Sam Williamson

Bulldozing Friendships

Bulldozing Friendships

A couple years ago, I experienced a growing concern for a friend of mine. Something in his ministry approach seemed discordant with its purpose. I waited a few months before talking with him. (Who knows? Maybe my observations were wrong.) When a perfect example finally arose, I shared my unease.   But to say I “shared it” exaggerates my graciousness. Instead, I bluntly confronted him....

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The Pig in London and the Lamb in Israel

The Pig in London and the Lamb in Israel

When I was twenty years old, I wanted to spend a summer abroad, but as a college student I could barely afford ramen noodles. I found work on a communal farm in Israel. For a bit of manual labor, they provided me food, a room, ten dollars a month, and a pack of cigarettes a day. (It was the cigarettes that sold me.)   The weekend before I departed, I heard my first talk ever on being a...

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We Are Strangers in a Strange Land

We Are Strangers in a Strange Land

“My wife’s ninety-year-old mother died last Thursday and we mourn. Someone reminded me that when we grieve, “we do not grieve like those who have no hope.” I grew up in a family that camped. My father was a pastor who got four weeks of vacation. We took all four weeks at once, camping the whole month of July, mostly in wooded campsites next to windy lakes. We hauled a small Sunfish...

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Do We Practice Godless Faith?

Do We Practice Godless Faith?

I recently met an elder who was whose faith brought him great distress. Three years ago, his small but growing church received tithes that exceeded two hundred thousand dollars, for the first time ever. But this is the rest of the story.   After seeking God, the pastor, elders, and deacons collectively felt led to invest in their youth. In faith, they unanimously decided to increase their...

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The History of the World is a Long Story of Bad Answers

The History of the World is a Long Story of Bad Answers

My wife’s and my first home was a trilevel, with only two of the floors completed. We decided to finish the third floor ourselves, creating a family room, office, and second bathroom. I had done lots of carpentry, wiring, and plumbing before. But I had never mudded drywall. I figured the drywall mud would sand down easily, so after hanging the drywall, I caked on mud like a teenage boy piles...

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Gazing on Beauty

Gazing on Beauty

Most of my life I failed to appreciate beauty. Oh, I loved the look of sails on the sea and snow on the mountains, but mostly I liked sailing those sailboats and skiing those slopes.   Fifteen years ago, I learned to scuba dive. On our first dive, my sons and I wobbled our way to the sea in unwieldly gear, inserted our mouthpieces, lowered our heads beneath the waves, and dived. In fifteen...

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What’s So Bad About Works Righteousness?

What’s So Bad About Works Righteousness?

The week before Christmas I heard the best argument against Christianity I’ve heard in years.     I met with a professional woman who had worked seven years for near minimum wage in the administration of a Christian ministry. When they decided to move their headquarters, they abruptly dismissed her with two weeks’ severance. She felt used and discarded. And she felt anger: How...

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When “Good” Christians Do Bad Things

When “Good” Christians Do Bad Things

I hate the presidential election season, the rhetoric, emotional responses, hushed conversations, and mud-slinging candidates. I especially hate those damned, political phone polls! Don’t worry, this is not about the election. It’s about when good Christians do bad things.   And yet, weeks after the elections, the rhetoric is still meteoric and the mudslinging has not abated. Friends of...

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Living a Staged Life

Living a Staged Life

A year ago, my wife and I decided to sell the farmhouse we’ve lived in for twenty-five years. While we were excited about moving into the next chapter of our life, the grown kids were less enthusiastic: our daughter’s next blog was entitled, Don’t Buy This House.   Nevertheless, we followed all the commonsense guidelines for home-sales: We decluttered our closets, removed beds and...

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Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial Evidence

A pastor-friend of mine once went through a series of disappointments. His favor with his followers faltered, his once fruitful ministry began to fail, and many of his former friends became his biggest opponents. And that was before events really got bad.   My friend was well known. If I told you his name, you’d probably recognize it. And his meteoric fall from favor was not due to any...

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Twin Motivations

Twin Motivations

I once had a client whose business-gifting outshined the stars of the Harvard Business Review. Yet she scorched everything she touched. Relationships went rancid, projects were poisoned by punitive criticism, and her management style left associates embittered.   We met for lunch a couple times a year for much of the 90’s. Over time, my opinion of her zigzagged from initial awe, to...

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The Starving Lion

The Starving Lion

A business owner I barely knew once phoned to see if we could meet. He was an aggressive entrepreneur, a roaring lion among his peers. Yet on the phone, he seemed different, hesitant, a bit humbler, perhaps broken. He certainly choked up a few times in our short conversation.   We met the following Friday, which happened to be his fortieth birthday. He appeared vulnerable and exhausted, and...

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Relationship or Religion?

Relationship or Religion?

