Book Review – David and Goliath

David and Goliath is not just a story in the Bible – it’s a recent book by New York Times bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell.

Gladwell, the author of five books and a staff writer for The New Yorker, is well-known for his creative insights into life using academic research as a basis for his ideas. An English-born journalist, author, and public speaker, he now resides in Canada and was appointed to the Order of Canada in June 2011.

Gladwell approaches the story of David and Goliath from a different perspective than one to which most people are accustomed. To most, the story is a classic example of an underdog (David) overcoming a huge warrior-giant (Goliath). And that is what happened – David defeated Goliath with the help of God.

But Gladwell points out that another perspective on the battle between the two of them shows that David’s victory, in some respects, should not have been unexpected. Goliath was a huge, lumbering heavy infantryman who needed an armor-bearer to help him with all of his weaponry and armor. David, on the other hand, was a nimble slinger who, based on historical information, could likely sling a stone with incredible accuracy at great distances, at a speed close to the speed of a bullet fired from a .45 pistol!

In other words, Goliath was looking for another heavy infantryman to fight in close, hand-to-hand combat; but instead, he encounters a fast-moving, accurate slinger who can attack from a distance and who hits him with stone before he can even thrust his spear at David.

Gladwell uses this perspective to point out that what we often perceive as strengths which can never be undermined – Goliath’s strength – can actually be weaknesses at some point. And that which we often perceive as weakness – David’s youth and experience and lack of armor – can actually be a strength, if applied strategically.

In other words, perceived advantages can often be disadvantages. And perceived disadvantages can often be advantages.

Gladwell goes on to demonstrate this from several different perspectives. A few examples:

⁃ Vivek Ranadivé, who knew nothing about basketball, but coached his daughter’s basketball team all the way to Nationals by teaching them to use the full-court press all the time – a completely unorthodox strategy that helped them defeat teams that should have easily defeated them.

⁃ The advantage of being a Little Fish in Big Pond, which can sometimes draw attention to your uniqueness and create unexpected opportunities.

⁃ Dyslexia – while dyslexia is classified as a learning disability, it seems that an inordinate amount of successful entrepreneurs have overcome dyslexia.

⁃ How Wyatt Walker, one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s lieutenants, used the media to help shift perspectives and empower the Civil Rights movement when it appeared to be facing irrelevance.

⁃ A group of “powerless” Irish mothers, who stood up against the might of the British Army during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and broke the control the British Army had established in Lower Falls.

These and several other examples drive home Gladwell’s major theme – your greatest disadvantage, your greatest weakness, can become a great advantage and strength if you are strategic about it. I would add to that if you can trust on God for wisdom and strength in that pursuit. (It’s a hopeful word for churches in today’s stagnant church conditions in America.)

But it is also a word of warning – beware of trusting in your strengths and advantages. There can come a point where they become weaknesses and disadvantages. (I believe that is part of what happened to evangelical churches in the last decade).

If you want a challenging and thought-provoking read, or if you are a leader who is willing to think outside of the box, I would recommend David and Goliath. You can purchase it on Kindle here.


684 Sundays.

That’s roughly how many Sundays there are until the beginning of the year in which I turn 65, and probably retire.

I know, that’s a long ways off.

But it’s not that far off.

And I won’t get to preach every one of those Sundays. I will be on vacation for some of those Sundays; I will have staff members who will want to speak for some of those Sundays; and I will have special speakers for some of those Sundays for things like Missions Conference or other special events. Over the course of those 13+ years, a conservative estimate would be that I would not preach 8 Sundays per year. That’s at least 104 Sundays I won’t be preaching, and that doesn’t account for emergencies or unexpected opportunities to have special speakers. So that cuts me down to 579 Sundays.

579 Sundays. That’s about 100 more sermon series, with a length of 5 – 6 messages. To those of you who have to sit and listen to me preach, it sounds like a lot of sermons.

But to me? That number is the number of grains of sand left in an hourglass, and they’re slipping through steadily.

