Archive for June, 2010

The Worm became a Splendid Butterfly

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your hearts on things above! Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things!” Colossians 3:1-2

Paul reminds us that those who believe on Christ–should live a risen life.

We live on the earth at present. We walk on earth’s streets. We live in material houses, built of stones, bricks, or wood. We eat earth’s fruits, gathering our food from earth’s fields, orchards and gardens. We wear clothes woven of earthly fabrics. We adorn our homes with works of art that human hands make. We engage in the business of earth. We find our happiness in the things of this life.

But there will be a life after this! We call it heaven. We cannot see it. There is never a rift in the sky, through which we can get even a glimpse of it. We have in the Scriptures hints of its beauty, its happiness, its blessedness. We know it is a world without sorrow, without sin, without death. Paul’s teaching is that the Christian, while living on the earth–ought to begin to live this heavenly life.

One day a friend sent me a splendid butterfly, artistically mounted, known as the Lima Moth. This little creature is said to be the most beautiful of North American insects. Its color is light green with variegated spots. In its caterpillar state, it was only a worm. It died and entered its other or higher state, as we would say–and then the worm became a splendid butterfly.

This illustrates the two stages of a Christian’s life. Here we are in our earthly state. After this will come the heavenly condition. “The things that are above” belong to this higher, spiritual life. But the Christian is exhorted to seek these higher things–while living in this lower world. We belong to heaven, although we are not yet living in heaven.

Paul presents the same truth in another form, when he says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Though we are in this earthly world–but we do not belong here. We are only strangers and pilgrims.

~ J. R. Miller, “The Wider Life” 1908


Trapped Behind an Open Door

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

I saw a catchy phrase yesterday that summarized the way I seem to live a good deal of my life: trapped behind an open door.

A story’s told of Houdini once being challenged to escape from a jail cell. After he was placed in the cell and left alone, he removed a thin strip of metal concealed in his belt and began working at the lock. But no matter what he tried, he couldn’t unlock the door.

The great magician had been tricked, because the door was never locked. All he had to do was open it, but his belief that the door was locked was sufficient to confine him.

I think many of my “troubles” are like that. I fuss and worry and struggle, only to discover that a significant portion of the problem lies within my own attitudes. I waste precious energy fighting to flee my self-imposed confinement.

I cannot escape from unacknowledged iron bars constructed of my own fear. As long as I ignore the cell I’ve created, I’ll languish in isolation as authentic as any prison might inflict.

I own a get-out-of-jail-free card, because I alone control my attitude. Perhaps I should simply push the door open.

You can fight to maintain the self-created limitations that imprison you. You can plot and scheme an impossible jailbreak. But you’ll always remain trapped behind an open door, limited by your attitudes and your belief in the lock.

As Houdini discovered, you can’t unlock an unlocked door.

I’m not blind to evil in the world. A great attitude won’t make my wheelchair disappear. Some doors are real, and “the power of positive thinking” doesn’t magically remove the iron bars and imposing locks of disease, pain, and grief. We can’t wish our way past the very real adversity that sometimes confronts us.

But I’d sure like to spend less time trapped behind open doors.

What’s an open door you’re trapped behind?

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

How Will They Know Us?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

I listened as a speaker explained the “60-20” principle, claiming that when we initially meet someone we have sixty seconds to create a lasting impact. The first twenty seconds focuses on appearance, the next twenty on behavior, and the final twenty on words.

I wonder what first impression we create in the minds of non-believers? How can appearance, behavior, and words create the first impression of Christ?

I fear that the broader culture too frequently equates “Christian” with political rhetoric, judgment, condemnation, and exclusion. We’re known more by what we oppose (and for being angry about it) than by what we support. Certainly there’s a place for stating your case and standing firm in your beliefs, but effectiveness is blunted when that first impression causes folks to turn away.

Skilled missionaries understand this principle. Their ultimate purpose centers on conveying Christ’s message of salvation, but much of their work involves building houses and establishing adequate systems for providing food, water, and safety. They travel to difficult, dangerous places because they recognize that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

Do others see Christ in my appearance? I can’t do much about old and bald, but do I strive to display a welcoming smile that communicates genuine pleasure when I encounter someone who may be “different?”

