Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 October 2017

Can You Spot It?

Do you know it when you see it?  Or hear it?

Ship spotting has been important for centuries. It behooved the captain of a 32-gun frigate to see the 58-gun ship of the line before the larger ship saw him. First detection made it easier to maneuver for attack or for immediate withdrawal. Discretion has often been the better part of valor.

Over the last 100 years, plane spotting has become more important, first with eyes, then with radar. Sound is surprisingly reliable with ears of experience (not a typo). But today, if you hear the sound of an enemy flyer, it may be too late.

In the over-hyped pop culture of today, celebrity spotting is a thing. Yes, there’s an app for that. And a quick look via your favorite search engine will reveal more links for finding celebs than anything else.

But what about truth spotting? How ya doin with that?

We have more facts, opinions, information, data, interpretations, theories, polls, studies, partial truths, omitted facts, skewed context, blithering noise, and emotional appeals than ever before. Spotting a lie can be tough.

A scary segment on tonight’s PBS Newshour (it is Halloween) reported on the staggering number of provocateurs that used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to post inflammatory and divisive content for naive consumption in 2016. Gullibility is nothing new. It’s been around forever. 

Fake news can have effects that range from disturbing to destructive. Today the effects can be more damaging than ever.

Think fake news is scary? Try false teaching. That’s the title of an excellent article by Jen Wilkin. She shines the light on what liars do best: muddling together “a heady cocktail of fact and fiction,” twisting words and context “to prey on fear and desire.” Spotting a liar can be tougher.

In the need-to-feel-good 21st Century, truth spotting can allay fear and pour cold water on desire. But it can also take an uncomfortable, inconvenient amount of effort – especially if the results don’t align with your feelings or what others want to feel. 

An old lesson: it’s still not about your feelings or what proves you’re right. It’s about the truth. The truth is out there. Look for it.  Study it. Develop eyes and ears of experience. 

Wilkin said, “We learn to spot a lie by studying the truth. Both fake news and false teaching bow to this principle.”

She is so right.



Posted by: Don Linnen | 30 September 2017

It’s About Time

In a few days I’ll speak to a group of young and old about planting trees. A few days after that I’ll celebrate the end of another of my decades on planet Earth.

Martin Luther said that even if he knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, he would still plant his apple tree. My presentation next week will stress estate planning, even for those without much of an estate.

Passing forward your accumulated assets is important. They can only go three ways – to people you love, nonprofits you value, or Uncle Sam.

You can choose the ways IF you make a plan and write it down. But it may be more important to pass along your values rather than just your valuables.

Visualize your autobiography. Everyone has a story. Everyone has values. When writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen. (Wish I’d said that first.)

Write your story. You know it like no one else. Put it where someone can find it – in a will, a book, a blog, a letter in your special shoe box, or leave a gift to your favorite nonprofit. A gift in your will to your favorite charity is a tangible statement on what you value.

What time is it? For me, it’s late third quarter, early fourth quarter. But any of us at any age can get the two-minute warning. Then our decision will be to either run a hurry-up offense or run out the clock.

Tell your story, your lessons learned, your memories cherished, your values held before you get that two-minute warning.

Plant your tree. Join the many who plant trees they know will never produce shade for themselves. 

As Frodo mulled over in The Twin Towers, “Every day that passes is a precious day lost.”

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 August 2017

Better Late Than Never

My testimony begins with: “there was a time in my life when I was a self-sufficient skeptic.” Talk of that skeptic will have to come another time. This is about something far worse.

Just how bad can self sufficiency be? Let me count the ways.

Thus begins your fourth dose of Ogilvie for the year.  From his Quiet Moments with God on Monday, the 28th, I paraphrase…

I desire to be adequate – actually beyond adequate – through my own physical and mental prowess. I desire to be admired by people because of my superior performance.

But I’ve FINALLY learned – better late than never – that pride pollutes everything it touches. It keeps me from growing spiritually, creates tension in my relationships, and makes me a difficult husband and a difficult father. It makes me a person difficult for God to bless. It separates me from God.

At last I face my spiritual pride as the root of this fake sense of religious superiority – my belief that my intellect and my strength is all that I really need. (That and going to church every Sunday. Okay. Almost every Sunday.)