My best friend in the world, from ages eight to eighteen (except for three long months), was Mark Maxam. Inseparable companions, we walked to school together, slept over on weekends, jumped off church roofs together, and shared every conceivable secret.   We also wrestled. One day, when I was ten, Mark put me in a scissor-lock that I couldn’t break. So, I bit him. He released me with the...

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I Wonder if Our Agendas Crucify the Life of God Within Us

I Wonder if Our Agendas Crucify the Life of God Within Us

Seven years ago I met a mother in anguish because her smart, capable son was living in an abandoned house, playing reggae music on the streets, and panhandling when the busking money fell short. He bathed irregularly and communicated inconsistently.   After he graduated from high school, his mom enrolled him at Stanford while he took the summer off to hitchhike around America. He called...

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The Riddle of the Psalms

The Riddle of the Psalms

For the last forty years, my prayer time has started with the Psalms. And for forty years they have alternately given me hope and then pulled that rug of hope from beneath me. They make great promises, but when I pray them with honest self-reflection, the promises fade away.   Look at the hopeful assurances offered: Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. (Ps. 27:3) The...

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Beware of Smiling Crocodiles

Beware of Smiling Crocodiles

I recently met with a three friends to discuss a Saturday event we were hosting. I thought a previous decision was a spiritual mistake, and I pleaded that we reconsider. Not only did I plead, I urged and pushed, and then I rammed my point home with a metaphorical baseball bat.   My counsel, intensity, and insistence backed them into a corner. And it all backfired. I’ve always pictured my...

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The First Time I Ever Heard God

The First Time I Ever Heard God

I was ten years old the first time I heard God speak. It was autumn, a new school year had just begun, and a new fad was spreading among my adolescent classmates. Cussing.   I was raised in a conservative Christian church where Sunday school teachers taught us the Ten Commandments. The teachers were vague about adultery, and I wasn’t concerned. They were also unclear about coveting, and I...

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Our Plans, God’s Plans

Our Plans, God’s Plans

Last week’s ideal plan didn’t translate itself into reality. Instead, life happened. While on an errand, I met a man and we talked for two hours; a friend called to say her father is dying and I went to visit him; and our water main sprung a leak, drenching the basement.   I’m traveling west for a retreat, so last week was filled with dozens of tasks to get ready. I use a planning app...

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Three Keys to The Seven Steps that Reveal The Five Secrets of Success

Three Keys to The Seven Steps that Reveal The Five Secrets of Success

I recently feel a need for action, practically (selling our house, helping a ministry I support, promoting my book) and humanly (a friend in divorce proceedings and other friends with health or financial woes). A season of doing has descended on me.   But where should I best invest myself? There is no shortage of advice. Recently, resources I used to like for their insights have transformed...

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How To Be IN But Not OF — That Is The Question

How To Be IN But Not OF — That Is The Question

My grandfather was a missionary in China from 1917 to 1936. He once told me of some early Pentecostal missionaries to China. They decided it was unnecessary to study Chinese before traveling because they “spoke in tongues.” But when they disembarked in Hong Kong, their abysmal language skills made them a laughing stock.   My grandfather (who was also a Pentecostal missionary) said to...

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Why Don’t We Hear God’s Voice?

Why Don’t We Hear God’s Voice?

Humanity was designed to hear God. It’s in our DNA. So why is his voice so rare? Scripture says, “God speaks in many and diverse ways, but nobody notices (Job 33:14). We miss his voice because he’s not a paint-by-number God. He speaks in ways we don’t expect.   We often hear well-meaning people describe conversations with God in ways that mislead. Their exchanges with God sound like...

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The Fires of Waiting

The Fires of Waiting

I’ve always disliked waiting. As a kid, Christmas Eve was torture. Being on hold with Comcast feels endless (the same sappy song repeating every ninety seconds). Last August Kregel Publications offered to publish my book on Hearing God, but their schedule meant it’s release would be delayed ten interminable months.   I think God is teaching me to wait. On him. Of all God’s lessons,...

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Hearing God in Our Suffering

Hearing God in Our Suffering

Most of my high school friends were obsessed with college-prep, extra-curricular activities, and jobs. Except for one friend. Like a lion, he could sniff out a wounded schoolmate from a thousand yards. And like a lamb, he sat with them in their grief.   One day we heard a lecture on handling pain. Much of the class was indifferent, but this one friend listened with fixed attention. My...

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What’s So Important About Hearing God?

What’s So Important About Hearing God?

“For God does speak–now one way, now another–though man may not perceive it” (Job 33:14). Humanity was created to be in a relationship with God; not God as a simple supplement, nor God as mere miracle worker. God created us to know him personally, as a father with a child, friend to friend, and even (breathtakingly intimate) as a husband with a wife. At the beginning of time, Adam and...

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When God Seems Silent

When God Seems Silent

Of all the ways God speaks, the one I like least (and fear most) is his silence. The absence of his voice seems to come at the moments I most desperately long for a word. In those moments, his silence feels like God at his cruelest.   We cry out to God, we promise to do exactly as he says, and we get silence. It hardly seems fair. Paradoxically, God often speaks the loudest in his silence....

