Blondin (Francois Gravelet) pushes a wheelbarrow across a tightrope over Niagra Falls

Operational Belief vs. Intellectual Ascent (part 1 of 2)

In my experience it seems there are two kinds of “belief”:

  1. Intellectual Ascent
  2. Operational Belief

If I witnessed a stunt man comfortably pushing a wheelbarrow across a high wire with more than 200 pounds of sand in it, I could easily believe that he could do it with a normal-sized person in the wheelbarrow. This doesn’t mean that I’m ready and willing to jump in and give it a go.

In my life I also find similar gaps in what I believe intellectually vs. how I actually respond under the daily stresses and pain of life. You see, in order to make sense of life and protect myself from pain at a very early age, I arranged a self-protective survival system. Mostly, this system works at a subconscious level. It’s instinctual. I think just about everyone does this to some degree.

The irony is that the same instincts that serve to protect us from evil or harsh circumstances can also prevent us from relational connection and healing with God and others. Allow me to provide a couple examples:

  • A good father intellectually knows he needs to exhibit patience and unconditional love while training and discipling his kids. However, when the kids repeatedly show disrespect, self-centeredness, and anger toward the father, he resorts to raising his voice, shaming the kids for their actions, and using a general tone of anger towards them. How can this be?
  • A good mother intellectually knows she is never alone and God is always watching out for her. However, when she experiences loneliness due to an emotionally unavailable spouse and a schedule that doesn’t permit meaningful connection with other adults, a deep despair sets in; an operational belief that she is truly alone and must be emotionally tough and shoulder the load by herself. How can this be?

In each case, the operational beliefs do not line up with the stated (intellectual / scriptural) beliefs. It can be difficult to even recognize these inconsistencies because they happen at an instinctual level. Often they have been with us for decades and seem normal and necessary for our everyday coping and survival. But they are not. These inconsistencies threaten our ability to connect with God and others.

As you might imagine, our unhealthy operational / instinctual beliefs die hard. What can be done? Check out Part 2 of this post to find some steps to consider taking with a God who can’t wait to lovingly help you “close the gap”.

Hua Shan

Down To My Toes

I am deeply loved and delighted in by God.

He cares for me like no one else does. I am constantly on his mind. He is always excited to show me a new plan, idea, or insight that will blow me away. He wants to bring me good pleasures. He desires for me to realize my potential and purpose and, most importantly, he desires to have an intimate connection with me. His plans for me are more than I could ever imagine on my own. He does not grow tired when my faith wanes, when I seek life in the tombs of this world. He is undeterred in his pursuit of me. He is fueled by a force far more powerful than I will ever fully understand. He is driven by love. His love is pure. It is unconditional. It is the perfect blend of truth and grace. He gives it out in quantities and frequencies that are incomprehensible to humans.

What would happen if I actually believed these truths down to my toes? How would my life change? What if I were compelled by and obsessing over this love constantly? I dare say that I would be so loving and unselfish that I would almost be unrecognizable to those who know me. I would be infecting everyone in my sphere of influence with a life altering substance called love. I would be addicted to giving from a pure heart. I would be addicted to God himself, not wanting to live a single moment outside of consciously recognizing him for all that he is.

The older I grow, the more attractive this sounds. I have to admit, though, I’m still a bit gun shy about it. It sounds so extreme, but the truth is that life any other way is extremely dark by comparison. So, I continue to step out of the dark places and into the life that he has offered me. Slowly, but surely, I experience his loving embrace and a few more ounces of his character, which is rooted and grounded in love, and it gives me courage to continue down the path. The journey isn’t an easy one, but I know where it ends and I know there is significance in each step along the way.

Photo Credit:

tangled knot

Untangling A Knot

For most of my Christian life, I would have told you, just as I told God, that I had no other gods before him and that Christ’s work on the cross completely saved me. It has been both painful and freeing as God showed me a life strategy I was actually living, revealing that, underneath it all, I doubted his goodness and doubted I was truly worthy of his love. In it all, though, God is showing me the depths of his grace, rewriting how I see people, situations, and myself.

Several years ago I experienced a deeply disappointing and confusing situation that shook my life in profound ways and resulted in a career change. I won’t go into details, but I felt not only misunderstood, but also abandoned and devalued. I suspected my motives were being questioned behind my back. Former coworkers pulled away, leading me to suspect my reputation was being defamed by rumors. It hurt deeply. A door was closed and I was on the outside. It was confusing and exceedingly painful—especially because I thought I was acting honorably and in the best interests of the organization in which I served.

