In times of immunity from care

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while, ‘Is this the condition that I feared?‘  It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress.”- Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher, Moral Letters to Lucillius

Brian Jones concludes Chapter 8 of Finding Favor as he notes God responds to our requests for His favor in one of two ways.  First, God responds through provision for our financial needs.  Just as often, though, God responds by making us poorer.  Thus, poverty signals God’s favor as much as wealth.

As a result, Pastor Jones wants us to consider two truths:

1.  The more we consume, the more in bondage we are.  Consequently, as author Joshua Becker notes on his website,

  • the average American home contains 300,000 items (LA Times)
  • over the past 50 years, the average size of an American homes has tripled (NPR)
  • 10% of all Americans rent offsite storage

Even without considering what the Bible says, a visit to most other countries reveals something wrong with the typical American lifestyle.  In addition, times of immunity from care:

  • toughen the soul for times of greater stress
  • help us gain perspective and feel freedom
  • separate our perception of blessing from the consumption of material possessions

2.  The less we own, the more freedom we have.  Rather than giving us freedom, our glut of possessions steals freedom from us.  As Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve God and money.”  And, as Pastor Jones astutely observes:  “Anxiety comes when you try.”

Today’s question: How do times of immunity from care fortify you for occasions of greater stress?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A specific, tangible sign of divine confirmation”

A concrete block of guilt in the soul

“There is a guilt that sits in the soul like a concrete block and causes a person to feel bad for being alive.  There is  guilt that says, I did bad.  And then there is a guilt that concludes, I am bad (emphasis author’s).”- Max Lucado

“That evening [Adam and Eve] heard the sound of God walking in the garden; and they hid themselves among the trees.’- Genesis 2:25 (TLB)

In Chapter 3 (“Rejoice in the Lord’s Mercy”) of Anxious for Nothing, Max Lucado notes that while guilt frenzies the soul, grace calms it.  Whether guilt results from a moment or a season of life, a harsh consequence occurs.  Anxiety.

However, Pastor Lucado stresses, we must go deeper than the typical list of anxiety triggers.  As Max wryly states: “Guilt drove the truck, but anxiety bounced in the flatbed.”  And just as Adam and Eve didn’t know how to process their failure, neither do we.  Therefore, Pastor Lucado describes nine sophisticated ways (as opposed to hiding in the bushes) that we process our guilt.   Max discusses the first four ways today,

  1. Numb it.  Alcohol, drugs, affairs – all ways to numb guilt.  Yet, as Pastor Lucado underscores, while guilt disappears during happy hour, it reappears when we get home.
  2. Deny it.  When we deny, we pretend we never stumbled at all.  Furthermore, we concoct a plan to cover up our bad choice and then sustain it with lies.  Thus, our goal becomes prolonging the charade as long as possible.
  3. Minimize it.  Rather than admit our sin, we rationalize it.  We just (a) lost our way; (b) got caught up in the moment; (c) took the wrong path; or (d) experienced a lapse in judgment.
  4. Bury it.  Here we keep ourselves busy in order to bury the problem.  As Max humorously observes, “The busier we stay, the less time we spend with the people we have come to dislike ourselves.”

Today’s question: What concrete block of guilt weighs down your soul?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Grace restores life to our souls”

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”


Quiet — think tank of the soul

“Quiet is a think tank of the soul.”- Gordon Hempton, acoustic ecologist

“You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”- Psalm 32:7

Mark Batterson concludes Chapter 1 of Whisper with the observation that “God often speaks loudest when we’re quietest.”  Hence, Pastor Batterson cites “The List of the Last Great Quiet Places,” compiled for the last 30+ years by Gordon Hempton.  The list consists of places offering at least fifteen minutes of uninterrupted quiet time during daylight hours.  At last count, only twelve such quiet places existed in the United States.

As a result, due to our hearing problems (the spiritual Tomatis effect), it’s critical that we hear God’s whisper.  When white noise distracts us, God’s whisper quiets, calms, and stills us.  In fact, since white noise contains every frequency, it’s especially difficult to hear the still small voice of God.  Furthermore, we lose our sense of being when our lives get loud – noise filling every frequency.

Consequently, English poet John Donne once said that “I neglect God and his angels, for the noise of a fly.  The solution?  Stillness. Specifically, God’s still small voice.

However, we cannot equate silence with passive waiting.  Rather, it’s proactive listening.  Henri Nouwen once described silence as an act of war against competing voices inside us.  Yet, each day we seek Him,  God’s voice grows louder until He’s all we can hear.  Henri states:

“Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply.”

