Archive for June, 2011

Traveling on the Road to Eternity

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

“For I know that You will bring me to death, and  to the house appointed for all living.” Job 30:23

If you are in Christ, you will have trials to bear…

If a man on a journey has terrible accommodations in which to stay where he lodges only for a night–he will not get very upset about the matter; because he wont be staying there. It is not his home.

You are on the road to eternity!

Do not let it distress you when you meet with some hardships in the “‘inn of this world.”

Do not fret, because your life is not as easy as another person’s life. One man travels with an expensive polished cane in his hand; his fellow traveler, perhaps, has but a common staff or stick: either of them will serve them well. It doesn’t matter which of them is yours; both will be laid aside when you come to your journey’s end.

~ Thomas Boston, “Death” (adapted)

Joy As A Fruit?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

What’s your mental image of “joy”?

I’ve been thinking about what I wrote yesterday (Joy? In Adversity? Seriously?).

I do that a lot, especially when I write something that actually makes sense to me. I wonder if I got inside my own head and made up what I call “The Bible according to Rich.”

I was trying to understand this verse:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. James 1:2

Earlier in the year I wrote a series of posts about interpreting the Bible accurately. One principle involved making sure I understand the meaning of key words. So, in a rare flash of insight, I decided to do a bit of research.

When I hear the word “joy” I think of excitement. I picture jump for joy or the joy of Christmas morning. Turns out that’s not really what “joy” means; I found some clues in another well-known passage that uses the word “joy”:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness … Galatians 5:21-23

According to my deep knowledge of Greek (and the Internet), the word used for ‘joy’ is chara. It’s derived from the word charis, the Greek word for ‘grace.’ As I understand it, charis produces chara. ‘Joy’ is a supernatural gift produced by God’s grace.

This makes more sense. Biblical ‘joy’ isn’t human happiness that ebbs and flows with circumstance. It’s a true fruit of the Spirit that can develop and flourish even in difficult times.

I also learned that the Greek word for ‘pleasure’ is hedonia, from which we get hedonism. Clearly the Bible distinguishes situational cheeriness from a deeper, more lasting joy.

Spiritual fitness

This makes sense in terms of the metaphor of developing my “spiritual fitness.”

I don’t like fake smiles, and I suspect God doesn’t either. When something hurts, when there’s sadness or grief or despair, I think God wants us to be honest about it. Pretending to be happy when we’re not isn’t what He has in mind.

But we can experience His chara (joy) inspired by His charis (grace) no matter what our circumstances.

Amazing—so often I think that re-writing and twisting Scripture to fit my pre-conceived ideas will make it easier to follow. But almost always, when I take time to really understand, I find a message of peace and rest.

Maybe He’s trying to tell me something.

What’s your response to this notion of supernatural joy flowing from grace?

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

Joy? In Adversity? Seriously?

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Am I the only one who finds the following passage … uh … confusing?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. James 1:2

I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally associate “facing trials” with “pure joy.”

I can face trials if I have to. I can whine, grit my teeth, get through it, maybe even grin and bear it.

But I don’t think of joy as part of the deal when adversity comes along.

James 1:2 is one of those verses I sort of dismiss. Maybe he meant it for them, back then, but surely I’m not really supposed to jump for joy when adversity drops onto my path.

So …

I know I’m not supposed to just ignore the parts of the Bible I don’t like. So how do I reconcile seemingly contradictory notions of adversity and joy?

I’ve been thinking about training, the process of getting physically and spiritually fit. I was cranking along this morning when I realized something.

I see a lot of people exercising—riding, running, and walking. And you can just tell which ones are there because they want to and which ones feel like they have to. I see some of them daily, and today I recognized what’s missing.

Whether it’s in a gym or on a bike path, for some folks every workout is absolute drudgery. They do the work, but it’s all about obligation. They’re missing the joy.

Joy—it’s different than fun or happiness, though I’m not exactly sure how to define the distinction. When I’m cranking along and I’m hot and tired and sweating, I don’t think about pleasure. I can’t claim that I enjoy the pain of an intense workout while it’s occurring.

But there is a sense of joy and satisfaction and peace that comes with choosing to intentionally endure the discomfort of physical exercise. And I think that’s the sort of joy James is describing.

