The whole question of genuine goodness

“Jesus is moving the whole question of genuine goodness from the external to the internal.  He is taking us back to motive.”- John Eldredge

John Eldredge concludes the Winter section of Walking with God as he returns to something very basic to our pursuit of God and the transformation He desires in our lives.  We have a reason, or motive, for everything we do.

Of course, our behavior matters.  However, holiness, Jesus states, is a matter of the heart.  Yet, we consider our approach to life as perfectly justified.  But, John asks, are you willing to take a look at your motives?

Furthermore, God’s known your motives for years.  Still, He remains right there with you!  He’s gracious and patient.  Thus, this honest look at your motives provides you the opportunity for really genuine transformation.  John summarizes:

“Our motives are an essential category to consider when we are learning to walk with God.  As I’m listening for His voice, I’m also watching my own motives. . . . Am I willing to hear anything (emphasis John’s) God wants to say?  As I yield and repent and give over even my personality to God, the lines of communication are opened up.  We grow closer.  Or better, I draw nearer.”

Also, this applies to our past as well.  John states that we might describe inner healing as sanctifying the past.  In the process, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we invite Jesus back into those distant events and relationships as we walk with Him there.  The past shaped much of our hearts and formed most of our deep convictions.

In conclusion, during His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that, rather than external behavior, a higher righteousness comes from the heart.  In other words, Jesus defines true holiness as a condition of your heart.

Today’s question: How does the Holy Spirit inspire your heart toward genuine goodness?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “No greater disaster for the human heart”

Behavior modification versus lasting change

“God is not just after behavior modification (as in, stop it), but real and deep and lasting change.”- John Eldredge

“How blessed is God!  And what a blessing he is!  He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him.  Long before he laid down the earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.”- Ephesians 1:3-4 (MSG)

Today’s blog, from the Summer section of John Eldredge’s Walking with God, focuses on the words whole and holy.  However, John stresses, when you’re following God things may not unfold the way you expect.  Because God’s after both our transformation and our joy.  One hangs upon the other.

In addition, true holiness- real, deep and lasting change- requires the healing of our souls.  Thus, John explains how whole and holy go hand in hand:

“Whole and holy.  The two go hand in hand.  Oh, how important this is.  You can’t find the holiness you want without deep wholeness.  And you can’t find the wholeness you want without deep holiness.”

Another integral part of wholeness and holiness consists of a joyful heart.  Yet, Mr. Eldredge states, joy as a category sometimes seems irrelevant- nice, but unessential.  It often appears that life’s about surviving- and getting a little pleasure.

However, subtle agreements we make erode encounters with joy.  John defines these agreements as:

  • subtle convictions we come to, assent to, give way to, or are raised to assume are true
  • happening deep in our souls where our real beliefs about life form
  • accepting as “truth” what someone tells us simple because it seems so reasonable

Perhaps we settle for relief and don’t even consider joy.  But, as John concludes, joy is the point (emphasis author’s).

Today’s question: Do you seek behavior modification or real, deep, and lasting change?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The bedrock for everything else”

Made for intimacy with God

“We are made for intimacy with God.  He wants intimacy with us.  That intimacy requires communication.  God speaks to His people.”- John Eldredge

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ “- Genesis 3:8-9 (NIV)

As John Eldredge concludes the Prelude section of Walking with God, he states God knows us very intimately (emphasis John’s).  Most importantly, though, God seeks intimacy with us.  Furthermore, John explains how intimacy with God forms the purpose of our lives:

“It’s why God created us.  Not simply to believe in him, though that is a good beginning.  Not only to obey him, through that is a higher life still.  God created us for intimate fellowship with himself, and in doing so established the goal of our existence . . .”

However, our walk with God takes time and practice.  Also, it’s something to be learned- and worth learning.  In addition, John writes, transformation occurs at the juncture where your heart and will meet.  Yet, you don’t possess the strength or responsibility to make life happen on your own.  Since Christ takes it upon Himself to lead, your part is to follow.

In conclusion, John explains the good news of our transformation.  He writes:

“Whatever else might be going on in your life, God always has his eye on your transformation. . . . All of the other things we long for in life — love and friendship, freedom and wholeness, clarity of purpose, all the joy we long for — it all depends on our restoration.”

Thus, in order to be truly happy, we must be whole- holy- restored.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you foster intimacy with God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “When the sheep follow the shepherd”

Holiness with a face

“Jesus is holiness with a face.”- Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

“But we know that when [Christ] appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”- 1 John 3:2

In Chapter 4 (“The Face of Holiness”) of Holiness, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth notes that holiness becomes a burden when we strive and struggle to achieve it on our own.  However, in a book called Christ is All, the author makes the following points:

  • Christ received = holiness begun
  • the Lord Jesus cherished = holiness advancing
  • Christ counted upon as never absent = holiness complete

Therefore, as nineteenth-century missionary John McCarthy explained, abiding and rest make a radical difference:

“Abiding, not striving nor struggling; looking off unto Him; trusting in the love of an almighty Saviour; . . . this is not new, and yet ’tis new to me.”

