Monthly Archives: August 2015

Empty buildings

I am “spooked” by abandoned buildings. The word is inadequate. I can’t describe the experience.

When we pastored in northeast Iowa, several of our parishioners worked at Rath Packing in Waterloo, Iowa. Rath was a major employer as was John Deere. The Deere work force declined from thousands to a couple of hundred. I don’t think Rath exists in Waterloo any longer.

We worked several tours in the Rust Belt in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Mother Nature—vegetation and animals refused to notice the padlocks on the fences and were recapturing what cement, bricks and steel had squatted upon. I’ve been told that some of the buildings and factories of Detroit are being “reclaimed.” I really dislike abandoned or unused buildings to the point of being “spooked”—or whatever.

My family ate lunch across the quiet street from the boarded up Rath administration building. Four unoccupied floors. I could look out the small restaurant window and see the boarded up windows and abandoned building. I thought I would have to order tranquilizers for dessert. That building upset me. Since I couldn’t fix it, I wanted to get away from it quickly.

Has a study been done on the commuter who must daily travel past that building with the blocks of former useful industrial buildings, factories and homes? Does the blight affect their moods or productivity?

When I needed a new publicity still, Doug chose an abandoned building downtown as backdrop. Depending on which shot you’re looking at you will see portions of the brick or walls of a 1900 constructed building. Last winter I had a “vision” or “dream” of a carriage house of my youth. It got a hold of me as if I were to find a specific shaped building and build a ministry there. Although the downtown building is a 3-story brick structure, I parked in front of it dozens of times to see if God would explain why the attraction and what I was to do about it. I prayed, listened, looked through the windows, checking the door. One day, I noticed words painted and fading on the west wall advertising CocaCola and that the primary business was a carriage and wagon manufacturing and carriage painting. Maybe that brick building was the specific carriage house, I questioned

I tell the story of the carriage house of my dream in my book Depot. It is a significant story. My book called Carafe Conspiracy uses that 3-floor downtown building as a dumping place (second floor) for a body. For months that building has been a curious attraction and thorn. I’ve been totally unsatisfied by the silence following, “God, what is this all about?”

Last week a local Facebook page called “Pictures of Burlington” chose that building as their Facebook Cover page picture. Now I have floor plans, history and estimates of rehab. I don’t get it! (Literally and figuratively.) It would cost a million plus to make it workable for anything. There are three parking places—hardly adequate for any enterprise. I feel taunted, harassed and stalked.

Fifteen years ago in a rare and remarkable way, I was confronted by Isaiah 58. It was kind of like a destiny revealing event:

“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of broken walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58).

My plans today include note-taking on that downtown 3-story brick building, a new seminar building built on pilings over a small river and the porch of a log lodge. I was reminded a few weeks ago that my ministry is about people, not buildings. However, it is difficult to do ministry without buildings. (And a white board!)

I’m hoping there is a prophet in this tribe and someone with the gift of knowledge—“this is what God may be saying and here is where the money can be found.” Do you hear anything? Do you know something that I should? Revelation? Knowledge? Wisdom?

©2015 D. Dean Benton—writer, wonderer, confused Isaiah 58 person.


Twitter: @DeanBenton


Dog Day Devotions

Kona is a 70 pound Goldendoodle: Standard Poodle and Golden Retriever. She has secondary life goals. Currently, her number one goal is to catch that nasty squirrel. The squirrel totally grasps the safety of doors and screens. The squirrel does not taunt the dog, just does what the dog finds irritating like standing on the lawn between the window and the bird feeder.

That dog is never going to catch the squirrel. She doesn’t know how to tiptoe or to be quiet. Kona talks me into lettering her out and hits the porch like a tank which alerts the rodent before the lumbering dog gets the corner turned. By the time the dog reaches ground zero her enemy is sunbathing up in the tree. The dog spends a lot of time praying to the tree or looking up into the trees or watching the squirrel walking the high wire power lines.

The dog and I were sitting outside on a lovely Sunday afternoon. I was reading and the dog had her long nose pointed to the sky—either looking for Jesus’ return or trying to pray that rodent off the branch. I’ve tried to explain to the white non-flash that she is wasting her time—chasing a squirrel uses lots of energy, but is not accomplishing anything. She gives me that look that my kids/grandkids used to give me: “You just don’t get it, do you?”

