Motivated by Love


John 14:15 says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Okay- now what? Should I learn every law in the Bible, write them down, paste it up on my wall and make sure I do my best to follow them every day?

  • Sometimes the focus will become lack of obedience, leading to a negative outcome.

-You may look at that list and think well I didn’t do this, this, this or that today and be left in a state of guilt and despair.

-Next, you may think well I can do better and push yourself into obedience out of obligation. You may wind up having an obligation to obey the law based on some notion that your obedience will justify blessings. Obedience to justify the blessings of God doesn’t seem like it would be pleasing to Him.

  • The way I see it- the cross has already justified my blessing.

Ultimately- God’s desire is to pour out his blessing on you, and the desire is based on nothing you do but out of unwavering love for you. We are only able to live in the fullness of God’s blessing by embracing a journey of recognizing His love for us. You might look at it as a journey of full-on acceptance of grace.

Elyse Fitzpatrick writes, “the plain truth is that my love for God (and hence, my obedience) will grow as I cultivate my comprehension of his vast love for me. If we neglect this key by focusing too narrowly on ourselves, our success or failure, then we’ll become mired down in guilt or pride, neither of which will stimulate loving obedience.”

It’s not that I think I can do whatever I want because I am already covered by grace. This is true to some extent- I am covered; my past, present and future sins were bought at the price of the cross. But if I were to do whatever I wanted and essentially live in sin that would cheapen the cross. My recognition of God’s love for me brings me into the greatest love story of all time, therefore motivating me to obey. I am not out to obey because of fear, guilt, or a mindset that my obedience will somehow bless me. Of course, I will continue to struggle- because my love is imperfect.

  • My love is weak and wavering

I am only capable of a dim understanding of the love displayed by Jesus on the cross. I am still vulnerable to Satan’s lies and I will be until the day I die. It is only at the moment of entrance into the heavenly presence of God that we are perfected for all time. But God, who goes beyond all of that- all of my mistakes and persona’s, God who knows my innermost thoughts looks at me with perfection and calls me His beloved. “He patiently and gently draws us back into His loving arms and reassures us of His overwhelming compassion, mercy, and grace.” –Fitzpatrick.

When I recognize the depth of my depravity and realize my complete inability to do anything on my own; I don’t feel guilt or failure anymore. But I am able to look at my Savior with such awe because he chose someone like me to be broken, to be a little lost for a while but then be rescued. He redeemed me. The blessings in my life leave me in awe of the obedience of Christ on the cross and motivate me to pursue God out of love.

“If we intently focus on how we’ve been loved, irrevocably, eternally, freely, and without merit, if we contemplate how our obedience (or lack of it) doesn’t faze his love one whit, then we’ll find within our hearts a growing desire to obey. Why? Because love like that changes people.” –Fitzpatrick

Thank you for reading, Laura Ragland

If you’d like to continue the conversation post in the comments or tweet me here, you can also find me on my site Confessions of an everyday, ordinary sinner.

Find Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book Comforts from the Cross on Amazon.

What To Do Next Time You’re Wronged


Creative Commons via Dustin and Jenae

We’ve all been wronged, sometimes by people close to us, people we work with, and by strangers. What is our initial response? Surprise, hurt, thoughts (or actions) of vengeance. I know I do. How about instead, we take these 5 steps:

  1. Forgive them
  2. Take them out to dinner
  3. Apologize for your wrongs
  4. Consider ways you’ve neglected them
  5. Ask how you can help

Consider September 11th. Instead of war (which I was in favor of at the time, hooray patriotism), what if George W. Bush had personally flown over to the Middle East and tried to have dinner with Osama. He then proceeded to apologize, on behalf of the American people, for turning a blind eye to the suffering and conflict in their countries, and offer aid. Then the American people volunteered in droves to fly over and provide assistance to the Afghani, Iraqi, and Irani people (they shall beat their swords in to plowshares… nation shall not lift up swords against nation… neither shall they learn war anymore – Isaiah 2:3-5). They would give food, help with farming, provide training and education, medical care, and all the while saying, “I’m sorry it took me so long to do this”.

