Building a secret-place lifestyle

“Building a secret-place lifestyle like David’s is critical in our process with the Lord, because it is in our secret place that God meets with us and establishes the root system, the foundational elements, for the fruit that lasts.”-Banning Liebscher

“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father, who is in the secret place.”- Matthew 6:6 (NKJV)

In Chapter 7 (“Finding God”) of Rooted, Banning Liebscher discusses the first soil that develops trust and truth – the soil of intimacy.  Hence, he recounts his teenage attempt to make his mom’s chocolate chip cookies from scratch.  Since mom’s recipe seemed fairly basic, Banning anticipated no problems.  However, the finished product yielded dark brown, flat, big, and crunchy cookies. The problem? – Banning used baking soda instead of flour.

Consequently, Pastor Liebscher concludes, the foundation matters greatly:

“Whatever goes in at the beginning — the foundation — matters greatly because it affects the outcome.  God wants to build your foundation with the right ingredients and in the right order.  Your root-building system, your inner world, is a personal relationship with Him marked by intimacy, dependence, faith, and rest.  Where do you find those ingredients?  You find them in the secret place of prayer.”

Furthermore, God meets with us and establishes the foundational elements of our root system in our secret place.  In addition, as we draw near to God in prayer, our root system develops two vital things:

  1. the priority of love becomes the motivation of our life
  2. God reveals to us the story He’s unfolding on earth and anoints us for the part we’ll play in His plan

In conclusion, Banning recaps, finding God in the secret place is the first reason to develop a secret-place lifestyle.  After all, He’s waiting there for us!

Today’s question: What Bible verses assist you in building a secret-place lifestyle?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The inner room – birthing your love for God root system”

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.

I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me

I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me (Tyndale, 2017)

Pastor and author John Ortberg titles his latest book I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me: Getting Real About Getting Close.  Although we crave intimacy, it remains a scary concept for a lot of people.  Therefore, intimacy cannot be coerced.  For God desires connection, not compliance.  Thus, the building blocks of intimacy consist of shared experiences that build meaningful connections.  This requires the essential elements of time and presence.  In other words, intimacy is a big feeling built on small moments.  Details matter.  And while the spiritual nature of God’s presence at first seems like a barrier to intimacy, God’s spiritual nature actually makes intimacy with Him deeper than with anyone else.

Vulnerability, Pastor Ortberg observes, drives us to attachment, to intimacy.  In moments of temptation, of aloneness, we make the choices that uniquely shape our character.  Yet, only God’s big enough and strong enough to assure us everything’s OK.  As John states, “Jesus offers to walk with you in the midst of your ordinary life today.”  Jesus continually invites us to connect – and never gives up.  However, our capacity for self-deception know no bounds.  This creates a serious problem with intimacy.  Thankfully, grace secures the foundation of Jesus’ call to more courageous self-awareness.  In addition, His great love for us gives evidence that we’re worthy of love and belonging.

This leads to Romans 12:15, a passage Pastor Ortberg calls “the golden rule of intimacy” – “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”  There’s a magic arithmetic in shared experience.  When we share joy, that joy increases.  In contrast, when we share pain, that pain decreases.  So, don’t put sadness in charge of your life.  Rather, take your sorrow to God.  Since Jesus exemplifies the ultimate combination of authority and vulnerability, He offers us ultimate intimacy.  Also, God created us to have great authority and great vulnerability.  It’s not a matter of having one at the expense of the other.  In this process of commitment, we experience a freedom that avoiders never know.

Finally, Pastor Ortberg defines the Deep Down Dark  as “the place where you know you can’t make it on your own.”  In the Deep Down Dark, groaning (complaining to God) in suffering builds intimacy.  On the other hand, grumbling (complaining about God) destroys it.  Furthermore, healing from shame – deeply embedded condemnation – only comes from finding an acceptance greater than our greatest rejection.  As Lewis Smedes writes, we need the “spiritual experience of grace.”  God’s grace readies us to make any statement or take any actions that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.  Intimacy, John asserts, needs “outimacy.”  It needs to overflow in love beyond itself.  This happens in a community that lives and breathes Jesus.

