Archive for August, 2010

Retreat

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Retreat is often a bad thing. The battle’s not going well, and the commander decides it’s time to back off.  RETREAT means you’re admitting defeat, running away.

I’m writing this morning from the retreat center at YMCA Of The Rockies in the mountains above Estes Park, Colorado. We’re on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park—right now I’m watching some elk in a meadow, maybe a hundred yards from this porch. Less than fifty miles from home, it feels like I’ve stumbled into another world.

In this beautiful place, surrounded by the beauty and stillness of God’s creation, “retreat” assumes a decidedly positive meaning. If life sometimes seems like a battle, perhaps a strategic retreat is a sensible tactic.

Maybe retreat isn’t running away so much as backing away for a better view.

Maybe constantly charging full-speed ahead isn’t the most effective approach. Maybe re-grouping, re-charging, re-supplying isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe there’s a different approach, a better plan of attack, and the only way to discern a more useful method involves shifting my perspective.

What a blessing to turn off the cell phone and engage in deep conversations without needing to interrupt for the next deadline. If this is running away, then perhaps I should make running away a habit.

By the time this article posts I’ll be back home, grateful for familiar surroundings, renewed energy, and fresh understanding. This morning I’m just being right here, believing that God has something to tell me in this magical place.

So for a few more moments I’m just going to watching the elk graze in the shadow of towering mountains, ponder the amazing fact that the water in the stream was snow just a few hours ago, and listen for God’s voice in the breeze.

Do we all need to retreat a little more often?
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 Communicate

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. [Hebrews 4:14-16]

What’s the best way to convince someone to listen to you?

One great strategy is to arouse enough curiosity to elicit a question. By answering a question, you’re helping, offering desired information. Skilled communicators know how to create a sense of shared problem-solving that puts everyone on the same side of the issue.

Yesterday I wrote about this great t-shirt.

Bob, who told me about ME TOO, said it’s a great conversation starter. People look confused and ask, “ME TOO … what?” He answers with a ten-second statement about his faith in Jesus.

I’ve been thinking about Jesus and ME TOO. It’s almost like He understood the power of such a simple notion.

I have a hard time imagining that God truly identifies with me, because I surely can’t identify with Him. There’s quite a gap between little old me and the Creator of the universe. I know He loves me, but the relationship is impossibly one sided. He brings everything to the table—I Got Nothing. The gap could never be bridged, at least by any human act.

So God reached across the gap. Jesus, fully God, left the glory of heaven and crossed an un-crossable divide. And because of His sacrifice, it’s like He put on this silly t-shirt.

“Jesus, sometimes I wonder why I feel so far from God.”

“ME TOO.”

“And sometimes I’m afraid of what’s in front of me.”

“ME TOO.”

“I get tempted to take shortcuts.”

“ME TOO.”

“And I feel lonely when my friends don’t show up.”

“ME TOO.”

“And when things get really bad, I just want God to make it all better.”

“ME TOO.”

God found the most improbable way of letting me know He understands. He sacrificed His Son, sent Him to walk in my shoes, so I could know we’re on the same side.

Whenever I imagine a distant, infinite God who cannot possibly know what it’s like to be me, I think about what one of my friends calls “Jesus in a t-shirt and tennis shoes.”

Now I have an even better picture. His t-shirt says ME TOO.

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 Know What’s Right

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Do you ever have trouble knowing the right thing to do?

I’ve recently listened to a number of presentations by a very smart man about “discernment.” I won’t name the speaker because I’m not certain I understood exactly what he said and I don’t want to misrepresent his position.

Basically, here’s what I heard:

  1. There’s always a highest, best right in every situation.
  2. Everyone can learn to discern that highest, best right.
  3. If discernment is thorough and honest, there will be no disagreement about the highest, best action. As I understood the notion, if my version of right differs from yours, one of us must be “more right.”

I wasn’t sure if I agreed, or even understood, so I spent some time researching discernment. As usual, I discovered that I’ve been guilty of some pretty fuzzy thinking.

In general usage, we tend to use the terms discernment and wisdom interchangeably. In fact, some sources list them as synonyms. While there’s certainly some overlap, I think there are subtle-but-important distinctions. They’re even listed as distinct spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12.

The discussions in which I encountered these notions were not overtly faith-based, but I happen to know that the presenter is a committed follower of Jesus. So I decided to seek an understanding of discernment from a biblical perspective.

I checked several sources, including major denominational web sites, for definitions. Not surprisingly, they didn’t all agree. (Interesting aside—a search of one very large denomination’s site returned no specific information concerning spiritual gifts. They did, however, provide ample discussion on the “spiritual” blessings of “giving,” including estate planning advice and a ranked list of regional contributions.)