Do my initial behaviors draw people closer? Do they perceive open arms or reserved analysis?

Are my first words an invitation? Am I authentically interested in listening instead of preaching?

I fear that the unhappy answer to these questions, for me at least, is frequently negative. I’m too quick to scrutinize, analyze, and categorize. I’m glad Jesus doesn’t receive me as I so often receive others.

It’s not my job to save people; Jesus took care of that. It’s my job to love them. I don’t have to decide who’s worthy or who belongs; everyone belongs. I don’t need to identify the broken; we’re all broken. My first responsibility, above and before anything else, is to create a first impression for Jesus by loving everyone.

Many times our “ministries” convey the impression of the healthy helping the sick, but that’s wrong. By God’s standards we’re all sick, and the physician is Christ. He asks only that we love the other sick folks as He’s loved us.

We’re not known as Christians by crosses around necks or fish on car bumpers. We’re not known by political affiliation, by separating ourselves from the bad people, or by being better than everyone else.

How will they know us? They will know we are Christians by our love.

Question: What’s one area in which you struggle to love the unlovable?

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

Is the Need to Conform Robbing You?

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Do you think of yourself as a fairly average person?

One interesting aspect of working with young adolescents involves observing their efforts to discover and define their identity. It’s a fascinating, often painful, and frequently humorous developmental challenge for each individual.

One early step in the process involves separating from their parents’ identity. We’ve all endured and watched this effort, and chuckled as we realize the contradictions involved. That’s because the first step in defining their individual identity almost always involves trying to be exactly like everyone else.

Their efforts to become “unique” result in a need to dress, act, and talk just like their friends. Ideally, as the process continues, they eventually move beyond this imitation stage and develop their own mature sense of individuality.

However, I suspect that many of us never escape completely the need to conform. I’m acutely aware of this tendency whenever I focus on my loss of “normal life.”

In this sense, normal means average. I somehow seek to be like everyone else, and any differences cause a perception that I’m weird, strange, or abnormal.

Intellectually, I know better. I recognize the folly of the adolescent search for uniqueness in conformity. I understand that average is a myth, that each person is an individual with unique strengths and weaknesses. I believe that every circumstance contains challenges and blessings.

But when grief and loss wrap icy fingers around my throat and I struggle simply to breathe, despair often overwhelms logic. When a wheelchair dominates my view, I lose sight of all that remains as I focus only on what’s been lost. When illness pervades my world, it’s easy to forget that illness isn’t all there is. It’s easy to feel trapped, isolated, and desperate.

At those times, all I see are my differences from “everyone else” and from “what used to be.” Everyone else is happy, healthy, and secure. I used to be strong and independent.

Everyone else is “normal.” I used to be “normal.” And now I’m abnormal, and I’ll always be abnormal.

Normal life is an illusion, average is a trap, and life never really was as perfect as I recall. When I recognize this painful reality, I escape the prison of normal.

Circumstances change. Each life is unique. Joy and sorrow coexist in all things. I grieve the losses, celebrate the joys, and adjust to situations. Then I can do my best with what remains.

Question: What’s a joy that you’ve overlooked in a search for conformity?

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

Have You Ever Wondered Why You’re Here?

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).

Have you ever wondered why you’re here? Of course you have. Every human being who has ever walked this planet has considered that question to one degree or another. I believe God has designed it so, as it is a question that should naturally lead us to our need for a relationship with Him. Sadly, the majority of humanity does not pursue the question sufficiently or humbly enough to arrive at that conclusion.

But what about those who do? Once we are born into God’s family and relationship is established with Him, do we automatically recognize our purpose? Speaking from personal experience—and from what I’ve learned in talking with other believers—far too often the answer is no.

A case in point was a recent discussion by some of my dearest friends and colleagues on a Christian writers’ loop. The discussion revolved around our ministry, and what part our writing played in that ministry. I enjoyed the variety of answers and responses, but I realized how easily we get sidetracked into thinking our writing—or our singing or preaching or counseling—is our ministry.

