Less is More

“We won’t be banging on drums to let them know we’re coming”

—Ygritte, Game of Thrones

I always found ancient warfare fascinating. Even the not-so-ancient warfare is interesting to its very core. Battles were fought on an agreed-upon field and victory typically lied with the numbers. Battalions marched toward one another, carrying flags or banners and banging on drums. Soldiers knew their enemy’s next move before it even occurred. Those on the front lines could almost guarantee their demise. War was a numbers game, and nine out of ten times, more was always more.

Occasionally, history teaches us about brilliant military tactics that involve a few brave soldiers overcoming astronomical odds, through the use of alternative guerilla warfare. There were the 300 Spartans who defeated thousands of Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae before eventually dying in the pass. There was the attack on Vienna by 100,000 Ottomans against 20,000 Viennese. By using bowls of water with peas floating on top, the Viennese could detect when and where the Ottomans were attacking along their walls. And then there was Gideon, who under God’s instruction, cut down his army from 32,000 men to 300 in order to defeat the Midianites (Judges 7:1–8). Gideon’s situation was definitely a case of less is more.

Why did God do this? The passage makes it clear that God wanted to prove to the Israelites that it was by God’s own prowess that they overcame the Midianites and not by their own military might. This, of course, is surface-level theology. We’ve all heard the famous memory verse from the prophet Zechariah: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). We can look at this from a practical sense as well. Like the scene from Game of Thrones when Ramsay Bolton convinces his father to allow him to ride out with twenty of his best men to sabotage his enemy in a nocturnal raid, destroying siege engines, torching supplies, and killing horses. This, in turn, defeats the enemy before it even has a chance to attack. Robin Hood and his band of merry yeomen attacked the wealthy on their way through Sherwood Forest, robbed them blind, and then delivered their riches to the poor, thereby cutting off the financial lifeline of their enemy—The Sheriff of Nottingham. In “real” history, during the Revolutionary War, a ragtag band of militia soldiers from South Carolina relied heavily on similar terrorist attacks to drive Cornwallis from the Carolinas and eventually defeating him at Yorktown, Virgina. You may recognize that story from the movie The Patriot. Either practically or theologically, the concept of less is more often rings true.

Today, we are at war with an invisible enemy. We can’t sneak into its camp, cause confusion, madness, or torch its siege engines. We can’t steal from its financial lifelines and give that money to those who are suffering from this pandemic. We can’t attack its soldiers while they travel from Charleston to Georgetown. What we can do is recognize the significance found in the lessons of Gideon, Ramsay Bolton, Robin Hood, and the South Carolina militia. Less is more! With less interaction with our friends at the local pub, we can play board games with our families. Since evenings out at loud restaurants are no longer possible, we can now share a meal around the dining room table sharing stories and bonding with those we love. Instead of watching the Cubs lose to the Cardinals, we can actually go out and toss the ball around or play cornhole. In lieu of heading to the office, the stadium, or the bar, we can go for a run, lift weights, pray and worship our Creator, and make love to our spouses. Through these types of circumstances, we recognize those things in our lives that truly matter. Money, success, and possessions no longer become our driving force. God, family, love, and health suddenly take the forefront. When circumstances take away the 31,700 things that don’t matter, we are left with the 300 things that do. Through this pandemic, I’m once again recognizing that LESS IS MORE!

Everything Before “But”

The candle standing in the middle of the table established an ambiance of romance and possibilities. The tantalizing aroma of the tenderloin seemed to match the same enticing aroma of potential that appeared to emanate between the two new lovers as they gazed into each other’s eyes. A single crimson rose lay perched at the edge of the table. The man inconspicuously glances over at the rose in anticipation.

“You are an amazing man,” the woman begins. “When we first met, I wanted to spend every second with you. We connected on every level. Our chemistry was amazing, and you are so easy to talk to. Our conversations were incredible. Any woman would be lucky to have you, but…”


The previous illustration is a pretty accurate description of an episode of the Bachelor or Bachelorette…no matter what season. It’s very typical. In fact, before meeting my wife, this scene could have easily been procured from a myriad of my own personal experiences. Nevertheless, every single person who’s ever been dumped doesn’t care what precedes the word “but”! The dumper could say anything they want to soften the blow, but it is never soft for the dumped. Once we hear the word “but” everything that comes before it is null and void.

“I understand the rules of this house, but…”
—One of my children
“I did study for my test, but…”
—One of my children
“I realize that I hit him in the face, but…”
—One of my children
“I know I passed a huge yellow school bus, with a stop sign fully extended, while flashing its red lights, but…”
—Shawn Vander Lugt
“Everything before but is bull”
—Jim Quinn

Not only is this last quote literally (a very overused word by today’s generation by the way) true, it is also metaphorically true. Once we say “but” it completely invalidates everything we say before it. The “but” signifies opposition to, and instills doubt in, the validity of whatever comes before it.