Sorting through the semantics, here’s what emerged as my understanding:

Discernment is more accurately labeled as “discernment of spirits.” It’s the gift of determining whether a particular teaching or behavior is from God, Satan, or human. Discernment is a matter of intuition and insight, and may be based on a sense of being in touch with the Spirit on a heart level. As one source described it, discernment is a type of knowing at a visceral level that transcends empirical knowledge.

Wisdom is the gift of applying knowledge and spiritual truths in practical, everyday situations. Wisdom allows one to make connections, understand root causes, and see the deeper implications of beliefs and actions. Wisdom leads to the best individual and group decisions.

OBSERVATIONS

Based on my understanding, here’s what I think I know about discernment.

1. There’s always a highest, best right in every situation.

From my perspective, this is obviously true. God’s will is always the highest, best course of action. Basically, the answer to “What Would Jesus Do?” would represent the highest, best right.

2. Everyone can learn to discern that highest, best right.

I’m not sure about this one. Theologically, discernment is a gift of the Spirit. As I understand it, some people will be better “discerners” than others because that’s their gift. So while everyone can and should practice discernment, some folks are given the ability to discern at deeper, more accurate levels.

Practically, even the most gifted human cannot completely know God’s thoughts. We can pray and seek guidance, but I’m not sure anyone can always know God’s will with absolute certainty.

3. If discernment is thorough and honest, there will be no disagreement about the highest, best action. As I understood the notion, if my version of right differs from yours, one of us must be “more right.”

Theoretically, this conclusion follows from #1. Any behavior or thought must either be “right” or “not right.” God’s will is a very small target—you either hit it or you don’t.

On a practical level, I can’t envision a situation in which individuals can ignore deeply-held personal biases and beliefs. We may agree on the existence of ultimate truth in all circumstances, but I doubt our ability to agree on the precise nature of that truth.

So … ?

I began with a question: Do you ever have trouble knowing the right thing to do?

Of course the question is rhetorical. I’m sure we all agree that knowing what’s right is a struggle. But I think there’s an even tougher, more convicting question: When you know what’s right, do you do it?

I’m thinking that this whole debate about absolute truth and not knowing God’s perfect will for every situation might be a smokescreen.

As long as I operate with a limited human brain I’ll encounter circumstances in which I’m uncertain about what’s right. No amount of prayer, discipline, or searching will alter that fact of human nature. As Paul writes [1 Corinthians 13:12], Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

God’s thoughts will always retain an element of mystery—at least on this side of eternity. But mystery doesn’t mean I know nothing, it simply means I don’t know everything.

Someday I’ll know for sure. In the meantime, I believe that I need to focus on the truth I know. If I do that, I believe God will show me the truth I need to know.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. [1 Corinthians 13:13]

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

He Who Holds the Pruning-knife

Thursday, August 26th, 2010


“I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener.  . . . He prunes every branch that produces fruit–so that it will produce more fruit.” John 15:1-2

Our Father is the gardener; we are branches under His care. He watches over our lives. The painful afflictions which cut into our very souls, the taking from us of objects that are dear to us, as when the gardener with his sharp knife removes luxuriant branches from the vine–are our Father’s prunings! No hand but His–ever holds the knife! We are sure, then, that there is never any careless cutting, any unwise or mistaken pruning, any needless removing of rich branches or growths.

We really need to go no farther than this. A strong, abiding confidence that all the trials, sorrows and losses of our lives–are parts of our Father’s prunings–ought to silence every question, quiet every fear and give peace and restful assurance to our hearts, in all their pain. We cannot know the reason for the painful strokes–but we know that He who holds the pruning-knife is our Father! That is all we need to know.

The other thought in the Lord’s parable, is scarcely less full of comfort to a Christian. Jesus says, that it is the fruitful branches which the Father prunes: “He prunes every branch that produces fruit–so that it will produce more fruit.”

Afflictions are not, then, a mark of God’s anger or disapproval; rather, they are a mark of His favor. The branches into which He cuts, from which he trims away the luxuriant growths–are fruit-bearing already. He does not prune the fruitless branches–He cuts them off altogether as useless, as mere cumberers, absorbing life and yielding nothing of blessing or good.

Some Christians have the impression that their many troubles indicate that God does not love them–that they cannot be true Christians, or they would not be so chastened. This teaching of Christ shows how mistaken they are. The much chastening shows that the Father is pruning His fruitful branch–to make it more fruitful! All whom the Father loves–He chastens!

It is the fruitless branch that is never pruned; the fruitful branch is pruned, and pruned–not by one without skill, not by an enemy–but by the wise Father! Thus we see how we may rejoice–even in our trials and afflictions!

