When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box

When the Game is Over (Zondervan, 2007)

John Ortberg, senior pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, wrote When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box in 2007.  In this book, John’s competitive Monopoly games with his grandmother serve as an analogy to the game of life.  As Pastor Ortberg learned, the danger in Monopoly, and in life, consists of getting caught up in material pursuits.  And when you get caught up in those pursuits, you forget to ask what really matters. In addition, temporary rewards can lull you into pretending the game will never end.  Thus, you lose your focus on eternity.  Therefore, John exhorts, arrange your life around what matters most.  According to Jesus, the object of life involves being rich toward God.  For when the game is over, only God’s assessment of your life truly matters.  So, wise people build their lives around what’s eternal and squeeze in what’s temporary.

Conversely, if you spend your life climbing up the ladder, you wind up going right past Jesus.  Because He’s coming down.  As a result, people who recognize and embrace smallness keep getting bigger in God’s eyes.  Since your inward character constitutes the main thing God sees when He looks at you, make the inner you your biggest investment.  While trouble and hard stuff easily win the outer game, no one can touch the inner you.  Hence, Pastor Ortberg encourages, discard whatever holds you down.  Also, discard those wrong priorities preventing you embracing what matters most.  Yet, willpower only accomplishes so much.  In contrast, trusting God means letting go of each moment.  And when you let go, that frees you to fully inhabit the next one.  Furthermore,  freedom always increases when you give, because giving is an act of confidence in God.

Most noteworthy, make time to withdraw from human contact.  As you seek relief from the busyness and noise of life, you create space for time alone with God.  Next, begin by devoting time to honoring your deepest commitments.  And trust God with your time.  For God wants to grow you up so that you’re wise, strong, and courageous.  View life as an adventuresome partnership with God.  God promises nothing will separate you from His love – not suffering, hurt, or even death.  Consequently, we respond with gratitude, which John defines as the ability to experience life as a gift.  In the process, gratitude liberates you from the prison of self-preoccupation.  Also, people with a high capacity for thankfulness also possess a low threshold for gratitude.  They show thanks for little things like a sunset or a friend’s smile.

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg observes, if we fail to pursue the mission for which God created us, we’ll find a substitute.  A shadow mission.  We cannot live in the absence of purpose, and shadow missions fail to feed the soul.  And, you don’t get to choose your mission.  Rather, your mission chooses you.  You’re where and who you are for a reason.  Finally, only at the cross do you see what grace looks like when it loses, wins, and forgives.  Yet, when the game is over and goes back in the box, Jesus, the King, has one more move!

Heart Made Whole: Turning Your Unhealed Pain Into Your Greatest Strength

Heart Made Whole (Zondervan, 2016)

Christa Black Gifford — worldwide speaker, worship leader, and songwriter — penned her second book, Heart Made Whole: Turning Your Unhealed Pain Into Your Greatest Strength, in 2016.  Since pain never goes away on its own, you must feel, embrace, and bring that pain to the Healer.  For as long as pain coexists with you, its high maintenance tendencies keep you from enjoying life.  Hence, Ms. Gifford exhorts, choose to turn around and run toward the pain.  In addition, give Jesus access to every locked, forgotten space in your heart.  Only Jesus can take the shattered pieces of your life and put it back together, so it flourishes even in the worst situations.  Most noteworthy, the very place of deepest pain miraculously becomes the starting point of your heart’s greatest healing.

Next, Christa defines this deepest pain, aka trauma, as any place in your heart where your pain stays greater than your joy.  However, this creates a significant problem.  Most of us have no idea how to repair trauma when part of us remains damaged.  Also, it doesn’t matter whether the trauma results from the absence of something or from abusive punches.  Ultimately, though, the pain you fail to deal with eventually requires your immediate attention.  Yet, your created heart is never your enemy.  It hold the contents of the real you formed at conception.  To transform your life you must first allow your heart to transform.  Because God created your heart to flourish in surrender – rebuilt by grace and occupied by love.

