Category Archives: character

A muddle in the middle.

(First published November 17, 2010.)

I love stories about people praying and then having answers. It’s exciting.

I mean, think about this story:

Paul writes a letter to some people in Rome. He talks about his travel schedule and his desire to visit them. And he asks them to pray for him.

Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. (Romans 15:31-32)

In the travelogue that is the book of Acts, we find the end of that story.

And so we came to Rome.  The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people, Paul thanked God and was encouraged. (Acts 28:14-15)

It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Paul asks, God answers, and he is refreshed by the people from Rome. It would never happen that nicely for us, of course, not being as spiritual as Paul, but it’s nice nonetheless.

IMG_1138.JPGOf course, there is part of the story that doesn’t show up between the prayer and the answer. Paul does go to Jerusalem. He’s beaten and then arrested. After a plot to kill him, he’s taken to Caesarea. He stays in prison there for a couple years. He appeals to Caesar and is taken as a prison to Rome. On his way there, the ship is wrecked but they safely gets to Malta. He’s bitten by a snake but lives. Another ship takes them.

And so he comes to Rome, in chains, but safe.

Sometimes in the middle, the story feels muddled, but the ship may yet arrive.


Cleaning out the attic.

First published December 10, 2010. Still true today. 

I spent some time in the attic last weekend. It was time. Stuff accumulates.

Empty boxes saved in case something breaks. A broken string trimmer saved in case someday I know how to fix it. Mugs saved because someone gave them to me . . . from events that are over . . . at institutions that no longer exist.

I don’t like cleaning, in part, because it reminds me of my failures. Forgotten commitments. Wishful promises. Neglected relationships.

The problem, of course, with cramming all that stuff in the attic is that the ceiling of the garage is sagging a bit. The ladder that hung straight when we moved in 14 years ago is now a bit crooked. My unwillingness to deal with stuff is causing actual damage.

David talked about cleaning in Psalm 51. He says,

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

We often read things like that, talk about God crushing bones, and we think, “See, he’s horrible.”

But then I think about cramming stuff in the attic and I realize that often, it is my unwillingness to deal with what is wrong that results in the crushing. There is a dull ache from ignored conflict. Sin, for that is what it often is, hurts. Until I address the reasons I stuff things out of sight, the ceiling will continue to sag. The bones will be crushed.

The point of cleaning is not the pain, it’s the result. Cleaning, cleansing, results in freedom, in restoration, in space and simplicity.

I must confess that every time I deep clean, whether the attic or my heart, there is emotional pain. Facing failing God and others hurts.

But my bones always feel better.

Working on who we are.

A guest post by Jeff Arnold.

I have a love-hate relationship with my career. I love the work, but hate to be part of an industry that has been dying a slow, painful death for years.

When people ask what I do, I can’t get the word sportswriter out of my mouth fast enough. My answer is received with the romanticized reaction you’d expect as visions of spending days at the ballpark or arena immediately rise to the surface.

But the hate portion of the love-hate recipe partially stems from the admission that at times, I have allowed What I Do to take priority over the Who I Am relationships with my family, my wife, and my God.

It’s a road marred with pitfalls and potholes.

In the good times, my career was strictly hands-off – a race to the top I felt only I could control. But by allowing What I Do to define Who I Am, I left myself vulnerable to times when my job was eliminated or when stories I had high hopes for missed their mark.

So when I came across a line in Tim Keller’s book, Every Good Endeavor, it delivered a swift kick to the gut.

When work is your identity, if you are successful it goes to your head. If you are a failure it goes to your heart.

identityFailure has always been my biggest fear. So when failure hit my heart – especially as it related to my life’s calling – it took on greater significance. It caused me to rightly or wrongly, re-consider all I had known to be true.

Yet, it’s in that sobering moment when our true identity as one of God’s children takes precedence, helping us realize that what we do really has nothing to do with who we truly are.

What’s not to love about that?


Jeff Arnold lives in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, where he works as a contributing writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and considers whether a second Chicago Marathon would be the end of him.

Doing God’s work.

A guest post by Jeff Arnold.

In the beginning, there was work.

The concept seems simple. In the beginning, God worked. He created work for us to enjoy. But somewhere along the way, work went from being divinely created to manually distorted. In a perfect world, Tim Keller writes in his book Every Good Endeavor, work provides us an outlet to put our skill set on display. That gives our lives purpose, but also provides a stage on which to showcase God’s image for the working world to see.

But then again, we don’t operate surrounded by perfection.

I once worked for a demanding and often aggravating newspaper editor who routinely came to my desk while I was reporting my latest story and enthusiastically proclaimed, “Remember, we’re doing God’s work.”

It’s an oft-used journalistic mantra, one I could appreciate and be inspired by when considered in my editor’s context alone. But when I mixed in my Christian perspective, I quickly realized I was being held to a higher standard.

When considered divinely, God’s work becomes our work. And in turn, our work becomes God’s. But as Keller points out, if we lose sight of the reasoning behind the meaningful work God created for us to glorify Him with, work can become ugly. It can become fruitless, pointless and self-centered – everything God never intended for it to become.

workFor work to, well, work in our lives, it must – Keller writes – remain in its proper role, subservient to God. It must give way to not only work stoppage for bodily repair, but also for the joyful reception of the work and ordinary life.

It’s quite the high-wire balancing act.

So the question becomes simple or perhaps simply complicated. What are we working for? Who are we working for? And at the end of the day, is our working actually working?


Jeff Arnold lives in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, where he works as a contributing writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and considers whether a second Chicago Marathon would be the end of him.

And The Art of Work ebook is on sale for $2.99 this week.

Asking the right question.

A guest post by Aaron Charles.

Have you ever felt stuck? You’re constantly plugging away, yet the whole time you’re longing for something more.

You want to find your calling.

We’ve all felt that way from time to time, I think. In The Art of Work, author Jeff Goins gets to the root of the issue.

“What if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do? What if you have no idea what your passion is? These are the questions we ask when trying to figure out what we should do with our lives. And they are good questions…but they are not the right questions.”

Not the right questions?! When we’re unsure of our purpose, those are the exact thoughts running through our minds! But, hold on, maybe we do need to ask some different questions.

art“When we say we don’t know what to do, what we’re really doing is asking something deeper. What we want to know is this: ‘Can you promise me I won’t fail?’ And the answer is no. Of course not. Nobody can promise that…Yes, you could fail, but we all know what happens when you don’t try – nothing. Certainly there will be bumps in the road, even wrong turns, but at least you will be moving.”

Something tells me you already have a sneaking suspicion of your calling. You know why I say that? Because mine is welling up inside of me.

I want to write.

While writing a book may seem like a daunting task now, there are steps I can take even today to become a better writer.

There are steps you can take today towards your calling, too.

Don’t wait until you have it all figured out. You’ll be waiting a while. Instead, take some baby steps today. It might be as simple as asking yourself a question.


Aaron Charles is an assistant account executive at a marketing agency in South Bend, Ind. He is married to his beautiful wife, Sarah. They’ve gone on many adventures together, including a trip to the Super Bowl. Aaron’s dream is to write books. You can find his weekly writings at

And The Art of Work ebook is on sale for $2.99 this week.

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