How would that have changed the past 10 years? If we continue to answer violence with more violence, there is no end in sight. Martin Luther King, Jr saw this in the 60s, and organized a non-violent movement, saying “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that”. Ghandi did the same in India, gaining independence from Britain where years of revolts had not. At the beginning there was Jesus, speaking radical, life-altering words.

  • Forgive them not just 7 times, but 70 times 7! (Matthew 18:21-22)
  • If someone wrongs you, turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-39)
  • If someone asks for your shirt, do this and give them your jacket as well (Matthew 5:40-42)
  • Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-45)

I am not saying that doing any of this condones injustice or violence, quite the opposite. We should actively seek to end them! But not through more guns, bombs, and soldiers. We should fight through love, sacrifice, and courage. To stand up to the oppressor and fight with weapons they know nothing about takes courage that only God can provide. Could we die? Perhaps, but soldiers die every day (God rest them), gun in hand. Matthew 7:1-2 says that judgement is not ours, but belongs to God. When we go to war, even in “God’s name”, we are attempting to secure a peace that we do not believe God can or has already secured for us.

How does this change all of the conflicts, wars, and tension in relationships? What does this mean for Kony? I’m still learning about the situation that has helped form the man that is wreaking havoc in his country, and cannot speak knowledgeably about it. But is military action the answer? I can’t find anything in the Gospels that says violence begets violence. The enduring message is love, love, love.

This is not simply a essay on war, because there are pressing issues in our own homes, communities, and work places. What if you did this next time you were in conflict with another person?  When someone cheats you, insults you, harms you, what if you took the radical step of forgiveness? Not only that, but turned the other cheek, or bought them lunch? That is the really crazy part! Sure forgiveness, fine. But to actively seek them out and improve the relationship? Often our response is to cling to our hurt, and allow that to seep its way in to our soul.

Christians do this, even after verbally forgiving a person, will neglect them and not be a part of relationship healing. We will not let go of our hurt, because it gives us a reason to ignore them. By the way, I am not any better at this than anyone else. I hold grudges, I ignore people, I was for the war in the Middle East, and seek my own comfort first.

But this is not what we’re called to do. We are called to love, forgive, and seek wholeness each day. It is not through our own actions that this is accomplished, but by our openness to having God work in and through us. I woke up this morning with this topic on my mind. I don’t take credit for the essay, God placed it on my heart. I’m stopping here because I feel like everything he wanted me to say has been said, and I don’t need to dress it up anymore with my own words, SEO search terms, or minimum word counts. God’s going to do what God’s going to do. I am a cup that has been filled, and poured out.

What do you think about all of this? Sounds crazy, right? It is. But so is the rest of the Gospel. Let’s talk about it.

We Are All Being Used


Today, you will be used. It may be in ways that are productive and healthy, or ways that are destructive to ourselves and others. We are used by family, friends, co-workers, people on the street, and over the internet. This is not entirely good or bad news, it is how the world works!

We are used in relationships to help affirm, love, and challenge each other. We can also be used as a crutch, or use others as a dominating and controlling presence that feeds off a spouse, children, or friends. We are being used at our jobs, to create revenue, and hopefully to enrich the lives of customers.

God uses people too. The bible is full of stories about how people were used to glorify him. I think that most people feel that God only uses good people, those who have it all together or don’t have any major blemishes in their past. For the past several decades, the loudest voices in Christianity have perpetuated a story that says you have to be good enough, you can’t make mistakes, and God only wants you at your best. If you’re not, we’ll still take you, but we don’t want to talk about it.

People who have been turned off by Christians feel that God can’t use them, and this is simply not the case. The are many people in the bible who had a checkered past, and even made gigantic mistakes as followers of God! We are all broken, and I’m sorry that the current view of Christianity is the belief that we have it all together (or feel we do). No, we don’t, and we continue to live broken lives. We just believe we have found the answer that is bigger than ourselves.

Returning to the bible characters who were messed up. It has always struck me as amazing to read about the kind of screw-ups that God used. I mean, if he was running ads for people in the classifieds, the righteous people of the age would not have applied. Well, that got me to thinking, “What would that look like?”

Here is a series of ads that may have been run by God.

