Archive for August, 2010

How To Change Without Changing

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” [Luke 5: 37-38]

Have you ever wanted to start over?

I sure have, lots of times, and I’m betting that I’m not alone. I suspect that most of us, at one time or another, have wished we could just hit the RESET key.

That’s a great blessing of following Jesus. Through Him, God offers a new beginning. Each day, each hour, each moment is an opportunity to start over. I’m not a prisoner of my past, my genetics, or my circumstances. I can change. But there’s a funny little catch.

If you want to change, you have to change.

That may sound like the silliest statement you’ve ever heard, but think about it for a moment. How often have you encountered someone (maybe yourself?) who wants things to be different, but without really changing anything?

  • Want to lose weight? Sure. Okay, but you have to eat differently. Yeah, but I really like ice cream and chocolate.
  • Want to break that addiction? Absolutely. Well, you may need to change your surroundings, stop going certain places or hanging out with certain people. Yeah, but they’re my friends!
  • Want others to respond differently to you? Yeah. Then let’s change some of the behaviors that turn people away. But I can’t do that—it’s just the way I am.
  • Want to learn and grow? Certainly. Good—now let go of those ideas and prejudices that you’ve allowed to define you. Seriously—you mean I have to think differently, maybe even admit that I was wrong? Hills Worth Fighting For)
  • Want to follow Jesus? Of course. So, love your enemies. Yeah, but surely you don’t mean I have to love THOSE people, right?

I’d guess that most of us see ourselves somewhere in this kind of internal conversation. Why can’t THEY change? Why does it have to work this way? Why do I have to give up stuff I like?

Why can’t I change without changing?

Jesus knew about this desire for new outcomes from old habits.

He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.” [Luke 5: 36]

Jesus brought a new covenant, a fresh start, and freedom from the oppressive rules and laws that often separate people from God. He offered new wine and fresh, clean clothing.

And can’t you just hear the response?

But why should I throw away the comfortable, familiar old jeans? I know they’re pretty worn, but can’t we use your new garment to sort of fill in the holes? You don’t really want us to just toss them out, do you?

Of course we want new results … but why do we have to change?

The more I learn of Jesus, the more I realize the truly radical nature of His message. He never intended to fix the broken pieces with a little super glue while leaving things mostly intact..

Jesus came to declare something entirely fresh and completely new. He didn’t intend to patch us, but to totally transform us. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, those who follow Jesus are “a new creation.”

This new creation, this fresh start, is yours and mine for the taking. No requirements, no preconditions, no qualifications. You claim it and it’s yours.

But you can’t keep the old stuff. The comfortable political convictions, the convenient divisiveness that lets you associate with the “right” people and avoid the “wrong” folks, the familiar traditions—they all have to go. You can’t change without changing.

Jesus isn’t a patch for us to justify retaining our preferences, comforts, and desires, the old ways to which we’d really like to cling if we could just mend the results a bit.

He’s an entirely new Way.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! [2 Corinthians 5:17]

What’s a place in your life in which you’ve tried to change without changing?

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

Hills Worth Fighting For

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Do you believe absolute truth exists?

I do. I believe some notions are set-in-stone, no-exceptions-allowed, no-question-about-it, all-time-and-forever true.

I also believe most ideas don’t qualify for that status. I’ve written about this before (Left, Right, Or Something Else?) but it’s one of those topics that keeps poking at me. Apparently I still have more to learn.

Maybe it’s the mid-term elections and the reappearance of nasty, negative campaign rhetoric. Maybe it’s my own tendency to argue and debate, my habitual need to win. But whatever it is, I seem to be bumping into an awful lot of either-or thinking lately.

It’s a natural tendency. We get attracted to an idea, accumulate some evidence, and decide that’s our position. So far, no real problem.

The difficulties begin when we drive a stake in the ground and decide that’s where we’re going to make our stand. So we set up camp, build a house, and suddenly an idea becomes a sacred fortress that must be defended at all costs.

It started with an idea, a thought, a perception based on what we knew at the time. We were traveling in the wilderness and came across a pleasant place to rest. But that stake-turned-camp-turned-fortress somehow became the destination, the ultimate end of the journey. We can’t move—too much invested in this spot. And if someone comes along with new evidence of a much more sensible place to settle, it’s as though they’re telling us we’re stupid for stopping here. Our identity is so intertwined with this place that we’ve almost become the location.

We’ve become the idea.

The guy with the new take, the fresh evidence, must be evil, the enemy. After all, he’s attacking OUR PLACE, which means he’s attacking us. We can’t allow that, so we fight back. We twist data, manufacture facts, and perform convoluted mental gymnastics to force the new square peg into our entrenched round hole.

Why? Because we can no longer perceive that it was just an idea. Pausing there made sense, at least until new information indicated the existence of a more suitable campsite. And now moving makes even more sense, but we can’t because the idea, the position, is our identity.

