The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You

The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You (Zondervan, 2010)

John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, wrote The Me I Want to Be in 2010.  First, John explains that the most important task of your life is not what you do, but who you become.  In other words, there is a me you want to be (emphasis author’s).  Therefore, to complete that task, you need to flourish.  Pastor Ortberg defines flourish as receiving life from outside yourself, creating vitality within yourself, and producing blessing beyond yourself.  However, a battle rages between your flourishing self and languishing self.  John’s book, then, follows this battle as it moves from deep inside you to a world awaiting God’s redemption.

At the core of a flourishing soul, one finds the love and peace of God.  Since God uniquely designed you to delight in your actual life through the process of becoming you, only God gets the final word.  In fact, God’s working every moment to “help you become his best version of you.”  And when you primarily focus on being present with God, everything else falls into place.  In any given moment, your sincere desire to be submitted to the Spirit’s leading is all that’s needed.  Thus, the Holy Spirit never just flows in you.  He always flows through you.  Most importantly, sustainable spiritual growth occurs when you actually want to do what you ought to do.

However, we often equate surrender with defeat.  In reality, though, surrender provides the only way to victory.  For our willpower’s easily fatigued.  But in the long run, ingrained habits beat willpower.  As a result, true growth always proceeds in the opposite direction of self-righteousness.  Also, self-righteousness births a joyless life, leaving you most vulnerable to temptation.  So the Spirit desires that His presence establish a river of life, joy, and peace throughout the day.  Stated differently, the Holy Spirit wants to function as a non-anxious presence in every life.  And the intersection of what Scripture teaches and how your life unfolds = a never-ceasing stream to willingly do what Jesus says.

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg reminds us of this important reality with God.  We never speak or act in His absence.  Therefore, John identifies the goal of prayer as living all your life and speaking all your words in joyful awareness of God’s presence.  This means, to stay in the flow of the Spirit, you need to monitor your soul satisfaction as well as know you signature sin pattern.  Once you know your signature sin, you also know what it takes to make you fully spiritually alive.  It’s also crucial that you find your special, private place to be yourself before God.  To become the me I want to be, God’s best version of you equals – a hoper.  For the Spirit of life is a Spirit of hope.  The Holy Spirit wants to make you a dangerous person, dangerously noncompliant in a broken world.  So, ask God for a mountain.

Walking with God; How to Hear His Voice

Walking with God: How to Hear His Voice (Thomas Nelson- 2008, 2016)

John Eldredge, director of Ransomed Heart, a ministry devoted to restoring men and women in the love of God, originally wrote Walking with God in 2008.  He completed a revision in 2016.  In the Introduction, John defines our deepest need as human beings as learning to live intimately with God.  Therefore, as we develop and strengthen our walk with God through the Holy Spirit, our walk brings us back to the source of life.  However, our assumptions either help or hurt his walk every single day of our lives.  Underscoring the purpose of this book, John assumes that “an intimate, conversational walk with God is available and is meant to be normal.”  For God not only knows us intimately, but He also seeks intimacy with us.  This takes time and practice on our part.

Furthermore, to hear God’s voice we must adopt a posture of quiet surrender.  Also, walking with God and reading Scripture go hand in hand.  And hearing from God flows out of our relationship.  Since God’s after our transformation and our joy, we need to pursue joy as essential to life.  In contrast, we must carefully avoid making any agreements with Satan’s cunning lies.  Hence, we concentrate our focus on what God is giving rather than on what He isn’t.  We refuse to demand that life come to us on our terms.  Thus, insisting on understanding- as opposed to insisting on God- creates distance between us and God.  On the other hand, the collision of our desire to live a “nice little life” and our need to remain in Jesus can produce sanctification.

So, it’s critical that you possess the objective, everlasting truth revealed in Scripture.  Jesus knows the very words we need to hear, the words most precisely conveying His meaning to your heart.  In addition, Jesus’ words speak to motive.  Specifically, Jesus moves the whole question of motive from the Pharisees’ emphasis on the external to the internal.  As a result, John emphasizes that the greatest disaster for the human heart centers on the belief that we’ve found life apart from God.  When adversity strikes, we face two options: (1) let our disappointments define our life or (2) let them take us back to God.

