Tag Archives: love

3 Things I’m Learning About Cultivating Peace

How do you find peace?

peaceful-sunset-1920x1080-1207058This is a question everyone asks at one time or another. I’ve been on a personal journey to answer it since last year’s Lenten season. The 40 days of fasting and repentance opened my eyes to the fact that in almost any given moment I was unsatisfied. Not unhappy, just unsatisfied. Restless, like I wast perpetually missing something. And I unknowingly tried so many ways to settle my restlessness, but always to no avail. When my mind wandered I would check out on social media, or grab some junk food, or go buy something, or reorganize the books on my bookshelf. Anything to avoid being fully present in the moment as it existed.

When I came home from the office I would often bring my restlessness with me, mostly because I felt like I had accomplished so little at work and needed to get something done. So at work my mind was restless, then at home my mind was restless because I spent the day in restlessness at work!

During Lent last year I gave up meat, which forced me to be very intentional about what I ate. I couldn’t just “grab something” whenever an urge hit. I began to notice that by forcing myself to think about what I was eating, my mind was much more focused on what needed to get done. Since food was no longer an escape, somehow that helped my mind be satisfied with the moment. And when I was able to be satisfied, the other vices began losing their appeal, and eventually I was rarely looking for an escape.

Robert Pirsig refers to three levels of understanding in our search for peace: Physical, Mental, and Value. THIS IS THE FIRST THING I’M LEARNING ABOUT PEACE: Changing our physical behavior (like giving up meat for 40 days) influences our Mental state, which then creates a “Value Quietness” in which “one has no wandering desires at all but simply performs the acts of his life without desire, and that seems the hardest of all.”*

Once I realized this, I was forced to ask: “But what was I escaping from?” And that’s where the real journey begins. We fall into the trap of thinking we have no peace because our environment is not peaceful. And, to be sure, we ought to intentionally work toward a peaceful environment. We are a loud, busy, multi-tasking people who rarely stop for the sake of being present. Environment does play a part, but it’s only a small part. But simply removing the thing causing distress doesn’t get at the heart of the problem itself; namely the question Why does that stress me out?

med1I have a friend who is a foster/adoptive dad with a large family. He once told me that shoes on the stairs causes him great distress. As he kept talking he began to acknowledge that the location of the shoes wasn’t the problem, but rather the disrespect he felt as a father by his kids not putting things where they belong.

And that’s where his journey toward peace must begin.

THIS IS THE SECOND THING I’M LEARNING ABOUT PEACE: Changing our environment is not necessarily bad, and can sometimes solve the problem. But more often than not, what is really needed is not a change of environment, but a change of Self, because there’s only so much control we have over our environment. Unfortunately, changing the environment is always easier than changing our Self. As Martin Luther once wrote: “The Self dies hard.


THIS IS THE THIRD THING I’M LEARNING ABOUT PEACE: Changing your Self is never complete; it requires time and maintenance. It also requires intentionality and a recognition of restlessness when it occurs. For example, I was at my 12-year-old son’s basketball game recently. It was a close game and came down to the final shot. My son’s team got the ball off a missed free throw and immediately called time out. They had 7 seconds to move down the court and get a shot off. I try not to be that obnoxious parent at my kids’ sporting events, but sometimes I get outside of myself and a little too wrapped up in the game. That was the case on this particular night. I just wanted them to win so bad!

So, during the time out, while all the players were off the court, I actually paused and asked myself three questions:

Will I be at peace if they win?

Will I be at peace if they lose?

What must I do to have the same peace either way?

This, for me, has become the central focus. I want the same peace if my son’s team loses as I would have if they won, and I want to intentionally work to maintain it. The work of maintaining peace starts with recognizing how little control we have at any given moment.

As a spectator – not a coach, nor a ref, nor a player – I had no control over any aspect of that game. If my peace were contingent upon my environment, then I would have been fighting a losing battle because it was completely out of my hands. And that’s the case for most of life; life is imposed on us more than we impose ourselves upon it. Loosening our grip in moments like a 12-year-old boy’s basketball game reminds us of this fact, and leads us toward a cultivated sense of peace.

Whether it’s a basketball game, a work situation, family life, marriage, church, school, community, neighbors, weekend getaways…we are always given the opportunity to ask:

Will I be at peace if A happens?

Will I be at peace if happens?

What must I do to have the same peace either way?

