Pre- Miracle Territory

Sooner or later you’re going to find yourself here. You have a problem you can’t solve. You have a need you can’t meet. You have an adversary you cannot overcome.

We see this everywhere in the Bible. Moses and the Israelis escape Egyptian slavery only to find themselves backed against the Red Sea with the Egyptian army closing in. Pre-miracle territory. A woman spends all she has on doctors, and, instead of getting better, she gets worse. Pre-miracle territory. Elijah, hiding from King Ahab, drinks from the brook, but then the brook dries up. Pre-miracle territory.

I’m not talking about presumption. We don’t jump out in front of a semi and expect God to show up and save us. I’m talking about doing your best to stay in step with God, and your path takes you into trouble that’s way over your head.

In fact, I will say this: If you don’t occasionally find yourself in pre-miracle territory, I feel sorry for you. If you always have enough money, if you always have good health, if you can always solve your own problems thank you very much, then you have no opportunity to experience a God who is much, much bigger than you.

Are you in a mess? Lift up your head. Listen for the voice of God. Get ready for the deliverance God has custom designed for you.

Coaching and new training available

Hi all

I know I’ve been silent for a long time.

Here’s what I’ve been working on.

#1 I’ve been working on a short mini-course, Overcoming Life’s Biggest Challenges. The course will include:

  • Overcoming inner barriers
  • Overcoming life-controlling issues
  • Overcoming disabling beliefs
  • Overcoming a painful past
  • Overcoming bitterness and anger
  • Overcoming difficult emotions
  • Overcoming challenges caused by difficult people

The course will be free, and I hope to have it available in the next week or two.

#2 Videos online and more! For those of you who have my textbook, Spiritual Self Defense, I have great news! I finally edited all the videos linked from the textbook, and I’ve posted them online. The DVD is not yet ready (although I did buy the software to author it—just need to figure it out), but I hope to get that out in the next month or so. I’m also creating a course to go with the Spiritual Self Defense material which should be available sometime in the next few weeks. Spiritual Self Defense gives you an in-depth strategy for overcoming spiritual bullies like addiction, anxiety, anger, and much more.

#3 I’m launching a Christian transformation coaching service. This is halfway in between life coaching and transformation prayer ministry. Check it out here:

#4 Kim and I are offering intensive training in TPM (transformational prayer ministry) this summer. Enrollment is limited, and the deadline to enroll is in the next couple days. Info here:

In other news, the house is up for sale, and I probably need to repair the roof this week. If you want to help, I’d be delighted!

Have a super day!


Are we really wretched sinners?

Today’s post will be longer than most, but I want to clear up some confusion about who we are and why it matters.

A troubling passage
In Romans 7:14-24 (NIV) we come across a troubling passage. Here are some excerpts: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. … For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature [or my flesh]. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. … making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me…?”

What gives? If Paul, a great leader, pioneer, and example to us all couldn’t overcome sin, what hope do the rest of us have?

We need to understand what Paul is saying. If we get it wrong, it can mess with our minds for years. (It sure messed with mine.)

Never read Romans 7 without also reading chapters 6 and 8
To make sense of this passage, we need to return to the first rule of Bible interpretation: Consider the context. How does this passage fit into the flow of thought throughout the entire book of Romans? How does it fit the times in which it was written? How does it fit into the flow of thought for the entire Bible?

When this passage was originally written, there were no chapter divisions, no verse divisions. I’m sure Paul never imagined that anyone would consider this passage all by itself without taking into account everything he said before and after.

So what does he say before and after?

In the book of Romans, Paul asks and answers a big question: What kind of goodness puts you right with God?

Okay without Jesus?
Back then (as today) there was a school of thought that said, “You don’t need Jesus. Just be a good person. That’s all that matters.” In those days, it was expressed like this: “All you need is the law (of Moses from the Old Testament). If you have the law, you’ll be okay.”

“No, you will NOT be okay,” says Paul over and over again in the book of Romans and throughout his writings. “Instead, the law will show you just how corrupt you are apart from Jesus.”