In conclusion, John offers this advice when life threatens to overwhelm you.  Resist throwing joy overboard while hanging on to the very things overwhelming you.   Receive wisdom and revelation from the Holy Spirit to sustain your walking with God.  Finally, John offers these words of encouragement:

” . . . when we can’t seem to find the healing or the breakthrough, when the thief does manage to pillage, I believe ours is a gospel of resurrection.  Whatever loss may come, that is not the end of the story.  Jesus came that we might have life.”

Grace Is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story

Grace Is Greater (Baker Books, 2017)

Kyle Idleman titles his latest book Grace Is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story.  Kyle, teaching pastor at southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, uses Hebrews 12:15 as the inspiration for his book.  The verse reads: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.”  However, our familiarity with the word grace creates a problem.  Society’s frequent use of the word grace makes it so common it ceases to amaze us.  Consequently, when we miss grace things become toxic, and a bitter root begins to grow.  Thus, we must face the truth that we’re worse than we want to admit.  But, God’s grace is greater than we could’ve imagined.

Pastor Idleman asserts we best and most fully understand grace “not by way of explanation alone but through experience.”  Furthermore, our ability to appreciate grace directly correlates to the degree we acknowledge our need for it.  For if we cover up sin, we cover up grace.  Therefore, Kyle stresses, we need to confront this hard truth.  Before we collide with the grace of God, we must collide with our own sin.  In fact, the author coined the phrase beautiful illusion for the moment God’s grace finally catches up to someone’s mess.   God doesn’t give up on you.  It’s never too late.

Yet, grace is a two-way street.  Because grace flows, it’s not an option to receive grace from God, but then refuse to give it to others.  Hence, Pastor Idleman defines the litmus test of grace as “the extent to which you give grace and offer forgiveness to the person who’s hurt you the most and deserves it the least.”  Also, extending grace and forgiveness constitutes more than a decision we make.  It’s a journey.  Living in grace means releasing your pain to God.  In other words, while letting go of what happened to your isn’t fair, it is grace.  So, you forgive and remember.  And when you remember, remind yourself: “I forgive that.”

In conclusion, Kyle observes that complaining is the rival of grace.  Therefore, to help you give thanks in all circumstances, Pastor Idleman suggests, reverse engineer God’s grace in your life.  Specifically, find reasons to be grateful for God’s grace at work (1) in situations you’d like to change and (2) in much of what you’ve complained about in the past.  Since God authored your story, trust that grace has the final word.  Kyle summarizes:

“Life is hard.  God is good.  Just keep reading.  Grace is greater.”

No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending

No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending (Zondervan, 2017)

International speaker and writer Esther Fleece recently completed No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending.  In her book, Ms. Fleece uncovers the biblical language of lament.  Esther describes lament as a real-world way to deal with our raw emotions that moves us forward to healing.  Furthermore, Esther states, think of lament as real talk with God when you’re hurting, the kind of song you need for hope and healing, a cry God can work with.  For no matter the cause of your pain, pain always needs to go somewhere.  Therefore, we need a grid for processing our grief.  However, coping mechanisms, although well-intentioned, ultimately never take us where we want to go and function as a cheap substitute for healing.

Lament, in contrast, requires acknowledging the truth of what happened to us and taking our pain directly to God.  God, the protector and keeper of our hearts, desires to be with us in our pain.  On the other hand, unprocessed laments keep our heart in chains.  Also, when we opt not to wrestle with God in our brokenness, we turn to blaming others as well as God.  But, lamenting opens the door to a relationship with God in the midst of our heartaches.  Only God offers this type of intimacy for our pain.  First, though, we need to attest to our pain and offenses before we can lament them.  While facing the past is painful, it’s even more painful to live out the lies we’ve come to believe as truth.

Learning to lament out loud allows God to correct our misconceptions regarding how He sees us and thinks of us.  Hence, Ms. Fleece encourages us to take our questions to God rather than using them as an excuse to disengage.   She notes that, in our laments, God permits us to ask questions as a relationship-building test- to draw near to us in conversation.  God prefers honest questions to faked spiritual strength.  Specifically, Esther sees one particular question- “How long, Lord”- as a powerful prayer of hope.  In addition, that question serves as a bold declaration of God’s presence, active listening, and power to act on our behalf.

