Check your Calling-Purpose

Bishop Joseph Garlington grew up in a preacher’s home. From a very young age, he wanted to be a preacher. He responded to that call. He has pastored the same church in Pittsburgh for many years, he is a musician—some of his songs are in the Contemporary Christian catalogue.

A TV interviewer asked him: “Did you have dreams when you were a boy?”

The Bishop responded:

“Sometimes, you have to see someone doing what you’ve been called to do to recognize that God has called you to do it—what I am supposed to do.”

The late C. Peter Wagner taught widely about Spiritual gifts. One of his instructions was to “practice—test” I was not comfortable with that until I realized he was counseling us to get around people who are doing what we suspect we are called to do and see how it resonates with our spirit.

Bishop Garlington heard a five-year-old preach and that affirmed what Garlington had wondered. Garlington was fortunate that his father affirmed and encouraged his search and questioned his thinking and decisions.

A four year old was in one of our concert-preaching events. She said, “Let me go up there with them—I can do that…I want to do that.” She will enroll this fall in college with a music major.

Put yourself in the atmosphere and environment where the work you sense you are called to is being done. What do you experience? Love it? Feel as if God has given you a more effective way to do? Repulsed by a shabby approach? How about signing on as support staff?

Questioning your vision? Dream(s)? Test. Practice.

 ©2017 D. Dean Benton




Where My Head & Heart Are

We’ve been spending a lot of time in West Texas. First in the TV series “Friday Night Lights,” then reading the book upon which it was based and sorting through the memories of the time we spent on the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. I would like to use the TV episodes as conversation provokers for families and kids in middle-school, junior high and high school. No series has stimulated my thinking about marriage, family and what high school—especially the sports environment—as “Lights.”

The reasons I haven’t up to now: I’m reluctant to fail. I do not know what facility I could use. It would cost too much to “rent” the episodes. I do not know of one church that would partner with me that would not have a negative draw impact on those I was trying to reach. I’m reluctant to fail.

The book Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger (De Capo Press, 1990) created in me an emotional crisis bordering on depression and dread. Sports Illustrated calls it the best football book ever written. I was totally unprepared. The writer sets the background for Texas football as few sports fans can imagine. High school stadiums that seat 20,000 and a devotion that conservative theologians would say exceeds commitment to Jesus. Texas football is god! What I’m deciding is that the stories are not about football at all.

I am learning much about national politics, small town (not villages) customs and churches. I have often been embarrassed by memories of our attempted ministry in communities outside our “nation.” We must have looked like carpet baggers and stupid outsiders. I was very aware of the Nine Nations of Americas, but I didn’t even begin to grasp how places like Garden City, Kansas, Spearman, Texas, Odessa and Midland were like settlements on a different planet. Had I viewed the TV series, read the book or talked to people who would have been bluntly honest rather than hospitable, I would never have booked a date outside of Iowa.

The above statement is inadequate. After a conversation with a black pastor in Louisiana, he invited us to his church anytime we were in the area. As different as our culture and color, he connected to The Kingdom. His people, he assumed, would hear past the regional accent to hear the Kingdom. That was true in many places where we were out of our place.

I loved the people we met in Texas and Oklahoma. But I knew they came from a different tribe than I had met before. That was also true of places in the Deep South and Minnesota. I just didn’t grasp their uniqueness and how localism impacts institutions and individuals. One crass South Carolina pastor invited us to spend the night. He said during the after-concert conversation, “I never dreamed I would ever have a Yankee sleeping in my house.” Without a hint of humor or jest, he suggested we might want to make sure our bedroom doors were locked. For him, the war was still on and there was only one war—the one that began at Ft. Sumter. We checked the locks. We were never sure what he was suggesting, but we knew there was unsettled business in him.

Most people are more (…?) than that preacher. But I came to appreciate what—a Canadian border guard said it best: “You cannot ever forget that you are a guest of her majesty The Queen.” We were outsiders and our opinions were not worth much and our behavior could easily be misinterpreted. I love those places and many of the people. I just understand a lot more.

