Monday, February 8, 2016

The Sisyphus dilemma. So close & yet so far... But 30 @ 40 can beat it!

Remember Sisyphus?

He was the guy in Greek mythology who was condemned to eternally push a rock up a hill only to have it roll back down.

The rock never stayed. Never went over the other side. Never moved on.

Just up....almost....almost....almost......then back down.

Think about it. Feel the strain. Feel the mounting hope. Feel the sense of, “Maybe, just maybe, this time....”

Then, Boom!, back down the boulder rolls. Back down Sisyphus goes. And it all starts again.

Up. Down. Up. Down. Just to the cusp. But never over.

Can you relate?

Have you ever set a goal and started pushing through? Made progress? Had your hopes rise? And then, Boom!, back to square one. Or so it feels.

Something. Some circumstance outside of your control impedes your progress.


Of course, there’s the old saw that if you can’t go ahead, just go through or over or around or under, etc., etc.

I doubt Sisyphus was encouraged by such verbal memes.

Sometimes, stuck is stuck.

And right now, I’m stuck.

Initially I was really encouraged and grateful (and still am). The response was tremendous and humbling, especially since it was really hard for me to ask. For help. Which I do not like to do. Ask for help.

But which I’m doing again. Now. Because it seems the stone rolled back down the hill.

Yes, I’m talking about the help I need to get my book, The Hungering Dark: A Story into print.

As I’ve mentioned before*, there are two critical pieces I need help with: editing and marketing expenses.

Editing is especially important and is the first priority, the first hill to get the boulder over.

A good edit is going to cost at least $2,000. So far, we’ve raised $835 (for which I’m truly very grateful!).

To move ahead with just the editing, we need to raise at least another $1,200.

But together we can!

Right now, if only 30 people extend a helping hand at just $40 each, we’d push this boulder over the top of this first hill in no time!

Won’t you help me? When you join the team at $40, you’ll get a signed paperback copy of the book when it’s published.

Of course, you’re welcome to come on board for any amount, and there are several suggested levels, each including a book or two.

Go to to help get me unstuck and to learn more about the book.

Help me bring The Hungering Dark: A Story to light!

Please give and join the team today! Or please share this post with others and invite them to join us today!

(And keep the lights on!)

Thank you.

*Additional resources:

Please feel free to ask any questions, share ideas, offer your suggestions, and pass along any thoughts you may have in the comment section. And, of course, please visit to offer your support of my book project!

Just for fun:

Friday, February 5, 2016

To paraphrase Edwin Starr, “Pain! Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely somethin’”

This is a devotional I wrote in 2005
for an email newsletter.

reposted here with minor edits.

We are a culture bent on pain relief. At the first twinge of discomfort we look for a quick and easy way to dull it.

Medicating physical pain is not a bad thing; there’s nothing wrong with taking an aspirin to relieve a headache.

Even anti-depressants have their place. But mindlessly numbing spiritual or emotional pain too quickly can be counterproductive. Pain can have a purpose.

Years ago, searching for a reliable Christian therapist to help me work through an unexpected divorce and related issues, there was one I went to only briefly.

He was obviously biased against people of faith (and yet a “Christian” therapist!), as well as afflicted with a Gordian knot of his own unresolved issues (yes, even therapists have issues!).

But he did offer one piece of true and valuable advice: Don’t avoid your pain; sit in it and feel it fully.

I’m not aware of anywhere in the Bible where we are admonished to run from, avoid, deny, or otherwise neutralize pain at all costs. Yet so much of what we chase after in the name of faith, peace, and blessing has to do with exactly that.

Without any thought, whatever we suspect as causing us pain or discomfort is tossed away, avoided, or walked away from, whether it’s a person, a truth, or an event.

The irony here is that, desperate to avoid pain in ourselves, we often inflict unjust pain on others.

Is this Christ-like? Does this jibe with the wisdom and teachings of Paul? Is it the experience of the primary characters in the Bible?

Most important, is this how Father God deals with us -- His biggest pains in His you know what?

No! He is patient, loving, forgiving, comforting. He walks with us through our pain.

To comfort is to cheer and encourage. It involves the dispelling of grief through the impartation of strength, not the removal of pain.

Others can’t relieve my personal pain, but in standing with me I can draw on their strength to endure; I can lean on them for support.

As the saying goes, sometimes God calms the storm and other times He calms us in the storm. Either way, there is still pain to be dealt with.

Comfort acknowledges the legitimacy of pain and the wisdom and insight it imparts.

So what is God’s purpose in pain? Responded to in a healthy manner, pain can sensitize us to the troubles of others, allowing us to become better ministers of God’s grace and comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (HSCB) explains it like this:
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is experienced in your endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will share in the comfort.”

Note: The tense is present not past when referring to troubles, distresses, and sufferings, which are just different words for pain.

Pain can also point us to imperfections we need to purge from our lives or areas of weakness that need to be strengthened.

James puts it like this: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4, HSCB).

By sitting in our pain and letting it fully wash over us, we can more clearly see how our own actions and reactions have fueled our own hurt or other’s.

And when it comes as a consequence of our own sin, after being refreshed by God’s grace and forgiveness, we can better carry out the command in Colossians 3:13-14 (HCSB) to “[Bear with] one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity..”

