We cannot finesse integrity

“We can try to finesse the rules if we want to, and we may get away with it.  We may even be able to convince ourselves.  But we cannot finesse integrity.”- John Ortberg

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”- Ephesians 4:25 (NIV)

In Chapter 10 (“Play by the Rules”) of When the Game is Over, John Ortberg notes that every game comes with a set of rules.  Furthermore, breaking the rules always results in consequences.  However, far too often we find ways around rules.  And sometimes, Pastor Ortberg adds, we even try to hide our dishonesty from ourselves.  Games always test our integrity.

Thus, rules bring us to a much deeper issue – the issue of character.  For integrity issues arise all the time, from white lies to broken promises.  Also, people violate their integrity despite their knowledge of what the Scriptures say (Ephesians 4:25).  Therefore, John adds, generally our problem is not that we don’t know the rules.  Rather, our problem centers on our failure to live what we already know.

Finally, a man named Francois de la Rochefoucauld once defined hypocrisy as the homage vice pays to virtue.  Most noteworthy, Pastor Ortberg explains the cost of hypocrisy:

“We break rules — we violate God’s will — because we think breaking them will help us win, or at least avoid pain.  But what we do not see is that the very breaking of them turns us into the kind of people who are increasingly incapable of the gratitude and purity of heart that makes lasting happiness and meaning possible.  In a strict sense, I cannot break the rules.  They endure, for they reflect the way things are.  I can only break myself against them.”

Today’s question: In what ways have you tried to finesse the rules?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Behavior modification plan”

A thin place- where we meet God in a new way

“A thin place . . . it’s there that we discover that the dream isn’t about us at all.”- Mark Batterson

“During harvest time, three of the thirty chief men came down to David at the cave of Adullam . . .”- 2 Samuel 23:13

In Chapter 9 (“On This Spot”) of Chase the Lion, Mark Batterson notes that the cave of Adullam represented a thin place for David.  Most noteworthy, God met David at that thin place.  Furthermore, David met God there in a whole new way.  While David didn’t want to be there, he needed to be there for a season.

As a result, in a thin place we discover that our dream is from God.  Most importantly, our dream is for God.  For David, the cave of Adullam served as his last resort, not a five-star resort.  Yet, that thin place provides a test- and a testimony.

However, Mark observes, the holding pattern that results functions as the hardest part of any dream journey.  Indeed, almost every dream contains a holding pattern.  And it feels more like a holding cell!  But even when you don’t believe your plan is working, God’s working on His plan.

Most of all, the author explains, a golden opportunity goes hand in hand with integrity:

” . . . an opportunity isn’t an opportunity if you have to compromise your integrity.  It’s the decision when no one is looking that will dictate your destiny.  In fact, your integrity is your destiny.”

In conclusion, your holding pattern presents an opportunity to grow, trust, and prove your integrity.  As Mark encourages, make the most of it.

“Wherever you are, there you are!  Be fruitful right where you’re planted.”

Today’s question: At what thin place did you meet God in a whole new way?   Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: Overcoming daunting challenges”

Bridge builder

Today Bill Hybels concludes his discussion of Solomon’s seven character traits (red warning lights) that are offensive to God (Chapter 7 of Simplify).

4 & 5.  Looking for Trouble (“a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that  . . . rush into evil”).  Solomon’s warning is to people who have no qualms about taking advantages of someone else’s vulnerability or gullibility to make a quick buck.  Pastor Hybels notes you can tell when people are up to no good because they go out of their way to justify their schemes.

In God’s eyes, even “corner cutting” and “little integrity lapses” are a big deal.  Compromising one’s morals is a slippery slope to avoid at all cost.

6.  Spreading Gossip and Slander (“a false witness who pours out lies”).  In Proverbs 11:13, Solomon writes: “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.”  Pastor Hybels reminds us we need to be truth tellers and confidence keepers.

7.  Divisive (“a person who stirs up conflict”).  Avoid a person who spreads dissension.  The author observes: “It doesn’t take long to figure out whether someone is fundamentally a polarizer or unifier; a bridge builder or a bomb thrower.”  Choose close friends who are as committed to being a bridge builder as you are.  It is a big deal to hang with people of sound Christian character, people who exhibit the foundational fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s question: Which of Solomon’s character traits are most difficult for you to avoid?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Three levels of friendship”

Walk about in freedom

“I will always obey your law, for ever and ever.  I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.”- Psalm 119:44-45

Near the end of Chapter 12 of Soul Keeping, John Ortberg states that the only way to achieve freedom for your soul is through surrender.  We must wholeheartedly embrace God’s overall design for the world and our specific place in that design.  That’s why there is a strong connection between God’s law and soul-freedom in the Bible.