Friday Night Lights—the book—was written about the 1988 football season. The 80s oil business was something I’m still having a hard time getting my head around.

“By the time you added it up, Aaron Giebel’s losses from boom to bust totaled somewhere around $55 million.” (page 235)

During the boom, people bought multiple Lear jets and private landing strips. They built 13,000 square foot houses. There is a paragraph that captures a part of the madness. (Giebel, a cautious and wise businessman, claimed to have been caught in the madness)

“From 1973 through 1981, when the price of oil went up more than 800 percent, he and thousands of others made the fatal error of forgetting that every ounce of their success was due to the geopolitics of the Arab oil embargo and the Carter energy policy and the Iranian Revolution. They had actually thought that they themselves had something to do with what was happening and were somehow in control of their own destinies. … Instead of understanding that they were the beneficiaries of history, they began to believe they were the creators of it.” (Page 237)

As H. G. Bissinger describes the culture and some of the people, I liked some of those people. I liked almost everyone in the TV series. The money and toys are beyond my capacity to even imagine, but I think I would be comfortable drinking coffee with Mr. Giebel. The people in Odessa and Midland were the neighbors of George W. and the senior Bush families. The Gatlin Brothers grew up in Odessa. There is a picture of Rudy Gatlin in the book. The culture built war heroes and entertainment stars and people of God. But this experience has caused my stomach to sour and my emotions turn dark. Not everyone was welcomed to the big house and not everyone starred on the football teams.

James Robison tells a story about a meeting with oil men who had the kind of wealth just described. The men were invited to a meal to help finance a mission project. Robison is a Texas evangelist whose primary focus now is providing fresh water wells and food in third world countries. When the pledge cards were passed out not one oil man gave a nickel. The only one in that room to make a financial pledge was a waitress. Within a year, the oil men had lost everything and the only one in that gathering to have gained was the waitress.

My stomach hurts when I pick up the book. I come away from these stories wondering if I would have filled out a pledge card. I wonder how I would have measured the risk and responsibility. I have a burden for the debris—the people left behind when the stadium lights go out and those who didn’t even bother. Sitting around seminar table may be a start, but only the released power of God will heal and transform. I’m wondering how that happens.

©2016 D. Dean Benton     Writer, Wonderer


Prayer strategy # 3 Identity

“Living in the glare of divine rejection.”

We’ve never been on a first-name basis. My reaction was, “Abraham, dear Abraham, God accepts you. Rejection of you has never been a consideration.”

Abraham Lincoln grew into young adulthood as an aggressive agnostic. He wrote at least one book vilifying the Bible and repudiating the Gospel and God. Amazon does not sell that book because one of Lincoln’s friends grabbed the manuscript out of his hands and threw it into the blazing fire.

Stephen Mansfield describes Lincoln’s journey to faith, Lincoln’s Battle With God. ( Thomas Nelson, 2012). Mansfield lays out reasons for his crooked pilgrimage that affects some of us—the way we perceive ourselves. The only explanation for Lincoln’s survival, let alone his emotional and mental ability to run for political office and to become a phenomenal leader is the providence of God.

Lincoln lived most of his childhood and youth into young adulthood feeling he was cursed with no possibility of ever gaining God’s favor or acceptance. Some historians and psychologists say that Lincoln rejected God and everything connected to God because He lived with the fallacy that God had first rejected him. Why? How did he come to that conclusion?

  1. His mother was the “illegitimate” child of Virginia nobleman who either raped or took advantage of Lincoln’s grandmother. We know this because Abraham told his friend Herndon. This thinking about “illegitimacy” was pretty much common during that era. He was “tortured” by the circumstances of his mother’s birth.

“…convinced Lincoln ‘that God had cursed and crushed him especially.’”

