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.



Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 August 2016

Where ya goin?

Where ARE you going? How are you going? Are you going with the wind? It’s easier. 

Are you blowing with the wind? (Ignore cue to Bob Dylan.) 

Do you prefer moving along with the culture of the day? with the ideas of your group of partisans? with the consensus of your friends? 

The counter questions: 

If needed, can you swim upstream or ride into the wind? Will you?

Today Jim Denison raised similar questions in his excellent post on resilience. He used this poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow.
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
Which tells us the way to go.

Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate,
As we voyage along through life:
‘Tis the set of a soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.

Will you set your sails to reach your goals no matter what way the winds blow?

Will you set your soul to do what’s right no matter what way culture moves?

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 July 2016

Who Ya Gonna Serve?

Bob Dylan, Oswald Chambers, and Joshua. An old guy, an older guy, and a really old guy. Are these three worthy of an invitation to your fantasy dinner party? They’d make it to mine, but menu planning would be a challenge.

Bob Dylan is a singer / songwriter who began making his mark in the ’60s of the last century. Oswald Chambers was a Scottish evangelist and author in the early 20th Century. Joshua was the faithful disciple of and successor to Moses nearly 1300 years before Jesus was born.

It’s interesting that these three characters shared a common truth over 33 centuries. A truth that holds today.

Dylan wrote Gotta Serve Somebody. That song resonated with me especially as my faith walk got stronger. It reminded me to look with amusement and sadness at dear friends who disdain followers of Jesus yet happily approve of service to idols. 

With sadness and no amusement it reminded me to look in the mirror and see my worship of work, independence, success, my favorite college team, and another dozen or so things – some that I don’t want to admit to granddaughters.

Chambers stated that we all are willful people. Can he be talking about anyone I know? Time to look in the mirror again. He maintained that we have a will that cannot be given up. It must be exercised.

On his entry for July 8th in My Utmost for His Highest, Chambers said that when (not if) God calls us, it’s always a question of what we will do, never a question about what God will do. I love my freedom – despite the responsibility. I love God’s consistency.

Everyone serves someone or something. Everyone gets to make a choice. Everyone must make a choice.

Joshua put that choice to the people he was leading. He urged his peeps to quit serving false gods. He told them to choose between the old, comfortable, familiar gods that tempted them and the one, true God. He spoke one of the great lines in human history: “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15

“Choose this day whom ye will serve.” Chambers called it a deliberate calculation, not one to be ignored, or delayed, or taken after consulting with others.  

Will you or I choose to serve our nagging desire, our imagined need, our temporary want, our idol? Will we wait to think about it? Or will we choose to serve God?

Don’t know what I’d serve for dinner, but I do know Who.

Who you gonna serve? 

Posted by: Don Linnen | 29 June 2016


There are so many ways to go with this word in any table talk.

dis·cern·ment     [noun]

1. the ability to judge well.”an astonishing lack of discernment”

2. (in Christian contexts) perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.”without providing for a time of healing and discernment, there will be no hope of living through this present moment without a shattering of our common life”

Now for some table talk.

“If God wants a thing to succeed, you can’t mess it up. If He wants it to fail, you can’t save it. Rest and be faithful.”

Jennie Allen wrote those reassuring words. She did not tell us how to discern between temporary failure and hollow success.

She did remind us to be faithful.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 May 2016

Super Victors

We in the first world are now deep in the playoffs to determine the champions for professional basketball and hockey. Soon the Tour de France will begin. Later the Summer Olympic Games will be held. All of these contests will determine super victors who overcame tribulations few of us can imagine.

The individual competitions will be as short as 10 seconds or as long as 23 days. When complete, medals and trophies will be awarded and the trial will be done. Not so with life.

Games are good simulations for life, but they are not life. Games have a start and finish well within a lifespan of most humans. What can be learned from games is the physical, mental, and emotional stamina and prowess to endure and excel. But if those lessons cannot be applied to life outside the games, the lessons are of little value.

Stuff happens. Trouble happens. It continues long after you hoist the trophy or put the finisher medal on your bookshelf. Oswald Chambers reminds us:

God does not keep a man immune from trouble; He says – “I will be with him in trouble.”

Paul wrote in Romans that nothing can separate us from God. He said that it doesn’t matter how bad it gets, how hard it is, how much it sucks, or how unfair it is, we “are more than conquerors in all things.”

