Archive for July, 2010

Teach Me How to Pray

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010


“Lord, teach us to pray!” Luke 11:1

A little child missed her mother at a certain time every day. The mother’s habit was to slip away upstairs alone, and to be gone for some time. The child noticed that the mother was always gentler, quieter and sweeter after she came back. Her face had lost its weary look–and was shining! Her voice was gladder, more cheerful.

“Where do you go, mother,” the child said thoughtfully, “when you leave us every day?”

“I go upstairs to my room,” said the mother.

“Why do you go to your room?” continued the little questioner. “You always come back with your face shining. What makes it shine so?”

“I go to pray,” replied the mother reverently.

The child was silent for a little while, and then she said softly: “Teach me how to pray, mother!

“When you pray, say: Our Father . . .” Luke 11:2

That one word is the key to the whole mystery of prayer. When Jesus taught his disciples to speak to God, calling Him by that blessed name–He gave them the greatest of all lessons in prayer. When we can look into God’s face and honestly say ‘Father,’ it is easy to pray. God loves to be called ‘Father’. It opens His heart to hear all that we say–and to grant all that we ask.

Such power has the word ‘father’ spoken by a child, to open a human heart. Such power too, has the name ‘Father’ to find and open the heart of God! If we can sincerely say ‘Father’ when we come to the ‘gate of prayer’, we shall be sure to find entrance. If God is really our Father, we will no longer have any question as to whether we may pray to Him, or as to how to pray.

Some of us find life hard. It is full of cares and questions, of tasks and duties, of temptations and dangers. There are thorns and briers, among its roses. There are pitfalls in its sunniest paths. If we do not know how to pray–we can never get through the days. The privilege of prayer is always ours. The ‘gate of prayer’ is always open! Any moment we can look up and say ‘Father’, lay our need before the throne of mercy–and God will answer us as He desires!

J. R. Miller, “The Wider Life” 1908

I’d Really Like To….. (Excuses Part 1)

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Love will find a way. Indifference will find an excuse.

“I’d really like to get together, but I’m awfully busy right now.”

I don’t doubt that my friend is really busy. But guess what—we’re ALL busy. The message I heard was, “Having lunch with you isn’t as important as the other things I’m choosing to do.”

Is that unfairly harsh? Perhaps, but it got me thinking about the difference between reasons and excuses. I’d like to do a series of three articles about this topic, pointing toward Friday’s thoughts that may ruffle a few feathers.

I got an object lesson on excuses this weekend while riding my hand cycle—that tends to be where I do a lot of random thinking.

I approached a moderate hill and found myself slowing down. I realized I was concocting a lie to tell myself.

The Excuse

“I’d really like to keep cranking up this hill, but I’m too tired. I need to rest first.”

That simply wasn’t true. It was an excuse.

I’d been riding for about thirty minutes, so I was a little tired. But too exhausted to continue cranking up the hill? No.

The excuse was a lie to avoid admitting the actual reason. I really wanted to defer the discomfort of cranking up the incline. I knew it would hurt a bit.

I was afraid, but instead of acknowledging the fear of pain I was prepared to lie to myself. This excuse-making is a nasty, self-defeating habit. So I tried altering my self-talk.

The Reason

“I’d really like to keep cranking up this hill. I’m a little tired and I’m afraid of the pain, but I can make it to the top.”

And that’s what happened. My shoulders hurt, but it wasn’t that bad. I kept moving, repeating the process each time I felt myself slowing out of habit. Soon I’d cranked ten miles, and I stopped.

But this stop was different. It’s important to stay hydrated on a long ride, and since I pedal and steer with my arms I can’t safely drink while I’m moving. Plus, it was a nice shady spot by a stream and it was time for a rest.

Reasons, not excuses. I stopped this time by choice. I wanted to rest, I needed to drink.

See the difference?

I use a wheelchair because my legs are paralyzed—that’s a reason. I can’t go into that building because it’s hard to climb the ramp—that’s an excuse.

I’m thinking about excuses I use a lot.

