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I’m the author of multiple books, including the Kindle bestsellers A Christian Survival Guide; Pray, Write, Grow; Coffeehouse Theology; and Creating Space. I freelance (mostly editing, author coaching, and website content) and write books in Columbus, OH.

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We Can’t Call America a Christian Nation if We Hate the Beatitudes



Last night the state of Georgia executed Kelly Gissendaner by lethal injection. For those who advocate that America is a Christian nation, we have once again demonstrated that many of these same Americans finds the beatitudes that Jesus taught reprehensible.

Jesus said:

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Matthew 5:7-9, NIV

Replacing the lethal injection with a life sentence would have shown mercy.

Allowing a woman to live rather than killing her would have made peace for the children who pleaded for their mother to be spared.

There’s no doubt that Kelly Gissendaner was guilty of her crime, and there’s also no doubt that she was killed needlessly and mercilessly by the department of corrections.

Kelly Gissendaner was guilty of convincing her lover to murder her husband Doug. The lover who actually committed the murder was sentenced to life in prison. Gissendaner was handed the death penalty. While in prison, Gissendaner became a sought-after mentor, a model prisoner, and a theology student committed to her faith.

Even with the death penalty looming, she repented of her sins and sought a new direction for her life. I believe that God, who has a habit of forgiving even murderers, offered Gissendaner the forgiveness she sought.

While the family of Gissendaner’s husband continued to advocate for her death until the end, her two children forgave her and fought to see her granted clemency.

Even Pope Francis advocated for an end to the death penalty in America and personally appealed for Gissendaner.

There are a lot of people in Georgia today who continue to argue that we’re a Christian nation.

There are a lot of people who believe that our department of corrections provides an opportunity to “correct” mistakes.

If we’re going to talk about Christianity, let’s talk about the beatitudes that Jesus taught: mercy, forgiveness, and peace.

If we’re going to talk about Christianity, let’s talk about Jesus hanging on the cross and forgiving the criminal who repented even in his last hours.

I could argue that the death penalty is wasteful, unjust, and illogical (killing people to prove that killing people is wrong), but my greater concern is that we actively live with a dissonance between the teachings of Jesus and the way our nation treats prison inmates.

Either we believe that the Gospel has the power to actually change a person like Dissendaner, or we admit that we’d rather have nothing to do with Jesus.

Either we believe that our department of corrections is blatantly failing inmates when they kill someone who had made corrections and posed no legitimate threat to anyone, or we have to accept that we’d rather kill or lock up those who broke the law without offering them any hope of working toward righting their wrongs and choosing a new direction for their lives.

Kelly Gissendaner committed a terrible crime that demanded justice.

She also made significant life changes since committing that crime.

The fact that our department of corrections recognizes the former without the weighing the significance of the latter highlights how some in our nation are so deeply opposed to the teachings of Jesus about mercy and peacemaking that they would rather kill needlessly than appear weak or soft on crime.

A reporter who witnessed the execution shared that Dissendaner was visibly emotional, apologized, prayed, and then sang Amazing Grace as the lethal injection drugs were administered.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…”

If we don’t believe that someone like Gissendaner could be saved by God’s amazing grace and was worthy of mercy by our legal system, then perhaps we don’t fully grasp the depths of God’s grace and forgiveness.

Kim Davis Wouldn’t Issue Marriage Licenses to Abraham or David and Here’s Why That Matters


As the door to the county clerk’s office swings open, Kim Davis prepares to flee to a back office, fearing reporters and yet another same sex couple seeking a marriage license.

Instead, a tall, elderly gentleman wearing a turban walks in with an elderly woman shoving a young woman toward the counter. The young woman’s eyes are downcast. She shuffles forward and bows toward Davis.

“Peace to you,” the tall elderly man says.

“Look,” cuts in the elderly woman, “We’ll be quick. We just need you to issue a marriage license to my husband and her.” She pointed at the young woman. “Her name is Hagar.”

Hagar continues looking down as Davis tries to make eye contact.

“We’re having… problems conceiving,” the man offers.

The elderly woman shoots him a look of daggers.

“I’m sorry,” Kim cuts in. “You two are already married?”

“Yes,” replies the man.

“Does she even want to be married to you?” Davis asks, glancing over her shoulder for a deputy.

The elderly couple burst into laughter, leaving Davis visibly shaken.

“As if THAT even matters!” the elderly woman cuts in. “Hagar does what I tell her to do. If I want her to bear my husband’s child, that’s none of your business.”

Now the man grows cross. “That’s how our culture assures each family has a male heir. Who are you to tell us how to run our family?”

“Deputy! DEPUTY! I need a deputy up here right now!” Davis calls to the back.

As the woman prepares to really let Davis have it, the door opens again and a short but muscular man strides in wearing a jeweled crown and resting his right hand on a massive sword at this side.

“Good day Abraham! Sarah!” he says with a bounce in his step. “Is there much of a wait today? I have a few new wives to add to my harem.”

“It’s slow going today, King David” Sarah replies.

A large company of women, children, and guards swarm in through the doors behind David.

“Let’s see…” the king says, counting the women assembled in the waiting room. “This week I’ve got three, four, five, six licenses. OK, just six. It’s been a slow month.”

“I’m afraid times are changing,” Abraham says to the king as deputy clerks scramble from their desks to relieve the retreating clerk.

“It’s not that Kim Davis lady again, is it? Do I need to get Abner on this?”