The reality is that pain avoided is actually only pain delayed. It is pain that, while temporarily numbed, will still cripple us in persistent and subtle ways. As one person put it, avoiding pain is sort of like trying to hold a bunch of basketballs underwater.

Pain patiently endured and fully experienced teaches us how to be merciful without sacrificing people, relationships, or experiences that God has provided to us (Hosea 6:6).

It leads us not just to true and total healing, but to the awareness of our own desperate need for God’s grace in our lives moment by moment. It keeps us humble, fills us with gratitude, and enables us to be more caring toward others.

We can let go of the basketballs and watch them float away, allowing us to focus our energies on better things.

Being in pain can open us more fully to the presence and voice of God:
“God rescues the afflicted by their affliction; He instructs them by their torment” (Job 36:15, HCSB).

Pain refines and purifies: “[Pain has come] so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in[a] praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7, HCSB).

Pain yields multiple benefits: “And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.  This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, HCSB).

If you’re in pain, don’t run from it. Sit, and let it run its course in you. Allow the Holy Spirit to comfort you and teach you in your pain.

Take what you learn and use it to comfort others. Over time, you will experience genuine healing, real blessing, and true peace with God no matter what affliction surfaces next.

Better things come from being broken than being hard.
“But [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak [in pain], then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, HCSB).

Do you embrace, avoid, or run from pain? Why? Has the pain that did not kill you truly make you stronger? How or why not? When going through a painful period, what is the best and worst advice you received? What is the most memorable comfort you have received when in pain? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Just for fun:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Undone, unmoored, taken apart, scattered, broken & okay

Have you ever been undone?

Hearing the word “undone” probably evokes an image of an unbuttoned button or an undercooked cake.

But neither of these even gets close to the meaning of the word. At least not how I think of it.
The prophet Isaiah used it when he was confronted with a vision of God in glory:
“Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (KJV).
Other translations use the word “ruined” instead of “undone.”

The original Hebrew can be rendered “to be dumb or silent, to fail or perish, to be destroyed, cease, be cut down (off), destroy, be brought to silence, be undone, utterly” (

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “undone” as “to reverse or erase, annul, to untie, disassemble, to cause the ruin or downfall of, to throw into confusion; unsettle, to unravel.”

Now we’re getting to it.

Ground control, we’ve got a problem

Another word akin to “undone” is “unmoored.”

Imagine an astronaut doing a spacewalk and his lifeline comes disconnected. He goes off into the blackness of space -- unmoored -- as the spacecraft he had been attached to goes off in a different direction.

Or, imagine, being adrift, alone, in the middle of the ocean, nothing but you and water for miles.

I’ve gone through experiences where I felt disassembled, unraveled, utterly undone. As if my life, my beliefs, my sense of self was taken apart and tossed on the floor in complete disarray.

They weren’t fun times. But such times reveal new meaning to the idea of picking up the pieces of one’s life.

These were times when someone I cared deeply about turned their backs and walked away.

Or when that person not only walked away but took someone especially dear to me with them, keeping them away from me as well.

Or when a job I loved and thought I’d retire from ended abruptly through no fault of my own.

Or when a parent, a very close friend, or other special relative died unexpectedly.

Or when someone I trusted, suddenly and for no clear reason, turned on me and disparaged me to others.

In these moments I felt unmoored and undone utterly.

A million little pieces & counting

A couple of times, the impact was so intense and thoroughgoing I felt as if everything I thought I knew and believed to be true was being relentlessly dissembled, like a building being taken apart brick by brick, piece by piece.

In every situation, recovery came.

Little by little the pieces came back together. And the result has been a stronger more firm foundation.


Because God.

“Hang in there” isn’t advice just for kittens

I don’t mean to be trivial. But in every one of the toughest, most despairing and seemingly hopeless times I’ve endured, I weakly, stubbornly, and helplessly leaned on God.

There was no neat formula. No clear steps. In fact, each time was a little different and probably pretty ugly and messy to watch.

Painfully and clumsily, each time, I learned and relearned the meaning of “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, HCSB).

I guess it’s easy to lay down one’s life when someone else lays it down for you!

I’m not sure why I’m writing this other than the word “undone” came up recently and it stuck in my head and heart. I’m assuming the Holy Spirit is behind this and that someone reading this needs it.

Whoever you are, whatever you’re enduring, know this: Hard times end, eventually. God’s grace is sufficient, endlessly.

Of the hard situations I’ve endured, the effects of some continue. And because of this, there is ongoing hurt. Hurt that I take to the Lord every day and say, “Please hold this for me.”

And He does. He’s faithful and loving like that.

Because God cares I can go on. I “have a life.” And in this life, despite the pain that lingers, there is love, joy, hope, and a future.

During one really bad time, someone said a seemingly trite and stupid thing to me. They shared that lame adage about when you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot it in and hang on.

But they went further saying, “Today, you feel as if you can’t go on. Remember this moment six months from now.”

It was more than six months later that their words suddenly came back to me. I had gone on! I was going on! My life, as crappy as it felt then, was much better now!

Looking back makes going forward easier

Now, recalling those impossibly hard times, knowing that I survived, gives me strength when new hard times show up.