It keeps me from humbly admitting my need for God’s power. If I think I can justify myself before God by my good works, I also can imagine I am sufficient for the challenges ahead.

Dear Lord, forgive me for any times I have exalted myself. That includes not just the fist pump, chest beat for the cornhole win in the backyard, but the imagined end-zone dance for the policy win at work. Heal the insecurity in me that prompts me to tout my talents and triumphs rather than exalting You and encouraging others.

Set me free from the bane of self sufficiency and fill my heart with the blessing of Your grace.

It took me a while (a few decades) to get here. That implies I’ve arrived.

I’ve not. But I’m finally getting closer.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 July 2017

Len and Tish

Now about Tish and her story. And someone else who’s affected me, Leonard Sweet.

Len preached at our church one Sunday morning, spoke again that evening, then hung out with a few of us after that. I began following him on Twitter those many years ago – and presumed to call him “Len.”

Len’s a character, a thought provoker, and a storyteller. He admits to a time when he was determined to expose the “nimcompoopery and poppycockery, if not tomfoolery and skullduggery of all religions.” (His words, not mine.) He reaches small groups and large audiences through public speaking, social media, and more than a few books.

Tish is just a storyteller. She quietly does it mouth to ear…usually just her mouth to only a few ears. She doesn’t publish books or post Tweets.

A few months ago some of us spoke with her via Skype. I was struck by her description of where she lives in the Middle East.

She said that when the name of Christ is NEVER spoken, there’s a spiritual darkness that hovers. It’s real and it’s oppressive.

I’ve experienced that sad darkness to some degree in lovely, fun-filled homes in this country. I cannot imagine that feeling across an entire country.

Tish talks about hope, forgiveness, and perseverance with anyone who will listen. She tells stories about Jesus and the good news of the gospel.

Tim Challies gets it right: “The gospel removes shame, it removes fear, and it removes guilt. It restores honor, it restores power, it restores innocence. The gospel speaks to every person in every culture and addresses their every need.”

Last month Len tweeted: “The right story at the right time in your life can change everything and help you move forward through anything.”

The story of forgiveness is a universal one, but it’s not one that’s heard everywhere. Certainly not in many countries around the world. Not even in many American homes where the only approved stories include magic fairies and unicorns.

Tish is telling the right story at the right time. We need more Tishes.

And we need to be more like Tish. It can change everything.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 30 June 2017

Tim and Tish

Tim and Tish. Just two of many who’ve affected me.  Tim’s East Coast; Tish is somewhere in the Middle East. I rarely get to see them, but their words mean the world to me

The Tim is Tim Keller. He’s spoken to me on podcasts and in his books that make me think – and squirm. I follow him on Twitter. He and I have never met.

Tish doesn’t tweet. The day after we met a couple of years ago, she was sitting in the back of our company SUV when Jim and I came upon a checkpoint in a remote, oppressive part of the world. We moved on quickly when the guards waved us through.

We drove away and relaxed until – too late – we realized that Tish was no longer with us. We’d left her behind.

While we were distracted and kept in the vehicle to answer questions, Tish was quietly removed to answer other questions. Her loss was devastating.

This was a security exercise that simulated worse-case scenarios in a country many time zones away. Though just a mock situation in a pretend country with volunteer actors, our neglect was the kind of thing that deeply plants a knot in the pit of your stomach.

The exercise ended. Our recovery of Tish was rapid. My recovery from being negligent was not rapid. It continues. I ask Tish for forgiveness each  time I see her. I’m half kidding. But only half.

This story is a reminder of my intent to be totally self sufficient since the days of my first survival training in the Northern Rockies. My insufficiency, demonstrated by leaving a comrade behind, ate at me ferociously.

Self sufficiency is a worthy goal for many. But when that goal becomes a prideful god, something is really out of place in your heart.

Keller recently wrote: “Never do we find God’s grace unless something has shown our weakness, insufficiency, sin, and neediness.”

My failure to be perfect in an exercise that was designed for me to fail – and more significantly – my reaction to my failure exposed my old, mistaken conviction that I really can do it all myself.

Ogilvie’s prayer for me yesterday was: “Gracious God, show me enough of my real self to expose my false pride and enough of Your grace to overcome my self sufficiency.”

