Archive for March, 2010

Where Are You?

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Brothers

Which one are you?

I’m currently in the midst of a fascinating small-group study of Timothy Keller’s book The Prodigal God. It’s a wonderful analysis of a familiar story—I highly recommend the book, unless you’re opposed to having old ideas challenged a bit.

Most of us are familiar with The Parable of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-32) Cliff notes version: younger son demands his share of the inheritance, wanders off and squanders it. Homeless, hungry, and humiliated, he decides to return home and beg his father for a job. Dad sees him coming, rushes to greet him, and throws a lavish party. Older brother resents Dad’s unconditional welcome.

Those who read this story commonly identify with one of the two brothers. Personally, I’ve always figured I was the classic younger brother—messed up in about every conceivable way and welcomed home only through generous grace.

So, which one are you?

You probably noticed that the diagram is a continuum. That’s because few of us are purely one or the other. So perhaps a more real question might be where would you place yourself on the line?

A SUBTLE TWIST

After thinking about your current position, twist the question slightly: where would you WANT to be?

If you read Keller’s book, you’ll realize it’s a trick question.

Everyone sees the issues with the younger brother: disrespectful, disobedient, wasteful—a long list of obvious mistakes. He’s a total loss, rescued in the end only because of his father’s generosity and forgiveness.

The older brother’s a little more complicated. At first he looks like the good son—he stayed home, obeyed, worked hard. We might think he has a right to be at least a bit annoyed at the end of the story. But a closer look reveals a different picture. A short list of issues:

  • He disrespects his father publicly, an extreme offense in that culture.
  • He resents not getting credit for doing what was expected.
  • He never pursued his lost brother, which would have been a cultural demand on the oldest brother.
  • He resents his own brother’s welfare and restoration.
  • He refuses to enter the party. At the end, the younger brother’s inside. He accepts his dad’s forgiveness. But the elder brother stubbornly refuses to enter.

In the surrounding context, the younger brother symbolizes the sinners with whom Jesus associated. That part’s pretty clear.

But the elder brother represents Jesus’ other audience, the Pharisees and religious leaders who valued rules and traditions above people. Like the elder brother, they judged, classified, and condemned. They were focused on obeying the laws, but they lost sight of the Father.

You may have missed it in the diagram, or thought it was a typo; Keller maintains that a more fitting title for the story might be The Parable of the Lost Sons.

For me, the plural on “Sons” changes my entire perspective on the story—especially when you consider the ending, which brother was inside at the feast, and which brother was outside in the dark.

Now do you see why it was a trick question? I invite you to leave a comment with your response:

Where would you want to be along the continuum?

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !

Dixon
Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

My Goodness! (If God Loves Me so Much….Why?)

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Cover But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. [Galatians 5:22-23]

When you proclaim God is good, what exactly do you mean?

As a practical matter, what does the goodness that’s a fruit of the Spirit look like?

Last week I wrote an article called Good … in which I confessed my tendency to define good in rather self-centered terms—if I like it, it’s good. The next day I disagreed with the common notion that It’s All Good.

But—what’s good?

I presume that goodness as fruit of the Spirit is some reflection of the pure goodness of God, but what exactly does that imply? Do you ever wonder why such a simple, foundational concept as God’s goodness creates so much confusion and even controversy?

GOOD MEANS …

  • A good boy follows the rules.
  • Good food is most likely bad for me.
  • A good joke makes me chuckle, but a good movie might make me cry.
  • I seek good friends, but might avoid a good (not great) surgeon.
  • If there’s good reason, I’ll wait a good long time to have a good time.
  • I work hard for admission to a good school; I’m merely satisfied with a good used car.
  • I feel good even though my legs aren’t so good.
  • C.S. Lewis said that trying very hard to be good only reveals how bad you truly are.
  • Good is the enemy of best.

Good describes music, public policy, neighborhoods, and weather—all in different ways, almost all a matter of highly subjective opinion. Small wonder that God’s goodness evokes such widely varied, and equally subjective, thoughts and images.

And then there’s the whole notion that God works for good in all things [Romans 8:28]. Just yesterday someone told me that I should see my injury as a good thing because so much good has come from it.

Pardon the sarcasm, but if permanent paralysis is good, I might be willing to take my chances with bad.