  • Excuse: I’d really like to study the bible more, but I don’t have time.
    Reason: I choose to watch too much television instead.
  • Excuse: I’d like to do some longer rides, but the weather’s too hot.
    Reason: I choose to leave my blog post to finish in the morning so I get a late start.
  • Excuse: I’d like to do morning devotions, but I need to get started on work.
    Reason: I choose to stay up late. It’s a higher priority than devotions.
  • Excuse: I’d like to promote Relentless Grace, but if people really like it the word will spread.
    Reason: I’m afraid of appearing to be a self-promoting spammer and I allow the fear to control my actions.

Excuses are lies designed to fool myself or someone else. Even when the real reason isn’t very positive, it feels a lot better when I’m honest about the reason rather than offering an excuse that usually fools nobody.

The only person who is really free is one who can turn down a dinner invitation without giving an excuse. Jules Renard

What’s a favorite excuse for you? What’s the true reason behind the excuse?

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

Just Tell Me The Rules

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Jesus said, “You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” [John 14:4-7]


Have you ever been frustrated and said, “Just tell me the rules”?

Last time I gave Satan a little advice. If I wanted to mess up someone’s life, I’d get them to respond to fear. A great indicator of fear is the anger and frustration that demands a list of rules.

The enemy moves toward his goals when we focus on lists of rules. When we try to reduce complex aspects of life like relationships or faith to a set of absolutes, we reduce our own humanity. And that’s what the enemy desperately desires.

Some rules are good. If you’re using computer software, it’s a good idea to learn and follow the rules when you begin. You can break them later when you know what you’re doing.

See, that’s the thing about rules. They’re usually a place to begin. Nothing wrong with that, but we get in trouble when we substitute rules for understanding.

Rules are often intended for novices. Every parent of a three-year-old establishes absolutes like “never step in the street unless you’re holding my hand.” It’s a perfectly logical rule—for a three-year-old—but the kid’s life would be miserable if he turned it into a life-long barrier.

Many rules are meant to evolve or disappear with wisdom and experience. A great way to hinder growth is insisting on absolute compliance to an outdated rule.

Think about you own “rules” and see if any of them were established for particular circumstances that no longer exist. Do any of them need to be modified or eliminated?

Rules are often minimums. Drivers know the basic “rules of the road.” Does anyone believe that knowing and following those rules makes you a good driver? Laws and regulations are a starting point, but they can’t replace experience and judgment.

“Stay out of the street” doesn’t insulate that three-year-old from harm. That doesn’t make it a bad rule, but good parents teach their children to develop awareness and understanding that translate to other situations.

Are you settling for minimum expectations by following any of your personal rules?

Rules encourage a search for loopholes. Nearly any rule can be circumvented. Adhering to the “letter of the law” is rarely the same as doing the right thing, and the enemy wins when following the rules becomes the acceptable standard of behavior.

Children discover incredibly creative ways to endanger themselves. “Stay out of the street” doesn’t cover parking lots or driveways. Strict, ironclad rules can never cover all the possible exceptions.

Can you see places where you justify marginal choices by claiming that “you’re following the rules”?

Rules are often shortcuts. I don’t want to invest the time and energy to understand how it works. Just tell me the rules so I can get on with it.

That’s okay for low-level, algorithmic processes. I don’t need to know the science behind engine lubrication—I’ll just get the oil changed when it’s time. That’s enough.

The problem occurs when we turn relationships and interactions into rules. Anyone who’s married knows that a sure path to disaster is following a list of rules.

Are you using someone’s list of “ten ways to …” as a shortcut, to avoid the hard work of listening and caring and serving?

I’m not a big fan of rules and laws. I don’t advocate breaking them, but I don’t think they get us closer to doing right.

In John 14, Jesus was preparing His friends for His departure. In verse 4 He says, You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas replies that he doesn’t know. He wants a map and some directions.

And Jesus answers, “I am the way …”

We can’t know God by following the rules. There’s no system of laws that can get us where we were intended to be. Jesus didn’t give us a map, because it doesn’t work like that.

“I am the way.” Jesus gave us Himself as a compass to point the way. Rules won’t do it. I have to get to know Him.

Where are you using rules to substitute for authentic principles of love and respect? What can you do to move away from this tendency?

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

Do You Feel God is Failing You?

