Category: Faith

Something Beautiful

Something Beautiful

Romans 8:28 from The Voice Translation: “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.”

One of my favorite Old Testament stories is about Joseph, sometimes alternately known as the Technicolor Dreamcoat guy. He had a rough go of it (see Genesis 37-50—yes it’s a long story but a good one!). He was despised by his brothers, sold by them into slavery, accused of rape, tossed in jail, forgotten and left behind, etc. In every situation God was working behind the scenes, sometimes visible but mostly unseen, and bringing about good from bad situations.

If anyone had the opportunity to cry out, “Why God?! Why me?!” it was Joseph. If anyone could ask the question, “Why does bad stuff happen to good people?” it was Joseph. 

What always springs forth to mind with that last question is that it infers that it’s totally fine if bad stuff happens to “bad people” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) and that only good stuff should happen to “good people.” The truth is that good stuff happens to everyone and bad stuff happens to everyone. That’s life, and that’s reality. Stuff happens. Period.

What I’ve come to realize is that the questions we ask are not always the right ones (see this post for more on that), and sometimes asking questions isn’t helpful in the slightest. What has been helpful for me, though, is the verse that I shared above. The Voice translation is a fun one to check from time to time to compare with other translations, and I love the way this is translated. God IS able to orchestrate everything—sometimes behind the scenes and invisible but still active—to work toward something good and beautiful. That something good and beautiful can often be hard to find, but it’s there. That something good and beautiful may not spring forth immediately in the timing that we would prefer, but it will happen.

No matter the darkness, ugliness, brokenness, or pain, there is promise that God is not absent. God sees and knows and cares, even if it seems for a time that we are alone. 

We might not see the ways that God is at work, and it might not be our definition of the right timing, but God is there and is able to orchestrate something good and beautiful out of even the worst of circumstances. 

If you’ve been wanting to talk about the circumstances in your life, and could use some help in processing the good and bad as a way to identify the beautiful, let’s get together for spiritual direction. Click the image below for more information and scheduling.


Being Formed

God knows and sees the final product that we are intended to become, and God continues to be at work in us until we are remade and remolded into that masterpiece. 

Jeremiah 18:3-6 (The Message) 3-4 So I went to the potter’s house, and sure enough, the potter was there, working away at his wheel. Whenever the pot the potter was working on turned out badly, as sometimes happens when you are working with clay, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot.  Then God’s Message came to me: “Can’t I do just as this potter does, people of Israel?” God’s Decree! “Watch this potter. In the same way that this potter works his clay, I work on you, people of Israel.

As I stood to preach on Identity, and to share this portion of scripture with the community, my friend Andrea also took place up front at her potter’s wheel. As I spoke about the idea of becoming a new creation, being molded by God into a masterpiece, and several other nuances of the pottery metaphor, Andrea carefully hunched over the wheel creating a beautiful pot to help illustrate and reinforce the point.

It was a powerful moment to connect the words of God’s promise with a visible act of beauty and creativity. We discussed the takeaways as a group after the sermon, and so many took great comfort in knowing that God is still at work on each of us forming and shaping us into the final product of God’s design. Even when there are hiccups in life and things seem to spin out of control, God does not discard us as unusable or worthless. God simply starts over in the process of making us into something beautiful.

God knows and sees the final product that we are intended to become, and God continues to be at work in us until we are remade and remolded into that masterpiece. 

The part we play in the meantime is to listen, to be present to the work of God’s Spirit, and to sit in a humble and open posture before the Master Artist to be moldable and malleable so that God can work on us. 

There’s nothing we can do to turn ourselves into the final masterpiece other than be available to God’s shaping of us.

How can you ensure that you are open and available to God’s work in you?

Let’s book a Spiritual Direction session today! We can walk together in looking at the ways that God might be working in you.

Being Formed
Steadfast Love

Steadfast Love

Steadfast love. Not just the love of God but the steadfast love of God. Steadfast, loyal, committed, reliable, devoted, constant, trustworthy.

Last summer I took 30 days away from my pastoral role for a time of renewal leave. It was vital to renewing my spirit and enabling me to ensure that my spiritual vessel is full as I try to help others. During that 30 days I decided to read through the Psalms in their entirety—5 Psalms a day for the month. The impact that practice had on me is a longer story, but the specific takeaway for this post rests in the way that it was an opportunity to see overarching themes of the whole book when read in chunks over a shorter period of time.