And now, not only do we refuse to move but we demand that everyone else move to our spot. If they don’t, then they’re saying we’re wrong. Can’t have that.

A man once told of defending a hill in Viet Nam. They’d fought to take the hill from the enemy, and now it was THEIR hill. People died to drive the other side from the hill, and if they didn’t defend it the sacrifice would be wasted. So they repelled withering assaults, suffered dozens of casualties, and eventually prevailed.

A few days later, they picked up their gear and marched off the hill. No replacements—they just vacated this space for which many died. And why did they fight for it in the first place? Because the other guys had it.

I think a lot of our ideas are like that hill. We defend them simply because they’re ours and we’ve invested in them. We can’t just toss them aside, so we defend the hill that may not be worth defending any longer.

This sort of thinking prevents learning and growth. If life is a journey, if there’s always more to be discovered, what’s the sense in picking out the first convenient spot and settling there?

Some hills are worth fighting for. Some are worth dying for.

But most of them aren’t. They’re just hills.

Are you so identified with any ideas that you can’t separate your self from the idea? How might that prevent you from considering new evidence?

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

Biblical Building Codes

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Note: This article is semi-serious and semi-sarcastic. Discern carefully and with a bit of humor.

Do you know anyone who uses scripture like a weapon?

Occasionally you encounter someone who carries around their memorized verses like a quiver of arrows. They pull them out to support political positions, social preferences, and just about any opinion about any subject. You name the discussion and they can produce a verse that offers the definitive word.

Thus Sayeth The Lord! End of conversation.

One of my friends has a great term for such folks. She calls them “pick-n-choosers” because they always pick out just the part that supports their opinion while choosing to ignore context or other passages that might cloud the issue.

I suspect that we’re all guilty of being “pick-n-choosers” at times. We all probably oversimplify, interpret without sufficient study, and even occasionally twist a passage intentionally to reinforce a point. It’s just part of being humans with biases and limited understanding. The best we can do is to be aware and try to remain open to new learning.

When I’m feeling a little mischievous, I’ll counter a pick-n-chooser’s argument with Deuteronomy 22:8. Now you’re probably digging through the mental archives and coming up empty. I’d bet that almost no one has memorized Deuteronomy 22:8.

When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof. [Deuteronomy 22:8]

Admit it—you didn’t know that one, right? You may even be asking, “What the heck is a ‘parapet’?”

A parapet is a wall-like barrier at the edge of a roof. Does your house have one? Mine doesn’t, despite this clear, unequivocal biblical command. And if you’re familiar with the story of my injury (fell off a roof while installing Christmas lights) you’ll see why I think parapets are a darned good idea.

So does this mean we’re all violating biblical law? Should we hire a contractor immediately to install parapets and demand a change in city building codes to conform to God’s commandments? Is my injury a result of God’s judgment for ignoring His law?

I’m sure you realize that this command was intended for a specific cultural context and that we’re not supposed to begin a small business constructing parapets. But how frequently are scriptures removed from context and applied to equally unintended situations?

This doesn’t mean that scriptural truths don’t exist or that biblical truth is all relative. It does mean that study and discernment are required to properly understand and apply scripture. Context matters.

Take a moment and read the rest of Deuteronomy 22. Anyone in favor of a literal, out-of-context application of verse 5? How about 28-29?

I have a neighbor who insists that the bible should be taken 100% literally. We agree to disagree, though I get the sense that he hopes to someday save me from my blindness.

I think I’ll go and ask him when he’s going to get his parapets installed.

Are you ever tempted to be a pick-n-chooser? How do you discern properly between contextual commands and eternal truths?

What Is It You Want?

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Nehemiah: 2:4: “The king said to me, ‘What is it you want?'”

When we start to rebuild our lives, relationships, jobs, finances or health, we need time and possibly materials or letters of recommendation. We may be like Nehemiah and look sad because of our need to rebuild. The king told Nehemiah, “This can be nothing but sadness of heart” (verse 2).

When we experience that sadness of heart, we can do as Nehemiah did. The king asked him what was wrong, and Nehemiah told him the truth, “Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” We can go before the King of Kings and pour out our hearts to him. God knows anyway. We can tell him about a recent diagnosis of cancer or heart trouble, our finances or whatever needs rebuilding.

Let’s go back to Nehemiah. The king asked, “What is it you want?” Nehemiah knew his list by heart. In verses 7-8, he asked the king for letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates for safe conduct to Judah and a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, for timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple, for the city wall and for his own residence. Not only did the king provide the letters, he also sent some army officers and cavalry with Nehemiah.

Our heavenly Father is also generous with us. When we tell him what we need or the desires of our heart, he provides. Nehemiah moved forward on his rebuilding, but he faced mockery and ridicule from Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Gehsem the Arab. We will also face opposition. We need to remember that Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).

Nehemiah did not halt his rebuilding because of his enemies. In verse 20 he said, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding.” We can stand strong in our God who will also give us success and we too can start rebuilding.