Every week, that number decreases.

So for the time I have left, I want to be sure that every message counts,

The truth is that I’ve lived a significant part of my life in fear and anxiety. I’ve thought and worried too much about what other people think. I’ve tried too hard to please people, and tried to hard to avoid offending people so they wouldn’t leave the church.

But that kind of living is foolishness.

The truth is that no matter how hard I try, or how careful I am, I will always offend someone, somehow. I will always let people down and I will always disappoint some people.

So I’ve got to live my life according to what I think God wants from me.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a license to offend, to alienate, to be inconsiderate, or to just be a jerk.

But I can’t let my leadership of others be governed by fear or by their expectations.

Leadership can be selfish and controlling – manipulative. But it can also be motivational – unselfishly leading people to a difficult place, on a difficult journey, that will ultimately be for their benefit.

684 Sundays. That’s my number. I’ve got to make the most of it. I’ve got to lead differently, invest myself more in young leaders, take more risks, take bigger risks, push other leaders to go where they may not want to go but desperately need to go.

My challenge, my mission, is to fundamentally change the culture and direction of our church so that we are fulfilling Christ’s call. Because right now, while we’re doing some very good things, the hard and honest truth is that we’re failing. And if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep getting what we’re getting.

We have to change. I have to lead change. And I know what it will cost, because I’ve gone there before.

684 Sundays.

That’s my number.

What’s your number?

What are you going to do about it?

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. 

Wednesday Book Review – Room of Marvels

One of the truths of life that we don’t like to admit or even talk about is that life is a journey of loss.

Over the years, as we grow up and then grow older, there are many things lost – lost innocence, lost friendships, lost loved ones, lost pets, lost prized possessions, lost opportunities, lost potential, lost seasons of life, lost vehicles, and so many more people, things, and experiences.

The realization that we can never return to a relationship or experience, that we will never again see a particular person, never again be able to drive that first car, and so on, can be devastating. As country artist Brad Paisley puts it, “there’s a last time for everything.”

Some losses are much more painful than others, obviously. James (Jim) Bryan Smith, an author and college professor, experienced three great personal losses in a very short period of time in his life.

First, his daughter Madeline. Before Madeline was even born, testing revealed severe birth defects and a rare chromosomal disorder. Jim and his wife were told to plan a funeral before their daughter was born. Miraculously, though, Madeline had a healthy delivery. She lived for about two and a half years, although she was constantly being medically monitored and treated. But following what was supposed to be a routine, simple surgery, Madeline coded and then died.

Six months after the loss of Madeline, Jim’s best friend, singer and songwriter Rich Mullins, was killed in an auto collision.

And then six months later, Jim’s mother, who was seventy but in excellent health, died of a sudden heart attack.

Room of Marvels is a fictional account of Jim’s struggle to reconcile what he taught and believed – that God is good, better than we understand – with the reality of the devastating losses he and his wife experienced in such a short period of time. It begins with a character who represents Jim taking a spiritual retreat at a monastery, searching for answers and feeling hopeless. He realizes that he feels like a complete hypocrite – while he writes and teaches that God is good, he no longer believes it because of his own pain and loss.

While on this retreat, Jim experiences an ongoing dream/vision in which he visits heaven and encounters a number of people. Some are friends, some are family. Some are people he knew, some are people he never met. Some were people whose lives he had impacted knowingly or unknowingly; some were people who had impacted his life, knowingly or unknowingly.

In the process of meeting these people, talking with them, discovering stories, playing checkers, remembering forgotten moments of his life, and discovering the beauty, grace, and love of heaven, Jim finds that his heart is being transformed. He discovers that he can be free to be his true self; that he no longer has to wear masks to try to impress God or others; and that God’s goodness and love for him are beyond what he ever even imagined.

2 Corinthians 4:17 (NJB) tells us that “The temporary, light burden of our hardships is earning us for ever an utterly incomparable, eternal weight of glory.” As James Bryan Smith puts it in the conclusion of this book, “heaven changes everything we suffer on this earth.”