“No! Don’t! That will only make things worse,” Sarah says. “Look, she sent her deputies out to issue the licenses. I guess she doesn’t support the prophecy that our descendants will be as numerous as the sand. I mean, how else does she expect that promise to be fulfilled?”

“Hey,” David cut in, clearly distracted by Hagar. “Who is this beautiful lady? I’m sure I could match whatever your price is for her. If I’m already getting six licenses, what’s one more?”

“Sorry, David, but Hagar’s my only ticket to future descents,” Abraham replies. Hagar slips behind Sarah to avoid the king’s intent gaze.

“She needs to do as we say,” Sarah added.

“Well, I don’t think you technically NEED to marry her,” David offered, “But… spoilers!”

“Um, excuse me,” cut in a short man with glasses and paisley tie behind the counter, “But we can’t issue a marriage license if she’s not willing to marry you.”

David, Abraham, and Sarah laughed long and hard at this suggestion.

“Yeah, I don’t think you understand how marriage works,” David replies to the deputy clerk. “Don’t worry, she’ll want to marry him if she knows what’s good for her.”

* * * * *

While we can’t precisely imagine how the Bible’s patriarchs would react to our culture today, there’s good reason to believe they would be jarred by our definitions of marriage, family, and morality. Even if the Old Testament Law offered mandates that were far more merciful and just than those in the surrounding cultures, we’d still most likely arrest people who lived according to several of these laws today.

As we try to figure out what it looks like to faithfully follow Jesus today, we can get hung up on perfectly imitating the standards in the Bible, forgetting that the Bible’s standards have been anything but “standardized” from one generation to another. God’s laws have adapted and shifted with each culture.

This isn’t a wishy washy free for all. It’s a call to a higher law and a deeper morality.

The higher law of love and the deeper morality of justice govern how we apply the teachings of scripture. Pervading it all is the grace and mercy of God who is willing to reach out to people in any time and culture.

If God could respond to the patriarchs with grace and mercy despite marriages that fall dramatically short of what we would consider moral or sacred today, is it possible that there could be situations where God operates with love and mercy within our culture today, even in the places that run counter to the standards of the patriarchs and other biblical writers?

Do you see where I’m going here?

Unless we’re willing to treat the likes of Abraham and David as unrepentant sinners over their marriages who would be excommunicated from our churches today, we must admit that God acts with mercy within particular cultures.

I see God extending mercy in the midst of their social constructs.

It’s telling that David is described as a man after God’s own heart rather than as a serial adulterer.

Somehow God looks into our hearts and determines whether we are receptive to his grace and mercy.

This is why it matters to talk about how we would respond to the likes of Abraham and David. God worked with them right where they were. The invitation to them remains the same for us today. The grace for them extends to us as well.

Jesus issued the most basic of all invitations to would-be followers, saying that anyone who is thirsty, heavy-hearted, or weary should come to him. The wording on the invitation is spare and just about as basic as it gets.

Are you thirsty for God?

Do you desire to seek God with your whole heart?


Whether you are affirming or not, gay or straight, the same invitation applies to you. The messengers don’t get to alter Jesus’ invitation. The messengers don’t have access to the guest list.

We are charged to look for people who are thirsty or weary and to then issue the invitation.

Whether you are gay or straight, affirming or not, we all suffer from the same two fears:

  1. Discovering the invitation doesn’t apply to us.
  2. Getting deleted from the guest list.

Even the stand of county clerk Kim Davis against same sex marriage is rooted in a fear of the fires of hell—in other words, supporting same sex marriage will delete her from the guest list. By the same token, Kim Davis and her supporters believe that the message of Jesus to LGBT folks is “Repent or burn!”

The message from Jesus was quite different: “Are you thirsty? Then come!”

Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost. So if you’re feeling lost right now, I have good news for you: Jesus is searching for you.

He’s not hunting you down to cast you into the flames. He’s seeking you in order to bring you home. No matter what the other messengers have said about the invitations or the guest list, they aren’t allowed to judge anyone and they don’t know anyone’s heart.

I want you to imagine Jesus speaking directly to you:

“I am a doctor who has come to heal the sick…”

“I rejoice over every repentant wanderer just as a farmer rejoices over finding a lost sheep…”

“I will run out and embrace you if you return to me…”

I don’t get to change the invitation that Jesus issued. I’m not in charge of limiting the scope of his love. The Gospel of John says that God “So loved the world…” If you’re in “the world” right now, then I have good news for you.

You are a precious creation of God.

You are being earnestly sought.

You are beloved.

There aren’t caveats or check boxes for your sexuality.

Who am I to judge another man’s servant?

Who am I to change the invitation Jesus issued?

Who am I to judge with finality on how God relates to people in today’s culture?

I’m not in charge of convicting anyone of sin. I’m not in charge of telling people with different sexuality from my own how to relate to the Bible. I’m a messenger tasked with telling as many people as possible that they are invited to join Jesus at his table. The more lost they are, the thirstier, the more unworthy, the better.

It’s as if we’ve imagined the cross is a barrier from God rather than a beacon showing us the way to redemption.

Can you see Jesus hanging on the cross with his face beaten and bloody as the crown of thorns digs into his brow?

Can you see his determination to bear his pain and agony as he defeats sin and death on our behalf?

Can you see how he bears that isolation and excruciating pain with each passing second?

