Head vs. gut

Someone recently said to me, “My head says one thing, and my guts are in knots saying the other.”

Isn’t that in many ways our central struggle? Our minds tell us we are forgiven, yet our hearts feel guilt and shame. Our Bible tells us God is our refuge, but we feel anxiety or fear. Our theology says peace and joy, but our gut is tied up in knots.

Why is that?

Let me suggest that there is a wall in our soul. On one side of the wall is what we believe with our intellect. For Christians, this is the side of the wall where you find sermons, Bible studies, theology, and our official beliefs. On the other side of the wall is what we believe with our experience. This is where we tend to find beliefs like, “I’m not safe,” “I’m not okay,” “I don’t matter.”

We keep pouring new information onto the intellect side and hope it spills over to the gut-level side, but it doesn’t. The only thing that changes the experience side is a fresh experience with Jesus that corrects one or more of those faulty beliefs.

Is that possible? Yes! It happens all the time. I call them quiet miracles. Jesus will meet with you, but you gotta be willing to take Him to the place of pain inside. And that’s the catch. That’s a scary thing to do. But for those who can find the courage to do that, a beautiful world of transformation awaits.

Hey, could you do me a favor? I’m trying to decide where to focus my energies. Would you like to see me create more resources on this topic? Vote on my blog, ping me back, leave a comment—could you let me know? Thanks!

[democracy id=”4″]

“Someone needs to change for me to be okay…”

How much power do other people have in your life?

I don’t know about you, but more than once I’ve had this kind of thought:

“Someone needs to change for me to be okay…”

Maybe it’s a boss, a spouse, a coworker, a child, a parent, a sibling, a friend. I spent the first fifteen years of my marriage trying to change my wife, and the exercise only served to make us both unhappy.

I get it. Some people are trapped in abusive relationships and cannot escape. Think North Korea, human trafficking, the Holocaust. Which brings me to this disclaimer: If you’re in an abusive relationship, and you have the power to get out, get out! Now. Don’t wait. Get help. Get to a place of safety.

But most of us are NOT in that situation. Most of us are simply triggered by the actions of other people. Their anger, their rudeness, their quirkiness, or something about them pulls up in us all kinds of feelings that leave us…uncomfortable.

Why doesn’t God change them?

Okay, I won’t speak for you. I’ll speak for myself. God didn’t change the people who were triggering me because He was busy trying to help me grow. He was showing me, among other things, that I was giving other people way too much power in my life. Why would I give someone else the power to control my happiness?

He was showing me how to take that power back and keep it inside myself where it belongs.

I’m a work in progress on this—for sure. But the more God works with me, the less other people trigger me. And that is a good thing.

Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Jesus and King David were both born in Bethlehem.
I’m going to retire the Bible trivia section of this blog for now so we can focus more on other content. Many thanks to those of you who sent me notes on the Bible trivia. 🙂

How much happier would you like to be? Part three

stressed > relaxed

The other day I got a call from my insurance agent. My homeowners policy is going to be canceled. Insurance company is going out of the home lines business.

No problem, right? Just get a policy with another company.

Small catch. Our roof is too old. Other companies don’t want to insure this house. And, of course, we need insurance. But we don’t have money to replace the roof.

Once upon a time, something like this would have tied my stomach up in knots. I would have been frantic. What will we do? What will we do?

But I don’t feel particularly stressed by it. Understand—I’m a work in progress just like everybody else. I have my moments. But I see this as part of the great adventure. I think this opens up new possibilities. I talked with the Lord about this, and He said, “I’m going to take care of you. You will be okay.”

So, in place of terror is this sense of excitement. God is about to do something exciting for us. I don’t know yet what it will be, but I know it’s gonna be good.

Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: King Joash murdered Zechariah, the son of Jeohoiada, Joash’s mentor.
New question: Jesus and King David were both born in what city?