In conclusion, Esther urges us to spend time with God and in His Word to remind ourselves of His true character.  When we fix our eyes on God through the lens of our circumstances, we see a warped reflection.  Thus, reminding God of His promises helps us to remember them and reassures us of our trust in Him to keep them.   No season of lamenting lasts forever.  No season of lamenting is designed to take us out.  Instead, as we surrender to those seasons in faith, we know that the future holds joy.  In the meantime, Esther inspires us:

”  . . . let’s all make the choice to be done with faking fine.  God has much better plans — plans for true healing, wholeness, and life upon life.”

Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny

Detours (B & H Books, 2017)

Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny is the most recent book from Dr. Evans, founding and senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas.  The word detour implies there’s  a destination, or destiny.  Specifically, destiny involves bringing glory to God as “people come into contact with Him through our words, spirit, emotions, or actions.”  And it’s a normative reality that a life of faith includes detours.  In fact, Dr. Evans notes, detours are God’s modus operandi- His default mode for guiding us.  Furthermore, whether we like it or not, God designed detours for our good.  That realization enables us to take trusting steps of faith.

Yet, breaking us of our own ambitions and independence signals a painful process.  However, we need to praise God in our pain, even if that praise consists of a faint word falling off our parched lips.  For God uses tests to reveal and accurately diagnose the condition of our heart.  As a result, a test always brings truth to the surface.  Thus, that allows growth to occur in a spirit of honesty.  God loves us too much to let us keep walking down the wrong path or in the wrong direction.  The key, then, to making it through testing = intimacy with the Lord.

When your preparation meets God’s purpose, you’re ready to move from detour to destiny.  In addition, once God’s prepared and developed you – even broken you- God’s providence comes out of nowhere- suddenly!  Dr. Evans describes God’s providence as a “word punctuated by truth and postulated by accuracy.”  Consequently, looking through the lens of providence enables you to experience the victorious Christian life and abundance Christ died to provide.  But, you never see all there is to see when dealing with the providence of God.  And the things you do see often don’t connect.

Even so, God brings harmony to discord and turns disappointment into destiny.  Maintaining the right perspective keeps you going despite life’s circumstances.  Then, when evil inevitably shows up, we need to place God in the equation for good to come out of it.  Also, as Dr. Evans points out, God doesn’t just work around negative things, God works in the negative thing.  Furthermore, sometimes you need negative potential in your life experiences to take your further than you’d go on your own.  Dr. Evans concludes with these final comments on your unpredictable path:

“Your destiny and kingdom purpose often involve both a hookup and a hope to people beyond yourself.  Look for both as God guides you.  Pray for both as you wait patiently.  Sharpen your faith, hone your skills, seek His face, and He will move you from detour to destiny.  Keep your eyes wide open . . .”

Holiness: The Heart God Purifies

Holiness: The Heart God Purifies (Moody Publishers, 2004)

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth published Holiness: The Heart God Purifies in 2004.  The author rightly states that holiness and sin both matter to God.  As a result, the message of repentance and holiness needs to transform the way we think and live.  Thus, Nancy’s goal in writing this book focuses on issuing an earnest appeal to God’s people to pursue holiness.  We should consider sin, rather than holiness, burdensome.  Also, the word holy comes from a root that means “to cut, to separate.”  If follows, then, that we’re set apart by God and for God.  This calling is a priceless privilege.

Therefore, true holiness- cultivated in the context of a relationship with God- starts on the inside and reflects God’s purpose for your life.  In addition, you must be intentional about pursuing holiness.  For sin needs to be eradicated and put to death- not tamed or controlled.  Furthermore, sin disappoints, dominates, and destroys.  Also, ignoring or cherishing sin in your heart keeps you from intimacy with God.  This transformation, powered through the indwelling Holy Spirit, develops on the inside and works its way out.

To assist us in the process of putting on holiness, God provides avenues of His grace.  These avenues of grace include the Word of God, confession, the Lord’s Supper, and the body of Christ.  As we put on the heart of Christ, we minister to others as we call the world to accommodate to Christ- rather than accommodate to the world.  In fact, Nancy stresses, the power of a church’s testimony is directly proportional to its holiness.  Therefore, the church cannot become a safe place to sin- overlooking “respectable” forms of sin.