The Conversion of Saul - Acts 9

Peter denies Jesus - Luke 22:54-62

David & Bathsheba - 2 Samuel 11

The Calling of Moses - Exodus 2-4

As you can see, God is waiting to use us for his glory, which in turn will make our own lives more fulfilling and rich. I think that God uses our brokenness and mistakes to allow his light to shine brighter through us. When we have filled up our lives with our own stuff and good deeds, when we are handling everything, “Thanks God, but I’ve got this life thing under control”, he will go find someone else. He doesn’t need much, he is God after all.

Whether you are a Christian or not, how do you feel you are being used? A more reflective question is, how do you use others? It is not simply a question of faith, but of how we interact with people on a daily basis. I would love to hear what you think! Especially if you are not a Christian, or have a different faith, what does the sacred text say about what kind of people God(s) uses?

Have a great day being used.

22 People Who Are Better Than Me (in a good way!)


Today I got down to thinking about what I really want to write about, and more specifically, where I would want the process to take me. I would love to be able to travel, wrote about nature, the outdoors, make short films, coach football, help those in need, go on mission trips, and work with kids. That’s all (sarcastic/hopeful tone).

Then I considered what I’ve been writing about, and my content didn’t match my hope that well. Since I’m starting out as a writer, I do believe it’s best to keep writing, and focus your voice and content as you get better. At least that’s what I’m going for right now. I have been writing a lot about writing and the creative process, and honestly it’s been easy to use that as a topic because it’s a daily part of my life. I’m basically re-packaging my own struggles and sharing them with you. Hopefully though, it helps in a small way.

One of the main challenges I face is the realization that there are so many people and services out right now who are doing what I want to do, and doing it really, really well. I’m becoming less intimidated by them, because I know that I can do great work as well. The challenge is taking the chance and putting forth the years of work necessary to get to where they are now. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are social platforms or the permission to impact people in a busy world. I don’t know how to write great code, use sophisticated SEO tactics, or create beautiful designs. I tell stories.

Presently though, here are a list of people and sites that I read daily, or will read, watch, or listen to anything they release. I haven’t included any company sites or blogs, they’re in a different category than these 22 run by an individual or small team. They certainly have a voice in the work that I produce, and I hope you enjoy them as well!

Outdoors

Adventure Journal – Steve Casmiro (former editor of Cycling magazine and top-notch photographer) has built the premier site for all things outdoor. News, advocacy, links, photography, gear, food, they have it all. This is the main outdoor site I visit daily, the content is rich and worthwhile. I would visit simply to drool over the Weekend Cabin (which you should as well). It was also just named Outside Magazine’s #1 Outdoor site.

Check out these posts to get started:

Cold Splinters – Jeff Thrope has made the outdoors feel all 1970’s again, and I love it. The site in itself is beautifully designed and vintage, the photography syncs perfectly with the site with vintage filters, and he writes very well. Cold Splinters is where I can feel like an outdoors hipster. It’s a general outdoor site, but the Trail Mix posts are very enjoyable, along with any of the well-written posts about doing work with your hands.

Check out these posts to get started:

Semi-Rad – I really enjoy Brendan Leonard’s blog, because he is a regular guy trying to live the dream. Also, he shows up and delivers to his tribe, consistency is king! My favorite part of his blog is the About Me.

Check out these posts to get started:

Dirtbag Diaries – This is really more of a podcast, and maybe the best outdoor life podcast going today. The stories take center stage, tales of adventure and brokenness that mirror our own lives. The Diaries popularity is also helped by the music that Fitz puts together for each episode, then make available in the notes.

Check out these posts to get started:

The Gear Junkie – Stephen Regenold has put together one of the best outdoor gear review sites, and my personal favorite. If you’re like me and want to low-down on every piece of outdoor gear you purchase, the Gear Junkie is a great place to look. He’s also active on twitter, and has responded directly to a few of my gear inquiries.

Check out these posts to get started:

Sports

Smart Football – Chris Brown is a lawyer turned football analyst, and his acumen for breaking down plays, techniques, and game plans is undeniable. If I’m following twitter during a game, Smart Football is definitely on the list. I’m also convinced that a smart person with average football knowledge could turn themselves in to a decent high school football coach simply by reading Smart Football.

Check out these posts to get started:

Only Gators – I graduated from Florida, and Adam Silverstein runs the best insider blog on the interwebs right now. I’ll check in with OG on a regular basis to see what’s been happening, and daily during football season. No links to read, if you’re a Gator fan just go ahead and start following.