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Hearing God: Learning to Recognize His Voice in Meditation

Hearing God: Learning to Recognize His Voice in Meditation

God speaks time and again—in various ways—but nobody notices” (Job 33:14). Central to the nature of the human race is a desire to hear God. Well, more than mere desire. We crave a connection with the divine, somehow to see the face of God, to touch and be touched. It’s an inborn, inherent ingredient of our humanity.   Scripture says God is always speaking, but we miss it. It’s...

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Hearing God: Conversation Is the Point

Hearing God: Conversation Is the Point

When I was growing up, my dad taught me to sail our small Sunfish sailboat. We took month-long summer vacations, and we always camped on lakes, so we could challenge the wind every day. I probably sailed with my dad for a hundred hours before I took the boat out on my own. My dad would have me handle either the sail or the rudder. Of our many hours sailing together, I’ll bet his actual...

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Courage and Cowardice

Courage and Cowardice

The worst riot in Detroit’s history broke out the summer of 1967: forty-three people were killed and over eleven hundred injured. As the violence escalated, my father packed us kids into the station wagon and drove us in to the center of the action (every other car was headed out). Police tried to wave us away while we witnessed looting, fights, arrests, and arson.   My father was...

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When Success Turns Sour

When Success Turns Sour

Fifteen years ago, a client of mine became president of his company. It all came about through a fluke (he was a mid-level manager), good luck, and a couple coincidences. He was very humble about his promotion, “It was just God’s grace. I hadn’t wanted it, I didn’t deserve it, and I never tried for it. God just dropped it on my lap.”   Within a couple years he began to attribute...

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When Obedience Doesn’t Make Sense

When Obedience Doesn’t Make Sense

When my family moved to Detroit, the summer between my first and second grade, Tommy was the first friend I made. He too was the son of a pastor—so we had that in common—but his mother hated the idea of punishment.   Tommy’s mother caught us smoking cigarette butts behind their church which was right next door to their house. (How could we have been so stupid?) She explained that the...

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As Long as We Both Shall Live

As Long as We Both Shall Live

Last weekend my wife and I attended two weddings. Both couples used traditional vows: To have and to hold, from this day forward, For better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, In sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, Forsaking all others, as long as we both shall live.   My wife and I got married thirty-three years ago, but our church met in the YMCA, so we asked another...

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Wait For It

Wait For It

Eight years ago, my niece Amy married Nathan, a great guy. They moved into a starter home in the country. Over time, and with the addition of a son and daughter, the small house felt smaller. With a third child on the way, they decided to sell their house and find a larger home, a place closer to town with neighbors for the kids and a garage for the cars.   They put their house on the...

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My father died sixteen years ago last Friday, April Fool’s Day, 1996. (I often wonder if he planned that day.) A week before his death, knowing his death was imminent, my father made a suggestion. Deathbed advice has power other suggestions can’t match.   My dad told me that many of the people he counseled lived their adult lives being controlled by their parents. Most parental-control...

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Why Do Our Kids Reject Christianity?

Why Do Our Kids Reject Christianity?

Why do so many people—people with incredible conversion stories—parent children who abandon Christianity?   History overflows with great saints whose offspring lose faith: Samuel was a mighty prophet of God. His sons were a mess. David was a man after God’s own heart. His children were a disaster. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were founded on the gospel. Now they lead the...

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Who is Your Hero?

Who is Your Hero?

Sometimes God speaks through a careful choreography of life events: conversations, readings, observations, and even the occasional media clip. Suddenly, all the pieces snap together, and we sigh (internally so no one hears us), “Aha!”   This morning, I had one of those moments of clarity. Over the past couple weeks: With friends, I pondered why some people and ministries are wildly...

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Spiritual Judo

Spiritual Judo

I reached my fitness high water mark at the age of twenty-four. I ran thirty miles a week, sweated three hundred pushups a day, and I brawled each week in the local boxing club. In the midst of my peak physical prowess (never mind its short duration), I met a man with a black belt in Judo. He was forty-ish, chubby, and he wheezed as he walked. I think his exercise routine consisted of lifting...

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The Nonsense of S.M.A.R.T. Sense

The Nonsense of S.M.A.R.T. Sense

Is modern business wisdom destroying Christian spirituality? Oswald Chambers once asked, “[Do we consider ourselves] so amazingly important that we really wonder what God Almighty does before we wake up in the morning?”   Contemporary sages tell us to apply business models to our spiritual work. They admonish us to make S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and...

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Navigating The Mountain of Biblical Authority

Navigating The Mountain of Biblical Authority

My daughter’s boyfriend, Matt, works in the High-Tech Performance Apparel industry. (I always thought the height of high-tech apparel was the Converse high-top.) He’s an avid sportsman and a NOLS leader trained in Alaskan sea kayaking, mountaineering, and glacier-navigation.   Matt recently described two kinds of people who buy performance gear and apparel. Some buy because they use...

