My Sleepy, Confused, and Doubting Faith

2 January 2015

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” – Psalm 37:7

“I stay busy mostly because when I’m still – truly still – I cry.” – Your Truly

What I am about to tell you is not something that concerns me. I’m grateful for it.

And I’m telling you this now to disarm you from thinking that I’m having a faith crisis. On the contrary, these are the very things that lead to the only faith that has any substance to it at all…. at least for me.

When I am still, and this is sadly rare, I cry. I question. I doubt. I long. And I cry.

I cry because I feel desperately alone in this stillness. In it, there is apparently no room for anyone else. The minute someone else comes around, this stillness goes away. Even when I try to tell someone else about it, they usually go away (either by literally excusing themselves, or going into their iphones, or by “mmm-hmmm”-ing their way through it best they can until its over). Evidently, this stillness is unsharable, so by default, to be in it is to be alone. It’s not good for man to be alone, I’ve heard, so I guess this loneliness is why I cry.

I question, I think, because there is within me a desire for truth. For the real. And there is no honesty in being certain. And there is little humility in it either. Questions are the tools of honesty, and they demand humility. Questions invite and make room for truth. But questions, if they are good ones, also confront anything that I have already decided is true. Even if they end up being confirming, their real job is to assault and confront, and few people enjoy their certainty being assaulted. I don’t, at least not initially, but I do enjoy the fruit of it, which is the diminishment of the false and the exaltation of the truth. This is why I question, and it may add to why I cry.

I doubt because anyone who is desperately alone and uncertain would be plagued with doubt, wouldn’t they? I know just enough to know that I don’t know very much, and when I’m still, I can’t pretend otherwise. I can pretend I know something when I’m creating, doing, preaching, or teaching, but not when I’m still. My friend Charlie Middlebrook in his book Observations says that a key to wisdom is “knowing less, believing more.” I am encouraged if this is true, because that would mean doubt is necessarily on the trail  towards wisdom. And I have plenty of it, at least when I am still.

All of this leads to longing. For what, you might ask? Don’t make it more mysterious than it is! Isn’t it obvious? My loneliness makes me long for company, my questions make me long for answers, and my doubt makes me long for certainty. Read those again and realize that my only hope for anything at all that might satisfy this longing would have to be a God. Which means, I need a God.

God is my only hope of having my longings satisfied. It just hit me that this might ultimately be why I cry when I’m still. My need for God makes me cry.

And who likes crying? No one that I know. Most do all they can to keep from it, giving in only when they have exhausted all their energy trying to not. Even then they’d much rather run off and hide while they do it, and then “clean up” enough for no one to notice that they had once they are done. And if they MUST cry, and they CAN’T hide, well, then they feel obligated to apologize for it to whoever had the misfortune of seeing them.

My heart says this is all nonsense – at least when I am still – but my heart rarely wins in the practical application.

I confess to you that the impossibility of it all just makes me want to sleep. To be asleep is so much easier than to be still. Be it the coma-like sleep that comes when I close my eyes in bed, or the matrix-like sleep of busy-ness with seemingly more important things, or the trance-like sleep of staring at screen of some sort, it is easier to be asleep than still.

But in those rare moments when I’m still – I sense the presence of Something. Is it Someone? Whatever. I don’t really care except that it pulls at my spirit, beckoning me, wooing me, drawing me… with a faint promise to satisfy my tears and all that they mean.

I had a touch of stillness this morning and can’t seem to totally shake it. So I’m crying, doubting, questioning and longing today.

And so I’m sleepy.

May God keep me awake and still.

“Taking” My 10th Sabbatical

29 May 2014

“You dare not give up the stability of your life that is ‘hid with Christ in God’ for anything – no matter how great and worthy the purpose – for it would be the death of you.” – a still, small voice inside of me

”For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” – Colossians 3:3

I’m smack dab in the middle of a 3-week “sabbatical,” or break, from my normal duties, my tenth since being with the Southwest church family in Amarillo, TX.

When I was leaving the West Houston church family after 14 years of loving a city through a student ministry to love another city through a church ministry, the team that had been discerning with me about this most unlikely move sent me “an offer.”

Included in it was an annual 3-week long “sabbatical.” This was on top of vacation.

I received it as an awesome gesture of the leadership’s heart, but had no intentions of ever planning on “taking it.” It seemed luxurious, extravagant, unfair, unproductive, inefficient, burdensome on others, and wrong. But I was surrounded by voices that spoke positively and encouraging about it, and by a leadership that without my permission planned it into my calendar.

There I was, in 2005, with three full weeks of not being able to hide my lack of connection to God with the excuse, “I don’t have time.”