  1. Unworthy of God’s acceptance. This came from the extreme Calvinism he had been taught. Joshua Speed said, “Lincoln tried to be a believer, but his reason could not grasp and solve the great problem of redemption as taught.”
  2. His relationship with his father. Thomas Lincoln was critical, vicious, and ridiculed Abraham constantly. The boy was neglected, beaten and using Lincoln’s words, worked like a slave. In recent weeks I have read several stories of fathers of that design. Our image of the Heavenly Father is influenced and often is determined by our relationship with our earthly father. The “god” A. Lincoln rejected was not Yahweh, but the merciless Thomas Lincoln.

As powerful as the specter of illegitimacy that impacted Henry Clay, Lincoln, John Fremont, the presence of a neglecting, abusive or cruel father could have destroyed Winston Churchill and certainly A. Lincoln.

On Sunday, his father and mother (step-mother) would go to church. The children would stay home. Before playing, Abraham would read from the Bible, teach a lesson and sing a hymn. Apparently, Lincoln was unwilling to reveal himself or his faith in the presence of his father.

“Lincoln’s hesitation to commit himself unreservedly to the Christian gospel…because of nagging certainties about his repugnance to God.” (p 95—Mansfield.)

  1. Depression. His genetic depression came through the families of both father and mother. Add to this the role of death in Lincoln’s early life. In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals, she makes the point the men Lincoln surrounded himself with in his cabinet all shared either orphanhood or abandonment and frequent encounter with death. With all their dissimilarities, they shared common pain.
  2. Culture of conflict and puniness in the local church and his rejection of the worst of revivalist preachers. All of this dislike or disregard for preachers changed when he visited his father-in-law’s library and was guided to a book written by a preacher in Springfield, Illinois. After reading in the book, he later met Preacher Smith and began a friendship and conversation.

Lincoln’s identity includes a sense of being called to something great. He could not view himself or God or faith without looking through these filters that shaped his life.

“Oh, Abraham! He loves you.”  I wanted to reassure the man who became our most beloved President.

What makes me think that God accepts me? Does redemption work in my world—in my soul?

Building an effective prayer strategy includes being self-aware and fully aware of satan’s plan to destroy or neutralize our identity as a unique person and an empowered Child of God.

“Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:5, 6).

Priscilla Shirer teaches us to build a prayer strategy that acknowledges and protects our identity.  That is where we will be attacked first and where we are vulnerable.



Guest blog: Douglas Benton

I’m working on class prep for my commercial photography business class. I’ve asked the students to answer two questions and decide which of those two things is more important to them.

1. What do you want to shoot?
2. Where do you want to live?

In the commercial field, often, one is driven by the other. If you want to specialize (make a living) in a specific type of commercial work, you have to be where that type of work is being consumed. It’s very hard to make a living shooting fashion in iowa because there are very few companies buying fashion photography here. There’s always the exception to the rule, but I’m pretty comfortable saying that if you are going to have a successful fashion photography career, you’re not going to be doing it in Iowa.

It’s hard when 1 and 2 don’t line up or conflict. Ever since I became cognizant of commercial photography and everything that went into making that imagery I thought how cool it would be to work in a studio doing the high end work. The stuff you see in workbook and showcase. What I didn’t know at the time was how much I didn’t like living in the big city. Omaha is not a big city, but it didn’t take long for me to realize how much I hated sitting in traffic on the way to and from work. As silly at it might seem, rush hour played a formative role in the direction of my career and what I have photographed over the years.

Last night a friend asked me if I always knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. The short answer is from 14, yes I knew I wanted to be a photographer. Or a bird of prey trainer (my real first choice). The long answer is yes, but I had no idea what that being a professional photographer was like.

As I was thinking about all of that this morning, I wondered how the path of my career might have been different if someone had made me ask and answer those two questions before I applied for my first job out of school. If I would’ve laid that rubric over top of the options and opportunities at the time, would I have chosen differently? Would I have waited?

I have a vivid childhood memory of my family putting on our coats after spending the evening with people my parents knew. As we were getting ready to leave the woman asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I remember what I said and the response it got. I’m not sure why that particular time that question was asked of me, was such that I would remember it to this day, but I do. That’s not a question you ask a little kid because you want to know what company is going to be making a direct deposit in their account every two weeks sometime in the future, it’s about who the kid is dreaming about being. Not what do you want to do, as much as who do you want to be?

