A me that we think we should be

“Each of us has a me that we think we should be, which is at odds with the me that God made us to be.  Sometimes letting go of that self may be a relief.  Sometimes it will feel like death.”- John Ortberg

In Chapter 2 (“The Me I Don’t Want to Be”), John Ortberg stresses God designed us to delight in our lives.  Therefore, when your life ends, God won’t ask why you weren’t someone else.  He’ll want to know you grew toward becoming you.  That process frees you from pretending someone you’re not.

For pretending requires hard work.  As a result, Pastor Ortberg notes, transparency beckons us.  We long to go to a place where we live out our real selves.  John explains:

“Inside us is a person without pretense or guile.  We never have to pretend with God, and genuine brokenness pleases God more than pretend spirituality.”

Furthermore, John underscores that “comparison kills spiritual growth.”  In fact, Henri Nouwen once defined spiritual greatness as “being as great as each of us can be.”  Conversely, spiritual greatness never equates to achieving more greatness than others.

However, when we give up the me we think we should be, we die to a false self.  In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg explains the importance of the word should for spiritual growth:

” . . . God’s plan is not for you to obey him because you should even though you don’t want to.  He made you to want his plan for you.  On the other side of death is freedom, and no one is more free than a dead man . . . . On the journey to the me you want to be, you will have some dying to do.  But that kind of dying is always death to a lesser self, a false self, so that a better and nobler self can come to life.”

Today’s question: Do you find your current view of ‘me’ at odds with the way God designed you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The final word on who God made you to be”

Grace explained – grace experienced

Grace explained is necessary, but grace experienced is essential.”- Kyle Idleman

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”- Hebrews 12:15 (NIV)

In the Introduction to his latest book Grace Is Greater: How to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story, Kyle Idleman notes the familiarity of the word grace.  That common usage potentially causes a problem.  Because we find ourselves immersed in grace, the adjective amazing seldom comes to mind.

Thus, Pastor Idleman invites us to see the word grace again for the first time.  For when we miss grace, things get toxic or bitter.  In fact, Kyle notes, Hebrew culture considers any poisonous plant a “bitter” plant.  And if a small, bitter root grows slowly, eventually that poison takes effect.  Bitterness only stays buried for so long.

Therefore, Kyle posits, we best understand grace “not by way of explanation alone but through experience.  In other words, grace explained is necessary.  However, grace experienced is essential.  Explanation without experience produces little effect.  To illustrate, Pastor Idleman repurposes E. B. White’s famous quip on humor: “Grace can be dissected like a frog, but the thing dies in the process.”

In conclusion, Kyle prays that we personally experience the truth that grace is greater.  He explains that grace is:

  • powerful enough to erase your guilt
  • big enough to cover your shame
  • real enough to heal your relationships
  • strong enough to hold you up when you’re weak
  • sweet enough to cure your bitterness
  • satisfying enough to deal with your disappointments
  • beautiful enough to redeem your brokenness

Today’s question: How do you balance grace explained and grace experienced?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Appreciate the beauty of God’s grace”

Why we experience brokenness

“We all want to know the answer to the question of why we experience brokenness.  It is human nature to wrap our heads around why something so terrible could happen to us.  But when we do not lean into lament to wrestle with God over these questions, we will often turn to blame.”-
Esther Fleece

He [the Lord] said to Cain, “What have you done?  Listen!  Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”- Genesis 4:10

In Chapter 3 (“The First Lament”) of No More Faking Fine, Esther Fleece talks about the first recorded lament in the Bible.  We find that lament in Genesis 4:10.

Like Cain, when we experience brokenness, we impulsively blame ourselves, God, or others.  Hence, we find it easier to be angry with someone or something than to feel like helpless victims.

However, even though Abel died, his blood cried out to God from the ground.  Ms. Fleece applies this first biblical lament to us.  She writes:

“Nothing can prevent our laments from reaching God’s ears.  Even if everyone in the world ignores our cries and minimizes our pain, God hears us.  Neither our offenders nor injustice, not even death, can silence our lamenting cries to God.”

Therefore, when others wrong us, knowing that God hears our laments brings us comfort.  In addition, even if our offenders show no remorse over their actions, we must not mistakenly believe they’ve escaped the consequences of those actions.  God brings justice in His own timing- a comfort to us.

Without a lamenting language with God, we’ll be restless wanderers like Cain.  Rather, lamenting provides an open door:

” . . . lamenting actually opens the door that allows us to have a relationship with God right in the midst of our heartaches. . . . He wants us to use our laments to build greater intimacy with Him. . . . He is prepared to listen to us, to share our laments, and to offer us peace and comfort this world is not able to bring.”

Today’s question: How would you explain why we experience brokenness?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “God receives our groans”

The snowball effect our coping mechanisms create

“Such is the snowball effect our coping mechanisms create as we try to avoid pain and instead fall into unhealthy patterns.”- Esther Fleece

Esther Fleece concludes Chapter 2 of No More Faking Fine as she presents the fourth and fifth coping mechanisms used to short-circuit the healing process.

4.  “I’ll just put my past behind me and move on.”  Ms. Fleece states when we have unexamined brokenness and woundedness in our lives, we convince ourselves of all sorts of crazy things.  Because it’s dangerous to live out of our wounds, we need lament to help us examine and heal those hurts.

In addition, you only make matters worse if you keep moving with a wound that needs attention.  Therefore, you need to be honest with God about your pain.  When you’re honest in your lament, you hear God’s honest response about His true character.  Hence, when we wrestle deeply with the character and nature of God, He gives us a deeper revelation of Himself.

God uses our past wounds as entry points to do His healing work.  Gold wants to meet us on this sacred ground.  As a result, we don’t want to unwittingly silence Him.

5.  “Emotions are dangerous and to be avoided at all costs.”  Stuffing emotions (avoiding lament) keeps our pain internalized where it continues to do damage.  The result?- dysfunction in every area of our lives.

In conclusion, Ms. Fleece advises paying attention to our emotions rather than fearfully pushing them aside.  Then, Esther says, we possess the choice to “dismiss our emotion based on an untruth or embrace and further examine an emotion based on truth.”  God may want to use your authentic emotions or meet you in the midst of them.

Today’s question:  How have your coping mechanisms created a snowball effect in your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: Why we experience brokenness”

Reclaiming the language of lament

“Reclaiming the language of lament allows God to infuse His very being into ours and equip us to face the challenges of life with perseverance, trust, and a sense of purpose.”- Esther Fleece

As Esther Fleece concludes Chapter 1 of No More Faking Fine, she asserts we must reclaim the lost language of lament.  In fact, Ms. Fleece sees true spiritual maturity as growing into becoming good lamenters.  As a result, we grow in our need for God.

The author believes, “praise songs” are good and necessary elements of worship.  Yet, we also need songs that express the harsh realities of earthly life.   Without such balance, our perception of God and the life of faith becomes skewed.

Throughout Scripture we see the deep emotions of God.  Scripture describes the grief experienced by each member of the Trinity (see Genesis 6:5-6, Isaiah 63:10, and John 11:35).  Thus, God’s grieving provides a model for expressing our own painful emotions.  Esther explains:

“If we don’t allow painful emotions to surface, then we are setting expectations for ourselves that even God cannot meet.  Nobody laments more than God Himself.  And we are called to be like Him. . . . We are not abandoned in a lament.  We are being refined, renewed, and held.  When we begin to understand God as a God who weeps, we begin to see Him as someone safe to run to in the midst of our pain.”

Hence, honest prayer, unrestrained lament, and trusting dependence reflect honest praise.  They show the beauty of brokenness.  Lament draws us near to God.  But it also draws God near to us.  Esther sees lamenting as a part of life.