Therefore, when the pain designed to help you becomes the kind of pain that harms you, it’s time to confront it head on.  But, Christa questions, when you go through trial, do you put God on trial in response?  For either we guard our hearts from God in doubt and distrust, or peace guides our hearts through Christ.  Thus, when tragedy strikes we must anchor our hearts in God’s goodness – or we lower out theology to match our pain.  God’s always intended to bind up your heart, making it undivided and whole.  So when you sign a cease-fire within, it allows your heart to move from constant war into deep rest.  Jesus pulls the broken in close, knowing that only love covers and heals the naked heart.

Finally, the author underscores, while the head might know, it’s the heart that believes.  As the Father gazes into your broken heart, He sees a place of amazing potential for miracles.  Not a hopeless mess beyond repair.  Furthermore, you find true freedom only when you bring every part of your heart into the light.  In the process, your focus shifts from your problem to the solution – handing the problem to Jesus.  As Ms. Gifford stresses, building your heart capacity with Jesu represents the most important thing you can do in life.  And you move toward a heart made whole as you live a life of encounter with Jesus.  To find joy in every situation, simply choose to engage your heart with Jesus, over and over again.

Rooted: The Hidden Places Where God Develops You

Rooted (WaterBrook, 2017)

Banning Liebscher, lead pastor of Jesus Culture Sacramento, recently penned Rooted: The Hidden Places Where God Develops You.  Pastor Liebscher first asserts that every follower of Jesus carries a deep desire for visible, lasting impact on the world.  Yet, that desire originates not in us, but in God.  As a follower of Jesus, then, your calling and destiny involve fruitfulness.  But, God’s not satisfied with minimal results.  Instead, He wants you to bear fruit beyond what you’re able to ask or think.  In order to bear abundant fruit, though, God needs to make you bigger on the inside than on the outside.  Thus, to develop roots of deep, abiding trust, God must prepare you in the soils of intimacy, serving, and community.  As Banning adds, “God always develops us before He develops our vision.”

Through developing roots of deep abiding trust, God enables us to thrive.  The author defines thriving as growing in wisdom, character, faith, endurance, and strength.  Furthermore, Pastor Liebscher describes the three keys to thriving:  (1) focus on building the wall in front of you; (2)  heed an accept the lesson God’s trying to teach you in your current season – don’t rush the process; and (3) embrace being hidden.  Also, you learn to thrive as God leads you into those places where you confront your deepest fears and longings.  There God reveals Himself as your protector, the one who fulfills your deepest desires.  Yes, following Jesus means living in over your head – all the time.  And in the process, God’s always inviting, nudging, and challenging you to step into greater faith and rest.  It’s the rest you enter when you understand God’s building your house – and He’ll maintain it!

As with any house, the foundation greatly affects the outcome.  Therefore, it’s critical that you build a secret-place lifestyle.  In your secret place, God meets you and establishes your roots. In fact, He’s waiting there for you.  Also, Banning asserts, God reserves certain things found only in the inner room of prayer.  When that happens, you must not only hear the Lord’s words, but carry them.  Most noteworthy, speak from what God’s said, not from your feelings – they’re not rooted.  In addition, lock in on what God is doing, and cling to Jesus’ example.  Never resort to the world’s versions of greatness.  To abide in Jesus, embrace His lifestyle of serving people.  Any increased blessing helps you to better serve others.

Finally, Pastor Liebscher underscores, humility releases grace into your life.  However, humility also involves setting healthy boundaries in your life and taking care of yourself.  Plus, humble service connects you to something bigger than yourself.  It connects you to the kingdom and body of Christ.  If you humble yourself, exaltation comes from God.  And you need trusted people to speak courage into your life.  For discouragement is a key battle Christians face.  To remain rooted in Christ, Banning asks, will you:

  • let Him teach you to trust Him at all times?
  • let Him plant you where He wants you?
  • embrace His timeline for establishing your roots?
  • put your roots deep down in the soils of intimacy, serving, and community?