Lord, help me to recognize the uncatchable.


When you have a minute, drop by and check out my new ebook.  You may read a sample–20% of the book.  The early editions of this book were used in Sunday school classes and groups.     Thanks.

From the Porch

Two big-name blogs I read this morning unintentionally connect. Perhaps unexpectedly.

For many years I repeated what Peter Wagner said: Jesus Followers will have five home churches each of which will bring something unique. Given TV and Internet, that is easy. We connected last weekend with 5 churches that combined about 200,000 in physical attendance.

The first blog is about why people are not going to church as often—even the “faithful” ones. Follow the link if you want the reasoning behind the reasons:

  1. Greater affluence—more options
  2. Higher focus on kids activities—traveling sports teams: always on Sunday
  3. More travel
  4. Blended and single families—“It’s the kids’ weekend to be with….”
  5. Online options—“I’ll listen as I jog.”
  6. Cultural disappearance of guilt.
  7. Self-directed spirituality
  8. Failure to see direct benefit
  9. Valuing attendance over engagement
  10. Massive cultural shift.

Those are not excuses for non-interested, I saw the “ten” happening with people who care and love “church” and many who really love Kingdom.

The same writer, pastor, jack-of-many-gifts, Carey Nieuwhof wrote how he recovered from his own burnout.

The blog is written from the view of leadership, pastoral at that, but non-preacher types burn out in the clinical sense as well. The answer is not going to church more, nor is burnout caused by going to church too much (depends!)

I’ve been thinking lately about an ex-military guy in New York State who was the executive manager of a church where we did a weekend. He was really disgusted (wasn’t the word he used!) that the preacher brought us in without his permission to talk about burnout and depression. He is never depressed! He said. Probably because he has a liquid coping mechanism that keeps him from feeling anything most of the time. Not everyone I know who borders on or is burned out drinks or takes pills to fight off the feelings.

In the event you will not follow the link, let me list the “12 Keys….”

  1. Tell someone.
  2. Get help
  3. Lean into your friends
  4. Keep leaning into God
  5. Rest
  6. Find something to take your attention away from your pain
  7. Do what you can
  8. Don’t do anything drastic or stupid
  9. Trust again.
  10. Closely monitor balance
  11. Watch for the warning signs
  12. Take full responsibility for the health of your soul

The recovery keys show you that not all the church offers can be downloaded. Certainly, not all are available by sitting in a straight row on Sunday morning.

Of the five connections for the healthy Jesus-Follower is a place like The Quest House. For 50 years I’ve been preaching that one of the great needs is a place for the single father to go after he takes the kids back to the mother’s house or a place to sit with people who talk about life or just to be with someone. Loneliness is the greatest cause of relapse for addicts and greatest pain for singles.

The Quest House is a healing place. It is where interaction takes place—conversation. Where questions are answered and intellectual curiosity is welcomed and stimulated. Where holy discontent is celebrated and purposeful engagement is launched. Finding your place to invest with the second-half—to finish well. It is the community you’ve always longed for—or long for when you smell something like soul smoke.

Life-groups, prayer partners, skill-building classes and interaction around spiritual-emotional and spiritually health-building subjects are addressed in a seminar/conversation format. EPIC lives at Quest House: Experience, Participation, Images, Connection. Where you can heal from unique maladies like burnout or take a class in how to find healing for “I’m not…enuf.”

Quest Houses (no matter what these coffee houses, seminar suites or stand alone buildings are called) have no interest in replicating or replacing local churches, but offering a para-church ministry that cannot be downloaded from the Internet, plugged into your ear or experienced sitting in a pew.

From the porch

©2015 D. Dean Benton

My ebook HopePushers will be available within a few days. Excited!

West Wing Closet

Alice Roosevelt Longworth described Warren G. Harding and his crudities as “just a slob.” Alice was often “over the top” in her descriptions. Most people were drawn to his warmth and easy personality. Especially the women. He was considered handsome and allegedly used “a small closet in the anteroom in the West Wing” for sexual activities.

His 700 page biography has been in my library for several years. It is intriguing because of the blank pages and excised paragraphs. The author of The Shadow of Blooming Grove, Francis Russell explains:

“This book as it now appears has a scattering of blank spaces in the text of several chapters where I had originally quoted from Hardings’ love letters to Carrie Phillips. I have been forced to these deletions because of a restraining order….”

Rather than delay the publication beyond the previous four years, the writer explains “…leaving blanks where quotations from the letters…. In his sexuality, he was Adolphe rather than Don Juan. Carrie Phillips was clearly the love of his life, and he was more loving than loved.”

A New York Times headline today says that DNA has proven that Harding did indeed have a love child. The mother was not Carrie Phillips, but Nan Britton who was 31 years younger than the 29th President. She wrote a book, “The President’s Daughter” which created 90 years of rebuttal, scandal and stirred resentment toward Ms. Britton’s family.

Well, the new DNA test proves beyond a doubt—Elizabeth Ann Blaesing was President Warren G. Harding’s daughter. Her grandson says, “She loved this guy. The tests finally vindicate my grandmother. I wanted to prove who she was….”

Funny. Carrie Phillips is also vindicated as is the writer Francis Russell. The blank pages and the empty paragraphs have bothered me because they suggested a story about a person who some tried to erase from history. The sadness grows as I think of this story. Harding provided financial support, but never met his daughter. Never met his daughter!

In my scraping the walls of my soul to ask about my passion and purpose, it is clear to me that I am motivated to help people find who they are and why God placed them on the planet at this specific time. Also it is the desire to minister healing to those who are held back by self-rejection, self-betrayal (or conscious sin) from being the whole person God meant when He first thought of them.

A forty-year old acquaintance is “feeling” as if something is missing. Satisfaction eludes him. He responds to that undefined itch by “trading up.” Jobs, relationships, possessions. Many of his friends would like to be in his shoes, but he is uncomfortable in his shoes. He doesn’t know if he fits in his own shoes—or if they are really his shoes.

He can’t verbalize what is missing, but he is driven by the lack. The “wound” happened prior to his ability to conceptualize or verbalize what he was feeling and experiencing. Carole asked me, “Will he ever be in any environment where God can speak to him about what is missing?”

My soul surged at the question. My passion is to provide that atmosphere based on the belief that the Holy Spirit—Counselor—reaches that deep and does good work.

I do not find Harding’s dalliances titillating. My passion is to bring healing to the unfulfilled soul and in the case of Nan Britton, it is the question of not fitting, not belonging and feeling as if life is not what it should be.

My new novel Depot is about finding the place we fit and what caused the sink hole for Gil and Amanda Adams. It is about the pursuit and discovery of that which keeps us from being comfortable in our own skin and shoes. And for the Elizabeth Ann in us who wonders where we fit and where we belong. And if we are legit.

Have you heard of a spiritual DNA test?

© 2015 D. Dean Benton Writer, Wonderer, Husband of my wife, Father of my kids

Is this refining?

HopePushers-possession with intent to deliver

Chapter 41

Some difficult things have nothing to do with tests, temptations or trials. The reason we face them is that we need to learn something or expand our abilities to accomplish God’s purposes. God will not bail us out, or bail on us, but neither will He keep us from running away.

A very talented young baseball player with potential of being one of the best was having a difficult time with major league pitchers. A reporter asked his manager if he thought the player would play winter ball. The manager said, “It is his career. He’ll have to make that decision.”

Refining is about developing personality and character. It is about honing crafts and skills and putting luster on the treasure God placed in us. It may feel like severe testing, but God isn’t trying to see if you’ll break.8

Hebrews speaks of “testing” the Israelites in the Wilderness. Actually, I think the testing was over for that one generation. It was too late for them. The “testing” of those who would enter the Promised Land is better called preparation. God was building a people who could govern themselves, occupy a land and build distinctive families. I wonder who taught the adults who entered Canaan. If a person who has never been parented cannot parent, then those who failed the test in the Wilderness could not have been the tutors. Who taught whom? The good news for all of us is God does some direct teaching called “refining,” and appoints prophets to coach truth by revelation.

It is a bad assumption for me. When someone says they are sick, in pain or in trouble because God is trying to teach them something. I want to vehemently explain that God is not sadistic. He does not inflict hurt because He wants to. I try to explain that people are not held under microscopes while the Deity uses pins to attach us to a display board as if we were a moth.

Dr. Dan Allender was a visiting professor in John Eldredge’s graduate counseling class. Allender is one of the premier therapists in the Christian world. His books occupy space in my library. He said to the class that day,

“To help someone solve their problems without God is demonic. Pain is often where God is most at work in someone’s life, and it is often their pain which drives them to find God in ways they haven’t given a s—about before. To remove the pain, without them wrestling with God, is to work against Him in the situation.”

John Eldredge adds, “The abusive elder now on the brink of public divorce is forced to deal with his violence. The addict now reeling from bankruptcy is forced to deal with his emptiness. To shortcut the process by relieving the pain would be to shortcut the redemption of their souls.”

I like the phrase “Don’t come in from the desert experience too soon.” People tend to promise anything to escape the pain—bad situation, so how do we know? God does indeed do some of His best work with us while we are squirming in desert heat. How are our friends and sensitive tribe members to know when to come to our desert and help us home?

If it is your skin that is being parched and you are sensitive to God, then you will know when it is time—unless you are punishing yourself or a habitual masochistic type. You will know. Don’t come in “off the ledge” too soon.

Perhaps one of the first questions from the fire fight is to ask: What am I being taught? How will I know when I’ve learned? How do we measure refined? It is not God’s design that you become a sun-bleached skeleton in the Mohave. It is that you be formed into the likeness of His Son who spent 40 days in his own desert.

Copyright 2015 D. Dean Benton

From Dean’s ebook HopePushers to be published in August. This chapter is from Section 8–Talk Me In Off The Ledge.

Passion Tools

The Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question: ‘Did he have passion?’” (Dean Kansky, Serendipity)

I’ve been thinking lately about my current passion—the configuration of things that drive my time spent and use of resources and gifts. What is it? Writer Jeff Goins among a ton of others says we need to first define our passion. The word is frequently used by my family. My teenage granddaughter has recently discovered a new expression of a red-hot passion and wants to talk about it. Comparing what I felt at her age with where I am today, I’m wondering what the Greeks would say about me.

It is time to scrape the barnacles off my soul and figure this out. I’ve never scraped a barnacle and couldn’t find one at Walmart if I knew what aisle it was in. But I have scraped paint, so I think I can tackle this.

My toolboxes—I have several—are rich with squares, levels, stud finders and a cordless drill. I have attempted to build a house with a screwdriver and hammer and that didn‘t turn out great. What are the tools to rediscover one’s passion?

A heart lurch. Gordon MacDonald has enriched my summer with his book Mid-Course Correction which Jon Acuff recommended. MacDonald talks a bit about being part of the evangelical wing of the church which is emphatic about born-again experiences. He says,

“…our movement is quite familiar with conversions. But I confess that I question our understanding of continuing conversion, the spiritual journey that takes us from the Cross and prods us toward…where the evidence of deep change shows itself.” (page 232)

My heart surged when I read that. I’m all about nurturing people into their callings and the journey between the Cross and Heaven: Healing wounds, deliverance from bondage, the decision and then the equipping to accept and to appropriately love one’s self. (An open door and a launching pad!) My heart lurches toward deep change events.

I look for tools to implement and then maintain personal change. That is why Brene Brown’s research and writing on shame (“I’m not…enough.”) and Leanne Payne’s work on the power of self-acceptance and the destructiveness of self-rejection are important to me. That’s the reason I study what they say and want to share them with whoever will listen. They are resources.

My sister-in-law (complicit with my wife) asked me to hang pictures and stuff on her newly painted house walls. First of all, I find drilling holes into a new or freshly painted wall despicable. I get grumpy, sarcastic and menacing with sharp objects. I used a level to make sure. The top of the mirror was level but it looked crooked. It was crooked. My wife can spot an off-level shelf from a thousand feet. The mirror didn’t need to be level on the top as much as it needed to be square with the two walls it hung between. Now there are three new holes in the fresh paint and it is not level. Unhappy guy with hammer! But the stupid thing looks right.