I wish the dilemma on everyone.

Ten years and many such experiences later, these 3-weeks now seem necessary, death-defying, communally beneficial, ministry quality improving, equipping of others, and right.

What I wouldn’t have done if it was left up to me ten years ago, I wouldn’t do without if it is left up to me now.

It is interesting watching the reactions of those around me who hear of this annual blessing that must be simultaneously “given” and “received” to be had.

It triggers satisfaction in some, ranging from declarations like “That is beautiful,” to “That is so good.” On the extreme, it has triggered tears of gratitude and disbelief, tapping into some deep wounding that has come from the burnout that they or someone they love had experienced.

In others it triggers bitterness, ranging from comments like “Must be nice,” to silent head turns of envy. On the extreme, it has triggered anger towards me, with overt invitations to give it up so as to not make those who do not have such a blessing not feel slighted.

I used to receive the former folks eagerly as affirmation that I’m doing the right thing “taking it”  each year. And I used to take the latter defensively, either making plans in my head to “not take it” to prove my sensitivity to others, or making lists in my head defending why I should or had the right to.

I say I “used to” do those things, but I still do both, just not with quite the intensity that I used to (perhaps this post is actually me doing it once again unwittingly. God knows, I must let it go).

But I am learning that any attempt to live the life of Christ always be in holy rebellion against, and in stark contrast to, thousands of societal rules, even among Christians, so that when something like an annual sabbatical, even when offered, will always get the occasional response of “how dare you take that.”

But at this point in my life, I dare not give it up. Without often withdrawing to solitary places to pray, to be still and know that God is God, to learn that His Kingdom runs and advances without me running and without me intentionally advancing it, and that He loves me, not because of my work, but simply because He is love, I would not last a minute. I must be conquered by God’s love, not by God’s work, in a world that values, rewards, respects, and justifies those who die busy.

I’ve already died that death. Busyness killed me once. That was quite enough.

Now my life is hidden with Christ in God.

If the peaceful, joyful, righteous, relational life He promises is merely an idea that I speak of in the midst of a frantic, stressful, fast-paced life of busyness, I’m offering the world nothing of value at best, a false gospel at worst.

The Bible before the Bible

19 December 2012

“Our diligent study of the Bible comes from our belief that it was delivered and orchestrated by God to tell us about God. By that reasoning, creation should be diligently studied first, because God saw best to deliver and orchestrate it first.” – Yours Truly

“The ‘Bible’ of nature and creation reveals God and who God is.” – Richard Rohr

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” – Paul, in Romans 1:20

“Through Jesus all things were made; without Jesus nothing was made that has been made.” – John, in John 1:3

It’s too late for most of us.

Most of us who call ourselves Christians are too late to take in and study the revelations of God in the order he revealed them.

Creation first. Bible second.

So we can’t know what the experience would have been like.

What would it have been like to look around at creation and “read it” for what it tells us about God? What would we have learned from the elements, the weather, the different landscapes, the different seasons, the different life forms, the interplay of darkness and light, and the consistent rhythm that the Sun provides? What would we have “read” in our own bodies about God when we found ourselves bursting with energy in one moment, and then helplessly lost in a state of unconsciousness in the next, only to awake with a new burst of energy, only to fall out of consciousness once again?

And once we learned all that we could from creation (the chief lesson being that we will never exhaust the lessons), what would it have been like to then crack open scripture?

We may never know, because most of us were born into, and continue to live in, an environment designed specifically to keep us untouched by nature. Goodness, if nature has lessons on “God’s invisible qualities” that can be “clearly seen”, then I have no chance to see them from where I sit right now. I’m in a nice, quiet, contained area that doesn’t even have a window out to God’s creation. I’m staring at at window, of sorts, called a computer screen, but it is a window created by man looking “out” at a bunch more creations of man. Just last week, a powerful storm that blew down trees and made the day look like night hit my homeland that lasted about 20 minutes, and I would have never known had I not had to move for the bathroom. Even then, nature only got a momentary pause out of me before I went about my business. And that business was in a room that man designed inside this fortress I work in to keep me from having to experience nature even when nature calls!

From within this fabricated, man-orchestrated, climate-controlled mansion, a big box that keeps the first revelation of God at bay, you know what I spend my time doing? Reading and studying God’s second revelation – scripture.

It is great, and I am blessed. But I wonder how much I get wrong in my interpretation of it because of this?

After all, a baby is born incapable of experiencing the study of the Bible, and only capable of experiencing the things around her. As that baby grows, it doesn’t jump right to the ability to read or study or imagine ideas, but instead moves slowly through a process of observing, experiencing, and “reading” the environment she is in. It seems to me that the order of our naturally developed abilities observed in our growth as human beings supports this idea that we should study God first in nature, and then in scripture.