I know that because God was faithful then, He’ll be faithful today, and tomorrow, too.

Paul reminds us, “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; you were called by Him into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:1-9, HSCB).

And also, “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, HSCB).

Being a Christian does not mean life will be without challenges. God gave you and me and everyone around us free will. Sometimes the way we use that free will is stupid, selfish, and hurtful. Which sucks for all involved.

But through it all, God is there. He’s got my back and He’s got yours.

Lean in, hang on, press through

A former pastor who walked with me through one hard episode, every time he saw me would encourage me with two simple words: “Lean in.”

While some run away from God or push Him away when they’re hurting, the better response is to get closer to Him. Lean in. Get tight. And hang onto Him for dear life.

In each instance where I felt undone and unmoored, the reality above the emotional turmoil was that God had me in His hand.

That’s true for you, too. Feelings lie. God is always true.

If you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. No matter how painful and messy life gets, lean in.

And six months from now, let me know how you’re doing.

Have you ever felt “undone” or “unmoored”? How did you get through it? What was helpful? What was unhelpful? When did you realize you’d survived and were moving on? What did you learn? Have you been able to help others as a result of your struggles? Did you faith get stronger? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Just for fun, this old song came to mind as I was working on this post:

Monday, February 1, 2016

Litter (#Poetry Monday*)
Evening in the backyard,
in the half dark,
an empty white bag jerks
like a small animal
along the fence on
the neighbor’s side, a ghost
of someone’s past shopping spree.

With each gust of warm air
it strains nearer to the spot
where the groundhog
comes through.

The bag is stymied and stuck
as it expands and contracts
with the breathing of the wind,
ebbing and flowing.

Until in the morning,
there it is,
on the other side of the fence,
on the opposite side of our yard!


Perhaps the groundhog came along
and gave it a boost?
Perhaps the neighbor tossed it rudely
across the fence?
Perhaps the wind shifted
to lift instead of merely inflate?

Perhaps the bag
       for one moment
              did come alive!


But there it goes again!

Gone. With the wind,
sailing white and full
against the now bright blue
morning sky.


* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. 

When you see a bag flying around in a yard or on the street, does it seem like it is alive? Yes? No? If not, does it seem like anything other than an empty bag? What does this poem say to you? Anything? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Vocation now & later: Preparing for the other side

Whenever the idea of Christian vocation is addressed in an article or conversation, there’s a well-known quote attributed to Frederick Buechner that inevitably comes up: “Vocation happens when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

Actually, according to Beuchner himself, it’s not a direct quote, as he explained in an interview. But it captures the essence of what he was getting at.

As Christians, imbued with God’s image, we all want to know why we’re here. What we’re supposed to be about. For what purpose did God create us?

And we tend to spend a lifetime seeking “the” answer to that question.

In the meantime, we live and move and have our being, going about our days, doing our best to please God and enjoy Him for now and here, longing for over there.

This we call our Christian walk.

In the process of living our lives in the light of God’s Word, we seek to be better people. To be Spirit-filled, God-shaped, Christ-redeemed creations.

We care about those around us. Go to work and do our jobs as well as we can. Give money to those in need. Do acts of service. Treat people well. Grow where we are planted.

As we do these things, our vocation and purpose takes shape through our humble, clumsy service to God.

Perhaps we even recognize that our “purpose” is not singular, but rather a series of purposes, a multiple of callings. All, of course, anchored in Christ connected by His will flowing through us.

From time to time, our thoughts turn to heaven. “What’s that going to be like?” we wonder.

Honestly, I’m not sure Christianity has done a good job of revealing what heaven and the new earth will be like.

What it won’t be like is how it is cartoonishly characterized, us sitting on a cloud wearing a halo and wings, strumming a harp. Although there are people who believe that’s the case.

While elements of this false image can be found in scripture, the Bible never describes such a scene.

The Bible does, however, in short, reference a new heaven and a new earth, our reigning with Christ, streets, cities, dwellings, all implying activity.

Frankly, I’m really hoping there will be books as I’m thinking there’s going to be a lot of time to catch up on my reading!

“But,” you object, “reading implies inquisitiveness and when we’re in heaven all our questions will be answered!”

Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not sure if we’re going to know all we want to know all at once.

If our inquisitiveness and appreciation of literature, art, music, and all the fun things of life will be of no use, why did God so firmly implant them in us to begin with?

Last year I read a really great book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey. I strongly recommend the book to everyone.

In it, on the topic of Christian vocation, Pearcey states, “In our work we not only participate in God’s providential activity today, we also foreshadow the tasks we will take up in cultivating a new earth at the end of time.”

As Spock would say, Fascinating!

This means we’re going to have stuff to do over there on the other side. Stuff for which we are perfectly suited, that fits to a T our created personalities, that extends our unique gifitings into eternity!

Wowza! That sounds, well, darn fun!

And how we live now, all we do here on earth in this short time we have prepares and shapes us for the rest of our eternal lives.

Holy vocational education!

Going back to Buechner, he explained, “When you are doing what you are happiest doing, it must also be something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done. In other words, if what makes you happy is going out and living it up and spending all your money on wine, women, and song, the world doesn’t need that.”

