Archive for March, 2011

Our Faithful God

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

1 Corinthians 1:9: “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

As long as we live in a fallen world rather than in heaven, we will come in contact with people who are not faithful.

A woman finds out her husband has been unfaithful. An employer discovers one of his employees has embezzled thousands of dollars from him.

Children deceive their parents to avoid the consequences of their misbehavior. Parents abuse their children and lie to them.

We can still triumph, because our God is faithful. He will neither lie to us nor embezzle us. He will help us overcome the unfaithfulness of others.

Indeed, God is faithful. He is our covenant God and will not remove his covenant.

Dear God, thank you for your faithfulness. Amen.

Application: How can you be faithful to your family and friends this week?

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !

Copyright 2011, 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

O Think Upon Your Dignity!

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011


Christian! You are a child of God’s love, an heir of His glory, and reckoned among His favorites! O think upon your dignity, and consider:

Will an Emperor live like a beggar?

Is it befitting for those who are clothed in scarlet–to wallow in the mire?

Am I born of God–and shall I live like a beast?

Has God raised my soul to the purest excellencies–and shall I stain my dignity with the world’s filth?

May I feed upon Christ–and shall I feed upon empty vanities?

Shall I who am to judge the world–be a drudge to the world?

Has Christ prepared for me a mansion in the heavens–and shall I be groveling in earthly mire?

Am I a child of light–and shall I commit the works of darkness?

No! I am born to greater and higher things–than to be a slave to lust, and a drudge to the world!

Thomas Sherman, “Divine Breathings; Or, a Pious Soul Thirsting after Christ”

Hearing The Voice Of Jesus

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Do you believe Jesus speaks to you?

I do.

I’m not getting all ooky-spooky about this. I don’t hear voices or anything like that. In fact, that’s precisely the problem. Most of the time, I don’t hear anything at all. But I don’t think it’s because He’s not talking.

The problem is that I’m not very good at listening.

In John 10 Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd. In a couple of different places He says that His sheep will know Him and will follow because they recognize His voice.

He’s also pretty clear that those who don’t believe are not part of His flock. They apparently don’t follow because they don’t recognize His voice.

Hmmmm.

I absolutely believe I’m one of Jesus’ sheep. Because of grace and His sacrifice, I’ve heard and recognized His voice.

Last evening I sat around a table with a group of guys who share this belief. We all agreed that we’ve had brief moments in which God has led us in a specific direction. We also agreed that, in general, we’re not consistent in seeking His voice.

So we asked ourselves “Why.” Here’s some of what emerged.

Fear. Standing up for what’s right might involve all sorts of risks. We may encounter social ridicule or significant professional consequences. It’s awfully easy to imagine the terrible things that might occur and forget the eternal perspective from which we’re supposed to operate.

Busyness. We allow every moment to be consumed with tasks. Whether they’re unimportant, important, or critical doesn’t really matter; it’s simply a fact that there’s simply no time to stop, be quiet, and listen. Our culture makes “quiet time” a vice—if you’re not doing something, you’re doing nothing. It’s no longer acceptable to “Be still and know that I am God.”

Stuff. We pursue stuff for its own sake. We go to work to get the money to buy the stuff, as though the stuff somehow adds value to our lives. And of course there’s never enough, and we end up feeling like a hamster running on one of those wheels that spins but never moves.

Comfort. We worship comfort, and we sort of inherently know that God often calls us out of our personal comfort zones. If we really listen we just might hear that shepherd’s voice asking us to step somewhere we’d rather no go.

Security. Right here feels pretty safe. I’ve got my IRA and my insurance and the flowers are beginning to bloom. Of course it’s all pretty much the illusion of security, but it’s a comforting illusion. I’d kinda like to hang onto it.

Impatience. God seems to have His own sense of timing. This men’s group is studying the story of Nehemiah, who prayed for four months while waiting to ask the king’s permission to return to Jerusalem. Four months? I lose focus after four minutes. Either God needs to talk faster, or I need to listen slower.

What would you add? What gets in the way of you hearing Jesus’ voice?

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 Bible: How Do I Know What It Means?

Monday, March 28th, 2011

How do you apply the Bible to your life?

I have a sad confession. I always figured the whole point of reading the Bible was me.

I thought it was about my life, learning how to live better, do the right things, stuff like that. So my first big revelation about the Bible was that it’s, well, God’s revelation of Himself. The Bible Is About God.