This was not the act of someone determined to judge, condemn, or set up yet another barrier between humanity and God.

The cross was God’s ultimate expression of love for us and identification with our suffering. The cross was our rescue.

The cross is God’s saving power for all of us, and it is freely to given to all who will receive it.

However you think you fall short, I want to know if you can see the cross right now. If you can see the cross, then you are called to come forward to be healed and reconciled.

You may pile up excuses or remember that someone said you are unworthy because you’re too judgmental, too distracted, too gay, or too greedy.

Bring your flaws to the cross. They’re your ticket.

If you’re weary and unworthy, then you are just the kind of person Jesus wants to come forward. The temple veil has been ripped in two, and now we are all officially out of excuses for avoiding God.

Whatever you believe, whoever you’ve slept with, whatever you’ve been told, the cross is for you and will always stand strong and steady for you. The invitation stands, the words have been etched with the blood of God’s Son. No human being can change that.

God is not meticulously scanning our lives in search of a reason to send us away. God is meticulously scanning our lives for any moment to reach us with a word of love that will sound too good even if we do manage to pause long enough to receive it.

Here is the word he has for you:

“You are loved more deeply than you can ever imagine. The more unworthy you feel, the more I want to heal you. My love will fill any gap you imagine between us. I’m seeking you right now. You’re welcome home any time. Your invitation always stands. Come!”

Real Treasure Is Always Hard to Find


The following post is from my bi-weekly e-newsletter. I don’t typically share this content on my blog, but I thought I’d offer a bit of a sample of what you can expect if you sign up: 

A man is laboring in the field for a large business. He’s removing rocks with his shovel in the heat of the day, and it’s back-breaking work.

Still, he keeps showing up and working from sun up to sun down in order to provide for his family, creating a small but pleasant little oasis in the home that they had saved up to buy.

Everything in the man’s life changes when his shovel smashes into a metal box.

He looks over his shoulder to make sure no one is looking.

He’s all alone.

Smashing the lock off the box with a fierce thrust of his shovel, he finds stacks of large bills, rare coins, and impressively large jewels. He’s never seen anything quite like this.

Although he is overjoyed by his discovery, which he quickly covers up and marks with a uniquely shaped rock, he knows that his wife may have a hard time accepting what they must do next.

In order to buy the parcel of land where he found the box, he has to convince his wife to sell their fine little home and just about everything else they own.

That evening she agrees but with grave reservations. When his family catches wind that he is selling everything he owns in order to buy an empty field, they’re livid. They mock him and some even threaten to disown him as he sells one possession after another.

We all know how this parable of Jesus ends. Who wouldn’t want to be that man who found the treasure?

Then again, perhaps we forget that gaining a treasure beyond our wildest dreams means we must make significant sacrifices and even work extremely hard in order to attain it.

That doesn’t mean we could ever possibly earn the treasure in this parable. No one is worthy of God’s Kingdom. It’s a pure gift that is given to us. However, it is a gift that we can fail to find if we cling to possessions and priorities that we mistakenly believe to be more valuable.

In fact, we can fail to receive this incredible gift if we’re too lazy or too afraid to do the work required to attain it.

I’ve been guilty of wanting quick fix Christianity and attempting drive through spirituality at times.

I want to read the book, learn the thing, add the practice, or recite the prayer that makes things better NOW.

But finding the treasure of God’s Kingdom, seeking the presence of God, or being transformed into a kind, loving person who imitates Jesus isn’t a crash diet or life hack.

I see the daily disciplines of pursuing silence, settling my mind before God to pray, and meditating on scripture as the shovels we use to toss aside the many distractions that keep us from the treasure of God’s presence.

In order to pursue this treasure, we have to leave so many other things behind, even good things. It’s not without a cost. It’s not without faith that we are setting aside good things for something better.

This is especially true in the discipline of prayer. Honestly, there are days when it feels like nothing much is going on.

Yay! I just spent 20 minutes sitting quietly on my couch! Go God!

However, if I neglect that time, I miss out on the epiphanies and holy moments that most certainly come in their time. In addition, if I fail to take that time to be still, I’ll most certainly spend my days in motion, frantically running from one thing to another.

It’s a daily discipline to keep digging, to keep counting the cost, and to keep making sacrifices in the hope that God can lead us to something better.

This is faith in action.

It’s not fast.

It’s not glamorous.

It’s not something you can capture in a selfie, sharable image, or tweet.

Some days it feels like you’re just slinging one pile of rocks into another pile of rocks.

And then some days you strike that treasure. The presence of God slowly creeps in and brings peace, hope, and joy.

In that moment, we can be assured that we have never earned this magnificent gift, but we have certainly moved what feels like heaven and earth in order to find it.


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A Firefighter Reflects on September 11th and the Call to Serve Others


The following post first appeared in 2010 on my previous blog: I first met Dan in high school. He was a Jr. firefighter at the time. He worked hard over the years, harder than anyone I know, at achieving his goal of serving as a firefighter. He even tacked on time as an EMT and police officer.

When September 11th happened, I thought of Dan and his family who serve as firefighters. They were the kind of people who perished on 9/11: salt of the earth servants who rush into a crisis without expecting anything in return. I thought we would benefit by hearing Dan’s thoughts on his work and on 9/11 in order to learn what makes folks like him tick. He has kindly agreed to share with us:

Every day I am asked the same question… “Are you crazy!?” Most of the time this question is posed by my wife or a close friend. Occasionally I hear this from the taxpayer that I serve. Usually I hear this as I doff my breathing apparatus and try to take a blow from fighting a house fire or mitigating some other conflagration.