If you have ever suffered a devastating loss, if you have ever wondered how God could be good and allow difficult things to come into our lives, if you have ever suffered and asked “why” then I highly recommend this book for you. Room of Marvels contains a message of hope and transformation that we all need to hear.

You can purchase the Kindle Edition here.

It’s All Up To You

In one of John Maxwell book “Developing the Leader Within”, he quoted the following:

We cannot choose how many years we will live, but

We can choose how much life those years will have.

We cannot control the beauty of our face, but

We can control the expression on it.

We cannot control life’s difficult moments, but

We can choose to make life less difficult.

We cannot control the negative atmosphere of the world, but

We can control the atmosphere of our minds.

Too often, we try to choose and control things we cannot.

Too seldom, we choose to control what we can…our attitude.

How true that is, and how powerful once we understand it.

There are two important truths here:

    • There is not much that I cannot control in life, but
    • I CAN control my own attitude.

I know people – and I’m sure you do – who spend their entire lives trying to control.  Trying to control their spouses and children and grandchildren, trying to control other peoples’ perceptions of them, trying to control other peoples’ actions, trying to control their lives, trying to control what the future will look like.

And it’s all futile. 

The discouraging truth is that we begin life with no control, we gain some control over our lives as we become adults and make our own decisions, but ultimately, aging is a process of increasingly losing control of different aspects of our lives.  Depressing, isn’t it?  And yet, it’s the human condition.  It happens to all of us, and no matter who we are, how influential or powerless we are, how wealthy or poor we are, how spiritual or unspiritual we are, how well we plan or how poorly we plan, it will happen to each one of us.

But the good news is that while I cannot control what happens to me, I can control what happens in me.  No one can choose my attitude but me; no one can control my response to life’s situations but me.

positive thinking or think negative positivity or negativity opt

Viktor Frankl was a Doctor of Neurology and Psychology.  In 1942, he and his wife were forced by the Nazis to abort their first baby.  In 1944, they are sent to Auschwitz, where he is separated from his wife, mother, and brother.  After Auschwitz was liberated by U.S. Troops, he learned that his wife was transported to Bergen-Belsen, where she died at the age of 24; and that his mother and brother were murdered at Auschwitz.  Despite all of these experiences, Frankl went on to write the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” – the book in which he wrote these powerful words:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Wow.  Consider the weight of those words after all that he himself experienced.  No one can take from you the freedom to choose your attitude.

None of us knows what today will hold, what we will face in the coming days or hours.

None of us can control most of what may happen to us.

But every one of us can control our own attitude.  Every one of us can choose how we will face this day, and all that it brings to us.

What attitude will you choose 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.  The paperback version is NOW AVAILABLE for $6.99!  For ordering information, contact me at

Measuring Success, Re-Visited!

Confession time – tonight, I was glancing through my Facebook wall.  A friend had posted something a few days ago that I had neglected to respond to, and so I had a moment and wanted to go back and respond.  When I pulled up my page, one of the first things I saw was my own blog post from yesterday – “How Do You Measure Success?” 


I saw that no one had like my post.  I thought, “What the heck???!!!!!  That was a good blog!  I did some good writing!”  I wondered what was wrong.  I started to become discouraged.

Then I realized what I had done.

I had allowed the fact that no one “liked” a post – a post about not finding your value in goals and recognition from others – to discourage me.

I had judged myself on the very standard that I had told others to avoid!

Now why am I writing this and admitting it?

Because I need to.  Because if I keep that in the dark, it can create issues for me.

Instead, I’m exposing it to the light. 

One of the things that is a struggle for me is that I seek peoples’ approval.  And that means that if I’m not careful, if I’m not intentional, and if I’m not walking in the Spirit, I can act out of that need for peoples’ approval. 

That’s not healthy.  It’s rooted somewhere in a lie that I’ve believed about my own lack of value or in where my value comes from.  I’m still working through where and when and why I first believed that lie, and what the actual lie is.  And, I’m still learning that all the approval I need is my Father’s approval.  My value doesn’t lie in what anyone else thinks of me or says about me, and my value doesn’t even lie in what I think about myself.