Pastor Ortberg emphasizes that sin is the real threat to our soul.  The late American sociologist Philip Reiff suggested we have adopted a secularized view of life that ignores the soul’s needs: “Religious man was born to be saved, psychological man is born to be pleased.”

John Next considers three different levels where the soul gets trapped, using a target with a three concentric circles, moving from the outer edge to the bull’s eye.  The first outer circle is discussed today.

1.  Sinful acts.  This refers to specific behaviors.  The Barna group did a national, online survey about the top temptations people face when it comes to sin.  Responses were anonymous.  The top five responses were: worry, procrastination, overeating, Facebook/Twitter, and laziness.

Pastor Ortberg observes that even with a guarantee of anonymity, we can’t bring ourselves to tell the truth about our sins.  Unless we recognize our most destructive temptations, they will continue to enslave our souls.

Today’s question: Honestly think about your top five list of temptations.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Soul- survival”

Fake sunglasses

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”- 1 John 1:8-9

John Ortberg begins Chapter 5 (“Sin and the Soul”) of Soul Keeping by citing two studies examining the impact of “fake adornment” on our ethics.  In one study, women wearing cheap knock-off sunglasses were more than twice as likely to steal or cheat than women wearing the real thing.  In the second study, women wearing fake sunglasses were more cynical in their attitudes toward others.

When we fake it in life to bolster our ego, Pastor Ortberg asserts, the result is that we feel like phonies, becoming more deceptive and cynical with others.  The soul, he notes, has an exquisitely sensitive need to be made whole.  Sinfulness combines the responses of diversion and collusion.  First, we minimize our sin, reasoning that we haven’t committed a really heinous sin.  Then we make a pact with others not to call them out on their sin if they won’t call us out on ours.

We cannot view any single act of dishonesty as a petty act.  Because we are souls, everything is connected.  That one deceptively petty act ends us shaping how we view ourselves.  Prayer, meditation, and confession actually have the power to rewire our brain so we see ourselves as God sees us.

Today’s question: What has enabled you to honestly assess your response to your vocation loss?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Overwhelming Positive Passion”

The divided life

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”- 1 Peter 2:11 (NIV)

“A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”- James 1:8 (KJV)

John Ortberg continues Chapter 4 of Soul Keeping with this description of a well-ordered soul:

“God designed us so that our choices, our thoughts and desires, and our behavior would be in perfect harmony with each other and would be powered by an unbroken connection with God, in perfect harmony with him and with all of his creation.”

Sin breaks this connection with God and His love, disintegrating our lives.  Thus, Pastor Ortberg states, the basic human problem is at the soul level.  He add that James’ use of the word “double-minded” literally could be translated “double-souled”, “split-souled”, or “fractured soul.”  As Parker Palmer writes in A Hidden Wholeness, the soul cries to be made whole:

“The divided life is a wounded life, and the soul keeps calling us to heal the wound.”

When we live with half-hearted devotion, our soul always is strained.  Not only do we rationalize what our will is doing, but we attempt to control the thoughts others are having about us.  Pastor Ortberg concludes:

“But when we look at our lives, the real problem isn’t just the stuff we see; it’s the thousands of things we don’t. . . . That is the human condition.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses have helped you transition from a divided life to a well-ordered soul?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the new Short Meditation, “The disciplines of patience”

Tomorrow’s blog: “Fake sunglasses”

The planet of lost souls

“We are not lost because we are going to wind up in the wrong place.  We are going to wind up in the wrong place because we are lost.”- John Ortberg

“Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.”- Psalm 51:6

In Chapter 4 (“Lost Souls”) of Soul Keeping, John Ortberg observes that we live on the planet of lost souls.  While the soul integrates the will and mind and body, sin disintegrates them.  When we sin we distort our perception of reality to rationalize our behavior.  Pastor Ortberg explains what it means to lose your soul:

“Sin ultimately makes long-term gratitude or friendship or meaning impossible.  Sin eventually destroys my capacity even for enjoyment, let alone meaning.  It distorts my perceptions, alienates my relationships, inflames my desires, and enslaves my will.”