“Steadfast love” was a phrase in the ESV that came up over and over and over. 

Steadfast love. Not just the love of God but the steadfast love of God. Steadfast, loyal, committed, reliable, devoted, constant, trustworthy. It’s really covenantal language—language of covenant and commitment between God and us. The phrase is aimed at conveying that nothing about the love of God will fail. Ever.  It was at the end of Psalms, nestled in the middle of Psalms, or a repeated refrain, as in Psalm 136:

Psalm 136 
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

It continues for 23 more verses to recount the reasons that illustrate why the writer believes that God’s steadfast love endures forever. It includes aspects of creation and nature that speak to God’s steadfast love. It includes a recounting of significant actions of God in the history of Israel that speak to God’s steadfast love, and that phrase is repeated in every verse.    

As I read that Psalm, it got me to thinking about my own perspectives and experiences that illustrate God’s steadfast love. So I decided to rewrite Psalm 136 as a personal act of testimony to God’s steadfast love. 

I took time to assess my own life as I looked for the instances of God’s steadfast love. I combed through past evidence in my life of God’s activity and goodness as evidence of God’s steadfast love. It was a great way to personalize the Psalm which sometimes can feel distant or sterile. For me, this personalized it as an act of praise on my part. I’d highly recommend that you give it a try!

Take some time to read Psalm 136 for yourself. Grab a journal, or your computer, and consider rewriting the Psalm for you today. What evidence of God’s goodness might you include? What picture of nature and life helps point you to God’s steadfast love?

Allow this to be an act of worship and a strengthening of your voice in connection with God.

Faithful Feet

The problem with focusing entirely on the future is that it’s possible to lose sight of what is right in front of you; the next step.

Far-sighted, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary means, “Seeing or able to see to a great distance. Having or showing foresight or good judgement. Able to see distant things better than near ones.”

Near-sighted, in contrast, refers to being “able to see near things more clearly than distant ones.”

In a literal sense, I guess I’m near-sighted, though that seems iffy the older I get. I think that bifocals are in my near future.

In regard to the rest of my life, I have always been the type of person who sees more clearly what is distant—looking toward the future. Dreaming, planning, and organizing the steps to get to my desired picture of the future. I spend a lot of time thinking about what is “not yet” but “could be.”  There is definitely a place for that in life. It’s necessary in moving forward, and it seems appropriate to this time of year (see my eBook on Advancing in Life, well worth the investment in your future!).

The problem with focusing entirely on the future is that it’s possible to lose sight of what is right in front of you; the next step. Always looking to the future makes it harder to have faithful feet in the next step.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of dreaming about what things might look like in the future. It seems that I have a pretty clear picture of what “could be” down the road and yet that’s not where I’m living right now. Right now is the only “right now” that there is, and it seems like I have been increasingly frustrated with “right now” because it’s not the future.

I can dream and plan and organize the steps to get to my desired picture of the future, but the only actual thing I can do right now is be faithful in the next step. Faithful feet. The next step. One after another.

I’m curious about your sightedness. Do you look out ahead, or simply to your next step?

What’s the next step before you? How can you be faithful in the next step?

Faithful Feet
Capturing the Sun

Capturing the Sun

What we can know is that our greater awareness of the goodness and light in the present is an equipping for the season of darkness that will come at some point.

I sat in my family room on a Friday morning enjoying a day off. I could see through the window that the sun was just cresting the neighbor’s house to the east, and I was about to be blinded by sunlight. My first inclination was to move to the other chair. My second inclination was to sit and enjoy the sun on my face.

I chose the second.

The sunlight broke the edge of the window frame and poured through onto my face. I leaned back against my recliner and allowed the sun to warm my body.  As I closed my eyes to bask in the sun, the light turned the inside of my eyelids red with delight. 

The experience brought to mind the numerous other times that I have paused to enjoy a moment in the sun—sitting on the beach with palm trees nearby, lying on a boat dock at the lake, standing in the parking lot at church taking in a beautiful sunrise. Each time I tried to absorb the sun’s warmth and energy while etching the memory of the experience into my mind to draw upon later.

St. Ignatius taught that these are the sorts of experiences to seek to be aware of in their moment, and to seek to hold on to, so that when you are in a season of desolation you have a well of experiences upon which to draw. This was a moment to capture and hold on to.