Anxious for Nothing

Anxious for Nothing (Thomas Nelson, 2017)

Max Lucado titles his latest book, based on Philippians 4:4-8, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World .  Pastor Lucado opens with this chilling description of anxiety: “It’s a low-grade fear.  An edginess.  A dread.  A cold wind that won’t stop howling.”  In contrast, the apostle Paul advised in Philippians 4:6 that we must “be anxious for nothing.”  Since Paul used the present active tense in this verse, he meant to convey an ongoing state.  Hence, Paul wanted to address a life of perpetual anxiety (living on high alert).  And while we categorize anxiety as an emotion rather than a sin, it can lead to sinful behavior.  Thus, Max presents the acronym C. A. L. M. – Celebrate God’s goodness; Ask God for help; Leave your concerns with Him; Meditate on good things.

Therefore, Pastor Lucado stresses, we need less fret, more faith.  Because, the author adds, belief always precedes behavior, we need to rejoice in the Lord’s sovereignty instead of rehearsing the world’s chaos.  In addition, God’s sovereignty stabilizes your soul.  It bids you fight the onslaught of fret with a sword etched with the words but God.  For if your mind is full of God, it can’t be full of fear.  God’s answer for troubled times remains constant.  He occupies the throne in heaven.  His grace restores the life guilt sucks out of your soul.  Also, grace provides the fertile soil out of which courage sprouts.  Essentially, then, you’re presented with tow options: wear your hurt or wear your hope.

Most noteworthy, there’s never a moment in which you face life without God’s help.  Consequently, God’s perfect peace is possible in the midst of your perfect storm.  As a result, when fear comes at your from all sides, let God speak to you and bestow his perfect peace.   Isolation, in contrast, creates a downward cycle of fret.  So clutch the presence of God with both hands.  Start with Jesus’ wealth, resources, and strength – what you personally possess fails to generate or approach what you truly need.  Your good life begins when you change your attitude toward your circumstances irrespective of an actual change in your situation.  Even if you lose all, you’ll discover that you really haven’t.  God’s been there all along.

In conclusion, Pastor Lucado suggests that you practice thought management – pick what you ponder.  To heal from anxiety requires healthy thinking.  Satan, the father of lies, knows this.  However, while Satan’s the master of deceit, he’s not the master of your mind.  Therefore, stockpile your mind with God thoughts to disarm anxiety.  Just as Jesus entrusted His anxiety and fear to His heavenly Father in Gethsemane, we follow suit.  Our heavenly Father lights our pathway out of the valley of fret.  Rather than meditate on the mess, set your eyes on the Lord, anxious for nothing.  Max exhorts:

“A new day awaits you, my friend.  A new season in which you will worry less and trust more. . . . with reduced fear and enhanced faith.  Can you imagine a life in which you are anxious for nothing?  God can.  And with his help, you will experience it.”

Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God

Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God (Multnomah, 2017) [Read more…]

Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want

Still Waiting (Tyndale, 2017)

Author and speaker Ann Swindell titles her first book Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want.  In her book, Ann uncovers what the story of the Bleeding Woman reveals about Christ’s character as well as how He draws near to hurting people.  Since waiting isn’t a calm and even business, it exacerbates the hurt.  Also, in both small and overwhelming ways, we all know what brokenness feels like.  Ms. Swindell ties the two together when she states that “we wait because we are broken and we’re broken because we are waiting.”  In our waiting and brokenness, then, we must learn to love our patient God.

Thus, the road of weakness leads straight into waiting.  And it’s counter productive to wiggle our way out of brokenness.  Rather, we need to seek Jesus.  Because He embraced, valued, and entered into our weakness.  Therefore, we face a choice between our own strength and the strength of Christ.  Only Christ’s strength sustains us through our waiting, especially since waiting sometimes hurts more than our initial pain.  To walk step in step with Jesus involves paring down our illusion of self-sufficiency.  That’s our cost of waiting.  Surprisingly, this awareness is itself a gift, for there we encounter Jesus.  Also, this awareness of brokenness denotes our baseline reality – the starting point of our need for Jesus.