One who was altogether ignorant of the art and purpose of pruning, who should see a man with a sharp knife cutting off branch after branch of a luxuriant vine, would at first suppose that the pruner was ruining the vine. So at the time it seems–but by and by, it appears that the prunings have made the vine more fruitful. In the season of vintage, the grapes are more luscious, with a richer flavor in them–because of the cutting away of the superfluous branches.

In like manner, if an angel who had never witnessed anything of human suffering, and who knew nothing of its object, were to see the Father causing pain and affliction to His children, it would seem to him that these experiences could be only destructive of happiness and blessing; but if the angel were to follow those chastened lives on to the end, he would see untold blessing coming out of the chastenings! The Father was but pruning the branches–that they might bear more and better fruit!

We should never lose sight of the divine purpose in all trials–to make our lives more fruitful.

(J. R. Miller, “Looking at the Right Side” 1888)

Unconditional

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

It seems that we attach unconditional a little too easily. It’s one of those words that sounds good, as long as you don’t take it seriously.

Lately I’ve been participating in a year-long conference in which a basic principle is Unconditional Positive Respect (UPR). The idea is that every individual merits UPR, regardless of behavior, beliefs, or even whether that person returns the respect. I observe that even among participants who claim to embrace the notion, we’re much better at describing UPR than demonstrating it.

In Christian circles we talk about unconditional love. We proclaim that those who follow Jesus receive unconditional grace and forgiveness. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not always good at receiving or reflecting either.

I’m afraid I tend to unintentionally attach conditions to those concepts I believe to be unconditional. Even worse, I’m tempted to think that unconditional violates some universal sense of justice. I get it for most folks, but does that guy really deserve forgiveness, respect, or love?

And of course I’m right—that guy doesn’t deserve any of them.

And neither do I.

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

Expect Opposition

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Nehemiah 4:14: “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” (NIV)

When we strive to rebuild our lives because of the loss of a family member, marital conflict, divorce, economic instability, addiction, betrayal or some other challenge, we can expect opposition. The devil hates us and uses people to mock us, to threaten us or to block our rebuilding. Nehemiah faced the ridicule and the threats of Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod.

Sometimes, we, like the people in Judah in verse 10, feel our strength diminish, but we don’t give up. We have their example to offer us hope. “Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked” (verses 17-18). They prepared themselves in case of attack. They remembered who the Lord is and were ready to fight for their families and their homes.

When we feel weary from the attacks of Satan who is ready to devour us, we can put on the armor of God. We can do as Nehemiah and the others did and keep our armor on day and night.

Dear God, help me fight for my family and my home. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Application: What will I do today to ward off opposition?

Gratitude

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Since I usually associate abundance with gratitude, I started wondering if I’m truly grateful. I haven’t said I’m grateful much lately, which got me wondering whether gratitude has to be conscious and expressed to be authentic. If I don’t acknowledge something, does that mean I’m taking it for granted?

I don’t know the answer—I’m hoping you will leave a comment and share your thoughts. But I decided to take my bike ride this morning with an intentionally grateful attitude, trying to be consciously aware of the everyday things I encounter and maybe don’t always appreciate.

I’m grateful for:

  • Cool early mornings.
  • A dad who walked his son to the bus stop for the first day of school.
  • A family picking up trash along the bike path.
  • An absolutely still pond.
  • The flock (Gaggle? Herd?) of geese who blocked the trail on their way for an early morning swim. It’s pretty incredible to sit five feet from such creatures while they ignore your presence.
  • The free entertainment provided by the guy who was in a hurry and thought he could scare the geese off the path by yelling and charging at them. Two big Canadian geese with wings spread full-out, hissing and charging back, is a pretty intimidating sight. Didn’t know a guy straddling a bike could back up that fast.
  • Dogs.
  • Clean, clear water. (I KNOW I take that for granted.)
  • The secluded spot where Spring Creek tumbles over the rocks.
  • The cardiac recovery group from the hospital. They laughed and chatted, savoring new friendships forged by shared adversity and hope.
  • The boy who pointed and asked his dad why I was riding “that kind of” bike.
  • His dad, who smiled while I answered the follow-up questions. Why do you pedal with your arms? Why don’t your legs work? Why does your neck make your legs paralyzed? Why are you wearing those gloves? Why can’t they fix your legs? (I think he was glad someone else faced the incessant barrage of “why?”)
  • The chocolate lab splashing in the creek.
  • Monte’s greeting when I returned home.

I guess you get the idea—no problem finding events for which I’m grateful. I still don’t know the answer to my question—maybe it really doesn’t matter.

It wasn’t the best, most focused workout. Too many interruptions.

I’m grateful.

I need to slow down and acknowledge my gratitude. You?

