2023s

    October 30, 2023

    Psalm 119:41-48

    Photo of a person molding clay by Shayne Inc Photography on Unsplash

    “Let your love, God, shape my life with salvation, exactly as you promised...”

    Last night we were talking about Paul's call to go to Jerusalem and how he understood his obedience to that call would result in seeing God work. One of the things that came out of conversation was this desire that we would have as clear a call as Paul did. How nice would it be to really know what our calling is?

    The fact of the matter is that we do know what our calling is.

    It's clear.

    Our calling is to love our neighbor as our self.

    At the most fundamental of levels this is our calling.

    Then this morning I read this little passage with this opening line, “Let your love, God, shape my life with salvation, exactly as you promised...”

    Oh what a prayer!

    I'm wrestling this morning with this simple and profound thought, “How does my life look differently if God's love has shaped it?”

    Discuss...

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    October 28, 2023

    John 5:39-47

    Photo of a Bible on a desk by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

    “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.”

    As I continue to read and study the Bible I am more convinced than ever that much of what Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day are the things that I need to hear.

    John 5:39-40 is case in point.

    I study the Bible, religiously (teehee). It is, quite literally, part of my job description. But, am I missing the forest for the trees? Am I seeing the reality that everything is about Jesus?

    More than that, am I willing to receive from Jesus the life I say I want?

    Ouch.

    That is a punch in the gut.

    That hits a bit too close to home.

    The life I say I want is one of love, grace, mercy, and joy. It's one that is marked by the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. It is one where the burdens of life are eased by being deeply connected to Christ.

    Do I really want that?

    Because when I'm real honest about myself it sure doesn't seem to be true. I am given over to easy anger, rage, and frustration. Stress and snark are hand in hand.

    Jesus is in a way standing right here in front of me. Will I receive the life he is offering or will I continue to just hold on as tightly as I can to the life that I say I don't want?

    The question I'm wrestling with today is, “Am I willing to receive from Jesus the life I say I want?”

    Discuss...

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    October 27, 2023

    Psalm 90:1-6

    Photo of a security camera stencil by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

    “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.”

    This beautiful line is from Psalm 90:1. I grabbed my attention and I keep thinking about it. This concept of God being our dwelling place.

    I too often think about God as someone far off or disconnected. Yet, here the Psalmist calls me to consider the reality that it is in God where we will dwell.

    The dwelling place in the ancient world was important because it provided protection and security. In effect, the Psalmist is saying, “Lord, you have been our protection and security throughout all generations.

    In my world, security and protection is something that I have to earn. It's not something that I consciously trust God to provide. Oh sure, the words will come out. But, at the end of the day I often think that security and protection is the result of my own effort.

    I wonder if some of the rampant fear that is present in our world is the result of people no longer believing that God protects and secures? We need weapons and power and money to feel protected and secure these days.

    But do we?

    What if we set our minds and hearts on the God who is our dwelling place and has been throughout all generations?

    The question I will be pondering tonight as I lay in bed is, “Do I trust that God will protect and provide for me?”

    Discuss...

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    Prayer Doesn't Change God

    Photo of a man praying by a misty lake by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

    Prayer is something so difficult for me to get my mind around. As I think about praying it raises so many, many questions.

    If God is sovereign why pray? Why doesn't God answer my prayers? Why don't I hear God when I pray? What value is there to praying? Why did that person get healed and that one didn't? Why did that prayer have “results” and that one didn't? Does prayer do anything?

    And so many, many more.

    I often think of prayer in the context of utility. Quite simply, “does it work?”

    As far as I can tell Jesus' closest followers only asked to be taught one thing, how to pray.

    How did Jesus respond?

    “He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:2-4)

    Short. Focused. To the point.

    Elsewhere talking about prayer Jesus said,

    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:5-8)

    What are we to make of these things?

    Throughout the history of religious people prayer has always played a significant role. I remember in seminary reading about the desert fathers and mothers and how prayer was central. Or learning about the monastic movement and the important role of prayer for these people.

    Every week I pray a “pastoral prayer” and a prayer of invocation and a prayer over the offering. I pray before I preach and after I preach. I pray before meals. I pray before I write. I pray before I spend time in the Scriptures. I prayer before I meet with people. I pray during my devotional times.

    As I think about it, I pray quite a bit.

    Yet, I wouldn't consider myself a pray-er.

    My friend John, he was a pray-er. After he died his wife passed out index cards that he kept on hand that tracked what he was praying for for his friends.

    Prayer was central to his spiritual life.

    I know of many people for whom prayer is significant to their lives and spirituality.

    My mentor, Bob, is a pray-er. He prays like his life depends on it. There is a qualitative difference between his prayer and my prayer.

    I think I often pray as someone who has to pray as opposed to wanting to pray. I think this is because I can't quite figure out prayer. It doesn't fit my intellectual boxes.

    Perhaps it's similar from the opening lines of Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller when he wrote, “I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve.”

    He goes on to write, “But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

    After that I liked jazz music.

    Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.”

    When I see people like Bob or John pray, I want to love prayer the way they do. These guys have and do show me the way.

    Yet, I struggle.

    I have found lately that simply praying the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples has helped me. Often I will find myself meditating on the words. Or the words will just come into my mind as I drive or walk.

    When this happens I feel something in me.

    I feel a connection to the divine. It's faint. But it's there.

    I am coming to grips with an idea that I first heard about in the film Shadowlands. It's a film about C.S. Lewis and his relationship with his wife, Joy. Near the end of the film there is this line, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.”

    The idea that I'm coming to grips with is this: I'm helpless.

    That's not easy for me.