For some students the answer to either 1 or 2 comes easily. They know exactly what they want to do or where they want to live. For others though, it’s a tough question, even in the hypothetical. I think one of the main contributors is not really knowing the options or not feeling confident in the criteria for deciding what you want to do and/or where you want to do it. Not surprising, when it seems like so many people find little pleasure or satisfaction in their jobs.

As I was walking the dog this morning, it occurred to me that there is another question that is equally, if not more important than what do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a lot harder too. The question is Why do you want to be when you grow up? What is the real purpose of you being here? Regardless of title, position or status gained, as you are standing at the end of your career, or life, what do you want to be able to point to and say, that’s why it was worth investing my life where I did. What a loss when you spend a career “climbing the ladder, just to find out you’ve leaned it against the wrong building”.

Not speaking of profession, but in general, Why do you want to be? What is the reason you want to be ______? What drives you? What motivates you? What brings satisfaction and reward? What moves you to action? What makes your heart ache? What makes it leap for joy? For what purpose are you?

To the degree you can line up the why’s with the what’s and the where’s, the happier you will be in your career, regardless what that career is.

If you were to start to make a list of the why’s you want to be, what would be on it?
(Not a rhetorical question, I’m actually making a list : )

What resources have you found helpful when making career/life decisions?

 Douglas Benton
Thanks Doug for a terrific blog. Absolutely, the questions not limited to photographers.

Forgotten Punch Line

I dreamed that I was speaking to a large group of people. I was not pacing the platform, I was sitting on a ledge and suddenly left my message to tell a canned story. I got to the end and forgot the punch line. Forgot the punch line!  I was wide awake instantly. Getting off message to tell a story that has no point. Horrified!

A few weeks ago, I had vision. In response to an motivational sermon, I heard an instruction as an image came instantly into my soul with emotion. I was directed to scope out  a specific spot and build there. I drove to that designated spot and found nothing but swamp, and a flood plain. I was disgusted with myself and ticked at God.

“You sent me to a swamp?” I was devastated. It seemed as if God was toying with me. There is no way anyone would allow me to build there. It is a flood plain and restricted because the area regularly floods. I drove home super upset and defeated. My words to the visioning spot of my soul were, “Just leave me alone. I don’t need this.” I put a muzzle on the beast and put it in a cage.

“Go back out there.” I resisted the persistent voice. I hurt. A couple of days later while muttering words you don’t use in worship time, I parked close to the swamp. It was unique to my experience–God gently said, “I would never send you to do such a thing. I would never trivialize you in that way.”

I don’t remember when I heard Jesus’ words whether while sitting near that flood plain or on my way back to my office or as I sat at my desk.

“Everyone who hears…and puts into practice is like a wise person who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the wind blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish person who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash (Matthew.7:14-27).

The instruction is to build ministry to those whose lives are on the sand with no foundation, and vulnerable to their turmoil. I saw faceless people of several ages who end up on the sand through their own choices, being tossed there and abandoned or because they concluded it was where they belonged.

I didn’t have to think very hard when one of my preachers asked what breaks my heart. It is that group of people living in the swamp and stranded on the sand. The abandoned, assaulted, rejected and unequipped to make the right decisions and gain the skills to live in those places built on the rock.

I think about people who are gifted and can be world changers, community leaders and agents of accomplishment with healing, encouragement, mentoring and skill building, but lack one or two components in the mix. What if their story is missed?

When I thought about what breaks my heart, I spiritually felt–not saw–I felt a distance, an unfilled space. I could hold my hands a few inches apart. They are just that far from the fast track to take them to God’s plan.  I saw a structure built on concrete pilasters with a dock and treated wood stairs. I saw a carved sign on a piece of drift wood attached to the building with an engraved word. The building was secondary to those knocked down on the sand. It was a place where healing, teaching and experiencing God will happen that will extract them from sand and establish them on a trajectory to God’s idea. The person will emerge with the word—thriving .