Apart from the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we cannot produce this transformation on our own.  Furthermore, like working on a jigsaw puzzle, we need constant reminders of how the finished product of our life should look.

God’s given us a picture of how we’ll look when He’s completed His sanctifying, transforming work within us.  That picture?  Jesus.  As Nancy states, “Jesus is holiness with a face.”

In conclusion, the author observes, a pursuit of holiness that’s not Christ-centered leads to bondage rather than liberty.  In addition, pseudo-holiness is unattractive to the world and unacceptable to God.  Oswald Chamber reminds us:

“The one marvelous secret of a holy life lies not in imitating Jesus, but in letting the perfections of Jesus manifest themselves in my mortal flesh.”

Today’s question: How do you see Jesus as holiness with a face?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A pathway to sanctification”

The quantum physics of God

“It’s the quantum physics of God: Your one broken heart always splits God’s hear in two.  You never cry alone.”- Ann Voskamp

In Chapter 4 (“How to Break Your Heart in Two”) of The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp notes that times occur when you forget there’s any light in living or in your soul.  Remembering God’s goodness becomes difficult.  As a result, your brokenness feels like a sealed tomb.  Scar tissue weighs on your soul.  When you forget the face of God, you forget He calls you Beloved.

Only movement and change represent time. Therefore, what you choose to do ultimately must center on Christ and His kingdom to matter at all.  Ann expands this thought:

” . . . it’s the priorities unseen — the prayers, the relationships, the love while doing the work — that hold the meaning, the merit.”

Yet, we struggle to find God’s grace and love in the brokenness and heartbreak of the world.  However, Ann adds, good brokenness grows out of every wound and scar we ever suffer.  Our broken hearts always break the heart of Jesus.  We never cry alone.

Nevertheless, we need courage, coupled with grace, to move forward step by step.  Ann describes the interaction between grace and courage:

” . . . grace swallowed up with courage is elemental to living. . . . Just take the first step.  and then the next step.  Courage is reaching out and taking just a bit of that iron-nail grace. . . . make that hand reach out and  turn on the light.  The way you always find light in the dark is to make your hand reach out.”

Today’s question: How have you applied the quantum physics of God during your desert, transformational journey?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the Thanksgiving Short Meditation, “Honey that blunts the sting”

“Try again. Fail better.”

“Try again.  Try again.  Fail better.”- Samuel Beckett

Pastor Tom Eggebrecht writes in Chapter 9 (“Help People” of Fully and Creatively Alive that the way to improve any relationship involves honoring the other person’s dreams.  Therefore, first determine what the other person wants to do, become, or achieve.  Next, help them do it.  Tom strongly encourages:

“Your help will more than likely mean far more than you’ll ever know.  Help someone today.”

Furthermore, listening to the stories of others- or sharing your own- and retelling them potentially becomes an integral part of one’s own passion or dream.  In Chapter 10 (“Tell a Good Story”), Tom notes that people very often identify with a character’s transformation.

As a result, center on the darkest time in a character’s life.  Then, locate the moment when that person crosses a threshold.  At that point, that person does something they wouldn’t have done otherwise.  Part of getting your message out- and across- necessitates telling your story.

In addition, the author notes, it’s surprising just how many people connect with you when you’re honest about all your failures, warts, and troubles.  They’ll want to hear the next chapter of your story!

In conclusion, Tom exhorts us to move forward and take the next step:

“So go ahead and live it [the next chapter].  Then tell it: through your art . . . a blog . . . your website . . . through any means possible.  People need what you have to give.  People want to cheer you on. . . to participate in your transformation . . . to feel like they have a stake in it.  So let them in.  Let them listen.  Let them help.”

Today’s question: Following your ministry downsizing or vocation loss, how have you learned to fail better?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The help of other people”

 

The grace to remain strong

“Resilience . . . the grace to remain strong after going through something that almost breaks you.”- Ron Luce

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”- Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)

Ron Luce, president and founder of Teen Mania Ministries, wrote Resilience in response to a plane crash that took the lives of four young men.  Two of the men were ministry staff members and friends of his daughter Hannah, the sole survivor of the crash.  Furthermore, thirty percent of Hannah’s body received third-degree burns.  In addition, her lungs had been burned.

During times of tragedy and adversity, as Christians, we know that:

  • Jesus loves us
  • one day, Jesus will comfort every heart and dry every tear
  • we’ll be with Him forever

However, Ron personally points out, those facts seem of little help to those suffering intense grief.  So, the author asks, how do Christians respond when circumstances careen out of control and we no longer comprehend what’s going on?  Such uncomfortable situations block us from making much sense of those situations.

Unless we prepare ourselves for these moments and develop the steel backbone needed to take us through them, our response may be toxic.  Mr. Luce summarizes:

“All too often when those things happen, people slide off the end of their faith and back into the world’s ways.  They get mad at God and give up on Him.  Their anger turns to resentment and even full-blown rebellion.”