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The Hope of Our Suffering

The Hope of Our Suffering

As a college student, I wanted to spend a summer abroad, but money was so tight that Raman noodles were my Sunday treat. I found a communal farm in Israel (sort of like modern WWOOFING) that provided room and board plus ten dollars a month (and a daily pack of cigarettes!) for simple, manual labor. I signed up.   I talked with a few people who had “volunteered” in the past. They said...

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Hearing God in Scripture

Hearing God in Scripture

When I was twelve, my parents taught me to read a chapter of Proverbs a day. Proverbs has thirty-one chapters, so the day of the month determined which chapter to read. (Some months, of course, have fewer than thirty-one days, and I just skipped those last chapters without guilt.)   After ten months of Proverbs, I finally—dare I say it?—got bored. So on a whim, I decided to read...

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Ready to role up your sleeves and do this?

Ready to role up your sleeves and do this?

No matter how well put-together our life is, we still wonder if there is more: more purpose, more passion, and a more vibrant relationship with God. We wonder, “Does God speaks to someone like me? Does he give a significant purpose for someone like me?  Is there more?” The answer to these questions is, absolutely yes! As writers, speakers, and personal advisors, we have helped thousands of...

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Learning to Doubt our Doubts

Learning to Doubt our Doubts

My natural inclination is to believe life will turn out just fine; I lean towards the positive. It’s not that I think every day will be sunshine and daisies (my home is in Michigan, the birthplace of gray skies), it’s just that I believe the sun will come out eventually.   Last month my outlook on life was normal: optimistic. I had reasonably high hopes that my next book will sell well...

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What’s Wrong with this Picture?

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

I’m in the middle of another bout with bronchitis (I think I’m losing), so I planned to skip my blog this week. But last Sunday, a TV advertisement for a Christian dating site changed my mind.   I’ve never used an online dating site (I found my wife before Al Gore invented the internet), but I know many believers who found like-minded spouses online. The concept makes sense. Last...

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It’s Time for an Execution

It’s Time for an Execution

When I was a teenager, family and friends used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. (Now they just ask me when I will grow up). I always wanted to be a missionary.   Immediately after college I began mission work in Europe. But one day, during a “normal” (that is, non-exciting) prayer time, I heard God speak two words: “Not now.” I sensed him say that if I did mission work...

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Hearing God in our Emptiness

Hearing God in our Emptiness

The angriest emails I’ve ever received were responses to my articles about self-love and self-esteem. And yet . . . yet I remain convinced that the greatest obstacle to hearing God lies in precisely our self-love and self-esteem.   Most of us unconsciously believe that God speaks only to those who are mature and pure. To cover our inadequacies, we jury-rig our hearts with positive...

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Seeing God Through His Metaphors

Seeing God Through His Metaphors

A friend once told me of a dark moment in his life, a time when he felt alone, frightened, and falling apart. He described his interior life like this: “I was an engine without oil.”   My friend instinctively took a common but abstract experience—loneliness—and brought it to life by painting a picture of his pain. He imagined his life as a movie screen and he projected onto himself...

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What is the Sound of God’s Voice When We Sin?

What is the Sound of God’s Voice When We Sin?

I once told a friend of a recurring temptation of mine. Over the next month, he shared my secret with a dozen other friends, spicing up the tale with the fib that I had yielded to the temptation—even though I hadn’t. His betrayal shocked me. I skipped several lunch and dinner appointments, unsure who had heard and what they thought.   His disclosure also angered me. I obsessed over his...

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Hearing God in Suffering: How to Live a Dying Life

Hearing God in Suffering: How to Live a Dying Life

I had a high school friend whose life overflowed with compassion. The rest of us were obsessed with college-prep, extra-curricular activities, and jobs. But he, like a lion, could sniff out a wounded schoolmate from a thousand yards. And like a lamb, he sat with them in their grief.   One day we heard a lecture on handling pain. Most of the class was indifferent—bored even—but my friend...

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Hearing God to See Him

Hearing God to See Him

Thirty-three years ago I took a woman to a Gilbert and Sullivan play as a first date. Before the evening of our get-together, I had a collection of facts about her: she was a farmer’s daughter, she was a Social Worker, and she was cute. After the evening of our get-together, I told my parents that I had just met the woman I would marry.   What happened during those few, short hours? I had...

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Squeezing Bad News from the Good News

Squeezing Bad News from the Good News

Last spring I attended a wedding and heard an impressive pastor preach a stirring sermon on a powerful passage called The Kenosis (or The Emptying). It’s my favorite passage on humility: Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form,...

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Let’s Rethink the Way We Think

Let’s Rethink the Way We Think

Circumstances, commitments, and surprises (the unpleasant kind) overwhelmed me the past six weeks. I had too much to do and too little time to do it. Forces from competing goals pulled me in opposite directions.   Two weeks ago I arrived home from a retreat in Colorado, physically and emotionally drained. But I woke up the next morning in an adrenalin-induced frenzy, desperate to prepare...

