Sam Williamson

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?

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

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

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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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The Wonder of the Ascension

The Wonder of the Ascension

A couple of weeks ago Christians celebrated the Ascension of Jesus. Do you ever wonder why we celebrate the Ascension? I understand celebrating the birth of Jesus, and his resurrection, and even his death on a cross (if we understand what it means). But his Ascension? Yet after his Ascension, the disciples “returned … with great joy” (Luke 24:51). They celebrated the Ascension.* When I...

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Your whole life has prepared you for this moment!

Your whole life has prepared you for this moment!

Sam Williamson shares this great story at the Calling events that I wanted to get out to you. It really is quite profound. ********* Fifteen years ago, a client asked me to speak at a conference. The conference topic was on a subject I wasn’t familiar with, but I agreed because I had led small workshops before so I wasn’t too worried. The day before the conference, my client called...

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The Heresy of Wonder-less Theology

The Heresy of Wonder-less Theology

I wonder sometimes if the greatest problem facing the modern church is a lack of wonder. When we were kids, all kinds of experiences brought wonder. Our first trip to the zoo filled us with wonder. The stick-figured, long-necked giraffe was fantastic; the bloated barrel-shaped hippopotamus was delightful (even the name hippopotamus was enchanting); and the shuffling, tuxedo-clad penguin was...

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Pursuing an Inner Life

Pursuing an Inner Life

These two pictures show Mt. St. Helens. One was taken on May 17, 1980, and the other was taken several days later. Beneath the calm exterior of a majestic mountain boiled an inner life that would erupt with 20,000 times more power than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Each of us has an inner and an outer life. We sense this intuitively. We say of others, “They don’t know me, the true me.” A...

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Imagination, Intimacy, and Hearing God

Imagination, Intimacy, and Hearing God

I’m discovering that meditation is one of the most powerful ways to hear God. No, “powerful” isn’t a strong enough word. Meditation may be the most profound, deep, life-changing, heart-enriching way to hear God. But there is a problem. I picture meditation—maybe you do too— as something kind of weird. It’s a person dressed in leotards sitting in an awkward position humming...

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Are you reading the menu or enjoying the meal?

Are you reading the menu or enjoying the meal?

By Sam Williamson. A few years ago, a client of mine visited us for a series of meetings. He asked for a restaurant recommendation, and I suggested The Gandy Dancer, my favorite restaurant. The very next day he came to my office and raved about the restaurant. He was going to recommend it to every one of his colleagues. Smiling, I asked what he’d ordered. “Nothing,” he said, because he’d...

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Christianity: Will-Power or Desire-Power?

Christianity: Will-Power or Desire-Power?

I know a man, a really good man, whose life is filled with drudgery. He dutifully cares for his wife and family; he dutifully pours out his life in service; and he dutifully attends to work. He resists opposing desires—like wanting to dodge a service he hates, or aching to “take it easy”—with willpower. His life, he feels, is dull and empty. His life, he says, is “dreariness and...

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How Does God View Us?

How Does God View Us?

There’s a story about the artist Michelangelo who passed by a block of marble somewhere. He stopped transfixed and said, “I see an angel in there. Quick, bring me my chisel.” This story illustrates how God sees his children. Many believers I know primarily see the unfinished parts of their lives. It doesn’t matter if we are in grade school, High School, College, or in middle age. We see...

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Hearing God and Reflection

Hearing God and Reflection

Thirty years ago I lived and worked in London with several other men. We were involved in campus ministry and the charismatic renewal. One housemate—let’s call him Tom—spent a couple hours in discussion with Rev. John Stott. When Tom returned from his visit, he was incredulous. During Tom’s meeting, they discussed prayer. Stott claimed that his most significant times of prayer involve...

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Our Downward Spiral of Addiction

Our Downward Spiral of Addiction

Cynthia Heimel lived in New York in the 1970s and she knew actors and artists before their fame—while they were still bussing tables and driving cabs—but she also knew them after their fame. She wrote this: I pity celebrities. No I really do. Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Barbara Streisand were once perfectly pleasant human beings. But now their wrath is awful. I think when God wants...

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Avoiding Avoidance

Avoiding Avoidance

Deathbed advice offers impact which no other advice provides. My father died of cancer sixteen years ago. A few weeks before his death, knowing he would die soon, my father offered me advice. As a long term pastor, my father counseled hundreds of men and women. He said that many of them lived their lives being controlled by their parents. They spent their lives avoiding their parents’ bad...

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Qualification not Elimination

Qualification not Elimination

Written by Sam Williamson. When we think about the tests of God, most of us shudder. Yet I believe that they can be a 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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Confessions of a Legalist

Confessions of a Legalist

When I was in the business world, I used to meet with various executives to provide them with projects updates. During one trip I met with a CFO one day and with his president the next day. The CFO told me of troubles he had with the president. The president, he said, cheated other shareholders by bullying; he coerced them into unfair compensation. The CFO told me that it was hard to work with a...

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Hearing God and Controlling the Conversation

Hearing God and Controlling the Conversation

In 1989 the company I worked for was dying; it was losing money like the prodigal son, it had a two-year sales drought, and our owner—though previously successful—was out of cash. The company asked me to demonstrate our software to one of our prospective clients. Actually, our only prospective client. If we didn’t land this deal, we were out of business and I was out of a job. The night...

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Hearing God and Making Decisions

Hearing God and Making Decisions

I know a man—let’s call him John—who is desperately seeking God for direction. John is about 55 years old. He manages a division that until a few years ago had 20 people; it now has less than half that number. But—of course—his division is expected to produce as much as the original group. You know, “work smarter not harder.” Right! In addition, John is actively involved in his...

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