In the beginning – exquisite vulnerability

“In the beginning, in Eden, human vulnerability was exquisite.  Then came the Fall, and hiding, and shame.  And it became excruciating.  Then Jesus entered into our vulnerability, so that one day it might become exquisite again.  That is our hope.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 9 of I’d Like You More . . . as he observes we can’t get to exquisite without feeling vulnerable in the process.  Most noteworthy, as Henry Cloud points out, God deliberately placed tear ducts in our eyes.  Because, Henry states, God wants our tears front and center.  Right where we don’t want them, but right where other people can see them.

However, Pastor Ortberg notes, this reflects a strange truth.  Although we admire vulnerability in others, we dislike it in ourselves.  Writing in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (1995), Madeleine L’Engle states:

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would not longer be vulnerable.  But to grow up is to accept vulnerability . . . .  To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

Yet, John adds, early on we learn to lie, pretend, and misrepresent inner thoughts and feelings.  But for us to achieve intimacy, we must show willingness to expose our weaknesses, insecurities, and true selves.  That entails humility as well as vulnerability to others.  Many people express no interest in this, as Kent Dunnington (Addiction and Virtue, 2011) describes:

“”We are afraid that if we confessed our sins, other people might make their claims on our lives by insisting on praying for us and asking us how we are doing.  Most of us are not sure we want the church to be that involved.”

Therefore, exquisite vulnerability = our only hope.

Today’s question: How does Jesus give you hope for exquisite vulnerability?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Shattering the illusion of self-mastery”

Impatience – confusion about control

“At its root, impatience is confusion about control.  Impatience is the rotten fruit of self-sovereignty.”- Jared C. Wilson

Today, Jared Wilson covers Nine Irrefutable Laws of Followship #4-6, as found in Chapter 7 of The Imperfect Disciple.

4.  Be Ye Patient.  Our impatience, Pastor Wilson states, grows from our belief that people and circumstances must operate as if we’re the center of the universe.  Also, even with this belief, people who treat us well test our patience.  As Jared quips, there’s “no holiness so fickle as the false holiness of the self-righteous.”

Conversely, the gospel cultivates patience in us with a humbling that brings us down to ground level at the foot of the cross.  There we learn to regard others with more thoughtfulness – and more patience.  As we mature in Jesus, we see more of our inadequacy, not less.  Furthermore, our subsequent humility results in patience with God.

5.  Be Ye Kind.  Jared notes our need to be grateful for the big and little reminders helping us not take God’s grace lightly.  The gospel, then, provides the exclamation point.  As we experience God’s kindness in and through our repentance, we find more kindness to afford others.  Pastor Wilson stresses the importance of acts of kindness:

“To be unkind to others, in fact, is to disbelieve God’s kindness and to spit on it.  For a follower of Jesus to be unkind is to depict Jesus as unkind.  But indeed, because almighty God has provided us with his inexhaustible kindness, we find an ever-deepening well of kindness for others.”

6.  Be Ye Good.  In Mark 10:18, Jesus tells a man who ran up to him that “no one is good except God alone.”  Thus, we call Jesus good only because we call Him God.

Therefore, if we’re to receive the goodness that comes from the Holy Spirit, it’s because the Holy Spirit connects us to the very goodness of Jesus.  We’re justified by faith through Christ.

Today’s question: What Bible verses, Christian books or songs help quell your impatience – confusion about control?  Please share.

tomorrow’s blog: “If we are faithless, he (Christ) remains faithful”

Where we place our hope and trust

“Our daily life communicates where our hope and trust is placed; we are actually ‘praying’ with our words and deeds every day.”- Jared C. Wilson

As Jared Wilson concludes Chapter 5 of The Imperfect Disciple, he describes prayer as “spilling your guts.”  Therefore, prayer doesn’t have to be pretty, tidy, particularly eloquent, or even particularly intelligent.  God speaks to us in the Bible and we speak to Him in prayer.  Also, spilling our guts in prayer enables us to process God’s Word.  In response, we interact with our friend Jesus through prayer.

Yet, God never checks His watch when you’re talking to Him – although, Jared suggests, you might!  In fact, Pastor Wilson stresses, God’s more eager to listen to you than you are to speak.  And God’s not distant, but, as John Ortberg puts it, closer than you think.  Jared explains:

“We are constantly moving away, and he’s constantly following.  He is a much better chaser of us than we are of him. And he’s a much better listener.  He picks up everything.”

Hence, you find the rhythm of God’s kingdom in a consumer culture as you seek humility.  That humility comes as you reject independence, admit dependence, and confidently embrace God’s acceptance of you through Jesus Christ.