I had forgotten the punch line.  The link to an article in the Washington Post reinforced what I’m writing in “Tail Lights”

©D. Dean Benton


Establish a better craving

I’ve come to a conclusion about churches. I’ve been studying biographies of churches—all kinds of churches, healthy and unhealthy, for a long time. I think marketing brain trust Seth Godin has the final word on church renewal and change. From his blog entitled, “People who like this stuff”: “It’s a little like the futility of the ‘Under New Management’ sign on a restaurant. People who like the place don’t want to hear you’re changing everything, and people who don’t like the old place aren’t in such a hurry for a new place that they’ll form a line….” Established churches are pretty much what they want to be. Insiders envision the attenders as Owners, Renters and Squatters. “Owners” will fight to protect their property—the way things are done and what is legitimate. They are not waiting around for a clerical immigrant to come and fix it. All of this takes on a sharp edge as churches look to minister to the Millennials—the largest generation ever to occupy the earth. Without exception, churches want to reach them, but most are unwilling to change the way things are done to speak their language. Churches tend to want the Millennials to do the adapting. So my conclusion: Churches probably are one or two generation organizations. Any sociologist will give you details. Today’s church attempts to reach across five generations and be inviting to all seldom works. Rather than frustrating everyone and establishing fire fights and battle zones, established churches should birth new churches with a one generation focus. The new church’s leadership, if wise and desirous of longevity, will reach out to their older generation friends to bring balance and wisdom. We visit a church regularly which effectively reaches across the generations. They give an altar call each week with a team of 8-12 altar workers who pray with a broad range of seekers. I have seen a five year old leading his dad wearing baggy jeans and tattoos to the altar to be prayed for by an older business man in a 3-piece suit. The basic core of the people (“Owners”)…

  • Crave to be in God’s presence
  • Crave to hear and ingest God’s word
  • Crave interaction with God’s family
  • Crave to see the lost found

I have visited a few thousand churches to find a few like this one. I’ve been studying The Power of Habit—a book by Charles Duhigg. (Random House, 2012). A habit always depends on a habit loop: Cue (trigger) which leads to a routine to gain a desired reward. Research proves that the Cue > Routine > Reward loop needs one more ingredient to hold it together or to explain it: Craving. To change a habit means to find a craving that is more powerful than the old one. Church renewal happens when people begin to crave being in God’s house, crave ministering to each other and acquire a craving to find the lost. One of the older books mentioned above says, “God wants His lost children found!” How do we establish a craving?

  • Show evidence that the product is working—called testimonies.
  • Understand the consumer’s desired reward—demographics and psychographics
  • Stimulate and feed the new craving based on the reward the specific group desires
  • Establish the workable alternative routine.

I hope the vagueness will provoke you to read and then talk to me about the contents of the “Habit” book. Talk to me ©2014 D. Dean Benton. Facebook: Benton Quest House



“…your ‘seed’ is more than the ability to produce children; it is your innate potential, which is meant to lead to the destiny for which God created you. Everyone possesses some kind of a seed. That is a seed of potential, purpose and passion. That seed contains your future.”

“…find it, plant it, and nurture it to maturity.”

Myles Munroe, Overcoming Crisis, Destiny Image, 2009

“That seed inside you is your ideas.”

“Once it lands in the right soil, here comes a tree.”

I’ve been reading the work of Myles Munroe for twenty plus years beginning with his work on purpose, potential and passion. I am convinced he is right. I’m also convinced, (Seams to Me), that a natural process is:

Seed, Soil, Sowing, Environment, Nurturing, Reaping.

Munroe and Mike Murdock say that God has placed each of us on the earth to provide solutions and strategies. Every one of us! If Munroe is right that your seed is an idea, then it is important to set aside time to learn how to have an idea. (Dean, are you listening?)

