Mature love = extending hospitality

“Mature love is extending hospitality — even toward the parts of your soul that are angry, fearful,  anxious, or sad.”- Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller

“But when you give a feast,  invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”- Luke 14:13-14 (ESV)

Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller conclude their Introduction to Boundaries for Your Soul as they make an ironic note.  They note that the most natural way of addressing troubling emotions actually makes things worse.  Thus, many well-meaning people attempt to suppress aspects of themselves they don’t like.  Or, they go so far as to condemn those aspects.

Most noteworthy, the authors states, this book presents an alternate way.  Hence, it uses different means to reach the same end.  As Alison and Kimberly describe, Boundaries offers “a slower way to get where you want to go — faster.”

Through this approach, Alison and Kimberly add, you learn to understand and even befriend the hurting parts of your soul.  Furthermore, you’ll get to know your overbearing aspects as well as facets of your personality hiding in the shadows.  And these aspects exist for a reason.  You need to create healthy boundaries with them.  As a result, you can relate to them from a comfortable distance.

In conclusion, Alison and Kimberly observes that, ultimately, the Holy Spirit provides the best way to care for the overwhelming parts of your soul.  Here’s what the authors know:

“When you think of your unwanted thoughts and feelings as belonging to parts of your soul, you begin to see how they relate to one another and to the core of your being where the Holy Spirit abides.  And just as you can experience a more peaceful life as a result of healthy boundaries with others, you can also establish helpful boundaries with the parts of your soul.”

Today’s question: “To what parts of your soul do you need to extend hospitality?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Unhealthy ways of relating to painful emotions”

Creating healthy internal boundaries

“Internal boundaries strengthen the connection between the sacred place inside your soul and various parts of yourself. . . .  we call this process of creating healthy boundaries within your soul ‘Spirit-led self-discipleship.’ “- Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller

“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.  Instead, I do what I have.”- Romans 7:15 (NLT)

In their Introduction to Boundaries for Your Soul: How to Turn Your Overwhelming Thoughts and Feelings into Your Greatest Allies, coauthors Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller note that all of us can be overtaken by extreme thoughts and feelings at times.  Yet, just as we possess the ability to set external boundaries with others, we’re able to set internal boundaries with the overwhelming parts of ourselves.

Most noteworthy, the Bible contains more than three hundred verses that relate to boundaries. In fact, the apostle Paul described his own conflict with internal boundaries in Romans 7:15. Furthermore, Boundaries for Your Soul focuses on this universal struggle.

Therefore, healthy internal boundaries empower you to live from the essential you, meaning your soul in its purest, holiest state.  As a result, Alison and Kimberly state, the work of building strong internal boundaries involves:

  • practicing the presence of God while at the same time becoming attuned to the parts of yourself needing your attention
  • inviting the Holy Spirit into the farthest reaches of who you are

In addition, the authors stress, internal challenges – anger, guilt, unforgiveness, etc. – require your attention.  Otherwise, you’ll end up overwhelmed and unnecessarily hurting others.  For when you hurt inside, it’s hard to be good to others.

Today’s question: What sense of urgency do you feel to create healthy internal boundaries?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the latest Short Meditation, “Restored and made right – I’ve got Jesus!

Tomorrow’s blog: “Mature love = extending hospitality”

The soul’s fate – always the greatest question

“The fate of the soul– to whom we entrust it, where it will go when we finally sleep when the game is at an end– has always been the greatest question.”- John Ortberg

In Chapter 21 (“The King Has One More Move”), the concluding chapter of When the Game is Over, John Ortberg presents four views of the greatest question:

  1. Ignore our mortality.  Writing in The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker states we spend our lives ignoring, avoiding, or repressing one irrefutable fact.  We’re going to die.  In other words, we keep trying to have it all without graves.  Or, as Woody Allen once said, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die.  I just don’t want to be there when it happens.
  2. Hide our mortality.  Today, Pastor Ortberg notes, we give kids lots of biological information about how babies arrive.  Yet, kids hear that grandpa is sleeping in a beautiful garden with flowers.
  3. Outsmart mortality.  Think cryonics, health clubs, new diets, better medications.
  4. Accept our mortality.  Consider the following inscription on Mel Blanc’s (voice of Porky Pig) tombstone: “That’s all, folks!”