My value has already been determined by my Father, and He demonstrated my value through His Son Jesus at the cross.

The tough thing is that I know this.  In fact, those of you who attend Awakening Alliance know that I preached on this very thing just two weeks ago.  But man, is it hard to re-program our thinking when we have lived under the influence of lies for a long time.

Honesty is hard.  But it is powerful.  And I want to be free.  So, here I am, being honest about not practicing what I just preached about and blogged about it!  This wasn’t easy to admit to myself, let alone to all of you.

But I’m learning.  Tonight or tomorrow, I’ll probably be on Facebook, and I’ll probably notice if anyone like this post or not.  But before I do, I’ll remind myself that it doesn’t matter.  As my friend Rob Reimer says often, the issue of my value was settled at the cross.

I’ll end with the same two questions I asked Wednesday, because I needed to ask myself these same things again: “What about you?  How do you measure yourself?”

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 be available in just a few weeks.

“People Are Idiots!”

I used to say and think that all the time.

(I am slowly re-programming my mind.  I want to see people the way my Father sees them.  I don’t want to judge people.  That’s a subject for another blog.)

The reality is that people (me included) sometimes do dumb things.  Really dumb things.

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the Annual Pennsylvania State Police Chaplains’ Conference for the first time.  It was a great experience.  I had the opportunity to meet a number of other chaplains and some State Troopers.  I also learned a lot about police procedures, investigations, and even forensics.  And, I learned that people who commit crimes are often caught because they make dumb mistakes.

I will never forget a statement that one of the instructors made as he taught:  “Don’t expect irrational thinking to produce rational results.”  He was talking about how people who are committing crimes tend to think irrationally and make unwise choices, which often result in their being caught.

Thinking Man

That same statement applies to life in a lot of different situations.

It applies to our lives when we give in to temptation.  We think irrationally about the outcome of giving in.

It applies to our lives when we believe lies – lies about ourselves, about others, even lies about God.  We think irrationally about what is actually true.

It applies to our lives when we live in the shadow of wounds that we have received.  We think irrationally about our identity.

It applies to our lives when we live in fear.  We think irrationally about God’s love (which casts out fear) and about possible outcomes.

Don’t expect irrational thinking to produce rational results.

Don’t expect an addict, in the grip of addiction, to do what is rational.

Don’t expect someone whose soul is wounded and whose perspective is therefore distorted to respond rationally.

Don’t expect the person you’re trying to help to respond rationally to your advice, your aid, your comfort -whatever you have to offer – if they are not really in place to receive what you are able to offer.

That may sound like jaded thinking, but it’s honesty.  When you deal with people, you have be wise in how you deal with them.  You have to take the time to listen, to observe, to understand.  And you can’t let your expectations of how they should respond or what you think is rational keep you from loving them, despite their irrational choices.

The good news?  I can’t expect irrational thinking to produce rational results.  However, I can always expect that God is at work.  And I can always expect that Jesus can redeem even the worst of messes, the worst of choices, the most irrational decisions.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences.  And it doesn’t mean that those who make irrational choices won’t suffer because of their choices.

But God loves us, even when we make irrational choices.

In fact, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

We live in a world in which we are surrounded by people making unwise and irrational choices.

But each one of them is a person for whom Jesus died, a person God loves.

So when you’re dealing with that frustrating person today – remember, if he or she is in a place where they are thinking irrationally, don’t expect that they will make rational choices or respond to your help rationally.

But don’t give up them.  Jesus hasn’t.

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.

“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!”


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.

“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.

In the Waiting

When it comes to feeling forgotten by God, to dealing with painful situations, to seeking answers to nagging questions and doubts, to suffering, and to other difficult life issues, waiting is no fun.  In fact, it can often feel like waiting increases the anxiety, the stress, and the pain of the situation.  Our minds tend to go places when we have to wait – worst-case scenarios, imaginary conversations, the most scary of “what-if’s.”  But there is a better way.

