While trying to divert my attention from the monotony of exercise, I began watching TED talks. Although I discovered many interesting lectures, one which pierced my thinking was entitled, “Cutting through Fear” by Dan Meyer. To overcome his many fears, he designed an ever-growing list of “thromes” (defined as a combination of goals and dreams). One of the final items on this list of remarkable feats was sword swallowing. After years of practice, he not only achieved proficiency but also became the world’s leading expert.

Dan Meyer stated that although he found his purpose though sword swallowing, sword swallowing was not his ultimate purpose. However, sharing with others what he learned about conquering fear became his life’s thrust.

During the lecture, he explains the process of swallowing a sword and demonstrated for the audience. The final step he explained is to nudge his heart aside for the sword to completely enter. He concludes, “The impossible is not impossible.”

I, too, am a sword swallower. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. When I read the Bible, it is not to gain information, but to be transformed. As the expert sword swallower knows – the final step is to nudge the heart aside. Anywhere my heart is not aligned with my Lord Jesus, I must nudge my heart aside and let his sword penetrate.

My form of sword swallowing may not seem spectacular, but like Dan Mayer I understand that sword-swallowing is not my purpose in itself. My calling is to share what I have learned through sword swallowing to help others learn the art of sword-swallowing. This enables them to conquer fears, stand firm in the victory Christ gained, and to walk by the Spirit who empowers us to do remarkable feats and brave things.

My list of thromes is quite short – really only 1 – When I bow before God’s throne in heaven, I will have faithfully fulfilled all I have been called to do.


I tossed the pebble and walked away assuming it plunked to the bottom but no, it skipped and ripples followed.

Three and a half years ago Tonette Hayes and I met at the park and prayed for an hour. We had never met before, but we lived in the same area and both of our sons were beginning a very arduous year at Virginia Military Institute. I didn’t realize at the time we were in the midst of a holy moment. Last week, Tonette and I gathered with our extended families and watched our sons graduate at the top of their class and commission as 2nd lieutenants in the United States Air Force. Both young men will soon begin flight training as pilots, but even more impressive – both Patrick and Scott love the
Lord with all their hearts, and minds, and strength.

But Tonette’s and my prayers did not begin this ripple effect. From its founding, I believe parents and leaders were asking for the Lord’s grace upon the cadets and school. At orientation, Marilou Shepard, whose son was in his final year, encouraged me to sign up to become a part of VMI’s praying parents. Holden Shepard mentored my son his first year. You could not meet a more polite and honorable ambassador for Christ. Tonette’s husband, Tim, grasped the prayer baton as he administered the FB praying parents page for the 4 years our sons attended.

As Patrick can attest, before someone matriculates at VMI, you cannot really comprehend what you are getting into. To me VMI was known for a very disciplined, military life. What I did not realize was the great faith of many VMI graduates. VMI is a school that continues to matriculate and employ a large number of Christ followers. Men and women who live out the gospel amidst the strict disciplinary and honor codes.

In their final parade, prior to the Corps of Cadets marching from the field, the Institute band complete with bagpipes concluded by playing Amazing Grace. Each ceremony began with an invocation. Upon graduation, the cadets were handed a diploma and a Bible. My heart is full of thanksgiving to our Lord who did immeasurably more than Tonette and I could have asked or imagined that day back in October 2015.



One Sunday in January, Joshua was sick so we stayed home and watched our church service on-line. The next Sunday it snowed, so I continued my pattern. Then next Sunday I had no excuse, yet the pull was so strong to stay home and “do” church on-line -to stay in my comfy clothes and get what I wanted without really putting anything in. I could have the benefit without giving anything.

But I went. Riding home, I was glad I forced myself to get dressed to leave the house. Why? It was not because I left feeling spiritually filled or that the message was particularly pertinent to what I am experiencing. However, I was able to sing praises to God with 200 other worshippers, greet someone who had not attended church before, offer encouraging words to a struggling young adult, and hug a woman who may not have been hugged all week.

I would like to say this ended my near-weekly struggle, but it did not. I was listening to Beth Moore  (another instance where I can learn without being bothered by interacting with others), and she used the word “disembodied” to describe what is happening to us as we use virtual church (sermons, teachings, small group Bible studies) to replace participating in church.