Jesus summed up His ministry—which should therefore be ours as well—when He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed Me….” He was explaining His purpose in coming: preaching the gospel, healing the brokenhearted, preaching deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, setting at liberty those who are oppressed, and preaching the acceptable year of the Lord. To summarize, He was explaining that He was here to reconcile “the world to Himself” (see 2 Corinthians 5:19), employing the means outlined in Luke 4:18-19. What does that tell us about our ministry? That same verse in 2 Corinthians goes on to explain that Christ “has committed to us [true believers] the word [ministry] of reconciliation.”

That’s our ministry, folks. Christ, the anointed One, was here to reconcile the world to Himself. Now He has returned to the Father, and He has committed the ministry of reconciliation to us. That may read out differently in each of our lives, but the purpose is the same. There is no greater calling, beloved. It is so great that Christ has shared the anointing of His Spirit with us so that we might be effective in this ministry of reconciliation. However God has gifted you, trust that His Spirit will lead and guide and anoint you to fulfill your calling—the ministry of reconciliation—so that at the end of your earthly sojourn, you may hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !
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”

Her new novels:
No Greater Love
More than Conquerors
The author can be reached at: http://www.kathimacias.com

Learning the Lessons

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in need. Philippians 4:11-12

Life is a ‘school’. All its experiences are ‘lessons’.

We are all in ‘Christ’s school’–and He is always ‘educating’ us.

Disciples are ‘learners’ and all true Christians are disciples. We enter the lowest grade when we begin to be Christians. We have everything to learn. Each new experience, is a new lesson set for us by the great Teacher.

The business of noble Christian living–is learning. We know nothing when we begin. Learning is not confined to what we get from reading books. All of life is a school. ‘Christ’s books’ are ever being put into our hands, and ‘lessons’ are set for us continually.

Paul tells us of one of the lessons he had learned in the ‘school of experience’. “I have learned,” he said, “the secret of being content in any and every situation.” We are glad to know that Paul had to learn to be contented. We are apt to think that such a man as he was–did not have to learn to live as we common people do; that he always knew, for instance, how to be contented. Here, however, we have the confession that he had to ‘learn the lesson’ just as we do. He did not always know ‘the secret of contentment’. He was well on in years when he said this, from which we conclude that it took him a long time to learn the lesson–and that it was not easy for him to do it. Christ’s school is not easy.

Sorrow is a choice lesson in Christ’s school. Sorrow is not an accident breaking into our life, without meaning or purpose. God could prevent the coming of the sorrow–if He so desired. He has all power, and nothing can touch the life of any of His children–unless He is willing. Since we know that God loves us and yet permits us to suffer–we may be quite sure that there is a blessing, something good, in whatever it is that brings us pain or sorrow.

We shrink from pain. We would run away from afflictions. We would refuse to accept sorrow. But there are things worth suffering for, things dearer than ease and pleasure. We learn lessons in pain, which repay a thousand times–the cost of our tears!

The Bible tells us that God preserves the tears of His children, putting them in His tear-bottle. Tears are sacred to God, because of the blessings that come through them, to His children. In heaven, we will look back on our lives of pain and sorrow on the earth–and will find that our best lessons have come through our tears!

All the ‘Christian graces’ have to be learned in ‘Christ’s school’. There Paul had learned contentment. He never would have learned it, however, if he had had only pleasure and ease all his life. Contentment comes from learning to do without things, which we once supposed to be essential to our comfort. Paul had learned contentment through finding such fullness of blessing in Christ–that he did not need the ‘secondary things’ any more.

Perhaps we would succeed better in learning this same grace–if we had fewer of life’s comforts–if sometimes we had experience of need. The continuity of blessings that flow like a river into our lives–gives us no opportunity to learn contentment.

When sufferings come into our life . . .
disagreeable things–instead of pleasant things;
hunger and poverty–instead of plenty;
rough ways–instead of flower-strewn paths;
God is teaching us the ‘lesson of contentment’, so that we can say at length, that we have learned the secret of being content!

J. R. Miller, “The Wider Life” 1908

Who’s Running The Show?

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re somehow supposed to be in charge?

Occasionally I let myself get overwhelmed by the awesome responsibility of representing Christ in the world. When I think about letting my actions speak for me, I’m afraid that I’m not happy with the message communicated by my behaviors.