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The Heart of Spiritual Warfare

The Heart of Spiritual Warfare

Plato urges us: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” If you are breathing, you are under a spiritual assault. The question we face is not, “Are we under attack?” but, “What is the heart of the attack?” Let me tell a recent story of mine. See if you can recognize the field of battle for the spiritual warfare.   Two friends and I host a weekly podcast on...

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Common Sense or Nonsense?

Common Sense or Nonsense?

The speaker was persuasive and moving. He asked us to hug a friend, stomp on the floor, and even pinch our own forearms. It didn’t hurt that he could have been a GQ model: six foot three, blond-haired, blue-eyed, and funny. When he looked each of us in the eye, we felt his personal care. The conference theme was Knowing God. Its most popular presenter was this man with passion for feeling...

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Fashions and Outfits, Fads and Beliefs

Fashions and Outfits, Fads and Beliefs

When I was ten years old, bell-bottoms flooded the fashion world like a tsunami. They were everywhere, but my mother wouldn’t let me wear them. (Her lame excuse was something like, “You shouldn’t be a slave to fads.” I think she just disliked them.)   Children always tell their parents that they are the only kid at school without an “X”: a cell phone, an iPad, or a personal...

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The Hard Edge of the Good News

The Hard Edge of the Good News

Last week, a delay by God disappointed me. It also shocked me awake like smelling salts.   For ten years, I’ve wanted (and waited) to write a book on hearing God. Last month, I finally finished it. And I’ve paid a professional to edit it, commissioned an artist to design it, and found a proofreader to fine-tune it and a marketing expert to promote it. I originally planned to publish...

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Why Don’t We Think First? For a Change

Why Don’t We Think First? For a Change

A couple years ago I had an awful day in the middle of a horrible week in the midst of a bad month. A sniffle turned into post-nasal drip which turned into bronchitis—for the third time in five months. When I inhaled, it felt like shards of glass shredding my lungs.   I canceled everything so I could have some recovery time. But, later, that same day, I ended up with six hours of...

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The Inner Captivity of We Who Are Free

The Inner Captivity of We Who Are Free

We’ve been remade through a re-birth; we’ve become new creations and given new hearts; and the walls that imprisoned us have been bulldozed. And yet . . . we still fear our bosses, speak harshly to friends, dwell on anxious thoughts, and obsess about ourselves. Why is that?   Years ago I read an article written by a counselor who worked with concentration camp victims shortly after...

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Hearing God’s Guidance for Our Lives

Hearing God’s Guidance for Our Lives

Let’s admit the plain  fact that most of us want to hear God’s voice for one simple reason: Guidance. We’re looking for an answer or some formula that will provide us with a clear choice between competing options.   But God rarely limits his guiding voice to a formula. Rather, like a master painter, he uses an artful mix of brushstrokes and palette, sometimes speaking, other times...

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The Stench of Human Sweat

The Stench of Human Sweat

Last week I experienced a tempest in a teapot, and I failed to weather the storm with grace. On Monday afternoon, I discovered that my blog’s subscription sign-up form was broken. It accepted the entry of an email address; everything looked fine. Except it didn’t actually update the subscription files. So I began a sweaty scramble to fix it.   I worked from 3:30 Monday afternoon until...

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Hearing God in Reflection

Hearing God in Reflection

Many years ago, I lived in London with a bunch of friends, working in campus ministry. One of my friends spent a couple hours with Dr. John Stott, an internationally-known pastor with a church that also ministered to university students.   Dr. Stott and my friend discussed prayer. Dr. Stott confessed that his best prayer time is spent in thinking with God, reflecting on scripture passages,...

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Hearing God in our Inner-Being

Hearing God in our Inner-Being

Why did Jesus come to earth when he did? Why not immediately after Adam and Eve sinned? Wouldn’t that have saved the world from centuries of pain? Or, why didn’t he come to the slaves in Egypt instead of sending Moses? Or, why not now? Why didn’t God choose to appear on earth to our confused, depressed, decadent Western World? Why then and why not now?   Scripture says, “When the...

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The Self-Love Trap

The Self-Love Trap

I had a high school friend who was insecure, socially awkward, and overweight. He envied the skills (and good looks) of classmates; he vilified himself for his frequent social blunders; and he castigated himself for his shortcomings. My friend, however, was in the top five percent of the honors class of a magnet, honors high school; he just never reached the top one percent. And he was the...

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Fifty Shades of Denial

Fifty Shades of Denial

I’m not surprised that bondage/sadomasochistic sex is practiced. What surprises me is that we are no longer embarrassed. Everyone has embarrassing behaviors (especially thoughts), but we practice them behind closed doors. If we must perform our shameful acts in public, we disguise them, like wrapping brown paper bags around our open beer bottles. I had not heard of Fifty Shades of Grey until...