Finally, in Rumors of Another World: What on Earth are We Musing?, Philip Yancey notes our very response to the reality of death signals that God created us for something more:

“Nature treats death as a natural occurrence, the foundation of the all-important food chain.  Only we humans react with shock and elaboration, as though we can’t get used to the fact. . . .  We act out a stubborn reluctance to yield to this most powerful of life experiences. . . .  In a way unique to our species, we are not fully at home here.  As a symptom of that fact, we feel stirrings toward something higher and more lasting.”

Thus, Jesus insisted death itself wasn’t allowed the last word.  The King has one more move!

Today’s question: How do you witness your answer to the greatest question?  Please share.

Note: the annotation for When the Game is Over appears on Thursday, August 23rd

Tomorrow’s blog: “Creating healthy internal boundaries”

Graceful winners – caught up in something bigger

“Graceful winners always remember what it feels like to lose.  And they are caught up in something bigger than their own wins and losses.”- John Ortberg

“For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.”- Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)

As John Ortberg concludes Chapter 19 of When the Game is Over, he explores the second and third challenges we must navigate with grace.

2.  Learn to win gracefully.  In today’s culture of flamboyant end-zone celebrations, Pastor Ortberg suggests that perhaps graceful winners are harder to find than graceful losers.  Rather than constantly reliving past successes ad nauseum, graceful winners never forget what it feels like to lose.

3.  Learn to forgive gracefully.  Win or lose, when you play the game, it’s for certain that you’ll be wounded.  And to deal with your hurt, you need the grace to forgive.  Therefore, John notes, you’d think no one would voluntarily pick up a grudge and carry it around.  Yet, people carry these heavy burdens every day.

Therefore, only one safe place for grudges exists.  We find that place at the foot of the cross.  Because when we stand at the foot of the cross, we remember that we also stand in need of forgiveness.  Thus, the cross is where:

  • we see what grace looks life at the moment of ultimate loss – a rejected Messiah carrying our loss with everlasting grace
  • we see what grace looks like when it wins- Christ’s victory over sin and death
  • forgiven sinners receive the grace to forgive others

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg summarizes:

“At the cross we see what grace looks like when it loses, when it wins, when it forgives.  And people are still hoping to sit next to someone who looks like that.”

Today’s question: What enables you to live like the great cloud of graceful winners preceding you? Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The soul’s fate- always the greatest question”

Cultivate a gracious spirit

“Become the kind of player other people want to sit next to.  The Bible’s word for this is grace.  Play with grace.  Cultivate a gracious spirit.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg begins Chapter 19 (“Be the Kind of Player People Want to Sit Next To”) of When the Game is Over with an observation about reaching full Monopoly potential.  For example, The Monopoly Companion lists the number one strategy for winning that game.  That tip? – be the kind of player others want to sit next to, and don’t mind losing to.  Because, in order to complete the deals and trades, you must cultivate a gracious spirit.  You need cooperation to win.

Therefore, Pastor Ortberg underscores, the game of life presents three challenges you must navigate with grace.  John talks about the first challenge today.

1.  Lose with grace.  You cannot avoid losing in life.  It’s inevitable.  Most noteworthy, losing gives us an invaluable window into our character development.  As John cautions: “To live is to lose.  but to lose badly, gracelessly, can be lethal.”