Gideon is one of my favorite characters in Scripture. Not because Gideon was a mighty warrior and defeated the Midian army with only 100 combatants. Gideon is one of my favorite characters because he was a realist, and I like realists. Like most skeptics and atheists today, Gideon also didn’t accept anything at face value, and I like skeptics and atheists for the same reason. Gideon was polite, “but” he followed that courtesy with a “but” and we know what that means.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
—Judges 6:12-13

Gideon didn’t stop there. The angel tried to convince him that God was going to send Gideon to deliver the Israelites from the Midianites. Gideon responds with, “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15).

He goes on to doubt God and requests three more signs before finally accepting his calling. But, But, But.

I must admit, whenever I feel God tugging me one way or another, almost every time my initial response is, “Pardon me, my lord, but…”

“Pardon me, my lord, but I don’t have the time or money to do that.”
“Pardon me, my lord, but I don’t have good skills to do that. You know like nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills.”  
“Pardon me, my lord, but I’m doubting your goodness and faithfulness right now.
“Pardon me, my lord, but it appears you don’t keep your promises.”
“Pardon me, my lord, but look who you allowed to become president.”

Lately, I’ve been worrying that my doubts and cynicism are detrimental to my faith. Then I read a passage like Judges 6 and I’m relieved and encouraged. In fact, today, I’m convinced that blind faith imparts stagnancy. Without ever questioning God or God’s intentions, we find ourselves in suspended animation. Gideon didn’t take God’s word at face value. Should we?

In Dynamics of Faith, Paul Tillich writes, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. Faith, by its nature, includes separation. If there is no separation from the object of faith, then it becomes a matter of certainty, and not of faith.”

I don’t know if I’m right or not about doubting or questioning God, God’s purposes, or God’s good and faithful intentions. See, I’m even doubting that. Regardless of whether I’m right, I know that through doubting God, questioning God, and fighting with God, I’ve always come out on the other end in a more solid and meaningful relationship with my Father. That alone is a testimony to the power of doubt. I frequently doubt, question, and fight with God, “BUT” I always come out of those bouts stronger and more faithful. The truth of our hearts always comes after the “but” not before it. Because everything before “but” is bull.

In the Limelight of our Mothers

Three weeks before our wedding, Jaime and I flew to Scottsdale to plan the wedding with my parents, apply for our license, and spend countless hours at Hobby Lobby. It was a wonderful trip because it provided a myriad of opportunities to share precious moments with Mom. If I had known then that there would only be one month left with her, I don’t think I would have gone back to Colorado. I recall one conversation I had with Mom that weekend.

Jaime had stepped out of the room and Mom pulled me aside, sat down next to me in the living room, and said, “You’re different with her…better…stronger…more confident. Without even doing a thing, she instills in you the humble strength you need to lead your family without sacrificing the gentle, kind spirit that defines who you truly are deep inside. Micah told me back in February, ‘Dad’s different with this one…He’s still my dad, still fun-loving, quirky, and weird. Jaime doesn’t expect him to change who he is and that’s awesome.’ I agree completely, Shawn. That’s awesome.”

Every time I look over at my wife, I remember these affirming words from my mother—one of the best leaders I’ve ever known. Good leaders lead without comparison. Ineffectual leaders feel compelled to stand next to other leaders at the urinals of competition, seeing how far they can pee or comparing their small “hands” with the “hands” of others. Godly women leaders like my mom bring out the best in their husbands, their brothers, their sisters, their daughters, and their sons. They affirm and guide women and men, boys and girls, to seek God for wisdom as their ultimate leader and then humbly allow others—often those less worthy—to take the credit. I often question the justice and righteousness of this fact. As a feminist, I would love to give credit where credit is due. At the same time, as a follower of Jesus, I cherish the significance of humility. “Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life (Proverbs 22:4).

Mom was a humble leader and Dad would never argue with the fact that she not only led us all into the arms of our God but she enabled and encouraged my dad to do the same. Mom and Dad led and the led together—giving the credit to the Lord God so that all who love Him would “be like the sun when it rises in its strength” (Judges 5:31). I can’t thank my parents enough for their spiritual guidance. I also can’t thank my wife enough for seeing the strength that lies amidst my gentle spirit—and summoning it forth through love and encouragement.

