Camels and Needles


There’s a story about Jesus that gets a lot of attention. It made an appearance in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18). And for centuries it has been one with which we’ve struggled and will probably continue to do so.

I’d like to give my take on the story. It’s about a young man who came to Jesus with a question:

(Matthew) Teacher, what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?

(Mark and Luke) Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

In all three tellings of the story, Jesus zeroed in on that word good. In Matthew he said, “Why do you ask me about what is good?”

In Mark and Luke he asked, “Why do you call me good?”

In other words, what’s your fascination with being good, and why do you think being good will somehow get you eternal life?

I bet Jesus could have gone on deconstructing the question:

“Why do you think I have the answer you’re looking for?”

“What do you mean by eternal life?”

“Why do you assume there’s one good thing you can do to magically live forever?”

Jesus reminded him about the Law and keeping the commandments, which the young man assured Jesus he has most certainly done. Being good was his fortè. The guy was a Boy Scout, a choir boy, a kid that helped old ladies cross the street and always saved 10% of his allowance for a rainy day. He was a straight-A student, had perfect attendance, and a clean driving record. His hair was perfectly parted and his shirt neatly tucked. There was probably a perfect crease down his cloak.

He learned what it meant to be good and then mastered it.

So why was he worried about making it to heaven?


The Jewish people knew exactly where they stood with God based on how many laws they followed. It was a merit-based system in which the “good people” were rewarded and the “sinners” were punished. The fact that the young man who approached Jesus was, in one telling of the story, “rich” meant everyone would have believed him to be righteous. How else would he have become rich unless it was a reward from God?

Despite mastering the art of being good, despite his wealth that was believed to have come from God, the young man was still afraid that he wasn’t good enough. And Jesus heard the fear behind his question.

That fear is the driving force behind so many good, honest, church-going people. Millions of us “have kept the commands since childhood” but are terrified that our actions won’t be enough to pass through the pearly gates. Or even if we think we’re going to heaven, it’s only because we plan on continuing to do all the good things between now and then.

So we try harder.

And we do more good things.

And we fight against every kind of evil that we fear will jeopardize eternity.

And we huddle ourselves with like-minded do-gooders who are also terrified that they might not make it to heaven and/or trying to keep their status by doing good.

And we cling to any sign that gives us hope that we’re good enough. We have signs like: church attendance, our children’s behavior, success of businesses or creative endeavors, respect of other religious people, number of Jesus Fish on our cars, amount of Christian knick-knacks in our homes, number of Christian t-shirts hanging in our closet or Christian songs on our iPhone, companies we support, companies we boycott, etc.

We like being able to measure our righteousness. The young man who went to Jesus clung to his wealth for assurance of God’s approval.

When our oldest son was little and we’d leave him at preschool or with a babysitter, he would always ask for my watch. He wore it as a sign that I’d be back and that he wasn’t alone. It was the assurance he needed that he was loved and remembered. He doesn’t need it anymore because he’s no longer afraid of his standing with his father. He knows I love him. He knows I’ll do everything in my power to take care of him, and he knows I’ll always come back for him.

For the young man in the story, his wealth was like that watch. It helped him sleep at night, believing he’d done enough to earn both the money and God’s favor. His wealth was evidence that he’d mastered life in a way that would please God.


So Jesus thought for a moment, then said, “If you want to be completely free, get rid of your wealth.”

This is not a condemnation of the rich from Jesus (though he doesn’t exactly have great news for the rich). This is not a universal command that all people should give up their wealth (though it would actually do a lot of good, especially for the wealthy). No, this is Jesus being Jesus, getting to the core of a person’s soul and telling them what they need instead of what they want.

The man needed to give up his wealth – his sense of personal validation before God – if he were ever to be totally free. The problem with clinging to external validation is that it can easily go away, but you’ll still be around. At some point, you have to find peace just by being you, not by proving that you’re good enough. At some point you have to let go of your wealth and just follow Jesus.

The young man couldn’t do it.

