The Spirit bestows power, love, and self-discipline

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.”- 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)

Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller continue Chapter 10 of Boundaries for Your Soul as they discuss the benefits, dangers, needs, and concerns associated with anxiety working within your soul:

  • Benefits – when you respect anxiety as a valuable part of your soul, it can (1) signal the presence of a fearful exile that needs your attention; (2) help you act in a careful manner; and (3) transform into the part of you acting with courage, humbly leading others.
  • Dangers – just like anger, anxiety expresses itself one way or another.  Ironically, though, when anxiety becomes extreme, it may create the very dangers you go out of your way to avoid!  Thus, without healthy boundaries, your anxiety surfaces in these troubling ways, including: physical limitations like shortness of breath, feelings of chaos or lack of control, hypervigilance, or catastrophizing.
  • Needs – to stay within healthy boundary lines, your anxiety needs: to develop courage with God’s help as well as loving reminders from you of the truth of God’s power.
  • Fears – as a protector, your anxious part shows concerns about your Spirit-led self taking the lead.  These concerns include mishandling a responsibility, feeling neglected and alone, or disappointing someone.

Next, Alison and Kim look at the root fears behind three anxious soul parts: worrying and controlling, people-pleasing, and doubting.  The authors talk about the first fear today.

1.  Fear of the unknown: worry and control.  When worry drives your life, it’s time to set some gentle boundaries with your worry and listen to your fear.  Therefore, Alison and Kim advise, pay attention when a passive or controlling worried part eclipses your Spirit-led self.  Instead, befriend your worry.  Gently help it step back so you can get to the real source of your need.

Today’s question: How does the Holy Spirit bestow power, love, and self-discipline in your soul?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Living from your Spirit-led self”

Mature love = extending hospitality

“Mature love is extending hospitality — even toward the parts of your soul that are angry, fearful,  anxious, or sad.”- Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller

“But when you give a feast,  invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”- Luke 14:13-14 (ESV)

Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller conclude their Introduction to Boundaries for Your Soul as they make an ironic note.  They note that the most natural way of addressing troubling emotions actually makes things worse.  Thus, many well-meaning people attempt to suppress aspects of themselves they don’t like.  Or, they go so far as to condemn those aspects.

Most noteworthy, the authors states, this book presents an alternate way.  Hence, it uses different means to reach the same end.  As Alison and Kimberly describe, Boundaries offers “a slower way to get where you want to go — faster.”

Through this approach, Alison and Kimberly add, you learn to understand and even befriend the hurting parts of your soul.  Furthermore, you’ll get to know your overbearing aspects as well as facets of your personality hiding in the shadows.  And these aspects exist for a reason.  You need to create healthy boundaries with them.  As a result, you can relate to them from a comfortable distance.

In conclusion, Alison and Kimberly observes that, ultimately, the Holy Spirit provides the best way to care for the overwhelming parts of your soul.  Here’s what the authors know:

“When you think of your unwanted thoughts and feelings as belonging to parts of your soul, you begin to see how they relate to one another and to the core of your being where the Holy Spirit abides.  And just as you can experience a more peaceful life as a result of healthy boundaries with others, you can also establish helpful boundaries with the parts of your soul.”

Today’s question: “To what parts of your soul do you need to extend hospitality?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Unhealthy ways of relating to painful emotions”

Friendship and love come as gifts

“We cannot make friendship and love happen.  They come, when they come at all, as gifts.  But we can make space for them.”- John Ortberg

“And if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”- 1 Corinthians 13:2 (ESV)

In Chapter 18(“Winning Alone is Called Losing”) of When the Game is Over, John Ortberg makes an observation about winning.  He states that no matter how many times you win, if you win alone, you lose.  Because love is the ball game.

Thus, psychologist Phillip Zimbardo of Stanford notes, there’s no more potent killer than isolation.  For isolation wreaks a destructive influence on physical and mental health.  Most noteworthy, the devil strategically uses isolation to trivialize human existence.  Therefore, we’re conned into thinking that time pressures and work demands create our isolation.

As a result, Pastor Ortberg writes, to play the game wisely we need to observe three relational realities:

  1. Give relationship top priority.  Hence, we must first figure out how much physical and emotional energy we need to attend to our loved ones.  Then, we give our leftovers to work – not the other way around.  So, John exhorts, make the decision to give relationships top priority your starting point.
  2. Help somebody else win.  This defines the real way you play the game.  When you help somebody else, your most cherished and meaningful “wins” come.
  3. Love is eternal, but must be given today.  That’s because, the author states, moments come that surprise us with life’s fearful beauty and brevity.

In conclusion, Wes Stegner (Crossing to Safety) compares life to a waiting room:

“In the intensive care waiting room, the world changes.  Vanity and pretense vanish. . . .  Everyone knows that loving someone else is what life’s all about.  Could we learn to love like that if we realized that every day of life is a day in the waiting room?”