    I think of myself as strong. I think of myself as someone who rarely needs anything. Yet, if I am honest, truly honest, I am helpless.

    “Prayer doesn't change God—it changes me.”

    As I continue to learn to pray, I am learning that this ethereal, surreal, intangible practice of seeking to be in the presence of the divine changes me.

    It's not a utilitarian practice. It's something deeper than that. It's experiential.

    I long to be able to speak that line from the film and mean it. I long to pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping.

    Perhaps, as I grow in my desperation to desire to pray I will someday learn to pray.

    Discuss...

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    October 26, 2023

    Jeremiah 3

    Photo of 1 Corinthians 13 on a burned piece of paper by Leighann Blackwood on Unsplash

    “I'm committed in love to you.”

    I'm really grateful that my kids and I have never had a falling out. I can't really imagine the pain that would cause. Being estranged from my children is probably my greatest fear. I don't even want to think about it.

    As a pastor, I have spent a lot of time talking through things with people who are estranged from their children or parents. The heartache of those broken relationships is indescribable. It is really trendy these days to talk about how your parents and sibilings are people you don't need in your life, yet nobody really means it. When our relationships with parent, children, or siblings are broken it is devastating. Some times those relationships need to be broken because of abuse, and while healthy, it is no less devastating.

    That's the thing.

    When it comes to these relationships, that are the closest to us and most intimate, the breaking of them, even when it is necessary, leaves a wound that is not easily healed.

    As I read through Jeremiah 3 this morning it struck me that the imagery that is used is one of a Father and children who have been estranged. There is a clear desire on both of their parts to reunite. Yet, the wound is so severe that there seems to be little hope.

    This line, “I'm committed in love to you,” is a beacon of hope in an otherwise painful and horrific passage of Scripture.

    There is no desire on God's part to punish. The desire is for restoration. The desire is for healing.

    Why?

    Because God is committed in love.

    There's a section in verse 19 where God talks about how God has planned what God would say if the people came back. It demonstrates this desire for re-connection.

    If my children and I were estranged, I think that I would feel exactly the same way.

    The question I'm wrestling with today is this, “How does it make me feel to know that God is committed in love to me?”

    Discuss...

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    October 25, 2023

    Jeremiah 2:29-37

    Photo of a thinking emoji by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

    “Day after day after day they never give me a thought.”

    Typically when our family starts out on a road trip we say a prayer. We pray that God would get us to where we are going safely. We genuinely pray. We are earnest. There is a desire on our part to entrust the drive to God and we want to arrive safely.

    As far as I can tell God has answered every one of these prayers by getting us to and fro safely.

    I can only think of twice when we thanked God for getting us there safely. Both times were when we experienced really bad weather. The times that the trips were uneventful, I don't think we acknowledged God's hand at all.

    When we are going through difficult seasons we often wonder, “where is God?” One of the writers of the psalms cries out to God asking God to “wake up!” When things are going bad we think about God all the time.

    It's odd, when things are going pretty well we don't think about God much at all.

    In Jeremiah 2:29-37 God calls out the people for not ever giving God a thought.

    I find that strange because the people were practicing Temple worship. They were making sacrifices and celebrating the feasts. They were hearing the scrolls read. God-talk was everywhere and all the time.

    Yet, God says, that they never thought about God.

    As a pastor I use a lot of God-talk, all the time. I read the Scriptures. I pray the prayers. I preach the sermons.

    But do I think about God?

    Perhaps what God is saying here is not some sort of intellectual exercise regarding God but is talking about the way that I think about those people in my life whom I love.

    I think about my wife and kids a lot. I wonder what they're doing right now? Are they having fun? What kinds of conversations are they having? I am *intrigued by the lives of those I love.

    The question I'm wrestling with today is, “Am I intrigued by the life of God?”

    Discuss...

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    October 24, 2023

    Jeremiah 2:20-28

    Photo of a desert landscape by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

    “How do you account for what is written in the desert dust...”

    I had a dentist appointment yesterday. I despise going to the dentist. Every time they take my blood pressure and every time it's just above normal. They always ask if that's normal. My response, “only when I'm here.”

    As a child my experience with the dentist was not very good. I suppose that's true of just about every Gen X kid. Our dentists were more akin to the dentist played by Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors than they were some kind person. So, I'm pretty sure that I have some deep-seated embodied dentist trauma that shows itself in my blood pressure at that god-forsaken place.

    Whenever you go to the dentist they ask, “Are your teeth bothering you? Are you brushing? Are you flossing?”

    I answer honestly, “No, they are fine. Yes I brush. I try to floss regularly but it's a habit I haven't developed yet.”

    This time the dentist said, “Well, at least you're honest. You'd be surprised how many people try to lie about it.”

    There's no point in lying about flossing. You can't hide whether or not you're doing it. The evidence is clear as the teeth in your mouth.

    It strikes me this morning that the same is true in our relationship with God. This passage from Jeremiah is a hard read. The people of God are being chastised for following after the fertility deities of other nations. The language is, let's say, discomforting, at best.

    Yet, there's this line, “How do you account for what is written in the desert dust...”

    The people tried to lie about their pursuit of these foreign Gods but God says that there's no point because the evidence is written in the dust. Their tracks to and fro are obvious.

    Our lives demonstrate what we are most focused on. We can hide or fake for a time but soon enough the truth will come out. Eventually everyone will see our tracks in the desert dust.

    I'm wrestling with this question today, “What tracks am I leaving in the desert dust?”

    Discuss...

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    October 23, 2023

    Jeremiah 2:4-19

    Photo of a church stained glass window by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

    “But my people have traded my Glory for empty god-dreams and silly god-schemes.”