Tish forgave me. God forgives me.

This story is written for Zadie, Sabine, and Maggie. Someday they may read it. But it’s written for me today.

It’s time for me to accept forgiveness and accept that I really cannot do it all myself.

More about Tish and her story next time.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 May 2017


How good are we at waiting? My pastor, Bryan Duggan, posed that question Sunday in his sermon. It got me to thinkin.

We can sit on our hands, twiddle our thumbs, check our social media, play the latest game on our handy pocket computer        OR         we can focus, remain alert, concentrate, and be ready for what’s next.

Instructions from our tv heroes are mixed. Coach Taylor in “Friday Night Lights” urged his young football players with calls to action:

“Don’t just stand by and watch it happen.”

“Don’t think. Just do.”

“You get one chance in life, fellas. You can either take advantage of it, or you can piss it away. You do that latter, and you’re gonna regret it the rest of your lives.”

Captain Haldane in “The Pacific” urged his young infantrymen to save themselves for action“Never run when you can walk. Never walk when you can stand. Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lay down. Never lay down when you can sleep.”

Waiting room. Waiting line. Waiting for the storm to pass – or the battle to begin. Waiting for the next available customer service representative. Waiting for grades. Waiting for him to call. Waiting for our friend Robin in ICU to wiggle her big toe.

We have ample opportunity to practice. Wait for the Lord; Be strong, and let your heart take courage…   Psalm 27:14

People often fail to get what they ultimately want because they fail to wait. They trade what they want the most for what they want right now.

Tim Keller said it another way. “Self control is the ability to do the important thing rather than the urgent thing.” 

We also have ample time to reflect when waiting. Non-believing minds may be bored. Believing minds may wonder along with C.S. Lewis who said, We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us: we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

Stay away from the dumb, gentlemen.” Another caution from Coach Taylor. At first I thought it had nothing to do with waiting. It actually has everything to do with our decisions made while waiting.

…but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.   Psalm 37:9

Posted by: Don Linnen | 30 April 2017

A Bookmark in Time

Earlier this month, my mother-in-law died. My children and grandchildren, 200 miles away, were not able to make the small family service to honor her life. I had mixed emotions about their attendance. I really wanted them here with us, but clearly understood the rigors of travel with youngsters for a single-night visit.

On one hand, we all believe family is vitally important. The service was a clear celebration of life and mostly a joyous occasion. It was a missed opportunity for my family to build on relationships with my wife’s family – and to meet unknown relatives.

On the other hand, how do you explain death to non believers and children under seven during four hours of reminiscence around a table filled with TexMex? I deeply regret the missed opportunity of that challenge. Again I’m reminded I’m still not in control.

I’ve also had time to reflect on the deaths of my grandparents, where I was during their funerals, and what I understood at the time.

I can only remember attending one of the funerals of my four grandparents. One grandfather died before I was born. One grandmother’s service was nearly 500 miles away. It was decided that either school was too important to miss or my plane ticket was not in the family budget.

My mom’s mother died when I was 12. I remember her well and missed her dearly, but I can only remember the funeral of my mom’s dad when I was 15. That may speak to the comprehension level of children in general – or maybe just to an immature me who put priorities on school and games – not necessarily in that order.

My single, strongest memory of my grandfather’s funeral was rekindled by words just spoken at my mother-in-law’s funeral … there’s a time for everything.

 ‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  a time to be born, and a time to die;  a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;  a time to kill, and a time to heal;  a time to break down, and a time to build up;  a time to weep, and a time to laugh;  a time to mourn, and a time to dance; ‘         Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

Just a few months after my grandfather’s funeral I heard those same words spoken at the funeral for President John Kennedy. The first thought that came into my head was that they took those words from my grandfather’s funeral.

Yes. My grandfather was more important to me than the POTUS.

So there you go. From one grandchild to the others. There’s my bookmark in time for when you’re old enough to think about life and death and life.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 March 2017

The Next Hill

A rare ride last weekend with my buddy, Mark, reminded me that the second hill is always harder than the first. That first hill felt so good taken early in our ride – as good as a hill can feel on a road bike.

Don’t get me wrong. This was a ride in the mostly flat lands of Texas. Calling something a hill here is often relative. But for me it was a hill. And it was a pleasure to climb – the first time.

