Category Archives: Faith

Dr. Henry Cloud on love…

I’m frequently amazed at the wisdom of Dr. Henry Cloud. I’ve read his books, heard him speak, and followed him on social media. Quite often he’ll say something that is quotable, something that requires some pondering to fully appreciate the depth of meaning. Case in point – On a recent podcast he said the following, the context was ‘how do people experience love in the church?’

“The sad thing is… What happens in the church sometimes is that Love turns into a concept, or a propositional thing – people are supposed to know it in their heads. What the Bible says is that you are supposed to realize it in relationship, incarnational experiences, the doctrine of the church, with each other. And to the degree that love is a concept, love never reaches the heart – and the heart stays empty. But when love puts flesh on, like Jesus did when he came to earth, and people begin to experience it in real relationship in the dark empty places inside, then theology becomes reality, and that’s when life change happens.” Dr. Henry Cloud

and that’s when life change happens indeed.

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[Note: This is a blog post that I wrote in January 2011, within a few days of my Dad’s death. I wrote it because I saw so many examples of well meaning people trying to offer words of encouragement or sympathy, but many just didn’t feel meaningful. It reminded me of how bad I am in these situations, and I wanted to learn something from this experience. I wrote this post so that I would get better at empathy and offering empathetic words. I purposely didn’t post it anywhere at that time, I’m sharing it now 2 years after Dad’s death. ]

This is a tough post to write. I worry that no matter how I word it, it will sound ungrateful and arrogant.

I’m not speaking to this topic from a position of righteousness. I have made mistakes in this area consistently over the years. I either say too much, too little, or say the wrong thing. I’m writing down these thoughts as much for myself as for anyone, hoping that I can learn to do this better in the future.
Before reading more, please know that I realize that none of those who make the mistakes below do so with ill intent. I believe they had the best of intentions, but … like me … they don’t know how to navigate an awkward and painful situation. I am truly grateful for ALL the support I have received over the past week.

I write this down while it is fresh in my mind, so that I can improve my empathy in the future. Maybe you’ll find something useful here, maybe not.

Someone you know has just experienced a significant loss. Death of a parent, death of a spouse, death of a child… Inevitably, you will find yourself face to face (or on the phone) with this person while the pain is still fresh. It feels awkward, it feels as though the situation demands that you say something profound, something comforting, something worthy of the relationship you have with this person.

Here’s how not to do it:

The insincere approach:

“Sorry to hear about your loss…… [awkward pause] …. Are you still going to be able to help us organize the xyz event this Saturday?”


“Sorry to hear about your loss…… [awkward pause] …. Can you believe how well the Blazers are playing?”

The competitive approach:

“Sorry to hear about your loss…. I know how you feel. I went through the same thing, but it was complicated by the fact that…. [etc, etc, etc… a description of their experience which was clearly (in their mind) much tougher than yours].

The lecturer:
“I heard about your loss. It’s just something we all must go through. It’s part of life. It will take some time, and there will be tough moments, but you’ll just have to work through it. It’s hard. You will find yourself seeing him/her here or there, but over time, it will get better. We’ve all been though it. That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

Mr. Fix it (similar, but subtly different than the lecturer):
“Have you considered meeting with your small group, and sharing your thoughts in an open and transparent manner? You really shouldn’t become an island at a time like this, you know. You should read xzy author’s book on grief, it really helped me. You should talk with Pete, he went through something like this last year. You should… ”

The hand-off:
“If there is anything we can do, you just let us know….” A couple of problems with this. First is that it transfers responsibility to the griever to do something, they must not only reach out and ask for help, they need to come up with ideas on what is most helpful, and weigh whether what they are asking for is ‘asking too much’. Secondly, in most cases it just doesn’t sound sincere. It is said casually, as if it is culturally expected that you offer to do something, but not something specific.

Suggestion: Leave out the ‘if there is anything we can do….” part altogether. Better, offer something specific. Such as: “we would love to bring a meal this week if that would be helpful….I’ll touch base in a day or so to set it up.” or “I am available to you to listen when you are ready. I’d love to hear more about your memories, and how you are feeling about all this when the time is right. “

The spiritualized:
“You are in my prayers”. Nothing wrong with this, unless you are saying it because it sounds good. If you are a person of faith, promising someone that you will pray for them is a pretty serious commitment. If you aren’t serious about it, this promise sounds somewhat trite.