Therefore, Pastor Batterson notes, silence is the difference between:

  • sight and insight
  • happiness and joy
  • fear and faith

In conclusion, Mark asserts, there’s something even more important and powerful than talking to God in prayer.  That’s listening to God.  For listening transforms a monologue into a dialogue.  Exactly what God wants.

Today’s question: How does quiet foster a think tank of your soul?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Our soft spot – where God often speaks to us”

My place at the table – a need deep in the human soul

“There’s just something deep in the human soul that says, ‘I need to have my place at the table.”- John Ortberg

In the Introduction  (“Table for One”) of I’d Like you More If You Were More Like Me, John Ortberg states when he thinks of love, he thinks of a table.  Of Swedish descent, Pastor Ortberg notes that, for Swedes, a table = the primary love language.

Furthermore, John observes, many life-shaping moments occur around a table.  Also, at tables people tend to sit in the same places.  Because deep in our soul, we need to have our place at the table.  That means we belong.  We possess an identity.  John explains:

“For me, a table is a reminder that what really matters in life is relationships.  We are hardwired for emotional connection to other people.  We want to be known. . . . crave being loved. . .  to be accepted by someone who is completely aware of our gifts and our flaws and yet wants to be with us anyway.  In short, we crave intimacy.”

Yet, a lot of people consider intimacy a scary concept.  As a result, they strongly react to it.  Consequently, Pastor Ortberg presents four beliefs about why people fear intimacy.  John discusses the first two beliefs today.  We fear intimacy because:

  1. we’re afraid of hurtful actions.  Intimacy implies that someone knows us.  Therefore, that person knows our strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and fears.  In turn, an intimate friend possesses the options to bond and draw closer – or shame, wound, or betray.
  2. it can set us up for disappointment.  If you desire closeness with someone, you come to depend on their friendship or need their love.  Thus, rejection or abandonment wounds you to the core.  You feel like a fool for trusting your friend.

Today’s question: What Bible verses enable you to find your place at the table?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Intimacy – a fierceness that distance will never know”

Difficult people in our life – become the best version of you

“We all have difficult people in our life, but hear this: God can use them to help you become the best version of you — maybe even more than the people you like.”- John Ortberg

In Chapter 18 (“Find a Few Difficult People to Help You Grow”) of The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg observes that other people don’t create your spirit.  In fact, if God desires to grow some quality in you, He may bring someone into your life who tempts you to behave the opposite way.

Although we always hope God plans on giving us a life without difficult people, God used difficult people to mold many great Biblical characters.  For example, Moses had Pharaoh and David had Saul.  Pastor Ortberg explains:

“If God loves you and wants to shape you, he will send some difficult people your way.  But take heart.  You are the difficult person he is sending to shape somebody else.  If we can learn to have rivers of living water still flowing through us in these relationships, we will be unstoppable.”

Furthermore, John notes, people impact our lives in one of two ways.  The either energize us or drain us.  Life-bringers:

  • increase our energy
  • deepen our hope
  • add to our joy
  • call out the best in us

In contrast, life-drainers (a) add to our anxiety and (b) invite us to cynicism.  As a result, we find ourselves becoming defensive, depressed, or exasperated.

Since only God can touch the deepest place of another’s soul, prayer provides the only way to influence people at their deepest level.  In prayer, John states, we go with God into another person’s soul.  The space between you and your enemy = the space where love grows.  And love is the only way to live.

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg tells us there’s a quarter-second gap between when an impulse takes place in your brain and when that action takes place in your body.  That’s enough time for the Holy Spirit to take control.  Remember, every difficult person is a real person with their own story.

Today’s question: Do you surround yourself with life-energizers or life-drainers?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “When you discover your strengths”

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)

Hear any soul beeping sounds?

“Do you hear any beeping sounds there [your soul]?”- John Ortberg

“Who can discern his errors?  Forgive my hidden faults.  Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.”- Psalm 19:12-13

In Chapter 14 (“When You Find Yourself Out of the Flow”) of The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg asserts that we all need outside help to see our soul.  In one sense, Pastor Ortberg points out, you know yourself better than anyone else on the planet.  However, you also know yourself worse.

A book titled Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me),written by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, charts the deceptive mental tricks we play on ourselves.  John lists three of those deceptive tricks:

  1. Self-serving bias.  Succinctly stated, we claim too much credit and too little blame.
  2. Fundamental attribution error.  Your bad behavior results from your flawed character.  However, you attribute your bad behavior to extraordinarily trying circumstances.
  3. Confirmation bias.  We listen to experts who espouse opinions that agree with our commitments.  On the other hand, we ignore or discount contrary evidence.