This helps sift down the possibilities for us in terms of what we’re made for. Wanton carousing isn’t something this earth or the new earth needs.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

In this we find further guidance when it comes to vocation as well.

We seek to do that which pleases God, serves Him and provides us a sense of enjoyment -- joy, satisfaction, contentment -- in the process.

Add in the context of Luke 10:25-37, where an expert in the law correctly explains the path to eternal life is found when we “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself,” and we also learn that what we do must benefit those around us.

Jesus clarifies this through the telling of the parable of the good Samaritan.

It’s not about us having our fun, doing what we want, living our truth, even if it’s not hurting anyone else.

How we live here on earth, what we do now, does have eternal consequences. For believers, these consequences don’t end at heaven’s gate.

Death for the Christian isn’t an end. It’s a new beginning to a new life and a truly glorious career!

So, how’s your on-the-job training going?

Does this change how you think of Jeremiah 29:11?:“‘For I know the plans I have for you’—this is the Lord’s declaration—‘plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” Do you wonder what life after death will be like? How have you envisioned it? What do you believe you will be doing in heaven? Do you agree or disagree that what we do now is a preparation for what we will do in eternity?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Foolishness, stupid arguments, injustice, scarecrows, sea-plows, gender strifes, bowls of wine & cucumbers.

I pity the fools, uh, I mean people. Yes, people.

I pity good, sweet people who foolis..., uh, stubbornly refuse to read the Bible in any other version but the King James.

I love the King James. It’s what I grew up reading.
Many times when I’m trying to look up a verse, what comes to mind is the King James phrasing.

So, I may start with the King James, but then I branch out.

There are so many great translations and paraphrases that blow away the obscure, Yoda-like language of the King James.

Personally, I don’t believe you can really get the most from the Bible by sticking exclusively with the KJV.

There’s just too much in the KJV English that’s a tad archaic.

Gettething theeself downest hence unto the depths of the meanings

For example, take 2 Timothy 2:23.

(By the way, I don’t care if you refer to the book as two Timothy or second Timothy, as long as you’re reading and applying it.)

This verse has come to my mind a lot lately given some of the scuffles going on out in social media land over politics, religious practices, and all things trivial. Know what I mean?

In the King James, this well-known verse is rendered:
  • “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.”
Got that? Is it clear?

No, right? It’s worse than Yoda-ese!

It sounds so dainty and soft and not really a big deal. And what the heck is a “gender strife”?

Now check it out in the New Living Translation (NLT):
  • “Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.”

Ha! Now we’re getting closer to a clear, blunt meaning!

But also consider these two translations:
  • Common English Version (CEV): Stay away from stupid and senseless arguments. These only lead to trouble.”
  • New International Version (NIV): Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”

Wow. This is pretty serious stuff after all.

Paul is clearly issuing a strong warning that we Christians, at all costs, are to avoid becoming entwined in dumb, senseless arguments that only serve to stir up bitter hostilities.

See what I did there? I restated the verse in my own words. This is a great way to get at the full meaning of any passage. You should try it!

Often I’ll note keywords (like those that I’ve underlined above) and look them up in a dictionary to see their complete meanings and look up synonyms.

But, like I said, I like to read in different versions.

Is that a cucumber scarecrow you’re idolizing in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?

Currently I have three different Bible versions on my Kindle: ESV (English Standard Version), CEB (Common English Bible), and HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible.)

(By the way, all of these version and more are available online at several Bible sites.)

Every day I read one chapter in each: two from the Old Testament (OT) and one from the New (NT).

In the OT I’m working through the Prophets right now.

These are great, fun books to read. They are full of poetry, sweeping language, and some great imagery and metaphors.

Not to mention wit and humor!

For example, look at Jeremiah 10:5 in the CEB:
“They are no different than a scarecrow
    in a cucumber patch:
    they can’t speak;
    they must be carried
        because they can’t walk.
Don’t be afraid of them,
    because they can’t do harm or good.”
The “they” being referenced are the idols and false gods being worshiped by the ungodly culture surrounding the Children of Israel.

The point being made is that while the created handmade idols representing false gods may appear intimidating and impressive, ultimately they are as completely worthless and impotent as “a scarecrow in a cucumber patch.”

By the way, this verse in the KJV is very bland: “They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.”

As the first part of the verse can be translated as either “palm tree” or “scarecrow” it’s important to see both renderings to get the full meaning.

Frankly, given the context, I think “scarecrow” is the better choice. But, please, go read the full chapter to make up your own mind.

The commentary on Jeremiah 10 in the HCSB (Holman Christian Standard) Study Bible clarifies the worthlessness of idols as “fog, mist, breath.”

For us, anything that replaces God in our lives, becomes more important than following Christ, or blocks the activity of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds is likely some kind of contemporary idol.

The simple point being made with flare is that giving any credence to any idol is just absurd.

Going down to the sea with oxen

One of the fun books I’m reading through now is Amos. What a curmudgeonly guy, but boy could he turn a sweet phrase.

In his book Four Prophets: Amos, Hosea, First Isaiah, Micah: A Modern Translation from the Hebrew, J.B. Philips describes Amos as “stern, austere, and uncompromising.”