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The Legacy Temptation

The Legacy Temptation

I’ve been sick for the last month. Sniffles turned into bronchitis; bronchitis became pneumonia; and the pneumonia was accompanied by a gut wrenching nausea. I was sick, in bed, too tired to think or pray. A walk to the kitchen for a sip of water left me gasping for air. And I felt drained emotionally. All my life to date felt inconsequential, like I’d played a good game of chess but was...

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What Is The Essence of Worship?

What Is The Essence of Worship?

Several years ago, I joined a local business organization. Their stated intention was to help business people do their job better; a kind of coaching through semi-monthly seminars.   At the opening and close of each session, we sang a song that went something like this: “Yes, I can do it; Yes, I can do it; I have a positive frame of mind.” (I kid you not—truth is stranger than...

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Hearing God in Conversation

Hearing God in Conversation

When I was growing up, my dad taught me to sail our small Sunfish sailboat. We took month-long summer vacations, and we always camped on lakes. So we could ride the wind every day.   I probably sailed with him for a hundred hours before I faced the wind on my own. During those hours, my dad would have me either manage the sail or handle the rudder. Of the hundred hours sailing, I bet his...

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I’m a Jargon Curmudgeon

I’m a Jargon Curmudgeon

I hate jargon. I’m not sure why. But I’m usually a late adopter, and always an early deserter. Some phrases flit in and out of fashion so quickly that I barely get a chance to try them on; they fly off the shelves before I can look myself in the mirror to see how they fit.   But some slang sticks. I’m talking of words with depth and meaning, words that have stood the test of time;...

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The Pig in London and the Lamb in Israel

The Pig in London and the Lamb in Israel

Within the span of seven short days, I met two people who formed two completely divergent opinions of me. I could do nothing to change their rock-solid first impressions. That week of mistaken judgments happened thirty-five years ago, but it feels like last week.   When I was twenty years old, I wanted to spend a summer abroad, but as a college student I barely had enough money for Raman...

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Imagination and Hearing God

Imagination and Hearing God

I’m discovering that meditation is the most powerful way to hear God. Actually, “powerful” isn’t a strong enough word. Meditation may be the most profound, deep, life-changing, heart-enriching way to hear God I’ve ever experienced.  But there is a problem. I picture meditation—maybe you do too— as something kind of weird. It’s someone dressed in leotards, sitting in an awkward...

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The Usefulness of Un-Usefulness

The Usefulness of Un-Usefulness

A few weeks ago, I wearily dragged myself home from a retreat. Exhausted. The retreat was terrific, but I had slept abysmally and felt utterly spent. Empty. Pathetically useless.   I despise that feeling of uselessness: I want to accomplish something, to make a contribution, to feel I did my part. I didn’t feel completely worthless, but I somehow sensed the sorrow of barrenness. This...

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My Accidental Smartphone Sabbatical

My Accidental Smartphone Sabbatical

Four weeks ago, I dropped my Smartphone. The screen cracked, and with it, my heart. For the first time in eighteen years, I walked this earth without my constant companion.   I’ve had a Personal Digital Assistant since my first Palm Pilot. I loved it. I called it my PDA, though I didn’t mean Public Display of Affection (but the way I waxed lyrical led friends to believe I was in love)....

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Overcoming Chronic Sins

Overcoming Chronic Sins

My twelve year old self had a violent temper. My fuse was short, and my blasts of anger detonated at insults as unexpectedly as bursts of laughter explode at well-timed jokes. Without the mutually pleasant consequences.   I remember once chasing my older brother Andy around the house with a knife. I don’t remember what he had done (probably something HEINOUS), but I do remember him...

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Superhero Burnout

Superhero Burnout

I like hero movies. My grandsons love them. Hollywood adores them. In the last decade, about sixty superhero movies have been released, roughly one every eight weeks: Spider-man, Iron Man, Batman, X-Men, Thor, etc. Not to mention their sequels. (Forget that I mentioned them.) I probably love normal hero movies even more, the ordinary civilian with a boatload of ordinary problems, facing...

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We Are Strangers in a Strange Land

We Are Strangers in a Strange Land

I grew up in a family that camped. My father was a pastor who got four weeks of vacation. We took all four weeks at once, camping the whole month of July, mostly in wooded forests next to lakes. We hauled a small Sunfish sailboat on top of our sagging station wagon.   Vacations were a young boy’s fantasy, filled with mysterious forests and stormy seas. Four weeks wasn’t enough. We...

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Hearing God in Meditation

Hearing God in Meditation

“God speaks time and again—in various ways—but nobody notices” (Job 33:14). Most people I know have an innate desire to hear God; actually, more than a desire, an intense longing. We want to connect with the divine, to somehow see the face of God, to touch and be touched. It’s inborn, an inherent ingredient of our humanity. Scripture says God is always speaking, but we miss it. We...

