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Category: Grace

The joy of being found

I have been owned by dachshunds long enough to know three things. First, they do not ask for attention; they demand it. Second, the intensity of their midnight “potty urgency” corresponds directly to the depth of my sleep. And third, they have ADD.

Of my three wiener dogs, the one who most embodies these tendencies is Missy. One recent night she jumped off the bed – which means, “I gotta go now!” My wife heard her before I did, and went downstairs to let her out.

Soon after, my wife started calling, “Mis-sy!” (which sounds really loud at 3:00 in the morning). She then called to me that she couldn’t find Missy and needed help looking.

So I checked around to make sure Missy hadn’t slipped back upstairs (she hadn’t), and then went down to search for her. read more

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Giving the devil his due: the art of the lie

As I stood at the top of the staircase in the academic building at my august British university, the voices began: “Failure. Flunkie. Flop.”

I had just experienced what was, and remains, the most awkward, humiliating moment of my life. In the final hour of my seven years of effort, my two oral examiners had just rejected my PhD work. After hearing the news, I had to stand up in front of them, cram my useless 400-page paper into my briefcase, and exit the room in heavy silence. One of them had simply stared at me without expression; the other never made eye contact.

Classes were letting out, and the atrium below bustled with throngs of students, chattering and laughing. Their journey of chasing their dreams was just coming to birth, whereas mine had just died. read more

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Breaking a hard heart

Recently my church offered a time of prayer for healing. As I waited for my wife, who was praying for someone, an elder approached me and asked if I myself needed prayer.

I thought I didn’t, but my heart knew. Immediately I said yes, and when I was asked what to pray for, the words rushed out: “My hardened heart.”

05-19-2011I realized just how badly my hard heart did need healing prayer. After a wonderful advent season, as 2016 began I had started to feel deluged by political speeches, social media debates, and “awareness” campaigns over injustices about which I can do little, except worry over how little I can do. At such times, my old patterns of cynicism, sarcasm, and apathy tend to start sneaking back into my heart. After all, my flawed logic assumes, if I act superior or uncaring, then all of the bad things can’t bother me. read more

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Can we be sinners but not losers?

Since the release of my book, Losers Like Us, I have argued that the Bible does nothing to hide the sins, flaws, and blemishes of the people within. They are too clueless, too full of themselves, and too ordinary to be considered spiritual giants. So I have used the term “losers” to describe them—and also to describe all the rest of us who, each in our own stumbling way, try to follow the Lord just as they tried.

But many people have objected to the “loser” label by saying: “Yes, I am a sinner—but not a loser!”

Loser-Sinner1This response shows just how much people hate being labeled as “losers.” I think they mean that in Christ, we are winners, and I agree with that. Yet I see the sinner/loser distinction differently. read more

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Embracing surrender

surrenderDo you know that old song, “I Surrender All”?

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give.
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.
I surrender all,
I surrender all,
All to thee, my precious Savior,
I surrender all.

As Lent comes to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “surrender,” and what it means to truly surrender my life to Jesus.

More accurately, I have been trying hard not to think about it.

But the harder I try to ignore it, the louder it repeats in my head: surrender.

What does it mean to surrender? The dictionary says “surrender” means “give up.” But give up what?

I think surrender means giving up three things: pride, freedom, and control—even control over one’s own life. read more

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Four mistakes that keep me from loving my neighbor

It’s no secret that I have felt out of place in the Portland metro area where I live. I’m a Montana boy in a big city, and after living here for 17 years, I still fight the culture shock—and the fact that despite my wish to live elsewhere, I seem to be right where God wants me.

LoveThyNeighborAsThyself

I crave peace, quiet, and elbow room, all of which are virtually nonexistent in my densely packed neighborhood with its traffic-clogged streets. And the neighborhood is visibly deteriorating.

My inner turmoil reached critical mass recently as I walked my dogs. It’s a beautiful time of year, but I couldn’t enjoy the warm sun or budding flowers. I didn’t even notice them.

Instead, I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of disgust. It wasn’t because anyone had wronged me. It was about aesthetics. read more

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I am Jonah

Photo by Daniel Hochhalter

It’s been almost two decades since I left my home state of Montana and moved out to Portland, Oregon for seminary. When asked where I’m from, I still answer, “I am from Montana, but I live in Portland.” After eighteen years, I still don’t see myself as being from here. I still consider myself an outsider. I just don’t seem to fit in.

I think I’m too rural for the city; I feel claustrophobic here. My horizons are blocked by the neighbor’s fence behind me and the tall apartments in front of me. I always seem to be jostling against people and bumping into things. Even the parking spaces are smaller. It’s hard to ignore the chaos and clamor—the yelling, the car horns, the police sirens (one is screaming past right now). Whenever I get chance to return home to Big Sky country, my body decompresses. My breathing slows. My heart rate goes down. My natural movements become, well, more natural. read more

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A fowl reminder of grace

rooster-crowing-2A rooster’s crow aroused me from sleep during a campout / speaking engagement last weekend. Normally that sound is pleasant to me, but this time I was annoyed. This rooster’s morning song apparently was on Eastern time or earlier, because here in the Pacific Northwest it wasn’t morning; it was only 1:30 a.m. Not only was the day not about to break, but I was pretty sure the sun was still hovering somewhere over Europe.

So for about half an hour, I lay listening to a time-challenged bird, desperately hoping to get some sleep before I had to speak in the morning. Then I caught the irony: my topic was the apostle Peter—who, after insisting he’d die for Jesus, in truth was so afraid to die that he denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed, just as Jesus had predicted he would (John 13:38). read more

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A book pre-release prayer

botticelli_sleeping_apostles_2_smallIt’s been years since the start of this journey.

But then the years became months.

The months became weeks.

The weeks, days.

And now it is only hours until the release of Losers Like Us.

I am well aware that countless others have published before me, but this is my first publication. I have been antsy the last few days: anxious, jittery, full of anticipation, beating my head against the wall until it is all soft and squishy. Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I am tired but too excited to sleep.

Last night, my mind raced with thoughts about what could—or will—happen next. There is no possible way to know, but that doesn’t stop my imagination from conceiving of a slew of “what-if” scenarios. read more

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Why “Loser”?

Losers_HIRESWhen people ask me about the book, one question that often comes up is: why I am so focused on the label “loser”? It’s in the title of my book, rendering me by default an expert on the topic. I have identified myself as a loser, and now that identification is out there for all the world to see.

So the questions come: Why are you so hard on yourself? How can a child of God call himself or herself a loser? Don’t you realize you are under grace?

Allow me to answer these questions.

First, why am I so hard on myself? Really, I am not. It’s taken me the better part of my life and a couple of kicks below the belt to realize that I am at best an ordinary, frumpy, broken, sinful person. I have failed more often than I have achieved. I have not now, nor will I ever, overcome the “if-only” syndrome (if only I can conquer this sin / overcome this flaw / achieve this status). read more

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