Today’s question: How have you received the gifts of friendship and love?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Cultivate a gracious spirit”

Love — a by-product of knowing God

“I can’t make myself know God, but I can come to know him better.  And because God is love, the more I come to know him, the more my love for him will grow.  Love is a by-product of knowing.  So I can spend this day loving God. And tomorrow I can seek to love him more.  This is a live “rich toward God.’ “- John Ortberg

As John Ortberg concludes Chapter 2 of When the Game is Over, he cites Augustine.  Augustine once said that seven words sum up ethics: “Love God, and do what you will.”

For the soul that loves God desires to do what God loves.

Thus, the “with-God” soul is rich, while the lonely soul is poor.  God made you, Pastor Ortberg notes, because He wants to be with you.  And you don’t have to wait.  Therefore, you can choose to be with God throughout your day.  Ask for His help as you work together.  See Him in the people you meet.  Most noteworthy, that includes the person you most dislike in the world.  Also, hear His voice in what you read.

However, living for temporary things produces temporary satisfaction, fulfillment, and meaning.  When it comes to an end, only a terrible emptiness remains.  As a result, John astutely observes: “Wise people build their lives around what is eternal and squeeze in what is temporary.”

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg offers these words:

“The day is coming when all our 401(k)s and our bank statements will be irrelevant.  The titles on our resumes will no longer impress anyone. . . .  All that will be left is love.  That which was done out of love for God will last.  Every human being you see is a cleverly disguised receptacle of eternity.  You can take the love with you.”

Today’s question: How does love manifest itself in your life as a by-product of knowing God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Scorekeepers – a powerful influence”

Love – medicine that covers, heals the naked heart

“Jesus . .. never pushes the broken away, but instead pulls them in closer because they’re broken and ashamed, knowing that love is the only medicine that covers and heals the naked heart.”- Christa Black Gifford (emphasis author’s)

“We love because he first loved us.”- 1 John 4:19 (ESV)

In Chapter 7 (“The Naked Heart”) of Heart Made Whole, Christa Black Gifford observes that so many of us are petrified of being less than perfect.  Because, experience teaches us that a conditional world rejects those who fail the spotless test.  Fortunately, God never offers His love with an agenda attached.

Therefore, Ms. Gifford notes, “love loves for the sake of loving.”  Yet, Christa states, she encounters many exhausted Christians who pour their lives into a distant God – a reduced deity. However, these Christians rarely stop to let God pour life into them.  Also, they read their Bibles looking for ways to serve.  Instead, such Christians need to read Scripture to experience all Jesus has done/is doing for them.

Thus, we need to have the intimate relation with God that He created us for.  In order for this to happen, God entwines our spirits, souls, minds, and bodies with His indwelling presence.  As a result, God doesn’t propose a distant relationship with Him involving weekly encounters in church service or Bible study.

In conclusion, Ms. Gifford explains:

“The trick isn’t learning to acquire or earn God’s love; the trick is learning how to tune in and experience what’s already there.  The more I learned about the human heart and how it’s created to need love and affection, the more I began living to stay plugged into the continual source of love that already lives inside of me. . . . In fact, I stopped living to love and serve God and, instead, started living to be loved by Him.”

Today’s question: How has God’s love healed your naked heart?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The destructive fires of shame and fear”

When our hearts are screaming

“When our hearts are screaming and we try everything we can to get them to shut up, eventually giving up and avoiding the annoyance altogether, we never find our why they’re crying in the first place. . . .  just like a baby only cries when there is pain or a substantial need, the heart always has a valid reason for making noise.”- Christa Black Gifford

In Chapter 6 (“The Languages of the Heart”) of Heart Made Whole, Christa Black Gifford underscores that your heart speaks rather loudly every day.  First, though, you must learn its languages and begin to listen.  Unless you do, Ms. Gifford notes, you’ll find yourself living with a foreigner, unable to understand a thing.

Therefore, Christa explains how to live as the person God created you to be:

“But if you ever want to understand yourself and restore your original design — living as the person God created you to be — then you’re going to need to learn to translate a few languages to find out the truth that your heart has been longing to tell you. . . .  until every part of our heart is flying the unified flag of love above all pain, trauma, bitterness, and offense, it will continue to spew out all sorts of things we would rather it didn’t.”

Thus, Christa believes, every one of us needs to live with a central goal for our heart.  That goal? – to think, speak, feel, and act in the fluent language of God: love.

Consequently, Ms. Gifford spends the rest of Chapter 6 exploring the four languages of the heart.  The language of

  1. thought (see Psalm 139:2)
  2. words (see Luke 6:45)
  3. emotions (See Proverbs 17:22)
  4. actions (see Psalm 141:4)

Finally, Christa exhorts, “take off your critical lens of judgment and really start to pay attention to your heart through the filter of the counseling –and never condemning — Holy Spirit.”