All three writers tell us the man went away sad because he had great wealth. It was never about the money; it was always about the fear.

Then Jesus dropped the bombshell:

How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.

This was a bombshell because wealth was the socially accepted sign of God’s favor. Jesus, in two sentences, blew up a 3,000-year-old social construct upon which the entire nation of Israel was built. And the people responded accordingly:

Who, then, can be saved?

It was a terrifying notion to think the rich would not enter the Kingdom, because everyone assumed the rich were the elite, God’s favorite children. It would be like Jesus saying, “That Mother Teresa has quite an uphill battle come Judgment Day.”

You’d be like, “What?! What are you talking about, of course Mother Teresa is in! Because if she’s not…what does that mean for the rest of us?”

But this whole encounter wasn’t about going to heaven or not going to heaven, it was about something deeper than that. It was about being good vs. being free. We’re not free if we’re constantly trying to prove that we’re good. And whatever mechanism you use to prove your goodness or to earn your standing with God will eventually break down. It will never give you complete peace about God’s love for you.

The only way to discover that level of peace is to lose whatever you’ve been using to get it.

And then come, follow Jesus.

Faithful vs. Fearful

Have you seen this article about fear being far and away the best political tool in our country? In case you haven’t seen it (and are too lazy to click the link), it basically says that if a politician wants to win an election, she doesn’t need to focus on convincing constituents of the strength of her policies. Instead, she just needs to convince constituents that her opponent’s policies will result in nuclear holocaust. Making people afraid of the other side is a far more powerful tool than getting them excited about your own. Politicians, pundits, cable news, and talk radio all know this to be true, and have been driving it at warp speed for a couple decades. Sadly, it’s only going to get worse.
If you need to go cry, I understand.
And because politics inevitably spills over into the Church, our religious culture has followed the Fear. The Church – especially mainstream evangelical churches – has found Herself stuck in a lose-lose situation culturally for one reason: we’ve lost the ability to distinguish between being fearful and being faithful.
We have, for too long, responded to cultural shifts and debates with fear while calling it faith. Ironically, fear and faith are opposites, so when we claim to be defending our faith, we’re actually fueling our fear. Faith is hospitable; fear is defensive.
Fear is never focused on policies or ideologies or even theologies; fear is always about a person or group of people.
The liberals.
The conservatives.
The homosexuals.
The pro-lifers.
The transgendered.
The homophobic.
The pro-gun.
The pro-gun-control.
The Muslims.
The Fundamentalists.
The Fox News Watchers.
The Huff Post Readers.
The Foodies.
The Hipsters.
The CEO’s.
The 1%.
The Black Lives Matter.
The All Lives Matter.
The Cat Lovers (this fear is legit)
The Dog Lovers.
The Bros.
The Left Handed.
They are to be feared.
They are ruining our country.
They are the reason for all that’s wrong.
One would think that people who believe in the Bible, in which the most oft-used command is “Do not fear,” would see right through this and reject such a juvenile approach to life. Sadly, though, the Church is among the worst offenders. We have become decidedly fearful of the Other, and quite adept at rallying church-goers to defend our “religious freedoms” in spite of practicing a faith that was conceived, born, and raised under persecution of the worst kind.