Peace is cultivated, not grasped. Nurtured, not achieved. Peace is maintained. And maintenance is more of an art form than a science. It involves routine and structure, but great perspective is also required. For me personally, I’ve found a few things to be helpful in my effort to maintain peace:

  1. Wake Up Early – Obviously this isn’t going to work for everybody, but waking up before our kids** is the first step toward starting the day in peace for me. I typically wake up around 5:00, then go to our living room and practice a series of yoga stretches and poses, followed by some silent meditation in the dark. I spend about 5-10 minutes being as aware of my surroundings as possible. Some call this mindfulness. The discovery of mindfulness has been an extraordinary gift to me in my search for peace. Usually, though, at that time of morning the only thing to be mindful of is our snoring dog on the couch beside me. But these few moments of waking up peacefully set the tone for my whole day.
  2. Guided Prayer – I’ve been meeting with a spiritual director for the better part of a year now. He’s a retired Catholic priest named Father Bob. We meet most Wednesday’s at the Little Rock diocese where he and a few other retired priests now live. Each week he asks about my prayer time from the week before, then gives me some thoughts and scriptures to guide my prayer for the coming week. I’ve also begun using a prayer book. I’ve settled on The Book of Common Prayer. It provides a daily prayer structure that begins with ancient scriptures and liturgical readings. That way by the time I get around to praying for myself, my prayer is shaped by scripture and by spiritual mothers and fathers so that my personal prayer finds context in the great tradition of our faith.
  3. Deep Prayer Getaways – Here in Little Rock we are blessed with the Arkansas House of Prayer, a beautiful sanctuary on a hillside west of town. It’s on the grounds of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, which is also a beautiful sight. I try to spend a couple of hours on Tuesday’s at AHOP in what I’ve begun calling “Deep Prayer.” That is, a time of deep and focused interaction with Jesus, guided by scripture and liturgies and my own imagination (imagination in prayer is something I hope to write on soon). I also recently attended my first 3-day silent guided prayer retreat at St. Scholastica monastery in Fort Smith, AR. The sisters at St. Scholastica provided wonderful direction, and I was silent for three days, spending at least four hours per day in focused prayer, and the rest in companionship with Jesus. If you ever have a chance to participate in a guided silent retreat, I highly encourage you to take it.

Yesterday I started working on a space in the woods behind our house for an outdoor contemplative prayer space where I plan to spend my mornings once spring arrives. The hill on which our house sits backs up to the Arkansas river and provides incredible views of the sunrise each morning. So when everything thaws and life starts to bloom, I plan to cultivate peace in the nature of our own backyard.

We plan to move out of our current house in the next 18-24 months, and the thought occurred to me as I was lugging rocks through the trees that in only a few months I won’t have access to that space. But that’s the beauty of cultivating peace; you begin to realize that it’s not about a particular place or a particular space or even a particular time – peace is cultivated where you are, when you are, with what you have. In my case, I currently have access to a beautiful plot of woods behind our house. Perhaps our next house will be in a more urban area with only a small patch of grass out back. But peace is not contingent upon my environment, so an entirely new journey toward peace will open up as I will learn to experience it in a new place.

May that be your experience; may you see life as a perpetual journey toward the peace that Jesus offers, that you might be in a constant state of satisfaction regardless of your circumstances or environment. And may you find joy not only in the peace itself, but also in the cultivating work that you pour into it. May your yoga practices and quiet meditations and guided prayers be filled with a divine sense of work, and from that work may a beautiful harvest of peace rise up within you.


*Robert Pirsig; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values; William Morrow Modern Classics, p. 302

**Did I mention that my wife and I have eight kids? At the time of this writing they are ages 12, 9, 7, 7, 5, 4, 3, and 2. So yeah, don’t tell me you can’t do these things.


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.

I Don’t Want Kent to Die


How you do life is your real and final truth, not what ideas you believe. -Richard Rohr


I love theology and Bible study and good, healthy debate. What we think about Jesus matters, but only so far as it prompts us to action. This sounds harsh, but I really don’t care what your theology is if you’re on the broad road with everybody else. If you’re part of the individualistic, materialistic, comfort-driven crowd who hasn’t sacrificed so much as a scrap of life for another person, then I just don’t care about your theology. As Jesus said, the wise man hears Jesus’ words and puts them into practice. The fool hears them and does nothing.