Most noteworthy, let Jesus speak identity over you.  Resist the temptation to define yourself by what you lack.  In doing so, you fall prey to Satan’s lies.  When you buy into Satan’s lies, offense easily creeps into your heart.  Offense leapfrogs your hope, tenderness, and faith.  At this point, you either walk the way of offense or the way of obedience.  As the author underscores, obedience enables you to keep putting one foot of faith in Christ in front of the other.  In addition, through obedience, you express heartfelt honesty as you get on your knees before God.  Also, this stance fosters healing as you spend time reading the Word and experiencing God’s presence.  It’s hard to harden your heart against Christ when you spend time with Him.

In conclusion, Jesus understands our brokenness and shame.  While letting shame live as a parasite in our place of struggle renders us enslaved to life under it’s control, we, like Jesus, must choose to scorn and silence shame.  In order to do this, we focus on Jesus instead of idolizing our suffering.  That focus on Jesus, in turn, leads us to risk.  Through risk, the only way forward, we realize closeness and intimacy with God and others.  Finally, until the day of healing comes, tell your story of Jesus’ presence with you in the midst of waiting.  Proclaim His restoration, for restoration brings hope.  As Ann exhorts, while you’re still waiting, hope founded in Christ never truly disappoints us:

“For now, we wait.  But we have hope in our waiting, whatever it is we are waiting for: hope that Christ is with us, hope that Christ is for us, hope that Christ is coming again.”

I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me

I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me (Tyndale, 2017)

Pastor and author John Ortberg titles his latest book I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me: Getting Real About Getting Close.  Although we crave intimacy, it remains a scary concept for a lot of people.  Therefore, intimacy cannot be coerced.  For God desires connection, not compliance.  Thus, the building blocks of intimacy consist of shared experiences that build meaningful connections.  This requires the essential elements of time and presence.  In other words, intimacy is a big feeling built on small moments.  Details matter.  And while the spiritual nature of God’s presence at first seems like a barrier to intimacy, God’s spiritual nature actually makes intimacy with Him deeper than with anyone else.

Vulnerability, Pastor Ortberg observes, drives us to attachment, to intimacy.  In moments of temptation, of aloneness, we make the choices that uniquely shape our character.  Yet, only God’s big enough and strong enough to assure us everything’s OK.  As John states, “Jesus offers to walk with you in the midst of your ordinary life today.”  Jesus continually invites us to connect – and never gives up.  However, our capacity for self-deception know no bounds.  This creates a serious problem with intimacy.  Thankfully, grace secures the foundation of Jesus’ call to more courageous self-awareness.  In addition, His great love for us gives evidence that we’re worthy of love and belonging.

This leads to Romans 12:15, a passage Pastor Ortberg calls “the golden rule of intimacy” – “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”  There’s a magic arithmetic in shared experience.  When we share joy, that joy increases.  In contrast, when we share pain, that pain decreases.  So, don’t put sadness in charge of your life.  Rather, take your sorrow to God.  Since Jesus exemplifies the ultimate combination of authority and vulnerability, He offers us ultimate intimacy.  Also, God created us to have great authority and great vulnerability.  It’s not a matter of having one at the expense of the other.  In this process of commitment, we experience a freedom that avoiders never know.

Finally, Pastor Ortberg defines the Deep Down Dark  as “the place where you know you can’t make it on your own.”  In the Deep Down Dark, groaning (complaining to God) in suffering builds intimacy.  On the other hand, grumbling (complaining about God) destroys it.  Furthermore, healing from shame – deeply embedded condemnation – only comes from finding an acceptance greater than our greatest rejection.  As Lewis Smedes writes, we need the “spiritual experience of grace.”  God’s grace readies us to make any statement or take any actions that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.  Intimacy, John asserts, needs “outimacy.”  It needs to overflow in love beyond itself.  This happens in a community that lives and breathes Jesus.

