The soil of community – a guardrail

“The soil of community is absolutely essential to God’s process of growth in our lives. . . .  community is the other guardrail, along with Scripture, that keeps us on track while we grow as leaders in the body of Christ and in the world.”- Banning Liebscher

“David departed from [Gath] and escaped to the cave of Adullam.  And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him.  And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him.”- 1 Samuel 22:1-2 (ESV)

In Chapter 11 (“When Fish Swim Alone”) of Rooted, Banning Liebscher states what David learned in the soil of community.  That soil taught David the value and strength that comes through relationships.  However, our Western culture celebrates individualism.  As a result, we possess a steeper learning curve when it comes to the issue of community.

Most noteworthy, Sara Lanier, a Youth with a Mission (YWAM) worker, offers her take on cultural differences between warm and cold climates.  She explores the topic in her book Foreign to Familiar.

Cold-climate cultures:

  • tend to be more individualistic in thinking as well as their approach to life
  • as a rule exhibit more task-driven behavior
  • core value – truth matters more than anything else

Warm-climate cultures:

  • communal
  • more relaxed
  • core value – relationships matter more than truth

Therefore, Banning observes, it can be quite difficult for those of us steeped in Western culture to develop our root system in the soil of community.  And, the author stresses, Jesus said plenty about the value of community and relationships in His kingdom.  Thus, it’s clear that Jesus’ message is in the heart of God.  To honor and follow Jesus, we must emulate His passion for community.

Today’s question: How has God strengthened your roots in the soil of community?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Christianity in the context of community”

The joy of Jesus remains -experience a deep truth

“The joy of Jesus remains in your life and your joy becomes full when you are serving others.  This isn’t just a nice idea; it’s a deep truth you can experience.”- Banning Liebscher

“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”- John 15:11 (NKJV)

As Banning Liebscher continues Chapter 10 of Rooted, he asserts that to mature as believers reflecting the Father’s heart, we must allow God to teach us in “It’s not about me” situations. And while humbling experiences tend to be less than joyful, they serve to remind us true joy comes through serving others.  In addition, humbling experiences provide opportunities to gain more of the Father’s heart.

Next, Pastor Liebscher discusses the second reward of serving, the joy of Jesus that remains.  That joy stands in stark contrast to the prevailing cultural lie that joy’s found in self-fulfillment.  However, as Banning astutely observes:

” . . . a mindset defined by selfishness and the fear of lack cannot lead to joy or happiness; it only leads to more restlessness and dissatisfaction. . . .  The most joyful people I know are also the greatest servants I know.”

Furthermore, the author explains, serving also functions as a place of safety,  That’s because whenever we align ourselves with Jesus, we avoid stepping into spiritual danger zones.  Also, safety – the third reward of serving – offers protection as it positions us for God to add increased blessing, responsibility, and influence.  Therefore, this increase won’t crush us.  Yet, Pastor Liebscher believes, many people fail to walk in all God has for them.  If God released it to them, they’d be hurt.  Thus, it’s essential to position our lives alongside Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served.

Today’s question: How does the joy of Jesus manifest itself in your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Exalting ourselves – the destructive effect”

Entering environments where God’s moving

“It’s common for people to enter environments where God is moving and to feel uncomfortable. . . .  Your comfort level should not be the thing that determines whether you can believe something is of God or not.”- Banning Liebscher

As Banning Liebscher continues Chapter 6 of Rooted, he underscores that Jesus not only wants, but expects us to know Him through the Scriptures.  And a sure sign that His word abides in us is that we search the Scriptures.  For example, consider the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Rather than tell the disciples the women at the tomb were right, Jesus scolded them for their unbelief.  Thus, Jesus wanted them to recognize Him based on the Scriptures.

Furthermore, Pastor Liebscher asserts, neither feeling nor popular opinion determine truth in (a) our lives or (b) society.  For Scripture sustains the roots of truth, not our feelings or opinions.  Yet, we must value connecting to God emotionally.  Also, the Lord speaking to us carries an emotional component.

However, every aspect of our experience must be tested as well as understood through the lens of Scripture.  Most noteworthy, Banning emphatically states, “What we imagine God to be like shouldn’t come into the conversation.”

Therefore, we need a sure foundation when rains, floods, and wind assault us.  Hence, Pastor Liebscher explains:

“Life is going to be full of discomfort and uncertainty. . . .  The only way we will withstand such pressures is by having our foundations solidly build, our roots firmly planted, is knowing and doing the Scriptures. That is the only rock we can stand on in the swirl of conflicting emotions and perceptions.”