Think of the number of us who listen to (and preach) sermons, read (and write) dozens of blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts every week telling us what to think about God or the Church or the latest political crisis. Compare that with the number of people who haven’t got time for such things because they’re actually out there doing it – they’re living their theology instead of reading and writing about it. As Hermann Cain famously said, “I don’t have the evidence to back this up,” but I have to believe there are far more of us preaching and reading and writing than actually doing. That is exactly what Jesus meant when he said there is a broad road and a narrow road. Most of us are on the broad road that’s going nowhere, but only a few are on the narrow road that leads to life.

Which is why I don’t want Kent to die.



I met Kent Brantly – the American doctor who contracted Ebola – a few times. I didn’t know him well. He was two years behind me at our small Christian university in west Texas. Kent’s older brother and sister-in-law were my age. My wife and I knew them moderately well. I remember Kent being a tall, gangly guy whom I never saw without a smile. He was in the same social club (Christian university lingo for “frat”) as most of my friends, so I had an awareness of him and his pleasant personality.

Like many of you, I’ve read lots of articles about his condition and, more importantly, about his life and the choices he’s made. Kent is obviously an intelligent guy, and intelligent people sometimes choose the broad road that leads to comfort and wealth and fame and power. Kent, however, chose the narrow way that leads to life.

His story has weighed heavily on my wife and me. It’s tragic on every level. For people like us, reading and watching from afar, it’s like a punch to the gut. Our hearts break for his wife and children, his brother, his family, and all his friends.

I don’t want Kent to die.

I don’t want Kent to die because the world needs people who look and live like Jesus. The world needs people who see disease, risk, and danger as invitations for going instead of excuses for avoiding.

I don’t want Kent to die because if he does that’s one less person living out the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus in real time, in real life. Not somebody talking about it from a pulpit or reading about it in a coffee shop. Kent strikes me as a guy who believes the Word became flesh so he has done likewise.

I don’t want Kent to die because we need people who are living now like Jesus, without much concern for a proper eschatological view or theology of infant baptism or clearly spelled out explanation of hell and how one arrives there. Sure those things are important, but only if they get you off the couch and into a world full of hurt. We need people who aren’t satisfied with a safe, comfortable theology that gives them permission to lead a safe, comfortable life. We need people who are willing to stand toe-to-toe with death and pain and disease and brokenness because their love for life is so fierce.

I’ve said many times that there’s always a reason you shouldn’t make sacrifices for others. It will never be the right time, it will always cost you something, and you’ll be forced to sacrifice what’s precious to you. There’s always a reason not to move your family to Liberia. There’s always a reason to stay on the road that’s broad, avoiding the one that’s narrow.

But the world moves nowhere when we’re only concerned with ourselves. The world gets better when I sacrifice what matters to me so that I might do what matters to us. It gets better when the Church decides that the Word only matters when it takes on flesh.

As Jesus followers we’re driven by two fundamental practices: incarnation and resurrection. With incarnation there’s nowhere we cannot go, and with resurrection there’s nothing we cannot do.

I pray with great hope for Kent’s healing. I pray his life inspires a thousand others to live with the incarnational spirit of Jesus. I pray his life gets all of us off the couch, doing something in the world that actually matters. May Kent’s life not end here, and may he continue on that narrow road, giving others life along the way.

Jesus Wants Nobodies

Sunday I talked about 1 John 2:15-17 which, in my opinion, is the most important passage in 1 John because it speaks to our humanity and the things that drive us. Here’s the passage:

“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.”

1. We either love our world or we love God. We cannot love both simultaneously.

2. We know we love our world when we define ourselves by it. When we define ourselves by our careers or relationship statuses or children or parents or significant others or style or music or dialect or nationality or hair color or body shape or athletic ability or alma mater or how we order at Starbucks, we have loved the world and not God.

3. This is dangerous because what will we do when we lose our job or our relationship or our children or our parents or our significant others or our style or our music or our dialect or our nationality or our hair color or our body shape or our athletic ability or our alma mater or how we order at Starbucks? What do we do when those things vanish? What do we do when those things no longer adequately define us as individuals, as humans, as God’s children?

4. When Jesus came to redeem us, it wasn’t just to let us go to heaven, it was to bring heaven here. And in heaven all identity rooted in the world is destroyed. In heaven you are not your career or relationship status or a child or a parent or significant other or a style or music or dialect or nationality or hair color or body shape or athletic ability or alma mater or how you order at Starbucks. 