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The Hidden Secrets of Belief

The Hidden Secrets of Belief

Twenty-five years ago, I worked for a struggling software company. Our architecture was outdated and sales revenue plummeted. Investments in new architecture meant expenses skyrocketed. We were hemorrhaging money with no doctor in sight. And then our president had a heart attack. Our parent company asked me if I would consider becoming president. I was flattered by their great offer (and...

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What’s The Biggest Problem with Legalism? You. And Me.

What’s The Biggest Problem with Legalism? You. And Me.

I once belonged to a prayer group that prized ecumenical unity. We came from a wide variety of Christian traditions. We sang, “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.” Then we split down the middle due to ruptured relationships among our leaders. We formerly prided ourselves on our exceptional unity; then our leaders attacked each other. We were embarrassed and a bit humiliated. Our...

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Avoiding The Pain of Regret

Avoiding The Pain of Regret

I am the son of a pastor. During my dad’s forty years of ministry, he did many great things; he probably committed a few stupid acts; and he occasionally had to make unpopular decisions. He passed away almost twenty years ago. The “Smith” family was originally supportive of my dad during his Detroit pastorate (from 1963 to 1975). And then they suddenly opposed him. The Smith’s used to...

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The Monumental Danger of Leadership Cloning

The Monumental Danger of Leadership Cloning

I know a company founded by a man with a passion for writing, coupled with a love for a hobby. He published a magazine centered on his hobby. The fledgling company flourished. It soon had a suite of great products but lacked market penetration. When the founding president retired, he replaced himself with a marketing expert. The new marketing-president ran the company for five years. During his...

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Spiritual Judo

Spiritual Judo

Three decades ago, I reached the high water mark of my personal physical fitness. I ran thirty miles a week, performed three hundred pushups a day, and regularly boxed. (Ever since I’ve been on a downward slide, reaching new low water marks almost daily.) While in that peak physical condition (never mind its short duration), I met a man with a black belt in Judo. He was twice my age, plump,...

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You Can’t Hurt My Feelings

You Can’t Hurt My Feelings

Thin-skinned people irritate me. (To be fair, I bet I bug them even more.) You don’t “like” their every Facebook post, their feelings get hurt. In a casual discussion, you cautiously question an idea of theirs, and they are deeply wounded. Sometimes I just want to say, “Forget it.” However, my sympathy grew last fall during one unpleasant week, when: A long-term reader criticized my...

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Try Confession Without Repentance

Try Confession Without Repentance

Three years ago (this month) I repented to God for something dinky. I hadn’t stolen candy from a baby, oppressed a widow, or coveted a neighbor’s cow. I had simply failed to control my eating. During the previous six months I had lost ten pounds. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I found them again in cookies, pies, and chocolates (and only once in the hand of an infant). So I prayed,...

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I’m Learning To Budget My Brain

I’m Learning To Budget My Brain

Every December I invest fifteen hours or so to plan my life for the next twelve months. I review my current activities, I add some items, remove others, and I prioritize. Then I literally budget how many hours each week I’ll invest in each area. Last year I decided to write a book, I budgeted hours for it, and it was published last December. For the last ten years, I’ve budgeted about five...

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What If We Can’t Forgive Ourselves?

What If We Can’t Forgive Ourselves?

I know a man convicted of a violent crime against someone he loves. He acted in a momentary rage; he had never been violent before. It shocked him. Now he’s in prison. Prison bars are not his greatest problem. He’s repented to the victim, and the victim forgives him; and he’s repented to God, and he feels God forgives him too. His problem is that he can’t forgive himself. He’s...

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My First Parachute Jump Ever … and My Last

My First Parachute Jump Ever … and My Last

As a young boy, my weekends were filled with imaginary World War II battles. Nearby parks fielded the Battle of the Bulge, and the skeleton of a local building project (fatefully a new funeral home) formed our bombed-out buildings. Dirtballs became our hand grenades, ditches our foxholes, and blankets our pup tents. We sacrificed our bodies (and the knees of our jeans) to save the world from...

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The Cyber-Nature of Spiritual Attacks

The Cyber-Nature of Spiritual Attacks

My brother-in-law Dan Lohrmann is the State of Michigan’s Chief Security Officer (CSO) and Deputy Directory for Cybersecurity. His job is to protect the state from attack.* What does this mean? Every day the State of Michigan experiences five-hundred thousand cyber-attacks. That’s right, half a million attacks every day of the year, or about three-hundred and fifty attacks every...

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What Can Westboro Baptist Teach Us About Grace?

What Can Westboro Baptist Teach Us About Grace?

I once talked with a group of college students, and one of them asked, “How do you explain Westboro Baptist? I can’t stand Christianity because of churches like them.” Westboro fan protests Have you heard of Westboro? They picket military funerals in protests against gays. Their website is, God Hates Fags dot com (I can’t bring myself to type the link). Westboro Baptist is a...