He goes on to explain that Amos’ “messages of denunciation were delivered in an atmosphere of unprecedented material prosperity, accompanied by a widespread decay of moral values and a wicked oppression of the poor.”

Hmm, this feels familiar. Where have I experienced this before?

Anyway, Amos is sounding his cautionary prophecies at a time when everyone was fat and happy and pooh-poohed warnings of trouble ahead. And yet, within a few years all hell broke loose and Amos was able to say “I told you so!”

Again. Oddly familiar. Moving on...

There’s some real fun stuff that pops up in chapter 6. Look at verses 4-6 in the ESV (English Standard Version):
“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
    and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
    and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
    and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
    and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
    but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!”
The HCSB (Holman Christian Standard) Study Bible commentary explains stating, “The Israelite aristocracy enjoyed what the Greeks would call a ‘symposium’ (lit. ‘drinking together’), in which participants lounged on couches, drank wine, and listened to music.”

The image this brings to my mind is a person sitting in their comfy chair, sipping wine, watching TV as the Lexus commercial laced with the refrain “I could get used to this” is on while they are posting some variation of this meme to their Facebook page:

All while thinking to themselves, “There! I did my part in fixing the war and poverty problems! Now, I wonder if I can afford a new Lexus?”

Amos has something to say about this.

In verse 12 he asks the crazy, wacky, ridiculous questions: “Can horses race over rocks? Can you plough the sea with oxen” (Philips).

Now, given that we’ve all seen the movie “Hidalgo,” to the first question we might be tempted to answer, “Well, maybe. It would be hard on the horse, but doesn’t seem impossible.”

Okay, but what about that ploughing (aka plowing) the sea with oxen?

Yeah, that’s just absurd.

And absurdity is the point Amos is making.

He’s leveling a scathing accusation at the Israelites who boast of their wealth and accomplishments, while at the same time ignoring justice.

Look at the full verse in the CEB (Common English Bible):
“Do horses run on rocks?
        Does one plow the sea with oxen?
    But you have turned justice into poison
        and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—...”
In other words, ignoring or perverting justice and exalting in self-righteousness rather than true righteousness is as stupid as trying to plow the sea with oxen.

Again, it’s simply absurd!

So what’s your point?

I’m glad you asked!

All through the Bible there are clear warnings to avoid the absurdities of stupid arguments, giving credence to idols, and indulging in self-righteousness that allows injustice.

Somehow these warnings seem especially relevant today.

And yet, just as those who were being directly warned by the prophets and Paul, we ignore these warnings and keep on doing the dumb things.

This is especially easy to do when the Bible we’re reading is written in an obscure variant of old English that allows us to evade its true, full meanings.

Hmmm, maybe that’s exactly the reason why some insist on a KJV-only devotional life. Or why some don't read the Bible at all.

Hmm, I wonder. Maybe. I don’t know.

What I do know is that it’s a lot more fun and interesting to read the Bible in a variety of versions. And a lot harder to dodge its commandments and truths.

Familiar passages yield new insights. Mistaken ways of believing are corrected. Shallow understandings are deepened.

The bottom-line is that reading the Bible in a version different from the KJV, or different from the version you are used to, can do nothing but be beneficial.

After all, “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” (2 Timothy 3:17, The Message).

What is your favorite Bible version? Do you read in other versions as well? Do you read as much in the Old Testament as in the New Testament (other than the Psalms and Proverbs)? If you only read the KJV, why? Please share your thoughts and tips for enhancing the pleasures of Bible reading in the comments! (But let’s not argue. ;-)

Monday, January 25, 2016

This isn't iced tea, is it? (#Poetry Monday*)
I step to the counter.

     What would you like?
Coffee, please.
     Coffee. Iced?
No. Hot.
     One coffee, hot.

I pay and receive my order.

The cup is emblazoned
in a fancy, bold typeface.

And there is a message
of caution,
     telling me this
     is a very hot drink.

Coffee? Hot?

The aroma is coffee.
The cup feels hot.

But how can I be certain
it’s not iced tea?

I like being certain.

* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. 

Do you like this poem or not? How do you know? Did someone tell you to like it? What do you mean you never question anything? Are you sure about that? How does Psalm 34:8 slant your thinking on this? Do you think you can share your thoughts -- if they really are “your” thoughts -- in the comments? Please do.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

I hated writing my own evaluations, so this is a little hard for me as well...

I grew up being taught that “bragging” was not a good thing. That “showing off” or bringing attention to oneself was not being humble. It was being prideful.

I’m also an introvert. I like to be quiet and hang back observing the action rather than being in the middle of it. Add into this that it’s also a challenge for me to ask for help.
So any self-promotion is very hard for me to do. Very hard. Always has been.

When I was living la vida corporate, it wasn’t unusual when evaluation time rolled around, that I was asked to write my own. Once written I would hand it off to my boss who would tweak and approve it.

Clearly, for the evaluation to earn me a raise or a promotion, it needed to be glowing!

Ugh. I hated writing those things.

Don’t get me wrong. I worked hard, did a good job, and knew that I deserved any raise I got. But writing about myself like that went against how I had been raised. It wasn’t easy.

And please don’t beat up on my parents! They did the best they could with the skills and understanding they had. Their intentions were golden. But I’ll agree the execution might have been a little shaky.