The fact is that I am, and will always be, “crazy”. What I do, and what hundreds of thousands of public servants do every day, requires a little bit of “crazy”. What we do in public safety is done for one reason… There is a need. Why do we do it? That’s easy. We do it simply because this is what we were called to do.

Most public servants do not believe that they are any different from those who serve in other capacities. I tend to agree. My pastor does not have envious employment. His is not one without worry and stress. He is not one without sleepless nights, scary moments, and lack of answers. He is not one who will become financially wealthy from his service.

All beings have their place in servitude. Some of us have not found it yet. Some of us know where it is and refuse to go. Still others are confident in and blessed in their place of service. We have one common body. I believe public safety is the arms and legs of that body, the doers, and the action takers. Not the smartest of humanity. Not the most moral and ethical. But definitely the ones who will do whatever it takes to complete the service required of them, for the sake of the call, for the sake of us all.

On September 11, 2001 the public safety community took a tremendous lose of personnel and still did not waver. Every September we are reminded of this. Instead of remembering cowardly acts of terrorism, I choose to remember those who served with confidence, humbleness, gratitude, and self sacrifice; those who completed their assigned task.

Daniel L. Kerr Jr.

Firefighter/Police Officer/EMT

Jesus Isn’t Convenient


Some days I can’t imagine what a pain Jesus must have seemed for his disciples.

Here’s Peter and his co-workers after fishing all night with no return. They’re sorting out their nets and just want to get home.

The sun is starting to blaze in the sky, adding to the misery of having to tell their wives and children that they wouldn’t have a catch of fish to sell. In the midst of this disappointment and hard labor walks Jesus.

He’d like to teach a crowd of people who have been crowding along the shoreline. This is the shoreline where Peter and his co-workers are trying to get their nets sorted out. Commercial fishing doesn’t work great as a spectator sport, but Jesus doesn’t just bring along a growing crowd. Jesus asks a favor of Peter.

Jesus wants to teach the people from Peter’s boat.

We could hardly blame Peter for saying, “Nope, the shop’s closed. Can you give us a little room here to wrap things up?”

While we can’t imagine a reason why Peter would say no because we’re used to Peter playing along in this story, anyone who has worked at demanding physical labor all day can hopefully imagine that lending his boat as a preaching platform was hardly a sure bet. Of course with his boat sitting in the shallows as Jesus teaches, Peter sticks around to hear Jesus teach.

Who knows what Peter’s family is thinking about at this point. Why is he taking so long? Is he safe?

At the end of the talk, Jesus has yet ANOTHER request for Peter. We may imagine Peter trying to pull his boat onto the shore so he can get home.

No so fast.

Jesus wants Peter and his crew to take the boat out AGAIN. They had to haul the boats back out in the light of day, a bad time to fish, after failing so spectacularly just a few hours before.

Let’s not forget that they had just cleaned up and repaired their nets. They would have to do that all over again. We may well imagine Peter’s co-workers nearly staging a mutiny or at the very least grumbling among themselves.

Who does this Jesus guy think he is, anyway?

By the time their nets were filled with fish, they realized that they certainly didn’t know who they were dealing with.

Peter knew enough to tell Jesus to leave. He wasn’t a holy man. He saw his sins stacked up, making a case against him.

Of course all of those sins were of no consequence to Jesus. He wasn’t looking for a perfect group of followers. Peter had the one thing that Jesus needed in a follower.

Peter allowed Jesus to interrupt his life. He made himself available, setting aside his plans and goals. He took a small risk and allowed Jesus to change his plans for the morning.

Jesus had a bigger interruption planned for Peter: a whole new career where he would interrupt others as he too had been interrupted.

On his last day as a fisherman, Peter learned that presence trumps perfection.

Why We Need to Stop Talking about Spiritual Growth


I’m a competitive person. I love tracking my results against other people or even against myself.

In college I used to drive the 11 hours from my home to my dorm with minimal stops to try to beat my time each trip.

When I run in the morning, I want to go just a little bit further with each run, even if it cuts into my writing time.

When I set a word count goal, I’ll leave a wreckage of butchered words as my fingers fly across the keyboard.

I want to grow and improve. Why wouldn’t I want to get better at things I care about?

Now, if there’s one thing I care about, it’s Christianity. Heck, I plunked down thousands of dollars and untold hundreds of hours into seminary for four years.

I wanted to get better at studying the Bible, praying, and doing Christian-ish things. I was always measuring my progress. I wanted to grow spiritually. I wanted to know I was doing better from one year to another.

And good heavens, I burned out. I burned out over a lot of things, but in retrospect, I can see how the concept of “spiritual growth” tapped into the worst parts of my competitive drive.

Am I sinning less this year compared to last year?

Am I praying “better” than last year? (You know you’ve thought something similar at least once.)

Do I know the Bible better than last year?

My constant need to measure fits in well with our Christian subculture that recognizes the blessings of God and the gifts of individuals based on the dollars they raise and the numbers they lead in salvation prayers or baptize. The larger your church, the more influence you’re afforded.

Measure, measure, measure. We measure everything, all of the time. It’s no wonder we fall into this trap when it comes to judging whether we are spiritually healthy or not.