Dr. Saturday – This is a stretch, since Dr Saturday is the Yahoo Sports College Football blog, thus not independent. But it is the most consistent, well-written source of news and updates in college football. The previous head guy, Matt Hinton, has recently left the building, replaced by the new head lady, Graham Watson. Looking forward to the new season.

Writing, Creativity, and Business

Jeff Goins – I’ve written about Jeff a few times, mainly here. He’s actually probably getting tired of it. Jeff consistently turns out great content and advice for writers, no matter what stage of the craft you’re in. Begin reading and you won’t be disappointed.

Check out these posts to get started:

Michael Hyatt – Michael is the Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, but on his blog he focuses on the topic of Intentional Leadership. He writes about other topics, but that is the main focus. I really appreciate the honesty Michael communicates with, and his willingness to share knowledge gleaned from many years in the writing business.

Check out these posts to get started:

Seth Godin – Seth is the first author I read who challenged me to think about how I worked. I am continually inspired by his work, and at the root of my amazement is his consistency! In 2009 he wrote his 3,000 daily post in a row, affirming his commitment to spreading ideas and new ways of thinking. He’s also a master at taking an idea or thought that is on the tip of your tongue, and giving it life. Check him out.

Check out these posts to get started:

Daniel Pink – Dan’s site is extremely interesting, and I’ve mentioned some of his work before. The Pomodoro technique came from Dan’s site, and his book A Whole New Mind was very important for me, especially just after graduating college. You can find a wealth of analytical information, presented in a fascinating manner, along with many other topics. One of my favorite running features is emotionally intelligent signage. Give him a look.

Check out these posts to get started:

Garr Reynolds – I read Garr’s book Presentation Zen 4 years ago, and it made me think differently about the way I speak in front of people, communicate information, and design everything. You wouldn’t think of the design and layout of power point presentations as art, but then you haven’t seen Garr’s slide decks. It changed everything for me in those areas. The design aspect spilled over in to other areas of life as well, to websites, my office, home, and really everything.

Check out these posts to get started:

Corbett Barr – Corbett runs ThinkTraffic.com, arguably the best site for bloggers looking to generate more traffic and income. It’s the only site of its kind that is currently in my rss reader, because it’s so detailed and extensive. Corbett has experience with several other successful blogs and websites, which you can find out more about by visiting his personal site.

Check out these posts to get started (on ThinkTraffic):

Christian Spirituality

Donald Miller – Donald is the author of several books, most notably Blue Like Jazz. Another important book in my life, it challenged me in my Christian faith and caused me to think about what my faith really meant to me. He is very human-story focused right now, his latest book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years covering the subject of the creative process, and being able to tell one’s story. All of this is done against the backdrop of what God has done for us and the life he’s called us to live.

Check out these posts to get started:

Richard Rohr – I almost didn’t put Fr. Rohr here, he can be so controversial. But he has also pointed me down the path of worrying about myself less (and one day not at all), helping the poor & needy, not seeking fame, and being able to embrace both my strengths and weaknesses. He’s also been significant in his writing on male development and rites of passage in the modern world, a topic that is very important in my work with young men.

Check out these posts to get started:

Ryan Taylor – Man, I really like Ryan. Never met the guy, but no worries. Ryan is the Director of Access Denver, plays basketball, and writes a solid blog. He is another leader who is challenging others to look around and see the suffering in our neighborhoods, and be the hands of God in creating change. I’ve written about him a bit more here.

Check out these posts to get started:

General Interest & Fun

The Art of Manliness – Yes, they have fun posts like How to Make a Survival ShotgunThey have informative posts like How to Carve a TurkeyThey also assemble great lists like 100 Must-Read Books: The Man’s Essential Library. But what really made me a full-fledged believer in the AoM was Brett & Sarah McKay’s research and writing about male development and being a man. Not an ultra-masculine no-nonsense man, or a soft, passive man. A Man; forged out of the experience of those before him, ready to do hard things, think of others’ before self, stand up for what’s right, and be a contributor to his community. Love it.

To get started, click on the articles above.