Please don’t misunderstand. I absolutely believe that God works for good—my good, what’s ultimately in my very best interest—in all circumstances. But what is the good toward which He works?

I think we miss the point when we define good in terms of the things of this world. I think He has something much bigger in mind.

For me, God’s goodness manifests itself in His generous, sacrificial desire for open, authentic, transparent relationship. He wants to bring me closer to Him. He works in all circumstances to break down the enemy’s barriers.

God desires relationship with me so much that He paid the price of His Son to achieve it.

That’s the whole message of Relentless Grace. I give up; He’s faithful. I mess up; He pays the price for my forgiveness. I wander off; He pursues me, finds me, and brings me home.

That’s grace. That’s agape. That’s authentic goodness.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

When I live God’s way, His Spirit grants to me some small measure of His desire for relationship. I value people more than things, service more than profit, empowerment more than entitlement. I seek intimacy and vulnerability rather than power and control.

I become a bit more like Jesus.

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If you’re interested, I’ve just released a new free e-book titled IF GOD LOVES ME SO MUCH, WHY …? Please click the link and read some of my thoughts about God’s role in times of adversity. Please visit my resources page for other free e-books.

I’ve learned that my goal shouldn’t be to affect change. It’s too easy to think I’ve failed because rarely is the person who plants the seed of change the person to see it bloom. Instead I’ve decided to make my goal to affect good. Trying to affect change can feel overwhelming, but good always self-propagates and ultimately leads to the change we’re usually after.

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !

Dixon
Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:
Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance
. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

When You are in a Dark Place

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Because You have been my help,
Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice (Psalm 63:7).

One evening recently a dear friend and I sat talking about the fact that though she was praying and seeking God for clear direction, she seemed to receive no answer and couldn’t “see” the way she was supposed to go. As I listened to her, it became clear to me (isn’t it always easier to see/hear God’s direction for someone else than for ourselves?) that God had her exactly where she was for a specific purpose. She was unable to see where God wanted her to go next because He had called her to hide (and rejoice!) for a season under the shadow of His wings.

Ever been there? I have—and I resisted it. I don’t like being in dark places. I want to see clearly the path before me. But on occasion, for varying reasons, God calls us to come underneath the protective shadow of His wing where, like helpless chicks seeking the protection of the mother hen, we are drawn close to our Protector’s breast. There, IF we are willing to wait and to listen, we will rejoice to hear the heartbeat of God.

What better direction, protection, or provision can there be? None! If we are tuning in to God’s heartbeat, we will soon know exactly where He wants us to go, what He wants us to do, and how He wants us to live. Yes, it is dark in that secret place, but it is the purposeful darkness of God, not the dangerous darkness of the enemy. God calls us to His heart so we can block out all else and learn to walk in obedience to His marching orders.

John, the youngest of Jesus’ disciples, discovered his identity and purpose at the Last Supper, when he leaned up against the breast of Christ. It was there that he heard the heartbeat of God. Since it is believed by many that this same John was the author of the Gospel of John, it is clear that from that point of deep connection with Jesus, John began to perceive and refer to himself as the “disciple that Jesus loved.”

That’s our true identity, folks. Kathi Macias is my temporary name on this earth, but my real identity and purpose is found in the fact that I am the disciple Jesus loves. And so are you. But we only come to the place of being able to rejoice in that fact when we willingly abide in the shadow of His wing, listening to His heartbeat until we are ready to respond with “Yes, Lord” to whatever direction He gives.

May you rejoice in the shadow of God’s wing as you listen to His heartbeat—and then walk in the truth of your identity and calling, whatever that may bring!

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !
Macias
Copyright 2009 Kathi Macias, all rights reserved. Used by permission.
Kathi Macias is a multi-award winning writer who has authored 26 books. Her newest books are:
“Beyond Me. Living a You-first Life in a Me-first World”

and


“Mothers of the Bible Speak to Mothers of Today”
(New Hope

Execution

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Ever get a great idea, mess with it, dream about it, develop a bunch of possibilities, talk to others about it—everything except actually doing something about it?

Ever see something really fun and think, “I couldda done that?”

Ever wonder why folks with inferior ideas get so much more accomplished?