Deborah, “a mother in Israel” was this kind of woman as well. She humbly led others to seek the Lord for their strength. She didn’t take credit or compare herself to other leaders. Instead, she encouraged others to seek the Lord for strength, “cowboy up,” and do what God called them to do.  Then there’s Jael. I probably like her even more. Where Heber the Kenite did everything wrong, his wife, Jael, did everything right. Jael was fearless, God-honoring, and stable in her faith. Perhaps we aren’t supposed to use these two women found in Judges 4 as the poster women for modern feminism. Some argue that these women are only exemplified because the men around them were so weak. I, however, want to point out these these two women are identified for a reason. They do represent God-honoring leadership. They do take charge when the men who are supposed to take charge fail. They do encourage others to embrace their strengths and seek God for wisdom.

People argue that the examples found in Judges 4 and 5 in no way overrule the Apostle Paul’s take on women leading men. They argue that Paul’s argument that women should abstain from leading men is a general rule not an exception to the rule, where Deborah’s leadership was an exception to that rule. To be honest, I personally feel that an individual’s stance that women should not be allowed to lead men is an antiquated perspective and contributes to submission, inequality, and even abuse.

Oh no…my liberalism is rearing its ugly head.

Regardless of how I feel, or how some of these archaic theologians feel, Godly women don’t care. Women like my mom and my wife take Deborah’s lead, and lead. They lead men, women, and children into the arms of God and then take a step out of the limelight. If Paul needed the men of his churches to feel empowered, so be it. Godly women leaders don’t even care where the limelight is shining—they back out of the light and divert it so it shines on the people they love and let God lead their loved ones into his Kingdom where they’ll all shine like the sun when it rises in its strength” (Judges 5:31).

Obese Overlords, Excessive Excrement, and Flagrant Fuller Faculty

The long drive during rush hour up the 710 Freeway from my apartment in Paramount, California to my classroom at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena was exhausting. The fact that class began at 6 p.m. and ended at 10 p.m. didn’t help matters. Some would argue that Medieval Church History would be the cherry on top of this sundae of fun. I, however, was looking forward to this class. I’m a history buff, and the middle ages was my absolute favorite of all the ages. I walk into the classroom and look to the back corner of the room—the few seats located along the left wall. John was already sitting there and he waved me over. John, Casey, and I were the few back-row dwellers in this class. I’m a firm believer in the fact that one learns best when sitting in the back row as far over to the left as possible. I sit down, pat John on the back, open up my legal pad, and lean back in my chair. The instructor, a PhD from University of Marburg, enters the room, spreads out his notes, and says, “Let’s pray!”

We all fold our hands and close our eyes like the good seminary students we all are.

“Heavenly Father,” the instructor begins. “We all have so much shit in our lives. Shit we need you to remove and remove quickly.”

I peek over at John, who is already laughing under his breath. Casey’s eyes were still closed as if this kind of prayer happened every night at his dinner table growing up.

Initially shocked—and definitely awake—I continued to listen to the prayer, and as the semester moved forward, I found these prayers refreshing. I concluded that perhaps there isn’t a more appropriate word for our personal sin than the word our brilliant, Marburg educated instructor used and continued to use throughout the class.

Over two years ago, I wrote about two items that still sit upon the desk in my office. One item is a die cast collectable, Case International Harvester tractor that my Grandpa Vander Lugt gave to me. Every time I look upon this tractor, I think about Grandpa Vander Lugt and remember the wonderful times we shared, the grace and love he exuded, and the fun we had together on his farm. The other item is a Breyer Arabian Horse my Grandpa Van Hill gave to me. Every time I look upon this horse, I remember his humor, his inventions, and the fun we had together playing games, massaging his feet, and riding in a cart behind his donkey Jake.

These small items—toys to the untrained eye—are reminders of two amazing men who touched my life in profound ways. We all have things that remind us of those we love. We all of things that remind us of who we are and where we have been. After crossing the Jordan River, God told Joshua to choose twelve men, one from each tribe of Israel. Each man was to choose a stone from the middle of the Jordan and stack them up at Gilgal. This stack of stones was to serve as a sign, so future generations could remember that God cut off the Jordan so the people could cross from the desert into the Promised Land. The stones were a memorial to an amazing God who delivers them, protects them, and provides for them (Joshua 4).

After conquering most of the Promised Land, the people unfortunately sinned against God. When they did this, God sent an angel from Gilgal (the exact place where the stones remained—still stacked to remind the people of God’s love and deliverance). Speaking about the nations of Canaan, the angel said to them, “I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you” (Judges 2:3). Regrettably, because the people decided to let “excrement” overpower their lives, God decided to let their enemies stay in the land. Not only this, but those same enemies spend the entire book of Judges capturing the people, submitting them to slavery, and causing continual distress in their lives. In the same way, the stones at Gilgal reminded the people of their deliverance, the angel reminded the people that even though they’ve broken covenant, God will still deliver them. Fortunately, throughout the book of Judges, God selected judges to rise up and deliver his people over and over again.