I think we get a bit too impressed with ourselves. We buy the American message that God helps those who help themselves (Benjamin Franklin). We want to seize the helm and guide the ship in the right direction. Somehow I believe that I’m responsible, that God’s work won’t get accomplished unless I make it happen.

In one sense, that’s correct. It’s my job to be “Jesus with skin on” to everyone I meet. I am the person He sent onto my particular path, and it’s not okay to let opportunities pass by to share Jesus’ love.

But there’s a huge difference in emphasis. I need to between accept responsibility for my own behaviors and how those behaviors represent Christ. But I don’t need to save the world—that job’s done. God’s purposes will be accomplished despite my failures and mistakes. He’s in control.

I think this is such an important distinction because a sense of guilt results when we take too much upon our shoulders. God understands our weaknesses and limitations. He doesn’t ask us to do it all, only to do what we can, acknowledge our mistakes, and move forward in love. He’s got the ship firmly in His control.

I think He expects our best, but not more. We must remember the basic truths about our role as creature rather than Creator.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Don’t fall into feeling guilty when you fail. Don’t fall into feeling guilty when you miss an opportunity to express Jesus’ love. Don’t fall into feeling guilty about not doing more to save the world.

In fact, don’t fall into feeling guilty—period! Nothing you can do can make God love you one bit more or less. That’s what makes us free, and it’s also a wonderfully mysterious paradox. As soon as you stop feeling guilty because you don’t do everything, you’re immediately empowered to do more than you ever imagined!

What’s a failure you need to release to Jesus?

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

How To Give Unsolicited Advice

Monday, June 21st, 2010

How should you offer unsolicited advice? You shouldn’t.

This morning I rode a bike trail that includes an underpass and a particularly steep ramp. It’s one of my favorite routes, but for me that ramp is a killer. No matter how hard I try I can never get quite enough momentum to crank to the crest. I always stall just before reaching the top, so I have to just hold myself steady, make sure I don’t roll backward, and inch my way the final three or four feet.

So this morning I was maintaining my stalled position and creeping forward when a guy rolled past. He called over his shoulder, “You should shift to a lower gear before climbing a hill.”

Wow. If only I’d known…

I confess—my thoughts at that moment weren’t something like, “Hosanna, the Lord hath provided. Praise God for sending such a wise and generous man.”

I wondered if he really thought I didn’t know about shifting gears. If he’d taken a moment to understand the situation he’d have seen that I was indeed in the lowest possible gear. I would have assured him that I had tried a number of strategies, but my lack of dexterity and strength hasn’t allowed me to conquer this particular challenge yet.

But he didn’t bother to even slow down. He simply tossed out what felt like a dismissive, condescending nugget of drive-by advice. I wonder what he intended, what he was thinking—or if he was thinking.

Did he imagine that his pearl of information would help me reach the top of the ramp? Not likely, since you can’t change gears while stopped on a steep incline.

Was he concerned for my immediate safety? If so, perhaps he might have slowed down to ask if I needed help.

Some advice is a shortcut that demonstrates a lack of genuine concern. Providing helpful feedback requires time and patience and the commitment to engage in authentic relationship. It’s much quicker to provide a quick “If I were you”—even though you’re not—and then move on.

Sometimes advice generates a false sense of superiority. Since I’m clearly not as smart as you, I’ll never be able to figure this out on my own. The only way for me to avoid a mistake is for you to tell me what I should do.

Advice is often a simple quest for short-term results. I don’t really care whether you learn principles that might enhance your ultimate independence or problem-solving capability. I just want the answer or the sale or the immediate gratification. We’ll worry about that other stuff later.

When I speak to groups of kids about disability issues, they’re often concerned about how to help without offending. “What should I do if I see someone who appears to need help?”

My answer is to ask if there’s something you can do to help. This doesn’t guarantee that the person won’t be offended, because some folks look for excuses to be offended. Whenever someone asks me that question, I smile and thank them for asking. Usually I’m fine, but occasionally I do need a little help and I always appreciate the concern.

So if you see an old bald guy stalled near the top of a ramp, don’t tell him what he should have done. He’s probably self-conscious enough already.

But don’t just ignore him, either. This might be the day his shoulders are a little fatigued, and maybe he’s about to lose his grip and crash. He might appreciate a little push, or he might thank you and tell you he’ll be okay.

