Cultivate a gracious spirit

“Become the kind of player other people want to sit next to.  The Bible’s word for this is grace.  Play with grace.  Cultivate a gracious spirit.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg begins Chapter 19 (“Be the Kind of Player People Want to Sit Next To”) of When the Game is Over with an observation about reaching full Monopoly potential.  For example, The Monopoly Companion lists the number one strategy for winning that game.  That tip? – be the kind of player others want to sit next to, and don’t mind losing to.  Because, in order to complete the deals and trades, you must cultivate a gracious spirit.  You need cooperation to win.

Therefore, Pastor Ortberg underscores, the game of life presents three challenges you must navigate with grace.  John talks about the first challenge today.

1.  Lose with grace.  You cannot avoid losing in life.  It’s inevitable.  Most noteworthy, losing gives us an invaluable window into our character development.  As John cautions: “To live is to lose.  but to lose badly, gracelessly, can be lethal.”

Thus, true self-esteem only comes from knowing we can handle the wins and losses of living in the real world.  We require a lot of grace to lose well.  Hence, Pastor Ortberg observes, losing well means:

  • having the humility to face reality full in the face with no excuses; yet possessing confidence not to let losing define our identity
  • no excuses, blaming, or self-pity; but, no self-condemnation either
  • acquiring the discernment necessary to know when to quit and when to persevere
  • learning how to offer congratulations
  • learning how to let go of an outcome you cannot change; rather, hold on to the will to live fully and well

Today’s question: What blocks your desire to cultivate a gracious spirit?  Conversely, what enables you to play with grace?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Graceful winners – caught up in something bigger”

Your brain – the gatekeeper of your heart

“Your brain is critical in your heart-healing because, according to the Hebrew Scripture, it is the gatekeeper of your heart, determining what will come in and out.”- Christa Black Gifford

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.”- Ephesians 1:18 (NIV)

Christa Black Gifford continues Chapter 8 of Heart Made Whole as she observes that some people see heart-brain interaction as an either-or choice.  Thus, when someone asks them to turn on all of their heart to experience God, they get very nervous.  Because they think you’re asking them to turn off their brain.  And that, Ms. Gifford suggests, is quite silly.  For the brain most affects the condition of the heart.

As a result, Christa finds it surprising when using the eyes of the heart to encounter God unnerves people.  Especially since Scripture is replete with examples of this.  For example, Christa notes, one glance through the Psalms proves Hebrew culture imagined God in all sorts of ways to engage with their Creator.

Furthermore, one significant thing happens every time Christa sees the truth of the Father’s goodness in her heart.  She finds it easier and easier to actually experience God’s grace.

However, Ms. Gifford finds that concentrating on her problems always leaves her feeling ashamed.  And focusing on all the negatives only seems to multiply them.

Most noteworthy, spending time together with Jesus creates an overflow.  Christa’s thoughts, emotions, speech and actions change to reflect the presence of Jesus Christ.  The author explains:

“The more I communed with the solution first — the presence of the living God — the more His goodness, kindness, and love began to fill up the rooms in my heart and kick out old, unwanted tenants of fear, shame, bitterness, and anger.  It was like I was being stretched and pulled outward and upward, creating more and more capacity inside for abundant life to keep bursting out.”

Today’s question: What Scriptures most influence your brain, the gatekeeper of your heart? Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Building your heart capacity with Jesus”

The created heart – never your enemy

“The created heart is never your enemy, but instead is like a building that holds the contents of the real you formed at conception — your authentic and individual self.  Your heart comes alive when you are doing what you were created to do . . .”- Christa Black Gifford

Christa Black Gifford concludes Chapter 2 of Heart Made Whole as she describes one of the most important things you can do.  Ms. Gifford finds it critical that you connect deeply with your inner world – a heart wellness check.  In addition, it’s especially important when your heart is broken.  Thus, Christa connects this heart wellness check to God’s ultimate plan for you.  The author notes:

“God’s ultimate plan for you isn’t simply to hold your hand while you survive the punches of life.  He never intended your heart to fragment, tatter, and remain broken.  He wants you to be so aware of your heart that you hand it over to Him to clean it up, mature it, and make it whole while you walk with Him.”

Next, Ms. Gifford describes the role of grace in this process.  Grace:

  • is the most powerful gift we’ll ever possess
  • keeps us in right standing before God, even as we fail miserably
  • empowers us to let the Father evict our pain monsters
  • acknowledges maturity as a relational process, not a destination called perfection
  • fills our hearts with Jesus’ resurrection power
  • makes wholeness a possibility while we live as mortals

In conclusion, Christa exhorts, if you want your life to transform, you must allow you heart to transform.  Furthermore, through the lens of the Holy Spirit, start paying close attention to your heart.  Don’t ignore building your heart while life continues to smash it up.  For God designed your heart to:

  1. flourish in surrender
  2. cleanse with salvation
  3. rebuild through grace
  4. be occupied by love

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you rebuild your created heart?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the latest addition to Crown’s Annotated Bibliography – Finding Favor: God’s Blessings Beyond Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Christianity in the context of community

“Christianity is meant to sit in the context of community, for it’s in community that we draw the grace needed to do what God has called us to do and to become what God has called us to become.”- Banning Liebscher

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or a sister is a liar.  For whoever does not love their brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”- 1 John 4:20 (NIV)

As Banning Liebscher concludes Chapter 11 of Rooted, he underscores that isolation and independence run countercultural to Christianity.  Simply stated, Christianity fails to work in those two milieus.  Thus, Jesus repeatedly stressed the importance of our actions with other people.  For Christianity only works in the context of community.