    It was the late nineties and I was working hard at raising support to join the staff of a campus ministry. This particular man that I was connecting with took me to a gathering of people from his church to introduce me to them. As we were driving he was explaining to me that the day of small churches was over. He said that little churches would soon be swallowed up by the biggest churches in the area because the large churches had power and resources that small churches could only dream about.

    It's more than twenty years later and it turns out that his prediction was wrong.

    For a while, I thought that he was perhaps correct. But, then the mega-church paradigm began to implode. Scandal after scandal. Pastor after pastor has fallen.

    Small churches are not immune from this either.

    As I read about colleagues falling and ministries breaking down it appears to me that there is a common thread. Jeremiah might call it “empty god-dreams and silly god-schemes.”

    The American church has entangled itself with power and consumerism. In so doing it has sold its soul, in a sense, to a modern day Baal.

    As a pastor there is a constant and never ending pull towards bigger and better. I feel it in my soul. It's an illness.

    But then I read about what has happened in the past when the people of God have sold their souls for empty god-dreams and silly god-schemes and I am reminded that I don't need to trust anything else. I can rest in the goodness of God. As Paul says in his farewell to the Ephesian Elders God is incredibly and extravagantly generous.

    The question I will be meditating on today is this, “Will I scheme for success or will I rest in God's grace?”

    Discuss...

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    October 20, 2023

    Jeremiah 2:1-3

    Photo of a road by Derek Thomson on Unsplash

    “I remember your youthful loyalty, our love as newlyweds.”

    We road trip pretty much everywhere. Mostly because we like having our car available to us wherever it is we go. But, also because we are pretty cheap and renting a car is ridiculously expensive.

    There is a pattern to our long road trips. We begin with great enthusiasm. There are abundant snacks, everyone is fresh, and everyone is excited to get to where we are going. About two hours in it gets quiet. Then at about four hours the grumbling begins from the driver's seat. Then legs start getting stiff. The snacks don't sound good. Everyone is bored. Everyone is beginning to think, “Flying would have been better.”

    But, then we get to the destination!

    When we arrive the joy is palpable! Not only to get out of the car but the hope for fun and relaxation.

    I think that the spiritual journey is similar. When we get started in our spiritual lives there is joy and exuberance. It's almost like being a newlywed.

    But, like any journey it gets long and difficult.

    The fun wears out. It's not exciting any longer. It's just a long slog. There's no end in sight.

    What do we do? How do we respond? Will we stick to God?

    The question that I'm going to be pondering today, “What do I need to do to continually find refreshment in my spiritual journey?”

    Discuss...

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    October 19, 2023

    Jeremiah 1:11-19

    “And God said, 'Good eyes! I'm sticking with you...'”

    Photo of a stick by Mockup Graphics on Unsplash

    This passage is not what I would call comforting. God is telling Jeremiah what his message is going to be and that he needs to stand firm in speaking this message. The message is going to be hard. This is part of the pulling up and tearing down that was described to him earlier in his conversation with God.

    I have to imagine that Jeremiah probably felt his stomach hurt a little bit.

    As I was thinking about this passage memories of difficult conversations ran through my head. Conversations that I knew I needed to have but sure didn't want to have. I always get really nervous before those meetings. I can feel it in my body. My heart beats a little faster, my palms sweat a bit, it's a palpable anxiety.

    I can't even begin to imagine the feeling that Jeremiah must have had.

    But, then he hears from God, “I'm sticking with you.”

    This idea of the God-With-Me-God is pervasive throughout Jeremiah's story and it starts right here.

    God-With-Me-God, I think has to be one of the most encouraging ideas to come out of the story of the Bible.

    When Jesus enters the scene he is called, Emmanuel, God-with-us.

    As I consider the differences between the Old and New Testaments that is one of the significant shifts that I notice, the move from me to us after God-With. The story of the Old Testament is marked by an understanding of the God-With-Me-God and the story of the New Testament is marked by an understanding of the God-With-Us-God. God is not different. But in the New Testament we begin to understand that God is most fully known in community.

    I am pondering this question today, “Do I believe that as I draw near to others, I am in effect, drawing near to God?”

    Discuss...

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    How Do You Read the Bible?

    A simple practice to help you grow in your faith.

    Photo of a Bible by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

    When you open the Bible do you feel intimidated? I know I do.

    You read that right, the professional Christian with a graduate degree that included the study of both Hebrew and Greek is intimidated by the Bible.

    How can that be?

    It's simple really. I have seen the Bible used to cause great harm. I am sure that in my years of ministry that I have caused great harm with my interpretations of the Bible. Every single day I see the Bible used and abused as a tool that hurts others. I desperately want to avoid doing that. I also find many parts of the Bible confusing and hard to understand. That's part of the reason that I loved pursuing my divinity degree. This gave me loads of tools to get behind the text of the Bible to try and untangle the sticky wickets of the text. I also get to spend inordinate amounts of time reading research about the Bible, which I find really helpful.

    If I'm intimidated, I can only imagine the level of intimidation that many of you might experience. This is particularly true if we take the Bible seriously.

    Most people can't pursue an advanced degree, nor do they need to.

    For the vast majority of the history of Christianity people didn't even have personal access to a Bible text. They heard it in bits and pieces shared in the communal setting of the gatherings of believers. When we experience the Bible this way, there will be certain things that stick in our minds because they resonate with us. Other things will not be remembered.

    It really wasn't until the creation fo the printing press that the idea of a personal Bible even became feasible.

    Now, we find copies of the Bible in drawers of hotel night stands. I'd guess most homes have at least one Bible, even if it's just gathering dust.