In conclusion, Banning observes that rooting ourselves in the Scriptures:

  • helps us stand on the firm foundation of truth instead of relying on our thoughts and emotions
  • bring correction and order to our internal world.  As a result, our thoughts and emotions in time come to reflect that truth.

Today’s question: How would you describe your comfort level when entering environments where God’s moving?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Under the authority of Scripture”

Your soulprint – the truest thing about you

“Your soulprint . . .[is] the truest thing about you.  It’s your God-ordained passion, your God-given gifts, and your God-sized dreams.  It’s the potential that can be tapped only in a relationship with the One who gave it to you in the first place.”- Mark Batterson

As Mark Batterson concludes Chapter 9 of Whisper, he discusses the fourth quadrant of the Johari window.

4.  The unknown quadrant.  This final quadrant consists of things you don’t know about you as well as thing others don’t know about you (emphasis author’s).  As your soulprint and thus the truest thing about you, you need to seek God in order to discover your true self.  While Jesus knows our sinful nature, He also sees our potential.  And He treats us accordingly.  Although we write people off, Jesus writes people in.

In conclusion, Pastor Batterson presents five ground rules for the fifth love language.  Because this language involves people, it’s complicated and subject to misinterpretation:

  • No one is above rebuke.  Mark encourages you to give someone you trust permission to speak truth into your life.  And listen very carefully when that person says something you don’t want to hear.
  • Don’t let an arrow of criticism pierce your heart unless it first passes through the filter of Scripture.  As Mark astutely observes: “If you live off compliments, you’ll probably die by criticisms.”  So, if something fails the Scriptural filter test, throw it out.  But if it passes the test, repent.
  • Think long and hard before you dish out advice.  The primary reason we fail to hear what others have to say occurs because we’re already formulating our response while they’re talking.
  • Always encourage before you correct.   That’s the pattern found in the book of Revelation.  So, Mark advises, if you’re going to err on one side or the other, make sure you err on the side of positivity.
  • Conversations get tougher the longer you wait.  Don’t say something just to get if off your chest.  It’ll backfire.  Grace and truth fill genuine relationships.

Today’s question: Have you identified your soulprint?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “An internal clock that perceives God’s promptings”

Overcoming self-defeating dimensions of personality

“The only way to overcome these self-defeating dimensions of our personalities is ruthless self-discovery.  And it’s so much more than self-help.”- Mark Batterson

“Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.”- John Calvin

As Mark Batterson continues Chapter 9 of Whisper, he discusses the third quadrant of the Johari window.

3.  The blind spot quadrant.  Pastor Batterson stresses that this quadrant consists of those things you don’t know about you but others know about you (emphasis author’s).  As Mark quips: “This is getting ready to go on stage with your barn door open.  You need someone in your life who loves you enough to say what needs to be said: ‘Zip it up!’ ”

Therefore, we need spiritual fathers and mothers who’ve been there and done that.  In addition, we need friends to speak the truth in love.  And we need accountability partners to call us on the carpet as well as remind us we were born for so much more.

In fact, Pastor Batterson states, all of us possess a literal blind spot.  It occurs at the place where the optic nerve passes through the optic disk.  However, we rarely notice our blind spots.  Because, based on visual clues, our brains adeptly fill in the blanks.  But it’s also the place we’re most susceptible to errors in judgment, information, and understanding.

Furthermore, it’s why the fifth language – people – is so critical.  We develop blind spots if we don’t receive wise counsel from others.  And these blind spots = spiritual weak spots.  When wise friends speak the truth to us in love, the right word at the right time contains the power to open our eyes.

In conclusion, Mark underscores, there’s often a fine line between healthy and holy manifestations of our personalities and unhealthy, unholy ones.  As a result, we need people full of grace and truth to help us navigate that line.  And to hold us accountable when we cross it.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you overcome self-defeating dimensions of your personality?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “All a work in progress”

The reason we are more than we know

“The reason we are more than we know is because God is greater than we can imagine.”- Susie Larson

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life.  It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’  God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.  We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.  And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us — an unbelievable inheritance.”- Romans 8:15-16 (MSG)

In Chapter 4 (“Dare to Pray and Say What’s True”) of Your Powerful Prayers, Susie Larson discusses God’s invitation to trust Him.  God wants us to trust Him with:

  1. the surface parts of ourselves we find difficult to acknowledge
  2. the deepest parts still needing healing and wholeness

Thus, we first, through the power of the Holy Spirit, dare to believe.  In other words, we appropriate God’s truth.  Then we walk and talk that truth.