How much happier would you like to be? Part two

About a week ago I posted something I called the human satisfaction index:

empty > satisfied
stressed > relaxed
powerless > powerful
anxious > at peace
sad > happy
depressed > joyful
striving > content
desperate > fulfilled
rejected > embraced
lonely > belonging
trapped > free
success > significance
low self image > high self image
fearful > confident
confused > clear
troubled > okay

I asked the question whether Jesus cares where we are on this. And you gave me some great feedback.

Now I’d like to share a little bit of my story. I’m going to focus on this one:

stressed > relaxed

There was a time in my life when I did not know how to relax. I know this might sound a little crazy—but because of some difficult things I went through, I couldn’t sit at a kitchen table without shaking. I woke up even more tired than when I went to sleep because I couldn’t relax—even in my sleep. I was always on edge; always gritting my teeth. (I’m surprised I have any teeth left.)

It never occurred to me that Jesus even cared whether I could relax or not. That wasn’t part of what it meant to be “a good Christian.” I focused on obeying the rules, learning the Bible, playing the game.

But Jesus had other ideas. And, to tell you the truth, He did the last thing I expected. He let things get quite a bit worse.

Has that ever happened to you? You need money, and suddenly the car breaks down. You need healing, and the doctor finds something else that went wrong. You need friends, and your only friend moves away.

Why does God do that? Why does God allow that?

I don’t know about you, but looking back, I’m glad He did. It was the best thing that could have happened to me.

More next time…


Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Jesus talked to the woman at the well in Samaria.
New question: Which King murdered the son of his mentor?

The gospel as I understand it

Here are six things I believe.

#1 You matter.
You are created to live forever.
You are designed to make a difference.
You are engineered for excellence.
Your value is immeasurable.

#2 You have been sinned against.
Despite your value, you have been a target of harm.
You have been injured by the actions of others; we all have.
This injury may leave lasting damage.
It’s not your fault.

#3 The world is broken.
The world is messed up.
People are hurting.
The world is NOT as God intended it, NOT as God wants it.
Sin messes up people, families, communities, and the world.

#4 Jesus is fixing things; we get to help.
Jesus died on the cross to remove sin’s power to destroy your life.
Jesus heals and repairs broken people, broken families, broken communities, a broken world.
This is a work in progress; it isn’t finished, but it will be.
We get to help. We can go from being part of the problem to being part of the solution.

#5 Do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution?
Since sin destroys, you have two choices:
(1) hang on to sin and be part of the problem, or
(2) follow Jesus and be part of the solution.
If you choose to follow Jesus, He will begin the process of removing sin from your life.
He will also begin the process of repairing the damage sin has done to you.
He will also forgive you and remove guilt from your life.
He will guide you in the process of bringing healing and repair to a broken world.
Your role in this is to say “yes” to Jesus—to invite Him into your life to be all He wants to be.
That activates a daily relationship where He is Leader, you and I are followers.

#6 This creates two destinies; you get to choose.
Since sin destroys, if you choose to hang onto sin, your ride carries you to destruction.
Since Jesus transforms, if you choose to follow Jesus, then your ride carries you to eternal life. You will be fully alive, capable, confident, beautiful, perfect, authentic, indestructible, completely at peace, full of joy, loving, fulfilled. You will be surrounded by respect, trust, understanding and love. Disease, injury, death, poverty, calamity, injustice will no longer be present. No, this won’t all happen in this life, but your connection with Jesus changes the trajectory of your life and points you heavenward.

Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Mary, mother of Jesus.
New question: Jesus talked to the woman at the well in what Roman province?

How much happier would you like to be? part one

Some people say Jesus doesn’t care how happy we are. He just cares how holy we are. What do you think? Does Jesus care about where we are on the human satisfaction index?

empty > satisfied
stressed > relaxed
powerless > powerful
anxious > at peace
sad > happy
depressed > joyful
striving > content
desperate > fulfilled
rejected > embraced
lonely > belonging
trapped > free
success > significance
low self image > high self image
fearful > confident
confused > clear
troubled > okay

Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: The first war or battle referenced in the Bible was the attack on Sodom in Genesis 14.
New question: Probably the most famous woman in the Bible, her name is derived from a word meaning bitter—who is she?