I entered into an extended time of personal evaluation and reflection to try to wrap my mind around what happened. The whole thing felt like a train wreck, and I felt pushed off the track. Part of me just wanted to feel better. But part of me wanted to understand how this happened; I had observed similar situations unfold for others in different organizations. It was such a confusing jumble.

In short, I found I needed to sort out four important points:

  1. Forgiveness—I need to recognize that something wrong actually happened. I did experience an injustice. What happened wasn’t right. There was wrong in the actions of some as well as the inactions of others. It is correct to clearly recognize an injustice as a precursor to forgiving others and letting go of my own inner demand to see them “pay”. I needed to entrust them, as well as myself and my career, to God.
  2. Compassion—Without diminishing the wrong suffered, I need to acknowledge there was brokenness operating in all parties, including me. This hurtful event was not just about this one situation; it was a product of years of painful experiences and misunderstandings unrelated to me. The event wasn’t as personal as it felt. I don’t know all the struggles that were being experienced by the other parties, but I’m sure they were more significant than I considered. When seen with a clearer perspective, I’m sure all parties would regret some of their actions/inactions. Without excusing the injustice, I need to see the other parties with a measure of compassion and patience. If I was in their place, I may have acted the same way they did.
  3. Learning—There were several things I need to learn. I recognize that I contributed to the entire situation in multiple ways—over multiple years. In the midst of it, I was blind to how my actions and words made it difficult for others to express opposing perspectives. I allowed misunderstandings to persist. This train wreck, combined with the reflective experience God brought, became a “second master’s degree” in lessons learned to make me a better leader and a better person. While it was painful, ultimately I thank God for the learning opportunity, even while I sincerely hope never to repeat it.
  4. Locating My Identity—Even after working intently on forgiveness, compassion, and learning, there was more: I was left with a confusing and painful remnant. The train wreck left me feeling thwarted or blocked. This part of the knot was much more difficult to untangle. This “remnant” kept inflaming the injustice in my mind and made it necessary for me to re-forgive over and over again. I felt as if I was walking in deep mud and it was impossible to gain solid footing again. I’m discovering some uncomfortable things:

A significant part of why it hurt so much to go through that experience is that I had too much riding on my service in that ministry context. I was building a significant portion of my self (my self-righteousness) on my performance and on what others thought of me. It was a “functional idol” in my life—and I was attempting to use it to fill a heart-need that only God could fill: telling me who I am and what I am worth.

As I have discovered this subtle idolatry in my life (shrewdly interwoven into my efforts to excel in Christian service as a mission leader), I have unmasked a doubt of God’s goodness dwelling deep in my heart. Effectively, I had built a life strategy that depended on my good efforts and others’ positive responses to feel good about myself. Wrapped into that was a prideful assumption that I could impress God, and more subtly that I somehow needed to impress him in order to experience his embrace.

My heart breaks in repentance as I recognize what, in reality, I have been believing: that the Gospel is not enough, so I had to make up the difference with my own “good Christian service” and exemplary performance. How something as horrid as thinking that the Gospel was not enough could drive something that looked so good is sobering, but it is the truth. My repentance is deep and ongoing as I continue to unearth deeper roots of this anti-grace belief in my heart.

In the midst of the repentance, I’m discovering genuine rest. Jesus has completed the ultimate work! I’m enjoying knowing God and being known by God. It’s refreshing. He is easy to be with. He enjoys being with me. I can tell he is smiling (the way I smile when I think of my grandchildren). And, I can fully engage in work and service because it is no longer about securing my reputation; it’s just about being who God made me to be and living out of a heart that is grateful for grace!

practice not perfect

Not Your Mama’s Practice

My soul is messy and crowded with things that have no business in here. Man, there is a lot of dross; you know, that stuff we long for God to burn up in us so we can be pure and holy and useful (Proverbs 25:4). It feels heavy and I feel sluggish. I want that junk out and I want it out now.

Actually, it feels more like, “I want them out,” like there’s a bunch of hooligans running amok in my soul. They grab fistfuls of cookies without asking, sneak peaks at things not meant for their eyes, yell foul and unkind words, knock over furniture, scratch and tear up the woodwork, and upset and upend the quiet, good me I long to be. I am trying to boss them around, tell them we know how to behave, they know better, my soul knows better.

I am full of broken instincts and behaviors, failed best efforts and renewed resolutions. They are all ill-behaved children who refuse to listen to parents and reason.

I am hoarse from yelling, “Out, wearying worries and useless tail-chasing! Out, old, worn thinking ruts and circular thought patterns! And I’ve got a stick I’ll use on ya if you come back this way!” Maybe if I just threaten the broken, failed parts of my soul and thoughts and choices a little more, get really good and fed-up and determined, it will finally work.