    There's nothing particular special about the Bible, per se.

    It's a book.

    It's not magical.

    It's a collection of writings of Hebrew and early Christian believers.

    It is beautiful, ugly, challenging, and inspirational.

    In particular, it gives us insight into the life of Jesus. Jesus, the one after whom many of us are trying to pattern our lives. Because of this, the Bible is important to our spiritual lives.

    So, how can we engage with this intimidating text?

    Over the long history of the Christian faith there was a manner of reading that became known as “lectio divina” or “divine reading.”

    That seems a bit intimidating too. Or at least a bit mystically creepy.

    Over the last few years, after reading Eugene Peterson's book, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, I have become convinced that this kind of reading is fundamental to our spiritual lives. I really like the idea of “Spiritual Reading.” I think it is a helpful re-framing for what we need when it comes to approaching the Bible.

    This is not studying. This is something altogether different.

    Peterson uses the metaphor of a dog with a bone. He compares spiritual reading to the way a dog takes a bone and just enjoys it. Turning over and around and savoring it.

    What if we approached the Bible to savor it and turn it over and around? What if, in some sense, we let the Bible read us? What if we sought to intentionally engage the Bible with a sense of wonder and meditation?

    Peterson describes the process as stop, read, ponder, pray, reflect, live.

    When I sit down to practice my reading of Scripture this is the process that I use.

    Stop: Before beginning I pray and ask God to meet me through the reading of the Scripture.

    Read: I read and re-read the passage that I'm engaging with. So, it's not typically very long.

    Ponder: I reflect and think or meditate on the things that “jumped” off the page to me. Why did they jump out to me? How did they make me feel? What do I like? What don't I like?

    Pray: Often the time of pondering or meditation leads me to prayer. This is a time when I am responding to what I think God might be communicating through the text. Many times, I just stop and am quiet and allow the text to run around in my head and spirit.

    Reflect: Meditating more on what is being surfaced in me. Typically this is ends up being a question that I am going to continue meditate on throughout the day or until the next time I read the Scriptures.

    Live: I want to be attentive to how this needs to play out in my day to day life. How do I move forward by applying this to my life?

    This process has been helpful for me. It has made the Bible less intimidating because I have a plan of how enter into the reading of the Scriptures. It moves it from an intellectual exercise into something of the heart and the spirit.

    I would encourage you to give this a try. Perhaps with Psalm 19 or Matthew 5:1-12.

    What do you think? Does this sound doable? Do you think this might be helpful to you?

    Discuss...

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    October 18, 2023

    Jeremiah 1:1-10

    Photo of a demolished warehouse by Peter Herrmann on Unsplash

    “Your job is to pull up and tear down, take apart and demolish, and then start over, building and planting.”

    Jeremiah was given a task that nobody wanted. He was called to speak to the people and let them know about the judgment that was coming. There is no wonder that he is known as the weeping prophet.

    I look around our day and age and see a lot of would-be Jeremiahs. It seems that many of us think that we have been called to judge and deliver news of exile to people.

    It's so easy to pull up. It's so easy to tear down. It's so easy to take apart. It's so easy to demolish.

    The negative is easy. All we need is a bit of power and then we can destroy. Destruction becomes addictive. Why? Because we will inevitably find people who rally to us and help us destroy.

    Some people just love to watch the world burn.

    It's much more difficult to embrace the second half of what Jeremiah was called to, that is, starting over.

    I think that's where the weeping comes from.

    Starting over, building, and planting demands a holy imagination and a faith to believe that this thing that is begun will find completion. Typically, we don't get to see the fruit.

    I am convicted this morning of being too easily caught up in tearing down and not focused enough on the rebuilding.

    I am going to be asking myself this question today: “Am I focusing on what is wrong or on what can be done?”

    Discuss...

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    Acts 20 // The Long Goodbye

    Typically the Knee Jerk Devotional is going to be short. There will be a post with an accompanying 3-5 minute podcast episode.

    But, to get things started, I thought I'd drop my most recent sermon from Acts 20.

    Discuss...

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    The Journey – Nuts and Bolts

    As I see friends who haven’t seen me in a while they are effusive in their praise of physical fitness. Over the last year, my body has transformed. What they can’t see is the transformation that has taken place in my heart, mind, and soul. Those changes are of course nearly impossible to simply see.

    As important as the physical fitness has been, it’s these other changes that are more important. They are the changes that will help me to maintain my physical fitness beyond reaching a goal.

    The single most common question that I get is, “how did you do it?”

    My usual response is, “eat less, move more.” Which in a crude sense, is exactly the answer.

    But there’s more to it than that, much more.

    What are the nuts and bolts for the change in fitness that I’ve experienced?

    The first thing, of which I’ve written about at length, is that my self-perception had to change. I had to love myself enough to pursue fitness. By loving myself I was able to make a decision to choose a fully orbed pursuit of health.

    Regarding spiritual fitness, I once again began reading. I know that sounds silly. Reading had fallen from my regular habits. I read only when necessary. But, over the last year I began reading in earnest. Not just reading, but reading books that challenged me spiritually and theologically. I didn’t read fast or to “get through” things but I read and pondered. This included the Scriptures and books written by people that I wanted to learn from.

    I know that these aren’t really the nuts and bolts that people are interested in when they ask, “How did you do it?” But, without the inner changes the outward changes would not have been able to happen. We have to deal with the inside so that the outside can be transformed.

    What about the nuts and bolts for the physical fitness?

    “How did you do it?”

