How Going To Church Can Mess Up Your Spiritual Life

Important safety tip! Don’t ever do a favor for a friend of a friend.

I was doing that when I met with a young couple in my office one afternoon while I was a pastor. As we sat around a coffee table in some easy chairs they told me they were planning to get married but struggling with some issues.

Second important safety tip! If you’re engaged and struggling in your relationship, stop now. Don’t proceed. It won’t get better after marriage.


Photo Credit: Saint-Petersburg orthodox

Photo Credit: Saint-Petersburg orthodox


Apparently, he’d been cheating on her. They’d resolve the issue but then it would happen again.

Also, he had a wee smidgen of a problem with alcohol.

It was all I could do to keep from yelling to the young woman, “Run!”

Suddenly the young man interjected, “Well, there’s another issue also. I believe we’re commanded to attend church on the Sabbath which is Saturday. She goes on Sunday which is breaking the commandment.”

I replied, “Frankly, I don’t think God cares much when you go.”

He said, “But the commandment says it must be the Sabbath which is Saturday.”

I replied, “But we don’t live under the law anymore so I think God really isn’t all that concerned.”

At that point the conversation veered completely off the core problems and I knew we weren’t going back. So we ended the meeting a few minutes later and I never heard from them again.

I’ve wondered occasionally, did they get married? If so, for how long?


Sometimes I find getting caught up in the legalities of church can actually keep us from spiritual vitality.


Now I’m not advocating not attending. I’m just saying I think sometimes it’s more of a detriment to our spiritual lives than a help.

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What is the One Thing God Requires for All of His Blessings?

When I first entered into a relationship with God my life changed suddenly and dramatically. I found unimaginable peace and joy that I’d been searching for but could never cinch down.

I started attending a church and at first it was fresh and exciting.

But soon life filled up with all the things I was supposed to do to keep God happy and the blessings flowing.


Photo Credit: Chris Lofqvist

Photo Credit: Chris Lofqvist


Of course I needed to attend worship services but not just on Sunday morning. Come on that’s not enough. Sunday and Wednesday evenings also.

Then I needed to join a Sunday School class. Now that’s what a full time college senior is looking for. More class time.

And of course I needed to start tithing which actually wasn’t that difficult. As a full time student I was making like zero. So giving ten percent wasn’t a stretch.

After graduation I went to seminary to learn more and there the demands ramped up.

One of their favorite verses was a Jesus quote, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”*

With that the requirements expanded exponentially. They were open ended so there was no end to them.

Eventually I bogged down in all the legalism. I felt like I was drowning. And I slumped into depression.


What started out so beautiful had drifted into a nightmare.


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When Religion Keeps You From a Relationship With God

Our son Drew, who was twelve, headed down for breakfast in an elevator ahead of us from our fifteenth floor room.

A few minutes later when we arrived at the hotel restaurant we couldn’t find him. After hunting around a twinge of panic set in.

We were in Israel on a family trip visiting the Holy Land sites. Not the place you want your child to come up missing.


Photo Credit: Beverly Vealach

Photo Credit: Beverly Vealach


I said to Jennifer, “Where could he possibly be?”

She answered astutely since she’d been with me, “And how would I know?”

So we diligently searched the restaurant and lobby.

As we passed the elevators a door opened and Drew stepped out.

We said, “Where have you been?”

He answered, “Well someone pushed all the buttons on the elevator because it stopped at every floor.” Of course, spoken like a true twelve year old who if given the chance would have done exactly that.

We laughed relieved, “No today is the Sabbath and you got on the Sabbath elevator.”

You see, some rabbi in his infinite wisdom determined after diligent study that pushing buttons on an elevator is work. So the Sabbath elevator stops at every floor so a person can follow their religion and still get around the hotel.

Uh yeah, I think that’s pretty important to God.


Jesus encountered similar religious condemnation.


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When You’re Tired of the Rat-race and Simply Want Happiness

We spent last week in Monterey, California at “Car Week”. A gentleman I was chatting with described it as, “Adult Disneyland for car addicts.” I love that. And yes, I stand convicted.

A week of non-stop car activities all over the Monterey Peninsula.


busy woman


On Thursday morning, standing on Ocean Avenue in Carmel, I talked with the owner of a rare mid-thirties Austro Daimler. He was showing his car on Sunday in the prestigious Pebble Beach Concourse d’ELegance. He enthusiastically told me the life story of his treasure and how he had lovingly restored it.

On Friday afternoon in Pacific Grove I chatted with owners of less expensive cars yet ones just as meticulously cared for.

Then at the hotel on Saturday evening, as a group sat on the front porch, I talked with a man who was visiting in his Ferrari. He spoke of his Aston Martin at home and Lamborgini on order. He seemed neither to know much about any of them or ever to have personally worked on them. It seemed simply like a never ending attempt to fill up some restlessness.