Passion takes into account such emotional and intellectual wiring. It also accounts for personal preferences.

We have two family dogs who frequent our house. If you drew a straight line between our front door and the mail box and then measured six inches on either side of that line, those dogs would assume that their toilet boundaries have been marked out. In our whole yard they like the places where I walk. As we search our souls for passion, we need resources to keep us from “stepping in it.”

  1. A tribe
  2. A spiritual director may be another.
  3. An inflow of refreshment and stimulation
  4. A frequently freshened conversation with God.

After 38 years of living as an atheist, Anne Rice began her path back to God and to her church. She says about the days of departure from her early faith, “I lost my intimate conversation with God… I stopped talking to Him and looking to Him to help me—long before I lost my faith.”

After much frustration, I learned the value of keeping the wood plane sharp. (That sounds like something Stephen Covey would say.) A frequent conversation with God is part of the process. A tool for finding your passion—the motivating, stimulating producer of the best in you to touch your world with the love of God, His provision that grows into life-change. Does it help me? Usually. Sometimes it just confuses me as I try to connect what I’m hearing with what I’m doing.

©2015 D. Dean Benton—

Stay connected: Follow me on Twitter: @DeanBenton

Planting for better Anniversaries

I’ve been thinking about a Baptist Church in Memphis where we worked one Sunday night a long time ago. Can’t remember our connection—how we were booked. The pastor said, “Just don’t tell them you’re not a Baptist!” The word got out! What keeps crashing into my mind is an overheard phrase from the usher’s conversation prior to the service. They were talking about a mutual acquaintance:

“That boy better plant his fields.”

Anniversaries for me are surrounded by doubt and recrimination: “I could have done this better—I should have done this better.” I was not prepared for marriage. Never took a class, didn’t have many adult friends who were married and did not spend much time with my relatives who had good marriages. In those days, the words, “modeling family/marriage…” wasn’t part of the national conversation. For sure, I did not plant any marriage fields.

One of our friends congratulated us on our anniversary for “quite an accomplishment.” That has given me something to calculate. What did we accomplish? It has been my pleasure to have Carole in our publicity stills. She classes up the photo, but ministry accomplishments or failures are not the same as marital accomplishments. I’ve been proud to share the billing as parent and grandparent with The Lady. I know who gets top billing in those relationships. Those and many other “accomplishments” can happen just by being together, with little effort. Marriage is more than just surviving the years together, although that is worth celebrating.

A friend charged us with being co-dependent. I asked him what his point was. We share one brain and I get to use it on Tuesdays. Carole does an excellent job with stuff I don’t care about as well as with her own stuff. She is organized, I function in moderate chaos. We are a team.

The other day when we were discussing whether our anniversary was on the 29th or 30th or 31st, a newspaper article was at the center of my desk about A Mindful Marriage which is another way of saying, PAY ATTENTION—Plant your fields so you’ll have something to harvest.

A few years ago, we were on our way to lead a marriage retreat. Carole was talking and writing notes on the communication session. I reached over and turned on the radio. There is a marker on I-80 near Joliet that says, “Dean could have been killed here.”

The key component to “accomplishment” is intentionality. The mindful couple is aware of the moment and paying attention to it with connection, listening, asking opinion, vulnerability–“I’m fearful” or “That makes me feel happy,” compassion, asking questions like, “Did you sleep well?” or “Did you wake well?” And the most important question: “How can I help?”

Marriage Field planting:

  1. Plan time with your spouse. No TV, phones, books. Just each other.
  2. Make your spouse your priority.
  3. Continually learn about each other.
  4. Take time for affection.
  5. Learn something new together.
  6. Do your partner’s favorite thing often.
  7. Share a genuine compliment.
  8. Say ‘thank you’ often.
  9. Plan together.
  10. Service.

(From writer Alison Bowen—Chicago Tribune. “A mindful marriage can reinvigorate relationship) Well worth the read!

The book The Mindful Couple is written by Darrah Westrup)

Carole, happy anniversary. I love you.

©2015 D. Dean Benton

Writer, Wonderer, Novice Field Planter