Category Archives: Priorities

Soul Rest… by John Ortberg

John OrtbergIn my early 50s I was given a sabbatical: seven weeks with nothing to do. The elders at our church invited me to take it. Actually, they insisted that I take it. I needed it because I was becoming increasingly frustrated and impatient and preoccupied. I felt as if I had too much to do and not enough time or ability to do it. I was obsessed with the external things that needed to be done around me. I was operating on the unspoken assumption that my inner world would be filled with life, peace and joy once my external world was perfect. That’s a great recipe for a healthy soul, as long as you live in a perfect world.

During my sabbatical, it was easy to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life,” as my friend and mentor Dallas Willard had so wisely counseled. I found myself thinking that I’m a better person when I’m on sabbatical than I am when I’m working for God at a church, and I knew that was just plan wrong. I began to form a new goal: I want to be as relaxed as I am on vacation while being as productive as I am at work.

There was only one place to learn about that. So I drove to Box Canyon. I had a whole day to spend with Dallas. I told him that I felt frustrated because the people at the church I served were not changing more. I asked him what I needed to do to help our church experience greater levels of spiritual growth.

Long pause… “You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.”

Huh?

“No,” I corrected him. “I wasn’t asking about me. I was asking about other people. I was wondering what I need to make the church do. I was thinking about a book everyone should read, or a program everyone should go through or a prayer system everyone should commit to.”

“Yes, brother John,” he said with great patience and care. “I know you were thinking of those things. But that’s not what they need most. The main thing you will give your congregation – just like the main thing you will give to God – is the person you become. If your soul is unhealthy, you can’t help anybody. You don’t send a doctor with pneumonia to care for patients with immune disorders. You, and nobody else, are responsible for the well-being of your own soul.”

“I’m trying,” I said. “I learned long ago about the importance of having a quiet time when I read the Bible and do daily devotions; I do my best to start each day that way.”

“I didn’t say anything about having a quiet time,” he gently corrected again. “People in church – including pastors – have been crushed with guilt over their failure at having a regular quiet time or daily devotions. And then, even when they do, they find it does not actually lead to a healthy soul. Your problem is not the first 15 minutes of the day. It’s the next 23 hours and 45 minutes. You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing total contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.”

“But how can I have total contentment, joy and confidence?” I responded. “My work isn’t going nearly well enough. Lots of people are not happy with me. I am inadequate as a pastor, husband and father. Every week I carry the burden of delivering a sermon and knowing I’ll have to feel the pain if it doesn’t go well.

“I didn’t say you should experience total contentment, joy and confidence in the remarkable adequacy of your competence or the amazingly successful circumstances of your life. It’s total contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday experience of God. This alone is what makes a soul healthy. This is not your wife’s job. It’s not your elder’s job. It’s not your children’s job. It’s not your friend’s job. It’s your job.”
~ Excerpt from Soul Keeping by John Ortberg

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Filed under God, Health & Wellness, intimacy with the Lord, John Ortberg, Priorities, Relationship with God, Rest, Spiritual formation, Spiritual growth

Did Jesus miss the obvious?

It’s hard to imagine a more exciting scene!

Intimacy_with_GodJesus had healed enough people for word to spread like wildfire. The crowd quickly got so big it was standing room only spilling out of the house. (Mark 2) Every eye was riveted on Jesus until…

The ceiling split open and four guys lower their friend on a mat.

  • The sick were being made healthy…
  • The blind were seeing again…
  • The demon possessed were being set free…

Imagine the hopes and expectations of this man on the mat with legs refusing to work. And in the midst of all that healing going on Jesus looks at him and says…

“Your sins are forgiven.”

The guy must have been thinking something like: “Um, thanks Jesus but I was sort of hoping you would do something with my legs.”

Did Jesus miss the obvious?

Why would He skip past two legs “out-of-order” to focus on sin?

Surely the man’s legs were the real issue here? Or were they?