Dear God, help me rebuild my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Application: When will I tell God what I need to rebuild my life?

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !

Copyright 2010, Yvonne Ortega, , LPC, LSATP, CCDVC
All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.
Yvonne is a Speaker, Author, Counselor, Cancer Survivor and
serves on the Board of Directors of Christians in Recovery.
She is the author of Finding Hope for Your Journey through Breast Cancer.
Visit her website: http://YvonneOrtega.com

Laughter

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

As Elmer’s first grandson, I suppose I occupied some sort of favored status.

I remember several things about Elmer. He was probably the strongest, toughest man I’ve ever encountered. Even in his fifties, the men who worked for him in the railroad yard told stories about his toughness. As a kid I didn’t really get it. To me, he was just Grandpa, but some of those men talked about Elmer in nearly legendary terms. I do remember him picking me up in one strong arm, but I guess I thought that’s just what Grandpa’s did.

I also remember Elmer’s death. In an odd way, it might have been the event from his life that had the most significant impact on me.

I know exactly the day he died—November 29, 1963—because it was precisely one week after President Kennedy’s assassination. He was very ill, and he asked to see me before he died. So after a weekend glued to black-and-white television images from Dallas and Washington, my Mom put me on a train for the trip from Chicago to South Dakota.

My aunt met the train at midnight and told me we were going to Grandpa’s house. As a twelve-year-old I didn’t grasp that he made her promise to bring me because feared he might not live through the night.

I remember being shocked when I entered his bedroom. He looked like a shadow of himself. The bulky arms were sticks, his booming voice was a muted whisper. He motioned for me to sit beside him, then reached for something laying on the bed.

“Here. I want you to have this,” he rasped.

“Grandpa—this is your shotgun.”

I couldn’t count the times I’d watched him drop a pheasant with a blast from that gun. I’m not sure I ever saw him miss, but that might be a grandson’s selective memory. He’d taught me to shoot (not very well) with a single-shot 20-gauge. I’d never even fired a 12-gauge, and certainly never dreamed of hunting with HIS gun.

I cradled it carefully, just like he’d taught me. It was a double-barrel, a relatively rare style known as an “over-under.” I ran my fingers along the worn stock, beginning to understand the significance of this moment.

“Now it’s yours. Take good care of it for me.” He slipped into sleep.

The next day was Thanksgiving. I don’t think I got more than a few feet from the leather case containing the most prized possession I’d ever owned. Early the next morning, the phone at my aunt’s house awakened us with the news—Elmer was dead.

The next few days were a blur of tears and arrangements, family filling every spare bed and couch, lots of people I didn’t know asking me about the gun case. I didn’t know what to say—I was afraid to even open the zipper. Then on Sunday everyone gathered on the night before the funeral.

As the evening went on and adult beverages flowed, Elmer’s eight older brothers began telling stories.

They grew up in a rough part of St. Paul, and the youngest brother was also the fiercest fighter. Whenever there was a confrontation, they made sure Elmer was around. The drinks and stories continued, and I noticed the laughter.

Everyone laughed—not polite chuckles but loud, boisterous laughter. The stories got more outrageous, the laughter became more intense until the windows seemed to rattle with each outburst. The louder they got, the more uncomfortable I felt. I pulled my Mom aside.

“Why is everyone laughing? Grandpa’s dead—how come they’re laughing?”

“Think about your grandpa,” she replied. “What’s the one thing you remember?”

And I understood, because of all the things I remembered about Elmer, the most striking was his laugh. He never snickered or chortled. When Elmer laughed it was a full-out, deep bass laugh.

Mom saw the understanding in my face as she remembered her father-in-law. “Your grandpa loved to laugh. If he was still here, don’t you think he’d be right in the middle of the stories?”

I nodded.

“Your grandpa wouldn’t want us sitting around here being sad. That’s not how he’d want to be remembered. He’d want exactly this kind of party.”

She was right, because he never did anything halfway. When grandpa got mad, he got really mad and everyone knew about it. And that’s how he laughed.

I returned to the party and became mesmerized by stories of fighting, outlandish pranks, and the general chaos of life in a small St. Paul apartment with nine boys. I laughed at Elmer’s career as a bare-knuckle boxer, the times his older brothers let him fight their battles, the times when fights never materialized just because Elmer showed up.

I learned about my grandpa that night. I learned about his uncommon combination of fearlessness and gentleness. I learned about his generosity, how he stood up for others, and the times he helped someone through the difficult times of the Great Depression.

I don’t remember his funeral or burial. I don’t recall seeing his lifeless body. One memory is etched into my memory.

I remember Elmer’s laugh.

I believe I’ll spend eternity in God’s presence. Scripture assures me of a new body, which I’m certain will have six-pack abs and a full head of hair and will not require a wheelchair.

I don’t know what that will be like, but I hope there’s laughter.

I hope the souls in heaven laugh like Elmer laughed.

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