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

Identifying with Other’s

Friday, August 20th, 2010

I hear that a lot when I speak to groups. The speaker implies that my experience is so uniquely horrific that most folks simply can’t relate. But it goes a step further—somehow, my loss is “worse” than anything most other folks have experienced.

I don’t agree.

When I’m feeling a little sarcastic I’m tempted to reply, “I hear what you’re saying, and I appreciate your concern. But being bald isn’t really as bad as you think.”

I know—it’s a really terrible joke. But doesn’t the corny humor conceal a grain of truth?
“None of us can identify with what you’ve been through.”
None of us can truly identify with another’s experience. If you have a full, luxurious head of hair, you certainly can’t appreciate having most of your scalp involuntarily exposed to the weather. If you can walk and run and jump, you don’t truly understand what it’s like to suddenly lose those abilities forever.

But I cannot fully comprehend the nightmare of abuse or the horror of a child’s death. I don’t understand what it’s like to be in prison. There’s something unique about each loss that makes it, on one level, incomprehensible to anyone else.

My question isn’t about the uniqueness—it’s about the comparing. I guess I get concerned when people compare their pain—or their happiness—to someone else’s.

Some people go even further. “Hearing your story makes me feel guilty about my petty troubles.”

So if I understand it correctly, your pain suddenly disappeared because I showed up with a sadder story? And if someone with terminal cancer enters the room, I guess I’m no longer entitled to my sense of loss?

This preposterous obsession with comparison stems from the culture’s pervasive attitude of scarcity. We act like there’s a limited supply of esteem or self-worth or love. Contentment and happiness become objects of competition; it you want more you have to take them from someone else.

I think it’s this attitude of scarcity that compels us to compare pain and loss. If happiness is defined relative to others, then misery must be that way as well.

It’s a lie.

The simple truth is that one person’s pain has nothing to do with another’s. As a friend of mine says, “Everyone’s worst is their worst.”

I believe God wants me to operate from an attitude of abundance. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The KJV translation says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Scarcity and comparing are rooted in insecurity. We strive for more in a futile attempt to fill the void of “not enough.” It’s an endless death spiral of guilt and resentment that divides us into “haves” and “have-nots,” “fortunate” and “less fortunate.” It’s a world of “my car’s better than yours” and “your pain’s worse than mine.”

Abundance and fullness offer freedom. When contentment and peace are freely available to all, I can experience compassion without pity and celebration without resentment or guilt.

Pain, loss, and grief are perhaps the most universally human experiences, and what unites is far more powerful than what divides. We devalue this common understanding when we insist on comparing, categorizing, and judging our triumphs and tragedies.

We’d do better to seek understanding that allows us to support each other with unconditional love. You may not know what it’s like to be paralyzed, but you know exactly what it’s like to grieve and ask why God allowed such pain.

That’s an attitude of abundance that fosters growth, wisdom, and transparent relationships.

I do not believe my struggle is any “worse” or “better” than yours—except maybe for the bald part.

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

Evidence

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Someone once asked a penetrating question: If you were accused in court of being a follower of Jesus, would your behavior provide enough evidence to convict you?

In Acts 11, Barnabas was sent by the Jerusalem church leaders to the Antioch church in which the label “Christian” was first used.

When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. [Acts 11:23]

They didn’t have to tell him what was happening. He saw the evidence of grace in the behaviors and attitudes of believers.

I’m wondering if others see evidence of God’s grace in my behavior.

What do I need to change to make sure my attitudes, my responses to people, and my actions offer evidence of Jesus’ presence?

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

Our Conception of Christian Living

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010


True religion is intensely practical. Only so far as it dominates one’s life–is it real. We must get the commandments out of God’s Word–and give them a place in the hard, dusty paths of our earthly toil and struggle. We must get them off the tables of stone–and have them written on the walls of our own hearts! We must bring the Golden Rule–into our daily, actual life.

We are too apt to imagine, that holiness consists in mere good feeling toward God. It does not! It consists in obedience in heart and life to the divine requirements. To be holy is, first, to be set apart for God and devoted to God’s service, and it necessarily follows that we must live for God.

Our hands are God’s–and can fitly be used only in doing His work; our feet are God’s–and may be employed only in walking in His ways and running His errands; our lips are God’s–and should speak words only that honor Him and bless others; our hearts are God’s–and must not be profaned by thoughts and affections that are not pure.

True holiness is no vague sentiment–it is intensely practical. It is nothing less than the bringing of every thought and feeling and act–into obedience to Christ! We are quite in danger of leaving out the element of obedience, in our conception of Christian living. If we do this, our religion loses its strength and grandeur–and becomes weak, nerveless and forceless.

Our religion must touch every part of our life–and transform it all into the beauty of holiness.

~ J. R. Miller, “Being Christians on Weekdays” 1888

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !