Three levels of friendship

Bill Hybels continues Chapter 7 of Simplify with a description of three levels of friendship to help us determine the depth of friendship we have with friends and acquaintances.  Pastor Hybels explains: “Having a clear understanding of where each person fits in your life helps you clarify your expectations.”

1.  Circumstantial friends.  Bill defines circumstantial friends as “friends by circumstance, and when circumstances change, the friendship ends.”  Life moves on.  Circumstantial friends come and go.  Circumstantial friends matter, and occasionally they become true friends.

2.  True Friends- for a Season.  The author notes that many of us will invest in and totally enjoy some very meaningful, true friendships.  Yet, we shouldn’t be disappointed if life reshuffles the deck and one of our true friends moves on.  Bill postulates that the majority of our true friendships actually will be seasonal rather than lifelong.  Setting the bar of expectation too high may not be realistic, considering how long friendships last in the real  world.

3.  Lifelong friends.  Circumstances and chemistry may align in such a way that friendships really do last a lifetime.  Pastor Hybels adds:

“For obvious reasons, we cannot force or manufacture lifelong friendships.  They are forged in the trenches of everyday life- and, by definition, they take a lifetime to develop.”

Today’s question: How have you been blessed by true or lifelong friends?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Deepening your inner circle”

Lost within Your beauty

Hyacinthmacaw“. . . you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”- Colossians 3:9-10

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream another dream.”- C. S. Lewis

Opened in 1925, the Crystal Garden in Victoria, British Columbia, was modeled after other ‘glass palaces’ of that era.  A multi-purpose amusement center where all levels of society mingled, the Crystal Garden offered the largest salt water swimming pool in the British Empire, an art gallery, two full ballrooms, and a restaurant among its amenities.  By 1971, however, the Crystal Garden closed, the last remnant of a bygone age.  Nine years later it reopened, transformed into a conservation center and tropical garden that was home to numerous species of birds, including these striking hyacinth macaws, the largest parrots in the world.  In 2009, the Crystal Garden was repurposed as an extension of the Victoria Conference Centre.

The Crystal Garden has embraced revisioning and revitalization multiple times throughout its ninety-year existence- growth essential to maintaining its viability.  “The possibility of transformation,” John Ortberg writes, “is the essence of hope.”  To our limited vision, it appears that nothing can grow in the desert landscape of our vocation loss.  Author Jeff Manion counters that viewpoint by stating that desert soil has the greatest potential for producing life-altering faith.  The Land Between is the ideal climate for spiritual growth.

Our vocation is not the foundation of our identity.  C. S. Lewis states that we truly become ourselves when we let God take us over.  It is only when we give ourselves us to God that we begin to have a real personality of our own.  This is achieved not through a static existence, but through spiritual growth.  John Ortberg observes that all living creatures require change, adaptation, and challenge.  Spiritual growth is not a part of life.  Rather, every moment of life is an opportunity to learn from our Lord- to be lost within Your beauty:

“But to grow spiritually means to live increasingly as Jesus would do in our unique place- to perceive what Jesus would perceive if he looked through our eyes, to think what he would think, to feel what he would feel, and therefore to do what he would do.”



Letting go of bitterness

Following Chapter 3 of How Can I Possibly Forgive?, Sara Horn discusses five ways to start letting go of bitterness right now.

1.  Tell God how you’re feeling.  When we keep ignoring the hard feelings about our vocation loss, they build up and grow bigger.  Sara stresses that we need to make time to talk to God about how we’re feeling and ask for help letting go of the bitterness.

2.  Recognize the importance of second chances.  In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the elder brother is a prime example of someone holding on to bitterness.  He is unable to see past what he perceives is an unfair situation.  When we find ourselves unable to see past the unfairness, we need to start counting our blessings.

3.  Admit the sin you’re dealing with.  Sara states that bitterness often masks or is symptomatic of other sins in our life.  When we own up to what is imprisoning us, we open the door for God to work in us and change us.

4.  Stop dwelling on what happened and repeating your story.  Fixating on what happened seldom is a healthy approach, especially if our friends are more enablers than encouragers.

5.  Rethink your thinking.  Bitter attitudes and negative thoughts are meant for each other.  Negative thoughts can be around for so long that we don’t even realize it.  We must be intentional in reshaping and turning our thoughts to what God wants us thinking about (Philippians 4:8).

