – doing – ahead of being with Jesus.  But as Jesus pointed out in John 15, unless we learn to abide/remain in Him – to BE with Him – we can DO nothing of any eternal significance.  So again, doing must come before being.

As I’ve thought about this more over the past few weeks, and had opportunities to have conversations with people about it, I’ve realized that while this is good truth, it’s difficult truth.  And it’s difficult for a couple of reasons.


First, most of us just don’t know how to “be.”  It sounds cool to say we are “human beings not human doings” but the truth is that most of us are so busy and live life at such a hectic pace that there’s no room in our lives to simply “be.”  And if there were room, and if there were time, I’m not sure that most of us would know how to “be.” 

(A personal example:  a few years ago, I was taking a course on Spiritual Formation in Redding, California.  On the first morning of the retreat, we were sent out to find a place by ourselves on the campus where we were.  We were not allowed to take anything with us – no Bible, no journal, no phone, no notebooks, no nothing at all.  We were given a few phrases to meditate on:  “God loves me,” “God is with me,” and “God is for me.”  That’s all.  Then we were left alone for an hour and a half.  It was one of the longest hour and a half time periods of my life!  I wasn’t used to just “being” with God.)

For many of us, to “be” is just something that has never been defined, that has never been modeled, that we’ve never been taught how to do, that no one ever felt was an important part of helping us grow as disciples, and that doesn’t come naturally.

Second, “doing” is much easier than “being” when we’ve spent our lives “doing.”  We live in a culture in which achievement is rewarded.  We live in a time when smartphones make to-do lists and organization accessible to all of us.  In school, we’re graded on what we achieve – how well we do.  (Well, we used to be…it seems to be more about participation trophies and standardized testing prep than actually achieving anything, but that’s another blog post.)

So…how exactly do you “be”?  And what should the balance be between being and doing, when we’ve spent most of our lives being taught how to do and being rewarded for doing?

What do you think?  For my answers, stay tuned!  🙂

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.

The Day After Easter

Today is the day after Easter – what used to be known as “Easter Monday.” 

For the first Christ-followers, the day after the first Easter was a day full of wonder and expectancy.  The women at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning had seen the empty tomb, and had even seen the resurrected Jesus.  Some of the disciples had seen Jesus on that first Easter Sunday evening.  For those who had seen Him, there was the excited anticipation of possibly seeing Him again, of wondering when He might show up and what His plan would be.  For those who had not seen Him yet after the resurrection, there was a mixture of excitement, doubt, wondering if it could be true, and much more.

For the Pharisees and other religious leaders, and for Pilate, there was scrambling.  It was time to go into cover-up mode.  Time to start spreading lies about the disciples stealing the body, trying to discredit witnesses, trying to preserve their own positions and authority.


And for many in Jerusalem and throughout Israel, that first Easter Monday was no different than any other day.  Some hadn’t heard that Jesus had died; many had heard that He had, but didn’t know He had risen.  Some had heard that He had risen, but didn’t believe.

It’s interesting to consider the perspectives of people at the time.  But here’s a more important question – what does the day after Easter mean to you?

As you begin your Monday morning, what difference did Easter make for you?

Was Easter Sunday simply a reason to attend church for the first time in a very great while?  Was it an excuse to dress up for a rare occasion?  Was it an excuse to get the family to come along to church?  Was it a feel-good opportunity for you to ease your conscience in some way?

Or was Easter Sunday more than that?

Was it a reminder of the fact that you were bought with a price?  Was it reminder of your value to God?  Did it emphasize for you the lengths to which God would go to pursue a relationship with you?  Did Easter Sunday remind you of how much have to be grateful for?  Was it reminder of the incredible truth of the empty tomb, and all that the empty tomb means?

As you begin your week today, what difference did yesterday make in your life?

If you examine yourself honestly, the answer could tell you a lot.  Food for thought as we begin a new week.

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.

What WOULDN’T Jesus Do?

For a long time, “WWJD” was a major Christian cultural theme.  What Would Jesus Do?  You could find it on bracelets, T-shirts, bumper stickers, cards, stickers, necklaces, coffee mugs, Bible covers, children’s toys, stuffed animals, jewelry boxes – basically any of the little trinkets that the aisles and end-caps of Christian bookstores are always filled with.

Despite the over-commercialization of “WWJD” it’s a pretty thought-provoking slogan.  It can be a very helpful question to ask yourself in a situation – “What would Jesus do?”  (Although I think it’s probably more helpful to ask Jesus, “What do you want me to do?” and wait and listen to Him!  But that’s for another post!)

However, on the flip side of “WWJD” is an interesting question – “What WOULDN’T Jesus Do?”  Because that question can also add some layers to our understanding and to our insight.


Here are a few examples, based on the story of Jesus dealing with the woman caught in adultery in John 8:

  • Based on the story of the woman caught in adultery, I think it’s safe to say that Jesus WOULDN’T join with religious, pharisaical-type people who judge or condemn someone for his/her sin without caring for that individual as a person.  (Jesus ignored the Pharisees, until finally, he called them out on their own sins by calling for the person without sin to cast the first stone.)
  • Based on the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus WOULDN’T publicly shame someone for his/her sin.  (The woman was naked and ashamed.  Jesus treated her with dignity and love.  He protected her from the accusations and judgments of others.  How quick are we to jump on the bandwagon of accusations?)
  • Based on the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus WOULDN’T put rules above relationships.  (The Pharisees were right; but Jesus was more interested in restoring the woman’s relationship to her Father than in judging her for her sin.)
  • Based on the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus WOULDN’T dismiss the woman without ministering to her soul.  (She was full of shame, wounded, embarrassed, exposed, judged – and He didn’t avoid the issue.  He asked her where her accusers where, and then freed her from her guilt and shame by declaring “Neither do I condemn you.”  He was the only one who was sinless, who could have cast the first stone – and He set her free.  How often do we feel justified in casting stones when we should be setting people free?)
  • Based on the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus WOULDN’T ignore the hard issue of her sin.  He did tell her “go and sin no more.”  That was courageous and significant – in loving her, He didn’t ignore the fact that she needed to make changes in her life.  And loving someone means that on the one hand, we don’t judge them; but on the other hand, if we are in relationship with someone, we cannot ignore obvious sin issues in their lives – we need to be courageous and lovingly call them out on those issues.  (Here’s the issue for most of us, though – we generally tend to skip the first several things Jesus did, and we tend to go straight to the “go and sin no more.”  Based on what Jesus did and didn’t do, I don’t think we have any right to tell someone “go and sin no more” if we haven’t first loved them, entered relationship with them, protected them from shame and abuse by others, extended them grace and forgiveness, and demonstrated that we don’t condemn them.)

So when you’re faced with a person or situation that creates difficulty in knowing what to do, go ahead and ask yourself “what would Jesus do?”

But consider also asking yourself “what WOULDN’T Jesus do?”  It may just open your eyes to a different angle of response.