Leave your unwanted thoughts and feelings at the door?

“When you spend time with God, don’t leave your unwanted thoughts and feelings at the door.  Instead, befriend them — and invite Jesus to be near them too.”- Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”- Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller conclude Chapter 6 of Boundaries for Your Soul as they exhort you to learn to welcome every part of your soul.  Yet, that effort involves great challenge.  However, the authors state, paying attention to the state of your soul “opens you up to receive the gifts God wants to give you to the parts most in need of grace.”

In addition, God’s eager to speak words of affirmation and meet you in your pain.  Through the Holy Spirit’s power, this step of invitation involves guiding each part of your soul (sanctimonious, straying, suffering) to:

  • open the door
  • open their arms
  • receive treasures from God

Most noteworthy, Alison and Kim caution us to beware of imposter religious parts:

“Be aware that sometimes when you try to connect with Jesus, you actually may be connecting with a religious, Jesus-like part.  You know this is the case when the ‘Jesus’ you feel like you’re encountering is shaming you or has no power. . . .  If a well-meaning part like this shows up as you start to pray or participate in a worship service, ask it to step back, so that you can connect with the living God.  The true Jesus always speaks authoritative words of hope and truth that will change your life.”

In conclusion, the authors stress that our religious activities, or spiritual disciplines, can’t change us on their own.  Rather, they create an environment that’s conducive to growth.

Today’s question: What most helps you befriend your unwanted thoughts and feelings?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Unburden: soul freedom from heavy burdens”

The ecstasy of gratitude- the great joy of life

“The great secret joy of life — the prize that we think getting richer will bring us– is the ecstasy of gratitude.  Gratitude is how those rich toward God — rich in being, not just having — play the game.”- John Ortberg

“What gifts am I receiving from the universe today?  And what if they don’t fit or they aren’t my color?”- Shanti Goldstein

In Chapter 13 (“Playing with Gratitude”) of When the Game is Over, John Ortberg states one gift God gives us is the capacity for gratitude.  Furthermore, Pastor Ortberg defines, gratitude:

  • is the ability to experience life as a gift
  • opens us up to wonder, delight, and humility
  • makes our hearts generous
  • liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation
  • is the gift God gives us that enables us to be blessed by all His other gifts
  • keeps our lives from degenerating into envy, dissatisfaction, and complaints- taking what we have for granted, and always wanting more

However, Pastor Ortberg underscores, we don’t give gratitude to God because He wants to make certain we know how much trouble He went to over us.  Also, there’s an illusion of gratitude.  That illusion – we’ll experience more gratitude if we get new stuff we really want.  In addition, writing in Final Rounds, author James Dodson quotes his terminally ill father:

“The danger of great ambition is that you’ll work so hard, you may someday wake up and find that the things you really wanted were the things you had all along.”

In conclusion, John cautions against being “hard of thanking.”  When you find it hard to give thanks, it takes a gift of epic proportions to actually feel grateful.  In contrast, when you possess a high capacity for thankfulness, you have a low threshold of gratitude.  Thus, you see unearned blessings in a sunset or a smile from a friend.

So, the author exhorts, open the windows of your heart to gratitude.  As a result, you’re more likely to seize gratitude when it passes through the neighborhood.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you feel the ecstasy of gratitude?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Words that will feed souls”

Pain gets our full attention

“Nothing gets our full attention like pain.  It breaks down false idols and purifies false motives.  It reveals where we need to heal, where we need to grow.  It refocuses our priorities like nothing else.  And pain is part and parcel of God’s sanctification process in our lives.”- Mark Batterson

“I would still have this consolation — my joy in unrelenting pain — that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.”- Job 6:10 (NIV)

In Chapter 11 (“Joystick”) of Whisper, Mark Batterson covers the seventh love language – pain.  Pastor Batterson begins as he cites Job 6:10.  Most noteworthy, Mark observes that the Hebrew word for “joy” in this passage from Job appears only once in Scripture.  Here the word refers to rare joy, extreme joy.  It’s a joy that doesn’t deny reality.  But, it defies reality!

Furthermore, Pastor Batterson writes, the most literal translation of this joy = “to leap like a horse so stones spark.”  Thus, it’s more than jumping for joy, Mark exhorts.  It means to dance on disappointment.