Today’s question: Which way(s) of letting go of bitterness resonate most with you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Invisible scars”

The battle is not yours

“Do not be afraid, and do not be dismayed by this great horde, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.”- 2 Chronicles 20:15

As Sara Horn continues Chapter 2 of How Can I Possibly Forgive?, she emphasizes that when we are intentional in living each day for Jesus and praying our way through it, something powerful happens.  This is important because not every moment of life is spent on a spiritual mountaintop with God.  At some point, every Christian has to return to the reality known as life.

When that reality hits, Christ’s joy and peace and kindness don’t always flow so easily from us.  We may wonder if those virtues are present at all.  Our natural tendency is to hold on to slights and offenses for dear life- if we let go something might change, and we won’t like it!  Sara explains the necessity of giving every day of our life to God:

“If I can intentionally give Jesus my days in any given week, I can be intentional with giving him every day of my life.  I can be deliberate about giving him the relationships in my life, even the hard ones . . . especially the hard ones.”

Sara asks one significant question: “Are the battles we chose the battles God has chosen for us?”  Even so, Sara stresses that the battle we really need to focus on in the battle within ourselves.  Only through God’s power can we choose the better way.

Today’s question: What battles do need to give up to the Lord?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the new Short Meditation for Holy Week/Easter- “We all, like sheep”

Ten Utterances

“The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.”- Psalm 19:7

In Chapter 12 (“The Soul Needs Freedom”) of Soul Keeping, John Ortberg observes that Israel always has had deep respect for the giving of the law in a way that is hard for Christians to understand.  Before God gave Moses the Ten Commandments to deliver to Israel, God reminded them He was their liberator: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2)

Pastor Ortberg asserts that the Ten Commandments come within a relational context- they never were designed to be a set of rules.  Judaism, in fact, does not refer to them as the Ten Commandments.  The Hebrew phrase is aseret hadevarim, literally meaning “ten utterances” or “ten statements.”  They flow out of how God designed us and who we were meant to be.  While we read the Ten Commandments as “this is what you have to do,” God is saying “this is who you are.”  Pastor Ortberg explains the effect on us when we don’t keep the commandments:

“That’s why we don’t so much break the Ten Commandments as we break ourselves when we violate them.”

In the next blog John will discuss the two kinds of freedom: (1) freedom from external constraints and (2) freedom for the kind of life we were meant to live.

Today’s question: What Scriptures have freed you from the circumstantial slavery of your vocation loss?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the new Short Meditation, “Don’t strike out!”



Overwhelming Positive Passion

“We are all governed by an Overwhelming Positive Passion.”- Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods

John Ortberg begins Chapter 6 (“It’s the Nature of the Soul to Need”) of Soul Keeping by stating that the soul is vulnerable because it is needy.  If we try to meet that need with anything other than God, life will be difficult at best.

Pastor Ortberg notes that Thomas Aquinas once wrote that the nature of the soul to need is a pointer to God.  While we are limited in virtually every way, it is only the soul that has unlimited desire.  Pastor Ortberg explains:

“The truth is, the soul’s infinite capacity to desire is the mirror image of God’s infinite capacity to give. . . . The unlimited neediness of the soul matches the unlimited grace of God.”

Yet neediness is not our soul’s problem.  The problem is our fallenness.  Instead of our need pointing us to God, in our fallenness we fasten ourselves to other sources of devotion.  The Bible calls this idolatry.  Idolatry, the author adds, is a sin we commit every day: “It is the sin of he soul meeting its needs with anything that distances it from God.”

Sheer will power cannot enable the soul to give up its idol.  We can’t replace an idol by turning away from something.  Through God’s grace, we can turn toward something.  The soul must orbit around something it can worship.

Today’s question: Following your vocation loss, what has been your Overwhelming Positive Passion?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the new Short Meditation, “The disciplines of patience”


Spiritual humility

In today’s blog, Calvin’s second rule, or principle, of prayer is presented and discussed.

2.  Spiritual humility.  Calvin described his second rule for prayer as “the sense of need that excludes all unreality.”  This spiritual humility includes both (a) a strong sense of our dependence on God, in general, and (b) a readiness to recognize and repent of our sins, in particular.  Pastor Keller adds that we need to be ruthlessly honest in confronting our faults and weaknesses.