As a result, it’s not a case of  I’d like you more if you were more like me.  As Pastor Ortberg concludes:

“I wonder if he [Jesus] whispers it still.

Just stop.

Be still and know.

Whoever has ears, let them hear: Bring in the love!”

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to be Noticed

Unseen (Zondervan, 2017)

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to be Noticed is the second book by critically acclaimed author Sara Hagerty.  Sara bases this book on Jesus’ encounter with Mary of Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8).  As Ms. Hagerty summarizes, “God invites us, through Mary’s forever-retold story, into . . . the kind of unhinged love that lays everything at His feet whether or not anyone else ever sees, approves, or applauds.”  Thus, although we live for what’s right in front of us, God ever so gently calls us to His unseen.  For craving the opinions and accolades of others breaks our gaze with God’s eyes – the only eyes to ever truly see us.   So, even when no one else is looking, God sees us.

In contrast, our human eyes easily betray the truth of the our story.  Therefore, Sara underscores, when God hides you,  everything hinges on your response.  God hides you: (a) so you find Him in His hiddenness; (b) to show you His kind eyes toward you; and (c) to tell you your story.  After all, God’s richer version far exceeds yours.  Furthermore, God creates, roots, and grows the sweetest greatness in secret.  And seen by God alone.  Most noteworthy, even when you’re a mess, God’s whispering into your story, not looking away from it.  It’s unnecessary, then , for you to partake in the most elusive form of hiding – that is, hiding from God.  Hence, in those naked-place moments when you permit yourself to be exposed before God, He covers you with Himself.

As we sit at Jesus’ feet in the hidden place, we become restless without a vision of what’s available to us.  Thus, our eyes need training to see God’s glory in the middle minutes.  Also, rather than hastily striving to check out of our hidden place just yet, we must heed God’s whispers to find Him there.  In the process, our relationship with God feeds us in a way our productivity and accomplishments cannot.  That friendship, in turn, enables us to win our day back – one minute at a time- with the spoken truth of God’s Word.  Plus, those who oppress us when we need uplifting inadvertently send us into hidden conversations with God.  Conversations that change us.  What others refer to as our end or ruin potentially, Sara states, “brings us closer to God than any one of our strongest days.”

Finally, Ms. Hagerty exhorts, if we’re able to tolerate our thirst long enough, we’ll find more of God.  Consequently, the thirsty thrive in God.  As we acknowledge our wounds, God heals them.  In addition, we learn to trust God more than we believe our fears.  Where people’s opinions fail us and we can’t see through our fears, God speaks to us in the unseen places.  As a result, here’s what happens when you lean into hiddenness.  You see prayer more as a growing connection to God’s heart and less as getting a desired answer.  When you listen in hiddenness, Sara explains, God’s thoughts reveal themselves to you.  They become precious.  You journey through the hidden places in expectation of victory.

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together

The Imperfect Disciple (Baker Books, 2017)

Jared C. Wilson, currently director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently published The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together.  In his Introduction, Pastor Wilson states he wrote the book to demystify discipleship.  Because all of us need tuning up in the gospel every day, Jared thinks of discipleship as not simply following Jesus, but refollowing Jesus every day.  We veer off track so easily.  Yet, we don’t often realize our souls are greatly troubled when, in fact, that’s the case.  As a result, the author notes, we need to feed, nourish, and lubricate our souls.  Through this process, we don’t need good advice.  In contrast, we need good news.  And there’s good news for those on the bottom!  Jesus turned things right side up, not upside down.

Thus, discipleship rests on our trust of Jesus’ mercy toward our total inability to become bigger, better, or faster.  In addition, discipleship must deal with the tension between the glorious reality we believe in and yearn for and the harsh reality of life.  As a result, Pastor Wilson underscores, “every day when you encounter God . . . you face the choice of simply looking at Jesus or actually trying to see him.”  As G. K. Beale observes, people resemble what they revere, either for their ruin or their restoration.  Therefore, to truly behold Jesus, it’s crucial to cultivate Spiritual formation.  This means we find ways to immerse ourselves in the work of the Holy Spirit.  In the process, we re-sync ourselves to the rhythms of the Kingdom of God.