As I’ve confronted my own measuring mania, I’ve tried to move away from the language of spiritual growth. I don’t want to know if I’m getting better or improving or providing some metric of my spiritual awesomeness.

The truth is that I could pray a lot or improve my Bible knowledge and still be a wandering, self-centered mess without direction.

Speaking of direction, spiritual direction is just the sort of thing we need to talk about instead of growth.

Let’s talk about where I am and where you are right now and which direction you’re moving in.

We could also speak in terms of temperature, being hot or cold.

Jesus spoke in terms of abiding on the vine. If we abide in him and he in us, the life of God will be evident. Our direction or proximity tap into this idea of abiding.

What if we ditched the language of spiritual growth in favor of spiritual proximity (close or far, hot or cold) or spiritual direction?

Are we living close to Jesus? Are moving in step with Jesus? Are you close enough to Jesus to know whether or not you’re moving in step with him?

These have been helpful concepts for a performer like myself who will endlessly beat myself up for failing to attain certain spiritual growth goals. I can lose my connection with God as I focus on my weaknesses and supposed distance from God.

The past two weeks have been really full with tired kids and lots of additional work. Sleep deprivation from kids is nothing new. I’ll also never complain about having a lot of work to do.

However, as I took stock of my direction and considered my spiritual “temperature,” I honestly had no idea where I was pointed. I felt like I was just running from one thing to another. As I considered my temperature, I felt the chill of being far from God’s presence.

I hadn’t cleared very much space for God over the past week, and I felt the lack in my soul. As I consider that we could “lose our souls” in the midst of busy schedules, I took more intentional steps to create space over the past few days for abiding, prayer, and meditating on scripture. I wasn’t measuring anything. I just tried to be present for God.

I skipped the part where I beat myself up for being a spiritual slacker. I didn’t lament that I’d lost ground in my race to grow spiritually.

I reoriented my life. I shifted my priorities. I changed how I spent my time.

As I stepped into greater awareness of the state of my soul and the presence of God, I felt the crazy of the past few weeks buzzing through my body. The residual anxiety that had followed me throughout each day finally emerged.

This morning I was driving my oldest son over to a friend’s house. He had asked me to play music because he loves anything with loud drums. We chatted about the way the music gets quiet and louder “on its own” during different parts of the songs. He noticed the “jingle bells” that the drummer played during the bridge and celebrated the booming bass drum by shouting, “BIG DRUM!”

As I turned off the highway, I realized that, for the first time in several weeks, I was completely at rest. I wasn’t buzzing with anxiety. I wasn’t worried about anything known or unknown. Mind you, I can flip that anxiety switch on in a second. It doesn’t take a lot.

However, it was a relief to know that a few days of attending to my soul and more actively creating space for prayer and devotion could actually result in God changing the direction of my soul.

Before I realized what I was doing, I naturally resolved to make myself feel even more relaxed and at peace with God tomorrow.


I Was Saved But I Lost My Soul


Jesus said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mark 8:36 (NIV)

I’ve always thought of this passage as Jesus speaking of what saves our souls in the next world. In other words, become my disciple by converting, and you will save your soul with eternal life.

Having taken a trip down “Romans Road” and praying the Sinner’s Prayer, I thought I had my soul covered. Perhaps not.

I’m not going to say that “eternal security” is the wrong way to read this passage, but I think I’ve been missing the fuller meaning of Jesus’ teaching. There are depths here that I have yet to explore.

The contrast in this conversation is between a disciple and someone who gains the whole world instead. One has chosen to follow Jesus with the promise of a cross to bear and the safety of his/her soul, while the other gains notoriety, respect, and comfort while losing his/her soul.

My soul isn’t just the part of me that goes to heaven when I die. It’s also a place where I commune with God today. Those who follow Jesus keep in touch, so to speak, with their souls, while those who gain the whole world will lose touch with their souls.

Think of John Wesley’s question: “How is it with your soul?”

Those who have learned to abide in Jesus can answer that question.

Those who do not may well respond with a list of their accomplishments.

Although I have very much considered myself a follow of Jesus for most of my life, I have lost touch with my soul over the years. I’ve pursued financial stability, a career that makes sense based on my talents, and some measure of popularity and acclaim as a writer. Each time I’ve let go of a particular desire or goal, I’ve found that a barrier has been removed between myself and God.

I’ve freed myself to find God a little bit more each time as I’ve let go of my false self and my misplaced priorities.

Jesus is speaking in extremes when he mentions gaining the whole world vs. saving your soul. This isn’t an all or nothing proposition.

I have given up my soul in pursuit of a tiny little piece of the world, nothing close to “gaining the whole world.”

It doesn’t matter if I can point to someone who has sacrificed more of herself or gained more of the world. We can lose ourselves and our connections with God over the smallest distractions and shifts in direction.

I have no interest in saying who is in and who is out when it comes to saving souls for the next life. Jesus warned us specifically against playing the role of judge in such matters. I do know, however, that I have considered my soul safe and sound when, in actuality, I had no clue where it was or how to find it.

My soul had no anchor in the presence of God. I was blown about by my anxieties, the wisdom of others, and my shifting, endless, fruitless goals.

My primary job is to seek the presence of God, making my soul a place for the Spirit of God to rest. Anything else that follows isn’t for me to determine.