Maybe I will finally not be so broken.

Part of me so wishes it worked like that. I get bossy and take control, and even pray some more and ask God some more, and hope something goes “BAM!”: I am the repaired, good Christian I long to be.

Interestingly, God seems in no hurry to turn things upside down and shake out the garbage all at once. Even if I get fed up with it all at once.

Instead I get practice sessions at being a new creation in Christ. And while I am confident that, in terms of salvation and being seated in the heavenlies, the whole “new creation” thing happened instantly, I believe that in terms of refining me in the flesh in which I still walk, it certainly did not. It appears I have the opportunity in that sense to be a new creation every day.

Make that every hour.

Okay, every minute.

Maybe even every 3.8 seconds.

And it’s not the “Practice Makes Perfect!” kind of practice I know so well, either. It’s not the ruler-on-knuckles piano practice, the shoot-hoops-till-fingertips-are-bloody basketball practice, the play-till-you-can’t-stand-or-see-straight football practice, the write-this-word-1000-times-till-your-fingers-cramp spelling practice. The goal is not perfection the way I have always thought of it, no errors ever, no fumbles, no fouls. Never a missed note, nary a turnover.

It’s the practice of believing and and walking with my Good Dad, the Holy God who says, “I am pouring out grace and opportunities and grace-laden opportunities for you, my daughter, to both see who I am and be like I am. No matter how your last effort turned out, and no matter how this effort turns out, I love you. It’s unshakable. I am shaping you. And I am unshakable. I’ve got this, and I am your practice. Walk intimately with me in delighted, active trust and love, and I will burn up the dross, sometimes quickly but often slowly and in a way that reveals more of you and more of me. I will do it as you practice receiving and living in my love and grace that have the only real power to bring change, that you may see more of me in every interaction, every moment, both in you and out of you, toward you and toward others. I am your never-exhausted, never-weary, alive-in-the-Holy-Spirit-in-you, practice of love.”

So, what’s my prayer now, if I drop the stick I’ve been shaking and swinging at myself, and let my Loving Father be my practice?

Now I pray for the grace and courage to show up. Show up, and practice bravely believing all God has done, is doing, and will do. Practicing taking off my armor and opening my soul to its depths to hear, know, and feel all he says, all he is, and that his grace and love bring real change, lasting change. My coach is never tired, never exasperated. His inexhaustible love that desires and welcomes me right where I am even as he works in me is my first practice stop. The basics, the piano scales, free throws, and line sprints of my soul, so to speak.

Honestly, I have never been good at practicing anything, really. Flute, volleyball, softball, algebra equations. I want instant results now and I don’t like “failing”; even my friends have noted, I just don’t play games and sports I can’t win. I want guaranteed success and I want it immediately.

But I am starting to get the picture that for my soul, practice isn’t my performance; it’s remembering who my coach is.

In 3.8 second intervals. Over and over and over and over again.


Four Valuable Lessons On Spiritual Blindness

I came across a great blog by Paul David Tripp recently that provides great insight into our spiritual condition. As we embrace these lessons, we grow closer to the giver of life. I love to be reminded how God’s economy is different from this world’s economy. Enjoy!


Do you know anyone who is blind? I’ve acquired some life-changing information about spiritual blindness from people who can’t see the physical things I see everyday.

1. Seeing With Two Pairs of Eyes

First, I’ve learned that the eyes of my heart are far more important than the eyes of my body. I could be physically blind yet have very accurate spiritual vision, and conversely, I could have 20/20 eyesight while I’m blind to my own sin and the glorious things of God.

In fact, I’ve found that…


unpcak heart 2

The Glorious Invitation of God

Bring your secrets, bring your scars
Bring your glory, all you are
Bring your daylight, bring your dark
Share your silence
And unpack your heart

~ Phillip Phillips

I’m not sure if this song was written about a guy wanting a gal to feel safe and unpack her heart with him, but that’s not how it landed on me.

To me, this song is a wonderful picture of God’s invitation to us. I don’t need to get myself cleaned up and presentable—if I did, what would be “clean enough”? He wants me just as I am.

He is big enough, gracious enough and loving enough to handle ALL of me. He is not only able to handle my crazy mixed-up heart, but that is his deepest desire! Even my very best friends are unable to offer this and truly deliver the goods.

He is on my side, he longs for me to shed my shadow and rise. He promises to shine his light into my darkness. My deepest regrets are safe with him. He wants all of me. He wants my shame and my madness to tame. He sees true treasure hidden behind the walls that I have constructed.