Yeah—me too.

The difference between thinking and talking about something and actually doing something with it is execution.

It doesn’t matter what’s involved. Maybe a business idea, a program at church, a hobby you want to develop—it might be as simple as cleaning off your desk or deleting old files from your computer. But until you execute, it’s all just unproductive use of brain space.

What do you want to move from the “wish I would do it” pile to the “did it” pile?

Here’s to a week of less wishing and more execution.

Dixon
Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:
Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance
. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

It’s All Good.

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

sad_man And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. [Romans 8:28]

Yesterday I wrote about one aspect of good. If you’d like to read that story first, go ahead … I’ll wait.

I’m sure you’ve heard the currently-popular expression: It’s all good. Today, I’d like to transform it into a question: It’s ALL good?

No, it’s not ALL good.

Yesterday’s story looked at our tendency to define good from a narrow, self-centered perspective. Good skiing weather may be bad cycling weather.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all relative. Some things are objectively, absolutely good, and some are objectively, absolutely evil.

Occasionally I encounter someone who subscribes to the theology of IT’S ALL GOOD. In this system it’s apparently sinful to label any circumstance as evil. The logic seems to hold that God is absolutely sovereign, so if He allowed something to happen then it must be within His will. And if it’s God’s will, then it must be good.

I don’t agree.

Good?

As a new teacher, I worked with a young lady whose mother died after a particularly horrible struggle with cancer. She came into my classroom one afternoon and sat for a long time, crying, and then she said something odd. She said she felt really guilty.

What do you think she felt guilty about? I thought of a number of possibilities, but I wasn’t prepared for what actually emerged.

She felt guilty for feeling sad.

Her mom just died, she’d watched her prolonged suffering, and she didn’t think she ought to feel sad.

Regrettably—from my perspective—her dad and sisters were committed disciples of IT’S ALL GOOD. God had decided to take their mother after subjecting her to a gruesome illness, and they believed she ought to be thankful and celebrate. No grief allowed—God’s will is good, no reason to mourn.

My student didn’t feel like celebrating, and she was now afraid that God was angry with her for feeling sad. This misguided notion of IT’S ALL GOOD twisted her perfectly natural and understandable grief into an even more frightening and confusing darkness.

Since that day, I’ve watched both of my parents and my closest friend die from cancer. I was sad; I believe Jesus was sad as well.

Twenty-two years ago I fell from a roof while installing Christmas lights. I do not believe God caused that fall. I believe Jesus shared my fear as the doctors told me I was permanently paralyzed.

And I do not believe God expected a grieving high school student to celebrate her mother’s suffering and death.

Some circumstances are undeniably evil. I’m thankful for the love of God who faithfully works for good—His version of authentic good—in situations where I see only pain and darkness.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. [Psalm 23:4]

Not “around” the valley, or “over” it—I travel through the valley of the shadow. I’m not always grateful for that journey and its pain and fear.

I AM grateful that Jesus travels with me. That’s ALL good!

I’m curious—what are your thoughts about IT’S ALL GOOD?

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !

Dixon
Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

Good….

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

rain_window Good……… isn’t always as clear as I think.

For me, one of the absolute principles of scripture is Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

I believe that. It’s been my source of hope in some dark moments when I could find no reason to continue the struggle. However, I suspect that I tend to see this wonderful assurance through a distorted lens.

I suspect that my perceptions of “good” mostly translate to “what I want.”

  • Lots of money = good; less money = not good
  • Easy = good; difficult = not good
  • My team wins = good; the other team wins = not good

You get the idea. If I like it and it benefits me, it’s good.

I once heard a pastor from a rural North Dakota church tell a story that made me re-think my often self-centered notion of good.

The farms surrounding his church were struggling through a prolonged dry period. If rain didn’t come soon, an entire year’s crops would be lost.

So the pastor prayed for rain. A few days later it rained. And for the rest of the summer, rain was frequent and plentiful. The farmers harvested record crops, and the pastor thanked God for answering his prayers.

God had been good.

One day as winter approached one of his parishioners appeared in the office in great distress. His business was on the brink of failure.

The man ran a large contracting company that did road paving work. The season for this work in North Dakota is relatively short, and excessive rain had prevented him from completing contracted obligations.