As I’ve dealt with my current physical issues, I’ve tried to walk a line in this blog between being vulnerable about some of the things I’m going through while avoiding either making it all about me or turning this into a “woe is me” kind of emotional purge.  (Hopefully I’ve been somewhat successful in that.  It’s a little hard sometimes to be objective about your own stuff!)

Yesterday, I underwent some procedures/testing that I had been waiting on for a couple of weeks, hoping for some simple, obvious answers to my problems.  But it didn’t work out that way.  Instead, some fairly serious things were ruled out; some new possibilities were introduced; and some other potential serious issues were left unanswered, pending biopsy results.  So here I am – a little further on the journey, but still waiting.


What do you do when you’re in a place like that?  There’s nothing you can do to control it; nothing you can do to change it.  You just have to wait.

Here’s the thing about waiting – it’s not optional.  It’s a part of life.  Sometimes it’s harder than at other times, but it is unavoidable.

We often cannot choose whether or not we have to wait.  But we can always choose HOW we wait.  No matter the circumstances.

My perspective on waiting has changed as I’ve observed friends who have had to wait for some very hard things.  Friends who have waited for medical diagnosis after attempted solution after trips to the ER after more diagnoses after more attempted solutions after more trips to the ER in what has seemed like an endless cycle.  Friends who have waited for God’s direct healing intervention.  Other friends who have endured most of their family battling debilitating illnesses over a period of several years.  Friends who have cried out to God for healing in their marriages, done everything they could to fight for reconciliation, only to see their lifelong partner walk away without a backwards glance.  Friends who have suffered great financial losses, who have lost jobs, who have had their worlds turned upside down in one way or another.  All of them people who were asking God to change their circumstances; all of them people who waited and waited and waited.  And as I prayed with them and prayed for them, I watched almost every single one of them wait with grace, with gratitude for what they DID have rather than bitterness over what they did NOT have.  And I learned from their example.

As I am forced to wait, I remember my friends and they spur me on to wait with gratitude, to trust God no matter what.

I’ve also learned from the psalms.  I love the example of David as a person who faced many disappointments and challenges in life.  Here was a man who was anointed king of Israel and then spent fifteen years running for his life before he was recognized as king by his own tribe.  It was another seven years – twenty-two years total – before he was actually crowned king of all Israel.  Talk about waiting!  And not just waiting, but waiting while on the run.  Waiting and choosing to honor the man who wanted him dead, the man whose position he had been promised by God.  Waiting for years and years and years with unfulfilled promises from God – and in all that time, he never took offense at God. 

When you read the psalms that David wrote during that time, you find that David cried out to God; he prayed for deliverance; he prayed for vengeance on his enemies; he asked God “why”; he was honest – even brutally honest – with God.  But he never took offense at God.  He never turned away from God.  He kept trusting God and believing the best of God.  He kept finding his rest, his strength, his security, and his hope in God.

That’s the choice we face.  You’ve no doubt heard it said that suffering can make us better or it can make us bitter.  In David’s case, it prepared him to become king.  That’s because of the way in which David waited on the Lord through all of his trials.

I don’t know about you, but that’s how I want to learn to wait. 

The good news is that it’s never too late to start.  Whatever we may be enduring, however difficult, however uncertain, however long we’ve had to wait – God is always waiting on us to turn to Him, to trust in Him.

And so this morning, as I wait, I pray words that David wrote somewhere around 3000 years ago.  If you are waiting today, I encourage you to join me:  “I stand silently to listen for the One I love, waiting as long as it takes for the Lord to rescue me.  For God alone has become my Savior.  He alone is my Safe Place; His wrap-around presence always protects me.  For he is my Champion Defender; there’s no risk of failure with God.  So why would I let worry paralyze me, even when troubles multiply around me?   Psalms 62:1-2 (Psalms:The Passion Translation)

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.