Do we Christians have a split personality?
In many translations of Romans 7, Paul talks about our “sinful nature.” “Sinful nature” is, I think, a misleading translation. It gives the idea that Christians have a dual identity—a redeemed nature and a sinful nature.

That’s what I believed for years and years. I have a good nature and a bad nature, and my sin nature gets me into all kinds of trouble. No matter how hard I try, I will mess up, because I have a sinful nature. Millions of Christians believe this. But I don’t believe it any more. I’ll explain why, and I’ll explain why I think it’s so very important to get this straight.

“Flesh”—what it means and why it matters
“Sinful nature” is more accurately translated “flesh.” Go to, turn to the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and do a search for the word “flesh.” You’ll find a couple hundred passages including passages like 2 Chronicles 32:8 that makes it clear that “flesh” often means human effort apart from God (and often in opposition to God). Whenever “flesh” is contrasted to God or God’s Spirit, “flesh” shows up as weak, failing, corruptible.

So what does “flesh” mean in this context? I would describe it as human effort apart from God.

Why the law doesn’t help
Remember, Paul is writing to a mixed group. Some of the people receiving his letter were putting their hope in the Old Testament law rather than putting their hope in Jesus. That was a problem.

So Paul lays it out like this:
Law is good
Law + flesh = failure

Remember: flesh = human effort apart from God

So: Law + human effort apart from God = sin

The “wretched sinner” in us is dead
What do we learn in Romans 6? We learn that our old self is dead. The you with a propensity for sin (call it your sin nature if you want)—it’s dead. We have died to sin. Because we died to sin, we are no longer slaves to sin. Sin does not control us. Sin doesn’t call the shots; we do.

We’ve all heard this before, and I think we tend to zone out when we hear it. So let me add this:

Something that’s dead isn’t simultaneously alive. Sorry. It doesn’t work like that. If it’s dead, it’s dead. Something that’s dead isn’t alive, well, and active in your life. It’s dead. In the coffin. Buried. Underground. Gone. Dead.

This isn’t just nice sounding Christian words. This is reality—a far different reality than most Christians believe.

We’re not under the law—what that means
Romans 6 states, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Not only have we died to sin, but we have died to the Old Testament law. (See Romans 7:1-4.) We need to be very careful to understand what that means. It doesn’t mean that we throw away God’s moral code. Murder is still wrong. Stealing is still wrong. Adultery is still wrong.

What it DOES mean is this: our goodness comes from a different place. It doesn’t come from human effort apart from God (flesh). It doesn’t come from obeying a set of rules. Instead, it comes from our union with Jesus where His desires become our desires, His wishes our wishes.

So what is Romans 7 about?
First, what it’s NOT about:
Romans 7
does NOT mean we Christians fight a losing battle with sin
does NOT mean we Christians have a dual identity of new righteous nature and old sinful nature

Instead, Romans 7:14-24 is merely a description of what life would be if our sinful nature wasn’t dead and we had to rely on human effort apart from God to keep the Old Testament law in order to be right with God.

Our reality
At the end of Romans 7, Paul asks the question: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Then he answers it, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ. In chapter 8, one of the most triumphant chapters of the entire Bible, he expands on that answer.

  • We are not condemned.
  • We are set free from the law of sin and death.
  • We live according to the Spirit.
  • We don’t live by the flesh.
  • We are children of God.
  • Our present sufferings are nothing compared to what God has for us.
  • God’s Spirit prays for us.
  • Everything works together for our good.
  • Nothing can separate us from God’s love.

Why this matters
Let me explain it like this: I’m Dwight Clough. I act like Dwight Clough. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t stand in front of the mirror and give myself a little pep talk, “Okay, Dwight, today I want you to try really hard to act like Dwight Clough.” Nonsense. I don’t need to try. Dwight Clough is who I am.

Once in a while I do something that is out of character for me. But this is the exception. As a rule, I act like Dwight Clough because I am Dwight Clough.

We act out of our identity. Who we are determines what we do.

In the book of Romans, Paul makes a compelling case about who we are. We are God’s children, led by His Spirit, free from the control of sin, dead to the demands of the law, alive to the desires of God. That is who we are. And we will act from our identity.