Jesus knows something the man doesn’t know—that he has a much bigger problem than his uncooperative legs. The bigger problem is the sin that separates him from God. What good does it do to have legs that work if you’re going to spend eternity apart from God?

So what’s the big, pressing issue for you in this life?

  • Poor health or a life-threatening disease?
  • Finances that keep coming up short?
  • The lack of a meaningful relationship or too many dysfunctional ones?
  • The death of a loved one?
  • Family members and friends who have never accepted God’s gift of grace?
  • Dead end job, bad boss, noisy neighbor, lousy teacher, apathetic students, annoying in-laws, kids bullying your kid…?

Tim Keller enjoyed reading articles by Cynthia Heimel and there’s one he’s never forgotten. She describes being around many young struggling actors and actresses who are desperately looking for their big break into show business. She observed that many of these who did make it into the business became even less content and more miserable than before.

She describes feeling sorry for them because they had the thing they had thought would make everything okay – and it didn’t. Then Heimel added a statement that took Keller’s breath away:

“I think when God wants to play a really rotten practical joke on you, he grants your deepest wish.”

Jesus didn’t miss the obvious. What He’s saying to the crippled man is this: “I’m not going to play that rotten joke on you. I’m not going to just heal your body and let you think you’ve gotten your deepest wish.”

The Bible says that our real problem is that every one of us is building our identity on something besides Jesus. Something or someone else is our savior. Almost always when we first go to Jesus saying, “This is my deepest wish,” His response is that we need to go a lot deeper than that.

What is it that we think we need to make life complete or okay?

If it’s anything other than Jesus, we’re settling for less!

Will we surrender our deepest wishes to discover a new depth of peace and contentment through intimacy with the Lord?

***

© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2013. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Adversity, Christianity, Contentment, God, intimacy with the Lord, Jesus, Peace, Priorities, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality, Surrender, Trusting God

God’s Glory and Grandma’s Traditions

He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. ~ 2 Kings 18:4

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

The bronze snake had at one time been an instrument of transformation. It healed people. Saved them from the consequences of their sin. But then the people turned it into an object of worship. And thereby ruined it and robbed it of its power.

This is the essence of traditionalism. It’s not simply holding onto Grandma’s preferences. It’s when we take things. Good things. Effective things. And we end up worshiping them instead of the God who used them for a season. And it can happen to anything.

Hymns. Or modern worship.

Live preaching. Or video preaching.

One campus. Or multiple campuses.

Sunday school. Or small groups.

None of these are bad things, but they’re also not the ultimate thing. And therefore, we shouldn’t treat them as such.

Otherwise, we run a dangerous risk. The very thing you hold up as a tool for transformation today can easily become an idol of tradition tomorrow.

And God has a way of smashing our idols. Or rendering them powerless.

Don’t get me wrong. We should never lose our appreciation or respect for the things God uses to reach people and transform their lives.

But we should also never allow them to steal God’s glory by becoming a greater object of our affections than God or the new ways He wants to work among us.

God’s glory is greater than Grandma’s traditions.

And our own as well.

~ By Steven Furtick

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Anything, no matter how good or Godly it might appear to be, becomes an idol – a false god – when we are more attached to it than we are to God!

© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Christianity, Glory of God, God, Priorities, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality

I’m gonna live to be…

I’m gonna live to be 85… according to the Longevity Calculator.

You can click the link below and answer a series of just 13 simple questions to find out how long you can expect to live.

It was developed by Northwestern Mutual Life; though of course it comes with no guarantees or promises.

But before you try it, let me ask you something. If you could actually know exactly how much longer you would live on this earth, would you want to know?

What would you do with one week, one month, or one year left to live? What would you change or do differently?

I once heard Tony Campolo mention this years ago. He suggested that if you are living your life centered on God then you wouldn’t need or want to change anything about how you are living life.

One last question.

How will you live today since it could be your last day on earth?

Longevity Calculator – http://media.nmfn.com/tnetwork/lifespan/

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Choices, Christianity, Death, God's Will, Health & Wellness, Priorities, Religion and Spirituality

Without Any Reservations

Even with the best of intentions, parenting is a tricky journey. The ups, the downs, the unexpected moments – some good, some not so good. With six kids and 21 years under our belt we have come to rely even more on the grace of God and prayer.