One exercise I use when reading the gospels is to pay close attention to the way people respond to Jesus’ presence, or an announcement of his presence. For instance, Mary was “disturbed” when Gabriel told her the news of Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:29). The man possessed by a legion of demons begged Jesus to go away before Jesus ever said a word (Mark 5:6). A woman suffering from severe blood loss quietly touched his cloak and vanished into the crowd (Mark 5:27). Some of the disciples immediately dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus down the road.
More often than not, people were bothered by Jesus. Because nothing was ever the same after he came and went. He was especially bothersome for the religious leaders. His radical love, warmth, and grace for the Other was troublesome for a people sustained by the belief that they were God’s chosen. You would think “The Chosen” would understand the gift they’ve been given, the love they’ve been shown, and the grace they’ve been afforded and want to share that with as many as possible. You would think “The Chosen” would celebrate that more people want to belong in such a beautiful community. Sadly, though, fear drives The Chosen toward violent exclusivity and self-preservation.
But Christ is most visibly present in the company of The Outsider. He was most often found at the table with sinners and hookers and drunks and druggies, with the diseased and crippled and poor. The rich had to schedule appointments or meet him at odd hours, while the poor had full access to God in the flesh.
When Jesus shows up, he shows up with the Other in tow. We cannot accept Jesus without loving the Other. And so long as we are led by fear, we are not led by faith. For the good of the Church, and for the good of the world, perhaps it’s time we got serious about distinguishing between the two.
This week I read two stories of people’s response to the presence of Christ – Simeon and Herod – and found them convicting in light of our tendencies toward fear.
First there’s Herod. In Matthew 2 we’re told that some Magi (kings) from the east came to Jerusalem, following a star that they somehow knew would lead them to the savior of the world. In a great twist of irony, these kings from the east (Gentiles, pagans, not God’s people) are the ones who told Herod, Israel’s king, that Israel’s messiah had come. Outsiders were the first to know God had arrived on earth.
How’s that for God’s sense of humor?
When the kings arrived and told Herod the news of the star and the newly born Messiah, Matthew wrote,
“[Herod] was disturbed,
and all Jerusalem with him.”
And all of Jerusalem with him?
Shouldn’t they have been celebrating that the person for whom they’d waited thousands of years was finally born?!” 
Herod had spent his entire life building up a political empire for himself, being named king of Israel by Rome so that he might be their puppet and infuse Roman ideology into the Jewish faith. So a liberating Messiah was definitely disturbing to Herod, because he was part of the oppressors, not the oppressed.
When the Magi came and announced the arrival of the Messiah in the form of a child, Herod had great motivation to find out where that child was and kill it on the spot. He asked the Magi to return once they found Jesus so that Herod himself could worship him. The Magi, though, were alerted to his plans, and never returned.
When Herod realized he’d been duped, he gave in to fear and turned destructive. Herod “gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2:16)
That’s it, isn’t it? When we are consumed with fear, when we think our way of life – our way of seeing the world, our way of thinking about God – is under attack, we turn destructive. We declare “war” on the Outsider and every group by whom we feel threatened. We draw sides and pinpoint the enemy (despite’s Paul’s declaration that our struggle is not against flesh and blood in Ephesians 6). We won’t rest until everybody is subject to our way.

The problem with this way is that we assume God is only present in one form, one people, or one way. But that’s not only unBiblical, it’s actually antiBiblical. Because the Bible is filled with stories of God using The Other, The Outsider, The Gentile, The Pagan to do something good in the world, to the shock and dismay of “his people:”

Pharaoh’s Egyptian daughter
The widow of Zeraphath
The Assyrians
Cyrus the Persian
The Babylonians
The Magi (kings) from the east
An unwed virgin
A carpenter’s son
A prostitute with a jar of perfume in a religious man’s house
A Good Samaritan
A Younger Brother
A murderer named Saul
A “third-gender” eunuch from Ethiopia
A Gentile named Cornelius.
What if the person you fear is actually loved, welcomed, and gifted by God to carry out good things in the world, and you’re missing it because you think God only works one way?
I once saw a tweet from a guy named Brian Zahnd that said:
“If it turns out that Jesus saves far more people than your theology anticipated, will you be mad or glad about it?”
Ahhhhhhh what a fantastic question!
If you were to somehow discover that God actually loves, uses, and gives grace to people you always thought he hated, would that fill you with anger or joy? Would you celebrate the fact that God’s love is bigger than you imagined, or would you join a rally about God’s lack of moral compass?
Here’s another good question: “To whom do you hope God shows no grace?”
And another: “Why are you afraid of certain people?”
And one more: “What does that tell you about yourself?”
What would it be like if you were unafraid of the Other? I think we would all look a little more like Simeon, a guy who wanted nothing but to see God do beautiful things in the world, and had no concern for the people through whom he did them.
Simeon was an old man with a deep connection to the Holy Spirit. He knew somehow that he would not die before he saw the One sent by God to redeem Israel. When Jesus was 8 days old his parents brought him to the temple to be dedicated and circumcised, per the Law of Moses. Simeon followed an inclination to go to the Temple himself. And when he arrived he saw Joesph and Mary carrying Jesus. Luke, the writer of this particular story, said Simeon “praised God.”
Where others were disturbed, terrified, afraid, or overwhelmed, Simeon praised God because he was looking for God and not hiding in fear.
Then he sang this song:
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
You may now dismiss you servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
Which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
A light for revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of your people, Israel.
I see two things in this song:
1) Simeon’s peace came from knowing God was up to something, not from having his own views validated by all people. He intentionally looked for what God was doing and lived with a peaceful posture rather than a defensive one, because all he wanted was to see the world redeemed. And when that moment came he was content to die, because he literally needed nothing else.
2) Simeon saw the arrival of Jesus as good news for the outsider (“light for revelation to the Gentiles), and he was glad! He was happy that the people the Jews always counted as enemies were enemies no longer, and he praised God for it.
Imagine the state of the world if followers of Jesus were more like Simeon and less like Herod. Imagine millions of hearts and eyes searching for glimpses of God in the Other rather than millions of fingers pointing and accusing.
When you encounter The Other, will you, like Herod, be disturbed and try to destroy, or will you, like Simeon, look for and celebrate the Image of God that rests gently upon all people?
How will you respond when Jesus shows up?

What We’re Not

Did you see it today on Twitter? It was one of the greatest moments in our nation in decades; a moment I, for one, didn’t think I’d ever see again in my lifetime. Somewhere, pigs are flying over a frozen hell-scape.

First, Mitt Romney tweeted this:

Take down the at the SC Capitol. To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor victims.

And then, Barack Obama – yes, Mitt Romney’s 2012 nemesis – tweeted this:

Good point, Mitt.

Isn’t it exhilarating! Go back and read it again if you want.

Two politicians, two former enemies who said pretty snarky things about each other and spent nine months polarizing our country, agreed on Twitter! This is seriously big news, folks. Our politicians were publicly supportive of one another!

I’m getting all misty-eyed over here.

Can you imagine what this one interaction could do for our insanely divided, fearful, angry, prejudiced, media-saturated country? Without cable, I’m not sure if 24-hour-soul-crushing-news-media is covering it or not, so I’ll just run with the dream of the Sean Hannity’s and Keith Olbermann’s sitting across from each other for a segment called, “WE AGREE ON THAT”

I can see Red Sox and Yankees laughing in the streets.

Crips and Bloods hugging it out.

Christians and Muslims picnicking in the park.

Cats apologizing to dogs.

Oh man…I dream.


It makes sense, though, because it’s way, way easier for a group of people to agree on what they’re not than on what they actually are. I’m a pastor, so I’ll use church as an example. It’s easy for people to all agree that they’re not a certain religion or denomination or sub-group of a denomination. Everyone can sit in the same room and say, “We are definitely not Hindu.” Nothing against Hindu’s, but it’s pretty clear when a person practices or does not practice Hinduism. And people feel a sense of belonging by being with other people who are not what they’re not. (Grammar nazi’s, fire away on that one).

The friction comes from deciding what the church – or people group – actually is. While everyone in the church agrees that they’re not Hindu, there might not be such agreement on, say, how to treat the poor, or what to believe about the Bible, or how to teach people about the multi-layered intricacies of nursery duty.