So, why the struggle with sin?
Okay, if all this is true, then why does Romans 7 sound so real to so many Christians? Why do we struggle with sin?

Let me suggest that the culprit is deception. I’ve written about this extensively elsewhere, but I’ll summarize here: Deep down (often below our everyday awareness), we believe lies about ourselves, about God, about our world. Those lies cause pain. We try to medicate that pain with inadequate solutions. Those solutions are sin.

But Jesus says we shall know the truth, and the truth shall set us free. (John 8:32) For the Christian, one of the most important things we can do is receive truth from Jesus in those hurting places in our lives. As we do, all of this will sound a whole lot less like abstract theory and a whole lot more like every day reality.

Sin is the disease … Jesus is the cure

Sin is the disease … Jesus is the cure

Duh! Right? Everybody knows that—at least everybody who claims to be a Christian.

I’m not so sure.

For many years, my understanding went like this:

God’s anger is the problem. Jesus is the solution.

God is angry. Sure—righteously angry—but angry nonetheless, and nobody wants to get in the way of an angry God.

Why is God angry? Because we’re bad. We’re bad; God’s angry; that’s a problem.

But Jesus got between us and God, absorbed God’s anger, and if we accept the gift of salvation, then God won’t be angry at us any more.

So our biggest need was forgiveness, and our biggest problem now is convincing ourselves that God isn’t still (secretly) angry at us any more.

That’s what I thought, but now I see it differently. Here’s how I see it now:

Sin destroys all that is good and holy. A child is molested and scarred for life. A spouse is unfaithful, and a family is torn apart. A person sinks into a harmful addiction. Sin destroys people, families, communities, and nations. Sin put Jesus on the cross.

But God is greater than sin; Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus is alive and well. He is repairing the damage done by sin and removing the power of sin in our lives. We, His followers, have new identities—not as sinners, but as children of God—part of the solution—not part of the problem.

So the biggest need is not for us to be forgiven, but for us to be transformed. Heaven will be populated not with forgiven sinners but with transformed saints.

That’s what I’m thinking. And, for me, that changes everything. What are your thoughts?

When making the right choice hurts other people

One day Jesus turned to His close friend Peter and said, “Get out of My way, Satan!”

I’m guessing that did not leave Peter with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

Jesus, led by the Spirit, left in His wake a trail of hurt, angry, offended, and even humiliated people. He healed on the Sabbath, and His enemies are humiliated. He raises Lazarus from the dead, and the leaders of religion are furious. He goes to His death, and Simon of Cyrene gets stuck carrying the cross.

I wish doing good always made everybody happy. But it doesn’t.

Okay. There are some people who are just offensive. They hurt people and blame it on the gospel.

I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about doing the right thing, the good thing, and other people—even people you love—get hurt.

How do you navigate through that?

At first glance, the Bible doesn’t offer much reassurance. Jesus said “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26

No, Jesus isn’t asking us to hate people. He’s merely saying that a choice between Jesus and somebody else isn’t a choice. Choose Jesus.

Sooner or later, in one form or another, life puts that choice to us. Jesus or somebody else? Choose.

Abraham was willing to give up his son Isaac if he had to choose between Isaac and God. Why? What gave Abraham the confidence to do that?

I think we find the beginning of an answer in Hebrews 11:19. Abraham had confidence that God knew how to take care of Isaac.

Maybe that’s what this is all about. Maybe God needs to pry from our fingers those things and those people we value most so we can discover that our treasures are much safer in His hands than in ours.

So, yes, we choose Jesus even when it means other people get hurt. It’s a test of faith. It’s a test of leadership. And, no, it ain’t easy.


PS. Sorry I’ve been out of the loop. I’ve been getting our home ready for sale; you can read about it here:
I hope to be more engaged in coming weeks.

Head vs. gut

Someone recently said to me, “My head says one thing, and my guts are in knots saying the other.”

Isn’t that in many ways our central struggle? Our minds tell us we are forgiven, yet our hearts feel guilt and shame. Our Bible tells us God is our refuge, but we feel anxiety or fear. Our theology says peace and joy, but our gut is tied up in knots.