When our kids turned 13 we took them away for an overnight trip full of special events as a rite of passage. One of the talks we have is about making their faith in God their own. But just 5 short years later when the time comes for them to head off on their own you can’t help but wonder how they will do.

We have two out of the nest (mostly) and four still at home. Our oldest is beginning his senior year of college and recently got engaged to a wonderful gal.

Eli has had his share of wrestling through faith issues and growing up the kid of a pastor brings its own unique set of obstacles. But to see him grow into his place in God’s story is so rewarding. Yesterday he posted this on Facebook.

I share it not only because it touched my heart as a father but because it challenged me as a follower of Jesus.

“Do you remember the first time you fell in love? Not even necessarily with a person. The first time you experienced something so powerful or amazing or awe-inspiring that you couldn’t imagine ever living without it again. Something so integral to who you are as a person that if you were to lose it, it would be akin to losing a limb. I remember the first time I ever stepped out onto stage. I was seven. I remember the rush. The exhilaration. The feeling that this was the epitome of how I would ever feel. Fast forward six years and I was back on stage at a community theater. Now, almost nine years later, I’m still in love. Ask anyone I know, they’ll tell you that once I’m in a show, I disappear. Every fiber of my being becomes wrapped up into the show and my part to play.”

“Earlier this week, a very wise man in my life reminded me to, “Never forget your first love.” It took me a while to realize that he wasn’t speaking in reference to my love for theater. He was speaking in reference to God. This is what God longs for from us. That we would be so madly in love with him that every fiber of our being becomes wrapped up in him and his bigger story. I can’t imagine a more perfect way to spend a life, but it’s often so easy to lose sight of our first love. So this is my prayer for myself and for all other believers out there. That we might never lose sight of our first love. That we become so wrapped up in God and his story that we can’t help but be an integral part of it. That we learn to truly and completely let go and love God without any reservations.” ~ Elijah Alvey

Is there anything or anyone we’re loving more than God?

***
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Commitment, God, intimacy with the Lord, Jesus, Loving God, Parenting, Prayer, Priorities, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality, Surrender

May God wreck our plans!

We were getting away for a few days to relax and regain some sense of rhythm. But God had other plans!

Susan and I loaded our bikes into the old blue bus (our 20-year-old van) and pulled out late Sunday afternoon headed for a hotel room in Indy. The trip was uneventful, the room was great and the continental breakfast was amazing. But then…

We shopped at a few nearby stores before heading downtown to visit a friend who had just given birth to her third baby. We got within a couple of miles of the hospital when the van started sputtering.

Long story short, we spent another night in Indy and about $500 for a new fuel pump!

The really ironic part is that I’m reading a book about what God may be up to when our dreams get shattered or our plans go up in smoke. And just for the record, I prefer reading about it over actually living it. Just sayin’…

There are certainly bigger dreams out there than just getting away for a few days but it stretched our patience to the breaking point!

In his book, Shattered Dreams, Larry Crabb suggests that God uses the big and little obstacles of life to help us come to grips with what matters most to us. Are we pursuing God in order to secure His blessings of a good life or are we desiring a relationship with God above all else?

The deepest longings of our heart cry out for an experience of God’s presence; and yet we so often settle for lesser passions. Only when those lesser passions get thwarted or crushed will we delve deeper into our soul and come to discover our greater passion for God.

An encounter with God is what we were created for and satisfies our soul like nothing or no one else can. But when the lesser passions of life satisfy us, even if they are only temporary, we forget the bigger passion.

It’s sort of like nibbling on junk food too close to the big meal and losing our appetite for real food.

I’ll be honest. I was very angry and frustrated as we sat there in the hot sun waiting for the tow truck to show up. Was a few days away to relax really too much to ask?

But eventually, a different question made its way to the forefront of my mind.