However, in the midst of adverse times, we may believe God’s turned His back on us.  As a result, we usually want to return the favor.  Hence, we turn our back on God.  Yet, that’s precisely the time we need to lean on and lean into Him.  Like Job, we must refuse to cut God off.  And we continue listening.

In conclusion, Mark dares to broach the subject of pain as a gift.  For without discomfort, we would:

  • repeatedly reinjure ourselves in the same way
  • simply maintain the status quo
  • ignore problems capable of killing us

During difficult times, we find God’s presence and hear His voice most clearly when we’re hurting.

Today’s question: How does pain focus your full attention on God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Pain – sometimes a gift from God”

Find joy and affirmation in the hidden

“What if we can find joy and affirmation in the hidden, the quiet, the mundane?  Because that’s exactly where Jesus says it’s at.  There’s holy in the mundane.”- Jeff and Alyssa Bethke

Jeff and Alyssa Bethke (“Love That Lasts”) wrote the foreword to Sara Hagerty’s new book Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That loves to Be Noticed. Jeff and Alyssa  identify themselves as among the first native users of the internet.  Born in the late 1980s, Jeff and Alyssa don’t remember a time before the internet existed.

Although the internet provides unprecedented access to information, it’s also, Jeff and Alyssa stress, driving us.  Thus, the internet’s a blessing and a curse.  For example, the internet “feeds our insatiable desire” for others to affirm, notice, love, and like us.  Consequently, a few years ago a Washington state man attempted a selfie with a moving train in the background.  Unfortunately, he failed to notice the speeding train approaching from the track he was standing on.  As a result, it killed him instantly.

However, Jeff and Alyssa underscore, one thing we celebrate little these days = faithfulness.  Consistency.  Obscurity.  While many people look for a sixty-second Jesus, it’s really happening in the long game.  Furthermore, growth occurs in hiddenness.  The Bethke’s explain:

“When you walk with Jesus, the hiddenness is where you are seen the most.  By him.  With ferocious, white-hot piercing eyes.  And his gaze of love is what changes us, what makes us, what we all are desperately searching for in the first place.  Yes, we’re dying to be seen.  The good news? – Jesus, the One that matters most, already sees us.  Growth happens in hiddenness.  We must shout this message from the mountaintops!

Today’s question: How have you found joy and affirmation in the hidden, the quite, the mundane?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the new Short Meditation, “Patience is more than endurance”

The true self you keep hiding inside yourself

“Part of resting in the reality that your true self is hidden with Christ in God is looking at the true self you keep hiding inside yourself.”- Jared C. Wilson

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. . . .  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”- Colossians 3:1,3

“Now, by the help of God, I shall become myself.”- Soren Kierkegaard

In Chapter 8 of The Imperfect Disciple, Jared Wilson revisits Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s concept of the wish dream.  However, the Bible calls the wish dream by another name – idolatry.  Pastor Wilson explains the danger to your true self:

“And the thing about idolatry, the thing about wish dreams, is that we so identify with them we lose all true bearings about ourselves.  Often, we don’t know who we are apart from them.”

Yet, Jared asserts, you’re in a good predicament when you find yourself constantly measuring, frustrated, and seeing all you lack.  Because that places you on the verge of a shattered wish dream.  Hence, you finally face reality.  Therefore, placing joy anywhere but Christ sets you up for incredible, crushing disappointment.  In addition, you’re vulnerable to spiritual and emotional disaster.  Pastor Wilson adds:

“We all have a vision for how life is supposed to go, what life is supposed to be like — what we want and how we want it, and the way we want to feel about it — but then actual life happens, and when our heart is tuned to only find joy in the dream we will never find joy, because we’ve placed it in a mirage.”

In conclusion, Pastor Wilson offers this litmus test question to diagnose idolatry.  The litmus test: “What, if taken away from you, would cause you a great crisis of identity?”

Today’s question: How do you rest in the reality that your true self’s hidden with Christ in God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “God doesn’t need any more messiahs”

Each day holds a surprise – only if we expect it

On its 50th Anniversary in 1991, an Electroliner passes a Silverliner (built 1917) at the Illinois Railway Museum.

“Each day holds a surprise.  But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us.  Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy.  It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.”- Henri Nouwen

“See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up- do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”- Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

On Sunday, February 9, 1941, the first North Shore Electroliner went into service.  Debuting as the North Shore Lines’ premiere electric rail equipment, the Electroliner featured coach service as well as tavern/lounge amenities.  Partially inspired by the Burlington Zephyr, the Electroliner’s principal body color consisted of a medium blue-green trimmed with salmon-red stripes.

