My God — the strength of my soul

Winter, 1953 – On the sidewalk in front of our first home, Dad prepares to take me for a ride in my Radio Super. Note: he’s the one WITHOUT a proper hat!!

“Surely God is the strength of my soul/Your love defends me, Your love defends me/ And when I feel like I’m all alone/ Your love defends me, Your Love defends me.”- Matt Maher

“The LORD will fight for you; you need only be still.”- Exodus 14:14 (NIV)

“It is the nature of love to bind itself.”- G. K. Chesterton, A Defence of Rash Vows

In January of 1953, when I was eighteen months old, my parents purchased their first home on West 89th Place in Evergreen Park, IL.  As a result, they moved a little over three miles southwest from their apartment at 65th and Maplewood.  Located in the Marquette Park neighborhood of Chicago, their building nestled closely with other apartments and brick bungalows.

Due to a severe attack of gastritis at fifteen months, it took another two months for me to walk unassisted.  However, as Mom wrote in her account of my early years: “Once you started, you ran everywhere.”  Perhaps that’s one reason they made the major financial commitment to home ownership in spacious Evergreen Park.  I needed freedom to roam the suburbs!

In the story behind “Your Love Defends Me,” singer/songwriter Matt Maher offers the following observation.  He states that our society finds itself increasingly less and less capable of sitting still.  Thus, what people do at any particular moment defines them.  Furthermore, we live in an age where everyone’s fighting for some type of cause.  Yet, to achieve that cause, we must do the exact opposite.  Like the Israelites facing the menacing Egyptian army near the Red Sea, God wants us to stand over there and wait.

That requires commitment, the foundation of intimacy.  For without commitment, there’s no trust.  And without trust, we lack intimacy.  In addition, since God created us in His commitment-making, commitment-keeping image, we’re drawn to commitments.  Yet, the very idea frightens some people.  Because they perceive that commitment limits freedom.  In truth, commitment paves the pathway to freedom.  Therefore, when you, through the power of the Holy Spirit, commit yourself to a noble calling of God, He releases His power in your life.  You find yourself.

Finally, as John Ortberg encourages in I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me, God remains faithful:

“Because of grace.  Because God is a commitment-keeping God, and at the cost of the cross where Jesus died, he keeps his commitments to us — even when we fail, even when we fall down, even when we don’t keep our commitments to him.”

So, when you’re unable to do the “next right thing,” seek God- the strength of my soul.  As you reach the end of yourself, stand over there.  Be still.  Declare what God’s strength will accomplish.

Do the next right thing – knowing what you ought to do

“Do the next right thing  you know you ought to do. . . . Nothing will drive you into the Kingdom of God like trying to do the next thing that is right. . . because you will need help, and you will get it, because that’s where God is (emphasis author’s).”- Dallas Willard

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 7 of I’d Like You More . . .  as he cites political theorist Hannah Arendt.  Writing in The Human Condition (1958), Hannah states that the very commitments we fear restrict us end up defining us:

” Without being bound to the fulfillment of our promises, we would never be able to keep our identities; we would be condemned to wander helplessly and without direction in the darkness of each [person’s] lonely heart.”

Thus, even when we blow a commitment, God keeps His vow to us.  At the cost of the cross where Jesus died, God gives us His grace.  Even when we fail and fall down.

As Dallas Willard once said in conversation with Pastor Ortberg, do the next right thing.  In addition, the beauty of doing the next right thing centers on the fact that often we’re unable to do it.  As a result, that realization drives us to seek God.  And, rest assured, we will find Him.  However, we first need an honest approach to our intentions.

In conclusion, G. K. Chesterton encourages us to be all in with Jesus.  As he ends his essay ” A Defence of Rash Vows,” G. K. states:

“All around us is the city of small sins, abounding in backways and retreats, but surely, sooner of later, the towering flame will arise from the harbor announcing that the reign of the cowards is over, and a man is burning his ships.”

Today’s question: How’s God helping you to do the next right thing?  Please share.

Coming Monday:  the new Christmas Short Meditation, “Mighty Lord of all Creation”

Tomorrow’s blog: “People need a sense of belonging”

Any good commitment – the strength to last

“Any good commitment that will have the strength to last must be freely offered.  No pressure.  No manipulation. . . . The commitments we make must come from the core of who we are, or they will crumble when the pressure comes.  And the pressure will come (emphasis author’s).”- John Ortberg

As John Ortberg continues Chapter 7 of I’d Like You More . . . , he weighs in on our commitment to God.  Pastor Ortberg notes that Elisha completed one last task to confirm his commitment to take Elijah’s mantle.  To follow God completely, Elisha slaughtered the two oxen he was driving.  Next, he set fire to the wood from the plow to cook the meat.  Finally, Elisha hosted a farewell banquet for himself.  Then he set out to follow Elijah.  No turning back.