No one knows when a season of desolation or darkness might come, only that it will eventually come. That’s a reality of life and spirit. What we can know is that our greater awareness of the goodness and light in the present is an equipping for the season of darkness that will come at some point.

I could have viewed the sun coming through my window as a slight annoyance and changed seats. Instead I chose to be aware of the gift of this moment and to store it up. 

What moments do you store up for a later time?

Have you ever stopped to think about this concept?

How can you improve your awareness so that moments like this can be stored up in your life?

“Why?” is the Wrong Question

There’s something in human nature that longs for the meaning behind a happening, and we search for the answers to our questions. The problem with that is often there isn’t an answer. At all.

Over the course of the 21 years that I’ve been in ministry, I have walked with a lot of individuals through a time of personal crisis. That might be sickness, death, broken relationship, personal struggle, or some other life event. The thread that often runs through those situations is asking “why?”  

“Why did this have to happen? 

“Why did this happen now?” 

“Why would God allow such a thing?” 

“Why did this happen to me?”

Why, why why?

Just recently I sat with someone in a Spiritual Direction session, and that person’s ultimate request was to know why a certain thing in their life was still happening. I had to humbly tell them that there was no way to answer their question—at least I couldn’t personally answer it.

I think it’s natural for us to ask “why?” in the midst of the mess of life. There’s something in human nature that longs for the meaning behind a happening, and we search for the answers to our questions. The problem with that is often there isn’t an answer. At all. Nothing to be found, at least not in this lifetime. 

I’ve watched as individuals threw their hands in the air and walked away from God when faced with a lack of answers to their questions of “why?”.

I think that “why?” is the wrong question. It’s the natural question but also the wrong one. What tends to happen, when we think we have discovered the answer to our question, is that we follow up with another “why” question, not too unlike a 2-year-old who has discovered that word for the first time. Ultimately nothing seems to satisfy the question of “why?”.

The right question, rather than “why?” is to ask “what?”  For example, rather than asking God why something is happening in your life, try some of these:

  • “God, what are you saying to me during this event?” 
  • “God, what are you doing in the midst of this mess?” 
  • “God, what blessing might be on the other side of this darkness?” 
  • “God, what is my role to play while You are at work in this situation?”
  • “God, what is the lesson to be learned here?”
  • “God, what is the good that You might desire to come out of this trial?”

Asking “why?” can sometimes put the focus elsewhere outside of ourselves, and again, there may not actually be an answer. Asking “why?” may also focus internally in an unhealthy way that really implies “why me?” as though you ought to be exempt from these sorts of happenings, or that it would be just fine if it was happening to someone else instead. Just think about the implications wrapped into that thought process!

Instead, asking “what?” shifts the focus to what God might be doing in you aside from the circumstances in which you find yourself. Life is going to happen, and typically for no good reason whatsoever. Asking “why?” can lead to madness. 

Asking “what?” brings the focus instead to your relationship and connection with God, and that’s a much healthier place to dwell in the midst of the mess. Give it a try next time you find yourself asking “why?”. Shift to “what?” and see what happens.

If you’d like someone to companion you through a messy life situation, Spiritual Direction might be a good option for you. Let’s book a session and get to work asking good questions about your spiritual journey.

“Why?” is the Wrong Question
Faith With Doubt

Faith With Doubt

“Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” ― Paul Tillich, 20th Cent. Theologian

I have a friend who went through a period of pretty significant doubt. Life circumstances, the sickness of a loved one, and other elements of life caused them to doubt their life-long faith. As they took time to share that on social media (with humility and vulnerability I might add) others began to comment back with their disappointment, judgment, and concerns.

“How could you doubt?”

“Why would you doubt?”

“I’m so concerned that you’re backsliding!” <——That one deserves its own blog post!  

Readers responded with judgment and the general idea that doubt is wrong, dangerous, and evidence of a faith that is slipping away. And then I found this quote:

“Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” ― Paul Tillich, 20th Cent. Theologian

There’s nothing wrong with doubt, in fact, I would argue that doubt is essential to faith. When some people come to faith in Jesus they are fed the lie that faith—true faith that is acceptable in the eyes of others (notice that doesn’t speak for God)—does not doubt. But what’s so bad about doubt? After all, it shows that some thought is being put into the subject of our faith. Blind faith, without thought, seems far more dangerous to me.

