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”

Jesus doesn’t place efficiency above intimacy

“What we see in Jesus is a presence that doesn’t place efficiency above intimacy.  He was perfectly willing to accomplish his tasks more slowly if it meant being with his friends more deeply.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 1 of I’d Like You More . . . as he takes a look at some of the experiences Jesus shared with His disciples.  Even when the weight of the world rested on Jesus’ shoulders, His friends always knew He had time for them.  Thus, today I highlight for of these shared experiences listed by John.

1.  They walked together.  Pastor Ortberg notes that taking walks was the most common thing Jesus did with His disciples.  In fact, John believes Jesus’ invitation to “‘Follow Me” may represent the most life-changing and greatest invitation to intimacy ever  spoken.  Thus, Jesus didn’t talk about obedience, belief, or service.  Those things would follow.  First of all, Jesus simply invited them to go for a walk.

Also, walking is simple, very low cost, and very high connection.  In addition, the New Testament often uses “walking with Jesus” to describe discipleship.

2.  They ate together.  For example, Jesus eagerly desired to share the Lord’s Supper with His disciples, even though He faced imminent death.  What an act of intimacy!

3.  They learned together.  Pastor Ortberg emphasizes that learning, stretching, and growing together blesses relationships.

4.  They did favors for each other. As John explains, kingdom work’s actually about love.  Because, he adds, “If we’re too hurried to love, we’re too hurried period.”

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg lists three principles that apply whether we seek intimacy with God or with one another:

  • share experiences
  • carve out time
  • be present

So, John encourages, try it.  As a result, you may discover that an ordinary day turns out to become your most intimate day with God yet.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you avoid placing efficiency above intimacy?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the annotated bibliography of Unseen by Sara Hagerty

Love others sacrificially and boldly

“Only the gospel gives us the security (of union with Christ) to risk reputation and hurt in order to love others sacrificially and boldly.”- Jared C. Wilson

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”- Romans 12:12

Jared Wilson continues Chapter 7 of The Imperfect Disciple with the first three of Nine Irrefutable Laws of Followship.  Furthermore, Pastor Wilson stresses that these laws really are God’s laws – and His promises.

1.  Be Ye Loving.  Left to our own devices, all of us center on our own fulfillment and happiness.  Hence, we’re unable to muster up the energy to love the way we ought to.  In fact, more often than not, we focus on people’s love for us rather than on our love for other people.  Therefore, Pastor Wilson adds:

“Only the gospel orients our love appropriately, because only the gospel reminds us that we are more sinful than we realize . . . and that we are more loved than we know . . .”

2.  Be Ye Joyful.  Although we think of joy as a feeling, Jared notes, the Bible defines joy as “both a command of the law and an implication of the gospel.”  As a result, Jared explains the source of our joy:

“God is not expecting us to muster up happiness in him from the void of some nebulous religions inclinations, from the black hole of our empty emotional reservoir.  He puts the joy inside of us that he demands from us.  What grace!”

3.  Be Ye Peaceful.  Jared notes that the world , set against our peace, wants us desperately afraid.  And the truth is, the author adds, there’s always something to fear.  Also, the more the things of God bore us, the more vulnerable we are to fear when difficulty comes.

However, over time, as we walk with Jesus, we start to see how much He loves us and more of the ways He works in the world.  Jared adds that “the impulse to rest in him becomes more immediate.  The heart’s ‘muscle memory’ toward the gospel gets stronger and quicker.”

Today’s question: What Scriptures empower you to love others sacrificially and boldly?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Impatience – confusion about control”

To neglect communion with God

“Some things may be neglected with but little loss to the spiritual life, but to neglect communion with God is to hurt ourselves where we cannot afford it.”- A. W. Tozer

“May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”- Ephesians 3:19 (NLT)

In John Eldredge’s foreword to Susie Larson’s book  Your Powerful Prayers, he compares giving up on prayer to a solder laying down his arms in the midst of a firefight.  Prayer, Mr. Eldredge adds, “is something you grow into, something you mature in and get better at over time.”  In addition, John adds that prayer’s far more like learning to drive than sneezing.