    The first step that I took was to identify what was the friction point that inhibited me from pursuing exercise. What I learned was that my key friction point was how long it would take me to exercise for 45 minutes. My gym was about a 20 minute drive. So, 40 minutes round trip, plus 45 minutes to exercise, plus another 20 minutes to shower and dress. In other words, it took two hours to exercise for 45 minutes. I don’t know about you, but I’m not typically able to carve out two hours from my day.

    When I learned this, I started a 15 minutes per day walking commitment. My thought was that I could do anything for 15 minutes. Indeed I could and I did for over a year. This got me moving. Once I started moving, I kept moving.

    I realized that I wasn’t losing any weight and my body was not changing. I had to change what was going into my body. I spent about six months controlling for carbohydrates. I ate less than 25g per day. This started my weight loss.

    After six months I hit a plateau at about 30lbs lost. One of the trainers at my new gym (it is 7 minutes from my house!) told me about something called Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is the number of calories your body burns just by living. He shared with me about the need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight long term. We talked through the role of macronutrients, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The plan was to maintain muscle while losing weight. To do this I followed a simple plan.

    Eating: I targeted approximately 2000 calories per day with 100g protein as the bulk of those calories. This target was based on my BMR. I used this calculator to determine my calorie goal: BMR Calculator. I ate a lot of chicken, salmon, turkey, cruciferous vegetables, and green leafy vegetables.

    Tracking: I used an app called Carb Manager. Its free version allowed me to track calories and macronutrients. The premium version I purchased to get finer control. For about a year I tracked almost everything that I ate and drank. This helped me to understand what foods were costing me in terms of calories. It was surprising to see how many calories were in things like dressings and sauces. Tracking is critical because it keeps you honest.

    Exercising: I began lifting weights three days a week and I used an app called, FitBod. It uses AI to construct workouts. There are gifs that show you how to do the lifts and it tracks all the weights that I lift. It’s like having a personal trainer in my phone. I also walked for at least 30 minutes, at least twice a week.

    That’s it. That’s the nuts and bolts.

    That’s how I did it.

    What questions do you have? What other information do you want? How can I help you on your journey?

    The Journey – Perseverance Over Perfection

    What if we valued perseverance over being perfect?

    a meadow path

    Sophia was walking through the forest with her friend Avil. As they were walking and talking she stubbed her toe on a root that had broken through the path. She stumbled and exclaimed her shock and surprise. She regained her footing and they continued walking.

    A little bit later, Avil stubbed his toe as well. He cried out and then found another root and stubbed his other toe. When he did, he tripped and skinned his knee. He was distraught and threw himself down the side of a hill where he broke his leg. As rolled down the hill he also skinned his knee. So, he took a rock and broke his other arm.

    It didn’t take long before Sophia realized that the walk was over.

    This parable is ridiculous! Avil (the Hebrew word for fool) is beyond foolish. Nobody would ever stub their toe and then go on to break their leg. Not to mention all the other ridiculous responses he made. Most of us likely see ourselves in Sophia, she stubs her toe and then continues on. That just makes sense, right?

    Here’s the crazy thing, if I’m honest, Avil is a reflection of me.

    Over the years I’ve tried all kinds of things to lose weight and to pursue physical health.

    Without fail, I’ve fallen short of my “plan.” When I did, I would throw my hands up and say, “Well, I blew it. Might as well enjoy it!” So what would I do? I’d get the famous number two from McDonald’s, (two cheeseburgers, large fry, and a Coke) or I’d get a large pizza. I mean, why not? I have messed up the diet anyway.

    You see, when it came to pursuing physical health my mindset has been, “perfection or nothing.” If I couldn’t be perfect, I might as well just indulge.

    There was no in between.

    All or nothing.

    I can trace this all or nothing approach through my pursuit of emotional health, spiritual health, and relational health too.

    Health has always been a goal, a pursuit, something that I sought to attain. So, if I wasn’t perfect then I was a failure. If I failed, then why press on?

    I was all about perfection over perseverance.

    The Apostle Paul wrote, “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. (Philippians 3:12-14, The Message)”

    Paul was someone who was aware of the reality that life isn’t a zero sum game. Inherent in what he writes here is the reality that life is a process. Becoming mature in his faith was not something that he was necessarily going to succeed at. It was a journey that he was on.

    Notice also, that there was failure baked into what Paul said. Paul seems to be saying, “I fail too! I fall short too! But I press on!”

    Perseverance is more important than perfection.

    I will never be perfect. I will never have a perfect streak of eating well or exercising or being a good friend or being emotionally fit. But, instead of quitting I need to embrace the way of Sophia and recover my footing and keep hiking.

    Something that I think that has been an important lesson is to learn the subtle shift from thinking about health to thinking about fitness.

    Mental fitness.
    Physical fitness.
    Spiritual fitness.
    Emotional fitness.
    Relational fitness.

    Fitness doesn’t have an end. It’s a goal to strive toward but you never really attain it. You never arrive at the end of fitness. So, you keep on pressing on. Straining toward the goal.

    No turning back!

    If the journey is the goal and the goal is the journey then all we really have is perseverance.

    Perfection is not something that we will ever find. If not being perfect derails the journey then I will never be able to move forward.

    Because I am on a journey that has no end there is only the option of pressing on. Getting a little better each day. Even when there’s a step backward it’s not the end. I can regain my footing like Sophia and keep walking.

    Perseverance over perfection.

    The Journey – The Unseen

    What do we do when the goal is unseen?

    Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

    It was Thanksgiving and we were heading to my brother Jay’s home outside Baltimore, Maryland. We were excited to spend time with his family and celebrate together. As we drove the weather grew worse and worse.