What it really comes down to is this: “where are you living, and where are you headed?” There can be problems that arise from blindly taking the answers of others without seeking for yourself, but there’s also a problem with living in constant doubt with no plans to find answers. You’ve probably been around people who ask questions for questions’ sake rather than for finding the answers. That’s living in doubt with no plans to move on. 

At the point that we begin to doubt, what is the response? Is doubt a springboard toward searching for faith? Or is doubt a snare which grabs a hold of you until you settle comfortably into it? 

When doubt is a starting point to greater exploration, struggle, and desire for faith then I think that’s a very healthy place to be. 

Spiritual Direction is a great setting in which to explore doubts and questions of faith. It creates a space where you can safely grapple with that doubt and yet know that a Spiritual Director as companion won’t allow you to simply settle into that doubt. If this sounds like something you need, let’s set up a session soon! Click below for more information:

The Wall

There is a process by which passing through the wall requires an emptying of the baggage that you have tried to bring along on the journey but which God desires to peel away.

One of the most impactful books I have read in my 21 years of ministry is The Critical Journey by Hagberg & Guelich (You can find more about Janet Hagberg here). In their book they discuss the varying stages of the journey of faith. They point to 6 possible stages of faith that people go through. I say “possible” because the authors make it clear that not everyone makes it to stage 6. Here’s a brief synopsis, and then I’ll get to the point:

  • Stage 1 – Recognition of God, where people come to faith and begin the journey
  • Stage 2 – Life of Discipleship, a time of learning and growing as beliefs are established
  • Stage 3 – Productive Life, the “doing” phase of working for God (also combining stage 2 and 3 leads to a zealous faith)
  • Stage 4 – Journey Inward, a personal stage where crisis of faith can lead to questions and searching
  • W  A  L  L
  • Stage 5 – Journey Outward, a sense of fulfillment in looking beyond self, allowing God to direct the journey
  • Stage 6 – Life of Love, we reflect and represent God to the world while losing ourselves for others

I’m aware that I have just majorly oversimplified the book, and I’ve likely not done justice to their incredible work, but I wanted to cut to the chase. There is a Wall that separates Stage 4 from the final two stages. This is a time for exploration, grappling, and some letting go. There is a lot of question-asking and struggle. It can feel like a dark place, and yet in the darkness there is some glimmer of hope that indeed there is more than previously experienced. 

I compare the Wall to going through airport security. TSA tells you to empty your pockets and walk through the X-ray machine, but you forgot to take off your belt. So you pass back through, but you had change jingling in your pocket. There is a process by which passing through the wall requires an emptying of the baggage that you have tried to bring along on the journey but which God desires to peel away. Where surety had been the companion in the first 3 stages, this passing through the wall requires humility and openness and a process of leaving things behind. 

Think back to your time in Stage 1 when everything was new and exciting, Stage 2 when you were absorbing all of the “necessary” information like a sponge, and Stage 3 when you served, witnessed, and talked nonstop about God. Those were the good old days when you “knew what you knew” and that’s all that mattered—until life happened. 

Crisis. Hardship. Struggle. Doubt.

Maybe faith wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and maybe this wasn’t all you thought it was cracked up to be. And so your reaction was one of three things. 1) Push forward through the Wall, 2) go back to what you knew before b/c that’s all there must be, or 3) check out completely and find another path in life. Maybe you’ve seen all of those reactions—heck maybe you’ve HAD all of those reactions! The repetition of Stage 1-2-3-1-2-3 can be maddening as you seek to know more and do more to find that fulfillment. 

“Maybe I haven’t found that sense of peace b/c I haven’t learned enough or done enough.”  Or, maybe, it’s time to put down your briefcase of knowledge, and shed your attitude of “right-ness” and take a long hard look at the Wall.

The fulfillment in faith that we all seek is beyond the Wall in Stage 5 and 6, yet few ever successfully take on, and move through, the Wall. The Wall can’t be scaled in a group, with all sorts of people cheering you on, because honestly most people don’t know what’s beyond the Wall. So instead they infer that your questions and seeking are a sign that you’re backsliding. They try to tell you there isn’t anything more than the cycle of “learning and doing.” They heckle or deter or question you. And the Wall looms before you.