As a result, it’s not a case of  I’d like you more if you were more like me.  As Pastor Ortberg concludes:

“I wonder if he [Jesus] whispers it still.

Just stop.

Be still and know.

Whoever has ears, let them hear: Bring in the love!”

The Incarnation and intimacy

“If intimacy is shared experience, then the Incarnation is its greatest expression, its highest articulation, its deepest sacrifice.”- John Ortberg

In Chapter 14 (“At Last: Real Intimacy”), the concluding chapter of I’d Like You More . . . , John Ortberg beautifully describes the Incarnation, in the context of intimacy, as shared experience.  Pastor Ortberg notes how, in the Incarnation, God shared our:

  • experience of loneliness
  • tiredness
  • fear and guilt
  • joy at having a body
  • pain at having that body hurt
  • comfort in others embracing us
  • despair at feeling God-forsaken

However, several decades ago, two mental health researchers discovered a new disease.  Hence, following their study, they named the condition the Imposter Phenomenon.  John defines this epidemic:

“It’s the haunting belief that I’m not as smart or tough or good or successful or happy as I’ve lead other people to believe.  That the self I have so carefully crafted for you to see is not really me.  Ironically, the better I am at crafting this false self — the more applause and approval it wins — the more isolated becomes the true and unloved self I keep carefully hidden.”

Furthermore, the two researchers posit, only one healing exists for the Imposter Phenomenon.  That healing? – do precisely what you don’t want to do. Make yourself known.  In addition, courageously reveal your fears, inadequacies, and shame.  As a result, that enables others to see and love your real self.

Consequently, that presents a problem.  For everyone else hides their real selves as well.  Thus, Jesus became like us and entered our world.  Finally, as Pastor Ortberg explains, in Jesus God became real:

“In Jesus, God became fleshy and messy and needy.  God could be touched.  God could be hugged.  In Jesus, God said, ‘Close is better.’ ”

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you reveal your real self?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Getting close – love and grace catch us unawares”

A little space . . . to bear the beams of love

“We are put on earth a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love.”- William Blake, “The Little Black Boy”

In Chapter 13 (“Who Will Cry At Your Funeral? The Point of Intimacy”) of I’d Like You More . . . , John Ortberg cites Patrick Morley.  At one point in his like, Patrick mistook, or equated, the quantity of his professional network with the quality of his relational life.  Hence, thinking he’d finally arrived, his wife responded, “Yes, but at the wrong place.”

As a result, Patrick and his wife arrived at the following conclusion.  Writing in The Man in the Mirror: Solving the 24 Problems Men Face (Zondervan, 1997), Mr. Morley states:

” ‘Why not prioritize everything we do on the basis of who’s going to be crying at our funeral?’ . . .  Why should you and I give ourselves to people who don’t love us, at the expense of those who do?”

Therefore, Pastor Ortberg asserts, the people most likely to cry at your funeral are those with whom you have true intimacy.  Thus, Martin Seligman (Authentic Happiness) recommends five rituals to observe on a daily or weekly basis.  While Seligman designed these rituals with couples in mind, you can adapt them to other relationships.

1.  Beginnings. Since we must acknowledge another person’s existence in some way, why not do it with joy?  Thus, a minimum investment of ten minutes a week ( 2 minutes/day x 5 days) makes a positive difference in our relationships.

2.  Reunions.  At the end of each workday, devote twenty minutes to a “low-stress” reunion conversation.  Here “low-stress” means to relieve the other person’s stress level rather than adding to it.

3.  Affection.  The blessings are quite obvious here.  Affection builds feelings of intimacy and safety.

4.  One weekly date.  Find a relaxed atmosphere to update your relationship.

5.  Appreciation.  Every day, look out for opportunities to express genuine appreciation.

Today’s question:  How does God provide a little space for you to bear the beams of love?  Pleas share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Swing – it comes as a gift”

The antidote to secret hate – open repair

“The antidote to secret hate is open repair.”- John Ortberg

“Don’t secretly hate your neighbor.  If you have something against him, get it out into the open; otherwise you are an accomplice to his guilt.”- Leviticus 19:17 (MSG)

In Chapter 12 (“Houston, We Have A Problem: Intimacy Rupture and Repair”) of I’d Like You More. . . , John Ortberg asserts there’s a secret weapon against destroying intimacy through conflict and anger.  That secret weapon? – a “repair attempt” or open repair.  John Gottman and Nan Silver (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, 1999) define a repair attempt as “any statement or action . . . that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.”