    The snow and sleet were becoming overwhelming. Cars were pulling off and sliding off the road at an alarming rate. My hands gripped the steering wheel tighter than I knew I could. White knuckling was an understatement. I grew more and more tired. Tensions were rising in the car. I knew that Amy wouldn’t be comfortable getting behind the wheel and so I drove on.

    This journey was not going well.

    I desperately wanted to stop and sleep. Amy was desperately trying to find a hotel room.

    The “good” hotels were all booked up with other travelers hiding from the storm.

    We drove on.

    We made it to Jay’s house.

    Had we known how the journey would have played out, we might not have left. But, the hope of the joy of seeing my brother, sister-in-law, niece, nephew, and mom was more than enough to keep us going.

    We couldn’t see, quite literally, our destination, yet there was hope of the joyful reunion that kept us going. The perseverance paid off! The joy was made that much more sweeter after the difficulty of the journey.

    “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, The Message)”

    At the beginning of any journey you can’t see the end. You can try to picture it in your mind’s eye but you don’t see it. You have to start out and just go. You hope that the going will be smooth and easy. You hope that there will not be any bad weather or traffic jams or delayed flights. But, at the end of the day, you just don’t know what the journey will be like nor can you see the destination.

    Every journey demands faith.

    Paul Tillich wrote, “Faith is an act of a finite being who is grasped by, and turned to, the infinite.”

    I’m realizing that this is exactly what has been at the center of my journey toward fitness. It is a journey of the finite being grasped by the infinite.

    You see, there’s no end to the pursuit of fitness. It’s an ongoing journey with various stops along the way.

    I am struck by something that the Apostle Paul says in that quote from 2 Corinthians, “The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”

    As I consider what is going on in my fitness journey, this really is the heart of the matter. It’s not about a particular number on the scale or the size of my waist. No, those things are here today and gone tomorrow. It’s truly about the pursuit of fitness. A pursuit of something that will last forever.

    Being strong, feeling good, having energy, loving well. These are the things that the journey brings about.

    So I journey on.

    I am believing by faith that the journey will help me become fully myself.

    We can’t truly see the end when we begin, but stepping out in faith on the journey opens the door to joy.

    The Journey – The Crew

    We aren’t made to walk the path alone.

    Friends overlooking a valley

    I began my journey toward physical fitness with a commitment to walk fifteen minutes per day. My thinking was that I could do anything for fifteen minutes. I was right. Rarely did I walk for less than twenty minutes. Almost always, I walked at least thirty.

    I had, in my excitement over such a plan, decided to invite some close friends to hold me accountable. My walk needed to be done by 10 pm or they were free to give me all the grief!

    At some point in my walking, I pulled a muscle. I could barely walk. But, I persevered. I can do anything for fifteen minutes.

    During that time, it was all I could do to walk around the block. I had a dip in the hip but absolutely no glide in the stride. One evening, I had decided that after mowing the lawn I had had enough for the day.

    I then made a fatal mistake. I told my close friends that I was counting the mowing as my walk.

    In the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, “Big mistake, huge, BIG!”

    “You made a commitment to walk. Your commitment was not to mow.”

    I raged.
    I argued.
    I walked.

    Never in my life had I been actually held accountable to anything.

    These friends loved me enough to hold me accountable to the commitment I had made. I really didn’t like them when they did. Yet, they held their ground and pushed me to walk. They wanted me to succeed. In that moment they wanted me to hold to my commitment more than I did.

    I walked!

    There is a passage in the ancient text that goes like this,

    “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)”

    This is written right after the writer lists out a number of people who had lived and died in faith. They were the “who’s who” of the Old Testament. These people persevered in their faith and made up the “great cloud of witnesses,” along with countless others.

    It is interesting to me that when he writes about persevering through the race he sets the call in the context of a “great cloud of witnesses.”

    The community of faith, the cloud of witnesses, were the context from which the author calls people to press on and persevere.

    We are not made to be alone. It is not good for us to be alone. We need community. We need a cloud of witnesses.

    In my pursuit of fitness (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational) I have become keenly aware of my need for a cloud of witnesses. This cloud of witnesses I call my “crew.” These are the people that I have learned to trust with all of who I am. I have invited them into my life and given them the go ahead to hold me accountable.

    When I don’t want to persevere, I reach out to these people and they encourage me to walk on.

    A community of people who are truly involved in your life will eventually make you very angry because they will not let you get away with quitting. To quit, to stop walking, is the one thing that is unacceptable to them. This crew of mine reminds me of my commitments, to be sure, but more than that, they remind me of who I am and who I want to be.

    My identity is not shaped in isolation. It is shaped in community. My crew reminds me of who I am and these reminders give me the hope to carry on.

    The journey towards fitness necessitates a crew of people who walk with you.

    Who is your crew? Will they ensure that you walk on?

    *And love is not the easy thing
    The only baggage that you can bring
    And love is not the easy thing
    The only baggage you can bring
    Is all that you can’t leave behind

    And if the darkness is to keep us apart
    And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off
    And if your glass heart should crack
    And for a second you turn back
    Oh no, be strong

    Walk on, walk on
    What you got they can’t steal it
    No, they can’t even feel it
    Walk on, walk on
    Stay safe tonight* – U2

    The Journey – Start With “Why?”

    Answering one question can start the journey.

    The Smoky Mountains

    I recently shared a before and after picture one year apart on my social feeds. It sparked congratulations and a lot of kind words. Over the last eighteen months I have lost over 100 lbs. My entire body has changed. I see old pictures and it doesn’t even seem like I’m the same person.