However, though a story of unreserved commitment inspires us, glorifying commitment solely for the sake of commitment carries the potential to cause great damage.  In contrast, God releases His power in your life when you commit yourself to a noble calling of God.  In addition, God powers the thousand little commitments that make up a noble calling.

Furthermore, there’s a major difference between true commitment and forced compliance.   Many years ago, in 1739, William Law observed the following.  Writing in A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, he stated:

“[The follower of Jesus] does not ask what is allowable and pardonable, but what is commendable and praiseworthy (italics in original.).”

In conclusion, John Ortberg quips that he’s never conducted a job interview where the candidate asked, “How little can I do and keep my job?”  For it’s in our level of commitment that we discover ourselves.

Today’s question: What gives your good commitment the strength to last?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Do the next right thing”

Commitment – the foundation of intimacy

“Commitment is the foundation of intimacy, because without commitment there can be no trust, and without trust there can be no intimacy.”- John Ortberg

“The man who makes a vow makes an appointment with himself at some distant time and place.”- G. K. Chesterton, “A Defence of Rash Vows”

In Chapter 7 (“We Should All Be Committed”) of I’d Like You More . . . , John Ortberg notes the commitments we make and keep mark our days.  In addition, those commitments form our identities and anchor our intimate relationships.  Also, as Lewis Smedes writes, commitment establishes a “small island of certainty” in an uncertain world.  Furthermore, intimacy and commitment must link together.

Thus, intimacy without commitment contains greater potential for hurt.  On the other hand, commitment without intimacy creates hurt.  Also, commitment:

  • possibly creates fear because it means the loss of options
  • builds an invisible fence around us – we freely choose to honor the restrictions it places on our freedom
  • gives commitment makers and keepers a kind of freedom commitment avoiders never know

Finally, Pastor Ortberg comments on G. K. Chesterton’s’ statement about making vows:

“In the act of commitment, I bind myself to that future moment.  I’m not free to love another woman, I’m not free to follow another God.  and yet somehow, that ‘not free’ commitment leads to a deeper freedom than all the other options and escape clauses in a commitment-phobic world. . . . Having the courage to commit and trust makes possible an intimacy we would otherwise never know.”

In conclusion, John states that we’re drawn to make commitments because God created us in His image.  For He not only makes, but keeps, commitments.

Today’s question: What provides the foundation of intimacy in your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Any good commitment – the strength to last”

Your one- word commitment

Bill Hybels builds on his discussion of drafting a new proactive, holistic schedule in Chapter 2 of Simplify by stating you must begin with the right question.  That question needs to reflect your most important life goals.  Pastor Hybels emphasizes being intentional- not just thinking, but doing:

“Anyone can change direction in life, add or subtract priorities and activities, or reshuffle the matrix to put priorities in a better order.  That’s the transformative power of a schedule.”

There is the power of even a single word that’s written on your schedule and lived out.  American novelist John Grisham was an unhappy attorney who wanted to become an author.  He started by writing a one- word commitment to himself on the early-morning squares of his monthly calendar: “Write.”  He began by coming to work one hour early and writing one page per day.

Pastor Hybels encourages you that a one- word commitment on a calendar can change your life.  To do so, you should analyze and list the parts of your life in need of a do-over or makeover.  By using the calendar as a holistic tool for every area of your life, you can be certain your calendar is centered on things that matter to you.

Next, the author examines places in our lives that could benefit from holistic scheduling.

Today’s question: What is your one- word commitment?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Chair time with God”

Discerning wholeheartedness

“Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. . . . He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly.”- 2 Chronicles 25:1-2 (NRSV)

“I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.”- Acts 13:22 (NIV)

In Chapter 6 of All the Places to Go, John Ortberg quips that he can’t imagine a coach standing before his/her team and saying, “Now go out and give it . . . most of what you’ve got.”  However, Pastor Ortberg observes, at times people try to “walk through high-challenge doors with low-level commitment.”  Just the opposite is needed- greater wholeheartedness.

Yes, there could be an expectation that we’ll voluntarily suffer loss, sacrifice our comfort, give up our time, or humble our pride.  Sacrifice is involved when we must choose one thing over another.

One hundred percent commitment really boils down to where our hearts truly are.  Finessing commitment, as Amaziah did, won’t work.  John concludes with five questions to help us in discerning wholeheartedness:

1.  Do I talk about commitment to other people to create a kind of public accountability for my actions?

2.  Do I own the responsibility to grow?

3.  Do I complain about difficulties in a way that can subtly rationalize a halfhearted involvement?

4.  Do I deal with discouragements by talking with God and asking for strength to persevere?

5.  Do I recognize and celebrate even small steps in the right direction?

Today’s question: Which of Pastor Ortberg’s five questions holds the most significance for you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Jesus’ instructions”

 

Overcoming discord

“Submit yourselves to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”- James 4:7

Sara Horn concludes Chapter 7 of How Can I Possibly Forgive? with a discussion of six Steps to Overcoming Discord, based on James 4:7.  The first two steps are presented today.

1.  Submit to God.  We don’t like the word submit.  We don’t like using it to define our relationship with other people.  Sara adds that, if we’re honest, we’re sometimes uncomfortable saying it about our relationship with God.  Yet, God not only wants our love, He also wants our obedience.

Sara emphasizes that the secret to being able to forgive is learning how to submit our will to God.  God wants the best for us.  For this reason, God asks us to trust Him enough to follow Him wholeheartedly.  Although we don’t know what the future may bring, God walks with us every moment and step of our journey.

2.  Resist the devil.  When submission to God is our goal, many distractions are thrown at us in an attempt to convince us we need to concentrate on what we want to do.  While it’s tempting to harp on a situation that has hurt us, such fixation only sucks us down into a pit devoid of mercy, grace, and life.

When we are firmly planted with God, Satan can’t do anything about it.

Today’s question: Which of the first two steps have been problematic for you in overcoming discord?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the new Short Meditation, “Entertaining angels unawares”

Tomorrow’s blog: “Draw near to God”

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”

Highly Forgiving People

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”- Luke 6:27-28

Sara Horn follows her study of highly resentful people with the Seven Habits of Highly Forgiving People in Chapter 2 of How Can I Possibly Forgive?.  The first three habits are discussed in today’s post.

1.  A highly forgiving person is intentional about living in peace.  Sara states that “forgiveness . . . requires stepping out of your comfort zone and letting go of your wants and expectations.”  The powerful actions Jesus describes in Luke 6:27-28 can produce peaceful results.

2.  A highly forgiving person is kind.  She cares more about doing the right thing in a given situation that what is in it for her.  Sara asserts that it is possible to practice kindness and get in the habit of being kind when  you do it often enough.  When we practice the characteristics of kindness, we are prepared to offer forgiveness when needed.

3.  A highly forgiving person is generous with her time, her money, and her life.  A generous spirit and offering forgiveness go hand in hand.  When giving becomes our default setting, it is easier to give grace and second chances as well.

Today’s question: What Scriptures have helped you develop a forgiving attitude toward those responsible for your vocation loss?  Please share.

Coming Wedesday: the new Short Meditation for Holy Week/Easter- “We all, like sheep”

Tomorrow’s blog: “Benefit of the doubt”

 

The posture of the soul

“I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper (The Emancipation Proclamation).  My whole soul is in it.”- Abraham Lincoln

John Ortberg begins Chapter 13 (“The Soul Needs Blessing”) of Soul Keeping by noting that the soul makes itself known when it reaches out in love.  The word the Bible uses for this is blessing.

Dallas Willard once told John that the Bible uses two great words to describe the posture of the soul to other people- one is to bless, the other is to curse.  Pastor Ortberg explains:

“We are creatures with wills, and in every encounter with people we will what is good for them, or we fail to do so: we will what is bad.  We cannot help ourselves.”

Blessing, John emphasizes, is not just a word.  Blessings signifies the projection of good into the life of another person.  We must think, feel, and will it- we must be all in.

The soul bestows blessing.  In Genesis 27 Isaac told Esau to prepare a meal for him to eat, so “that my soul may bless you before I die.”  Because the blessing comes from Isaac’s soul, not simply Isaac, it carries such weight that it cannot be revoked once it is given.

Next Pastor Ortberg discusses how we truly can extend blessing to others.

Today’s question: What people have been a true blessing to you following your ministry downsizing or vocation loss?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Souls were made to be blessed”