The Oatmeal – My interest in goofy internet comics really peaked during college, and since then I don’t go searching for such hilarity often. The Oatmeal though, really came to me. I saw the Dear Sriracha comic at Sunny Pointe Cafe, and liked it so much that I hunted down the site. Matt Inman does a wonderful job fusing humor, common sense, plain-as-day irony, and grammar checks in to his brand. Go over there and have a laugh. *FYI, not all comics are squeaky-clean, though the ones I linked are fine. 

Check out these posts to get started:

Zen Habits – Leo Babauta has curated one of the most popular blogs on the internet, and one of the most interesting. I’ve only been reading it for a couple weeks myself, but I’m blown away, definitely one that I can read for an hour and not realize it. Highly recommended.

Instead of linking a few articles, Leo has made it easy for us by creating a Start Here page.

The Minimalists – My friend Bryce told me about this site, as I was telling him about my feelings towards having fewer possessions. “You need to read what these guys are writing” he told me. So I did, and stayed up most of the night reading through their entire 21 Day Journey in to Minimalism page. It lit a fire under me, gave some substance to the conversations my wife and I had been having. Within a week, I had given away boxes of clothes, packed up extra household and kitchen products, and put the TV in the attic. I haven’t missed any of those things, because I am more than my possessions.

Check out these posts to get started:

Tim Ferriss – I have a love/hate relationship with Tim Ferriss’ writing and self-promotion. Mainly, I think he comes off as self-promoting and arrogant. I also think he is quite interesting and has many good things to say about creative ways to live and work. I can respect that. I mainly respect the effort and practice that he puts in to his craft of writing, and his personal blog. The blog is a smorgasbord of topics, enjoy picking through them.

Check out these posts to get started:

Wow, that took much longer than I had planned. When I said “today” at the beginning of the post, it was Monday. I’m publishing on Friday. I went through many temptations to cut the list, not include Get Started links, and leave out the descriptions. In other words, obey the path of least resistance. I’m glad I didn’t, and hope you agree.

Finally, this is simply my list, and it won’t be the last. People are doing incredible, creative work, and I would love to hear about the writers, bloggers, and creatives that inspire you. Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Never Alone


via buaiansayapanomali

I’ve talked about running a couple of times, it has been on my mind a lot as I prepare for the Black Mountain Marathon. It has been no coincidence that I have been thinking about running because I have had a lot of time to think while running. Especially yesterday.

Yesterday was my big run day, and I ended up going 22 miles. It was cold, windy, and snowing, but with enough functional layers on, I hit the trail. The first 10 I ran with my wife and dog, but then they departed and I went back out by my lonesome. I’ve been out on this particular trail enough that finding my way isn’t an issue, and can be alone in my thoughts. I expected to see more people on the trail, since it’s the actual race route, and 2 weeks pre-race is a fairly standard gauge for the big training run. But that wasn’t the case. I saw a total of 5 people in the next 3 hours, none going the same way as me, and went 2 hours alone, in the snow. I enjoyed the time running through the snow (1-3 inches) and the sound of it falling. This winter in Western NC has been very mild, with very little snowfall. In fact, my house is only 10 miles from the trailhead I started on, and had no accumulation. Of course, there is a difference of nearly 2000 vertical feet between home and where I was on the trail, and that made all the difference. I wasn’t carrying much on this run, so no pictures this time.

Now, I did bring an iPod nano with me, the first time I’ve done that on a long trail run. My thought was that when my mind starts to wander in a negative sense, I could pop in some soothing music and reel myself back in. That’s right, soothing. A 22 mile training run is no place for classic rock or rap, or really anything fast-paced. If I get amped up for 5 minutes, who cares? Only 205 minutes remaining! So I’ll listen to pretty chill music. Lots of instrumental music, Mat Kearney, Explosions in the Sky, Indelible Grace, and Mumford (the slower stuff, ala Timshel).