As a result, Ron emphasizes, it becomes imperative to build or reinforce our foundation on Jesus before life hits us in the face.

Today’s question:  What Bible verses give you the grace to remain strong during your desert, transformational time?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Feel-good Christianity” (the second of four excerpts from this book)

 

The faith factor

As June Hunt concludes Chapter 11 of How to Forgive, she discusses the faith factor as it relates to dealing with suffering.  Ms. Hunt states that whether we succeed in turning blame and bitterness into healing and hope “depends on our willingness to exercise our faith in God, to trust Him, even when we must draw upon every ounce of energy and hold on to the thinnest of threads.”

June notes that sometimes we need to take the apostle Paul’s comforting words of Romans 8:28 by faith:

“We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

It is possible we may never understand God’s higher purpose for our suffering or get to see our pain bear fruit.  As the author points out, that’s easy enough to say when you’re at a safe difference from suffering.  In other words, it’s easier to recite Romans 8:28 than to apply it.

Ms. Hunt emphasizes the importance of our attitude toward God when we’re in the midst of suffering:

Blaming God for our suffering looks back and focuses on our pain.  Trusting God looks forward and focuses on His plan.”

Diamonds, the hardest know natural substance in the world, take years of intense pressure and high temperatures for the carbon to transform itself into a beautiful, valued gem.  Similarly, the Master Jeweler preplanned how He will use the heat and pressure of injustice in your life- unless the rugged rocks of resentment in your heart interfere with His handiwork, stalling the process of transformation.  June adds:

“As you dig deep to remove those rocks and hand them to the Redeemer, He will cut and craft them into dazzling diamonds.  They then become a shining testimony of His purpose through pain- no longer do they remain diamonds in the rough.”

Today’s question: How does the faith factor support your response to the pain and suffering of your vocation loss?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Forgiving ourselves”

Innocent as doves

“Be . . . as innocent as doves.”- Matthew 10:16

“What the world needs is not simply isolated outward deeds but transformed character from within.”- John Ortberg

John Ortberg concludes Chapter 6 of All the Places to Go by discussing the final dimension of wholehearted threshold crossing: “Be . . . innocent as doves.”  Pastor Ortberg observes that doves are to the bird world what sheep are to the animal world.  Doves are considered quite innocent.

John emphasizes that we must allow God to work on our character.  The main thing we take into the world is who we are, not the things we do.  The author reports that when author and teacher Brennan Manning was ordained a priest, he was given this blessing, focusing on the innocence of a child:

“May your expectations all be frustrated,

May all your plans be thwarted,

May all of your desires be withered into nothingness,

That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and can sing and dance in the love of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Pastor Ortberg notes that on the third day Jesus went through the final open door that led to death’s defeat and the triumph of hope.  While none of the Gospel writer recorded how Jesus crossed that threshold, John believes Jesus didn’t limp or trudge wearily.  John thinks Jesus hopped, and may be hopping still!

Today’s question: Following your vocation loss, how is your character being transformed from within?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The truth about you”

 

 

 

Braced for the future

Davesenpic0005“Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”- Colossians 2:6-7

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”- Confucius

My freshman year at Luther High School South in Chicago brought new academic as well as orthodontic challenges.  Throughout my grade school years my front teeth angled outward so severely that using them to bite an apple was futile.  Additionally, after my remaining baby teeth were pulled, a 1/4″- 1/2″ gap existed between my upper/lower canines and molars.  Incremental tightenings during the next several years straightened my front teeth and eliminated the gap (finished product on display in senior picture).  The change was so dramatic that my orthodontist once took my before/after molds to an orthodontic convention.  I vividly remember the day my braces came off and I was fitted with a retainer.  On my way home I made one purchase at the neighborhood IGA- a pack of Adam’s Sour Orange gum!

Those small, imperceptible adjustments transformed the alignment of my teeth, anchoring them in place.  I was braced for the future through consistent application of orthodontic techniques.  As Proverbs 21:5 (The Message) states: “Careful planning puts you ahead in the long run; hurry and scurry puts you farther behind.”

Jeff Manion devotes Chapter 14 of The Land Between to the concept of incremental growth, defined as the “kind of gradual growth [that] often occurs as a result of a consistent spiritual diet accompanied by a responsive heart.”  Such gradual growth is capable of producing powerful life changes.  Incremental growth:

1.  works to fend off spiritual drift

2.  steadily aligns our hearts with God’s heart

3.  enables us to respond to God’s transformational work with trust and cooperation forged through daily obedience

When the crashing waves of vocation loss threaten to sweep us away, these gradual changes in our faith sustain and transform us, as Pastor Manion writes:

“It is in saying yes to God again and again when little seems at stake that we prepare our hearts to say yes to God when everything is at stake.  In this way, steady, incremental growth prepares the heart for extreme disruption- not just to weather these seasons but, in the midst of them, to be transformed.”