Doing it better:

As is often the case, more words are not necessarily better. Also, keep in mind that the goal is not to ‘fix’ the situation (as if you had the ability to do so), your goal should be to connect with the person, and provide support and comfort. Or, sometimes your goal is to simply acknowledge their pain and demonstrate that you care about it. This can be done with very few words.

Example of a better way:
“I am so sorry for your loss. I prayed for you when I first heard, and continue to do so. I am available to you to listen when you are ready. I’d love to hear more about your memories, and how you are feeling about all this when the time is right. ”

If you aren’t praying, omit that part. If your relationship with the bereaved is such that 1:1 time spent listening is not something that is appropriate, omit that part. “I am so sorry for your loss” is enough (really). Less is often more.

Listen. Actively listen. If something is shared, ask a few probing questions about it, show that you heard what was shared. Show an interest. Sincere listening does more to communicate caring than any amount of speech-making, advice-giving, story-telling or empty promises. Listen.

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Today’s Recommended Reading List

Compelling articles I found valuable today:  
Donald Miller – Ten Characteristics of a Disciple
I love the notion that you don’t have to wait until you become the exact right person to be a disciple. Note to self: get moving.  

Randy Elrod – Why Creatives Are Fleeing Their Day Jobs In A Search For Meaning
A connection between desire, making progress and creativity?? Wow, that works for me. I’d prefer that he had used examples other than celebrities to illustrate those who have shifted toward a search for real meaning, because celebrities are definitely not my role models. But the point is still taken. Convicting challenge here. Favorite quote: “Let’s not simply SURVIVE, let’s LIVE.”

Michael Hyatt – Five Consequences of a Life Out of Balance
Been there, unfortunately. Far too many of these consequences are familiar. Great list. I challenge the absolute truth of this statement, but won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: “The number of hours you work has almost zero correlation with your effectiveness.” Favorite quote: “You can’t afford a divorce. The cost is incalculable.”

Jon Acuff, Stuff Christians Like: Running into famous Christians. (AKA, the “Michael W. Smith Incident.”)
Jon Acuff is funny. I’m so curious to know how much time he spent writing this post… Wonder if it is really as easy as he makes it look. Favorite quote: “In a few minutes he’s going to start laughing so loud that the pilot is probably going to need to make an announcement asking him to quiet down.”

CIO Article By Meridith Levinson – How to Network: More Tips for Shy People
I was offered a revelation a few years ago, the notion that being an introvert might not be a character flaw or evidence of brain damage. What a concept. I have had people who meet me for the first time, and say to me in that first meeting: “you are pretty quiet today.” Really? Compared to what? From the article and associated book…. “listening is as important as talking when it comes to networking, and introverts tend to be better listeners than the extroverts who run at the mouth” 2 Favorite quotes: “Real networking is about creating meaningful, mutually beneficial connections, one person at a time.” and “Introverts go deep. They like deeper connections and they think [in order] to talk, whereas extroverts talk to think,”

Photo Copyright © 2010, Jon McDermott
Location: Laurel, OR

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It took me a while to warm up to Twitter. Like many people, I worry about the temptation to use it as daily nutrition to feed the appetite of narcissism. I was absolutely stunned by the power of these paragraphs, written by John Piper in his blog post titled “Why and How I Am Tweeting”.

Now what about Twitter? I find Twitter to be a kind of taunt: “Okay, truth-lover, see what you can do with 140 characters! You say your mission is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things! Well, this is one of those ‘all things.’ Can you magnify Christ with this thimble-full of letters?”
To which I respond:

The sovereign Lord of the earth and sky
Puts camels through a needle’s eye.
And if his wisdom see it mete,
He will put worlds inside a tweet.

So I am not inclined to tweet that at 10AM the cat pulled the curtains down. But it might remind me that the Lion of Judah will roll up the heavens like a garment, and blow out the sun like a candle, because he just turned the light on. That tweet might distract someone from pornography and make them look up.

Photo Copyright © 2009, Jon McDermott
Location: Newberg, OR

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Choose to be in touch…

Randy Alcorn posted this on his Facebook page today. Brilliant. I can’t add anything to it…

My heart and character won’t change until my daily habits change. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Col. 3:16 Holy habits such as meditation, prayer, and church should be determined commitments. Our choices show what we value most. TV, internet, or God’s Word? A fruit of the Spirit is self-control. We already know what the world thinks—do we need to hear more? Choose to be in touch with the mind of God.

Photo Copyright © 2009, Jon McDermott
Location: Lopez Island, WA

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Lyrics – Part 2

This is the 2nd installment in my argument that contemporary Christian music, like hymns, can contain some serious theology. This one is from the song “So Long Self” by MercyMe (Coming Up To Breathe Album).