For others that restlessness may take the form of incessant shopping. Or frenetically pursuing a career. Or obsession in the gym with trying to retain the last vestiges of youth. Nope, not much hope there.

And frankly, just because I can get on top of it, doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes find myself insidiously slipping back into that endless pursuit.


Yet, the problem is? It’s never enough is it? I mean that darn happiness stays just out of reach.


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Sunday Music: “Mighty to Save” by Michael W. Smith

What a wonderful encouragement that Jesus truly has all power to work the miraculous no matter what we face.

I hope you just take a few moments to listen and rest in the words of the song.

Blessings this Sunday.



Do you have a favorite music video?

Please share it on Facebook, Twitter or email me.

Finding God When You’re Burned Out on Religion

I’ve stopped going to church regularly, again. Oh, I go on Easter and Christmas. Just enough to drive the regulars crazy.


Photo Credit: Theodore C

Photo Credit: Theodore C


A few years ago we attended a church that catastrophically imploded. Having been a pastor I was so incensed I just couldn’t go back.

Fast forward four years and we tentatively stuck our toes into the shallow end again.

We attended a popular church semi-regularly. It’s the hip go-to church in our community. Their worship was well done and the preachers were good.

On a few occasions I’d winch as they seemed to drift off into legalism or minimize God’s miracle working power. But for the most part I could pass over that.

Then one Sunday the pastor spoke on the promise of how God will work all things together for good in our lives.

I thought, “Great. Here’s something we can fully agree on.”

Then they showed a video interview of a young woman in her early forties. She told how she continually prayed to get married yet God never answered. And how she was so disappointed and couldn’t understand why.

Then she said, “But God was using it for good. He was preparing me for something much worse. Because now I have cancer.”

Then the pastor explained how she’d passed away a couple of weeks earlier.

Frankly, it took all of my will power and glancing over at my wife to not stand up and scream, “Noooooooo! That’s heresy!”


We never went back.


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Is it Time to Stop Struggling and Start Enjoying the Amazing Life?

Jennifer and I were both raised as dog people yet have five and a half cats. Yes, five that are ours and PJ is a stray that still isn’t sure.


Photo Credit: freeparking

Photo Credit: freeparking


See we live in the country so strays pass through regularly. Most are young so aren’t completely feral but aren’t all that sure about someone else being in charge.

I mean they’re country cats. They’re free to roam, eat what they want, sleep when and with whom they want. Life is good. They don’t need some master telling them what to do. I mean why in the world would they want that?

Of course there is the little problem of the pit bulls next door. And then the coyotes looking for a tasty kitty dinner.

Also mice get scarce in the winter.


And when it rains, ugh. It would sure be nice to have a warm bed.


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Sunday Music: “I Am” by Mark Schultz

What a beautiful song and glorious photography to remind us of God’s unlimited power and love.

I hope it encourages you this Sunday.



Do you have a favorite music video?

Please share it on Facebook, Twitter or email me.

What About a Cure for Bone Tired Exhaustion?

I’m tired. I mean some Mondays I need to get to Tuesday just to recover from the weekend.

Occasionally I just want to be one of our cats.

Our daughter took one of her cats to the vet to see if he was sick and the vet asked, “Is he lethargic?”

Our daughter answered, “So how can you tell?”


Photo Credit: Ryan

Photo Credit: Ryan


Now that’s a goal.

We’ve been trying to have dinner with two close friends for a couple of months. Between our crazy schedule and theirs it hasn’t worked. Even when we got things planned she had to cancel first to help their daughter move and then to help an elderly aunt.

She emailed us the last time, “I feel like a peanut butter sandwich, just squished.”

I think we can all relate.

Then add to that the incessant running some do because they just don’t want to stop and think about life particularly their own.

Then what about all the things we have to worry about? I mean it never seems to end does it? Our job, family, health, finances. And just when we get one challenge worked out it seems two more pop up.


No wonder we feel exhausted.


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How to Truly Know Who God Really Is

If you want some interesting theories about God ask that question at a cocktail party after everyone’s had a few drinks. And no I never do.

But I have the topic come up in conversation not that infrequently.


Photo Credit: Melvin E

Photo Credit: Melvin E


Often, as we all do, I’m asked, “So what do you do for a living?”

I’ll tell them.

Then they ask, “So how long have you been doing this?”

I answer. They look at me doing the math.

Then ask, “So what did you do before?”

When I answer, “I pastored a church”, it starts. Inevitably they respond, “Well, you know, I have my own theories about God.”

I feign surprise, “Oh really?”

And off we go.

Often it’s a mixture of various religious teachings. They include the parts they like and leave out the ones that are inconvenient.

I find often it comes off as some doting fragile grandfather. Or as something so ethereal that I wouldn’t be able to recognize him if he was the one over in the corner having scotch on the rocks.

I thank them for their revelational insights and quickly excuse myself to refresh my drink.

But it also reminds me of when I was exactly the same.


And how impossible it was to know who God really is in my own power.


I mean how can we?

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