One of my favorites, and most disgusting narratives in the Bible is about a judge named Ehud. Ehud was left-handed, which most scholars suggest means he was disabled and unable to use his right hand. The people of Israel did evil, so God had an obese king named Eglon attack and conquer the Israelites while making his headquarters in Jericho. Can you imagine how painful it was to see foreign invaders take over the city they so easily destroyed when they first entered the Promised Land? Eglon was gluttonous, greedy, and overindulging—he was the manifestation of Israel’s disgusting sin. As my Medieval Church History professor would have so eloquently said, “Eglon represented Israel’s feces.” After eighteen years of servitude to Eglon, God provides Israel with a disabled deliverer. Ehud fashions a double-edged sword and straps it to his right thigh—directly under his useless right hand. After presenting tribute to Eglon, Ehud walks back to the stones set up near Gilgal. Perhaps he was afraid to attack until he witnessed the stones that Joshua and the tribes set up earlier and was reminded of God’s love, power, and faithfulness. Seeing the stones, Ehud turns around, enters the palace, and stabs Eglon in the gut, spilling his bowels all over the place. Ehud then leaves the palace, again walks past the stones at Gilgal, and escapes. When he arrives at Seirah, Ehud blows a trumpet, and the Israelites repossess the land where they are free for the next eighty years (Judges 3:12-30).

How often do our problems seem so obese that we wonder if we’ll ever be able to overpower them? How often do we need to be reminded of God’s love, faithfulness, and power to remove the excrement from our lives? It isn’t a coincidence that Ehud is disabled or that he uses a double-edged sword to destroy his obese overlord—casting out the stench of sin. We need to be constantly reminded that God and God’s word provides the power and authority we desperately need to overcome those obese obstacles and disgusting dung that so often overwhelm our lives. The next time you pass by those “Stones of Gilgal” remember that wonderful message of freedom: God sent Jesus, the Word made Flesh, to help us overcome all our obese overlords and remove the stench that so often consumes us.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”

—Hebrews 4:12

40 Days in the Wilderness

Do you ever wonder why life can be so painful and why God allows us to suffer so much? Did you know that God’s chosen people endured many trials while wandering through the wilderness? Perhaps, by reading some of those painful experiences, you will come to a new understanding regarding your own trials and how they relate to God and God’s purpose for your life. This book not only looks at the trials God’s people experienced in the wilderness, but it also connects to our relationship with Jesus in a profound way.

You can purchase it in paperback for $8.99 or digitally for $3.99. Order three copies of the paperback and receive free shipping. Order one copy of each 40 Days book and receive free shipping. Wow! You can’t beat that…and just in time for Christmas!


We’ll See You Again!

Yesterday, in an honest tribute to my mom, my brother said, “Mom was always present in the moment and perfectly content. She dreamed and aspired, but she was never discontent with the circumstances that life presented.” Even upon the horrible diagnosis of stage four pancreatic cancer, Mom didn’t complain. Mom embodied contentment. Both my brother and I have lived a significant portion of our lives in a state of permanent discontent. We cast our eyes over the proverbial fence and convince ourselves that the grass always looked, smelled, and probably tasted better on the other side.

Discontent, feelings of inadequacy, and hopes of a better life lead us to dig, and dig, and dig for something to fulfill that emptiness—something to sustain us and give us a full and meaningful life. The more we dig, the more we sacrifice those things that are more important in life. We ignore God, our families, and our friends while we dig for more money and more possessions. We ignore our spiritual and physical health while we dig into our addictions and unhealthy habits. Mom never ignored those things that are important in our life, resulting in her absolute contentment. Remember when God turned the water of the Nile River into blood. Remember when the people of Egypt clawed along the banks of the Nile desperately searching for fresh water—they kept on digging for that sustenance—that life (Exodus 7:24). Mom didn’t claw along the bloody rivers for life, because she knew where to find true life, joy, sustenance, and contentment. Mom found these essentials reading to and loving on her grandbabies, holding the hand of her Love, always being present with her children, and drinking readily from the well of Living Water—her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well, he said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:4-14).

Mom was content and present and didn’t claw for water because she found Living Water; Mom found life to its fullest; Mom found the Good Shepherd; and she is now living with Him forever in His safe pastures.