As I was making my way back, I thought about how I had just run a 2 hour section and hadn’t seen anyone. The weather was cold, the landscape white, and I felt very alone. The thought didn’t really bother me, but I dwelt on it. Within 15 seconds, the next song began to play. It was instrumental, with strings, then a faint humming. The hum grew to a chant, and I stopped. I knew this song, but hadn’t heard it in a while. What was it? The name of the song hit me, and I smiled, amused. It was God’s Theme, from Evan Almighty (give it a listen here). I’ve progressed enough in my faith to believe that God speaks and works through anything he well pleases. As Richard Rohr would say, “everything belongs”. That quote on your bag of tea? Yep. The idea in Fight Club that you are not your possessions? Yep. Cleaning a Haitian’s Sunday shoes? Yep. Hearing a song called God’s Theme after thinking to yourself “I’m all alone”? Yes sir.

via Mark Ragland

I couldn’t run for a couple minutes; just walked along and smiled at the frozen trees and grey sky. I felt God around me, and while the logical argument could be made that my feeling was a combination of the playlist, fatigue, and mysticism, you know what? Everything belongs.

I continued to run, and thought about how God is always with us, when we feel surrounded by love or totally alone. You are never at a point low enough that God will not continue to reach out and plea for you to embrace him. Now, the even more terrifying reality is that he is with us in our wickedest thoughts and actions as well. We may fool ourselves in to thinking that no one knows what we have done or are trying to cover up, but God does. I’m not saying this to paint God as the world’s greatest detective, who’s gonna git ya’. I’m saying to emphasize that we cannot run from him, or hide our past. But even in that terrifying presence, remains mercy. He knows, and so we do not have to pretend. He knows, and has paid for all of it. It is done and finished. You can be free from your own guilt, because our guilt will be the only thing holding us back.

I bet you didn’t expect for a post that started out describing a wintry run to culminate with the promise of God’s mercy, and to be honest neither did I. We never fully know where a day or story will take us. But, I hope you now realize that…

Everything belongs.

(also, the playlist was on shuffle)

5 Christian Writers Who Aren’t Famous, But Worth Reading


A couple weeks ago I posted a list of 5 Christian writers who were breaking the mold of what was expected. Thing is, those guys were pretty famous already. So I wanted to give you a list of writers who are making a difference in their communities, and have thoughts to share on it.

Ryan Taylor – Ryan is the Director of Access Denver, and has great thoughts on the gospel and what it means for us in our daily lives. In his bio, Ryan says what has been driving him the past few years:

In the past few years I’ve been inspired by modern day monastic-like thinkers such as Shane Claiborne who are rethinking the posture and practices of the church in present day culture, seeking to be like Jesus through honest confrontation of injustices, helping the poor and hungry, and doing it all together within Christ centered community.

Check out his blog and work at TallMonasticGuy.typepad.com

Shawn Marler – Shawn is a co-worker of mine, so I’m a little biased. I do believe though that Shawn has a good heart and eye for the scriptures, and is especially good at analyzing the text and being a student of it. Which is good, since he spent the last few year getting his Master’s of Divinity from Erskine. You can read his blog here.

Dave Gardner – Dave is also a friend of mine, and is currently on the 4th month of the World Race. World Race is not a game show or reality TV like The Amazing Race, but it is reality in the freshest sense, because Dave is visiting 11 countries in 11 months, doing God’s work every step of the way. He is a talented writer, interning at Yahoo Sports, writing for various online publications, and even turning down a job out of college in order to follow where God was leading him. Reading his blog of the work God has him doing around the world is inspiring. Follow his journey here.

Mike Todd – I have to admit I haven’t read a ton of Mike’s stuff, but what I have I enjoy. I found him through Ryan’s blog, and have been reading intermittently since then. What really grabbed me was this line in his bio.

What can I say? I have a story like everyone else. After a dozen years on Bay Street wearing a suit, tie and Bostonians, my wife Sue and I sold off, packed up and moved out to North Vancouver. Now the corporate uniform is fleece and hiking shoes. I split my time between Linwood House Ministries, blogging, a little construction work, and hanging out with the whatever – our little faith community where we are trying to figure out what it means to be apprentices of Jesus Christ. We’ve tried being believers, but we’re no longer convinced that’s what He had in mind.

Read more from Mike here.

Rev. Shannon Kershner – Shannon is the pastor of Black Mountain Presbyterian Church, which I have frequented on several occasions. She is a fine teacher of the gospel, and very direct in her sermons. I always feel equally affirmed, questioned, and challenged after hearing her speak the word. Sadly, she doesn’t blog yet, but you can find some of her writings and podcasts here.

Do you have any additional writers or speakers that can be added to this list? I would love to hear about them. Thanks!