There IS more beyond that Wall. There is a deeper faith journey to be found. Stage 4 and the Wall is actually where the real work begins, with a companion who has traveled that path before, and with the Spirit of God as your guide. 

Spiritual Direction is a tremendous opportunity to walk with a companion as you seek to move through the Wall. It isn’t easy, or quick, like so many curriculum or workshops claim. It’s hard, but so very worth it. 

There is more beyond the Wall—you just have to decide to keep going.  Let’s set up a Spiritual Direction session and begin grappling with the Wall together.


The Wall
Keep Hiking

Keep Hiking

The intention is to continually evolve in who we are and who we are becoming, ever closer to the end product that Jesus desires to see lived out in us…

At our church we use the image of a hiking map to depict spiritual formation. It’s a far more organic idea of how we grow and develop in faith when compared to rigorous step-by-step processes that churn out disciples. In hiking there is far more focus on the journey, enjoyment of the steps along the way, a variety of ways to get from Point A to Point B, and a realization that it’s better done with a friend and with a focus on the ‘getting there’ rather than just the destination.

Right now I’m preaching a series on this, and I talked about the need to keep growing, and in fact to keep hiking—to keep being formed spiritually rather than feel as though you’ve arrived.

The temptation in spiritual formation is to work the program and arrive at the destination, but the reality is that we don’t arrive at any destination until our last breath has left us. In the mean time there is a need to keep on hiking. If you’ve ever been to a local park, hiking trail, or even state/national park on a somewhat regular basis, you’ve probably noticed that things change. 

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher born in 544 b.c. said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Just as with the river, the hiking trail never truly looks the same no matter how many times you hike it, because nature keeps moving, changing, and shifting, and the hope is that you do too. 

We need to keep moving, changing, and shifting in who we are as people—at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Some get stuck, I suppose, but that’s not the intention. Some people stop hiking and set up camp, but that’s not the point. We are called to continually evolve in who we are and who we are becoming, ever closer to the end product that Jesus desires to see lived out in us, and that means looking as much like Jesus as possible. 

When we hike a trail that is known to us, we will notice the changes to the environment, but not just because nature changes. We also change and that affects how we see and experience that trail. When we keep hiking spiritually we will notice changes to the environment and opportunities we face, but we will also see and experience them differently because we have changed in the process. At least that’s the point. 

I’d like to challenge you to keep on hiking in your spiritual journey. Explore previously unknown trails, double back to some scenic overlooks to enjoy the experience, and be sure to hike with a friend. Spiritual Direction is an excellent way to survey the landscape of your faith, and to journey with someone who will hold you accountable to keep on hiking.

I’m currently accepting new clients for Spiritual Direction sessions to begin in September. If you feel like you’ve gotten stuck, or been camping too long, and if you’re interested in pursuing Spiritual Direction, send me a message and we’ll talk.


Last Words?

…if I needed to write my last words, a message that I knew others would see and might be a lasting message for others, what might that message be?

I was dreaming deeply about some negative event. I don’t even know what that event was, or what happened, but this mysterious event caused me to run and hide in a closet for safety. On the inside of the closet door was a large pad of paper, and somehow I felt that I needed to write a message on that pad that I knew others would see. I fumbled with a handful of pencils, most of which were worn down, and I tried to find one with enough lead. 

I finally grabbed one while thinking of what I might write as this message to whoever might read it. Was this a “last words” sort of message? Was I going to make it out of this alive? Was this something that people needed to hear regardless of what happened to me? I’m not sure.  And I don’t know what I ultimately would have written. I woke up to my alarm beeping having never written a single letter.

I don’t know what the “me” in the dream would have written, but it gave me pause to consider if I needed to write my last words, a message that I knew others would see and might be a lasting message for others, what might that message be? I’m sure I would write a message of love and goodbyes to the people in my life, but what else?

As a pastor, when I baptize anyone at our church, these are the words of truth and identity that I speak over people:

“You are beloved. Precious child of God. Beautiful to behold. This name given to you by God can never be taken away.”

I think that would be my message. I would be pleased to share this message as my final words to others. This would bring great joy to have these be my parting words to others.

What might yours be? 

Do you embody that in the way that you live your life?

That’s the interesting part for me to think about. If these are the final words that I might like to have as a lasting legacy, do I live in such a way that that message is true in life just as it would be with my last breath. Do I embody that message in my life interactions with other? I sure hope so.

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Last Words?