Are these few days away more important to you than God?

God could have kept our van running but didn’t. God could have prompted me to take a different vehicle but He didn’t. (At least, I don’t think He did. Sometimes I don’t listen so well)

If I want God more than I want a few days away and if I choose to trust God as sovereign, then can I trust Him to be working behind the scenes to accomplish something I know nothing about? In essence…

Would I trust God’s character and intentions to be good even if I didn’t know the “why”?

I have no great “TaDa” moment that resulted from our interrupted plans. I’ve gained no great revelation or insight from what took place. And I still don’t know how we’ll pay for the van or extra night in a hotel.

But I can trust the Author of the story to be good and I can once again sift through my passions to see which ones are most important.

May God wreck our plans, no matter how good they are, to help us discover our greater passion for Him!

***
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Adversity, Contentment, Desire, Discipleship, Divine presence, Frustration, God, intimacy with the Lord, Patience, Priorities, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality, Spiritual formation, Spiritual growth, Suffering, Trusting God

The best part of our trip was…

Last week I blogged about A chance to learn something new when my son Josh and I left for a 5-day parent/teen extreme camping trip. This was the sixth time for me but the first for Josh.

That’s Josh and I on the right side.

I was excited about what we might learn about ourselves, each other and God while sharing in some challenging and fun experiences.

Josh rock climbing like a mountain goat!

Josh had done some of these things before: The giant swing, the zip line, camping out under the stars and even cooking over an open fire.

But some were new experiences: rock climbing, rappelling, high ropes course obstacles, caving, hiking the New River Gorge and white water rafting.

Josh on the giant swing! Lower arrow is the platform; upper arrow is Josh!

Josh loved every part of it and we enjoyed seeing some old friends along with making new ones. Worshipping with just a guitar and a sky full of stars is simply amazing. And the chance to share about our journey with God and encourage one another was priceless.

Other parts of our trip were not so fun as we got: stuck sleeping on some slanted ground, run off the river one day by a bad storm, and had to deal with wet stuff in the tent because of that same storm… but that’s all part of the adventure.

Ami, Josh and Anna during our hike.

I anticipated sharing with you some great, new insight learned during our outing, but the best part of our trip was simply the chance to be together.

Sometimes I obsess with looking for or wanting to share some new insight and forget that the real core of life is about the relationships we have in the midst of the journey.

Years from now the mention of just a few choice words will make us laugh and smile as Josh and I relive the moments we shared together. Those are the kinds of moments that make life rich and full.

Are you enjoying those moments with your loved ones?

***

© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

2 Comments

Filed under Children, Family, Fellowship, Life in General, Loving others, Parenting, Priorities

Making the most of our time

We were very intentional with picking our week to visit Eli, our oldest, in Florida and hang out at with him at Disney World. He is doing a college internship there and his little “blue card” allowed us some nice discounts. Woo hoo!

We purposely avoided the week of Spring Break because EVERYONE would be there. But we also didn’t want to go after school let out for the Summer for the same reason. So we pulled the kids out of school and went the last week in April.

The theme parks were busy but not overly crowded. We got to do everything we wanted and never waited more than about 35-40 minutes. But one special feature made all the difference – Fast Pass!

Fast Pass is not unique to Disney World but it is free and very handy. Rather than wait in line you can get a Fast Pass and come back later to use a different entrance and save time. For example…

If it is 4:00 and a ride has a wait time of 50 minutes you can wait or get a Fast Pass. The Fast Pass will specify when to come back such as between 5:00 and 6:00. So you get the Fast Pass and then go do some others things before going back to use it.

With the Fast Pass you enter by way of a different line and it usually only takes about 10 minutes. This way you can do more and wait less.

I know what you’re thinking. “Where do I get a Fast Pass for the grocery store or my favorite restaurant?” Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

But my point is this: Because we were there for a limited time and wanted to participate in certain activities, we worked hard to make the most of our time.

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. ~ Ephesians 5:15-17

Paul encourages the disciples in Ephesus to make the most of every day by doing what is important to the Lord. It means giving everything you have at that moment because you don’t know if you’ll get another opportunity.