In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of the spiritual life as a matter of abiding, becoming like a vine that connects to a branch. When I lost my soul to the pursuit of my own desires, I had cut myself off from the branch, hoping to be spiritually fruitful without the “work” of simply abiding.

It’s so hard to fathom how abiding is both work and not work. The work of abiding is the stillness, the surrender, and the desperation that comes from opening ourselves up to God and trusting God to provide everything that follows.

The work of abiding opens our lives up to God so that God can point at our souls and say, “There you are. See how you are loved and how my peace rests on you? Here is who you really have been all of this time and how I will always see you.”


Christians Have One Job, and It’s Not Reading the Bible

Open Hands Prayer

Christians have one job, but with all of the “holy” stuff that clutters our lives, you’d think that we had thousands of jobs.

In fact, if you’ve given up on Christianity or feel like you’re on the way out, there’s a good chance you are either sick of the thousands of jobs or you can’t believe in a God who would assign all of these jobs.

We have one job as Christians… one job.

These days I’m suspicious of anyone who wants to qualify that, add “nuance,” or say, “Yeah, but…” No, we have one job and one job only, and the more we obscure that, the more likely we are to miss out on what Christianity is all about.

I’ll bet you know where I’m going with this, but there’s a huge, huge catch. So stick with me for a moment.

Our one job and our only job is to love—love God and love others. That’s it. The teachings of Jesus are summed up in loving God and loving our neighbor, but the really, really big catch is this: Where does this love come from in us? How do we love God and love our neighbors?

Do we need preachers to command us to love others?

Do we need to read Bible verses telling us to love God?

Do we need to try harder?

This is where everything has run off the rails for me with Christianity. Look, there’s this invisible God who is generally only felt or sensed in some way. It’s not like you can invite God over for coffee and bagels, go for walks in the evening, or take a road trip to get to know each other better. And even if you want to love your neighbors, they can be mean, inconsiderate, and difficult to like. They drive too fast down your street and leave cigarette butts on your sidewalk that your kids chew on—not that I know about that from experience…

Here’s the rub: We are told that the whole sum of things is to love God and love our neighbors, but we all tend to be very unloving people. It’s really, really hard to love people, so why not aim for the lower hanging fruit of Christianity and call it a day?

I am selfish, controlling, and 100% the “get off my lawn” type. I like quiet. I want to mind my own business. And if I struggle to love my neighbors that I can see, who knows what to make of some unseen God?

So rather than wrestle with the mysteries of love and letting these consume my days and nights, I take the easy way out. I commit to Bible study, I try to live a moral life, I focus on explaining the Gospel, and I try to help other people even though I would rather just read a book.

In fact, I have long deluded myself with thinking that building a well-rounded and informed theology, cultivating good Bible study habits, and embodying the Gospel through my actions is really all there is to Christianity. I mean, of course I paid lip service to loving God and loving others and there were moments when I succeeded in loving others through these practices, but I was often running on fumes. I was driven by obligation and will-power rather than depths of God’s love that are higher, deeper, and wider than I can imagine.

It’s so much easier to read theology books than to delve into the mysteries of love.

How do you become a “loving” person?

How do you fall in love with an unseen God?

I won’t create a false dichotomy with prayer and scripture, but I do know that I have neglected prayer over the years to the point that I shouldn’t have even bothered with it. I should have just said I believe in the Bible, not the God of the Bible.

I hadn’t pursued God personally with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength. I primarily pursued knowledge of the God in the Bible.

Here’s where I’m at today: the stuff of Christianity is the pursuit of a loving God.

The love of God is where all of the action takes place, and it’s how we become loving people who can fulfill the heart of our faith: loving God and loving neighbors.

Moments of quiet, prayerfully meditating on scripture, and waiting for the Spirit of God to fall are the center and substance of our faith. Experiencing the loving presence of God is really all there is. Sure, theology is fine in it’s place, but it’s just a small part of a much larger pursuit.

I can only love as far as I’ve been loved.

I can only accept others as far as I’ve been accepted.

I can only forgive as much as I’ve been forgiven.

As Jesus said, those who have been forgiven much, will love much (Luke 7:47, NIV).

I firmly believe that any of my struggles to love others are rooted not in my knowledge of love but in my experience of God, which is another way of saying the experience of God’s love.

Christianity has one job: love.

Love has one source: the presence of God.

So, if you want to give this Christianity thing a whirl, seek one thing and one thing only: the loving presence of God. That’s it.

If you want to stick your nose in the Bible, pick out a single verse and meditate on it for a month. Brennan Manning suggests:

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” 

I am determined to stop making Christianity complicated. It’s not. The more I add to the pursuit of God’s loving presence, the further I find myself drifting from the center.

If we live in the center of God’s love, then we have freedom to add on additional pursuits, but I’ll say this… I have studied commentaries, I have read deeply and widely, and I have gone through the Bible countless times, even learning the original languages. There is value in all of these things, but none of them have led me to the very substance of Christianity and center that is the loving presence of God. In fact, I have spent a great deal of time thinking I had found the substance of Christianity, and the Christianity I had found was lacking.

I am no expert in the presence of God, but the times that I have opened myself up to God, I have experienced life-changing mercy and love as I confronted my pain, weaknesses, and failings. I have been accepted and held. I have found a shelter that brought peace and renewal. I have found a deep well of love to share with others that moves me beyond my selfish, controlling ways.

The times that I have centered prayer, using Thomas Keating’s sacred word method, have led me to the greatest moments of peace and gentleness as God moved deeper into my life.