Spiritual exercise

I wonder if I approach my spiritual “workouts” with the same sense of anticipation that accompanies my cycling. Attending church on a beautiful morning, studying, praying, meeting my small group—I do those things, but how much flows from obligation and responsibility? How much am I “getting through” them so I can get on to other, more pleasant stuff?

Using the training analogy, I’m developing habits during my workouts. Those habits will emerge when the real trials, the adversity I don’t expect, drops into my path.

So if I bring minimal joy to the workouts, I guess I can’t expect to experience much joy—peace, contentment, satisfaction—in the midst of the real game.

My coaches always told me, “You play like you practice.” Perhaps that’s what James is saying as well.

Maybe I need to practice better.

What tips can you offer to help us make our “spiritual workouts” more joyful?

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

“Yo Adrian, I Did It!” – Seeking Out Adversity

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Do you ever intentionally seek out adversity?

There are two kinds of people—those who can picture the scene when Rocky Balboa shouts, “Yo Adrian, I did it!” and those who have better things to do than watch cheesy boxing movies.

Like many sports movies, the “Rocky” story incorporates a recurring theme. A “nobody” rises from obscurity to stardom, becomes too comfortable with wealth and material advantage, loses the competitive fire, and loses to the next “nobody.”

At that point the hero faces a choice. He can retreat to the mansion and live off his accumulated resources … or he can go back to the beginning. Going back means surrendering position and privilege.

Why? When one has abundant money and fame and comfort, why return to a smelly arena to pursue a prize you’ve already won? Why go back to the sweat and pain and sacrifice of a life you fought so hard to escape?

I think it’s something inside, something others cannot see or comprehend. It’s an internal desire that’s fueled by something bigger than riches or cheers or trophies.

You can’t buy that internal will, and nobody else can go out and find it for you. Going back means choosing to become a nobody again. It means intentionally, consciously choosing adversity.

See the parallels?

If you think about following Jesus, there’s a lot of eerily parallel language. We face a battle with a relentless spiritual enemy who’s always looking for an opening, an opportunity to take us out.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been at the bottom a couple of times. I identify with that feeling of “nothing to lose, nowhere to turn.” I reached out to Jesus, and He helped me off the spiritual mat each time.

But I wonder: does my enemy savor watching me comfortable and contented, lacking that edge that came with desperation. That next challenger will show up, because it always does. I know that the world will send adversity my way at some point.

So how do I prepare for the adversity I don’t choose? I have to develop the habit of choosing adversity. Just as an athlete trains his body, I must train my heart and soul. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

This isn’t about living in fear of the next calamity lurking around the corner. In fact, it’s precisely the opposite. When an athlete has trained and prepared, he enters competition relaxed and confidently. He knows he can deal with adversity he doesn’t choose because he habitually faced the adversity he chose.

The competition begins

I’m picturing two spiritual athletes confronting difficult, gut-wrenching, soul-searing adversity.

One has a Bible somewhere, and he used to pray occasionally. He kinda-sorta has some social ties to a church community, but hasn’t talked about Jesus with anyone in years.

The other talks to God regularly and spends time digging meaning from the Bible. He has a few deep relationships that include authentic conversations and real questions about how God works in life.

Both of these folks may get challenged, hurt, and knocked down. Both may wonder where God is, why this has to happen. Depending on the situation, they both may be rocked with a body blow that leaves them staggering and gasping for air.

Sometimes, life does that. Sometimes you can’t avoid that punch in the gut.

Question is, which guy has the better chance of taking the punch and moving forward?

What’s an area in which you’ve chosen to get a bit too comfortable? What’s a small change you can make to begin a new habit?

Growth – no pain no gain?

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Yesterday our pastor made a statement I’d rather ignore. He said, “If you want to grow, you must embrace the blessing of discomfort.”

I’m happy to embrace blessings—on my terms. I’d rather not think of discomfort as a blessing.

Since I’ve resumed riding my bike, I’ve been re-introduced to the physical fitness principle of “no pain—no gain.” Despite the claims of the infomercials, nobody ever got in shape without sweat and sore muscles.

However, does it have to be that way in the rest of life?