Probably, so was how I received their lessons on humility. I’m not sure I heard and interpreted everything exactly right.

Still, while I believe it’s okay to “put your best foot forward,” at the same time, to avoid coming across as a braggart, a little humility is a good thing.

Woohoo! <Quietly insert trumpets here>

So it is with humble pride that I quietly shout the news that I am the Grand Prize winner of the WestBow Press “New Look Contest” for 2015! Yay! Woot!

WestBow Press is a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, all owned by HarperCollins Publishers. Unlike many self-publishing operations, this one has significant built-in credibility which adds cachet to the book.

Also, if the book does well (which is why I need your help), there’s a chance that it could be picked up by Thomas Nelson or Zondervan and receive more widespread attention.

Of the winners, Pete Nikolai, WestBow Press publisher, stated, “We were pleased by the quality of the titles submitted and especially with the grand-prize winner. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for these talented writers.”

A few gaps in need of filling

While the Grand Prize is great and the publishing package is loaded with important features, there are a couple of gaps.

To fill these gaps, I need to obtain additional services at additional costs:

  • Editing: I need to hire a great editor to give the manuscript a thorough work-over with fresh eyes.
  • Marketing: As is true with all books today, I’ve got to do a fair amount of marketing, or hire someone to help me.
I’m conservatively estimating that I’ll need at least $5,000 to cover these expenses. I definitely need to at least cover the editing, which is essential.

To that end, I’ve set up a GoFundMe page where you can offer your help and support!

You are welcome to contribute any amount. However, if you donate at least $40, once the book is published, I will send you a signed paperback copy.

You can see more details at

Added value: Some things to consider (aka, I’ve got chops.)

There are a lot of people using these crowd-funding services to raise money for their book projects. Many of them are just now writing their books or haven’t even started.

They are trying to raise money for untested ideas. Many are not seasoned writers and have no publishing experience.

I am and do. My book is written and already in process.

By winning the WestBow contest Grand Prize, it is a vetted product recognized to have merit. The value of the prize is around $5,000.

And while asking for another $5,000 seems like a lot, getting a book into print and into wide distribution is a costly enterprise.

My desire is to make the book as successful as possible. And I can only accomplish this with your help!

A little about the book

The story is a fun, clean read with a Christian slant, suitable for all ages.

It’s got a touch of sci-fi/fantasy, a fair amount of suspense, a little romance, some biblical history, and even fast-paced action.

It shares the story of an unimaginable challenge overcome in a very unique and surprising way. For now.

You can read a more detailed synopsis at

Won’t you please help?

As I stated in the beginning, this is hard for me. But I know I’ve written a good, fun book that deserves a chance in the marketplace. I just need your help to get the job done right.

So, with genuine humility, I’m asking for your financial support. And for help getting the word out about this book!

If you give at least $40, once it’s published, I will send you a signed paperback copy!

Even if you can’t afford to give money, please share this post with your friends, relatives, and co-workers.

You will have my undying gratitude. Thank you in advance.

Please click here to donate >>

What do you think? Crowd-funding to get a book published is being done more and more frequently. Is this a good thing or not? How do you feel about self-promotion? Is there a way to promote effectively without being heavy-handed or prideful? I’m always put-off by those who do it too aggressively (such as Trump), but I know it’s necessary to sell books or acquire clients. Share your thoughts on what I’m doing and your feelings about self-promotion as prideful in the comments. Please, I’d love to hear from you!

Monday, January 18, 2016

10% Off (#Poetry Monday*)
The guy from the
storage place calls,
working on keeping our rate
low, and mentions
he noticed I’m eligible
for the senior rate.

<slight pause:brief silence>

“I’m not calling you
old, or anything,” he
continues contritely,
and then, courteously
adds, “Just recognizing
your experience
and wisdom.”

Smart. Nice touch.
But I want to tell him,
“This wasn’t my idea.
This thing of aging, becoming
I had nothing to do with this.
I want nothing to do with this.”

It happens.
It happened.
It is happening.

So, now, I go to a store
or restaurant and ask
if they give it. Some say
yes. Some say no.
All look at me
like I’m halfway
in my grave.

What do I care?
I’ve lived. I’ve experienced.
And that wisdom I’ve gained
says, “So what’s so bad
about a discount?”

I’ll take it. As if I have a choice
about why I can.

* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. 

Aging. What can you do? Does this poem resonate with your experience? Do you take your available senior discounts? Is 10% enough? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Monday, January 11, 2016

"I hear you earned a Certificate thingy from Princeton Theological Seminary. That's nice. So, now what the heck are you going to do with it?"

Late last year, I completed the Certificate in Theology and Ministry offered online by Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS).* Along with about 120 or so other people who were scattered across the country and the world.

This past weekend, PTS invited all who completed the course to attend a special recognition luncheon and worship service at the Princeton, NJ campus. There was a substantial turnout and the program was outstanding.

While taking the course, and now even more so since completing it, the question I’m asked most often is some variation of this: “Why did you take the course? What are you going to do with it now?”
Well, I won’t be performing weddings or funerals. It’s not that kind of certification.

But, frankly, I don’t think it’s necessary to pursue learning solely for the purpose of “doing” something with it. The value, joy, and reward is in the learning itself. Especially when it’s affordable and convenient!