Imagine that. It’s not all about me.

That idea took some adjustment—it’s tough, removing yourself from the center of the universe. I had to re-learn how to understand the Bible. I’m pretty sure I still don’t really get it, but over the past few months I’ve been trying to summarize my simpleton’s guide to interpreting Scripture.

I’ve learned that interpretation is a three-step process.

Translation

The key thing I learned here is to remember that the scriptures weren’t written in modern English. Subtleties are often lost in translation, so real understanding requires some digging.

Exegesis

I need to understand the original audience and what the writing meant to them. I’m not real big on ancient history, so I’d rather just skip this step. But if I really want to hear God’s word, that’s not an option.

Hermeneutics

I love big, obscure words. They’re a great substitute for actually knowing something. In my Bible study group I can toss out the term hermeneutical theory and sound like a genius. Of course there’s a risk—someone might ask what it means. I’m sure it’s an urban myth that hermeneutics was originally invented by some German guy named Herman.

As I understand it, hermeneutics generally involves applying Scripture to specific situations. It’s got its own specialized techniques and schools of thought, but for me the basic understanding is pretty simple: this application is the third step in the process. You don’t get to skip the first two parts.

Failure to adhere to this basic interpretation structure accounts for many errors, misunderstandings, and flawed arguments. It’s just not possible to correctly apply Scripture without accounting for issues associated with original language and audience.

At first this realization was discouraging. I figured I’d never know enough to really understand the Bible.

But then I realized that, like most important things in life, it’s a process. I don’t have to be an expert, but I do have to be willing to ask, to study, to admit when something doesn’t make sense.

I think God wants us to understand. I’m amazed at what He shows me when I show up with an open heart, when I drop my agendas, when I try even a little to listen to what He’s saying.

I think that might have been part of what Jesus was talking about (Luke 11:10) when He said, “For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

I think that promise is still good.

How do you know what the Bible means in your life?

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

Forgetting About Grace

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Do you ever make life too complicated and forget the basics?
Last week I spoke to a pastor about leading a men’s retreat. He asked me to outline my vision for the sessions.

So I talked about stories and testimonies and adversity. I traced a path from storm through darkness to hope and light. I shared my clever idea for giving them something tangible to take back with them.

It was all very creative and neatly tied together around a cool theme that fit perfectly with the campground setting. I was pretty proud of my presentation. “So what do you think?”

He drew a circle on his note pad. “Okay, we’re starting here. We’re going here, and here, and here, right? And we’re going to end up here?”

His circle captured the essence of my idea, but he left a gap at the end.

Then he sketched in the rest of the circle and said, “Don’t forget about grace.”

I guess I looked confused. “We’re going to ask these guys to be vulnerable, expose some pretty raw spots. Some of them may open up wounds, failures, areas that need healing and growth.

“That’s all okay. For some of them, it’s why they’re coming. Perhaps they need to take a hard look at themselves.

“But let’s not let anyone leave feeling guilty, or feeling like they have to fix it or earn God’s love and acceptance.”

Don’t forget about grace.

He’s right, of course. It’s so easy to get caught up in stories and ideas, to make it more complicated than it has to be. Suddenly religion becomes your savior. It’s about rules and theology and doing the right things.

I don’t resolve to do better to earn God’s love; I do it out of gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice. It might not look much different on the outside. It makes all the difference on the inside.

Don’t forget about grace.

Yeah. That’s a pretty good reminder.

Do you ever forget about grace?

When Guilt And Gratitude Collide

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Have you ever felt guilty for feeling grateful?

A few weeks ago I did something uncharacteristically logical. Since I’m planning this epic bike ride (Journey4Hope) I decided to get clearance from my doctor. I went in for a complete physical.

I received his standard doctor humor. “Aside from being paralyzed, you’re in great health.” Very funny.

He recommended that I check with my neurologist. I did that, and even agreed to a precautionary (and expensive) MRI “just to be sure.” I was shocked when he reported some concerns with the scan of my injury site. “Don’t want to alarm you, but I think you may need reconstructive surgery, something called a spinal decompression. You should see a neurosurgeon right away.”

I’ve seen this movie before. You can’t really put “don’t be alarmed” and “see a neurosurgeon right away” in the same conversation.
So after a very long weekend we sat in the neurosurgeon’s waiting room to hear the verdict. I knew what spinal decompression surgery involved. It meant going back to square one. Months in the hospital, learning to do simple tasks all over again, no bike ride—it meant reliving the whole painful process.