One evening John and his wife Nancy woke up to a loud beeping sound.  Although John solved the initial problem by removing the smoke detector battery, Nancy cautioned that there could be a fire somewhere in the house.

The next morning Nancy called John at an early morning breakfast meeting because . . . the house was on fire!!  Turns out a few ‘delinquent birds’ built a nest inside the chimney casing.  As a result, the smoldering fire behind the wall set off the smoke detector.

In conclusion, John explains what we need to do when we hear soul beeping sounds.  He writes:

“Guilt is not my enemy.  Sin, which blocks off life, is my enemy.  The Spirit will often bring a sense of conviction, and when he does, the best response is not to suppress the guilt, but to get out of bed, take a look around the house, and put out the fire before it does more damage.”

Today’s question: What soul beeping sounds require your attention?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The diligence of our own scrutiny”

In the flow of the Spirit – sin looks bad

“When I am in the flow of the Spirit, sin looks bad and God looks good.  When I experience gratitude, contentment, and satisfaction deep in my soul, there is a good chance it is the Spirit flowing within.”- John Ortberg

“Do not quench the Spirit.”- 1 Thessalonians 5:19 (ESV)

As John Ortberg concludes Chapter 3 of The Me I Want to Be, he notes that when we’re in the flow of the Spirit, we’re increasingly filled with the fruit of the Spirit.  In addition, that fruit continues to grow.  John explains how to make ourselves available:

“The Spirit is available to whisper to us thoughts of love and joy and peace and patience every moment of our life.  Right now.  All we have to do is stop, ask, and listen (emphasis John’s).”

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit never just flows in us.  The Holy Spirit also flows through us.  Through that process, others flourish as well.  Writing in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, the apostle Paul issues a simple command.  In a sense, John observes, that’s all we need to do: “Do not quench the Spirit.”  Stated another way, our only job involves staying out of the Holy Spirit’s way.

Therefore, as we live out life, we either (1) do things that open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s influence or (2) do things that close ourselves off to the Spirit.

Thus, the more we form our habits around resentment, anxiety, greed, or superiority, the more often we quench the Spirit.  To re-form habits takes time and patience.  But, the Holy Spirit remains tenacious.  John concludes:

“All that is needed in any moment is a sincere desire to be submitted to the Spirit’s response; a sincere heart never needs to fear that God is upset.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses keep you in the flow of the Spirit?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “You are not God’s appliance, but His masterpiece”

Battle between a flourishing self and a languishing self

“Inside your soul there is a battle between a flourishing self — the person you were created to be — and a languishing self.”- John Ortberg

As John Ortberg concludes Chapter 1 of The Me I Want to Be, he notes it’s humbling you can’t be anything you want.  In humility, accept yourself as God’s gift to you.  Also, accept the task God sets before you to become that person.  Yet, within your soul, your flourishing self and languishing self battle.  Thus, John’s book center on this battle as it “moves from deep inside you to a world waiting on God’s redemption.”

Next, Pastor Ortberg describes five steps on this journey, or movement.

1.  Spirit.  The journey begins here as your spirit becomes empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Flourishing- defined as connecting with the Spirit of God-  is available 24/7.  When your spirit flourishes, you feel most fully alive, filled with purpose for living, and drawn to put on virtue and cast off sin.

2.  Mind.  Joy and peace mark the mental life of your flourishing self.  In addition, you demonstrate curiosity and a love of learning.  Consequently, when negative emotions rise, you take them as your cues to act.

In contrast, unease and discontent mark the languishing self.  Because bad habits anesthetize pain, you’re drawn to them.  Furthermore, your thoughts drift to fear or anger and you spend lots of time thinking about yourself.

3.  Time.  Flourishing also transforms your time.  You greet each morning with a sense of expectancy.  Also, you receive each moment as a God-filled gift.

4.  Relationships.  You find others to be a source of wonder and you listen deeply.  In addition, others often bring you energy.  On the other hand, your languishing self often is troubled.  You’re undisciplined in what you say.  And you isolate, dominate, attack, or withdraw.

5.  Experiences.  God changes your experiences as He grows you.  He desires to use you in His plan to redeem the world.  As a result, you live with a sense of calling and show resilience in suffering.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you win the battle between your flourishing self and your languishing self?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the annotated bibliography of Walking with God: How to Hear His Voice