So maybe we are all late, but it’s not too late. Maybe we have done it out of order, but there is still an order to be had and known and experienced in the first revelation, even if it is the second one we are studying.

Get outside. If you can burst out of the physical matrix we’ve all been conditioned to breath in with a revolutionary charge and zealous yell of “freedom!!!” then do it. But start small if you need to.

Just get outside.

And not just when it is comfortable (comfort is why we created the boxes we live in), and not just when it is convenient (convenience keeps us in the boxes, it does not move us out of them, ever).

You are missing out on getting to know God through His first revelation.


Don’t Be the Pig that Stomps on Pearls

25 October 2011

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet.” – Jesus

Two weeks ago, I was out at beautiful Lake Tanglewood to do a wedding. I had a little down time, so I sat down and read a blog post of someone’s on my smart phone. image

This post was full of profound point after profound point. I came across a monumentally significant and timely thought that has the potential of not only transforming my life for good, but was witty and universal enough to be useful for just about everyone I ever get into spiritual conversation with.

Want me to tell you what it was?

I wish I could. I’ve forgotten it.

This happens to me all the time. I don’t know exactly what to credit it to, but I have a rich life of getting to hear and have thoughts like this all of the time. I think it is fair to say that my life is saturated with them.

  • I spend a lot of time in the Bible, for instance, most especially prioritizing Jesus.
  • Additionally, I have stacks of books that I invest in, recommendations from folks who’s lives have earned my admiration. And these people are legion, so I have many books they say helped make them admirable.
  • I get profound, life-changing wisdom in my inbox every single day, so much that if I read them all, I would have time for little else (and these are the ones I signed up for and have proven themselves worthwhile, let alone all the others that come uninvited, equally worthy, I’m sure, but I just don’t read or watch unless I’m so overwhelmed that I do it just to feel like I accomplished something).
  • On top of this, I am in some thickly rich relationships with several small groups (a men’s group, a couples/family group, our church staff, our church’s elders and ministers) that have AS THEIR POINT the idea that we need to saturate ourselves in the wisdom of God and in each other’s lives in a way that we connect the two.
  • I go to a movie almost every week on date night with my wife, and we have honed our skill at picking movies with profound meaning (and then finding meaning in them even when they don’t)
  • This doesn’t even count my wife (who has a few small groups of her own), and my kids (who are teaching me every day if I will pay attention).

Pearls! Pearls! Pearls! I’m drowning in them.

But I have forgotten and lost (hear: “trampled on”) more great pearls than I will ever remember, and let’s save me from humiliation by not mentioning how few I have effectively incorporated into my being and lived out.

It makes me sick to think about it.

Back to Lake Tanglewood: when I read the profound, timely, and life-changing thought, I remember looking up at the Lake below me, and at a spot down there right by it that looked both accessible and comfortable (not to mention beautiful), and I thought, “I should go down there right now and just dwell on this sentence. I should visualize how it has and can be expressed, and use my imagination to script a fairy-tale future for myself that incorporated and utilized it’s wisdom. I should do that right now…or I’ll forget it.”

I did not choose the former. And sure enough, it is forgotten.

With all my might, let me discourage you from doing that.

I’m all about being a life-long leaner and stuff, but instead of filling your mind with 100’s of great thoughts, hoping that “something good will happen” by letting them pass through like wind does a screen door, pick one. Take it home, or out to a beautiful place, and dwell on it. Give it all over your creative energy…every last drop…and let it transform from a wise saying to an new action or “way” in you.

This will change you, and the world, more than all the great thoughts and books and quotes and readings and scriptures that pass through your minds all put together.

Ironically, an email from a friend of mine in Houston intrigued me enough to watch this 3 minute video, and it is the perfect example of what I mean.

Johnny was no pig. He took the pearl like no one else, and he changed himself and the world.

Please! Pick a pearl!

The Man in the Yellow Raincoat

7 January 2011

Note: This is a piece written by my old college roommate Robert San Juan. May everyone have compassion.

So I was on the train going to work this morning and I was sitting behind this gentleman in a yellow raincoat. I wouldn’t say he was one of the many homeless that jump on the train to keep warm, but I will say he looked down on his luck.

He looked to be over 60, with glasses, a moustache and a dirty baseball cap. He was filling out a work application for some random burger joint that I had never heard of. In the space that was labeled “Where did you hear about us?” he wrote “craigslist” and dotted the “I” with a hollow circle.