Friday, July 9th, 2010

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

Some years ago I served on a pastoral care team at a large Southern California church, where one of my primary responsibilities was biblical counseling. I never ceased to be amazed at the number of Christians who came into my office to complain of God’s unfaithfulness and unfair treatment in their lives. Financial problems? God’s provision wasn’t sufficient. Wayward children? God hadn’t led them properly. Broken marriage? God had failed to intervene.

I don’t discount the reality or severity of some of the difficulties people encounter, but I do take issue with their faulty logic. I remember thinking that I had walked with God for decades (even then!) and never found Him to be anything but absolutely and perfectly faithful. Yet suddenly I was supposed to believe that He had failed them—that they were right and He was wrong.

People often tell me they consider me a wise and mature person. It’s all I can do to keep a straight face sometimes! But I understand where that assessment originated, and all the credit goes to the One who has patiently loved me and worked in my life all these years. When I became a believer at the age of 26, I understood at that very moment that everything I had ever known or believed was wrong, and I had to relearn all of it—every single bit! And I set to work to do it. Some years later, in the middle of the night, I awoke with these words echoing in my heart: “My Word has forever been established in the heavens; now it is established in your heart.”

I understood that God was telling me that absolute, unshakable faith in His Word had been established in concrete within me. Life’s earthquakes would continue, but nothing could ever shake my faith in Him or His Word. From that point on, if I found myself at odds with something He said, I knew it was because I was wrong and/or I simply wasn’t able to comprehend it.

His ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours; accepting that fact simplifies life. We live in a broken world where problems and trials inundate us with regularity, but understanding that nothing that comes against us changes the truth of God’s character or His Word gives us the firm foundation we need to withstand the shock waves. There is no pain or problem that can destroy us if we stand on the unshakable truth of God’s Word and His unconditional love for us. The next time you or someone you know is tempted to blame God for fiery darts that threaten our faith, remember whose you are—and how far beyond ours are His thoughts and His ways. Then rejoice in that truth; there is great peace in the midst of it.

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

Jazz

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

I don’t know much about jazz except that I usually like it, especially live. I’m thinking that our lives might be a little richer if they were a little more like jazz.

Jazz music is sort of unscripted. Each song has a basic melody and sometimes words, but the performance is spontaneous. Real jazz isn’t rehearsed like a lot of other music—it’s more of a live interaction between the musicians. They practice and develop their individual skills, but the music happens when they play off one another.

Jazz is like life—you never quite know what you’re going to get until it happens, and when something magical occurs you’re not exactly sure why. And when you try to repeat the magic and turn it into a formula, something’s missing. I think that’s why the best jazz is live.

I think we tend to approach life like a symphony. We want every note rehearsed and predictable, each person to play their part precisely according to the score. So we plan and practice and scheme, but it never quite happens like we expect.

Jazz is self-expression. Two players might perform the same song with the same instrument, but each will produce something unique because part of themselves gets expressed.

I once heard an aspiring pianist lament that she could play the notes, but somehow she could never make the music. That’s how jazz seems to me—many of the songs are simple, and most any musician can play the notes. Great jazz seems to happen when special folks collaborate to turn the notes into music. And they really can’t explain the process, because it’s something that comes from their souls.

Maybe we could learn something from jazz. What if we stopped looking for the right answers and trying to make it happen according to a pre-arranged script? What if we listened carefully to others and added to their contribution, let what’s happening right now tell us what should happen next? What if we didn’t try to reduce relationships to formulas and programs?

As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that God might just care more about the music than the notes.

Does this make sense to you? How could you make your life a bit more like jazz?

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

Sickness Is Discouraging But….

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

A poor shoemaker in his dreary little shop in a great city, one day noticed that there was one little place in his dark room, from which he could get a view of green fields, blue skies and faraway hills. He wisely set up his bench at that point, so that at any moment he could lift his eyes from his dull work–and have a glimpse of the great, beautiful world outside.

Just so, from the darkest sick-room, and from the midst of the keenest sufferings, there is always a point from which we can see the face of Christ and have a glimpse of the glory of heaven. If only we will find this place and get this vision–it will make it easy to endure even the greatest suffering.