I’m not here to tell you the only ways to experience the loving presence of God. I have found ways that help, but there certainly are many paths. The pursuit is what’s it’s all about.

If we aren’t pursuing the loving presence of God, we are missing out on the one and only thing about Christianity that has power and the promise to transform our lives.

The only thing that makes me a Christian is the love of God. If I’m not actively pursuing the love of God, then I’m just playing at dress up Christianity.

I’m not a Christian because I study the Bible, know church history, or engage in service projects, even though I value all of these things.

I’m a Christian because there’s a God who loves me deeply, has actively pursued me, and can be found if I make space in my life. There is an endless well of love from God that is waiting to be found in my life and in your life. How tragic it would be if I passed through all of my days convincing myself that moral living and Bible study made up the substance of my faith!

I have one job and you have one job: find the love of God.

Ruthlessly eliminate anything that can get in the way of God’s loving presence.

May we be forever dissatisfied with any other promise of satisfaction.

May we be forever restless with any other promise of rest.

May we be forever weakened by any other promise of power.

May we be forever agitated with any other promise of peace.

May we fall into the loving presence of God, even as a last resort, and may we become people who shower love on others because we have tapped into the endless well of love that surpasses all comprehension. Though we may feel like we’re calling water from rocks in the wilderness, we have the witness of saints who have gone before us beckoning us to follow along this way.

The silence and simplicity of pursuing God’s love is here for you and me today. May we find in this love the peace that we have longed for and the capacity to generously love others out of the depths of God’s endless love for us.


The Up Side of Down: A Guest Post by Lisa Gray



Today’s guest post is from Lisa Gray, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Her blog, titled Crazy Faith Crossroad, intrigued me, and I invited her to share a guest post. I think you’ll really enjoy it! 

Nobody really likes negative emotion – wouldn’t life be great if we could just get rid of all that negative emotion and have only positive feelings? If you saw the movie Inside Out, you’ll already be introduced to the concept that negative emotions can be downright useful.  As it turns out we might need negative emotions to make life work correctly.

Many of my clients come to me for help with getting rid of a negative emotion. The truth is that most of them have already tried a whole boatload of things to get rid of the emotion, and none of them have worked! A person seeking help in getting rid of anxiety may have stopped driving over bridges; then stopped driving on the freeway; then stopped driving more than a couple of miles and now isn’t leaving the house! Their life has narrowed, narrowed and narrowed further and yet – anxiety. Trying to get rid of emotion isn’t where healing begins.

Christ-followers, too, sometimes get the impression that we should avoid negative emotion. I don’t see bitterness, anger and depression on the list of the Fruits of the Spirit! Galatians 5:22 tells us “… the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. Whether we are given this message directly or not, the goal seems to be to strive towards these “good” things and steer away from the “bad” things.

But what if “bad” feelings propel or steer us toward the “good”? If someone tramples across my boundaries and my values, anger usually results. If this anger is used to clearly express my displeasure towards the person, we might actually have an honest conversation. During this conversation, this person might come to be sorry for what they’ve done and request my forgiveness – and then we have peace, kindness and maybe joy.

Of course this conversation doesn’t always go this way, right? But what if it could? If I wasn’t caught up in my anger and if I didn’t behave badly, perhaps there is more of a likelihood that it would end in a positive manner. If I learn to see my anger as a clue, or warning light – if begin to view it as a chance to deepen my relationship with this person, perhaps then we’d come to experience more of the Fruit of the Spirit even as a result of my having become angry.

For most of my life I have tended toward depression. I can say looking back that almost every time I have been depressed, something good has ultimately come out of that healing process. Last time I was depressed, it was due to loneliness and not enough friendship in my life. I learned that instead of longing for that one deep friendship, I could instead accept the many acquaintances I did have, and look for opportunities to deepen these relationships.

Two years later, I do have a couple of deep friendships in my life – my depression was a chance to explore an area of my life that was an opportunity for correction and growth. There’s a point at which depression (and all “negative” feelings) can go too far and really become not useful. This usually takes place in our thought life. I often have to wallow and feel sorry for myself for a bit before I get down to investigating what my depression is really trying to tell me.

Now, as a caveat, not all “bad” emotions present themselves as opportunities for healing. A young girl violated by incest may be filled with shame, and I would never say that shame is there to propel something positive in her life. This world is full of violence and pain that is sin-birthed and just plain wrong.

My point is, once you have a “bad” or “negative” emotion, you’re going to do something with it. You can avoid it (because it’s “bad”); wallow in it and be a victim (which you may have every right to do); act out because of it (again, understandable sometimes); or you could ask yourself how this emotion could move you towards healing, towards more Fruit of the Spirit. We’ve all seen cases of people forgiving those who have hurt them and been amazed at the life change this brings. I don’t always comprehend how this can be done, but I’d sure like to become a person like that.

I think finding the up side of down begins with examining the emotions that you like to avoid, or ones you are ashamed of having. Maybe people disappoint you, but you don’t say so, because you don’t think you should feel disappointed. Maybe you are consumed with guilt over things but you like to pretend that everything is okay. This is like holding a beach ball underwater – you may be able to avoid or pretend for a while, but ultimately that ball is coming out of the water with a big enough wave!

What if the next time a negative emotion presents itself, you made friends with this feeling? What if you questioned and soul searched what it is trying to tell you about yourself and others and then worked toward an end result that finds you exploring and experiencing the up side of down?