Yet, Ms. Larson notes, as we walk through life, we find ourselves in storms that smash against us.  And whether those storms are self-made, natural elements of a fallen world, or the result of someone else’s rotten choices, sometimes we respond in ways beneath our dignity.  In addition, the author notes, Satan just loves to see us sulk in our humanity.  During such times, Ms. Larson observes, it helps if we remind our souls that we:

  • love because Christ first loved us
  • walk in God’s promises
  • enjoy His presence because He’s the one who invited us there in the first place
  • can and will be used greatly by Him- Jesus planned ahead of time to redeem us from our frailties

Today’s question: What Scriptures enable you and others to realize the reason we’re more than we know?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Live in the reality of God’s love”

Satan’s modus operandi- set up shop in unhealed places

“This is Satan’s modus operandi —  to seize upon our trials, weaknesses, or unhealed places and magnify them and try to set up shop there.”- John Eldredge

Continuing in the Fall section of Walking with God, John Eldredge states that our story of love puts us in such a vulnerable place.  Rather than deal with it or sort through it, we prefer to keep our distance.  Perhaps, John posits, that’s why God needs to sneak up on us.

We’d love it if God simply left us alone to get on with life.  But God, in His loving kindness, says no.  Because we leave ourselves all too vulnerable when we refuse to deal with the deep things of our hearts.

Therefore, that’s all it takes to attract Satan.  As John notes, “demons smell our struggles like sharks smell blood in the water.”  Thus, we live in a dangerous world.  Consequently, God’s so insistent we deal with the unhealed and unholy places in our souls.  He’s acutely aware of our vulnerable state.

As a result, what we need at such times is the truth- objective, everlasting truth about God’s love.  So, we must turn to the Scriptures.  However, Mr. Eldredge observes, at times we don’t accept the truth of the Scriptures because that truth doesn’t align with what we’re feeling at the moment.  John describes this as an arrogant posture- letting our immediate state of mind judge whether or not Scripture rings true for us.

Rather, our starting point must be the truth of God’s Word.  We need to embrace it and stake our all on it.  Then, we’ll experience Scripture’s truthfulness.  Sometimes immediately.  Sometimes down the road.

Today’s question: What Bible verses block Satan’s modus operandi from setting up shop in your heart?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Listening to God on behalf of another”

Hope comes in two flavors

Brigid Bazlen, age 14, as the Blue Fairy on WGN-TV, 1958

“We all hope, but hope comes in two flavors- hoping  for something and hoping in someone.”- John Ortberg, Know Doubt

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump:  for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”- 1 Corinthians 15:52 (KJV)

It’s almost 7:30 pm on a chilly Monday evening in 1958.  While parents watch in an adjoining room, a studio technician escorts me and five other youngsters to our seats- oversized mushrooms in The Blue Forest.  At 7:30, The Blue Fairy, suspended by wires, flies above the forest, saying: “I’m the Blue Fairy.  I’ll grant you a wish to make all your dreams come true.”  Resplendent in her blue gown and diamond tiara, Brigid Bazlen clasps a silver wand.  After descending to the forest floor, she asks each of us a question: “What is your favorite zoo animal?”

In 1958, WGN-TV, then located in the Prudential Building, produced two color programs- The Blue Fairy and Garfield Goose & Friend.  Although only televised in the Chicago area, The Blue Fairy won the Peabody Award for best children’s programming that year.  The award catapulted the series- and Brigid- to national attention.  Brigid later appeared in King of Kings (1961) as Salome and in the soap opera Days of Our Lives (1972).

Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister George MacDonald (1824-1905) once wrote: “Anything large enough for a wish to light upon, is large enough to hang a prayer upon.”  Yet, as John Ortberg points out, we must recognize the truth that one day every thing we hope for eventually disappoints us.  That’s why hope comes in two flavors.  Therefore, through the power of the Holy Spirit, faith requires:

  • belief- what we do with our minds
  • commitment- what we do with our wills
  • hope- what we do in our hearts

Furthermore, Pastor Ortberg suggests, our wishes reveal something true about why we exist and the reason God created us.  And Frederick Buechner echoed these thoughts when he stated that “sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on.  Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.”