Furthermore, Pastor Liebscher states, in order for God’s grace to flow in and through us, we must not only serve others, but submit to them.  Most noteworthy, the author adds, we express pride when we refuse to submit to others or think we can go it alone.  Also, our Western culture perceives neediness as a sign of weakness.

However, we must accept that we need one another.  Because God designed us that way.  In contrast, isolation is a killer.  Banning explains Satan’s role in the process:

“The Enemy will do everything he can to isolate you.  He either tries to get you so hurt and offended . . . or he tries to isolate you with shame over some issue in your life. . . . Nothing destroys the power of shame or offense like choosing to move toward community.”

Today’s question: How does your Christianity flourish in the context of community?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog:  “Called to make decisions in community”

Exalting ourselves – the destructive effect

“Exalting ourselves is destructive because we’re trying to do what only God an do.”- Banning Liebscher

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”- 1 Peter 5:5-6 (NKJV)

Banning Liebscher concludes Chapter 10 of Rooted as he contrasts our job with God’s job.  First, Pastor Liebscher notes that serving humbly positions us for what the Bible calls “being exalted.”  In addition, Banning defines exalted as “receiving honor and promotion (the fourth reward of serving) to greater levels of authority, responsibility, and influence.”

Furthermore, the author underscores, the Bible clearly informs us that it’s God’s job to exalt.  Pastor Liebscher explains:

“Our job is to humble ourselves, to take the low road.  God’s job is to exalt us, to expand our position of visibility and influence; and it’s a job He wants to do.  He tells us we are the light of the world and He wants to add grace to our lives so we can shine brightly.  He tells us how to do our job so He can do His.”

Most noteworthy, Banning observes that your serving must go beyond random acts of generosity and humilty.  You need to faithfully steward what belongs to someone else.  This, in turn, positions us to handle the responsibility of sharing Jesus’ power and authority.

In conclusion, Pastor Liebscher underscores that God’s calling on our lives extends beyond this life into eternity.  With that thought in mind, any worldly measures of success and happiness fade into nothing.  The author summaries:

“The soil of serving is one of the richest places to grow your roots.  It is there they can grow deep and wide and can get the nutrients they need to bear lasting, impactful fruit.”

Today’s question: What Scriptures help you minimize the destructive effect of exalting yourself?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the new Short Meditation, “Building the wall in front of you”

A posture of humility releases grace

“When you position your life to serve, you take a posture of humility, and humility releases grace into your life.”- Banning Liebscher

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”- Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV)

In Chapter 10 (“The Divine Exchange”) of Rooted, Banning Liebscher explores four rewards of serving.  Throughout this chapter, Pastor Liebscher discusses grace, joy, safety, and promotion.  Today the author begins with grace.

As James 4:6 states, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  However, Banning observes, many people mistakenly believe that humble service means that you neglect your own interests or needs.  As a result, those people burn out on serving.  That’s because they fail to take care of themselves or set healthy limits.  And when you struggle to value yourself, you look for your identity and value through serving.

In addition, Pastor Liebscher asserts, devaluing your life creates a false humility.  Thus, you’re not in position to receive the grace of God.  However, Jesus’ humility represents the type of humility that attracts God’s grace into our lives.  And deeming others as better than ourselves requires maintaining a frame of mind that life isn’t about us.  Humble service, then, connects us to the kingdom and the body of Christ.  To play a vital part, it’s crucial that, Banning states, we “keep our destiny and call in the context of outward focus, the context of serving.”

Otherwise, we very easily turn inward without even realizing it.  Then our life, call, passion, destiny, and dreams quickly lose their outward focus.

Today’s question: What Scriptures help you maintain a posture of humility?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The joy of Jesus remains”

Coming Monday: the new Short Meditation, “Building the wall in front of you”

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.”

The severity of sin, the immensity of grace

“A happy saint is one who is at the same time aware of the severity of sin and the immensity of grace.  Sin is not diminished, nor is God’s ability to forgive it.  The saint dwells in grace, not guilt.  This is the tranquil soul.”- Max Lucado

“But all these thing that I once thought very worthwhile — now I’ve thrown them all away so that I can put my trust and hope in Christ alone.”- Philippians 3:7 (TLB)

Max Lucado continues Chapter 3 of Anxious for Nothing as he reflects on Paul’s Damascus road experience.  Pastor Lucado notes that once Paul saw Jesus, he couldn’t see any more.  And for the apostle Paul, that meant more than the loss of physical sight.  In addition, Paul no longer saw value in his resume, merit in his merits, or worth in his good works.  Instead, Max states, Paul saw only one option.  To spend the rest of his life talking more about Jesus and less about himself.

Pastor Lucado summarizes:

“He [Paul] became the great poet of grace. . . .  Paul gave his guilt to Jesus.  Period.  He didn’t numb it, hide it, deny it, offset it, or punish it.  He simply surrendered it to Jesus.”

As a result, Max exhorts, courage sprouts out of the fertile soil of God’s grace.  Mercy snaps our guilt chains, setting us free.  While guilt frenzies the soul, the antidote of grace calms it.  Great sinners depend upon great grace.  There, Pastor Lucado notes, we find a forgiveness that is too deep to be plumbed, too high to be summited.

In conclusion, Max encourages:

“In the great trapeze act of salvation, God is the catcher, and we are the flyers.  We trust.  Period.  We rely solely on God’s ability to catch us.  And as we do, a wonderful thing happens: we fly.”

Today’s question: How does the immensity of grace produce a tranquil soul?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Perpetual anxiety versus limited anxiety”

Grace restores life to our souls

“Guilt sucks the life out of our souls.  Grace restores it.  The apostle Paul clung to this grace.  To the same degree that he believed in God’s sovereignty, he relied on God’s mercy.”- Max Lucado

Today, as found in Chapter 3 of Anxious for Nothing, Max Lucado discusses the final five ways we deal with our guilt.

5.  Punish it.  To assuage our guilt, we hurt, beat up, or flog ourselves.  Although we may not use actual whips, we flog ourselves with rules. More rules.  We compile long lists of things to do, observances to keep.   Pastor Lucado refers to this as “painful penance.”

6.  Avoid the mention of it.  Just don’t bring it up – don’t tell your family, minister, or friends.  Thus, Max notes,  you “keep everything on the surface and hope the Loch Ness monster of guilt lingers in the deep.”

7.  Redirect it.  Rather than relying on God’s grace restoring your soul, you find innocent targets for your guilt.  You take it out on family, yell at employees or that driver who just cut you off.

8.  Offset it.  Here you determine never to make another mistake as you seek perfection in your family, career, appearance, or Christian faith.  This  way you stay in control.  In addition, you develop total intolerance for slipups or foul-ups of others or yourself.

9.  Embody it.  Here you embrace your badness. Also, you even take pride in it.  And since you’re bad to the bone, it’s only a matter of time until  you do something bad again.

In conclusion, Pastor Lucado observes, unresolved guilt creates an anxious person.  A person “forever hiding, running, denying, pretending.”  Furthermore, living such a lie produces exhaustion.  However, as Max reminds us, grace restores the life that guilt sucks out of our souls.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you understnad that God’s grace restores life to your soul?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The severity of sin, the immensity of grace”

Your soulprint – the truest thing about you

“Your soulprint . . .[is] the truest thing about you.  It’s your God-ordained passion, your God-given gifts, and your God-sized dreams.  It’s the potential that can be tapped only in a relationship with the One who gave it to you in the first place.”- Mark Batterson

As Mark Batterson concludes Chapter 9 of Whisper, he discusses the fourth quadrant of the Johari window.

4.  The unknown quadrant.  This final quadrant consists of things you don’t know about you as well as thing others don’t know about you (emphasis author’s).  As your soulprint and thus the truest thing about you, you need to seek God in order to discover your true self.  While Jesus knows our sinful nature, He also sees our potential.  And He treats us accordingly.  Although we write people off, Jesus writes people in.

In conclusion, Pastor Batterson presents five ground rules for the fifth love language.  Because this language involves people, it’s complicated and subject to misinterpretation:

  • No one is above rebuke.  Mark encourages you to give someone you trust permission to speak truth into your life.  And listen very carefully when that person says something you don’t want to hear.
  • Don’t let an arrow of criticism pierce your heart unless it first passes through the filter of Scripture.  As Mark astutely observes: “If you live off compliments, you’ll probably die by criticisms.”  So, if something fails the Scriptural filter test, throw it out.  But if it passes the test, repent.
  • Think long and hard before you dish out advice.  The primary reason we fail to hear what others have to say occurs because we’re already formulating our response while they’re talking.
  • Always encourage before you correct.   That’s the pattern found in the book of Revelation.  So, Mark advises, if you’re going to err on one side or the other, make sure you err on the side of positivity.
  • Conversations get tougher the longer you wait.  Don’t say something just to get if off your chest.  It’ll backfire.  Grace and truth fill genuine relationships.

Today’s question: Have you identified your soulprint?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “An internal clock that perceives God’s promptings”