Therefore, in a repair attempt, you signal that you want to remain connected with someone in a moment of conflict.  Pastor Ortberg explains:

“Like old cars, relationships inevitably throw gaskets and leak oil every once in a while.  Little ruptures happen regularly.  The key isn’t to avoid ruptures, or even to solve the problems that irritate us.  The key to maintaining intimacy is how we talk about our problems (emphasis author’s).”

Ironically, Pastor Ortberg adds, our differences – the very things that interfere with intimate relationships and family connections – also make intimacy possible.  Yes, it’s tempting to think that I’d like you more if you were more like me (emphasis John’s).  However, often our differences draw us to one another.  In addition, they become the “grist mill” of great and intimate relationships.

Yet, ruptures happen when the sense of connection in a relationship breaks, like an electrical short-circuit.  As a result, John lists several signs of rupture:

  • My words toward you are strained or heated.
  • I’m less likely to look at you.
  • Instead of giving you the benefit of the doubt, I’m likely to interpret what you do or say in a negative way.

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg notes, even intimate relationships experience conflict. But, you maintain ongoing intimacy through a repair attempt or open repair.

Today’s question: How have you used open repair to maintain intimacy?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Reacting from our bird brain”

Moving on the wave of God

“When we do suffer with someone else, even a little, we may be sure we are moving on the wave of God.  We are doing what God does.”- Lewis Smedes, How Can It Be Alright When Everything Is Wrong? (1992)

“There is a world of difference between sharing the experience of suffering and endorsing despair.”- John Ortberg

As John Ortberg concludes Chapter 10 of I’d Like You More . . . , he describes two ways to suffer.  As somebody once wrote, you can suffer from something, or you can suffer with someone.  Pastor Ortberg explains:

“As a victim of adversity, I suffer from illness, or injury, or mosquitoes.  But I suffer with someone when I choose to take that person’s suffering unto myself as an act of intimacy, a shared experience. . . .  Suffering with is an act of tremendous intimacy.”

However, as John reminds us, a world of difference exists between sharing the experience of suffering and endorsing despair.  A friend of John’s once took his ten-year-old son Andrew fly-fishing.  For three days in a row, they fished for a few hours after lunch.  They caught nothing.  But, another fisherman observing their futility told them to try at 5:30 AM.

By 7:45 the next morning, they still hadn’t caught a thing.  After hearing Andrew’s pleas, the father permitted five more casts.  On the fifth cast, Andrew caught a northern pike.  As a result, Andrew reasoned, God’s name must be “the God of the fifth cast.”

In relationships, Pastor Ortberg observes, suffering often leads to impatience.  Yet, one thing enables us to sit quietly during times of suffering – knowing that we serve “the God of the fifth cast.”

When philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff’s twenty-five-year-old son died in a mountain-climbing accident, he didn’t find a God who explains our suffering.  Rather, Nicholas found a God who enters our suffering.  In Lament for a Son, Nicholas writes:

“GOD IS LOVE.  That is why he suffers. . . .  God is suffering love.  So suffering is down at the center of things, deep down where the meaning is. . . .  The tears of God are the meaning of history.”

Finally, John states, to keep hope you must give it away.  As you give hope to others in love, you receive it most yourself.

Today’s question: How do you move on the wave of God as you suffer with someone else?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Embraced by God – making space for others”

Groaning in suffering builds intimacy

“The difference between grumbling and groaning has a similar effect on intimacy, whether with God or with people: Groaning in suffering builds intimacy.  Grumbling destroys intimacy.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg continues Chapter 10 of I’d Like You More . . .  as he offers additional distinctions between groaning and grumbling.  John takes special note that, in the Bible, people groaned on their knees.  Because sorrow, suffering, and adversity drove them there.  In contrast, people grumbled privately in their tents.  There they felt free to exaggerate, play the victim, and thus excuse their own lack of obedience.  Pastor Ortberg summarizes:


  • builds intimacy with God and people
  • you speak directly to God – holding nothing back
  • views suffering in the larger context of others who have suffered
  • includes awareness of our own sin – confession
  • calls us to be our best selves; honest struggle to cling to God in difficulty
  • God-centered, even when God seems absent


  • destroys intimacy
  • contagious
  • you exaggerate suffering to justify your negative attitude
  • makes irritations and inconveniences known to everyone around you

Therefore, Pastor Ortberg stresses, when other people experience trouble, sensitive people just show up.  Thus, they provide a ministry of presence.  In addition, sensitive people:

  1. learn not to compare.  Since each instance of suffering is unique, each sufferer responds in his/her own unique way.  As a result, comparison fails to help the situation.
  2. do practical things.  John states that helpful people never say, “If I can do anything, please call me.”  Because helpful people know how hollow that statement rings.  Rather than waiting for a call, they just act.
  3. don’t try to comfort prematurely.  Sensitive people don’t pretend to have answers or seek to lessen the pain with an explanation.  Instead, they allow the dignity of suffering.
  4. watch for surprising moments of gratitude.

Today’s question: Currently, what describes your response to adversity – groaning or grumbling?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Moving on the wave of God”

There is a crack in everything

“There is a crack in everything. . . .  That’s how the light gets in.”- Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

The man said, “This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”- Genesis 2:23

In Chapter 9 (“Naked and Unafraid: The Paradox of Vulnerability and Authority”) of I’d Like You More . . . , John Ortberg writes that most of us think of authority and vulnerability as two points along the same continuum.  As a result, we think we must set as our goal to maximize authority and minimize vulnerability (citing Andy Crouch, Strong and Weak).

However, John stresses, God created us to have both great authority and great vulnerability.  Andy Crouch defines the two terms:

 1.  authority – the capacity for meaningful action

2.  vulnerability – exposure to meaningful risk

As Pastor Ortberg observes, we see in Jesus the ultimate combination of the two.  Thus, only Jesus offers us ultimate intimacy.

Furthermore, as Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman notes, the words Adam used to recognize Eve speak about one person in total relation to another.  In other words, intimacy thrives on the connection between bone and flesh.  Here bone symbolizes strength, power, and might.  And flesh represents softness, frailty, and vulnerability.

Finally, the diagram at the top shows the range of possible combinations involving authority and vulnerability.  For example, suffering, exploitation, or withdrawal mark relationships lacking authority and/or vulnerability.  Lacking both marks the worst possible case.  And sin promises authority without vulnerability.  However, sin turns those terms around.   You’re vulnerable without authority.  Therefore, true intimacy grows only when both are genuinely present.

Today’s question: What crack allows the light of Jesus to enter you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “In the beginning – exquisite vulnerability”

Intimacy – a balance of chaos and comfort

“Intimacy is a balance of chaos and comfort.”- John Ortberg

“Through [Jesus] we . . . have access to the Father by one Spirit.”- Ephesians 2:18

John Ortberg continues Chapter 8 of I’d Like You More . . . as he notes one of the great dangers in human relationships.  Pastor Ortberg cites Scott Peck (The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, 1988), who identifies that danger as pseudo-community.  Mr. Peck describes pseudo-community as “an inviting but illegitimate shortcut to nowhere.”

Therefore, John adds, there’s only one way out of this danger:

“The only way out of this is to enter into chaos.  Real community requires having the courage to says what I actually think, even though I don’t know how the other person will respond, and even though that not knowing scares me.  Entering into chaos is like diving into a cold pool.  But when we speak the truth . . . we have the opportunity to know one another at a deeper and truer level.  And then growth can happen.”

In contrast, Pastor Ortberg identifies three enemies of intimacy: hurry, pressure, and stress.  As a result, John suggests that sometimes we need to connect with God through disconnecting from everything else.  Thus, if we refuse to be still, we’ll never:

  • know that God is God
  • really pray
  • know real peace

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg asks you to consider this: “What if the first and last words of your day belonged to God instead of to your in-box?”  For, at some level, all of us want to know if anyone is watching or listening to us.  John reminds us that we have access to the Father, and ends the chapter as he repeats the title – “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

Today’s question: How do you balanced chaos and comfort in your life to create intimacy?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A crack in everything”