Why is that?

Let me suggest that there is a wall in our soul. On one side of the wall is what we believe with our intellect. For Christians, this is the side of the wall where you find sermons, Bible studies, theology, and our official beliefs. On the other side of the wall is what we believe with our experience. This is where we tend to find beliefs like, “I’m not safe,” “I’m not okay,” “I don’t matter.”

We keep pouring new information onto the intellect side and hope it spills over to the gut-level side, but it doesn’t. The only thing that changes the experience side is a fresh experience with Jesus that corrects one or more of those faulty beliefs.

Is that possible? Yes! It happens all the time. I call them quiet miracles. Jesus will meet with you, but you gotta be willing to take Him to the place of pain inside. And that’s the catch. That’s a scary thing to do. But for those who can find the courage to do that, a beautiful world of transformation awaits.

Hey, could you do me a favor? I’m trying to decide where to focus my energies. Would you like to see me create more resources on this topic? Vote on my blog, ping me back, leave a comment—could you let me know? Thanks!

Would you like to see more resources on how to change gut-level beliefs?

“Someone needs to change for me to be okay…”

How much power do other people have in your life?

I don’t know about you, but more than once I’ve had this kind of thought:

“Someone needs to change for me to be okay…”

Maybe it’s a boss, a spouse, a coworker, a child, a parent, a sibling, a friend. I spent the first fifteen years of my marriage trying to change my wife, and the exercise only served to make us both unhappy.

I get it. Some people are trapped in abusive relationships and cannot escape. Think North Korea, human trafficking, the Holocaust. Which brings me to this disclaimer: If you’re in an abusive relationship, and you have the power to get out, get out! Now. Don’t wait. Get help. Get to a place of safety.

But most of us are NOT in that situation. Most of us are simply triggered by the actions of other people. Their anger, their rudeness, their quirkiness, or something about them pulls up in us all kinds of feelings that leave us…uncomfortable.

Why doesn’t God change them?

Okay, I won’t speak for you. I’ll speak for myself. God didn’t change the people who were triggering me because He was busy trying to help me grow. He was showing me, among other things, that I was giving other people way too much power in my life. Why would I give someone else the power to control my happiness?

He was showing me how to take that power back and keep it inside myself where it belongs.

I’m a work in progress on this—for sure. But the more God works with me, the less other people trigger me. And that is a good thing.

Hey, could you do me a favor? I’m trying to decide where to focus my energies. Would you like to see me create more resources on this topic? Vote on my blog, ping me back, leave a comment—could you let me know? Thanks!

Would you like to see me offer additional resources on finding the power not to be triggered by other people?

Thanks for voting. It really helps!

Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Jesus and King David were both born in Bethlehem.
I’m going to retire the Bible trivia section of this blog for now so we can focus more on other content. Many thanks to those of you who sent me notes on the Bible trivia. 🙂

How much happier would you like to be? Part three

stressed > relaxed

The other day I got a call from my insurance agent. My homeowners policy is going to be canceled. Insurance company is going out of the home lines business.

No problem, right? Just get a policy with another company.

Small catch. Our roof is too old. Other companies don’t want to insure this house. And, of course, we need insurance. But we don’t have money to replace the roof.

Once upon a time, something like this would have tied my stomach up in knots. I would have been frantic. What will we do? What will we do?

But I don’t feel particularly stressed by it. Understand—I’m a work in progress just like everybody else. I have my moments. But I see this as part of the great adventure. I think this opens up new possibilities. I talked with the Lord about this, and He said, “I’m going to take care of you. You will be okay.”

So, in place of terror is this sense of excitement. God is about to do something exciting for us. I don’t know yet what it will be, but I know it’s gonna be good.

Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: King Joash murdered Zechariah, the son of Jeohoiada, Joash’s mentor.
New question: Jesus and King David were both born in what city?

How much happier would you like to be? Part two

About a week ago I posted something I called the human satisfaction index:

empty > satisfied
stressed > relaxed
powerless > powerful
anxious > at peace
sad > happy
depressed > joyful
striving > content
desperate > fulfilled
rejected > embraced
lonely > belonging
trapped > free
success > significance
low self image > high self image
fearful > confident
confused > clear
troubled > okay

I asked the question whether Jesus cares where we are on this. And you gave me some great feedback.