We love you Mom! We sorely miss you Mom!

We’ll see you again!


“Be vigilant; guard your mind against negative thoughts!”

—Gautama Buddha

I have never in my life been angrier with God than I have been this past year. I shouldn’t be. I’m blessed beyond measure with an amazing wife, great children, a job I love, and a close-knit family where support, compassion, and joy is immeasurable. I feel selfish that my anger focuses on God’s inaction by allowing my mother to suffer through a tumultuous battle against terminal cancer. This blog post is a way for me to gain some perspective, sort through my anger, diminish negative thoughts, increase my vigilance, and find some peace in the arms of my God. Mom’s found it…she’s more in love with Jesus now than she’s ever been. Isn’t that typically the case?

The warm sun pours through the eight-foot-high windows of the west-wing of the Orange City Area Heath System—the hospice wing. I grab the corner pillar, glower up God, and weep uncontrollably. My daughter comes over to me and gives me a long hug and her love pulls me from my grief temporarily. My son asks if I’d like to play a game of chess. I agree with hopes of diverting my mind from where it’s dwelling onto something less morose.

I’m horrible at chess. I am exceptionally unobservant and I’m tactically impaired. Within a few moves, my son had already annihilated me. Why? Because I lack vigilance. My brother recently mentioned, during his best man’s speech at my wedding, that I’m a dreamer. Or as my dad so graciously put it, I—at least on occasion—have my head up my butt. My former coworker nicknamed me “The Happy Wanderer”. My head is always in the clouds because I dream…and I lack vigilance. There’s a proverb that reads: “At the end of every victory procession lies an open manhole.” Meaning, even when you think you’ve accomplished victory, don’t become over confident, throw your nose up in the air, and ride high on your horse, because you’ll fall straight down the manhole at the end of the parade route. Be prepared. Be vigilant. I know that I need to be more observant in preparation for that eventual manhole waiting for me at the end of my parade route.

After my embarrassing defeat to my teenage son, I tip my king over, lean back in the chair, and begin to listen to a conversation occurring between my siblings.

“Makes you wonder if you should have a scan performed every year just to make sure everything is okay,” my brother says to my sister. “Maybe these horrible things could be avoided if we did. Maybe doctors could catch these things sooner. Maybe we could prevent disaster, avoid tragedy, keep a careful and diligent watch for danger, disaster, and attack.”

Again…Vigilance. I think the biggest problem for me is I confuse vigilance with worry. There is, nonetheless, an enormous difference between the two. Vigilance is tactical, controllable, practical, and effective. Worry is impulsive, irrepressible, unviable, and incompetent. How unfortunate for me that I’m a proficient worrier who lacks vigilance.

As I read through my next passage in the book of Judges, I’m struck by a peculiar passage. Judah and Simeon start attacking the Canaanites to possess the land God promised them, and they chase down the Canaanite king, Adonibezek. When they catch Mr. Adonibezek, they cut off his thumbs and big toes, take him back to Jerusalem, and hold him there for an indefinite time. Later, while in Jerusalem, the king dies. Seems cruel to me, but this was an act of mercy. They would amputate thumbs and toes to incapacitate soldiers and impair them for future service. It’s difficult to swing a sword or pull a bow string without thumbs. It’s even more to march on the battlefield without your big toes (Judges 1:1-7). Judah and Simeon were vigilant instead of cruel here. They were saving the life of the king, while protecting their kingdom from future attacks. Win-win! Vigilant and merciful.

How can I learn to be vigilant without sacrificing the personality God so distinctly created to thrive within my own soul? How can I continue to dream while increasing my preparedness for inevitable evil and pain? How can I learn to be grateful for God’s providence and blessings amid grief? How can I prepare for danger, guard my mind and heart against negative thoughts, avoid worry, and dwell in peace? How can I, like my mother already has, dwell peacefully in the presence of God—this same God with whom I’d currently like to “THROW DOWN”!?!?

Listening Stones

It’s that time again—time to gather together with friends and family to celebrate a year gone by and anticipate a new year. We will all watch the ball drop at midnight tonight and say goodbye to a year many of us would like to forget. For me, this past year brought with it heartbreak, illness, new love, companionship, family bonding, political turmoil, fear, and hope for a brighter future. As I watched the end of Rogue One, I was touched by the message presented. In the midst of darkness, there is always hope and that’s one of the main reasons we continue to get out of bed in the morning: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Regardless of how we feel about 2016, I think the consensus is we all have hope that this new year will bring with it love, faith, joy, comradery, and peace—regardless of where we stand. This past year, some of us said goodbye to old lovers, mothers, fathers, friends, a unified, intelligent, and trustworthy country, and favorite singers. Most of us said goodbye to political leadership we can trust and cringe at the thought of what’s to come. In 2016, many of us welcomed into our lives new friends, new beginnings, new relationships, and new hopes. In 2017, we look forward to what these new relationships will become and we always pray that there is light in the midst of darkness and that we can trust in a God who cares for us, and has a plan and purpose for our lives, and the lives of those we love.