Capable of operating at speeds up to 90 mph, the Electroliner remained in service for 22 years, advertising one-way, through fares to Milwaukee or Chicago.  Furthermore, the celebrated train evoked surprise for two reasons.  Interurbans (1)  faced their last stand by the early 1940s  and (2) weren’t thought of as high-speed operations.

Writing in The Upside of Adversity (2006), Os Hillman fortifies our spirits when he states that God desires to turn our desert places into lush green valleys of blessing.  Yet, when you’re in that desert, your most significant concern revolves around when your trial will end.  As Os explains, he believes your trial will end when it doesn’t matter anymore (emphasis author’s):

“Once you’ve lived a long time in a state of adversity, status and influence don’t mean much anymore.  You appreciate the blessings God gives you, but if they were removed, you’d still be okay.  Your security is in God, not circumstances.”

Most importantly, Mr. Hillman examines the connection between adversity and success.  In particular, he stresses the perspective adversity gives to success.   As a result, Os describes five principles to remember as you graduate from a time of adversity to a time of blessing.

1.  View success as a gift from God.  Since all success comes from the Lord, that means you receive it, not achieve it.  And that applies to all your possessions.  God gifted them to you.  Os adds: “When all you have is a gift. there’s no room for pride – only humility and gratitude.”

2.  Learn how to handle praise.  While the approval of people comes and goes, God’s approval lasts forever.  Therefore, all praise belongs to God.

3.  Live a humble life.  As Rick Warren observes in The Purpose-Driven Life, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

4.  Be held accountable for humility.  Ask trusted Christian friends to hold you accountable for a humble attitude.

5.  Remember that God saved you and has plans for you.  Everything that happens in our lives = an undeserved blessing of God’s grace.

Time to reframe our disappointments

“It’s time to reframe our disappointments in light of God’s promises.  It’s time to face our battles with courage in light of God’s power.”- Susie Larson

In Chapter 8 (“Dare to Pray From Victory”) of Your Powerful Prayers, Susie Larson asserts that our gaze often pulls to the object of our fears.  As we listen to Satan’s taunts, we freeze in our tracks.  Next, the fears we stare at in front of us actually get in us.  However, we become downright dangerous when we rise up in Christ’s authority and entrust ourselves to His care.

Furthermore, no matter how big Satan gets in the face of our fears, he can’t turn a lie into the truth.  Ms. Larson summarizes:

“There’s something powerful about rising up in the strength of the Lord and declaring to your soul and to your enemy that Jesus is your strong tower, your shelter against the foe, your defender, deliverer, and mighty God.  His strength and power inhabits your soul!  You have Him!  You have His power.  And you have His promises.”

In reality, Ms. Larson underscores, here’s the truth.  As heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, we possess certain privileges.  We have Christ’s:

  1. presence – where we find fullness of joy
  2. promises – Christ’s faithful, true promises change everything for Christ-followers
  3. power – the same power that raised Christ from the dead

In conclusion, Susie exhorts, now’s the time to “reframe our disappointments in light of God’s promises.”  Writing in Risky Gospel, Owen Strachan states:

“God doesn’t want His people to be fearful, but faithful.  He’s not trying to cool us down, but heat us up.  Yet, biblical faith isn’t reckless or careless.  It is trusting, confident, and fearless because it’s grounded in Almighty God.”

Today’s question: What favorite Bible verse helps your reframe your disappointments in light of God’s love?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Often we thwart God’s interventions”

That place where joy and faith collide

“The place of power, the sweet spot in our faith walk, is that place where joy and faith collide.”- Susie Larson

Susie Larson concludes her Introduction to Your Powerful Prayers as she reminds us that our lifelines consist of the Word of God and our prayer life.  Thus, praying without reading the Word compares to a ship without a sail.  In that case, the winds determine your path.  And if you read the Word without engaging in prayer,  that’s comparable to a sail without a ship.  Although the wind fills your sails, it’s impossible to get anywhere.

And though Jesus answers our prayers and grants some of our heart’s deepest desires, He remains our greatest treasure.  In Believing Prayer (1980, 2004), Andrew Murray wrote:

“When the name of Jesus has become the power that rules my life, power in prayer with God will be evident as well.  Everything depends on the name; the power it has on my life is the power it will have in my prayers (emphasis Ms. Larson’s).”