I’ve heard it said that any society of human beings – a nation, a church, a tribe, a PTA board, whatever – needs a villain. In fact, most groups of people won’t survive without one. Nothing will rally humans together more than someone with whom they all disagree, or an ideal they all disdain, or an agreed-upon source of all the problems in the world. Where would MSNBC or Fox News be without the opposing party? They’d have nothing to say. Neither network gets ratings by saying things like, “Yeah, I know they’re in the other party, but I agree with them.” Their jobs depend on being divisive, and the survival of many people groups depends on identifying a villain. As a people, humans need a collective enemy if we’re to stay united.

So, sometimes, it’s helpful to remind ourselves what we’re not. And today, politician after politician opted to make an enemy not out of a person on the other side of the aisle, but on the ideals upon which the Confederate flag flies. Both Republican and Democrat called for the removal of the Confederate Flag from the government grounds in South Carolina. They stood as one nation and proclaimed, “We are not tolerant of racism.” Before you fire off your rebuttals about how racism just takes a different form now, or what to do about gun control, or why Benghazi is tied to all this, let’s just pause and enjoy it. Everyone seems to agree that the Confederate flag has no place in our government. That’s great news. That’s a big step forward in history.

As is always the case after horrific events like the shooting in Charleston, something good rises. Life resurrects from Death, and Light shines in the Darkness. It always does. So let’s spend a moment soaking in the Light as we watch the Confederate flag come down in South Carolina, and maybe – just maybe – see a divided nation find its way back to each other by remembering what we are not.

Why I Can’t Read Matt Walsh


I try not to attack people, especially through social media. Jesus is clear: if you have a problem with somebody, go to them directly.

It could be argued that I’ve done so, by which I mean I sent an email once. I acknowledge the unbiblical spirit of my words even as I type.

Yet I cannot remain silent. A large number of my Facebook friends read and share Matt Walsh’s blog daily. I’d like to point out something that troubles me about this, and share thoughts about the blog that I hope you’ll keep in mind if you’re a Matt Walsh reader.

If you’re unfamiliar with Matt Walsh and his blog, spend some time reading it and make your own decisions about what he has to say. He’s a gifted writer, easy to read, and is certainly engaging. He writes about current topics, and takes a firm, traditional stance on most issues.

What his posts sorely lack, though, are love, mercy, and gentleness. The first time I saw Mr. Walsh’s blog shared, it was his response to a high school student who wrote him asking for advice. His health teacher was teaching safe sex rather than abstinence, and the young reader wondered what his response should be. Here’s an excerpt:

“Speaking of adults without character, please ignore everything your “health teacher” says on this subject. I have to put quotes around her title because it doesn’t sound like she’s doing much in the way of teaching, and whatever she’s blabbering about has very little to do with “health.” She seems to think there’s a “safe” way for emotionally immature juveniles to have casual sex. Maybe she’ll follow up this performance by advocating “safe drunk driving.”

Most of the response continues with this juvenile tone, demonizing the young man’s teacher.

Healthy disagreement is good, even necessary for us to grow. But Mr. Walsh shames and belittles anyone he believes to be wrong. Regardless of the truth he claims to speak, truth without love is irrelevant (GREAT BLOG ABOUT THAT TOPIC HERE). Truth requires generosity if it’s to be received by others. When it’s spoken with immaturity and an antagonistic spirit, Truth lacks authority and does great harm to any opportunity for civil dialogue. Not one person is swayed to a new way of thinking by being insulted.

Mr. Walsh’s blog is toxic and serves no productive purpose in our society. It is only meant to rile up the anger of people who think like him without offering anything original, thus deepening the division that already poisons our world.

Mr. Walsh’s influence seems to be growing, and that scares me. Is this the way we want to speak to people with whom we disagree? Is this the way Jesus spoke to anyone: with adolescent, narcissistic sarcasm and petty name calling? When those who reject Jesus and the Church read the posts we share on Facebook and Twitter, are they more likely to follow Jesus or will their view of Christians only be confirmed?

If you are a person who enjoy’s Mr. Walsh’s blog, I encourage you to read cautiously and resist adopting his attitude toward the people he vilifies. And if you choose to share his thoughts via social media, consider what others might see in him, in you, and in Jesus when you do so.