In addition, since we acknowledge our helplessness (spilling our guts) through prayer, the more we pray the more we:

  • abide in God’s strength and love
  • surrender thoughts of our own glory
  • unbusy ourselves with the enterprise of our own glory
  • lay down our bricks and trowels and let God knock down our Babel Towers
  • get off the treadmill of routine religion and find the rhythms of the kingdom

Today’s question: In your daily life, how do you communicate where you place your hope and trust?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Bringers of the gospel”

Intent on reaching resolution

” . . . we risk missing out on knowing God when we are intent on reaching resolution rather than appreciating the relationship.  When we are too focused on outcomes, we. . . despise lament sessions and begin to question God’s heart toward us.”- Esther Fleece

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”- Hebrews 13:8

Esther Fleece continues Chapter 7 of No More Faking Fine as she describes a first date she recently experienced.  Although Esther hadn’t dated in ten years, she decided to be open and try again.  However, the moment she got in her date’s car, the interview process began.  Her date remained fixated on his end goal.  As a result, he failed to see the beauty in developing a relationship over time.

Similarly, Ms. Fleece believes, we tend to do this same thing to God over time.  Speaking personally, Esther writes:

“I want to know God’s plans for me.  I am often impatient . . . and many times I complain about how hard my life is . . . instead of seeing myself in a committed relationship with Him — for better, or for worse.”

Therefore, Esther states, we must trust in the character of God while we await His response.  Thus, lament is a process that:

  • may not yield immediate results
  • is deeply relational
  • requires our hands and minds to take on a posture of humility and anticipation of deepening our relationship with our unchanging God
  • includes sanctification
  • can be hard, but also beautiful

In the next blog, Ms. Fleece focuses on the Book of Habakkuk.  Reading Habakkuk showed Esther the wisdom of embracing the process of lament and how lament transforms us.

Today’s question: During your desert, land between time, are you intent on reaching resolution or developing a relationship with God?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the Easter Short Meditation, “Hope comes in two flavors”

Tomorrow’s blog: “When we have unanswered questions”

Where no one has gone before

Kyle Idleman concludes Chapter 3 of The End of Me with four ideas he has found helpful in enabling us to take ownership of our humility.

1.  To humble myself, I voluntarily confess sin.  Pastor Idleman states God promises to exalt those who, like the tax collector, voluntarily confess their sins.  If we confess because we’ve been caught or confronted, we may be humbled.  But we are not humbling ourselves.

2.  To humble myself, I give sacrificially and anonymously.  Kyle states sacrificial giving is a “real way of saying the kingdom of God is more important than me.”

3.  To humble myself, I treat others better than myself.  In today’s society, we’re taught to rely on ourselves and look out for numero uno.  The apostle Paul turns this philosophy on its ear in Philippians 2:3- “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves.”

4.  To humble myself, I ask for help.  Kyle emphasizes that every time he humbles himself and asks for help, that act opens a new door to some type of blessing.

Pastor Idleman concludes there is a vast frontier of strategies out there for humbling ourselves:

“Everywhere you look, every situation you’re in, is a laboratory for self-humbling, an opportunity to exalt Christ and put pride on the cross.  You can boldly- or humbly- go where no one has gone before.”

Today’s question: Which of Kyle’s four ideas resonate most with you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “False advertising”


Taking ownership of our own humility

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross!”- Philippians 2:8

In the final section of Chapter 3 (The End of Me), Kyle Idleman focuses our attention on four words from the end of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector: “those who humble themselves” (Luke 18:14).  While we think being humbled is a passive activity, Jesus speaks of a humbling that is active.  Active humbling involves taking ownership of our own humility.  It does not mean being humbled by someone or something.

Nik Wallenda walked across Niagara Falls on a high wire in 2012 and became the first man to walk across the Grand Canyon in 2013.  Nik is a strong Christian, and has a unique way of actively handling pride- spending hours cleaning up garbage left behind by his fans.  Nik says:

“Three hours of cleaning up debris is good for my soul.  Humility does not come naturally for me.  So if I have to force myself into situations that are humbling, so be it. . . . I do it . . . because it’s a way to keep from tripping.  As a follower of Jesus, I see Him washing the feet of others.  I do it because if I don’t serve others, I’ll be serving nothing but my ego.”

Next, Kyle offers four ideas for taking ownership of our own humility.

Today’s question: To this point, have you considered humbling passive or active?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Where no one has gone before”


Your internal Pharisee

“God, I thank you that I am not like other people- robbers, evildoers, adulterers- or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I have.”- Luke 18:11-12

Kyle Idleman continues Chapter 3 of The End of Me with a discussion of The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).  Pastor Idleman states people looked up to Pharisees because they were committed to Hebrew law and were likely to be upstanding, educated, and influential.  Although the Pharisees began with good intentions, eventually their faith became defined by an “unbearable, infinite collection of dos and don’ts, mostly don’ts.”