I can’t begin to explain the fear. I tried to pretend for a while, but in that waiting room I thought I might vomit. I literally wasn’t sure I could knowingly confront that ordeal again.

The doc pulled the scan up on his computer screen, stared for about thirty seconds, and turned toward us. “You don’t need surgery.”

I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I guess he saw the shock, so he explained. He showed me what the other doc saw, explained the slight risk of no-surgery against the considerable risks of surgery, and advised me to see the neurologist again in a year for a re-eval.

Have a nice day.

Confused. Numb. What just happened? One minute you think you’re going to face a life-altering choice, and suddenly you’re outside and it’s time for lunch and the dog’s looking for a bush. I’d do a happy dance, except that dancing really isn’t my thing.

And then you’re thankful. Tears and smiles and just overwhelmingly grateful.

Reality check

Then at church the very next Sunday a friend stopped me. “Did you hear that Michelle’s back in the hospital? She had to have spinal decompression and reconstruction surgery.”

My friend Michelle, whose injury happened a year before mine; exactly the surgery I dreaded, re-enduring the rehab I said I couldn’t face again.

She’s spending the next few months in the room right next to the one I called home for twenty-one weeks. Monte and I visited her, watched as she struggled to sit up, listened as she shared the frustration of starting over.

You and I know, intellectually, that there’s no connection between her suffering and my blessing. We know that I shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling grateful. Right?

But I do. God and I need to talk about that.

Do you ever get those sorts of crazy, conflicted feelings?

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

Eternity Is Not A Platitude

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Do you ever hit yourself (or others) in the head with religious platitudes?

Joe’s pretty frustrated.

His team at work pointed toward this big evaluation day for weeks. Everyone bought in, did a little extra, took some real pride in a job well done. He said you could feel the excitement, the sense of teamwork and accomplishment.

Except that it didn’t work out—they missed it by that much. An “A-“ instead of an “A” had the whole team in a funk. Nothing big, just a couple of little things someone missed, and now they faced disappointment.

Joe feels responsible. He got them all excited, convinced them they could raise the bar. In past years this “A-“ performance would have been more than good enough. He increased expectations, convinced them they could do it, and he feels like he let them down.

And as we talk he says, “God must think I’m an idiot. It’s just a stupid evaluation. From His eternal perspective it doesn’t matter at all.”

Paradox

I hate it when someone’s absolutely right and totally wrong at the same time.

It IS just a number, not much of a blip on the eternal radar screen. Nobody died or got fired or even got yelled at.

But I think God cares about the small stuff, the everyday concerns that make up so much of our lives. I don’t think He views us as idiots because the details of life matter to us. I think those details matter to Him.

I don’t think He wants us to do mediocre work because our efforts won’t change eternity. I think what we do, how we use our gifts, is important to God.

Yes, we sometimes lose perspective, value results more than process, take ourselves too seriously. When I worry needlessly about tomorrow, when I forget to trust God, when I lose sight of the bigger picture, it’s good to remind myself to seek an eternal perspective.

But “keep an eternal perspective” can also be one of those religious platitudes that’s great for beating yourself over the head. When a child’s sick or you’ve missed an important goal, God cares.

So how do I know when I’m making a big deal over nothing and when I’m making nothing over a big deal?

The magic answer…

…is that there probably isn’t a magic answer. Wisdom, discernment, and balance are tough to develop and tougher to maintain. Talking to God, staying connected to close friends, maintaining some quiet time—those help keep me a bit more centered.

I’m glad Joe and I talked, even though I mostly just listened. When he left, he resolved to contact his team leaders and thank them for their hard work. He planned to celebrate their accomplishments—in the bigger picture, the “A-“ was still their best-ever rating. He was already thinking of ways to encourage and empower people to work toward becoming their best selves.

I felt that he knew that God values him and his team, their relationships, and their labor. I sat there for a moment, and something occurred to me.

Maybe, like most things, I make the issue of eternal perspective more complicated than it needs to be. What if it’s enough that something matters to God?

Could it be as simple as: If it matters to God, it matters?

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 This God’s Thing Or Mine?

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Have you ever asked that question?

So I’m talking to a friend about Journey4Hope and he says, “I prayed about this and I believe God wants me to jump in and help.” And my skeptical bone starts tingling.