I am not advocating having to be in church every Sunday or being in a small group or serving here and there and everywhere. However, I do see the tendency and danger in my own life to substitute convenience and be satisfied by a mere shadow rather than dealing with the undesirable or inconvenient aspects of community. What was most convicting to me (yikes – another virtual experience podcast) was when one pastor asked, “Are you planting seeds or merely picking the fruit?”

Even so, God continues to carry out His purposes in someone’s life whether she attends church or not. God is writing countless overlapping stories – many are taking place within the individual, but He is also writing a larger story through his body, the local church, the global church and across the generations – a great cloud of witnesses. I wonder, “Can I really flourish apart from His body?” Using the Biblical analogy, any part must be connected, not only to the head, but the other parts of the body to function best.

Yes, virtual forms of “church” can maintain my spiritual life, but I wondered who would chose dialysis over a well-functioning kidney? Dialysis sustains life, yet the life is hindered. While I exercise, I watch a trainer hike the Alps or run through Volcanoes National Park, yet I discovered even a real hike in my own community is preferable to staying in one place in my living room watching someone else have the adventure. On the surface, the woods of Virginia may not seem as exciting as those other places yet, I can breathe in the crisp air, discover a tiny flower or butterfly, and get my foot stuck in the mud. I am engaged in the action, not just observing. As much as learning what I want, when I want, from whom I want appeals to me, God has little flowers and butterflies for me to discover at church even if it means stepping in some mud.


Have you seen the pictures of huge elephants held captive by a tiny stake and chain? Sometimes I wonder if we as believers are like those chained elephants. From my understanding, when elephants are first brought into captivity, they must be chained to a large tree or else they could pull themselves free. They have immense strength, yet over time, they stop trying to break free. Eventually, the elephants accept captivity remaining in place secured by a small stake and flimsy chain.

We feel the weight of chains in our lives whether from condemnation, guilt, a diagnosis, comparisons or utter hopelessness. We crumble under our own circumstances, feelings, self-centeredness or the opinions of others. We are locked in place by thinking, “I can’t stop doing that,” or “I’ll never get out of this place.”

Yet like the elephant, we perceive the chain is stronger than it really is or we minimize our enormous power. Our bondage is broken yet we don’t even try to live differently because we believe we are bound to this condition. Colossians 1: 14 describes how we are brought out of captivity because God, the Father, rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son. We are not chained since Jesus frees us from the powers of darkness and establishes us into His marvelous kingdom of light. God’s indwelling Spirit empowers us to walk out of our prisons. Don’t allow the enemy of our souls to tell you differently. You have been set free! We do not have to live chained even if our circumstances or the other person never change. We are freed as God renews our mind to His perspective and enables us to appropriate His power and grace to live in His strength on the hardest days.

Although we are no longer chained, we are tethered. We are tethered to His grace and cannot outrun or escape it. His goodness and mercy are our constant companions whether we feel their presence or not. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6


I am grateful for the first Bible study resources I encountered as a new believer. They were little books with fill in the blank/ short answer questions about the basic subjects of faith. I particularly remember one lesson about the character of God featuring three “onmi” words – omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. Studying this helped me to grasp God’s sovereignty over every detail of world events and my own personal life. It is both comforting and anchoring to comprehend God’s complete control.

However, I had not realized, until a few weeks ago, there was a huge deficit in my understanding of God.  As I read through the Bible, I found many other qualities which described God – his goodness, his jealousy, his generosity, and his love yet I somehow put those on the second tier a little below those three “omni” words.  That was my subtle (unrecognized) thinking until our pastor used a word I had never heard – OMNIBENELOVENCE.

My faulty thinking is evidenced by my affinity for this particular C.S. Lewis quote. “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.” I associate God’s sovereignty and best with unpleasant and difficult circumstances. In my experiences, God’s goodness has seemed overshadowed by His all- knowing, all-powerful plans that I was not privy to understanding.

Who gets to define “good” – me or God? Apparently, my knowledge of what is good and God’s are highly disparate. After all, God sent His own son into this world to be mocked and killed painfully on a cross. How can God be all good if He allows _______ to happen to __________?

Learning and meditating upon this new word –omnibenevolence– has enabled me to raise this aspect of God’s character up to the first tier (where it rightfully belongs). I understand that not realizing that God is all good does not change who He is and always will be. However, recognizing God is omnibenevolence changes me to better perceive His goodness in the midst of the painful and difficult circumstances in my life and the lives of those around me.

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works. Psalm 73:28