Long-time employees who depended on his company for income and benefits were in danger of losing their jobs. Roads would deteriorate over the winter from lack of maintenance, leading to increased taxes for everyone in the county.

As he scrambled for a way to keep his business afloat until the following summer, he asked the pastor to pray for good weather. To avoid disaster, he needed an exceptionally productive season.

Good … isn’t always as clear as I think.

For me, this story’s a reminder that my perception of good is often pretty narrow and sometimes downright selfish. I believe God always works for good, even when I don’t see it. There’s a huge element of faith and trust that too frequently gets lost in my myopic view of events.

Tomorrow I want to look at what seems to me to be the flip side of this question. For now, I’ll leave you to ponder this quote:

We say that God is such a good God because it didn’t rain on our Sunday School picnic. But He was still a good God when He allowed me to watch my sister, Betsie, die in a concentration camp.
~ Corrie ten Boom

Is there any place in your life where “good” might be defined a little too narrowly?

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !

Dixon
Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:
Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance
. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

Your Choices and Attitude are Everything

Monday, March 8th, 2010

John is the kind of guy you love to hate. He is always in a good mood and always has something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, ‘If I were any better, I would be twins!’ He was a natural motivator.

If an employee was having a bad day, John was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.
Seeing this style really made me curious, so one day I went up and asked him, ‘I don’t get it!’

‘You can’t be a positive person all of the time.How do you do it?’
He replied, ‘Each morning I wake up and say to myself, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or…you can choose to be in a bad mood- I choose to be in a good mood.’

Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or…I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it.
Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or…I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life.

‘Yeah, right, it’s not that easy,’ I protested.

‘Yes, it is,’ he said. ‘Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people affect your mood.

You choose to be in a good mood or bad mood. The bottom line: It’s your choice how you live your life.’

I reflected on what he said. Soon hereafter, I left the Tower Industry to start my own business. We lost touch, but I often thought about him when I made a choice about life instead of reacting to it.

Several years later, I heard that he was involved in a serious accident, falling some 60 feet from a communications tower.
After 18 hours of surgery and weeks of intensive care, he was released from the hospital with rods placed in his back.
I saw him about six months after the accident.

When I asked him how he was, he replied, ‘If I were any better, I’d be twins…Wanna see my scars?’

I declined to see his wounds, but I did ask him what had gone through his mind as the accident took place.

‘The first thing that went through my mind was the well-being of my soon-to-be born daughter,’ he replied. ‘Then, as I lay on the ground, I remembered that I had two choices: I could choose to live or…I could choose to die. I chose to live.’

‘Weren’t you scared? Did you lose consciousness?’ I asked.
He continued, ‘…the paramedics were great.

They kept telling me I was going to be fine. But when they wheeled me into the ER and I saw the expressions on the faces of the doctors and nurses, I got really scared. In their eyes, I read ‘he’s a dead man’. I knew I needed to take action.’ ‘What did you do?’ I asked.

‘Well, there was a big burly nurse shouting questions at me,’ said John. ‘She asked if I was allergic to anything ‘Yes, I replied.’ The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for my reply. I took a deep breath and yelled, ‘Gravity”

Over their laughter, I told them, ‘I am choosing to live. Operate on me as if I am alive, not dead.’

He lived, thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing attitude….I learned from him that every day we have the choice to live fully. Attitude, after all, is everything.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34.

After all today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.

An Abundance Of Eyes

Friday, March 5th, 2010

eye2-2 God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.  Shakespeare

Are you different?

As a wheelchair user, I’m probably hypersensitive to differences. Even after twenty-two years of rolling around, I still feel uncomfortably conspicuous.

My inability to stand up makes me stand out—or at least that’s how it seems to me.

Distinctions are interesting. They spark debate, generate controversy, and attract attention. Life would be bland and boring without the diversity that makes each of us unique and truly one-of-a-kind.

My specific “difference” certainly creates interest. Most places, I’m the only person with wheels and a goofy-looking dog. I receive plenty of attention. In a world where so many folks feel nearly invisible, I have too much of what those folks desperately crave. So what’s the problem?

I think it’s an abundance of eyes.

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. [1 Corinthians 12:18-20]

I want to be an eye—or a hand or an ear or anything other than what I am.