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Most of Us Read The Bible The Wrong Way

Most of Us Read The Bible The Wrong Way

Have you ever been in a relationship in which everything you say is misunderstood? It’s as though the other person has a built in bias to misinterpret you: You say their new tie is attractive. They wonder if you are buttering them up in order to borrow fifty bucks. You privately mention that their plaid, pink tie clashes (in the tiniest way) with their striped, orange shirt. They think you...

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Is There Any Value in Experiencing Deep Shame?

Is There Any Value in Experiencing Deep Shame?

A lethal virus is infecting many believers today. It’s the pop-therapy that claims shame is bad. Shallow-shame is bad, but only deep-shame brings healing. Without it we are doomed. J. I. Packer tells us, “Seek the grace to be ashamed” (Knowing God). The gospels describe two different miraculous catches of fish. The first occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 5:4-8) and the...

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Esther: Why Whitewash God’s Scandalous Grace?

Esther: Why Whitewash God’s Scandalous Grace?

I question our practice of painting biblical heroes more heroically than the Bible does. Hiding the faults of our heroes robs us of grace. That’s why the Bible doesn’t hide them. I once suggested we tell true stories of our heroes, stories that show God’s pursuit of them despite their failings. I pointed out: Abraham was an idol worshiper and God loved him and pursued him; Joseph was a...

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How Scary Are The Tests Of God?

How Scary Are The Tests Of God?

It is natural to shudder when we think about the tests of God. They seem so scary. Yet I believe the tests of God are the key to hope and joy. Let me explain. I began flying lessons in 1997. These lessons taught me to take off and land, to navigate using aviation charts, and to communicate with air traffic control. I particularly liked learning to land. On my second flight, my instructor Jayne...

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Why Do Our Children Leave The Church?

Why Do Our Children Leave The Church?

Why do so many people—with incredible conversions—parent children who leave Christianity? History overflows with great saints whose offspring lose faith: Samuel was a mighty prophet of God. His sons were a mess. David was a man after God’s own heart. His children were a disaster. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were founded on the gospel. Now they lead the opposition. I’ve witnessed...

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Are We Neutering God?

Are We Neutering God?

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recently elected to reject “In Christ Alone” for their next hymnal. Their committee originally chose it but wanted to replace one phrase with altered lyrics.  The authors of the song determined the changes inappropriate. Original lyrics: Till on the cross as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied Altered lyrics: Till on the cross as Jesus died / the...

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The Success of Failure And The Failure of Success

The Success of Failure And The Failure of Success

I used to know a guy—just an everyday guy—who was a perfectly pleasant person. Then success spoiled him. I first met him on a client visit where he was a mid-level manager. Fifteen years ago, through a fluke—and a dash of good luck fueled by a couple coincidences—he became the company president. At first he was very humble about his promotion, “It was just God’s grace. I hadn’t...

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Always Look Your Gift Horse in The Heart

Always Look Your Gift Horse in The Heart

There once was a great king who ruled with wisdom and grace. One day a gardener arrived at court with a great carrot. He said to the king, “O King, this is the finest carrot I have ever grown. I wish to give it to you as a token of my love and esteem.” The king looked at the gardener, discerned his heart, and replied, “I see you offer your gifts well. I will give you that large plot of...

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Should We Ever Wrestle With God?

Should We Ever Wrestle With God?

Written by Sam Williamson In The Princess Bride, the criminal genius Vizzini repeatedly and inappropriately exclaims, “Inconceivable.” His partner Inigo Montoyo finally reflects, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Like that criminal genius, Christians use religious jargon repeatedly and inappropriately. Sometimes I want to respond, “I do not...

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What’s The Secret Of Connecting With Another Heart?

What’s The Secret Of Connecting With Another Heart?

Twenty-five years ago a client asked me to meet with her president for an hour-long lunch. Her president was an industry innovator. But, she told me, the president was also almost wordlessly introverted. She proposed I come prepared with a stockpile of stories to fill the conversational void. The night before my visit, I talked with my father. He suggested an alternate plan. My father said there...

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Who Needs A Life of Purpose?

Who Needs A Life of Purpose?

Ten years ago, I was on a plane heading for New York to give a presentation. The man next to me was a professor of public speaking at a major university. Somewhat sheepishly, I asked for advice, “What is the key to great public speaking?” After some preliminary comments, he said this: “At the beginning of World War II, when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of England, he said, ‘I...

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The Spiritual Quagmire of Self-Esteem

The Spiritual Quagmire of Self-Esteem

Written by Sam Williamson The Times of London once asked leading British intellectuals to write an essay answering this question, “What is wrong with the world?” G. K. Chesterton responded with a postcard,      Dear Sirs,      I am.      Sincerely yours, I think that’s right. He is the problem. I mean, I am. (The former slips out so easily, doesn’t it? Isn’t the problem with...

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