Believe it or not but life is not apparently
about me anyways…
But I have met the One who really is worthy
So let me say

So long, self
Well it’s been fun, but I have found somebody else
So long self
There’s just no room for two
So you are gonna have to move
So long self
Don’t take this wrong but you are wrong for me farewell
Oh well, Goodbye, don’t cry
So Long Self

I love this phrase: “believe it or not but life is not apparently about me anyways…”. What if I had learned that when I was 20 years old? I also like the quirky way the phrase is put together (for some reason).

Life is not about me anyways. This is on the short list of ‘things I hope I know now, and wish I had known when I was young’.

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Lryics – Part 1

I’ve heard more than one person say that the old hymns contain some serious doctrine if you listen to them closely. I can’t and won’t argue with this. I have noticed recently, however, that some contemporary Christian music also contains some profound messages, assuming you are willing to listen closely.

Case in point: “Lose My Soul” by tobyMac (portable sounds album). What makes this song even more amazing is that it is what we in the over 45 crowd would call “Rap Music”. Normally I can’t turn it off quickly enough, but this song has me hooked.

Anyway, back to my point. “Lose My Soul” has some deep water in it, such as:

Man I wanna tell you all something, Man.
Man I’m not gonna let these material things, get in my way, you all.
I’m trying to get somewhere.
I’m trying to get somewhere,
That’s real and pure and true and eternal.

Amen to that. And another example from the same song:

Lord forgive us when we get consumed by the things of this world,
That fight for our love, and our passion,
As our eyes are open wide and on You.
Grant us the privilege of Your world view,
And may Your kingdom be, what wakes us up, and lays us down.

Grant us the privilege of Your world view. Yes…. please do.

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Ryan on YouTube

A couple of months ago Ryan and the high school group at church performed a drama to the song ‘Everything’, which was performed live by the Christian group Issakar.

Ryan and the whole group did a fantastic job, and there weren’t many dry eyes in the house at the end of the performance. Now the video of their performance is available on YouTube. Thanks to David Fishback for the great video, and for sharing it.



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I was going to blog about Dancing with the Stars, but a meeting at Ryan’s High School last night changed my plans. I attended a presentation by CJ Hitz of MediaTalk101, who talked about the impact of media on your spiritual life. He put into words some things that I have been anxious about for a while. His presentation on media covered a broad range of media influences, not just TV but also music, the internet, blogs, movies, video games, “social media” like Myspace, etc, etc. Some things I wrote down that I thought were particularly impactful thoughts presented by CJ:

What do your media choice indicate about your relationship with Jesus?

He talked about how we often consume media almost constantly, several hours a day. One possible explanation for ‘staying constantly stimulated’ by some form of media is that we are avoiding some real issue on our plate. (if I avoid silence, I can avoid hearing what God might say to me)

Another thing he said really hit home with me. “All media has a message, and the message has an impact on your life.” (it’s not just entertainment)

Finally, he used a great illustration of being in a large, well lit city, and complaining that you can’t see many stars at night. The light ‘distraction’ and ‘pollution’ keeps you from seeing the stars. The stars are overhead in a big city just as they are in a pitch dark canyon in the middle of the country, the only difference is that the environment that you have immersed yourself in is preventing a clear view. He then asked whether the media influences that we consume every day are preventing a clear view of God. Great question.

I’m not preaching, I found these questions very convicting.

Photo courtesy of dailyinvention, used under the Creative Commons License.

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I’m taking a spiritual leadership class at church (2nd time around), and we are studying a great book written by J. Oswald Sanders. Sanders has a great way of packing a truckload of wisdom into a small number of words. He also wastes no words in an attempt to be politically correct. Here’s my favorite example:

The young man of leadership caliber will work while others waste time, study while others snooze, pray while others daydream. Slothful habits are overcome, whether in thought, deed, or dress. The emerging leader eats right, stands tall, and prepares himself to wage spiritual warfare. He will without reluctance undertake the unpleasant task that others avoid or the hidden duty that others evade because it wins no public applause. As the Spirit fills his life, he learns not to shrink from difficult situations or retreat from hard-edged people. He will kindly and courageously administer rebuke when that is called for, or he will exercise the necessary discipline when the interests of the Lord’s work demand it. He will not procrastinate, but will prefer to dispatch with the hardest tasks first.

Spirtual Leadership, Chapter 8, by J. Oswald Sanders

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