At midnight tonight (or earlier for those of us with small children), many gather together and make promises, oaths, and resolutions. Typically these resolutions are bundled up in packages of hope. We make promises to ourselves to exercise more, pray more, love more, care more, save more, shop more with Mom, fish more with Dad, shred more pow, and eat less. We typically start off really well. That’s why, during the first two weeks of January, you can’t find an open treadmill or weight machine at the gym. Once the Resolutionaries use up their free one-week trial memberships, they substitute pushups for pudding cups. According to Statistic Brain, only 8% of us are successful in sticking to our guns when it comes to resolutions.

Last year, I made three resolutions (probably two too many). Fortunately, I kept one of them. I promised myself I would join a CrossFit gym and stick with it throughout the year. In hindsight, I discovered a few helpful secrets that helped me keep that one New Year’s resolution.

First, I called someone who had achieved a similar goal, asked her how she accomplished that goal, and conversed with her in order to summon the courage to begin something I was unfamiliar with and stick with it for the year. Last December, I called up my friend Sherie. Sherie and Eric started something similar to CrossFit several years ago and I knew they looked and felt great. The conversation I had with Sherie helped convince me that I too could accomplish a similar goal.

Second, the fact that CrossFit actually costs a significant amount of money helped me stick to it. Planet Fitness promotes their gym every year by telling people they can join and use their equipment 24 hours a day, every day for only $9.99. While that is awesome, it doesn’t provide a significant amount of financial obligation. Your financial commitment to exercise can easily be rationalized away. “Do I do squats today or do I watch Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets? Well, it’s only 10 bucks and I really like the part when Hermione freezes after seeing the giant snake in her mirror.” The fact that I would waste $100 if I didn’t work out forces me off my couch and into the gym.

Third, and most importantly, I told as many people as I could—even those who didn’t want to listen. Having friends and family members who hold you accountable to your resolutions will increase the percentage of keeping those resolutions by 70%.

After divvying up all the conquered Promised Land to the twelve tribes of Israel, Joshua stood before the people and said, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15).

At this time the people of Israel made a resolution. They agreed to serve the Lord and promised one another to hold each other accountable if they failed to keep that resolution. After making their resolution, Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.” He then took a large stone and set it up in front of the people and continued by saying, “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”

Joshua and the people had a listening stone to hold them accountable to their resolution. Today, I’m going to use the few individuals who actually read my blog as my listening stones.

This year, I promise to write one page in my novel each day. Since this is my resolution, my blog posts will be few and far between. To be honest, it wasn’t like they were more and close outside this past year anyway.

So there it is! Happy New Year everyone! I hope and pray 2017 brings with it continual healing for my mom, deeper and more meaningful relationships with Jesus Christ, Jaime, my children, Jaime’s children, my family, and my friends, and a peace that surpasses all understanding.

 Shanah Tovah Umetukah  

Stop the Son

We are indeed going through a great trial — a fiery trial. In the very responsible position in which I happen to be placed, being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out his great purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to his will, and that it might be so, I have sought his aid — but if after endeavoring to do my best in the light which he affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise. If I had had my way, this war would never have been commenced; If I had been allowed my way this war would have been ended before this, but we find it still continues; and we must believe that He permits it for some wise purpose of his own, mysterious and unknown to us; and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that he who made the world still governs it.

—Abraham Lincoln, October 26, 1862

Wow! Do you remember when our leaders could write and speak eloquently? I woke up this morning to the brilliant rays of the sun blaring through my window—yes the sun rose this morning as my cousin Brian pointed out—and I was filled with a pleasant warmth and some hope for our future. I wasn’t hopeful because I was pleased with the outcome of our most recent presidential election—absolutely not. I was filled with hope because the sun did in fact rise and I was reminded that, as President Lincoln pointed out, “he who made the world still governs it.” The orange buffoon our country elected does not and will not!

