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!

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.

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!

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.

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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 don@donwhunter.com

Your Attitude Can Make the Difference!

One of my favorite passages of Scripture about attitude is located at the beginning of the book of Joshua.  Moses has just died; Joshua has taken over leadership of the nation of Israel – a nation of wandering nomads, who have spent 40 years without a homeland because of their lack of faith and disobedience.  God begins to speak words of encouragement to Joshua, preparing him for the challenge that lies ahead as they face their first hurdles – crossing the Jordan river, and then conquering the city of Jericho, the stronghold at the entrance to the Promised Land.

God encourages Joshua to be strong, to be courageous, to be obedient, to ground himself in the Book of the Law that God had given to Israel through Moses.  And then God gave this command and promise to Joshua:  ”This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9, NLT)

Attitude-cat-vs-lion-quote

Can You Believe I Posted A Picture of a CAT?????!!!!

Isn’t it interesting that a part of what God was instructing Joshua to do was to protect his heart – to be careful of his attitudes?  Why was that?

I think it’s because Israel originally refused to enter the Promised Land 40 years before this because they let attitudes of fear and discouragement plague their minds.  And so, when faced with the opportunity to trust God’s provision and protection and enter the land, they instead let fear turn them to discouragement.  Without firing a single arrow or slingshot, they gave up – because their own attitudes defeated them.

And so, when we fast-forward 40 years, we find God telling Joshua to pay special attention to his attitude – to be brave and courageous, to be encouraged, to not give in to the temptation to fear or to be overwhelmed by the task before them.

Now, here’s the important thing to understand about attitude.  Attitude didn’t forge any physical weapons for Israel; it didn’t make their warriors any stronger; it didn’t give them greater speed or endurance; and it didn’t give Joshua an advantage in tactics.  It didn’t relieve them of the responsibility to walk into the land and face their enemies.

What attitude DID do for Joshua and for Israel was to give them the will and the ability to go on in the face of overwhelming odds.  Attitude gave them the faith to trust God when circumstances seemed to be against them.

To use an over-worn cliché, attitude was the wind beneath their wings.

And attitude can be the same thing, do the same things, for you and for me today.

What kind of attitude will empower you to get through whatever life throws at you today?  This attitude:  Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

I don’t know what this day will hold, for you or for me.  I don’t know the challenges that we will face, or the blessings that may come our way.

But I know this – no matter what, God is good.  And because of that, you and I can be strong and courageous.  We can face our day with attitudes of faith, and not fear.  We can choose to be encouraged.  Because God will be with us, wherever we are. 

What attitude will you choose as you face 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 ordering information, contact me at don@donwhunter.com

The Power of Positive Thinking

In the fall of 1984, I began working at Chick-fil-A in Westmoreland Mall, Greensburg, PA for a man named Bill Forster.

Bill and his wonderful wife Teri had a number of significant positive impacts on my life.  For example, Bill challenged me to apply to a new scholarship program that Chick-fil-A had established at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.  Bill and Teri supported me in that whole process, encouraged me to go for it, and didn’t complain when it meant I left the store to move to Georgia.  That set up a whole chain of events in my life, including a change in career direction, significant spiritual growth, amazing opportunities while in college, and even meeting Jewel.  I can honestly say that without Bill and Teri, I would never have met Jewel and married her, and we would never have had Bethany.

That’s a pretty significant impact for a couple to have on someone’s life!  And I know a number of other people who worked with Bill and Teri whose lives were changed positively because of their influence.

But I want to focus in on one significant area of impact that they had on me in today’s blog:  my attitude.

positive-thinking-b

I grew up in Christian home with the world’s greatest Dad and Mom and younger brother.  I was privileged to be taught God’s Word from an early age, to memorize Scripture, to make wise choices (which I didn’t always do!), and to live my life in such a way that I would honor the Lord Jesus.  I was blessed with a lot of truth, and that foundation still stands strong today.

One area that I had never really considered, though, was my attitude.  I’m not sure why; I guess I just never put it together.  But Bill and Teri helped put it together for me.  They modeled it for me every time I saw them, or worked side-by-side with them.  It didn’t matter what they were going through, what the store was going through, or what life brought along – Bill and Teri always, and I mean always, had a positive attitude about life, about their ability to face life with God’s help, and about God’s blessings on their lives.

One night at work, after we had a brief discussion about some of my plans for the future, Bill gave me a copy of a cassette tape (that was a LONG time ago!) by Zig Ziglar on setting and reaching life goals.  That tape was a game-changer for me.  It opened my eyes to a new way of thinking and planning, to new possibilities in my journey with Jesus, and it helped me understand that I had made some assumptions about following Jesus that weren’t true.  I had somehow in my own mind arrived at a place of thinking that setting goals and wanting to be successful was counter to the Kingdom of God.  Zig and Bill and Teri helped me understand that God wants us to be fruitful, and that while fruit looks different in different professions and in different peoples’ lives, there was nothing selfish in wanting to excel wherever I was.  In fact, bettering myself would equip me to help others do the same at a higher level.  For teaching me that and for opening doors in my life and in my thinking, I will be forever grateful to Bill and Teri.

I also learned (again, I don’t know how I missed this, but I did) that I am responsible for my own attitude.  No one else can choose my attitude for me; and I can choose to have a positive, expectant, faith-filled attitude regardless of my circumstances or I can choose to let life and other people dictate my attitude.  It’s my choice.  My mind; I control what I feed it, and what I focus my thoughts on.  Up until that point, I had spent a significant part of my teen years with the attitude that “if I don’t expect much, then I won’t be disappointed.”  As a result, I had a horrible attitude about a lot of things.

I’ve learned since then that a positive attitude is a huge advantage in life.  How I think doesn’t change my circumstances, but it changes my perspective on those circumstances, it changes how I approach those circumstances, it changes how I approach God in the midst of my circumstances, and it changes how I portray Jesus to others in my circumstances!

The Bible actually has a lot to say about how we think and how our thoughts affect our lives, as well as the lives of those we encounter.  Over the next few weeks, I’m planning to dedicate several blogs to the power of positive thinking.  Don’t let the terminology close your mind to what the possibilities that God’s Word can open up to you!

We’ll dive in on Wednesday’s blog.  In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with 3 questions to consider.  Feel free to comment below, if you’d like to dialogue:

  • Who has had the greatest impact on your attitude in life?
  • How would describe your overall attitude about life – positive?  Negative?  Neutral?
  • How would the person who knows you best describe your attitude about life?  (Sometimes others can see things in us and about us that we become blind to over time.)

I’m looking forward to sharing with you some of the things I’ve learned, and am learning.  In the meantime, remember that you and I can “do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV)!


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 ordering information, contact me at don@donwhunter.com