Thus, true self-esteem only comes from knowing we can handle the wins and losses of living in the real world.  We require a lot of grace to lose well.  Hence, Pastor Ortberg observes, losing well means:

  • having the humility to face reality full in the face with no excuses; yet possessing confidence not to let losing define our identity
  • no excuses, blaming, or self-pity; but, no self-condemnation either
  • acquiring the discernment necessary to know when to quit and when to persevere
  • learning how to offer congratulations
  • learning how to let go of an outcome you cannot change; rather, hold on to the will to live fully and well

Today’s question: What blocks your desire to cultivate a gracious spirit?  Conversely, what enables you to play with grace?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Graceful winners – caught up in something bigger”

Friendship and love come as gifts

“We cannot make friendship and love happen.  They come, when they come at all, as gifts.  But we can make space for them.”- John Ortberg

“And if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”- 1 Corinthians 13:2 (ESV)

In Chapter 18(“Winning Alone is Called Losing”) of When the Game is Over, John Ortberg makes an observation about winning.  He states that no matter how many times you win, if you win alone, you lose.  Because love is the ball game.

Thus, psychologist Phillip Zimbardo of Stanford notes, there’s no more potent killer than isolation.  For isolation wreaks a destructive influence on physical and mental health.  Most noteworthy, the devil strategically uses isolation to trivialize human existence.  Therefore, we’re conned into thinking that time pressures and work demands create our isolation.

As a result, Pastor Ortberg writes, to play the game wisely we need to observe three relational realities:

  1. Give relationship top priority.  Hence, we must first figure out how much physical and emotional energy we need to attend to our loved ones.  Then, we give our leftovers to work – not the other way around.  So, John exhorts, make the decision to give relationships top priority your starting point.
  2. Help somebody else win.  This defines the real way you play the game.  When you help somebody else, your most cherished and meaningful “wins” come.
  3. Love is eternal, but must be given today.  That’s because, the author states, moments come that surprise us with life’s fearful beauty and brevity.

In conclusion, Wes Stegner (Crossing to Safety) compares life to a waiting room:

“In the intensive care waiting room, the world changes.  Vanity and pretense vanish. . . .  Everyone knows that loving someone else is what life’s all about.  Could we learn to love like that if we realized that every day of life is a day in the waiting room?”

Today’s question: How have you received the gifts of friendship and love?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Cultivate a gracious spirit”

Called to contentment – a product of thinking

“We are called to contentment.  Contentment does not come when we acquire enough.  It is a product of the way we think.”- John Ortberg

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”- Philippians 4:12 (NIV)

As John Ortberg concludes Chapter 17 of When the Game is Over, he defines our greatest hunger as spiritual.  Therefore, we hunger for meaning, love, and redemption.  In addition, the condition underlying all our wanting consists of our desire for God.  We also want God to set creation right.  And that, Pastor Ortberg states, begins with that little piece of creation better known as your body and soul.

However, our wanting gets distorted.  For example, consider the folly of the rich fool in Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:16-21).  The rich fool believes storing grain solves the problem of his human existence.  As Pastor Ortberg adds, “He (the rich fool) worships at the shrine of the bulging barn.”

Furthermore, John notes, we live in a world where we sell what nobody needs.  Conversely, the human heart possesses the opposite problem: we need what nobody sells.   Therefore, the author observes, our insatiable natures must be telling us something important.  Perhaps our dissatisfaction mirrors God’s discontent with the way things are.

Finally, as the apostle Paul reminds us, contentment is an acquired skill.  And in Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, Philip Yancey relates the story of a spiritual seeker.  The seeker chose to interrupt his busy, acquisitive life to spend a few days in a monastery.  Showing the seeker to his room, the monk said:

“I hope your stay is a blessed one.  If you need anything, let us know, and we’ll teach you how to live without it.”

Today’s question: How has God called you to contentment?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Friendship and love come as gifts”

Suffering from the effects of entitlement

“We suffer from the effects of entitlement.  If I think long enough about something I really want, my mind can convince itself that I deserve to have it, that somehow my rights have been violated if I do not have it.”- John Ortberg

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.”- Jeremiah 9:24 (ESV)

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 17 of When the Game is Over as he talks about the last two ways we buy into the myth of more.