Through centering on the gospel, the essential duties of maintaining a relationship with God seem more delight than duty, more rhythms than rules.  Contrary to popular belief, hearing is believing.  In other words, to see we must first hear.  For, Jared states, the glory of God blares from the pages of Scripture.  Thus, God’s not giving us the silent treatment.  In fact, the author stresses, He’s practically yelling.  To behold Jesus, we must feast on His presence rather than giving Him crumbs.  Prayer enables us to strengthen this relationship.  Also, we need to think of duty as worshipful prayer rather than worshipful prayer as duty.   Our daily life communicates when where we place our hope and trust.  And the more we pray, the more we abide in God’s strength alone.

In conclusion, Jared emphasizes that our availability to God’s call to sacrifice is predicated on our understanding that God needs no more messiahs.  Jesus already took care of that job.  Thus, God doesn’t need us.  Ah, Jared adds, but we’re wanted!  God’s grace goes all the way down.  It meets us in the darkest valleys of the heart.  But God’s grace also goes all the way up to His glory.  Therefore, to practice followship of Jesus is to believe, through God’s grace, that heaven’s beyond our imagination or ability to conceive.  One day the Lord “will pull out a chair and seat us at his own table at the wedding supper of the Lamb.”

The Joseph Calling: 6 Stages to Discover, Navigate, and Fulfill Your Purpose

The Joseph Calling (Broad Street Publishing, 2017)

Os Hillman, founder and president of Marketplace Leaders, titles his latest book The Joseph Calling: 6 Stages to Discover, Navigate, and Fulfill Your Purpose.  First, Mr. Hillman notes that adversity functions as a key catalyst in how God moves people into their calling.  Thus, more often than not, people God uses simply respond to a crisis event rather than initiating a vocation from their own heart.  Therefore, through a Joseph calling, you become known by the adversity you’ve gone through in order to spiritually and physically provide for others.  Most importantly, without a foundational understanding of your purpose, your adversity and suffering won’t be worth it.

However, the author notes, you must discover why God created you before you start trying to determine your purpose.  And your underlying purpose should always be to do the will of the Father.  As a result, your relationship with God enables you to derive your earthly assignments.  So, when God calls you to walk down a specific path, He gives you – and only you – the grace for that assignment.  Also, in addition to discovering your purpose, you need to discover your anointing.  Os defines an anointing as when your gift functions easily and seems natural.

But, Mr. Hillman stresses, each of us must enter a valley – usually unwillingly.  Consequently, in that valley we experience the God of the valley and find strength in His faithfulness.  Furthermore, in the valley God brings us to the place where all we want is Christ.  Also, the valley provides fertile ground for a harvest of wisdom and virtue.  Through faithfulness in the valley, we enter a new dimension with God that we never though possible.  God doesn’t waste any valley experiences.  Hence, it’s important that we don’t attempt to extricate ourselves out of our valley time.  For doing so results in leanness of the soul.

When we understand crises and how God uses them, we’re less prone to make ourselves victims.  For example, the isolation stage reveals truth like nothing else can.  In the process, isolation changes us and removes what hinders us, forcing us to draw deep upon God’s grace.  And God’s performing a deeper work in us that cannot be seen.  Through our own personal cross, we experience the depths of God.  Plus, the fruit of this maturing process often results in successful problem-solving.  Thus, this gives you authority in the area God wants you to operate.  So when Satan throws bricks at you, tap into heaven.  That allows God to solve the problem and build His kingdom.

In conclusion, Os exhorts you not to think up things to do for God.  Rather, join Him in what He wants to do and is doing:

“Watch and wait for the trumpet call of God.  When the signs appear, then step into it.  Allow God to use you to be an instrument to manifest his presence into that specific situation.”