In heaven, you are exactly who God made you to be. You are you. Just you. Every worldly way we identify ourselves was crucified with Jesus, and a brand new you came out of the tomb. 

5. This is one way to love God and not the world – to lose your identity. And this is what Jesus came to do. Jesus redeemed the woman caught in adultery

Zacchaeus the tax collector

the blind man

the man with leprosy

the woman who couldn’t stop bleeding

the man with a shriveled hand

the paralyzed guy whose friends lowered him from the roof

Their redemption was not just forgiveness, not just healing, but redemption came by Jesus declaring,


He even did this with people who, as John warned, took pride in their position and possessions. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were robbed of their control when Jesus knocked them off their self-made pedestals and robbed their pretentious identities. Pilate, the governor of the region, one of the most powerful men in Rome, was just a fella. Just a man. And Jesus treated him as such.

6. So who are you? Are you the sum of your external circumstances. Are you trying to prove yourself to the world by being good enough, cool enough, smart enough, parental enough, creative enough, different enough, rebellious enough, angry enough, nice enough, successful enough, rich enough, poor enough, well-dressed enough?

Stop. Let it go. Because if you do those things the love of God isn’t in you. Not because God is mad so he’s giving you the silent treatment. But because you are trying to get everything God offers through things that are not God. And it doesn’t work.

Stop. Let it go. Quit trying to prove yourself to people who don’t really matter anyway. Stop trying to prove that you’re a Somebody. Because Jesus invites us to be Nobodies. And Nobodies are what heaven is all about.

Love and Fear

I’m leading the Bible study this morning at River City Ministries, a homeless outreach organization just north of the river in Little Rock. My assigned text is Luke 8:26-39. Here’s what I plan to say about it:


This is a bizzarre story. For one thing there’s no real reason for Jesus and his disciples to be where they are. In verse 22 Luke simply writes, “One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.'” Then, after Jesus calmed a storm that nearly killed them, they arrived in the region of the Gerasenes. A guy possessed by many demons greets them (not the greeting the disciples were hoping for). Jesus sends the demons into some pigs, and finally everyone begs them to leave.


Why were they there?


Maybe Jesus had seen the man.

Maybe the Holy Spirit sent him.

Maybe Jesus was bored and always wanted to see what was on the other side of the lake.


I don’t know why they went, but this story is quite possibly the greatest explanation of humanity’s need for Jesus.


Here’s why:


We are a naturally fearful people. We fear dark places – literally and metaphorically. We fear the future. We fear things beyond our control. We fear the unknown. The unstable. The inexplicable. We fear change. We fear what might be.


Why does America lead the world in the number and percentage of incarcerated citizens?


What is the one emotion all politicians rely on for votes?


Why do you constantly check your IRA status?


Why do you keep a gun in your nightstand?


Why do you belittle people?


Why do you pretend you don’t care?


Why do you freeze when the house creaks?




And it’s not just Americans or even our modern world. Scripture is replete with fear. One of the most frequent commands in the Bible is “Do not fear.”


We are afraid. Fear is a real part of who we are.


And fear is why the man in the story was chained up in a cemetery. 


What else can you do with a man who shrieks and throws himself on the ground and breaks chains and runs naked into the wilderness?


What would you do if he walked in your church? 


Probably lock him in a room until the cops showed up.


Fear gripped the small lakeside community and there appeared to be no quick solution. I have to believe the people there simply hoped the demons might one day kill the man and move on. While this sounds inhumane and somewhat cruel, that’s what fear often drives us toward – inhumanity and cruelty.


Yet while we are a fearful people, Jesus never allowed fear to dictate his actions. 


Jesus’ first response to the man is a question:


“What is your name?”


Imagine being a villager observing this. 13 strangers get off a boat and The Demon Man runs toward them. Instead of jumping back in the boat, they decide to chat.


After much begging and pleading from the demons, Jesus gives them permission to enter a herd of pigs.


Imagine – he gives them PERMISSION! The tormentors, the fear-causers, the evil spirits – they receive permission to leave.


And after the demons run a herd of pigs over a cliff, the fear only escalates. Now the people don’t have a demon problem, they have a stronger-than-the-demons problem. The only thing more terrifying than a demon-possessed man is the man who can overpower him.


So the villagers beg Jesus to leave out of…you guessed it…fear!


The reason this story is quite possibly one of the greatest explanations of our need for Jesus is found in the way Jesus reacted to the man. Of everyone on that lake side, he was the only person who acted out of love and not fear.