As author Francis Spufford tells us in Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, we need to drop all pretense and flee from phoniness:

“[You are] a being whose wants make no sense, don’t harmonize, whose desires deep down are discordantly arranged, so that you truly want to possess and your truly want not to at the very same time.  You’re equipped, you realize, more for farce (or even tragedy) than happy endings. . . . You’re human, and that’s where we live, that’s our normal experience.”

Pastor Keller notes that counselors will tell us that only the character flaws we won’t admit will destroy us.  We aren’t seeking God with all our heart if we smugly blame others for our problems rather than taking personal responsibility for them.  Confession and repentance are crucial to true prayer.  Prayer both requires and produces humility.

Today’s question: How has your dependence on God increased during your transformational journey?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: Restful trust, yet confident hope

Bringing heaven into the ordinary

Today Timothy Keller concludes his presentation of twelve aspects of the richness of prayer, found in Chapter 2 of Prayer.

9.  Prayer is a refuge.  Poet George Herbert states that prayer is a “sinner’s towre”.  Pastor Keller explains that means “prayerful dependence on Jesus is our only refuge from our own sin.”  Without our dependence of Christ’s forgiveness and righteousness before God, we cannot go into God’s presence.

10.  Prayer changes us.  Though prayer changes the circumstances of the world, Pastor Keller stresses that prayer is “as much or even more about changing our own understanding and attitude toward those circumstances.”  Prayer, he adds, brings heaven into the ordinary, enabling us to see the world differently- even in our most basic tasks.

11.  Prayer unites us with God himself.  As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:10 and Ephesians 3:18, through the Holy Spirit prayer can plunge us into the “deep things of God”, taking us through the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ’s saving love for us.

12.  Prayer gradually clears our vision.  Pastor Keller notes that through prayer “something”, not everything is understood.  In 1 Corinthians 1:13, St. Paul states that we only see things in part, like the distorted images in ancient mirrors.  But prayer gradually clears our vision.  As Pastor Keller concludes: “Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle- yet the way to reality.”

Today’s question: How has prayer changed you and/or cleared your vision during your time of transition?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Mystical versus prophetic prayer”

Here and now

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow . . . have lighted fools/ The way to dusty death.”- William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Zaccheus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord!  Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”- Luke 19:8

Kyle Idleman concludes Chapter 11 of AHA with the final two reasons we have a proclivity for procrastination.

2.  We want to prolong the pleasure.  Sinful behavior in the Distant Country can bring a perverse sort of pleasure.  We may “enjoy” harboring unforgiveness and vengeance toward those responsible for our ministry downsizing or vocation loss.  Until our famine really comes, we tend to put off any action- in the mistaken belief we can continue our behavior without multiplying the consequences.

3.  We want to plan it to perfection.  Pastor Idleman states that rather than keeping it simple, we try to tie up every loose end, creating a complicated plan of action,  We need to concentrate on what God wants us to do.  Although our situation is complicated, our game plan is simple.

Just as Jesus changed the heart of Zaccheus, He can change our hearts as well.  But the process needs to start here and now.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t procrastinate.

Today’s question: Which of the three reasons for procrastination resonates most with your current situation?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Defeatism”


Hurry up and wait

In Chapter 11 (“Procrastination- I’ll Get Back to It Later”) of AHA, Kyle Idleman notes that if we tell ourselves “I’ll get to it later” often enough, the urgency to act evaporates and our procrastination has consequences.  The Prodigal Son’s action, by contrast, was immediate.  Pastor Idleman states that it is best to understand Luke 15:17-20 as one movement, a continuation.  The Prodigal Son said what he was going to do, then immediately got up and did it.

The author points out that after we have an awakening, we tend to remain in the pigpen trying to dome up with a plan- or at least promising ourselves we will do so.  We hurry up and wait.  But through out procrastination, we play right into Satan’s hands.  Satan uses procrastination so effectively because we actually believe we’ve done something , even though we’re still sitting in the pigpen.  We feel we’ve been let off the hook.  After all, we’re not saying “No”- we’re just saying “Not right now.”

Pastor Idleman then describes three reasons why we tend to procrastinate.  The first reason is discussed today.

1.  We want to put off the pain.  Most of us don’t want to act because we don’t want the pain.  The Prodigal Son knew his return home would be painful, shaming, and difficult.  But waiting wouldn’t make things any easier.  The longer we put off action, the more difficult it becomes to act.

Today’s question (from Kyle): What are areas in your life where you procrastinate?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Here and now”