None of us lives with the guarantee of tomorrow, and yet we tend to put off the most important stuff as if we’ll always have a tomorrow.

  • Expressing love to those closest to us
  • Extending forgiveness to those who have hurt us
  • Playing with our kids
  • Sharing the good news of God’s grace with those who don’t yet know Him

As a pastor, conducting funerals is not my favorite thing to do. It is a good opportunity to minister to people but the heartache and grief can be tough to handle at times. Yet, I’m always grateful for the reminder not to take life for granted. Each day is a gift from God to be lived for His glory.

If you knew that today would be your last day on earth, how would you live it?
***
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Children, Choices, Family, Glory of God, God, God's Will, Priorities

What would we ask of God?

We’ve all heard jokes about being granted a wish by a genie, but what if God showed up to grant us a request? This actually happened to a guy I know who was very serious about following God.

You can read about it yourself in 1 Kings 3:1-15. That guy was none other than Solomon, son of King David. After David’s death, Solomon became the next King of Israel. After completing the Temple God showed up in a dream to grant Solomon whatever he wanted.

Solomon could have requested anything of God but asked for wisdom to lead the people of Israel. It was a very selfless request and God was very pleased with Solomon.

In fact, God was so pleased that He gave Solomon not only what he asked for but more.

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. ~ 1 Kings 3:10-13

People came from far and wide to learn from Solomon. And he penned thousands of proverbs because he wanted everyone to benefit from what God was teaching him.

But it didn’t last…

As wise as Solomon was, he broke God’s boundaries and married women from other nations. God had not placed this restriction on Israel because He was a racist but because He knew that if they let themselves be influenced by people of other nations they would eventually be led into worshipping false, pagan gods.

As selfless and respectable as Solomon’s request was, I believe his father David made an even better request.

One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. ~ Psalm 27:4

Solomon wanted wisdom to serve God well.

David wanted more of God’s presence.

We don’t have to wait for a dream or special visit from God. We are made in His image and exercise a free will. We choose what matters most to us every day by what we give our time, attention and energy to pursuing.

Will we choose the presence of God above everything else today?
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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Choices, Christianity, Desire, Divine presence, God, intimacy with the Lord, Loving God, Priorities, Relationship with God, The Story, Wisdom

Are we settling for more and missing the best?

Our Indiana taxes came back different from what I had figured because I missed one newly required document. Ugh! A local office helped with the proper form to file an amendment.

When the gal helping me commented on not understanding why this new form was required she also added that just a few years ago we were suppose to be headed towards doing away with paper forms – an attempt to simplify the process.

I’ve heard that before in regard to other areas of life but I have yet to see much evidence that life is getting any more simple. This is perhaps most evident in the field of electronics.

With each new gadget or app we are empowered to walk around with the world at our fingertips. New technologies are great, but they don’t automatically make our life more meaningful.

We can do life differently!

Enjoying simplicity is counter to the message our consumer culture is barking from all angles. Society constantly tries to manipulate us into buying and consuming more than we need.

I see restoration-minded Christians bucking the trend. Instead of buying things they don’t really need, they fast periodically from those habits that suck them in to this alternate reality.

Certainly, this way of life often takes more effort and creativity on the front end, requiring their full imagination and a willingness to part with unnecessary comforts. But in the long run, they seem to be creating a more sustainable and less contrived existence.
~ Excerpted from The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons

Jesus came to bring us the opportunity to experience real life through a relationship with the Father. But is that the core of our existence?

Take some time to pause and reflect on what it is that gets the best of or the bulk of your attention and energy.

In the scheme of our rhythm of life how much attention are we giving to pursuing greater intimacy with the Lord?

Are we enjoying His presence throughout the day or are we preoccupied with the stuff of life?

Are we settling for more and missing the best?

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Choices, Consumerism, Divine presence, God, intimacy with the Lord, Life in General, Margin, Priorities, Relationship with God, Stewardship