In conclusion, the author exhorts us to look forward to the day when we face our Beloved Bridegroom with joy- radiant and unashamed.  Nancy urges us to cast off sin, through God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit:

“Nothing, nothing, nothing could be more important.  Nothing could bring Him greater glory in our world, and nothing could bring you greater joy — both now and throughout eternity.”

How’s Your Soul?

How’s Your Soul? (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Judah Smith, lead pastor of City Church in Seattle, WA, recently authored How’s Your Soul? Why Everything That Matters Starts with the Inside You.  Pastor Smith observes that we tend to avoid soul-searching questions because we’d rather be superficial than vulnerable.  Consequently, deep down we feel we’re not okay.  As a result, when we doubt our internal stability, we need to rest in the arms of God.  God’s greater than our turmoil and bigger than our souls.  In addition, the Holy Spirit inspired a handbook for a healthy soul: the Bible.  Also, a healthy soul is paramount to a healthy life.

Judah continues by listing four elements of a healthy soul environment- rest, responsibility, restraint, and relationship.  However, the author cautions, the first three elements fall flat if we fail to include relationship.  In the context of relationship, we often find inner fulfillment, peace, joy, and health though doing the exact opposite of what we feel like doing at the present moment.  Although feelings come and go, our God remains the same.  Furthermore, God fulfills our universal and timeless innate need for stability.  Yet, in the middle of a storm, the option of escape tempts us.  Rather than anchoring our souls in Jesus, we search for Helicopter Jesus.

When we need Jesus most, we must trust Him.  During our walk with Jesus, the point isn’t the journey.  It’s being with Jesus.  Throughout this journey, our souls cannot survive without love.  Therefore, Pastor Smith states it’s imperative we understand the paramount nature of love and define it in a God-inspired manner.  Real, authentic God-love describes how love functions all the time.  For love knows no limits and endures all things.  Defining love in this manner enables you to cultivate a calm and quiet soul.  With inner calm and quiet, you recognize you’re not in control as you create a God-category, level yourself, and rest in the arms of Jesus.

In conclusion, Judah notes that God gives identity to your soul as He changes you from the inside out.  Remember, embrace and live consistently according to your identity in Christ.  Walk steadily, at a regular pace.  What God began in you at birth, He plans to bring to completion.  A truly effective life begins with an effective, healthy soul.  Maintain a healthy soul as you focus on the reality of eternity with Jesus.  Pastor Smith explains:

“Eternity . . . inspires you to awaken, to dream again, and to take risks . . . shaped . . . by the glory of God and the reality of heaven.”

The Broken Way

The Broken Way (Zondervan, 2016)

Ann Voskamp opens The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life with a bold assertion.  She proclaims: “Not one thing in your life is more important that figuring out how to live in the face of unspoken pain.”  Yet, we don’t know how to put all our broken pieces into place.  For only God’s wounds heal our wounds.  All our brokenness meets in the mystery of Christ’s brokenness and givenness- becoming the miracle of abundance.  As a result, when we experience abundance, we dance in communion with Christ.  Furthermore, good brokenness grows out of every wound and scar we’ll ever suffer.

Courage, then, means reaching out and taking just a bit of Christ’s iron-nail grace.  As a result, the only abundant way forward means giving yourself forward.  In addition, your multiply joy by spending yourself.  But, for your life to yield fruit, you must be yielding in soul.  When you understand there’s more belovedness in Christ for you than any amount of existing brokenness in you, you receive God’s love.  Then your love bears all things, like a roof bears wind and rain.  Thus, you ultimately find your real self in giving.

This means, Ann exhorts, to live in the givenness of the moment.  Look for pocket miracles- small miracles or small gifts.  When darkness descends, fight back with doxology.  It’s never the cross we carry, but our resistance to the cross, that makes our brokenness a burden.  Ms. Voskamp encourages us to remember that “after a rain of tears, there is always more of you than before.  Rain always brings growth.”   So, with God indwelling us, all our broken efforts become impossable.   Without our wounds, we have no strength.  Load-bearing + love-bearing = cross-bearing.  Identify as a prayer warrior, not a panicked worrier.