I wonder a lot about my skeptical side, that part of me that tends to look a little sideways at ideas that seem obvious to others. And one of the notions that tickles my skeptical bone is “this is God’s will.”

God told me

Does that ring a bell? Someone has an idea, a vision, a big plan, and they’ve prayed about it and they’re certain it’s ordained by God. And that’s pretty much their argument for moving forward.

How do you argue with that? No matter how crazy or illogical or ill-conceived, an idea from God has to be trusted, right? If “God tells you to do it” you can’t really refuse.

I’ve experienced that certainty once, when I wrote and published the story of Relentless Grace. The way the story came together made no sense. Writing the story with no experience was totally illogical. Publishing the book with no background was downright crazy. But it was absolutely the right thing, and in retrospect I believe it was a process guided by the Spirit’s hand.

That doesn’t mean it’s gone smoothly or that it’s been a huge financial success. By most business standards, publishing the book wasn’t a good choice. But the book has touched a number of lives. I’m absolutely certain it was the right thing to do.

How do you know?

There’s a big spectrum of thought about God’s involvement in everyday events. I know sincere, committed people who pray about the smallest choices. I know others who are pretty sure God wants them to make those decisions. I don’t claim to know who’s right, though I guess I lean toward the second view.

Please don’t misunderstand. I absolutely believe God speaks into our hearts. I believe people receive visions and signs from the Spirit.

But I also think we’re susceptible to a human temptation to transform “our thing” into “God’s thing.” I think we sometimes use God’s will as an excuse to do what we wanted to do anyway, or to abdicate responsibility for the consequences of our choices.

So I’m kind of reluctant to use “God told me to do it” as a justification for my choices.

I have no clue if God wants me to ride a bike 1500 miles. I usually have this sense that He cares less about what I do than about the heart behind my actions. I think He wants me to use my gifts in service and love, and that perhaps the details aren’t what matters.

Maybe God has a sense of humor. Maybe He thinks the idea of an old bald guy in a wheelchair riding a hand cycle 1500 miles is silly. Maybe the Trinity is sitting around their living room chuckling at me. Actually, I kind of like that image

But I know they understand the heart behind the project. I know they’ll use the story to inspire and touch people. I know they’ll be with me along the way.

It’s my job to decide, and then to do my best. I know that, no matter what happens with this project, God will use it for good.

Have you experienced skepticism about “God’s will” in everyday decisions? Have you ever been certain He was guiding you in a particular direction?

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

Quiet You with His Love

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Zephaniah 3:17: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Have you ever longed for peace and quiet? The last three months I traveled extensively in the USA and Toronto for speaking engagements, TV interviews and a family visit.

This past weekend, I went to bed and asked God to save me from exhaustion and quiet me with his love.

Recently I met a woman who became a Christian and was baptized by immersion while in prison. She feels ashamed about her time in prison and hesitates to admit her spiritual birth and baptism occurred in a women’s prison.

I looked at the woman’s teary eyes and quoted the verse above. Then I held her hands and repeated, “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Nowhere in Scriptures does it say that God will save you, take great delight in you, quiet you with his love and rejoice over you with singing only if you are perfect.

Dear God, help me believe you are with me and mighty to save. Amen.

Application: When will you allow God to quiet you with his love?

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !

Copyright 2011, 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

Affliction Prepared For and Improved

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

“It was good for me to be afflicted–so that I might learn your decrees.” Psalm 119:71

As it is the duty of God’s children to prepare for affliction before it comes; so it is also their duty to improve affliction when it does come.

If we do not prepare for affliction–we shall be surprised by it;
and, if we do not improve it–we are likely to increase it.

He who would prepare for affliction, must beforehand:
(1.) resign all to God,
(2.) strengthen his graces,
(3.) store up divine promises,
(4.) and search out secret sins.

And he who would improve affliction when it does come, must labor to see:
sin more and more in its filthiness–so as to mortify it;
his heart in its deceitfulness–so as to watch over it;
the world in its emptiness–so as to be crucified to it;
grace in its amiableness–so as to prize it;
God in His holiness–so as to revere Him; and
heaven in its desirableness–so as to long after it.

He who takes more care to avoid afflictions–than to be fitted for them; or is more solicitous to be delivered from them–than to be bettered by them; is likely to come soonest into them–and to live longest under them!

“God disciplines us for our good–that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:10-11


~ Thomas Sherman, “Aids to the Divine Life–A Series of Practical Christian Contemplations” 1680