Exercise: Read the following poem. Determine what “negative” emotion you would like to start inviting in to your “house” – think about what that emotion might be able to teach you or how that emotion might be able to deepen your relationships.


The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,

About Today’s Guest Blogger, Lisa Gray

IMG_4281“I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I’m also a Care Ministry Pastor at my local church. These two things often conflict. If we have such great faith, why do we need counseling? If we get counseling, does that mean we aren’t faith filled? These are the questions that break my heart. My quest is to educate Christians and pastors about why counseling and mental health healing is a crucial need in today’s Church.”

Visit her website.


Household Projects Are Like Dipping Your Hand in Boiling Water


First Draft FatherI should have known that starting a wood working project at 5:30 pm would end with me sticking my hand in boiling water. It was inevitable really. It all started with a terrible, terrible idea.


The Descent to Project Hell

15 minutes: that’s all I thought it would take to make a minor change to Ethan’s crib.

Earlier in the day I’d lowered Ethan’s crib to the bottom setting. Everything lined up perfectly. The crib looked quite safe until I looked under it. I noticed that wooden based holding the mattress buckled a little in the middle. A glance at floor level helped me see that the mattress platform of the crib had a serious dip in it.

I didn’t like the look of it, but I thought there was no way it could fall apart. It was all too tight. I went back to work.

But was it alright? The thought of it nagged me the rest of the afternoon.

By 5:30 I had wrapped up my work. My wife was due home in 15 minutes with Ethan after a full day visiting her friend who had just had a baby. I had 15 minutes. 15 minutes would give me plenty of time to cobble together a block of wood, cut some notches in it, and install it underneath the crib.


The Man Who Didn’t Measure

This was not a difficult job. Screw two pieces of wood together and cut two notches in it to hold up the crib platform. Simple, right?

I thought 15 minutes would be way more time than I needed. I would even be able to share on Facebook that I finally got a project done in the projected amount of time. Unfortunately, there were problems.

For starters, I honestly have no idea how to cut a “U” in a piece of wood. I started out chopping and hacking at odd angles. That took way longer than anticipated. Even so, I got it together. I shoved it under the crib, and then I noticed my first problem: the crib was now elevated on one side!

I didn’t cut my notches into the wood far enough. Or perhaps the floor in our old house was crooked. As I wandered down with my sad piece of wood, my wife walked in with Ethan.


Welcome Home! I’m Destroying Stuff!

As I talk about my plans here, it bears mentioning that my “15 minute” plan was intended to get this project done BEFORE she arrived home. I wanted to help her unload the car or snuggle Ethan. At the very least, I wanted to give her a short break before making dinner.

Instead she came home to me blabbering about crib safety and just needing a few more minutes to “fix” the crib with this chunk of wood that would provide support in the middle. I just needed to cut the notches down a bit.

Opting for the chisel, I pounded away at the wood while Julie made dinner. Ethan flopped around on the kitchen floor, unaware that I was slowly coming undone in the basement.

After the first chisel session, I learned that still further chiseling would be required. Back to the basement I returned to pound away at the chunk of wood.

Each swing of the hammer made me a little more frantic and worried. This was NOT the plan. I wanted to help. I wanted to keep my child safe. I wanted to finish this in 15 minutes.

I finally got the wood in place, and then I realized that my problem wasn’t just the chiseling in the two notches. I had to cut the entire piece of wood down a size.

Most intelligent people would stop a project at this point and wave the white flag. But I kept thinking about the safety of the crib. What if something happened?


Boiling Over

Besides quitting, the other thing I should have done was fetch the extension cord for the jig saw. It didn’t quite reach the wood at a favorable angle for the cuts I needed to do, but I just kept hacking away. I was rushing and trying to get this thing done. I could hear Ethan whining upstairs as my wife tried to wrap up dinner before his bed time.

With chunks of wood and sawdust creating a ring of madness in the basement, I emerged with my prized block of wood. I finally got it lodged into place, and entered the kitchen, ready to help.

She had Ethan in her arms, so she gave me the easy job.

“Can you dump the spaghetti into the pot?”

I’ve made spaghetti plenty of times. This was not hard. She even had the water rolling at a full boil.

As I dumped the pasta box over the water, it didn’t come out. Instead of turning the box upside down and shaking it into the pot, I gave it a sideways flick with my wrist. The spaghetti zipped across the pot of boiling water, sending about half of it on top of our (thankfully closed) trash can.

Seeing our dinner cascading toward the trash, my reflexes kicked in and I swiped at the pasta with my free right hand. I missed the pasta but not the pot. I stuck my entire hand in boiling water. With pasta all over the floor, I screamed and cursed and shoved my hand under cold water at the sink.


Cooling Down

Things didn’t go much better after that. Ethan had a rough evening, gagging on a teething biscuit before spitting up everything in his stomach. I had to leave story time to put another ice pack on my throbbing hand.

I traced it all back to my flawed project plans.

How many times have I ruined my day by trying to get a household project done “real quick”? (I’m not going to answer that question!)

The insanity of the moment burns, but the stress and worry that continues after the fact can also linger.

Thankfully my hand healed up overnight. I can write. I can do the dishes. And I assure you that I won’t attempt any household projects this week if I only have 15 minutes.


I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.


Read more in First Draft Father.

 Order Your Copy:

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