Today’s question: When your heart’s screaming, what valid reason does it have for making noise?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “It’s the heart that believes”

Greatness looks different than you think

“You are called to greatness.  But greatness looks different than you think.  If you really want to be great, here’s how you do it: become the least.”- Banning Liebscher

”  . . . whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His live as a ransom for many.”- Matthew 20:26-28 (NKJV)

In Chapter 9 (“An Unlikely Marriage”) of Rooted, Banning Liebscher stresses that since we are in Christ, we share His identity and position.  Therefore, we must apply this knowledge and carry ourselves as Jesus does.  Also, the following two revelations must continually grow together in our lives:

  1. who Christ is
  2. who we are in Him

Furthermore, Pastor Liebscher states, Jesus forever married the concepts of greatness with humility, leadership with love, and royalty with service.  As a result, these three upside-down concepts reveal who Jesus is as well as who we are in Him.  In addition, Banning exhorts:

“As we step into the revelation of who we are in Him, we must cling to His example and never resort to the world’s version of greatness, leadership, and royalty, which turn humility into pride, authority into domination, and love into self-serving.”

In conclusion, Pastor Banning notes, Jesus demonstrated what it means to lay down one’s life in two ways: (a) His death on the Cross and (b) daily sacrificial service.  Not only did Jesus serve everybody, but He served them in ways that truly revealed His love for them.  Consequently, Banning advocates:

Love looks like serving.  If we want to abide in Jesus’ love, we must embrace His lifestyle of serving people.”

Today’s question: How do you define greatness your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “It’s not all about you — it’s all about Jesus”

Peace is within reach- rejoice in the Lord’s sovereignty

“Peace is within reach, not for lack of problems, but because of the presence of a sovereign Lord.  Rather than rehearse the chaos of the world, rejoice in the Lord’s sovereignty, as Paul did.”- Max Lucado

“There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.”- Proverbs 21:30 (NIV)

As Max Lucado continues Chapter 2 of Anxious for Nothing, he reminds us it’s impossible for us to take control.  Because control’s not ours to take in the first place!  Therefore, we need a better idea.  And the Bible provides it.  Instead of seeking total control, we must relinquish it.  While we can’t run the world, we can entrust the world to God.

Therefore, Pastor Lucado underscores, the apostle Paul entrusted even his miserable prison conditions to God’s sovereignty.  Thus, Max exhorts us to apply Paul’s words to our lives.  Max writes:

“To read Paul is to read the words of a man who, in the innermost part of his being, believed in the steady hand of a good God.  He was protected by God’s strength, preserved by God’s love.  He lived beneath the shadow of God’s wings.  Do you?  Stabilize your soul with the sovereignty of God.  He reigns supreme over every detail of the universe.”

Consequently, when troubled times come, God always supplies the same answer: He occupies the throne in heaven.  In the Old Testament, God gave that message to the prophet Isaiah.  After fifty-five years of relative peace, King Uzziah died.  That gave Isaiah ample cause for worry.  Yet, just like Isaiah, God has a message for us when calamity strikes.

Although Uzziah’s reign ended with his death, God’s reign continued.  Death silences Uzziah’s voice, but God’s voice remained strong.  In addition, since God’s alive and on the throne, He’s worthy of worship.

Today’s question: What Bible verses place peace within your reach?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “How your anxiety decreases”


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!”

Getting close – love and grace catch us unawares

“No one becomes real without getting close, without being loved.  And love, like grace, sneaks up on us mostly when we’re unaware.”- John Ortberg

“This is real love — not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”- 1 John 4:10 (NLT)

“Once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”- Skin Horse to Velveteen Rabbit

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 14 (the final chapter) of I’d Like You More . . . as he notes that becoming real always comes with a cost.  Thus, becoming real means:

  • risking the fear of others rejecting you
  • losing freedom in order to make promises that allow for relationship
  • everlasting humiliation of the never-ending need for confession
  • letting go of the remote control- and of control in general
  • wrapping your heart around someone else’s well-being

In addition, Pastor Ortberg distinguishes between two types of love.  The first type of love seeks value in what you love.  Something that’s shiny, handsome, expensive, or useful.  However, the second type of love creates value in what you love.  John described that kind of love in 1 John 4:10.

Furthermore, Pastor Ortberg expands the connection between love and intimacy.  He writes:

“God created us to offer love to others because he wants no one to miss out on an intimate connection with him.  He loves the worst person in his world more than you love the best person in yours.  He loves everybody more than you love anybody.”

In conclusion, John stresses, Jesus didn’t become real when He became human.  Rather, Jesus brought a slice of reality to our “fake, phony, phantom world.”  By becoming real to us, Jesus modeled a real human life, making it possible for us to become real.

Today’s question: What Bible verses strengthen you in getting close to Jesus?  Please share.

Coming Monday, January 8th: the annotated bibliography of I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me

Tomorrow’s blog: “God’s people – a waiting people”