Lines of defense

Here’s a little snippet from a new book I’m working on:

God is your first line of defense. The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. Ephesians 6. Your real enemy is not flesh and blood. Making God your refuge doesn’t mean you never get hurt; it means God will see to it that you will ultimately be okay.

Truth is next. Deception destroys lives, marriages, communities, and nations. Truth sets us free.

Good judgment is next. The prudent see danger and take refuge. A martial arts master was once asked by his student how he would defend himself from someone jumping out of a tree on him. His answer: I wouldn’t be stupid enough to walk under the tree.

Family and community come next. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Calming words are next. A soft answer turns away wrath.

Physical self defense is last.

Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Nahum spoke out against Nineveh.
New question: What is the first war or battle referenced in the Bible?

Which books of the Bible are easiest to read?

Below I’ve ranked the 66 books of the Bible from easiest to most difficult to read. See notes below the list. I know this is longer than my usual posts, but I thought you might like this list.

  1. Ruth – short, easy to understand story (4 chapters)
  2. Jonah – easy-to-read narrative containing a poetic prayer (4 chapters)
  3. Mark – easy-to-read narrative, the story of Jesus (16 chapters)
  4. 1 John – easy words, profound thoughts on our relationship with God and each other (5 chapters)
  5. Luke – more detailed easy-to-read narrative – some knowledge of Old Testament helpful – story of Jesus (24 chapters)
  6. Philippians – a letter discussing humility and joy in suffering (4 chapters)
  7. Matthew – mostly easy to read narrative, contains many references to the Old Testament (28 chapters)
  8. Acts – mostly easy to read narrative of the early church (28 chapters)
  9. 1 Samuel – easy to read narrative containing the familiar David & Goliath story among others (31 chapters)
  10. 2 Samuel – easy to read narrative (24 chapters)
  11. Judges – mostly easy to read narrative (21 chapters)
  12. John – narrative, speeches and commentary – easy words but profound thoughts, at times challenging (21 chapters)
  13. Esther – easy-to-read narrative (10 chapters)
  14. Genesis – mostly easy-to-read narrative (50 chapters)
  15. Ephesians – a combination of theology and instruction for Christian living (6 chapters)
  16. Colossians – similar to Ephesians (4 chapters)
  17. Philemon – a letter returning a runaway slave (1 chapter)
  18. 3 John – a brief letter on waking in the truth (1 chapter)
  19. 2 John – a brief letter on loving one another (1 chapter)
  20. 2 Timothy – instructions to a young pastor (4 chapters)
  21. 1 Timothy – instructions to a young pastor (6 chapters)
  22. 1 Corinthians – a letter to a church with problems (16 chapters)
  23. James – a discussion of practical Christian virtues (5 chapters)
  24. Daniel – narrative combined with apocalyptic dreams and visions – makes much more sense if you have a solid understanding of history (12 chapters)
  25. Galatians – a letter explaining the Christian concept of grace (6 chapters)
  26. 2 Corinthians – a letter to a church with the author defending his authority (13 chapters)
  27. 1 Peter – a letter to Christians who are suffering (5 chapters)
  28. Titus – instructions to a young pastor (3 chapters)
  29. Proverbs – short sayings of ancient wisdom (31 chapters)
  30. Psalms – a collection of song lyrics – mixture of easy, poetic, profound, puzzling (150 chapters)
  31. 2 Kings – combination of narrative and history (25 chapters)
  32. 1 Kings – combination of narrative, history and architecture – some of the narrative (e.g., ch 13) is puzzling for modern reader (22 chapters)
  33. Exodus – first half is mostly easy-to-read narrative, second half is law & architecture requiring some knowledge of history and ancient culture (40 chapters)
  34. Joshua – some easy-to-read narrative together with a great deal of geographical information (24 chapters)