Out of his worn bag he then pulled out 3 worn pieces of notebook paper. Those three pieces of paper were entirely covered in the same tiny handwritten scrawl, the i’s all dotted with circles. There was not an empty space left anywhere on the pages. There was writing cross-ways, up the sides, running horizontally and vertically. It looked like a prop from the movie “A Beautiful Mind”… and my first reaction to those pages was “oh no… I bet he’s crazy”. There were barely any spaces between the words making the handwriting almost illegible. ALMOST illegible.

As we rode the train together, he pulled the pages closer to his face so he could read them better, and in effect pulling it closer to me (And yes I did ashamedly invade his privacy by reading over his shoulder). As I studied the pages along with him I realized that every single “entry” on the page was information about jobs… managerial contacts… phone numbers… addresses… websites… URLs… he was really… REALLY looking for a job… somewhere, he had been lucky enough to gain access to a computer and had hand written all of this information on these three pieces of paper in his search for a job…

I found myself feeling severely ashamed that I had so quickly judged him… I felt angry that this man, that so badly wanted a job and wanted to work, did not have one… and I felt sad that I did not have a job to offer him… I wanted to ask him what sort of job he was looking for, thinking I might be able to help him… but was conflicted in that I would have to admit that I had been snooping over his shoulder, or that I might offend his pride in doing so. Before I could make up my lazy, self centered mind, he was up and off the train before I realized it.

So all I have for him now, this man in the yellow raincoat, is prayer. I’m praying for him. Praying that he was getting off the train for a job interview and will be employed very soon… I also have my ability to request prayers for him on his behalf, from those that are believers in prayer… so please pray for him, and all those like him that are searching so hard to provide for themselves and those that they love.

To the man in the yellow raincoat… thank you. Thank you for putting a little more perspective to my day. And I hope you are blessed with more than what you were ever looking for.

The Prayer of Jakin (not Jabez)

11 November 2010

“Dad, here. Take this paper and write down this prayer.” – my son Jakin, 6 years old, before I wrote what’s below, on a Sunday

Jakin's Book 003


Dear God:

I love you. I wanted to say, I liked church. And I thank you for letting us have this special day for us. And I thank you for making us to have this life. And I pray for Jesus and God to have fun up there in Heaven. And I pray that you get more powerful everyday. And I thank you for taking our sins away.

In Jesus name, Amen.

From: Jakin



I love ya, buddy! You are pretty much one of the best people I know, too!

Prayer Time Play by Play

21 September 2010

I went out to the Palo Duro Canyon for some time with God. I felt compelled to give a little play by play about what that is like for me.

Before I tell you, the first thing you should know is that things never go quite as planned. I think God does this on purpose, wanting to have more control over my time with Him than I do. I’m usually cool with going with the flow.

For example, my current routine is to take my bike and ride to the Lighthouse and spend some time The Lighthouse at Palo Duro Canyon with Him there, somewhat exhausted but committed, both recovering and pushing forward (a good mirror to my life, in fact). But that plan was interrupted yesterday by a good friend who wanted to join me. There was a twinge of not wanting to adjust my plan, as there usually is, but then an excited submission to the adjustment, which I usually do.

This morning, bike unloaded, and excited to pick up my friend and enjoy this together, I got a text from him saying he couldn’t get back into town in time. There was (once again) a twinge of not wanting to adjust my plan, then and (again) excited submission to the adjustment. I loaded my bike and was off.

When I went through the park check-in, the thought emerged that I might should ride my bike on a new trail. So I grabbed a map from the Ranger. I drove down the canyon a bit so that I could pull over somewhere beautiful while scouting the map. I lowered my window and took in the postcard-perfect scene. I had the map, but couldn’t take my eyes off the the mist covering the valley, thinking about the temporary beauty I was witnessing, as it was doomed to be burned away by the fast rising sun. Then I noticed just below me a “spot”. It was just hard enough to get to and intriguing enough a place to make me get out, leave my bike behind, and head for it. So I spent my hour there.

As I said, never quite as planned.

As I settled in, I fell into the trap I always do. I’ll call it the “I gotta have an experience” trap. It’s so bogus, but so easy for me start running after. It manifests itself internally, making me strive to do the right, super spiritual thing so as to trigger an “experience with God” of some kind. I face this enemy every week. The phrase that stole it’s power this morning (one always comes, by the way, when I let it) was “Just let the silence do it’s work.”

That work took about 20 minutes. But gratefully, through this vain striving and and into a state of  simply letting go, I began my experience.

Today it came in the form of some thoughts, some triggered by the scene I was sitting in. It sort of cheapens it a bit for me to list them, but I’m gonna list them anyway.