If anyone knows the real me, it would be him. He’s not bored, disgusted, or irritated by the real me. He desperately wants me to unpack my heart with him and experience his unconditional love and acceptance.

If you want to enjoy an experience of God loving you, listen to this song and feel his heart toward you; hear his glorious invitation to you to unpack your heart.

in god we trust 600x400

Putting God In Our Debt

It’s outrageous to think we could actually put the God of the universe in our debt, but at times I have pursued exactly that without even realizing it. At times I have thought that if I performed well and did what he wanted, somehow, he would “bless” me. Which is code for: give me what I want (the selfish desires of my heart). I came across a blog post from Tullian who also wrote some insightful thoughts on this subject. I hope it’s as freeing to you as it is to me to consider that we are totally and forever in his debt. Enjoy.

The Liberating Impossibility Of Repayment

resized_creepy-willy-wonka-meme-generator-oh-you-can-t-pay-me-back-yet-i-see-you-got-your-nails-done-and-is-that-a-new-outfit-3df07fOn an episode of the second season of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) discovers that Penny (Kaley Cuoco) has gotten him a Christmas present. Angered, he reminds Penny that the “foundation of gift giving is reciprocity,” […]



God Rendered Speechless

A few years ago I had a colleague who introduced me to the writings of David Roper. David’s list of accomplishments is long and his reputation excellent. He is also a very generous man, and gave permission to the education ministry I served with at the time to use his materials in our discipleship courses. The colleague, who was (and is) a dear friend, also assured me that David would be most pleased about having his blog entires shared.

I first saw this post in late 2008, when I was in an early season of learning to be loved by God … just straight up loved, no earning, no merit, no striving. It was early days for me of wrestling with a call to Christian obedience and service, and a longing to have a heart at rest that could trust that it was loved by the Father, no matter how well my ministry projects went or how many times it seemed I had to learn the same lesson over and over and over.

It’s a sweet gift to visit David’s thoughts again as I now serve with a ministry whose focus is to help move people’s hearts into the confidence that they are fully cherished by God right where they are, and that our obedience and following after Christ is completely generated and motivated by his incredible love and our response to it. It’s never about my owing what I could not possibly pay, and never about his exhaustion or disgust that I have not come far enough.

His love is enough. 

So, from David Roper, something wonderful to ponder.

Lovesick and Dumbfounded

Carolyn and I often spend our quiet times reading from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, an Upper Room publication (If you’ve visited Shepherd’s Rest you’ve seen the copies in each bedroom.) The Old Testament passage for this morning was Zephaniah 3:17.

With apologies to Zephaniah and Bruce Waltke, my old Hebrew professor, here is my translation…

The LORD, your God is with you—
your hero, mighty to save!

He takes great delight in you.
He is speechless with love for you.
Every time he thinks of you he breaks into joyful song!

Zephaniah 3:17

I’m awed by the notion that God takes great delight in me and breaks into song each time he thinks of my name. But it’s the phrase I render, “He is speechless with love for you” that captivated me.

The verse is usually translated, “He will be quiet in his love,” or in some translations, “He will quiet you.” But the verb doesn’t suggest tranquility or rest. It actually means, “to strike dumb.”[1] And since the verb is in parallel with other verbs that suggest God’s strong emotions (“takes great delight,” and “breaks into joyful song”) it must point to what He himself feels.

I wonder then: Could the analogy be that of a lovesick swain who is bowled-over, flabbergasted and dumb-founded by his love for the beloved-so overcome with fondness that he is tongue-tied? Is God, in some inexplicable, anthropomorphic way, “struck dumb” with love each time he thinks of us? If so, to be loved like this is, in turn, to be rendered speechless. As Isaiah would say, “I am undone.”

And who is it that God so loves? One who is strong and able, brilliant, and breathtakingly beautiful? No, it is one who is “weak and the weary… who takes refuge in the name of the LORD” (Zephaniah 3:12).


[1] Jenni-Westerman, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament.


What’s In Your Backpack?

Paula asks her young son a question. She’s noticed some interesting behavior from him and wonders what’s up. Her son’s answer is precious and humorous … but it leads Paula to ask the question again … of herself.

And we ask you: “What’s in your backpack?”

Enjoy this special guest post from Paula Pust, Aphesis staff member Debbie Bochman’s honest and encouraging sister!


So … I have this adorable little seven-year-old son. He’s growing in his ability to get himself ready for the day, including getting his backpack filled with water bottle, lunch, swimming goggles, and all the important stuff of being a kid who spends time at the YMCA. Since he’s learning responsibility, of course I’ve tried to back off in my need to hover over him as he does this daily task.