John Maxwell is not the first one to talk about the necessity of thinking and how few people do. Unless we follow a regimen, we will repeat the same thoughts. The same thinking will not produce a different result than the thinking that got you into the place you are. New thoughts depend upon a definite criteria. Not just any thought, but a seed-like thought. Unless it is a hybrid seed, a seed will reproduce itself—that is its job.

Cross-pollination. I am not an agronomist. I do know about ideas and long to have productive ideas. I am committed to finding and talking about solutions and strategies. If you want new and productive ideas, it will require new information. That will require that you read, listen, research, pay attention and interact with idea people. Nothing will unearth an idea like something you do not know spoken by someone you respect.

Mark Virkler built, or discovered, a process that he called, 4 Keys to Hearing God’s Voice. (©2010 Mark and Patti Virkler, Destiny-Image Publishers.) He prays with these tools every day and hears God speaking affection for him, instruction and revelation. “My sheep know my voice,” Jesus said. He explains how that works using four concepts and practices. I have adapted his practice—I’ve changed a couple of words.

When we ask to hear God’s voice, He speaks to us as spontaneous words or visions in our imaginations. The imagination is not just about silly ideas or out of control thoughts. I’ve been derisively told most of my life that “You sure have a wild imagination.” A story teller must have a vivid imagination. Where else would you put together non-directly connected ideas? The imagination can run away with us, but the sanctified imagination is a powerful tool.

Virkler’s basic premise is that we hear God’s voice through spontaneous words or visions. He uses Ephesians 1—“…eyes of my heart” as the means by which this happens. Not only is that legitimate from Virkler’s point of view, I’ve read researchers talk about the heart’s ability to see beyond the cognitive activity of the mind.

So, here is how I’m working with having an idea or finding clarity about a question or issue.


Jesus said go to your “closet”. Interesting. How many closets as we know them, would there have been in a Nazareth home? Probably no plastic hangers or clothes poles. Nail? He was describing a private place—a location without noise or sounds. A place and habit of shutting down the stimuli—noise and music makers and the voices in our heads.

Turn off the voices and list making and images of planners. Somewhere in this, we will learn how to “center” as the Quakers (not New Agers) describe it.


This may lead to worship. Sometimes it is helpful for me to read Scripture and let that take me to where Jesus is at work or with people. Focusing on a word from a passage or concept. The objective is to be specific and intentional—“I’m open only to Jesus—no other voice. Not mine or any stray spirit.” After quieting self, you invite Jesus into the silence. He is welcome.  

I usually state the question at hand or what I need clarified. Does it help to visualize Jesus sitting with you at a small coffee table at Starbucks? Or sitting on a dock with fishing pole in hand? After telling Him how good it is to see Him and appreciate His taking time for this meeting, explain what you need from Him. In the last couple of days, I’ve talked to Him at that “table” about the pathway of healing for a friend and what a fresh logo for our ministry would look like from His plan and perspective. Focusing means to keep the image of Jesus across the table—it is Jesus with whom I am talking.


State the question. Present the problem. What do you need to hear? Sometimes, it is totally preferable to ask, “Jesus, what do you want to say to me, today? What do I need to hear from you?”

It is imperative that you take seriously what you hear. The first words, thoughts, images that come to you. You will assume they are your own thoughts—sometimes they are—but based upon our belief that God desires to talk to us in terms we both hear and understand, how else would he be able to speak to you?

First words, first image, first thoughts. Write them down before you think them through. God will use your cognitive ability to speak the Logos to you, but may by-pass your mind to speak a rhema word directly to your heart before you will have time to rationalize or minimize or excuse the thoughts, word, image as nothing beyond your own crazy thinking.


Virkler calls this “two-way journaling.” You ask the question, state the issue and write down what you hear. This is a conversation and you are the court reporter writing it down.

If you are not a Jesus Follower or you think it is bizarre to think God would have a conversation like this, I still consider this process valid to clarify or birth a new idea. If this makes you nervous or have questions, let’s talk. There are precautions, but this is worth the effort.

©2014 D. Dean Benton

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