Thinking in these terms tells me a lot about me. I’m perfectly content to tell others they ought to celebrate differences. It’s easy to ask others to embrace difficult roles. “They” should be grateful for thankless, behind-the-scenes chores. After all, that’s the way God arranged things.

That’s all wonderful … as long as I get the part I want. I like the eyes. I want to be an eye. So do a lot of others.

THE RESULT …

… is an abundance of eyes. Eyes everywhere, along with pride, jealousy, and a false and destructive sense of entitlement.

And since most of us weren’t intended to be eyes, we’re not all that good at it.

Doesn’t matter. I like the eyes. I admire the eyes. The eyes get to do really important stuff. Everyone loves the eyes. If only I were an eye, I’d be happy.

I WANNA BE AN EYE!

And suddenly I’m that kid in the supermarket, throwing a tantrum as though I can embarrass God into giving me what I want. It’s not fair! I know my rights, and I have a right to be an eye!

Sound familiar?

I don’t believe God caused my accident or intended my injury, but that doesn’t really matter. I absolutely believe that God works for good in all circumstances. I believe He’s guiding and leading me to the place I’ll be most useful, where my unique gifts are needed, where I’ll be truly content.

And despite my childish thoughts, I do believe He just might know more than I do. He just might have a better sense of where I fit and what’s really best for me.

I need to remember that I’m not Him. I need to trust Him. I need to seek the discernment to understand the difference between “my rights” and “what’s right.”

I need the courage to do what’s right. I need to waste less energy wishing I could be an eye, and invest that energy where I am.

I need a lot of things. One of the things I don’t need is to be an un-needed eye.

Do you ever struggle with wishing you could play a different part?

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”  ~ e.e. cummings

Struggle

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

The-Struggle

Today’s word is:

STRUGGLE

Whatever the struggle, continue the climb.
It may be only one step to the summit.
Diane Westlake

As a teacher, I often joked with kids that if they were as creative and persistent in doing the work as they were in avoiding it, they would achieve amazing results.

I think we’re all a bit like that. I put a lot of effort into avoiding struggle. Given the choice, I rarely choose the more difficult path.

But we all know the easy route usually doesn’t get you to the best destination. So if I want to accomplish important goals, struggle is going to be part of the equation.

My dictionary defines struggle as to proceed with difficulty or with great effort.

When I think about struggle, I tend to focus on “difficulty” and “great effort,” But the key word here is “proceed.” Even when it’s tough, I need to continue.

Difficulty’s part of the deal. Worthwhile stuff requires effort. Once I accept those facts of life, I can remove my eyes from the struggle and focus on reaching the destination. Like my students, I can re-direct my energy toward reaching the goal.

Then I can proceed.

It’s better to lose some of the battles in the struggles for your dreams than to be defeated without ever knowing what you’re fighting for. Paulo Coelho

What’s a struggle you need to accept so you can proceed in pursuit of your dream?

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !

Dixon
Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:
Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance
. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

Are You the One with the Muck Rake?

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

“Only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better.” Luke 10:42

Paul prayed that his friends “may be able to discern what is best.” Philippians 1:10.

We must be always making choices in this world. We cannot take up everything that lies in our path–and we ought to choose the best things. Even among ‘right things’ there is room for choice, for some right things are better than others.

There are many Christians, however, who do not habitually choose the best things–but second-rate things. They labor for the food that perishes–when they might labor for the food that endures unto everlasting life. Even in their prayers, they ask for temporal blessings, when they might ask for spiritual treasures!

They are like “the man with the muck-rake,” in Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’–who only looks ‘down’ and drags his rake among the weeds and worthless rubbish–while over his head are crowns which he might take into his hands! They are like Esau, who sold his valuable birthright, for some lentil stew. They toil for this world’s vain things–when they might have been laying up treasures in heaven!

We only have one life to live–and we ought therefore to do the best we possibly can with it. We pass through this world only once–and we ought to gather up and take with us the things that will truly enrich us–things we can keep forever!

It is not worth our while, to toil and moil, and strive and struggle–to do things that will leave no lasting results when our life is done–while there are things we can do which have eternal significance!

“Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things!” Colossians 3:1-2