Except when …

This morning, for instance. When I asked if he had his backpack ready, he had an unusual look on his face . Hmmmm … mom’s antenna goes up! He then offered to run to the fridge downstairs and get my pop for the day—sweet, yes. But my antenna is still up because he insisted on taking his backpack WITH him to do this task. Interesting choice. Of course, when he returned with my Diet Coke in hand, I had to ask, “So, Kyler, look at my eyes. I need you to answer this question honestly” (not that I ever don’t want him to answer me honestly, but you get it). “Is there anything in your backpack that you wouldn’t want me to see?”

LONG pause … then “Well, Mommy … there WASN’T before, but now there is …”

He proceeded to pull out of one pocket a Coke, then he unzipped a second pocket and extracted a Dr. Pepper and a Diet Coke. Seriously?

It made me smile, though. As I reflected on this beginning to my day, I got to wondering: what’s in MY backpack that I don’t want others to see? And do I sometimes act under the guise of helping someone else (getting their “pop” for them) when actually I have a hidden agenda of my own?

Thank God for mercy.

“The LORD is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. The LORD is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation.” (NLT)

Psalm 145:8-9

Mercy and compassion, slow anger and fullness of unfailing love, even though I don’t deserve it. Hallelujah, what a savior!


God’s Giggles About My Wrinkles

I am surrounded by more voices than I can count. They pour forth from television shows and commercials, Internet articles and ads, magazine covers and top ten lists, movies, billboards, and glances from strangers.

They’re the same voices my grandmother, mom, and sister-in-law have heard, and I know my young niece will hear over and again as she grows up. My girlfriends hear the voices, and more and more men hear the voices. The voices around us try to tell us what’s important and valuable and crucial to our happiness.

And it’s certainly not our hearts.

Even the voice reflecting back at me from my own mirror gets loud. And there is a very consistent message that gets shouted in some way every day:

“Have you seen how you look? You look old. You are wrinkled and sun-spotted and sagging and dark-circled and gray-haired and far from up-to-date with the cool and new and praised. Old is ugly. You’re ugly. Ugly and old are worthless. Old has nothing to offer. Old and ugly are nothing to love. Do something to fit in, dump the ugly, and do it fast.”

And sometimes I buy the voices’ sob story of discontentment. And I buy their fixes: make-ups, makeovers, creams, treatments, practices, preventatives. I buy, try, and it still doesn’t satisfy. Making my face the world’s version of beautiful is a losing battle.

But if I slow down for a moment to ask the One True Voice what he says about me, God tells me a tender story of what he values. His version of beautiful. He even gives me a new picture of myself that leads to worship of him.

I had a passport photo taken in 2001 when I was preparing for a vacation to Italy. I love that passport photo. I’m 40 pounds lighter, I have long brown hair, and, well, it’s over ten years ago. My renewal passport photo and recent family photos … let’s just say I’m not 40 pounds lighter, do not have nearly as much brown in my locks, and it finds me pastier, flabbier, and laden with wrinkles above and below and side to side. It could be an opportune moment for those voices to kick in and for me to start flailing about for a fix.

But if I listen to my Good Father as I look at the pictures, to his words about value and goodness and life, it makes me giggle. And giggling transitions to gratitude. My face reflects over ten years of answering God’s call to live a life I never imagined. It tells the story of leaving a teaching job and students I loved, changing careers a couple more times, moving to a new state, and learning new things. There’s a groove in my forehead that I am sure I can attribute to a “focus furrow” that appeared as I learned, and still learn, how to listen well, ask for help, be vulnerable, receive love, and truly seek God to comfort me in the pain of life.

My face tells the story of new friendships, deepening old ones, and people to love and miss from places like Russia, Jordan, Lebanon, Kenya, Uganda, Romania, Spain, Senegal, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and East Asia. It experienced an international courtship, a house sale, a house purchase and a refinance, a zillion plane flights to California and back to see family. This face had invaluable talks with its mom and dad, and met new nephews and a niece who forced it to make ridiculous maneuvers to entertain them.

It walked through the birth of friends’ children and the loss of friends’ children; it spoke at a funeral for a 17-month-old. It said goodbye to a beloved grandfather and witnessed its niece arriving into the world, live and in person. It uttered encouraging words and it uttered hurtful words it wanted to suck back in moments later. It smiles more broadly than ever as it expresses love and is willing to look ridiculous to bring a laugh that lightens a heart.

Most gratefully, this face is learning to look to its Maker more, to bask in his radiance, and to trust his viewpoint and provision and goodness. And I hear him whisper when I glance in a mirror that my wrinkles make him giggle, too.

God’s warm laughter of delight and love and real beauty. The One True Voice.