That first climb was so good, we decided to do it again. About half way up the next hill my old body reminded me that I’d not been training for this. Through the anguish of a pounding heart and heaving lungs at the top of the climb my brain reminded me: ya gotta train for the next hill.

The second hill’s always harder than the first. The next hill is always harder than the last. There is always a next hill.

Prepare for it. You may eventually hit the wall on some next hill, but it won’t be as early as those who don’t or won’t prepare.

And when you’re physically spent, your mental attitude – your intestinal fortitude – will sustain you. And when that runs out, dig into your soul for something deeper. 

Romans 15:5.  Train for the next hill.  Philippians 4:13.  Hydrate and repeat.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 28 February 2017

Cherry Tree

I cannot tell a lie. My first lesson on honesty was that George Washington admitted to cutting down a cherry tree. My next lesson by age 10 was that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” By the time I was 20 it was that “figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”

Times were simple then, but cynicism grew as I aged. Later lessons proved that the George Washington / cherry tree story was a myth and that words really can hurt.

Prevarication was a joke to Gary Larson. Search as I might, I cannot find his Far Side cartoon of a guy standing in an empty auditorium under a sign that reads: “Prevaricators Anonymous – Meeting Today.”

Wait for it.

Don’t wait too long.  Relative truth, alternative facts, post truth, fake news, post lies, and truthiness are sad distortions of today. But it’s not a new phenomenon. Mark Twain said: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

More information doesn’t mean better information. It may just lead to more confusion. Discernment about the author and their motive is critical. Is it to make money? Gain power? Push an agenda? Feed pride? Prove they are right and have been right all along?

But it’s best that discernment not always be about others. Living in an echo chamber can be harmful to your health.

It’s a new year. That means you get to read more from my devotional for 2017. From Quiet Moments with God, on the 18th of January Ogilvie taught me to pray:

Dear God, help me to communicate my convictions without censure of those who might not fully agree with me. Free me from any false assumptions that I might have a corner on all truth.

May I restrain from adopting the spirit of judgement so prevalent in our society. Forgive me when I presume Your authority by setting myself up as a judge of the worth of those who disagree with me.

At the same time, Lord, I know You have not called me to indulgence when it comes to seeking truth. Nor do You encourage me to buy into the mindset of appeasement and tolerance, where everything is relative and there are no absolutes.

Seeking truth is not difficult for me. I’m naturally curious. But thinking I’m getting a corner on it or judging those who disagree with me…I have some work to do.

Lord, help me. Even my first sentence was a lie.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 29 January 2017

Unsettling Uncertainty

Beginning of a new year. Beginning of a new administration in the White House. Seems that this year is more unsettling, more uncertain than most.

Unless you’re a kid that hated being noticed in public. Then you’ve felt that way all your life.

When you were 10 you moved to the top of the dugout, then halfway to the on-deck circle before it was your turn, just so you wouldn’t be late to go bat in case the guy ahead of you made it safely to base on the first pitch. Uncertain about when it was your turn.

When you were 13 you ignored the announcement to report to the auditorium in hopes that feigned “mishearing” would let you avoid taking a seat on the stage in front of everyone in the school gathering to see new members of the National Honor Society. Unsettled at the thought of others looking at you.

Wanting to know exactly what will happen next can be a tough burden if you’re shy, afraid of change, and lacking confidence to handle the unforeseen. It can be very stressful – even debilitating.

The Global Organization for Stress (yes, Marguerite, there really is such an organization) reports that stress is up this month for most adults and has been increasing all year for many. Apparently they have been watching the news and worried about more than their turn at bat or what their peers think.

Apparently they are trying to take care of everything themselves in the grand tradition of self reliance. Apparently they are looking for someone to make them safe and assure a happy future. Apparently they are part of a culture that doesn’t understand – or even accept – the relation of soul to body. Apparently they don’t remember on Monday what they prayed on Sunday.

How appropriate my day began with a prayer by Lloyd John Ogilvie and the very simple and clear promise from Isaiah 26:3.

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.     

His devotional* closed with comfort from John 14:27.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

My soul and body are settled and certain.


*Quiet Moments with God

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