Religious Freedom

I am a big fan of religious freedom. And, in Jesus, we are never without it, no matter how emperors may oppress or what laws might pass.

As a follower of Jesus, I have freedom in droves.

I am free to model my entire life after His, as a disciple follows a rabbi (Matthew 7:24).

I am free to model Jesus’ practice of sitting and eating with those society has marginalized or deemed less than human (Matthew 9:11).

I am free to model Jesus’ practice of throwing no stones because I myself am no better or worse (John 8:11).

I am free to live as one who sees the humanity in people and makes compassion and empathy common practice (Matthew 25:35).

I am free to give my time, resources, and care to anyone in need (Luke 10:37).

I am free to model Jesus’ teaching that hate and lust are far worse than murder and adultery (Matthew 5:22).

I am free to live out Jesus’ teaching that the plank in my own eye stands out more than the speck in my brother’s or sister’s eye (Matthew 7:5).

I am free to practice Jesus’ teaching that some things are to be valued more than rigid adherence to the Law: justice, mercy, faith (Matthew 23:23).

I am free to live fully into the two greatest commands: to love him, and to love my neighbor in the way I myself want to be loved (Matthew 22:39).

I am free to model Jesus’ practice of loving people before lecturing them, and welcoming all to the Table (Matthew 22:1-14).

I am free to practice wholeness, and to participate in restoring all people and all creation back to its Oneness with God (Luke 19:8).

Against such things there is no law.


I believe HB 1228 is not a representation of the “religion” Jesus taught his disciples to practice. I believe it draws a line between imaginary Good Guys and Bad Guys, a line Jesus died trying to erase. He clearly taught that separating the “Sheep” from the “Goats” is a task left up to the angels. Not to mention that “Sheep” are those who see the humanity in all people and treat them accordingly.

While I am no legal scholar, I find the bill redundant. Businesses already possess the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason, and Arkansas does not currently have any laws that explicitly protect people from discrimination based on sexual preference or gender identity. What, then, is the need for this bill in Arkansas?

I am also no economist, but I cannot imagine that bills like HB 1228 make much fiscal sense. Look at what’s happening already in Indiana – Angie’s List withdrew a $40M expansion of its company in Indianapolis. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has denounced the bill and would surely follow the way of Angie’s List. Corporations will think twice before furthering business in states that pass such laws. What, then, is the good of this bill in Arkansas?

For these reasons, I oppose HB 1228. It’s a contentious issue, but it need not be. Surely in the year 2015 we can have reasonable dialogue with all sides agreeing to see the Other with compassion and empathy. Surely as Straight, L, G, B, or T Americans, we are capable of living together in ways that bring out the best in each other. As followers of Jesus it is within us to see the Image of God in all people, whether or not we agree with their lifestyle. We ought to be on the front line of showing the world the power of love and generosity. We’re capable of living in a way that points us more toward what God intended Earth to be, a world filled with his glory, love and shalom.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. The greatest is love.

A Coward’s Guide to Confrontation

Yesterday our boys were out of school and I stayed home with them all morning. They invited friends over, so we had nine boys running around the house most of the day. At 9:00 the man in charge of maintenance on our house – I’ll call him Bill –  showed up with his crew to install new doors to the room on our deck. I’d put Bill somewhere in his late-50’s or early-60’s. He’s got a deep, booming voice and tattoos on his forearms. He’s shaped like a construction worker: massive hands, broad shoulders, thick chest. He has the look of a guy who probably spent a lot of time on a submarine or driving trucks. A real man’s man. He and his crew started removing the old sliding glass doors and within an hour had new french doors up, awaiting a frame. They left to get framing supplies and when they returned I noticed something – Bill had a cigarette in his mouth.

Christina and I are not smokers. We are friends with people who smoke, and we love them despite knowing they’ll die young in a phlegmmy-coughing-fit. Nevertheless, non-smokers know that even 2nd-hand smoke lingers. It gets in your clothes and stays in the air long after the cigarette’s gone.