In conclusion, Ms. Fleece states that, although lament may not change our circumstances, it clears up our misunderstandings about God.  God can work with the cry of lament.  As Esther observes, lament “keeps the conversation going just when we need Him most.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you begin reclaiming the language of lament?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Our coping mechanisms”

Full cruciformity

“Full cruciformity . . . to give someone your broken heart means breaking pride, breaking lies, breaking fear.”- Ann Voskamp

Ann Voskamp continues Chapter 18, the concluding chapter of The Broken Way, by noting the benefit of sitting in your burn and brokenness.  As you live into the givenness even of your brokenness, the crisis possesses the potential to bond you to Christ and other broken hearts.

Therefore, full cruciformity means embracing suffering and brokenness through the gift of presence.  Ann explains:

“Suffering is a call for presence . . . not only to the brokenness of the world, but to the brokenness in our own soul, and to risk trusting others with our wounds.”

For those of us with broken hearts, we need key people.  Ann describes these key people as people who:

  • break us open so we see how Christ never fails to hold our wounds
  • break us free from all crushing expectations of ourselves and others
  • tell us it’s safe to be real here and let the brokenness come

Furthermore, Ann describes how we become a key person.  This happens when we hand a key to break someone free. In the process we give each other our broken hearts.  Then, our brokenness heals us in the strangest way- we let that brokenness come.

In conclusion, Ann describes what it truly means to live given.  It’s more than giving your skills, resources, time, hands, and feet.  Living given means:

” . . . breaking down all the thickened walls and barriers around your heart with this hammer of humility, and trusting the expansiveness of the broken-wide-open spaces of grace and communion.”

Living given = giving the brokenhearted your brokenness + not being afraid of theirs.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you attain full cruciformity in your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The fellowship of the broken”

Generous in sharing our brokenness

“Generosity does give birth to intimacy — but there’s a far deeper intimacy when we’re generous in sharing our brokenness.”- Ann Voskamp

Ann Voskamp begins Chapter 18 (“Why You Don’t Have to Be Afraid to Be Broken”) with a definition of faith.  Ms. Voskamp defines faith as “confidence in the kindness of God, no matter the confusion of circumstances.”

Furthermore, in that confusion of circumstances, it’s more than fearing any broken things.  We’re afraid to burden others with our problems.  Rather than break anyone’s heart, we bury our hurt.

Yet, Ann adds, we all need a safe place to come with our mess of broken.  Therefore, Ann offers the following thought on suffering:

“Maybe you can’t compare suffering, can’t rank or minimize suffering, but simply embrace it and all others suffering too.”

This, then, makes it possible for communion to happen.  Ann posits that communion only can happen when:

  • not only our strong parts are broken and given, but when we give our broken parts also
  • we give each other our brokenness
  • everything given out of our brokenness shows greater love through our willingness to suffer

Ann notes that we can’t imagine how great a capacity our heart has for pain.  That’s because our heart loves far greater than ever imagined.

As a result, Ann encourages, everyone needs someone to sit with them in the burn.  Ann describes what happens:

“This can turn the flames into a holy blaze.  Someone just choosing to be with you in the fire with a bit of theirs — can turn out to be better than anyone trying to extinguish your fire.  Shared flames and shared burn scars can ignite hearts into a great fire that fights fire.”

Today’s question: Please respond to Ann’s opening statement that “there’s a far deeper intimacy when we’re generous in sharing our brokenness.”

Tomorrow’s blog: “Full cruciformity”

Brokers of healing

“We can be brokers of healing exactly where we have known the most brokenness.”- Ann Voskamp

“I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me- you did it to me.”- Matthew 25:36 (The Message)

Ann Voskamp concludes Chapter 16 of The Broken Way by asserting that beauty lies in one’s fragility- not formidability.  Therefore, Ann encourages, never fear broken things!  They’re the beginning of greater things.  Ann adds: “The best yields start as broken fields.”