  35. 1 Thessalonians – a letter to a church discussing faith and the return of Jesus (5 chapters)
  36. 2 Thessalonians – a letter to a church discussing the “Day of the Lord” and warning against idleness (3 chapters)
  37. Song of Solomon (also called Song of Songs) – newlyweds expressing their admiration for one another in colorful language based in ancient culture (8 chapters)
  38. Romans – a complete Christian theology, in places difficult to follow (16 chapters)
  39. Jude – a letter warning against false religion (1 chapter)
  40. 2 Peter – a warning against false teachers and discussion of the “Day of the Lord” (3 chapters)
  41. Ecclesiastes – a search for wisdom, challenging because it isn’t always clear what is intended as truth and what is intended as processing (12 chapters)
  42. Zechariah – colorful, apocalyptic visions with explanations (14 chapters)
  43. Revelation – the apocalyptic vision of John (22 chapters)
  44. 2 Chronicles – history and narrative (36 chapters)
  45. Nehemiah – narrative and lists (13 chapters)
  46. Malachi – a plea for God’s people to return to Him (4 chapters)
  47. Haggai – an exhortation to rebuild the temple (2 chapters)
  48. Jeremiah – narrative, warnings, predictions (52 chapters)
  49. Job – narrative mostly in the form of dialogue (speeches) filled with figures of speech – tackles complex issue of suffering (42 chapters)
  50. Hebrews – a letter to Jewish Christians helping them process the transition from Judaism to Christianity while facing persecution (13 chapters)
  51. Hosea – a prophet compares his own unstable marriage to God’s relationship to Israel (14 chapters)
  52. Habakkuk – poetic look at God’s practice of using evil nations to accomplish His purposes (3 chapters)
  53. Amos – warnings and a call for justice, visions, some narrative (9 chapters)
  54. Ezra – lists, genealogies and narrative (10 chapters)
  55. Isaiah – combination of narrative, warnings, predictions requiring a solid knowledge of Biblical history and culture (66 chapters)
  56. Lamentations – a poem lamenting the fall of Jerusalem (5 chapters)
  57. 1 Chronicles – extensive genealogies together with narrative and lists (29 chapters)
  58. Numbers – some easy-to-read narrative interspersed in census data and ancient laws (36 chapters)
  59. Deuteronomy – laws, promises and warnings to ancient Israel with some narrative (34 chapters)
  60. Ezekiel – a collection of encounters with God together with warnings, predictions and architecture. Highly figurative language in places. Some knowledge of Levitical law required (48 chapters)
  61. Obadiah – a prophecy against Edom (1 chapter)
  62. Zephaniah – warnings and prophecies (3 chapters)
  63. Micah – warnings against Israel – knowledge of history helpful (7 chapters)
  64. Nahum – poetic warnings against Nineveh (3 chapters)
  65. Joel – poetic and sometimes symbolic warnings and prophecies requiring a knowledge of history and culture (3 chapters)
  66. Leviticus – collection of laws primarily relating to sacrifice and Old Testament priesthood and sacrifices; challenging to read without a thorough Biblical and historical background (27 chapters)

When creating this list, I factored in

  • the potential to get bogged down
  • different tastes and different attention spans of different readers
  • popularity of the book
  • how well a given book is likely to hold the attention of a Western reader
  • the potential for misunderstanding or misinterpretation
  • the distance between the words and the meaning

As a rule, I felt that

  • Narrative (story) is easier to read than instruction, lyrics or theology.
  • The New Testament is easier to read than the Old Testament because most readers are closer to the New Testament in culture and mindset.
  • Books containing controversial passages are more challenging than books that don’t contain such passages.
  • Prophetic books tend to be more challenging because they presuppose a knowledge of law, history and culture. They also tend to be written in poetic syntax making them somewhat more difficult to read. Some poetic books are rich in figures of speech and / or symbolism making the book even more challenging.