In conclusion, Ann reassures us that it’s acceptable to feel okay with being un-okay.  We simply trust that Christ always makes a way.  The fear that “I’m not enough” exposes the lie that God’s not enough.  Furthermore, retreating behind barriers only causes a new type of pain.  Therefore, when pain comes looking for you, control your pain by living given.  Also, give the broken hearted your pain.  And don’t be afraid of theirs!  Finally, Ms. Voskamp draws The Broken Way to a close with these words:

“It’s the broken hearts that find a haunting loveliness of a new beat — it’s the broken  hearts that live a song that echoes God’s.”

Fully and Creatively Alive

Fully and Creatively Alive (Self-published, 2016)

Tom Eggebrecht introduces his self-published book Fully and Creatively Alive by defining the title concept.  From Tom’s perspective, fully and creatively alive means “living out your total potential and doing it with uniqueness and flair.”  In Tom’s book, it’s the only way to live.  In addition, there’s always an artistic alternative to life.  Very often, that alternative leads to your own joy while at the same time serving to help others.

However, even though living fully and creatively takes time, work, and effort, God stands ready to help you tap into your creativity.  Specifically, the sentences of life’s fill-in-the-blank moments provide an amazing opportunity.  You discover the creativity our Creator God places within you.  Prayer also supports those fill-in-the-blank moments.  When you pray, petition the Lord for inspiration and creative insight.  You’ll respond to the Lord’s prompting with renewed energy, interesting ideas, and the desire to follow through.  Therefore, create something because you like it, it affects your life, or evokes personal meaning.

Yet, when failure occurs, give yourself a kind of grace.  Accept the existence of a learning curve and develop a positive, proactive, and optimistic attitude.  Furthermore, use that failure as your mode of transformation.  Then tell about it!  For a positive attitude makes you, but a negative attitude breaks you.  Also, a positive mindset centers on serving others, not shining the spotlight on yourself.  As a result, the true test of your passion for something focuses on your motivation.  In other words, you’ll do something you’re passionate about whether or not you get paid for it.

In conclusion, the author emphasizes that hard work succeeds when passion and purpose meet discipline.   Remember not to focus too much on yourself.  Let others help.  Also, be willing to serve in unexpected ways.  So, pick your head up, look at what you’re doing day to day, and be prepared to shift your dream.  Tom closes with these words of encouragement:

“The world needs what you have to give. . . . Help those who need help.  Live a better story.  Surround yourself with people that fill the gaps in your life.  This is your call to live a life that’s fully and creatively alive.  Now go do it!”

Chase the Lion

chasethelionChase the Lion (Multnomah Books, 2016)

Mark Batterson, head pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, recently published Chase the Lion: If Your Dream Doesn’t Scare You, It’s Too Small.  Mark’s latest book serves as a sequel to In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day.  When one encounters a five-hundred-pound lion, the brain relays an urgent message to the body: run!  Lion chasers, however, run to the roar.  They consider normal overrated.

As a result, lion chasers let God get between them and their circumstances, not vice versa.  Therefore, you’re only one encounter or genesis moment- when God reveals Himself- from your destiny.  To be prepared for that genesis moment requires understanding that you accept response-ability for the things that happen to you, even if you cannot control them.  So, when God tells you to go “just a little farther,” a divine appointment may be close at hand.  For God strategically positions us in the right place at the right time.

Lion chasers not only see, but seize, the decisive moment.  They operated in a spirit of focus, not of fear.  Lion chasers also recognize that closed doors represent some of God’s best premoves.  Yet, to achieve your dreams, you must establish and practice daily disciplines.  Obedience over along period of time equates to faithfulness.  Faithfulness, in turn, undergirds your view- and view affects vision.  And when God gives vision He makes provision!  Your dream is from God and for God.

God’s working His plan, even when you perceive little or no evidence your plan’s moving forward.  Therefore, in difficult seasons, give God the sacrifice of praise.  Ultimately, how well we endure difficult seasons defines us.  So when others give up, respond by stepping up.  To make a difference, you need the courage not just to stand, but to stand alone.  To achieve this, excuses must first be identified and then confessed.

In conclusion, Mark stresses that you find your destiny by looking at God.  By looking at God, then, your destiny finds you.  Yet, destiny also includes demonstrating faithfulness right where you are.  Furthermore, a faithful spirit includes a posture of servanthood, necessary for God to place you in a position of leadership.  Most importantly, you take the presence of God with you wherever you go.  Your dream is a calling.  Run to the roar!