When you spend time going to the movies, how would you respond to someone who asks, “So you saw Star Wars. Why? What are you going to do with it?”

I’m assuming you would be a little bewildered by such a question.

That’s sort of how I feel when people ask me about the course.

Honestly, I took the course because I wanted to.

But, since the answer, “I did it because, like Mt. Everest, it was there!” isn’t appreciated, I decided I’d take the time to provide a fuller response. After all, you asked me!

Beyond “because I wanted to” there are at least three broad reasons I took the course. These are also reasons I read books and just keep learning in general, by the way.

In no particular order, here they are:

Honing the craft with which God has gifted me

Among other things, I’m a writer. Most of what I currently write tends to be related to biblical faith.

A lot of Christian writers I know will spend a lot of time reading books on writing, learning how to better market their work, going to writer’s conferences to meet other writers and connect with publishers, and so forth.

The focus of their efforts is on the writing and the selling thereof.

That’s all well and good.

But it’s long been a pet peeve of mine that conferences, courses, and how-to books for Christian writers never include workshops or chapters on developing biblical thinking, understanding the latest trends in theology, practicing practical exegesis, writing from a biblical worldview, or anything that helps improve skills on the Bible / theology / doctrine side of things.

The closest anything comes is offering something devotional or inspirational in nature. That’s nice, but not enough.

Frankly, I don’t see how anyone can be a good “Christian” writer without also having and nurturing a good grasp on all things biblical and theological. And much of what’s needed will not come merely through church attendance, participating in a small group Bible study, or Sunday school. Which, by the way, are thoroughly worthwhile and beneficial endeavors.

A lot of what I’m “going to do” with this learning that I’ve acquired I’ve been “doing with it” through my blog and other writing opportunities. Not to mention in non-writing interactions with others.

I guess you could say that by the time I completed it, the Certificate was already “used.”

Someone might say, “But you’ve got a college degree in English and biblical studies, why do you need this?”

Because no skill, talent, or gift is a “once and done” thing. They require ongoing refreshing.

Years ago when I was an editor of a Christian magazine and living near Chicago, Wheaton College offered a series of workshops aimed at writers. One of the presenters was Peter Jacobi, now professor emeritus of journalism at Indiana University.

He used the acronym AIDA, also the title of an opera, to cover a few key elements of writing effective articles: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. What he offered I already knew but had never heard presented like this.

This “new” take on “old” information injected fresh insight into my thinking that helped me improve my writing.

The same principle holds true with ongoing, continuing Christian education.

Just as you can never eat or drink “once and for all”, the same holds true for all learning.

Studying to show myself approved

2 Timothy 2:15 states plainly that, as Christians, we need to study God’s Word and know how to rightly divide it (aka interpret and apply) to show ourselves approved.

I like the Common English Bible (CEB) that states, “Make an effort to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker, who doesn’t need to be ashamed but is one who interprets the message of truth correctly.”

We are also instructed to “work out” our own salvation (Philippians 2:13), to understand God’s will for us (Ephesians 5:17), to stand against the devil and his tactics (Ephesians 6:10-18), to be ready with an answer for our hope (1 Peter 3:15), to be prepared “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2), and on and on.

Like learning in general, the Christian life is not a “once and done” experience. It’s a process of ongoing growth and maturity.

While some are satisfied with what they can pick up from a Sunday sermon or the Christian radio station, I’m not.

As that great raspy-voiced theologian, Bob Dylan, once said, “He not busy being born [again] is busy dying” (my paraphrase).

And so I keep reading, studying, discussing, and listening.

There is always more to learn, more understanding available, more insight to be gained.

One very useful aspect of the Certificate course was the global perspective it captured. Some of this came through the various participants located around the globe (Hong Kong, Greece, Europe, etc.).

Part came through the final module on “Understanding World Religions” which provided a gentle smack-up-side-of-the-head reminding us that our cultural experience is not the same as anyone else’s.

Well, duh.

If you don’t think that how you understand the Bible or view God is not influenced in anyway by where you were born, where you live, how you were parented, the education you received, and on and on, then you are as naive as I have been.

An amazing insight that comes through this is, despite such massive diversity of experiences, the same Holy Spirit lives in each follower of Jesus and makes the one true God alive and visible through us around the globe.


I sing the body local & so should you

An essential, yet too often neglected, element of the Christian life is being in fellowship with other Christians.

The Bible characterizes the entire fellowship of believers as “the body of Christ.”

Often, churches are referred to as the local body of Christ. However, no single church, or even denomination, embodies the whole body of Christ. Every church is a local expression of the whole body of Christ.

So, I prefer to refer to your church and my church as “the body local.”

This means that not only does each Christian play an essential role in the whole body, so does each biblically orthodox church, whether tiny rural country fellowship or ginormous city mega-thing.

The body metaphor is interesting (1 Corinthians 12). Paul posits that each true believer is a body part that (1) is essential to the body as a whole, (2) dependent upon every other part, and (3) never is dishonorable, regardless of function or purpose.

The implication is that for the body to work well, each body part (organ, limb, etc.) must be healthy and efficient.

To be healthy requires nourishment and cohesion. In other words, it must be fed and connected.