Not only are we not smokers, but our 4-year-old has a history of asthmatic-like symptoms and has been to the ER twice with inflamed airways. He used to receive breathing treatments twice a day, and cigarette smoke only makes breathing worse.

I had a decision to make. Our boys and their friends had all migrated to the room where the crew was working. I watched for a moment as Bill worked with the cigarette dangling from his bottom lip. I was on the fence about saying something because he was technically outside. But then, for a half-second, he stepped inside to check the door, cigarette still lit. So I made a decision.

hate confrontation. I’m not the alpha-male, my-way-or-the-highway type. I’m not an analytical thinker or quick on my feet. At barely six feet, I’m not exactly intimidating, and my look says more “mathlete” than “athlete.” I’ve forced myself to confront others only a handful of times, when there was absolutely no other choice. Those moments were tough and I was scared out of my mind, but I was always – ALWAYS – glad I did it.

Healthy confrontation is a must. We cannot survive without it. Imagine our world without healthy confrontation; it’s horrifying. But we fear confrontation because we don’t want to make things weird. We fear the other person’s response. We fear our own ability to stick to our guns. We fear that we ourselves lack credibility to make such an argument.




So we say nothing. Our fear forces us to go on accepting what we do not like in order to avoid what we will not do. But that’s not a good trade. It’s never better to accept something bad because we’re afraid to make it good.

So, as one who is terrified of confrontation but brings myself to do it anyway, here are a few things my experience has taught me about good confrontation:

1) BE PREPARED – If possible, set an appointment to speak with the person. If you’re afraid they might know something’s up, great! Something is up. It’s better to be able to thoughtfully consider your words, and giving yourself a deadline by setting an appointment is a great way to force yourself to be prepared. Know exactly what you’re going to say, and stay on script.

2) HELP THEM FEEL SAFE – Avoid confronting people in front of others, especially their children, spouses, co-workers, bosses, etc. The person being confronted will already feel defensive, so the last thing you want to do is add embarrassment or shame by calling them out in front of people they care about.

3) CALL A SPADE A SPADE – I love this old southern phrase. It means have integrity when talking to others. If you need to confront someone because they offended you, don’t pretend the discussion is about how they offended “your friend.” Or, if a person is not performing well, don’t pretend you’re firing them because corporate is making you downsize. Have the integrity to call a spade a spade, or else the actual issue will never go away, and you’ll just need another excuse next time it comes up.

4) WORK TOWARD A SOLUTION – This one often gets lost because in our defensiveness we just want to win the fight. But when we’re only interested in winning, we miss out on finding healthy, sustainable solutions. Go into your confrontations ready to work toward a solution whether you win the fight or not. By doing so you’ll minimize the need for future confrontation and acknowledge that you value your relationship and want it to improve.

Now, my showdown with Bill…

I decided I didn’t have time to set an appointment with Bill or even pull him away from his crew. So, in violation of Point 1, I went to him and said, “Bill, would you mind not smoking? Our 4-year-old has asthmatic symptoms and cigarette smoke can inflame his airways.” Bill’s face went expressionless, and one of the guys on his crew stared at us, bug-eyed. I don’t think they’re used to hearing anyone “order” Bill around.

Bill took the cigarette out of his mouth and said, “Those kids can’t be out here while we’re working.” Then went back to sawing the frame. He was obviously annoyed, but I was so glad I confronted him. Our 4-year-old’s health is more important to me than Bill’s approval, and that was the bottom line. We didn’t work toward a solution, but in the future I’m happy to let him smoke in his truck or out on the street. He’s the handy man our landlord has chosen to care for his house, so we’re going to deal with him whether we like it or not. But now he knows where I stand and will, hopefully, not smoke near our house. Sometimes a little confrontation is all a relationship needs to muscle through.