2.  Abundance denial.  As Pastor Ortberg wryly observes, we suffer from an apparently limitless capacity to take former “wants” and turn them into “needs.”  Social theorist Greg Easterbrook calls this living in abundance denial.  As a result, millions of people consider themselves materially deprived.  To establish and defend this position, they construct elaborate mental rationales.  However, in so doing, such people only succeed in  increasing their unhappiness.

In one Gallup poll, respondents considered 21 percent of Americans rich.  Yet, only 0.5 percent thought of themselves as rich.  Evidently, John quips, everybody believes he or she needs one thing to make him or herself rich: more.

3.  Reference anxiety.  More familiarly, we refer to this phenomenon as “keeping up with the Joneses.”  Thus, it doesn’t cross our minds whether or not our homes and cars meet our needs.  Rather, we ask if they are nicer than our neighbors’ things.  And we work like crazy to acquire better things.  But, John asks, what do you do when your neighbors refinance?

Today’s question: Do you ever suffer from the effects of entitlement?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Called to contentment”

The Law of the Itch

The Law of the Itch: “No one ever made an itch go away by getting really good at scratching.”- John Ortberg’s grandmother

“Men have succeeded in accumulation a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has grown less.”- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

In Chapter 17 (More Will Never Be Enough”) of When the Game is Over, John Ortberg talks about the myth of more.  This myth deceives us with the idea that one day more will be enough.  As a result, when we believe this myth, we spend our lives looking for The Next Big Thing.  Furthermore, we sustain the hope that The Next Big Thing will be IT- where our souls find true satisfaction.

Thus, for a few minutes, or even days, we experience true soul satisfaction.  And then, as always, it wears off.  Yet, as surveys indicate, Americans stand decisively against materialism. Also,  Americans don’t want to be materialistic.  But, as John quips, “We just want more.”

In addition, many ads promise recourse if we’re not completely satisfied.  And, the author asks, who’s ever completely satisfied with anything?  Maybe, Pastor Ortberg suggests, it’s because we’re too demanding.  Or, more accurately, it’s because God created us for something earth doesn’t possess the ability to offer us. So when we buy into material joy, we wind up playing the game of life differently than God’s design.

Next, John discusses three ways we buy into the myth of more.  He explores the first way today.

1.  The hedonic treadmill.  We live on the hedonic treadmill when we try to be happy by getting more.  On this treadmill, John notes, we quickly adapt to, as well as take for granted, acquisitions and achievements in our life.  “But,” John continues,” like Lassie, dissatisfaction always comes back home.”  Wanting more only spawns more wanting.

Today’s question: How does  The Law of the Itch apply to you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Suffering from the effects of entitlement”

Treading water right now, waiting for . . . ?

“One thing is for sure.  This is your time.  Not some other situation.  Not tomorrow or yesterday.  We are often tempted to think that we are treading water right now, waiting for some other time, some more important position.  You don’t get to choose your time; your time chooses you.  You are where and who you are for a reason.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 15 of When the Game is Over as he connects how God revealed His message to Esther to our sense of mission.  In the case of Queen Esther, God revealed her mission through her cousin Mordecai.  Similarly, God reveals, at least partly, your mission through the words of a wise and trusted friend.

Furthermore, Pastor Ortberg underscores, deep in our souls we know God created us for more than an easy mission.  Also, an easy mission won’t thrill us.  And just as there were depths in Esther that she didn’t suspect, perhaps you’ll find similar depths in you.  As John reminds us, shadow missions cannot feed the soul.  It’s never enough.

So, John asks, who functions as your Mordecai?  Who knows you so well he or she can help you identify God’s calling? When you want to shrink back, who loves you enough to challenge you?

In conclusion, New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce describes Jesus’ shadow mission – to be Messiah without suffering.  Bruce writes:

“Time and time again the temptation came to Him from many directions to choose some less costly way of fulfilling that calling than the way of suffering and death, but He resisted to the end and set His face steadfastly to accomplish the purpose for which He had come into the world.”

Finally, even in exile, God’s present.  Unseen by Esther, His purpose remained certain.  That holds true for us as well.

Today’s question: Do you feel like you’re treading water right now?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The Law of the Itch”