Within the body local of Christ, each of us is called and ordained -- yes, called and ordained -- to serve in some productive, life-supporting role.

As disciples of Christ, we’ve all got jobs to do.

At the most basic level, all of us are called and ordained to be present. To show up. And to give financial support to the body local where God implants us.

But that’s not enough. All that stuff I mentioned previously about working out our salvation, showing ourselves approved, and so on, is to be done within the body local, in fellowship with the other body parts.

The body local is a “Head and shoulders, knees and toes. Eyes and ears, mouth and nose” kind of thing.

So, we are to avoid “staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do” (Hebrews 10:25) and encourage each other in the faith (1 Thessalonians 5:11), even when that involves iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).

Because I take this fact of the Christian life seriously, whatever church I’ve been a part of, I’ve always sought to be actively involved. This was the example of my parents that my sister and I witnessed and inherited as their legacy. Our entire immediate family, as well as many cousins, aunts, uncles, and other relatives, were always very active in the church of our youth.

I guess it’s in our DNA!

The shape of my own involvement and how that involvement unfolds is influenced by how God has made and gifted me combined with the needs of the body local into which I have been grafted.

Over the years, these roles have included Sunday school teacher, men’s group leader, Sunday school superintendent, janitor, small group leader, board member, special projects committee member, Scout troop leader, administration support, PR and communications helper, bulletin maker, newsletter writer and editor, web designer, periodic giver of sermons, sound booth operator, graphics maker, Powerpoint manager, usher, greeter, and so on.

So, understanding that wherever God puts me I will be involved in that body local, and knowing that whatever we do we are to do well and for the glory of God (Colossians 3:23-24), ongoing training and education seems appropriate.

Show me the money!

There are those who agree and nod their heads to all this palavering, while thinking, “But when are you going to turn this training into something real? And make money? Or at least have a real title other than ‘freelance writer’?”


I understand that, for many, the whole point of any education, whether a multi-year degree at the cost of thousands of dollars, or a several month certificate at the cost a few hundred, is to “do” something specific (aka, get a job and produce income).

I get it. Although I don’t entirely agree with it. But I’m not going to argue the points here.

I pursued the Certificate for all the reasons I’ve stated. I’ve long wanted to get a Masters, preferably in Theology or something related, but the timing and the funds would never synch up.

So, when I discovered this Certificate program, I pounced.

I did not have a specific monetizeable outcome in mind then, nor do I now. If I’m never able to point to specific income derived as a direct result of investing my time and money in this Certificate program, it will not have been a waste of either.

Some will get it. Some won’t.

Those who get it should consider signing up the next time this Certificate program comes open.

For those who don’t get it, don’t worry. I’ve added this accomplishment to my Linkedin profile.

I challenge you, dear reader & you, too, institutions of learning!

One thing that I hope comes of my effort: that it serves as a positive example to you, dear reader, to pursue more and dig deeper when it comes to God’s Word, doctrine, theology, and related subject areas.

Search for local and online opportunities to take a course, even for a few weeks.

Or read books. Not sure where to start? Try these Christianity Today award-winners: “Christianity Today's 2016 Book Awards.”

Take what you already know and apply it where you are. One way to learn more is to be involved in your body local. A lot of good things can come from active small group participation.

But I also want to issue a challenge to all Christian colleges and universities.

We need more affordable, accessible, online programs like the one offered by PTS. Their program is specifically aimed at laypeople who are ministering in the body local and who are hungry for accessible, affordable training.

These people can’t afford to leave their jobs and homes, pay thousands and thousands of dollars, all to earn a degree. That’s expensive overkill.

What they need is more of what is represented in the Certificate* program I completed.

It needs to be very affordable, only a few hundred dollars. Very practical, nothing egghead or ivory tower. Very accessible, online using readily available free software and inexpensive tools. And, of course, engaging, using personable professors who can connect well in an online context.

If you represent a Christian college or university and are interested in setting up a program, contact me and I’ll connect you to the people at PTS. And I’ll be happy to share my ideas.

And that’s all I have to say about this. For now.

Aren’t you sorry you asked?

Are you active in a church? Do you feel adequately trained or not? What kind of training would you like to be able to access? Have you participated in any kind of continuing education program online or in a classroom? How was your experience? Do you agree with my assertions in this post, that all Christians are called and ordained to be involved in ministry? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts and reactions in the comments!

* The course consisted of 6 modules: Old Testament Resources for Faith and Life, New Testament, Forgiveness and Reconciliation, Theology for Faith and Life, Pastoral Care, and Understanding World Christianity (this final module was slated to be Congregational Leadership, but had to be changed due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict with the professor).

Over the year, there were 30 live two-hour lectures, assigned readings, and the writing of short “class blog posts” of 100-200 words, as well as six 400-600 word “final” essays for each module.

Everyone signed on, using Adobe Connect, to listen to the lectures. We could comment and ask questions in the chat box. Some students who chose to were connected to ask questions via video.

For the written assignments, we were assigned groups of around 12 or so that rotated every 10 sessions. Only those in our assigned groups saw our posts. Each of us was required to comment on 3-5 posts of other students.

While admission to the course is closed for 2016, I would encourage everyone to sign up for next year.