The Rhythm of Prayer

King Saul is a fascinating figure. He reigned as king over Israel for 42 years even though A) he was horrible at it, B) was corrupt, C) was full of pride, and D) was more than a little paranoid. He never asked to be king, or even considered the possibility. One day he went out looking for his father’s lost donkeys, and when he came back he’d been anointed king of Israel. (Seriously, read 1 Samuel 9). His only credentials seem to be that he was a head taller than everybody and, apparently, easy on the eyes. But from the start it was clear his reign would not go well:

▪When he was inaugurated before the people, he hid from everyone “among the supplies.” (Seriously, read 1 Samuel 10:20-22).

▪He repeatedly disobeyed direct commands from God and the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 11-15).

▪After David killed Goliath, Saul did everything he could to kill David, a threat to his throne. (1 Samuel 18-31)

▪After driving out all the witches and fortune tellers from Israel, Saul went to a fortune teller at night so nobody would see him. (1 Samuel 28)

Eventually, when Saul’s sons were dead and all his men abandoned him in battle, he fell on his own sword and died so as not to be taken captive by an enemy army.

A shameful end to a shameful reign.


We see red flags from the beginning of the story of Saul. He was never going to be a successful king because his eyes, his heart, his mind, his spirit had no capacity for the spiritual realm. Saul lived in the physical world and governed like a person with no expectation that God might break through and do something miraculous. He trusted himself and what he could see, rather than God and the realm that is unseen.

You and I aren’t that different, are we? We lose sight of the unseen. We forget that we have limits while God is limitless.

Perhaps our biggest red flag that we’ve lost sight of God is the absence of prayer.


I’ve heard it said that the church’s dirty little secret is that we don’t pray. We do lots of good things, but we are mostly capable of doing them whether God is present or not. So our lives develop a rhythm of self-sufficiency. Church happens with or without God. Work happens with or without God. Families are raised with or without God. All this by we who call ourselves followers of Jesus. Eventually, without reminding ourselves of God’s ability and desire to break into the present realm, our world begins to look a certain way.

Prayer is an invitation into the realm where God lives and moves and has his being. Even the simplest prayer before a meal is an act of humility, acknowledging that God has, in fact, seen you, cared for you, and loved you. A lot of us give up praying because it feels like one more command us normal folks cannot keep. So most of us feel guilty for not praying and, in some cases, even fear God’s punishment.

But prayer is an invitation into “the ineffable,” the indescribable place where God’s supernatural power is the norm. Praying because we’re “commanded” to is fine, but eventually it becomes one more thing we’re capable of doing with or without God.

We also give up on prayer because we don’t always get what we ask for. But getting our requests is not the function of prayer. If it were, Jesus would have avoided the cross, Paul would have had his thorn taken from him, and psalmist after psalmist would have avoided the phrase, “How long, Lord!” Seriously, from what we read in scripture, you’re far more likely to not get what you want than you are to actually get it.

But that’s not what prayer is for.

Prayer is a rhythm. It’s a rhythm that keeps our minds, hearts, spirits, and souls centered in the unseen realm. Prayer reminds us that what we see is not all there is. When we create a rhythm of prayer for ourselves, we begin to see that ineffable realm more clearly. We’re not surprised when God shows up and does what God does. When we create a rhythm of prayer, the line between the natural and the supernatural fades. Prayer is the key to God’s world.


If you’ve lost (or never created) your rhythm for prayer, will you start this week? Make it simple; you don’t need to carve out five hours a day or get up at 3:00 in the morning or buy a prayer shawl or even keep a journal. Start small. Make a decision now to speak briefly to God once each day – at a meal, in the car, tucking in the kids. It’s like the bass line of a good song: subtle, simple, the foundation to something beautiful. As you feel your connection with the Other Realm intensify, expand your rhythm a little at a time, all the while opening your eyes to the realm of God.

Don’t do it because the Bible says to; do it because God invites you to see the world as he sees it. Don’t do it because you feel guilty; do it because you want to feel the presence of God. Don’t do it because you want to be a better Christian; do it because you want to experience a life that can only happen because God made it so.