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

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 December 2016

EOY – Where To Next?

End of the year. Time to look back. And time to look ahead.  

2016 was unusually tumultuous if you consume news, view world events, or are simply tuned in to world craziness – and sadness. Sometimes it was disturbing enough to enhance the appeal of sports-talk radio. Nothing like bubble gum for the brain to relieve your mind from snarky partisans and fake-news purveyors. 

As we enter 2017, uncertainty abounds. That’s mostly because WE are the ones living in this age. Our parents, grandparents, and ancestors lived through their abundance of uncertainty. They lived in an age when communication was much slower and technology was much less apt to do so much good – or so much evil. 

They also lived in a much smaller world population that grew much more slowly. The world population did not reach 1 billion until 1804. It was 3 billion in 1960 and 5 billion in 1987. Today it is 7.4 billion and growing rapidly.

As we sail into our uncertain times, we do well to heed the wise words of Horace to his friend Licinius – “be careful, but not too careful.” Horace spoke of the “middle way” as the proper course of life in his ode, Rectius Vives. That way is to be neither too daring nor too timid but to be hopeful in evil times and vigilant in good times.  

In that middle way, it is clear that we need direction and something we can follow – a North Star that is true. Jim Denison sums it up this way: “A culture that has no moral compass shouldn’t be surprised when it loses direction. A ship without a rudder is at the mercy of whatever currents it encounters. A sailboat without a sailor at the helm will go where the wind blows. For decades we’ve believed that truth is what we say it is. We take it as an absolute truth that there is no such thing as absolute truth.”

But there really is truth. Not truthiness, the semblance of truth; not post-truth, where emotions are more “correct” than facts; but real, absolute truth.

Seek it. Find it. 

Many libraries around the world have the words of Jesus inscribed somewhere on their walls: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32

Find that truth. Steer with it. We’ll be okay.



Posted by: Don Linnen | 30 November 2016

Idol alert

I’d been warned that I may encounter idol worshippers on this mission trip. Sure enough, on the second day a woman told me she had been raised as a Catholic and had evolved to worship idols. She politely listened as I explained the gospel story then nervously told me, “my idols are all I need.”  

I didn’t believe her, but didn’t argue. My translator, Luis (a pseudonym), and I thanked her for her time, prayed, then moved on from the maze of Soviet-style apartments. We chose to walk. 


This small, poor town was filled with large, dreary apartment buildings and a wide array of very small homes and new businesses. Zoning restrictions were apparently never a consideration. Some streets were paved. Many were not. Most homes and apartments were austere but clean. Televisions, if present, were nearly as old as the cars.

On the third day we climbed a typically steep and narrow outer staircase to a small apartment atop a house in another part of town. It was the home of Maricela (another pseudonym) and her daughter. Maricela’s husband worked in another country. As I looked around her apartment, I was shocked at what I saw.

The bright, airy room revealed no cracks in the freshly painted walls. There was no plaster coming off bricks. The new refrigerator shined. The large flat-screen TV sat next to compact speakers and a DVD player. I think to myself: “This is cool. I could live here. It’s got all the stuff I need.”

Maricela didn’t have much time. She had to leave soon for her child’s school. I quickly presented the gospel. She eagerly indicated acceptance in her heart and with her mouth. We visited just a little longer then moved on down the road.

As I followed Luis down another rough road in an unfamiliar town, I gave thanks that I really wasn’t totally lost and began to reflect on my trip. I had to smile at the thought of all the people I’d met and the many who’d indicated their acceptance of Christ. Then my mind turned back to Maricela, her really nice apartment, and the big flat screen. That’s when my smile faded. 

In that moment, I realized I had been on high alert for other people with idols, but for some reason (I no longer believe in coincidences) I had just been led to visit a home filled with my idols – things that gave me comfort and pleasure outside of Christ. 

Yuck. Getting my own come-uppance was not fun. I thought it was others with the problem, not me. What a buzzkill to realize I’m one of the idol worshippers.

I am grateful for the reminder. Sad that I still need it, but glad that I can recognize it. And glad that God still cares enough about me to reopen my eyes.

He just won’t give up on me.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 28 October 2016

Who Am I?

I’m just a guy. A guy with lots of interests. Sports, politics, techy stuff, worldviews, granddaughters, books, friends, the great outdoors, and two-dozen other things my little brain can barely track much less remember.

Most of my mornings begin with a few minutes alone with God in thought and in prayer for my most pressing interests (way more for the grand girls than anything else). Each year I read from a different daily devotional. This year the late Oswald Chambers is my guide.

This month he led me in an unexpected direction. From 12 to 21 October, Chambers’ messages* made me think about who I am.

My job is to support missionaries, not be one. I’m an old guy, by some standards a really old guy. But it’s starting to feel like I’m getting into stride with God. Starting to get my second wind spiritually. Ironically the year began with medical advise to stop long-distance running – just when I feel I can run and not grow weary.

So much of my life has been tied to my own individual effort – pride in my self sufficiency. But that’s impertinence at best (according to Chambers) and sin at worst. That’s an uncomfortable new thought to me.

Jesus’ last words on earth were “go.” Just like sending kids to bed, it’s not a hint, suggestion, or request. It is very clear direction. He doesn’t say why we should do it or what will happen if we don’t go.  He just says “go, to everyone everywhere.”

Chambers contends that “go simply means live…identify yourself with God’s interests in other people, not with our own interests in other people.” He emphasizes that the central thing about the kingdom of God is a personal relationship to Jesus, not a public usefulness to men. More different thinking for me. I like being useful.

Soon I go somewhere I’ve never been to do things I’m ill prepared to do. I still contend I’m not a missionary. Or am I?

*My Utmost for His Highest 

Posted by: Don Linnen | 28 September 2016

Sending Good Thoughts

I’ve heard that before. When uncertain times are looming or personal sadness is reality. The well-meaning friend sends “good thoughts.” What does that mean?

My coworker attended a funeral this weekend. She told me of the strange and sad coldness in a visitation room filled with people with no detectable belief system. If there was a belief system, it apparently did not involve Jesus.

These uncomfortably grieving folks went through a religious litany of wishing good thoughts, sending positive energy, expressing pious platitudes, and wondering (or perhaps ignoring) about what’s next. It was an empty room full of people.

Often the “sending of good thoughts” comes from someone who’s too cool to pray. What do you do if you’re the only one in the room who prays? You pray anyway. And you listen – not just to the Lord, but to those around you. Love on them. They need it more than you can imagine.

Now it is nice to know that someone is thinking of you. That they remember you. That you’re not totally alone. But how long does that last in the dark of night or the tension of a waiting room?

Prayer lasts. I pray. My dear friends pray for me. Then I KNOW that I am not alone. It’s a reminder that they are in it and God is in it with me. That lasts.

In his excellent book, A Praying Life, Paul Miller reminds us that today’s American culture is a difficult place to learn to pray. We value competency, self sufficiency, productivity, intellect, wealth, and looking good. He says, “Prayer exposes how self-preoccupied we are and uncovers our doubts.”

Again, I’m guilty as charged on both counts. Just as it did years ago, praying often leads to squirming in my seat. I’m willing to squirm if that’s what it takes to bring me closer to what I’m called to do.

And despite being uncomfortable, there is far greater comfort in praying troubled thoughts, mad thoughts, scared thoughts, and good thoughts. 

If prayer is new to you, or you just need a refresher, Prayer 101 is a great place to begin.



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