Some Christians see John as the easiest of the four Gospels possibly because it contains John 3:16 and passages that support elements of evangelical theology. But I see John as the most challenging of the four Gospels. Although the words are easy, the meaning is sometimes difficult to follow. John is a combination of narrative and essay which I feel is more difficult to read than straight narrative.

Some Christians consider Revelation to be the hardest book in the Bible. I disagree. Revelation has a reputation of being filled with impossible-to-decipher symbolism, but in fact much of Revelation is straightforward. It is a challenging book, but not the hardest, in my view.

If two books were otherwise equal, I chose the shorter book as the easier to read.

This should not be construed as saying that some books are better than others. Some of the most challenging books are, to me, the richest in meaning, but you do need to work harder to get at that meaning. For example, I love the book of Job–it’s one of my very favorites, and I’ve benefited so much from pondering it. But I do rank it 49 out of 66 in this list.

You might rank the books of the Bible differently based on many factors including the version of the Bible you are using, your own literary preferences, your background and understanding of the Bible, history, ancient culture and law.

How to hear the voice of God—part seven

Enjoy your conversations with God. In a typical day, I talk with God about many different things–my work, my family, my feelings. We joke around with each other sometimes. Sometimes we’re both very serious. I talk with Him and listen to Him. I get ideas from Him when I’m writing. That doesn’t mean that God is dictating every moment of my existence. He doesn’t tell me what toothpaste to use, for example. He doesn’t steal my personality. On the contrary, He affirms my identity and often asks me what I want. My desires become part of the ingredients of the life we build together.

Keep in mind that every person is different. Just because I experience God one way doesn’t mean that you will experience Him exactly the same. You are you. God will relate to you differently than He relates to me. I tend to hear a quiet voice in my mind, but you may experience Him a whole different way. That’s fine. Enjoy the journey. There’s no better friend than God, and learning to hear His voice (or whatever your conversations with God are like) will add a whole new dimension to your life.

This post is adapted from content found in my course Spiritual Self Defense. More info here:

Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Jonah slept in a boat during a storm.
New question: Nahum spoke out against what city?

How to hear the voice of God—part six

Trust but verify

The Bible says not to believe every spirit, but test the spirits to make sure they come from God. (1 John 4:1)

How do we test or verify?

#1 God’s Spirit will affirm that Jesus lived as a man and that He is Lord. (1 John 4:1-3, 1 Corinthians 12:3)

#2 God’s message will conform to His word, the Bible. That’s one reason why it’s important to get to know your Bible. Knowing your Bible gives you foundational knowledge that makes it harder for you to be deceived.

#3 When God’s Spirit is finished, there will be peace. He might point out your need to make a change, but He never paralyzes or condemns. He always gives you a very clear path to freedom. That path may involve making a hard choice, but it will be clear. God is not the author of confusion. God’s message will not leave you with anxiety or fear. It will leave you with peace.

#4 And following His directions will result in a good life where you stay healthy and bring much good into the lives of others. If the messages you are receiving, pull you in a different direction or result in something other than love, joy, peace and patience, then it’s time to re-examine whether what you thought you heard really came from God.

#5 A message from God will stand the test of time. In most cases, they won’t be terribly time sensitive, so you can pray it through again tomorrow and see if you get the same thing.

#6 In addition, God has put you with other Christians, brothers and sisters in the family of God. There’s safety in community. If you’re not sure whether what you’re getting comes from God, check it out with a brother or sister with more experience in the faith. You might want to check it out with a couple of people. Many times God speaks to a group rather than to one individual.

This post is adapted from content found in my course Spiritual Self Defense. More info here:

Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Job’s wife said, “Curse God and die.”
New question: In the Bible two people slept in a boat during a storm. Jesus was one of them. Who was the other?

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