Either way, you’ll know you offered with a heart of service and love.

Are you ever tempted to offer unwanted advice to kids, spouse, or friends? What’s a better response?

It’s not my place to solve your problems. My job is to love you while you solve your problems. Cec Murphy
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

“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”

Friday, June 18th, 2010

“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

“The best laid plans…” How many times have I quoted that, and then been stunned when life happens and my “best laid plans” are derailed once again?

It happened to us this past weekend. My husband and I had just returned from a short trip and settled down to watch the Lakers game when I noticed a message on my cell phone. I hadn’t heard it ring, but apparently our second son, Michael, had called. We had just spoken to him earlier that day, so I assumed he was checking to see if we’d made it home safely.

I called him and nearly collapsed when I heard his voice. Instead of his usual cheery greeting of “Hi, Mom,” I heard my precious son gasping for air and moaning. “I can’t breathe,” he managed to say. Then I heard something about an accident and the words, “I think I’m going to die.” I begged him to tell me what happened, where he was, if he’d called 9-1-1, but he couldn’t answer. Then the phone went dead.

Does it get any worse than that? My husband and I threw a few things in a suitcase and hit the road, praying all the way. By the time we’d made the 90-minute drive, we’d managed to discover that Michael had been riding his mountain bike alone, far from a well-traveled trail, and had taken a terrible fall. He didn’t remember calling me, but somehow my return call to him pulled him from unconsciousness. The GPS on his cell phone eventually enabled the medical helicopter to locate him, but not before he spent several hours lying severely injured and suffering under the hot desert sun. He was airlifted to emergency with seven broken ribs, a broken shoulder, collapsed lung, and severely dehydrated. But he’s going to make it, and we’re all rejoicing in that.

And if they hadn’t found him and he wasn’t going to make it, would we still be rejoicing? We would be grieving, certainly…but still praising God? There’s nothing like a crisis with one of our children to put things in such perfect perspective, is there? I’m relatively certain I can truthfully say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” But “Though He slay my child…?” A bit tougher, isn’t it?

God knows our weaknesses and frailties, our failures and faults, and He loves us anyway. He understands our struggles to release our loved ones into His care, so much so that He alone gives us the strength to do it. It is only in clinging to Him that we are able to say, regardless of what happens, “yet will I trust Him.” For ultimately, whatever our best-laid plans, that’s really all that matters.

Praying for you, dear ones, that whatever comes your way, you will cling to Him and rejoice as you declare, “Yet will I trust Him!”

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !
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”

Her new novels:
No Greater Love
More than Conquerors
The author can be reached at: http://www.kathimacias.com

Contentment

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Are you contented?

I’d speculate that many folks wouldn’t even view “contentment” as a worthy goal. Our culture values striving, achieving, growing, and winning. We seem to fear contentment, as though even a moment’s rest will allow some unseen competitor to gain an advantage. Contentment almost sounds like laziness.

As with most important issues, true contentment involves balance. At one extreme we live in constant anxiety, avoiding any measure of peace or even satisfaction. It’s a constant state of fear that we’re missing something, as though the next opportunity will escape if we let down our guard and turn off the radar.

At the other extreme we become complacent. We’ve met the requirements, done enough, and now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of our effort. Complacency implies a sort of apathy or uncritical satisfaction with past success. Complacency fosters an unexamined, unaware existence with little concern for “giving back” in any meaningful manner.

Authentic contentment involves moving away from both extremes. It involves a healthy acceptance and enjoyment of present accomplishments combined with a quiet, introspective approach to effective next steps. It’s letting go of that ever-present, undefined fear of rest and contemplation.

It’s one of those mysterious paradoxes. As we allow ourselves to quiet the fear that generates hyper-activity, as we slow a bit and permit some moments of examination, peace, and re-charging our energy, we’re actually able to contribute and achieve much more effectively.

I’d guess that we all tend toward one end or the other of the spectrum. We’re either constantly anxious or a bit too settled and self-satisfied. I hope we can all find ways this week to move toward real contentment.

Which way do you tend to lean? What can you do this week to restore a healthy sense of contentment?

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