Three-day stories-  Jesus’ death and resurrection, for example- demonstrate (1) desperate need and anticipation and (2) hope hanging by a thread.  Although that hope comes in two flavors, only one flavor transforms your soul, rather than reducing Jesus to a heavenly meal ticket.  John Ortberg explains:

“What got released on Sunday was hope.  Not hope that life would turn out well.  Not even hope that there will be life after death.  Hope that called people to die: die to selfishness and sin and fear and greed, die to the lesser life of a lesser self so that a greater self might be born.  And many people did.  This hope changed things.”

Year-round resident

“The Holy Spirit is a year-round resident in the hearts of his children.  As God’s story becomes our story, his power becomes our power.”- Max Lucado

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”- Ephesians 1:13

Max Lucado begins Chapter 7 (“Power Moves In”) of More to Your Story with a question.  If the Holy Spirit’s power becomes our power, why do we suffer from power failures?  In other words, we depend on God’s power to save, but not sustain, us.

Furthermore, Pastor Lucado cites the apostle Paul’s words to the Galatians to support his contention.  Hence, writing in Galatians 3:3, Paul states: “After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”

Therefore, Max states, to walk in the Spirit you must be sensitive to and respond to the promptings God gives you.  As a result, you must learn to:

  • wait
  • be silent
  • listen for the Holy Spirit’s voice
  • cherish stillness
  • sensitize yourself to the Holy Spirit’s touch

In conclusion, Pastor Lucado exhorts us to lock into God’s power:

“The same hand that pushed the rock from the tomb can shove away your doubt.  The same power that stirred the still heart of Christ can stir your flagging faith.  The same strength that put Satan on his heals can, and will, defeat Satan in your life.  Just keep the power supply open.”

Today’s question: What Scriptures enable the Holy Spirit to be a year-round resident in your heart?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A season of blocked doors”

Our Christian colors

Mr. Henning astride his 1917 vintage Choo-Choo Car

Mr. Henning astride his 1917 vintage Choo-Choo Car

“We must show our Christian colors if we are to be true to Jesus Christ.”- C. S. Lewis

“Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”- Psalm 25:5

Throughout my 22-year Lutheran elementary teaching ministry, whole family ministry constituted one of my core philosophies.  While teaching third grade at Northwest Lutheran School, I had a student named Abby.  Maddy, Abby’s sister, attended K-4 at Northwest.  Three-year-old Robby tagged along with mom on her chauffeuring duties.

One day Robby arrived at school with a monkey his parents purchased at Build-A-Bear.  Struggling to keep a straight face, mom shared the following story.  When the time came name his monkey, mom suggested an obvious choice from kiddie lit- Curious George.  Robby, however, immediately interjected with his own selection- “No!  Mr. Henning!”

John Ortberg, via conversation with Dallas Willard, describes the soul as the deepest, or core, part of you.  Furthermore, both the Old and New Testaments consider the word soul synonymous with the whole person.  However, when your soul suffers from “sinkhole syndrome” caused by your vocation loss, your soul quickly becomes un-centered.

In addition, Pastor Ortberg describes five indicators of an un-centered soul.  A soul without a center:

  • finds making a decision difficult; indecisive with regard to resisting temptation or making sacrifices
  • feels constantly vulnerable to people or circumstances; resultant exhaustion requires “re-souling”
  • lacks patience; always in a hurry to be someplace else
  • is easily thrown, no matter how hard you try to hang on
  • locates its identity and sense of control in externals; losing those externals equates with loss of identity

Although external circumstances may cause disappointment, John emphasizes, Scriptural truths keep your soul centered in the very heart of God.  If anything, those external circumstances draw you closer to Jesus.

In Waiting on God, Wayne Stiles points out that the tough parts of the Christian life list as required courses, not electives.  Consequently, we encounter difficulty when we interpret our Christianity as we want it, not as God reveals it.  As a result, God allows us to reconcile reality with His truth so we can be like Christ.

Especially relevant, our sovereign God never asks whether or not we’d prefer to experience our vocation loss.  He does, however, promise to be with us as we discover the path He lights step by step, displaying our Christian colors.  In conclusion, Dr. Stiles encourages:

“God is with us.  Often that truth is all we know.  He is with us, not to answer our questions but to comfort us as he takes us to a place that teaches us to trust him by forcing us to do so. . . . At the outset, we never would have chosen those strange gaps of God’s sovereignty in our lives.  But in the end, we never would have missed them.”