Amen or Ouch?

“Say Amen or Say Ouch”

The pastor at our church has a saying that he will use quite often in his sermons:

“Say Amen or say Ouch.”

‘Say Amen” – acknowledge that the conversation that is happening between God and his people in that particular location at that time is good.

It is soul refreshing.

It is strengthening.

It helps you get ready for another week, “Out there.”


“Say Ouch” – acknowledge that the conversation that is happening is challenging you, it is making you realize that you can “do life” better. It’s a realization that what God says through the Bible in that particular place isn’t all peace and comfort. It shows us where we fall short. It shows us where God expects more from us. It challenges us to go “out there” and do better, because while we know we can’t do it perfect, we can do it better. It also acknowledges the grace and forgiveness that comes when we say “ouch” and realize we messed up.

“Say Amen or Say Ouch.”

John 13:34-35 says:
““Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.””

Love one another – say amen or say ouch?

Love one another the way Jesus loves us – say amen or say ouch? Remember, Jesus was known to have dinner with IRS agents and prostitutes.

“Everyone will recognized that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.”

If someone looked at your Facebook wall – would they see the love of Jesus on there?

If someone saw the comments you make on someone’s social media post about police shootings or race/hate crimes or protest marches or refugees seeking to come to America, would they see the love of Jesus?

If someone watched ________________________ that you did, would they see the love of Jesus there? Would they see your love for one another?

Or does “one another” only refer to people in your circle of friends? Or people who speak English as their first language? Or people who are……..

In all of the struggles that this world is going through, we have an opportunity, as the church of Christ, to show love.

How do you think we’re doing?

Yeah, me neither.


When we can’t see…..

When we can’t see……

When we can’t see why bad things happen…..

When we can’t see why bad things happen to good people.
When we don’t want…..

When we don’t want these bad things to happen……

When we don’t want to deal with the pain and grief of these bad things

When we don’t want to wrestle with the why question. Why God?
When we don’t think……

When we don’t think we can handle……

When we get angry at God thinking He must not care because….

When we don’t get it.

When we don’t understand God’s plans and it makes us doubt.

When we want to…..

When we want to scream and holler and throw things…..

When we want to scream at God and say, “God, why don’t you do something?”
And we just hear silence

And more silence.

And the sound of our tear drops is the only noise that breaks the silence.
Until we hear a still, small voice.

“I’m here. I’ve got you. Trust me.”

“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”


Hospitals and Schools and Airports

I find myself fascinated by Hospitals and Schools and Airports.

“That’s really odd,” I can hear you thinking that already. Don’t deny it. 🙂


What do they have in common?

No, it’s not the size of the buildings.

No, it’s not where they are located.

It doesn’t have anything to do with how much money they make.

Or with how many cool toys there are at each one.

Or whether it’s run by the government or run by a private organization.

That’s not what fascinates me.

“Well then, tell us!”

It’s the stories.

Most of them you don’t know.

And they are almost always not nearly as pretty of a story as it looks. And they are always significantly deeper and more varied and complicated than they look.

The “very successful business man” getting on an airplane while carrying his briefcase and talking on his phone (usually too loudly). You can’t see underneath to understand his true story. Maybe he isn’t successful but is trying to look the part. Maybe he’s off to visit another location of his business and eliminate 60 jobs at their plant in California. Maybe he’s…. or maybe he’s going…….

The young mom traveling with two little ones – is she going to visit Grandma? Or Dad? And what has led to this trip?

The family with “similar” looking winter gear on, obviously heading to somewhere with bigger hills than we have to do some winter activities together.

And the doctor walking down the hall at the hospital, she has 7 significantly younger staff (probably residents) following just barely behind her; she’s got a story. A story of good, of sleepless nights wondering if she did “it” right, of successes, of failures. A story of explaining to her kids that she couldn’t do …… Because she had to tend to the needs of someone who……..

The mom being pushed down the hall in a wheelchair holding a new born baby. So much happiness, so much wonder and a good bit of nervousness too. Dad follows behind carrying all of the flowers and balloons while trying to get used to the new name, “Dad.”

The older man with the stooped shoulders trying to navigate how to get to his wife’s hospital room. Worry worn very obviously heavy on his heart.

The elementary school students all full of energy and chaos and questions. What do they take home with them? What stories outside of school impact the way they “do” school?

The middle school students – that awkward phase where you are trying to figure out who you are and what your place in this world is, let alone what place in your school is “your fit.”

You can’t forget the high school students. A conundrum of conflict between the kid that I was and the adult that I think I’m going to be. A time where parents need to work themselves out of a job – and let them grow and think and do for themselves. And that involves pain and struggle and skinned knees and bruised egos and it involves big steps and small steps and closing doors and knocking on new ones.