As a result, God takes us into wildernesses not to abandon us or hurt us, but to spend time alone with us and speak to our hearts.  When we cry in the desert, He revives us by the caress of His grace.

Furthermore, Ann describes the only way to care for your wounds.  You care for your wounds by:

” . . . pressing your broken wounds into His, and finding that in Him, Him in you, you’re touching the broken wounds of all the other wounded and entering into the joy of Him — intimate communion, koinonia, with Him.”

A framed print called “Hands of Proof” hangs on the wall behind Ann’s desk.  The print vividly depicts Jesus’ hand taking the hand of Thomas.  Jesus directs Thomas’ hand to touch the bloody nail wound in Jesus’ other open hand.

Most noteworthy, Ann states everything in the print shows a movement of Jesus.  Just as Jesus pressed Thomas’ doubt-wounds into His open wounds, Jesus offers those same wounds as a home for our wounds.  In addition, Ann explains: “All healing is a movement of Christ — He’s doing it all.”

In conclusion, Ms. Voskamp states that the broken know how their broken wounds = the very thin places that reveal God.  They “allow us to His safe holding hand.”

Today’s question: How might Jesus encourage downsized workers to act as brokers of healing?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A brake to save us”

The greatest danger to our soul

“The greatest danger to our soul is not success or status or superiority — but our self-lies.”- Ann Voskamp

Continuing in Chapter 14 of The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp discusses our identity in Christ.  She emphasizes that our identity in Christ remains the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Furthermore,  criticism can’t change our identity in Christ, nor failure shake it.  Therefore, your yesterdays, messes, failures, and brokenness don’t define you.

According to Ms. Voskamp, self-lies present the greatest danger to our soul.  She explains:

“When you listen to the self-lies hissing that you’re unlovable, unacceptable, unwanted, that’s when you go seeking your identity  in success or status or superiority and not in your Savior.  Self-lies are the destroyer of the soul.  Because they drown out the sacred voice that can never stop whispering your name: Beloved.”

As a result, you can spend your entire life trying to outrun those beady-eyed lies.  But then your fears strangle you.  In addition, people always express opinions about you.  Thus, you must live for God.  Ann summarizes:

“Nothing anyone says can malign you, assign you, or confine you.  Your Maker’s the only one who can define you. . . . . Your identity, your security, your acceptability, come from God who is — and not how you feel. . . . When you experience how God knows and receives you, you bond with God, united, and let Him speak your true identity . . .”

In conclusion, aloneness describes on of the devil’s greatest weapons and deceptions.  However, we’re never alone, even when we feel alone.  Jesus cups our faces close.  He tells us we’re not alone!

Today’s question: During your desert, transitional time, what self-lies have you believed?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Grace waits in broken places”

Grounded transparently in God

“You are most who you are meant to be when no wind in the world can stop you from being grounded transparently in God.”- Ann Voskamp

As Ann Voskamp continues Chapter 14 of The Broken Way, she observes that when people steal a part of you, you must fill the vacuum.  You must find yourself once more.  Yet, we must remember to fully surrender that feeling to God.  Even if we feel un-okay.

Therefore, Ann encourages, remember that you don’t have to fix, deny, or pretend away things.  Simply feel the brokenness of things.  It’s okay to be un-okay.  However, trust that Christ always makes a way.  Therefore, Ann encourages you to “run to the only Word that brings healing.”

Yet, our attempt to construct an identity on something else besides Christ defines the core of every one of our issues.  We cannot allow a cacophony of disparate voices to deafen us to the beauty of our identity in Christ.  In The Reason for Christ: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (2008) Timothy Keller calls this attempt sin:

“Sin is the despairing refusal too find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God, . . . Human beings were made not only to believe in God in some general way, but to love Him supremely, center their lives on him above all else, and build their very identities on Him.  Anything other than this is sin.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses keep you grounded transparently in God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The greatest danger to our soul”