Thus, as Ms. Larson notes in her introduction, Jesus wants us to be comfortable with, as well as undone by His great love for us. As a result, God’s love and acceptance of us has everything to do with prayer.  Furthermore, Jesus invites us to:

  • know Him more intimately
  • walk with Him more profoundly
  • trust in His Word more confidently

Most importantly, Ms. Larson exhorts, as we get to know God’s love, our life spills with grace, insight, and power.  The author explains:

“If we want to be powerful in prayer, we must spend our lives learning to accept and embrace how fiercely God loves us.  We must continually stand in awe of the fact that Jesus defeated death and sin for us.  And then from there, live our whole lives in response to what Jesus has already accomplished for us.  This is what it means to stop striving and to know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).”

Today’s question: During your desert, land between time, what circumstances cause(d) you to neglect communion with God?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the new Short Meditation, ”

Tomorrow’s blog: “That place where joy and faith collide”

Love — the resetting of broken bones

“As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 21 of The Me I Want to Be as he talks about the final three ways post-traumatic growth occurs.

2.  Adversity can deepen relationships.  Pastor Ortberg states suffering uniquely softens hearts and deepens friendships.  Also, people experiencing deep grief develop a deeper appreciation for other people.  They wake up to how much other people matter.  John explains the relationship of love and hope to grief.  He writes:

“Love is not simply something to be recovered from.  Hope does not mean returning to happiness as soon as possible.  God comes to us in our grief and shares it.  In that shared grief, we find love.”

When God comes to us in our grief and shares that grief, it starts to mingle ever so slightly with hope.

3.  Adversity can change your priorities about what really matters.  Suffering accentuates the folly of chasing after temporal gods.  As a result, the sufferer vows not to return to their previous way of life once things return to normal.  However, the key to accomplishing change involves an active response to the Spirit’s work.

4.  Adversity points us to the Hope beyond ourselves.  When circumstances look bleak, Pastor Ortberg notes, it’s likely we’ll wonder if anything’s going up.  Yes, John answers, the:

  • chance to trust God in difficult circumstances
  • prospect for modeling hope for a hope-needy world
  • possibility of cultivating a storm-proof faith, because Biblical truths remain unchanged

In conclusion, John notes, God remains in the redemption business.  Therefore, God “specializes in bringing something very, very good out of something very, very bad.”

today’s question: What broken bones has love reset for you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Dangerously noncompliant in a broken world”

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”

Our capacity for connectedness

“Part of what it means to be made in God’s image is our capacity for connectedness, because god created human beings and then said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18, TLB).’ “- John Ortberg

In Chapter 16 (“Make Life-Giving Relationships a Top Priority”) of The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg asserts that people nourish your soul.  More than anything else, God uses people to form, or shape, people.  Thus, no interactions between people occur outside of God’s presence.  The Holy Spirit yearns to work personally in every encounter.

Therefore, the word fellowship carriers a much deeper meaning than church basements, punch, and awkward small talk.  Pastor Ortberg defines fellowship as “the flow of rivers of living water between one person and another, and we cannot live without it.”

In fact, John notes, researchers name one specific factor that separates quite happy people from less happy people.  This factor consistently separates the two groups.  That factor, John states, “is the presence of rich, deep, joy-producing, life-changing, meaningful relationships.”  Also, the love of God and other people not only roots us, but also nourishes our souls.

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg stresses, our capacity for connectedness finds its roots in God making us in His image.  Connectedness roots and establishes us in love (Ephesians 3:17).

Conversely, John notes, connectedness isn’t the same as knowing many people.  For we may have many contacts in many networks, but few, if any friends.

When love’s present in your life, that releases you to truly become yourself.  You-ier!

Today’s question: After your vocation loss, what connections help you persevere and maintain hope?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the new Short Meditation, “A vivid point of light from Scripture” (Crown’s 2,000th post)