    Do you want to know something interesting? When I look in the mirror I don’t really see much change at all. I will catch myself walking past a mirror and think, “wow! I’ve changed!” Then as I continue to look at myself I can almost see my body transform back to the “old me” in the mirror.

    It’s weird.

    Many of the comments and conversations I have around this journey are about how hard it must be to be on a diet and how hard it is to exercise regularly. Folks are impressed by the consistency and perseverance. Often people want the “playbook.” They want the nuts and bolts about how I got here. I gladly share it with them, but more times than not, their eyes glass over.

    The thing is, this really is a journey. It’s my own personal hero journey. There are ups and downs. There are obstacles and pitfalls. There have been big successes and some big failures too.

    A number of years ago after my second child, Libby, was born I lost a lot of weight. I wanted to to do it for “the kids.” Life was pretty easy and I dropped the weight.

    A few years later, life got stressful. I gained all the weight back and kept it on for almost twenty years.

    There were diets here and there and I lost some weight and I gained it back.

    But, then something changed.

    Over the last ten years I have become obsessed with trying to wrap my head and heart around two ideas. These two ideas are things that I come back to over and over again. I feel like they are all I talk about and think about.

    Love and grace.

    I suppose it shouldn’t be all that surprising that a pastor thinks about love and grace (well, these days with the state of American Christianity perhaps it is). For the longest time I was more interested in truth and righteousness.

    I wanted to be right. I knew I had the truth. More than anything I wanted people to embrace the truth and see that I was right so that they would be able to know what I knew. You could say, I was a bit of tool, and you’d be right. I was arrogant and self-consumed. I was not all that kind.

    In the background of all that there was a nagging question, “What’s so amazing about grace?” It had been posited to me by my friend and mentor, Bob. This question just floated around in the background like a little soundtrack that I tried to ignore.

    Over the last ten years that question wouldn’t remain in the background. It exploded into the foreground and with it came the question, “What is unconditional love?”

    “What does any of this have to do with a journey toward losing weight?”

    Great question.

    In some ways it doesn’t have anything to do with it and at the same time it has everything to do with it.

    My journey hasn’t been a journey of weight loss. My journey, my hero journey, has been a journey of health. Physical health is but one aspect. And, it’s almost the least important aspect of the journey! It’s a consequence of a pursuit of love and grace. As I pursued these things I started becoming more aware of my need to be a healthy person. This meant a healthy spirituality, healthy emotionally, and healthy relationally along with the physical.

    I titled this, Start with “Why?”, because when I finally got rolling on my journey it was when I had finally come to the realization that I loved me.

    I loved me enough to exercise.
    I loved me enough to change my eating habits.
    I loved me enough to be intentional about relationships.
    I loved me enough to doggedly pursue my spiritual life.

    As I set out on this journey eighteen months ago it was not for my wife or for my children. It was not to get healthy.

    I took the first step on the journey because I had finally come to the place where I loved me.

    I had to confront my lack of love for myself.

    Jesus said, “Love your neighbors as yourself”. It struck me that love of neighbor was limited by my ability to love myself. How I treated myself was in some way a reflection of how I loved my neighbor. I was becoming obsessed with the idea of “loving well”, which for me is the incorporation of love and grace. But, to really do that, to truly and thoroughly love well, I had to love me.

    I’m convinced that the first step in the journey toward health has to start with, “Why?”

    I am also convinced that if the why doesn’t include “because I love me” then the journey is likely derailed from the beginning. The journey toward health (spiritual, relational, emotional, physical) is the hardest thing that I’ve entered into. If it wasn’t rooted in love, I don’t think I would have continued.

    Because the journey is rooted in love, grace is always nipping at the heels. Grace frees me from legalism. Grace in the midst of perseverance opens the door to stumble and fall and get back up knowing that I’m still embraced and accepted.

    “How did you do it?”

    Love and grace my friend, love and grace.

    The Journey – Who Am I?

    Photo by Ben Sweet on Unsplash

    A couple of years ago I read a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear. He tells the story of a friend who went on a weight loss journey. To begin this journey his friend started a habit of going to the gym. At this point you might be thinking, “Well, of course he did.” But here’s the kicker, he never went in. Every day he drove to the gym and parked in the parking lot.

    What a strange thing to do, I thought. It surely didn’t make any sense to me when I initially read it. I stopped and pondered why would he do something so strange before continuing to read. I wanted to try and figure it out. For the life of me, I couldn’t. It just didn’t make any sense.

    Eventually, as you would expect, his friend began going into the gym. But, he didn’t work out. He just went in. Then, he started exercising but only did one set of one movement. Then he left. But, then he started working out regularly and changed his physical state of health.

    What was happening in this story?

    This man was changing his identity.

    When he started his journey he was not someone who exercised. To become someone who exercised he needed to become someone who went to the gym. He wasn’t that guy either. He had to become a person who went tot he gym before he could become a person who exercised. So, at the most basic of levels he became a person who went to the gym.

    This story deeply resonated with me.

    I had begun figuring out my why. I was beginning to learn what it meant to love me. But, there was a second question that I needed to wrestle with, “Who am I?”

    What kind of person am I?

    I began to work through a series of “I am…” statements related to health.

    I am a spiritually healthy person. What does this mean? What does a spiritually healthy person look like? What kinds of practices does a spiritually healthy person have in their lives?

    I am a relationally healthy person. What does a relationally healthy person look like? What kinds of relationships do they have? How do they orient their time? What kinds of boundaries does this person have?

    I am an emotionally healthy person. What does this look like? How do I lean into working on emotional health? Are there signs of not being emotionally healthy that need to be addressed?

    I am a physically healthy person. What kind of person is physically healthy? What is true of this person? What practices are in place for a person to by physically healthy?