Losing your soul, Pastor Ortberg emphasizes, is not a matter of where you could end up, but of what you could become.  Your surroundings don’t matter if you are a lost soul.  Sin splits the self.  Furthermore, we don’t just pretend in front of other people- we pretend with God.  John states it is important that we recognize this soul truth.  Confession really is good for the soul.  It is better, he notes, to be “an honest mess before God than a dishonest saint.”  This is the healing power of confession.

Today’s question: How did your soul disintegrate, living on the planet of lost souls, following your ministry downsizing or vocation loss?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The divided life”

The Shallow Soul

“Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil.  And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.”- Mark 4:5-6

“Superficiality is the curse of our age.”- Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

John Ortberg continues his discussion of the Parable of the Sower (Soul Keeping, Chapter 3).

2.  The Shallow Soul.  Pastor Ortberg notes that the idea here is that there is only a thin layer of topsoil, with solid rock underneath.  The world, he states, conspires against our souls to keep our lives superficial:

“The world conspires against our souls by blinding us to the depth and glory of their God-given design and tempting us to be satisfied with immediate gratification.”

Writers in the ancient world, including Biblical writers, would address the soul in the third person.  They understood the depth of the soul.  Depth is the desperate need of the soul.  Yet, Pastor Ortberg asserts, for most of our lives we live in the shallows, until a crisis gives us a glimpse of tremendous depth.  Our soul has depth when it is connected to God.  The author concludes:

“It takes a little, such a tiny little depth in the soil to give the seed a chance.  The shallow soul is closer to being saved than it knows.”

Today’s question: During your transitional journey, what has helped you focus on depth rather than superficiality?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The Cluttered Soul”

An unhealthy soul

“The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold, and it has overturned the order of the soul.”- Leonard Cohen

“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul.”- Mark 8:36 (ESV)

In Chapter 2 of Soul Keeping, John Ortberg follows his discussion of a healthy soul with a description of an unhealthy soul.  He cites Dallas Willard, who defines an unhealthy soul as one that experiences dis-integration.  Sin always causes disintegration of the soul.  How we spend our time, what makes us smile, and what claims our energy reveals our deepest devotions.

Dallas defines the ruined soul as “where the will and the mind and the body are disintegrated, disconnected from God, and living at odds with the way God made life in the universe to run.”  To lose or forfeit our soul means we don’t have a healthy center that organizes and guides our lives any longer.  We’re like a car without a steering wheel.

Years ago Midwestern farmers would run a rope from their house to the barn at the first sign of a blizzard.  With the rope in place, they were able to find their way home in case of a whiteout.  In A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer writes that “the blizzard of the world” is the fear, frenzy, deceit, and indifference to others’ suffering that separates us from our own souls and moral compass.  He adds: “When we catch sight of the soul, we can survive a blizzard without losing our hope or our way.”

Today’s question: How would you assess the health of your soul at this point in your transitional journey?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Well with my soul”



Our life center

Souldiagram“The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.”- Romans 8:6

John Ortberg continues Chapter 2 of Soul Keeping by discussing Dallas Willard’s understanding of the “parts” of the inner life, all integrated by the soul.  Dallas uses a series of concentric circles to illustrate his concept of the soul as our life center.

1.  The will.  The innermost circle is the human will.  The will is good at making simple and large commitments, but incredibly inept at overriding deeply rooted habits, patterns, and attitudes.

2.  The mind.  To people in the ancient world, the mind referred to both one’s thoughts and feelings.  These thoughts and feelings constantly flow through us in habitual patterns that our willpower alone cannot redirect on a sustained basis.

3.  The body.  Pastor Ortberg refers to the body as “our little kingdom”, the one place where our tiny wills have an opportunity to be in charge.  While our bodies are capable of amazing things, our bodies are not the whole story.  There’s more to us than our bodies.

4.  The soul.  According to Dallas Willard, the soul seeks harmony, connection, and integration.  Our soul is the deepest part of us, and it is the whole person.  Pastor Ortberg concludes: “When you are connected with God and other people in life, you have a healthy soul.”

Today’s question: How does Dallas Willard’s illustration expand and/or deepen your understanding of the soul as our life center?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “An unhealthy soul”