Furthermore, Susie stresses, prayer:

  • links us in fellowship with the star-breathing God
  • strengthens our faith
  • encourages our hearts
  • changes our circumstances and/or perspective
  • impacts our story as we dialogue with God about what we see in the world

In conclusion, Susie explains the intersection of hilarious joy and tenacious faith.  Joy, the author explains, must be viewed as a discipline and a fruit.  This happens when we choose joy even though God’s not giving us what we want at the moment.  On the other hand, Ms. Larson describes tenacious faith as “our substance, our spiritual traction . . . evidence of our trust in a faithful God.”

Therefore, consistently juxtaposing hilarious joy and fierce faith in your life:

  1. cultivates a perpetual heart of gratitude and thanksgiving
  2. strengthens your prayer life and firms you grip on God’s promises

Today’s question: Where do joy and faith collide in your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “God is still pursuing you – to love you”

When we live in disconnectedness

“Not only do we suffer when we live in disconnectedness, but then other people whom God place around us get cheated out of the love God intended us to give them (emphasis author’s).”- John Ortberg

“Anyone who does not love remains in death.”- 1 John 3:14

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 16 of The Me I Want to Be as he stresses that God designed us to live in connectedness.  Therefore, to help us avoid slipping into disconnectedness, John takes a look at five gifts connectedness brings.

1.  The Gift of Delighting.  Love involves action more than it involves feeing.  Hence, servanthood marks the circle of connection.  In Galatians 5:13, the apostle Paul urges us to “serve on another humbly in love.”  Thus, we give life to the people we notice- and vice versa.  Also, in that process of self-forgetfulness, our own soul flourishes.

2.  The Gift of Commitment.  Too often, Pastor Ortberg notes, the people most in need of cheers get them the least.  Everyone needs the gift of commitment.  Encouragement requires work.  It doesn’t just happen.  But, connectedness reaps incredible rewards!

3.  The Gift of Love. As of today, name one person in your life who just needs you to look them in the eye and say: I love you.  The Holy Spirit constantly works in us to prompt such expressions of love.  Hence, every moment provides an opportunity to practice a gesture of love.

4.  The Gift of Joy.  Pastor Ortberg observes that, while we know love we joy, we often forget the power contained in joy.  Joy:

  • gives us strength to resist temptation
  • brings the ability to persevere
  • is the Velcro that makes relationships stick
  • gives us energy to love

5.  The Gift of Belonging.  Simply stated, belonging – God’s gift to us.

Today’s question: During your desert, land between time, what sufferings resulted from living in disconnectedness?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Step into openness – stop pretending”

A God-implanted desire in us

“God’s plan is that every time we experience an authentic desire — a God-implanted desire in us — we come to understand more deeply what a good God he is.  We learn how God has wired us and what he wants us to do.”- John Ortberg

“Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of all lights who satisfies the desires of those who fear him.”- James 1:17

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 7 of The Me I Want to Be as he states part of trying softer involves allowing what we naturally desire to lead us back to God.  God takes pleasure when people enjoy His creation.  Hence, Lewis Smedes explains:

“God is so great that he does not need to be our only joy.  There is an earthly joy, a joy of the outer as well as the inner self, the joy of dancing as well as kneeling, the joy of playing as well as praying.”

However, we must say no to any desires that interrupt the flow of the Holy Spirit.  In doing so, we sacrifice a lesser desire for the sake of living a greater life in the Spirit.  Therefore, as we understand God’s goodness more deeply, we find ourselves loving God more and more.

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg discusses four categories of desire that impact living in the flow of the Spirit.

  1. Material Desires – put beauty in your environment that speaks to your soul.  As you see that beauty, John urges, embrace the God-given joy that accompanies it.
  2. Achievement Desires – because God created us to have dominion, we desire to achieve things.  Ecclesiastes 9:10- “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
  3. Relational Desires – to build a friendship or deep relationship requires overcoming unbelievable barriers, as Jonathan did with David.  Such friendships don’t just fall into your lap.
  4. Physical Desires – appetites, desires, and delights can help us remember God’s goodness and become more joyful people.  As John states, “You learn to connect the gift — which you already love — to the Giver, whom you want to love more.”

Today’s question: What’s your most significant God-implanted desire?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “There will always be a Jezebel”