1. I saw a hawk fly in a straight line just below eye level from me. Then I saw two birds way below me flying in circles next to the curved cliff I was on. I noticed how the birds were using the wind swirling in the alcove to catch an updraft and slowly but surely elevate their flight. They did this until they got up to the elevation of the hawk and then they flew off in a straight line as well, at a whole new level. “That’s what I come here for,” I thought. To be elevated, and to fly straight.

2. I don’t want to admit to this one, honestly, because it means more work for me (inward work, not  outward). See, I have had 3 young men ask me directly in the last 6 months to mentor them. They’ve asked politely, knowing that “I’m a busy guy” and not wanting me to feel any sense of pressure. I’ve humbly acknowledged the honor I feel by their request, but secretly, between you and me (and everyone in the world, now), I have not said yes or no because both feel wrong. I just can’t seem to be Helping other up with the request. Don’t get me wrong, I want what I experience in Christ for anyone and everyone. Its too good not to share. I can even acknowledge that there are people who use me as a mentor of sorts, even call me that on occasion. But for someone to ask me formally to do so… shew…it has me frozen in my own values! Humility says I should say no, I have no life worth imitating, but discipleship says I should say yes, it’s in line with who I say I am. So, as God has the habit of doing, he brought this tension to the surface. I felt like God said, “They want to be like you, Brian.” I shuddered. I mean, come on, humility sort of demands that you not agree with that. It’s the super-spiritual thing to do, after all. But here I was, with no one to impress or prove anything to, alone with God and few birds, undeniably dealing with the thought that I need to stop diminishing myself by insisting to the world that I don’t have a life that I think is worth imitating. It sounds arrogant even typing it, and I’m sorry if you can’t see it as anything else, but I do not mean it that way. I’ve always said that my desire is to be so confident of who I am following and how I am living that I could say to others what Paul said to others, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” So…a sort of plan to engage those guys in a mentoring sort of way sort of emerged. So I guess I should sort ask you to sort of pray that I sort of do something about it, please. I’m excited, just shell-shocked. This is new “confidence ground” for me, should I decide to accept it. And I’m not sure I have.

3. My wife came up. She and I have had our plates full (as we all do). And more urgently, she was getting sick last night, and had asked me to pray for her ability to make it through work today. So in addition to just honoring her request, I asked God to show me anywhere at all where I am not being as attentive to her as I am to be. He said not to worry at all, that I am covering every single base there is to cover and that she is just lucky to have a husband like me (and if you believe that, then he also told me that you were supposed to pay off my home mortgage).

4. A question came up. Who was it that Jesus prayed for and who was it that he taught us we should pray for? I could only think of two people groups right off the bat: he told us to pray for more workers in the harvest field of men because the harvest is so plentiful, and he told us to pray for our “enemies” (those who persecute you). There are probably others, and I took note that I should look that up later.

5. A teaching series came to mind that may have applications in my preaching job. “Revolutions” was the word, and the idea was that we are all on the verge of one on any day that we choose. Further, that if we just paid attention and were honest, there is probably “something trying to happen” that  we are either actively resisting, purposefully ignoring, or just playing stupid about. It’s the second time it’s come up, buRevolutionst the first time I connected it to another idea that came up months ago about a series of teachings on fitness – spiritual fitness, physical fitness, financial fitness, emotional fitness, mental fitness, intellectual fitness, relational fitness. Is there a connection? Is this needed by our church family right now? I’m never certain at first. I’ll put it through the filters of my trusted community and the teachings of Jesus in the Bible and we’ll see where that goes. 

6. Finally, starting at about 35 minutes into my time, from way across the canyon, I heard a cow. For the next 15 or 20 minutes, this lone cow’s mooing was slowly and progressively joined by what ended up having to be dozens of cows. It got loud and Cow worshippersistent enough that I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I started scanning for them, and finally I saw the tiny black specks spread out all over, but all looking like they were moving towards a common place. I wasn’t expecting anything spiritual out of this at  all, but then a thought surprised me. “There are people on the planet who think  that cows exist only to be worshipped, and others that think that cows exist only hamburger to be eaten.” Now, I happen to be one of the latter, and frequently prove it at local joint called Blue Sky. But beyond that, it made me think about how some people treat God as only something “out of this world” and never practical, and others treat Him only as something to serve or feed them and never as Someone to revolve their lives around. And then that reminded me of this blog by Wade Hodges.

So there it is, for what it is worth. A tour through a somewhat-typical-but-always-unique Brian Mashburn prayer time. There were some other noteworthy things, but how could I ever capture them all? A relationship with God is an amazingly simple and complex thing.