I obviously have my opinions regarding our new leader as well as the state in which our country is now heading. I’m worried for our Muslim brothers and sisters, for another blow to the progression of our women, for the oppression of our friends of color, for the valid fears present in our Hispanic family members, for the now potential marginalization of our brothers and sisters in the gay community, for the misguided direction of our churches, for this push for freedom under the guise of bigotry. Yes, I possess these same fears. I’m afraid that what some refer to as “great again” is simply a regression to a day when white American men controlled the direction of our culture—and in my humble opinion that wasn’t a “great” era. These are my fears, and it wouldn’t be honest for me to stand on this small, insignificant platform that I’ve provided for myself and share how I have hope without expressing my anxieties and apprehensions.

That being said, I revert to the fact that God is ultimately in control and I’m inspired by these wonderful words of Abraham Lincoln: “I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to his will, and that it might be so, I have sought his aid — but if after endeavoring to do my best in the light which he affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise.”

How often do we drop to our knees and ask God to to govern this world? How often do we seek God’s aid so that all our works be according to his will? How often do we accept that governance and providence with humility regardless of whether we comprehend it? Today, I’m faced with a decision. Do I accept God’s mysterious and unknown purpose and pray that he continues to govern this world according to his perfect and pleasing will, or do I collapse in fear and trepidation because our country appears to be going to hell in a handbasket?

Our good friend Joshua doesn’t refrain from asking God to govern the world—even when that governance defies the laws of physics. In order to have more daylight to fight the Amorites, Joshua asks God to cause the sun and moon to stand still for an entire day (Joshua 10:12-14). This story isn’t about how God stopped the rotation of the earth and still managed to maintain the planet’s gravitational pull. It’s about God’s ultimate control of the universe and our part in God’s providence. God wants us to trust in him and in his sovereignty so much that we can expect God to turn yellow into blue or a circle into a square. If God can make a duck sink (Monty Python reference), he surely can protect our world from the inevitable mishaps of Cheeto Hitler. Yet, we must do our part. We must unremittingly seek God’s aid and PRAY, PRAY, PRAY that we are lined up with God’s will—even though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it.

I’ve been talking about prayer a lot lately, and it is still on the forefront of my mind. Joshua prayed to God for an extra day of sunlight and God answered Joshua by defying the laws of physics. How much more will God answer me when I pray for the healing of my mom, the healing of our nation, and the healing of our leadership. My friend Brent sent me this great quote by Andrew Murray this morning, “We must begin to believe that God, in the mystery of prayer, has entrusted us with a force that can move the Heavenly world, and can bring its power down to earth.” I’m not praying for the sun to stop, but I am praying for the Son of God to stop and look around. I’m praying for the Son to stop to shine his face upon me, my mother, my country, and my world. I’m praying for the Son to stop and remove the plague from my mother’s organs. I’m praying for the Son to stop and remove the plague of divisiveness and hatred that is taking over this country. I’m praying for the Son to stop and fill this world with His redemption in all areas—bringing us together in love and unity. I’m praying…

Son! Stop! Look! Listen! Help! Heal! Redeem!

Bothering God

I was convinced that I fell in love for the first time in the summer of ‘95. She was strong, sexy, kind, and hung up on her ex-boyfriend. Perhaps I was once attracted to women with more issues than a magazine rack. My mom can probably attest to the truth in that statement. Melissa never reciprocated my affections, but she did convince me to change from briefs to boxer briefs. In hindsight, this undergarment recommendation was far more beneficial to my well-being than her love would have been.

Melissa and I worked together for the University custodial department. We had deep and meaningful conversations while washing carpets and cleaning toilets. I recall one conversation in particular. Melissa had trouble sleeping. Her ex-boyfriend had moved on to another and didn’t want anything to do with her. That caused her stress and anxiety. She couldn’t relax and suffered from insomnia. I spoke with her that day about prayer and how when I pray before I go to bed, it helps calm my spirit and releases some anxiety. That night, after working a shift at Walmart, I prayed that God would help Melissa overcome her anxiety and give her a good night’s sleep.

My faith journey has endured several peaks and valleys, as is the case with everyone. College was definitely a time of mountaintop experiences, when my faith in God and my conviction in the effectiveness of prayer was at its highest.

That next morning, as Melissa and I were gathering our cleaning supplies, I exclaimed without an inkling of doubt, “You slept well last night, didn’t you!”

Surprised with my absolute assurance, Melissa inquired as to how I knew.

I answered her by simply saying, “I prayed for you.”

This of course sparked a week-long discussion about God’s will and the power of prayer. Discussions where Melissa brought up numerous situations where God doesn’t answer prayers—prayers she so earnestly wanted God to answer as well as questions as to why God would give a flying rats behind about her self-imposed restless nights or not care about suffering victims of abuse or starving children in the Sudan.

As I reflect on that day, I realize that I used to bring everything—and I mean everything—to God in prayer. Furthermore, I was convinced God was listening and that God cared.