Chambers calls followers of Jesus “super victors” not because we are smart or brave or talented but just because NOTHING can separate us from our relationship to God in Jesus Christ. That’s pretty cool.

My words in this post convey few original thoughts.  They are better expressed by Oswald Chambers here and by Paul here.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 30 April 2016


Doubt, disbelief, more doubt, and now uncertainty. A common thread has appeared in my titles over the last nine months.

My daily devotional for 2016 comes from My Utmost for His Highest, the classic work by Oswald Chambers. Yesterday I was encouraged by the graciousness of uncertainty.

This is especially important to a guy who has spent decades trying to get everything just right.

My life: as a Boy Scout, be prepared; an Air Force pilot, use a checklist; an engineer, use predictive analytics; a salesman, forecast revenue.

Think ahead. Plan ahead. Precisely predict. Set two alarms. Be on time. Allow for every contingency. Eliminate uncertainty.

Chambers explains that gracious uncertainty, the mark of a spiritual life, replaces the need to know what’s next with joyful uncertainty and expectancy. Letting go is tough. But being a little out of control is kind of fun.

Will I stop using Dark Sky for micro forecasts of the weather? Probably not. But I suffer no illusions about controlling the weather. Maybe it’s time to cede control over other things in my life and embrace joyful uncertainty.

“To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring.”

Oh wow. I am certainly uncertain.



Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 March 2016

More Doubt

Is it surprising that a week after Easter, I’m thinking about doubt? Probably not. That “resurrection from the dead thing” is pretty hard for many people to really buy.

I spent the Easter weekend with my children whom I dearly love and actually like. More than doubt, they don’t believe.

I wrote about doubt last August. That was after a moment with a deep skeptic – probably one of my children. Doubt must permeate my thoughts at some significant level no matter how much I profess to believe.

Last Sunday Pastor Jill Williams reminded me again that Jesus is Risen! I know it, but I needed the reminder.

She said, “faith and doubt work hand in hand.” The etymology of “doubt” goes back to the 13th Century. It often means being of two minds now just as it did 800 years ago.

She gave me the great visual that to doubt is to have a foot in two boats. At some point you believe in one boat. To get your entire body into that one boat literally requires a leap of faith.

Faith and doubt coexist. Faith and doubt make an honest combination. Doubt means you’re thinking.

Faith without doubt is faith without thought. Blind faith, simply accepted, not reasoned, is fragile even if it is correct. Fragile faith is too easily broken. The opposite of faith is unbelief.

Jesus was indeed risen from the dead.

I admit to my doubts, but I believe.

I have less doubt.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 29 February 2016


Why do I have willing suspension of disbelief while watching far-fetched episodes of Lord of the Rings or Star Wars but not when I watch allegedly “realistic” television shows like NCIS and its spin offs?

Is it the format, the genre, the time period, the subject matter? I don’t think so. For me it’s because some stories are better told than others. They are just better written whether they’re believable or not.

Then there’s the Easter story – the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection from death. The story of that resurrection is really, really hard to believe. It’s not especially well written in its original form, but I believe it anyway.

Why I believe is another story (mine) for another time. Lets get back to this resurrection story. It’s far more interesting.

As a recovering skeptic, there is a new telling of that story that strongly resonates with me. The recently released movie, Risen, views the historic scenes of the Easter story through the eyes of an non-believing Roman soldier…one who is dedicated to his job and determined to find the truth.

After two weeks Risen has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 57% by critics and 79% by audiences. The critics really prefer Kung Fu Panda 3 and Deadpool (a critique of critics?) … but an overtly Christian movie getting a 57 on the rotten tomato meter? Unheard of!

Perhaps everyone who likes this movie shares my worldview. But 79% seems like a very high audience approval rating. Are there some secular viewers of Risen who willingly suspend their disbelief to enjoy a historically accurate CSI Jerusalem set 2000 years ago? Do they just suspend disbelief or do they actually believe?

Janet Denison asks: “Why do people struggle to believe in the resurrection? Most people have an easier time believing that God can create the earth, the skies, and our children, but they struggle to trust He can raise his Son from the dead.” 

This Easter, how many people will emphasize pretty dresses and the Easter bunny over the story of the resurrection? How many avoid or reject that story because they are frightened of being wrong?

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