Now I’d like to share a little bit of my story. I’m going to focus on this one:

stressed > relaxed

There was a time in my life when I did not know how to relax. I know this might sound a little crazy—but because of some difficult things I went through, I couldn’t sit at a kitchen table without shaking. I woke up even more tired than when I went to sleep because I couldn’t relax—even in my sleep. I was always on edge; always gritting my teeth. (I’m surprised I have any teeth left.)

It never occurred to me that Jesus even cared whether I could relax or not. That wasn’t part of what it meant to be “a good Christian.” I focused on obeying the rules, learning the Bible, playing the game.

But Jesus had other ideas. And, to tell you the truth, He did the last thing I expected. He let things get quite a bit worse.

Has that ever happened to you? You need money, and suddenly the car breaks down. You need healing, and the doctor finds something else that went wrong. You need friends, and your only friend moves away.

Why does God do that? Why does God allow that?

I don’t know about you, but looking back, I’m glad He did. It was the best thing that could have happened to me.

More next time…


Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Jesus talked to the woman at the well in Samaria.
New question: Which King murdered the son of his mentor?

The gospel as I understand it

Here are six things I believe.

#1 You matter.
You are created to live forever.
You are designed to make a difference.
You are engineered for excellence.
Your value is immeasurable.

#2 You have been sinned against.
Despite your value, you have been a target of harm.
You have been injured by the actions of others; we all have.
This injury may leave lasting damage.
It’s not your fault.

#3 The world is broken.
The world is messed up.
People are hurting.
The world is NOT as God intended it, NOT as God wants it.
Sin messes up people, families, communities, and the world.

#4 Jesus is fixing things; we get to help.
Jesus died on the cross to remove sin’s power to destroy your life.
Jesus heals and repairs broken people, broken families, broken communities, a broken world.
This is a work in progress; it isn’t finished, but it will be.
We get to help. We can go from being part of the problem to being part of the solution.

#5 Do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution?
Since sin destroys, you have two choices:
(1) hang on to sin and be part of the problem, or
(2) follow Jesus and be part of the solution.
If you choose to follow Jesus, He will begin the process of removing sin from your life.
He will also begin the process of repairing the damage sin has done to you.
He will also forgive you and remove guilt from your life.
He will guide you in the process of bringing healing and repair to a broken world.
Your role in this is to say “yes” to Jesus—to invite Him into your life to be all He wants to be.
That activates a daily relationship where He is Leader, you and I are followers.

#6 This creates two destinies; you get to choose.
Since sin destroys, if you choose to hang onto sin, your ride carries you to destruction.
Since Jesus transforms, if you choose to follow Jesus, then your ride carries you to eternal life. You will be fully alive, capable, confident, beautiful, perfect, authentic, indestructible, completely at peace, full of joy, loving, fulfilled. You will be surrounded by respect, trust, understanding and love. Disease, injury, death, poverty, calamity, injustice will no longer be present. No, this won’t all happen in this life, but your connection with Jesus changes the trajectory of your life and points you heavenward.

Bible trivia:
Answer from last time: Mary, mother of Jesus.
New question: Jesus talked to the woman at the well in what Roman province?

  • Here's how we're ending the divide!

    What do you get when you combine deep Christian faith with outside-the-box thinking? You get the fresh insights offered by Author Dwight Clough in his many books on personal and cultural transformation. Whether he’s tackling polarization or re-examining the route to heaven, his solutions are always unique, carefully thought out, simply explained, and compassionately conveyed with a vulnerable glimpse into Dwight’s own journey. Dwight is a national award winning writer, ghostwriter, publishing consultant, and author of over 20 books including End the Divide, The Gift of Transformation, Rethinking Our War on Poverty, Am I Going to Heaven When I Die?, and What It Means to Follow Jesus. Dwight and his wife Kim have four young adult children. Dwight loves exploring the back roads of rural Wisconsin.

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