“For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down–when we die and leave these bodies–we will have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God Himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long for the day when we will put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.” 2 Corinthians 5:1-2

Sickness is discouraging and is hard to bear. But we should remember that the doing of the will of God is always the noblest, holiest thing we can do any hour–however hard it may be for us. If we are called to suffer–let us suffer patiently and sweetly. Under all our sharp trials–let us keep the peace of God in our hearts. The outward man may indeed decay–but the inward man will be renewed day by day.

(J. R. Miller, “The Wider Life” 1908)

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !

Go And Do Likewise

Monday, July 5th, 2010

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” [Luke 10:36-37]

This discussion is based on Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan.

We are not defined by our experiences. My story’s nothing special; everyone has a unique, compelling personal story. I’m not an injury or a disability, nor am I the mistakes I’ve made along the way. In the parable, the man wasn’t less precious or worthy because of his misfortune.

We all know individuals with similar experiences and backgrounds but very different lives. We’re defined in the end by how we deal with the events we encounter. Some folks rise above incredible adversity, others shrink in the face of the smallest obstacles. Blessings and struggles are present on every road, but we determine the nature of the journey through our reactions and responses.

To me, experiences seem like context or background for the real story. They’re important, and we can certainly learn from them. But a story centered only on “what happened” can’t have much depth because “what happened” misses the most important components of the story.

We are defined by relationships. We’re made in God’s image, and He is about relationships. We are designed for authentic intimacy with God, with other people, and with ourselves.

I firmly believe I owe my eventual recovery to people who reflected God’s grace and mercy when I didn’t want to see them. They loved when it wasn’t easy, despite my stubborn resistance. Those folks were “Jesus with skin on” and they refused to allow fear to keep them from doing what had already been done for them.

The church exists to serve people. Church isn’t intended as an exclusive club reserved for a bit better class of sinner. It’s a hospital, not a hall of fame.

That means church can’t be just for folks who look, act, dress, and behave like us. Church should be uncomfortable at times because it reaches out and welcomes people who don’t fit in our comfort zone.

My life didn’t change because of an injury or due to any heroic personal decisions. It changed because people welcomed me and loved me when I was a mess, when I didn’t belong.

Of course, they were as messed-up as I was. I brought something they needed, though I didn’t see it at the time. As my friend Al is fond of saying, “Nobody’s here by accident.”

Jesus often shows up in unexpected clothing. During times of struggle I often wonder why God doesn’t step up, but that’s because I expect Him to speak from a burning bush.

Jesus was with me, speaking to me, throughout a horrible ordeal. I didn’t recognize Him because He wore a nurse’s scrubs, a therapist’s lab coat, or a college student’s blue jeans. He spoke to me and cared for me through ordinary, imperfect people.

Jesus’ message is actually pretty simple. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or convenient, but He tells us pretty clearly how to respond to His call. He ended the parable with a clear command: “Go and do likewise.”

We make it complicated. His simple message of unconditional love doesn’t fit our limited notions of how the world ought to work. It’s uncomfortable, it requires sacrifice. So we impose our own rules and conditions and turn His message into a tangle of religious rules. We endlessly debate the rules instead of following Jesus.

We lament that God won’t tell us what He wants. We pray for guidance and direction. We sing songs about the mystery of His purposes. That’s all good, but sometimes I wonder if it’s an elaborate religious smokescreen.

Jesus told the parable of The Good Samaritan in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

At the end, He asked a question of His own: which of the characters was a neighbor to the man in need? The reply was, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Then Jesus told Him, “Go and do likewise.”

Perhaps if we did the truth we know, we’d learn the truth we need to know.

“Knowing about” doesn’t do much good. I thought I knew Jesus, but I really just knew about Him. I knew the facts, the story, the events, but those were useless when the storm arrived. I needed to meet Him, encounter Him in an intimate, transparent relationship.

It’s the same with grace. We all know about grace, but that’s like reading a book about kids and thinking you know how to be a parent. Grace becomes real when it’s reflected to those who need it (that’s you and me and everyone else).

Our words and knowledge don’t change lives. God’s grace and truth changes lives, and He uses ordinary people to demonstrate His love. And that brings me to a final observation …

God uses imperfect people to accomplish His perfect work. Ever wonder why God works through flawed human beings? It’s because they’re the only kind.

I’ve learned not to idealize people. Christians can do God’s work through the Spirit. Pastors have a special call on their lives. Teachers, preachers, writers—they all have something to contribute. Nobody’s here by accident.