Was Jesus afraid? Maybe. But he overcame fear in order to act in love.


Imagine what the world would be if everyone – all of us – acted with love before fear. Imagine if we even went so far as to reject fear altogether. Imagine how we would treat each other. Imagine how people would treat you. Imagine that world.


That’s not to discount the value of fear. Without fear we might do some pretty stupid stuff. Fear is of some value, but when we allow it to dictate our actions toward people, it gives way to evil. 


Thank you, Jesus, for your love that overcame fear.

The Night I Went to Prison

Thursday night I joined a couple guys from CrossWalk on their weekly visit to Wrightsville prison where they teach classes in the prison’s Pathway to Freedom program. I wasn’t terribly nervous and I didn’t see anything alarming. The inmates were very friendly, outgoing, shared a lot about their lives and the struggles they face, and, more than anything else, were surprisingly grateful. I met guys with regular names like Darnell and Gregg and James and Calvin. No Mad Dog’s or Spike’s or Killer’s. No fights. No riots. No drug deals.

I know – boring, right?

Actually it was anything but.

When we walked in I was a little unsettled at the sight of the first inmate wearing all white. Something about that uniform – the anonymity, the conformity, the loss of self – made me pause. But after meeting the first few guys, that quickly evaporated. As the men filed in the room, Euel Dove, one of our CW shepherds, began introducing me to the men. One by one I shook their hands and gave some of them hugs. Each one smiled and shook my hand firmly. Some said they had been anxious to meet me (apparently Euel was quite generous in describing his new teaching minister).

Euel and I left the room and walked down the hall to the barracks – a larger room filled with bunk beds, showers, toilets, and sinks. No walls. No barriers. No stalls for the showers or toilets. One big room.

About 30 inmates sat in chairs circled near the front of the room and Euel went around the circle shaking hands and calling each of them by name. He asked some about their upcoming parole hearings, some about their families, some about past disciplinary action. If you live in Little Rock and want to see a man doing what he was made to do, go watch Euel with the inmates at Wrightsville.

We began with the serenity prayer and one man offered a story of how that prayer helped him last week. We talked briefly about the importance of changing ourselves before we worry about others. Then we moved into the night’s lesson on hope. Each man had a book with about a page and a half of information followed by six reflective questions. They are to come to class each week ready to discuss the questions.

After some pretty lengthy discussion – probably an hour or so – Euel asked the men to tell me why they value volunteers coming out to Wrightsville. A couple guys said that the volunteers – Euel, Curtis, and others from CW – have impacted their lives more than any guard or therapist or attorney ever has. One young man – probably in his early 20’s – who had been pretty quiet – raised his hand. He said before coming to prison he hated everybody. He believed everybody was selfish and inherently bad. But since coming to Wrightsville he’s learned there are good people in the world, people he can trust, people who will really look out for his interests. And he learned that from the volunteers.

We stood, joined hands, and recited the Lord’s Prayer. Then I got to chat with a few guys who asked me to pray for them. For me, that was the climax – men asking me to pray for reconciliation with their kids, for upcoming parole hearings, for their families. Each one had tears welling up as they exposed their innermost worries and fears.

We found the rest of our group and a guard escorted us through a series of doors and gates. We got in the car and drove home.

I’m still processing everything I experienced that night. And I cannot wait to go again. One of the thoughts I keep returning to is that Jesus said one reason he came was to set the prisoner free. I always thought it was a little strange because a prisoner broke the law, so they’re serving their punishment for wrongdoing. Why would Jesus come to throw open the bars and yell, “Everybody run!” But the “prison” those guys are in – the one that holds them hostage – has no walls and no bars. The prison they’re in has no guards or parole boards or work time or good behavior. The prison they’re in is inside. The prison they’re in is in their minds and their hearts. It’s a prison that tells them there is no other way. It’s a prison that tells them they are evil. It’s a prison that tells them nobody cares. It’s a prison that tells them they’ll never be better. It’s a prison they can leave as soon as they realize that they are holding the key.

This is the prison Jesus came to blow open.

At the end of October CW is leading the Wednesday night worship time at Wrightsville and I get to share a word with the inmates. I’m a little nervous about it – okay, I’m kinda freaking out. I haven’t nailed down what my message will be that night, but I know it must be full of love. It must be full of hope. And it must be full of Jesus.




What else do we need?