Luke clues us in that Jesus’ audience consisted of people  “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else” (v.9).  Kyle observes that when we read such a description, we almost immediately assume Jesus is talking to someone else.  However, as soon as we assign negative descriptors to others, we become the very people Jesus is addressing.

The issue in this parable is pride versus humility.  Pastor Idleman explains:

“Fake humility expresses itself in a pride that is obvious to everyone but the speaker. . . . Ultimately our words betray us, no matter how much we guard them.”

In the next several blogs Kyle discusses six verbal symptoms of a prideful heart that indicate an internal Pharisee is about to flow out of our mouths.

Today’s question: How has your internal Pharisee been displayed following your vocation loss?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “You may be a Pharisee if . . .”

Red warning lights

Bill Hybels continues Chapter 7 of Simplify by encouraging you to take an assessment of your friendship circles.  This assessment is vital to simplifying your relational world.  It’s being a good steward of your life and taking a realistic look at the natural influence of others on you.

In Proverbs 6:16-20, Solomon lists seven character traits offensive to God.  These traits are so offensive they should act as red warning lights.  The first three red warning lights are discussed today.

1.  Pride (“haughty eyes”).  Pastor Hybels states that people with haughty eyes look down on others.  The word arrogance comes to mind.  Bill explains the divisive consequences of pride:

“Pride is corrosive, and it rubs off.  You’re going to have a hard time developing Christlike humility and thinking of yourself with sober judgment if your close friends are arrogant, full of pride, and looking down their noses at everyone else.”

2.  Dishonesty (“a lying tongue”).  Most people understand the importance of steering clear of blatant liars.  But it is just as important to keep our distance from people who consider little white lies acceptable.  Pastor Hybels cautions that omissions also are lies.  Silence implicitly signifies agreement, and it’s no different from overtly telling a lie.

3.  Mean- spiritedness (“hands that shed innocent blood”).  Here Solomon warns us to be wary of those using their power to exploit others.  Pastor Hybels observes that, in today’s violence-saturated world, it’s hard to cultivate a gentle heart.  Yet, in the face of raw violence in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus healed the servant’s ear.  We need more of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s question: How are your true friends “imitators of Christ” to you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Bridge builder”


Sheep among wolves

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”- Matthew 10:16

In Chapter 6 of All the Places to Go, John Ortberg writes that the sheep is not an inspiring animal, so this is an unexpected metaphor.  While many sports teams have animal nicknames, no team is called the Sheep.

Pastor Ortberg notes that Jesus’ metaphor raises this question: How does a sheep go among wolves?  Answer: very carefully and very humbly.  That means we don’t present ourselves as intelligent, strong, or impressive.  When we are sent as sheep, doors are opened to us that never would be opened to wolves.

Going wholeheartedly through doors leaves us vulnerable to failure and disappointment.  We’re vulnerable because we’re not strong enough.  Paradoxically, with Jesus vulnerability is stronger than invulnerability.

John stresses that the church always is at its best when it goes into the world like sheep among wolves- with humility.  Several centuries after Jesus, John Chrysostom wrote about the importance of being sheep:

“Let us then be ashamed, who do to the contrary, who set like wolves upon our enemies.  For as long as we are sheep, we conquer. . . . But if we become wolves, we are worsted (defeated, overcome), for the help of our Shepherd departs from us; for he feeds not wolves, but sheep.”

Today’s question: Following your vocation loss, have you gone through open doors like a sheep or a wolf?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Wise as serpents”


Truths about myself

“When I walk through an open door, I often learn truths about myself that I would never have learned if I’d stayed on the other side.”- John Ortberg

As John Ortberg continues Chapter 2 of All the Places to Go, he observes that when we go through open doors, we have to trust that God will use us in spite of our imperfections.  The process provides a unique avenue for learning about ourselves, warts and all.  Pastor Ortberg adds that, when we go through open doors: (a) we’ll discover our faith really is weaker than we thought it was before we went through the door; and (b) we must be humble enough to accept failure.

The Israelites were a classic example of this when the escaped from slavery in Egypt.  When Moses and Aaron gathered the Israelite slaves to deliver God’s message and show them the miraculous signs, they voiced their belief.  But when they saw Pharaoh coming after them, they changed their tune.  John summarizes: “When their circumstances changed, it turned out they really didn’t believe at all.”

Yet, as Pastor Ortberg will discuss in the next blog, people who walk through God’s open doors need not be spiritual giants, possessing a faith we never could possibly reach.  For example, God chose to work with Abraham because Abraham was willing to trust Him.  It wasn’t based on Abraham’s ability to do the right thing.

Today’s question: Following your vocation loss, how has God used you in spite of your imperfections?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The object of our faith”