Last week, my mom reminded me of a time when I was young and we were visiting the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. We were so excited for our day, but unfortunately God decided to rain on our parade. Convinced that God and I went way back and God would surely grant my wishes, I proceeded to step inside the ape exhibit, fall to my knees, and pray. I asked God to break up the clouds and postpone this rain storm for another day—a day when other kids wanted to enjoy the zoo, but not us. After an intense prayer session—I’m sure I was sweating drops of blood—I stepped out into the rain, held my hands out, and waited for the rain to stop—which it did. I simply looked up at the sky and shook my head in affirmation. Of course God answered my prayer. We went way back.

Today, a restful night for a neurotic 21-year-old and a sunny day at the zoo seem to be ridiculous prayer requests. To me, it’s like bothering God to help the Vikings defeat the Packers this Sunday night. We all know God’s a hockey fan anyway, right?

That’s where I’ve come. I pray for important things like my mother’s health, for my friend to find a job, or my kids to become functional adults who adore Jesus. I figure why bother God with the mundane or the things I can take care of myself. If I need some sleep, I drink a beer, take a hot shower, and go to sleep. If it rains, I reschedule my trip to the zoo. What happened to my faith in God’s providence for all things as well as my conviction in the strength of our relationship?

After Joshua and the Israelite army defeated the town of Ai, all the kings west of the Jordan came together to wage war against Joshua and Israel. However, the people of Gibeon decided that a different approach was necessary in order to live, and I have to say, they were brilliant. They decided to dress up in worn old clothes and patched up sandals. They loaded up their donkeys with worn-out sacks and old wineskins that were cracked and mended. All the bread in their food supply was dry and moldy. They then went to make a treaty with Joshua telling him they decided to travel from a distant country after hearing about their fame and the power of their God.

If you recall, God commanded Joshua and the Israelites to kill and destroy all the people in the Promised Land. Therefore, one could conclude that anyone from a distant country could be spared. After inquiring of these people, they showed Joshua their moldy bread, old wineskins, and shabby clothes. Apparently—and to the relief of the Gibeonites—the Israelites ate their moldy bread, but didn’t pray about it, so Joshua let them live and made a treaty of peace with them (Joshua 9).

It seemed obvious to Joshua and the Israelites. These people had shabby clothes and moldy bread. “Why should we pray in this situation? It’s common sense.” Joshua decided to make a treaty with these “obvious” foreigners without praying to God about them first. This was a mistake. Apparently, God wants us to pray about the big stuff, the small stuff, the obvious stuff, the mundane stuff, and the annoying stuff.

I’m reminded of a parable Jesus told his disciples in order to illustrate the importance of persistent prayer. Basically, a widow kept bothering a corrupt judge until he finally caved and gave her what she needed. Jesus pointed out that if this corrupt judge—who didn’t care about anything—gave the widow what she needed because of her persistence, how much more would God—who is just and compassionate—give us what we need when we are persistent (Luke 18:1-8).

Obviously, God doesn’t always give us what we want or think we need. If this were the case, there would be 31 Super Bowl champions every year (that’s 31 because MY God would never help the Packers win), no one would be sick, everyone would have well-disciplined kids and super awesome spouses, and we’d all be millionaires. This fact doesn’t mean, however, that God wants us to give up or just pray about those things we feel are suited for God and take care of the “minor” issues ourselves. We’ve been discussing this topic—for what seem like forever—in my men’s Bible study group every Friday morning. As we continue to mull over these difficult issues surrounding prayer, I’ve found some understanding in these words of Dallas Willard from page 242 of The Divine Conspiracy: “Prayer is never just asking, nor is it merely a matter of asking for what I want. God is not a cosmic butler or fix-it man, and the aim of the universe is not to fulfill my desires and needs. On the other hand, I am to pray for what concerns me…”[1]

Prayer still confuses me, and ten years from now when my men’s study group is working through page 250 of The Divine Conspiracy, I’m sure the muddied waters won’t be any clearer. One thing I have concluded is God wants to walk with me and talk with me, and by conversing with God, the two of us can begin to understand one another. I can begin to understand God’s will for my life and God will understand my needs, passions, and concerns. Through this intimacy, I hope I can make sense as to why people I love suffer or people who don’t deserve it thrive. So even if everything in life seems as meaningless to me as it does to the Teacher who wrote Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 12:8), I will follow the Teacher’s lead and continue to fear God, walk with God, and “in EVERY situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present [my] requests to God.” Because when I do, God promises me “peace” that will “transcend all understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7).

And that’s pretty cool!

[1] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 242.