High School – I’ve heard it said that the only people who like high school are the teachers and staff. I’m not sure that’s true but many of the former high school students I know (present company included) would agree with it.

And then there’s the teachers – Did you know that a math teacher doesn’t really teach math? And a Spanish teacher doesn’t teach Spanish?

That’s right, what they really teach is life. Sure, it’s life through the window of Math, or life through the lens of a foreign language or life through the thoughts and ramblings of Atticus Finch or Shakespeare or Dante. But it’s life they are teaching and the stories they get to see a glimpse of as they do that, it’s an amazing privilege and an awesome experience to see the “lightbulb” go on.

Stories – a multitude of stories. Some happy, some sad. Some strong, some weak. Some simple, some complex. Some wet with tears, some overflowing with laughter.

I look around and I see a whole bunch of people. But even more, I see stories. Everyone has a story. Many of us have many different chapters to our stories.

Most of us aren’t willing to share our stories, and so we keep them stuffed down inside. Sometimes that’s good, other times, if our stories aren’t told, that leads to deeper scars and harder stories.

And each of our stories has something to offer, something to teach, something to encourage others with. But they won’t, if we don’t share them.

That’s why the Facebook page for Humans of New York has over 17 million followers the last time I checked.

17 million – that’s like the entire population of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined.

So share your story. Even if it’s only with one person.

Even if it’s only one chapter of your story. You just might be the boost that that one person needs.


Where are we going?

“Are we there yet?”

Haven’t we all either said that or heard someone else say that. It would probably rank up there pretty high in a poll for the “most annoying thing ever said in a car.”

As I’m beginning this Spiritual Journey, I’ve been doing a good bit of wrestling with the question, “Where are we going? And also the question, “Are we there yet?”

The answer that I’ve come up with can work for both of those questions and can be spelled out in three words:




I don’t know where we are going on this spiritual journey. If my Dad were still here and I could ask him if his ministry went in the direction he thought it would, I know he would say that it hasn’t. There are many things that happened during my dad’s ministry that far exceeded what he originally thought they would when he was back in Seminary.

So, I don’t know where we’re going, and I don’t know when we’ll get there.

I don’t even know if there is a “there” here.

The journey is the goal. The destination is not somewhere to go, the destination is to be on the journey.

I hope you’ll join me.


What is this?

What is this Spiritual Journey? Maybe I should start by telling you what it is not…..

This journey is not:

  • An effort to find my faith. My faith in God remains strong, in many ways it is stronger than it has been. But more on that later.
  • An effort to follow in my father’s footsteps. I greatly respect my Father and in the 53 years that I was able to do this thing called life with him, I was blessed in many ways to be “that” preacher’s kid. However, I am not my father, I am not intending to try to be my father. Instead, I’m attempting to take the blessings and the wisdom that he has shared over the years and tell the stories and share the insights through the lenses of my life, my experiences and the impact of things and people who have influenced my spiritual journey.
  • A recopy of what he wrote, preached and shared during his ministry here. It will be very deeply influenced by his work and will be extensively quoted, but it will be my writings in response to what The Bible and my Dad say and have said.

This journey is:

  • A journey back through the spiritual life and the work of a man who followed Jesus his entire life. Through it I expect to see many things. Some of them that we knew were important. Some of them we didn’t remember them as important then and we probably don’t recall them now. God used his words time and time again and I believe that God will continue to use them.
  • The Pastor at my church has said that God is wanting all of us to ask ourselves what we have to do to make more space and listen to Jesus more. My prayer is that God uses this and the time people spend reading it to open hearts and to allow us to see God – even through tough times. Especially in tough times.  But even more, my prayer is that God uses this in me.  Because I know I need to hear it and live it more.  I suspect we all do.
  • A study of the Bible through the sermons of Howard Vanderwell. I will be taking each of his sermons, reviewing them, pondering them and writing about them. I’m not going to attempt to set a goal as to how many I’m going to do a day or anything else like that. Why not? Because this journey isn’t being led by me. This journey is being led by the Holy Spirit, and if I set a goal on how many I’m going to do a day, I’m limiting God. I’m learning not to do that.

How will it come “out”? The plan at this point is that they will show up on and there will be a sign-up form on there soon where you can have them delivered straight to your e-mail and can read them there. Eventually, someday, we hope to be able to publish them as a devotional book or series of devotional books that people can continue read and to live into and learn from God’s word through this effort.

So, if you want to be notified every time a new one gets posted, sign up on the A Spiritual Journey sign up form and that will keep you informed.

I feel a bit like a hiker who is about to head into a beautiful forest. We know it’s beautiful, we know that we will see some amazing and wonderful things. But we also know we might stub our collective toes. We might get lost and wander off the path. We might get chased by a wild pig running loose. But in spite of this, we can move forward because we know:

“I am not my own but belong, body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.” Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 1

I hope you’ll join me on this journey.