    Notice that these were statements followed by questions. They were not questions followed by more questions. I began to change the way I thought of myself.

    I am…

    As my self-identity began to change things became easier and easier.

    When I went out to dinner I would look at the menu and ask myself, “What would a physically healthy person order here?” Then I would order that because I am a physically healthy person.

    Self-identifying as a “physically healthy person” also helped getting physically active much easier. On the many mornings that I don’t want to hit the gym I think to myself, “A physically healthy person goes to the gym. I am a physically healthy person, so I will go to the gym.”

    As I grow in my new self-identity as a healthy person (spiritually, reltionally, emotionally, and physically) I find making decisions to be easier. I am also finding that there are other things that are beginning to happen. For instance, part of my new identity is that I’m a person who goes to they gym three days a week and lifts weights. That’s who I am now.

    In the past, I was a person who was on a diet.

    Diets are something that end.

    As a person on a diet I would eventually become a person not on a diet. This meant that when I wasn’t on a diet I would typically revert to old habits and undo much of what was done on the diet.

    I am a person who is healthy. This never stops. It’s a new way to of being. This way of being lasts beyond reaching any particular goal.

    Pursuing a way of being is not goal driven. It is journey driven.

    Who am I?

    That’s the question that shapes the journey.

    The Red Wings start tonight and I am entirely too hopeful, too excited, and too lathered up in the Stevie Y butter.

    #Wordle 845 4/6*

    ⬛⬛⬛⬛🟨 ⬛🟨⬛🟨⬛ ⬛🟨⬛🟩⬛ 🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩

    I tied the Old Gal today. I really need to get out of the 4 guesses territory to have a shot.

    Good morning! May you press on #today with the hope of rest on your horizon.

    The Journey - Nuts and Bolts

    a gym

    As I see friends who haven’t seen me in a while they are effusive in their praise of physical fitness. Over the last year, my body has transformed. What they can’t see is the transformation that has taken place in my heart, mind, and soul. Those changes are of course nearly impossible to simply see.

    As important as the physical fitness has been, it’s these other changes that are more important. They are the changes that will help me to maintain my physical fitness beyond reaching a goal.

    The single most common question that I get is, “how did you do it?”

    My usual response is, “eat less, move more.” Which in a crude sense, is exactly the answer.

    But there’s more to it than that, much more.


    What are the nuts and bolts for the change in fitness that I’ve experienced?

    The first thing, of which I’ve written about at length, is that my self-perception had to change. I had to love myself enough to pursue fitness. By loving myself I was able to make a decision to choose a fully orbed pursuit of health.

    Regarding spiritual fitness, I once again began reading. I know that sounds silly. Reading had fallen from my regular habits. I read only when necessary. But, over the last year I began reading in earnest. Not just reading, but reading books that challenged me spiritually and theologically. I didn’t read fast or to “get through” things but I read and pondered. This included the Scriptures and books written by people that I wanted to learn from.

    I know that these aren’t really the nuts and bolts that people are interested in when they ask, “How did you do it?” But, without the inner changes the outward changes would not have been able to happen. We have to deal with the inside so that the outside can be transformed.


    What about the nuts and bolts for the physical fitness?

    “How did you do it?”

    The first step that I took was to identify what was the friction point that inhibited me from pursuing exercise. What I learned was that my key friction point was how long it would take me to exercise for 45 minutes. My gym was about a 20 minute drive. So, 40 minutes round trip, plus 45 minutes to exercise, plus another 20 minutes to shower and dress. In other words, it took two hours to exercise for 45 minutes. I don’t know about you, but I’m not typically able to carve out two hours from my day.

    When I learned this, I started a 15 minutes per day walking commitment. My thought was that I could do anything for 15 minutes. Indeed I could and I did for over a year. This got me moving. Once I started moving, I kept moving.

    I realized that I wasn’t losing any weight and my body was not changing. I had to change what was going into my body. I spent about six months controlling for carbohydrates. I ate less than 25g per day. This started my weight loss.

    After six months I hit a plateau at about 30lbs lost. One of the trainers at my new gym (it is 7 minutes from my house!) told me about something called Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is the number of calories your body burns just by living. He shared with me about the need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight long term. We talked through the role of macronutrients, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The plan was to maintain muscle while losing weight. To do this I followed a simple plan.

    Eating: I targeted approximately 2000 calories per day with 100g protein as the bulk of those calories. This target was based on my BMR. I used this calculator to determine my calorie goal: BMR Calculator. I ate a lot of chicken, salmon, turkey, cruciferous vegetables, and green leafy vegetables.

    Tracking: I used an app called Carb Manager. Its free version allowed me to track calories and macronutrients. The premium version I purchased to get finer control. For about a year I tracked almost everything that I ate and drank. This helped me to understand what foods were costing me in terms of calories. It was surprising to see how many calories were in things like dressings and sauces. Tracking is critical because it keeps you honest.

    Exercising: I began lifting weights three days a week and I used an app called, FitBod. It uses AI to construct workouts. There are gifs that show you how to do the lifts and it tracks all the weights that I lift. It’s like having a personal trainer in my phone. I also walked for at least 30 minutes, at least twice a week.

    That’s it. That’s the nuts and bolts.

    That’s how I did it.


    What questions do you have? What other information do you want? How can I help you on your journey?

    #Wordle 844 5/6*

    ⬛⬛🟩🟩⬛ ⬛⬛🟩🟩🟩 ⬛⬛🟩🟩🟩 🟩⬛🟩🟩🟩 🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩

    Welp, a five. The Old Gal won today. She is merciless!

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