But even the best of us are broken. We all have blind spots and biases. We all make mistakes and then rationalize or blame. We all judge and allow fear to color our vision. We all fail to do what’s right, even when we know it.

I don’t deserve any of the blessings I’ve received. I’m here for one simple reason: Jesus loves me.

Now I want to respond to His simple direction: “Go and do likewise.”

What’s your take on events, people, and what shapes your journey?

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”

But the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

The Memorable “God Moments” that Bless Us

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

My husband and I just returned from a week in St. Louis, where we attended lovely banquets with precious friends and colleagues, signed/promoted my two newest books, and received great news about current sales and future contracts. Does it get any better than that?

Um, yes, actually, it does. I don’t mean to diminish for a moment the joys of fellowshipping with like-minded believers who share my passion for spreading the Good News via the written/spoken word, as it truly is a glorious pursuit. But in the midst of all the eating and talking, laughing and rejoicing—and yes, the many business transactions—I’m grateful for the “God moments” that jumped out and reminded me what it’s all about and why we were there in the first place.

As I returned to my hotel from the convention center one afternoon, I spotted a homeless man on the street. Because my husband wasn’t with me and I felt no clear direction from the Lord to stop, I passed him by with only a smile, though I used the remainder of the journey to my room as a time of prayer for him. Another time I was stopped by a woman at the convention hall who said, “I just have to tell you about how your husband blessed me. I set my purse down somewhere along the way, and he noticed. He hurried over to pick it up, and then chased me through the crowds until he returned it to me.” He hadn’t even mentioned it to me, which is so like him.

God moments. They happen often and everywhere, if we’ll take the time to remember them, particularly in the midst of the many other activities of life. For after all, what does the Lord require of us? That we write and sell a million books? Speak to crowds of thousands? Establish a recognizable name/presence in the media?

No. He requires only that we “do justly, …love mercy, and…walk humbly with [our] God.” From that will come the memorable “God moments” that will bless us (and others) more than we can ever dream or imagine. May you experience your own such moments today as you heed the timeless, changeless words of Micah to the nation of Israel so long ago….

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

Moving from Passive Victim to Active Seeker

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Albert Einstein.

I’ve been thinking a bit (an unusual and dangerous development) about the notion of overcoming adversity. As a paraplegic, I’m often asked questions like: How did you deal with it? How did you get past it? What helped you move forward?

When I recall twenty-one years of adjusting to life in a wheelchair, first impressions include frustration, anger, and isolation. Each challenge seems to elicit a sense of impossibility and hopelessness, and my initial reaction is capitulation. It’s as though I’m programmed to greet difficult circumstances with: I’ll never be able to …

I can’t sometimes lingers for moments, sometimes for years. But as I analyze how I surmounted insurmountable obstacles, a consistent theme emerges. After I tired of I can’t, I discovered an innate curiosity that prompted surprising creativity. And I think that creative urge is part of how I was created in God’s image. He’s inherently creative.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1: 1-3)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1: 1-5)

The first thing God tells us about Himself is that He created, and John echoes that creative element in his initial description of Jesus. I think that understanding this central aspect of God’s character explains how we can approach obstacles in a more positive, productive manner.

After my accident I wasted several years mired in depression and hopelessness, until a counselor encouraged me to begin a journal. As I expressed my feelings and thoughts, I encountered an unexpected sense of peace and curiosity. Rather than simply venting, I began probing and exploring, searching for patterns and insights. And gradually I moved from passive victim to active seeker. I discovered that I enjoyed writing, and an exciting new career path appeared.

I’ve published more than two dozen magazine articles and a book. I’ve cranked a hand cycle more than ten thousand miles. I’ve spoken to large and small audiences about overcoming adversity. I’ve successfully taught middle school mathematics.

Each of these was delayed and nearly prevented by I can’t. Each accomplishment proceeded when I stopped focusing on impossibility and allowed myself to creatively seek new approaches.

As a follower of Jesus, I want to do life God’s way. When I encounter a challenge, I want to tap the power and joy of creativity that’s part of my identity in Christ.

What’s an obstacle you face that might look different if you approached it with curiosity and creativity?

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