Nearly everything about my life is designed to eliminate or minimize discomfort. My entire existence is about as predictable and easy as I can make it. I want to believe I can sit in my comfortable home with my dependable income and risk-free relationships and grow spiritually.

Am I wrong?

Is it possible to grow, to become more like Jesus, within the protected cocoon I’ve constructed?

Or by intentionally seeking safety and avoiding struggle, am I also preventing the “spiritual fitness” I claim to desire?

A few years ago I would have dismissed these questions. Now—not so sure.

As I work to get my old muscles back in shape, I need to ponder whether some changes need to happen if I’m serious about getting in better “spiritual shape.”

I’m afraid it’s going to require some uncomfortable introspection.

What are your thoughts? Can you grow spiritually without discomfort?

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

Are You Staying Focused?

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

…but now you also must complete the doing of it;
that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have (2 Corinthians 8:11, NKJV).

I lost two friends this week.

Actually, that’s not true. They’re not lost at all. In fact, they have simply gone on to heaven ahead of me. One was swimming in a pool at a hotel in Kauai, where he was vacationing with his beloved wife; the other lost her battle with cancer, as her husband and grown children watched and prayed at her bedside. Both were valiant warriors and committed servants of Christ; both are now rejoicing in their Savior’s presence.

Their passing into eternity brought the above scripture to the forefront of my thoughts. Jim and Jacque didn’t just “start well” or have an occasional victorious day as believers. These two godly people remained faithful from the beginning of their walk with the Lord—and they finished well, completing what they started in a way that honored the One they claimed to follow.

The Apostle Paul did the same. As he approached the end of his life, he confidently declared, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, NKJV). And he certainly didn’t do so because he had an easy life! As trials, tests, and tribulations—some of which seem to have no end in sight—continue to assault us in an attempt to derail us and cause us to question God’s faithfulness, may we stay focused on finishing well so that when we too have “graduated” to heaven, others will say of us that we “fought the good fight…finished the race…kept the faith.”

Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !

Copyright 2011 Kathi Macias, all rights reserved. Used by permission.

Kathi Macias is a multi-award winning writer who has authored 30 books.
“Beyond Me. Living a You-first Life in a Me-first World”

and


“Mothers of the Bible Speak to Mothers of Today”

She also writes novels:

No Greater Love

More than Conquerors

The author can be reached at: http://www.kathimacias.com

Go to Him just as you are–and receive from Him all you need!

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

“Come unto Me.” Matthew 11:28

Jesus calls you to His throne of grace. He is there waiting to hear, relieve and bless you. You are to go to Him just as you are–and receive from Him all you need.

He will give you:
wisdom–to direct your steps;
peace–to keep your hearts;
strength–to do His will;
righteousness–to justify your souls;
and rest–unspeakably sweet.

He is glorified in bestowing these blessings upon you. He calls you this morning, this moment–to receive all you need–without money and without price. What a precious Savior is Jesus! What a kind and tender Friend!

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

“Come!” He says, “Come to Me! Do not go to SELF, to the world, to the empty cisterns which creatures idolize; but come unto Me, and I will do immeasurably more than all you can ask or imagine!
Your sins–I will pardon;
your graces–I will revive;
your comforts–I will restore;
your holiness–I will increase;
your efforts to glorify Me–I will crown with success;
I will bless you–and you shall be a blessing!”

~ James Smith, “The Pastor’s Morning Visit”

Love Not Withheld

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Psalm 66:20: “Praise to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!

God wants us to pray to him. He listens to our prayers. He doesn’t reject them. On the whole, we seem to understand and believe that. Therefore, we will pray to him.

Sometimes we struggle to believe God doesn’t withhold his love from us. We think that if we sin, God will withhold his love from us, but he extends forgiveness and love to us.

Some of us grew up in a home where parents loved us only if we performed in a stellar fashion and made them look good. Some of us received love only if we went along with parents’ actions even if they contradicted God’s Word.

God doesn’t operate that way. He is our heavenly Father, our perfect parent. He loves us with an unconditional eternal love. He doesn’t withhold his love from us.

Dear God, thank you that you don’t reject my prayers or withhold your love from me. Amen.

Application: Like our heavenly Father, what will you do this week to extend your 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

Finding Your Sweet Spot

Monday, June 20th, 2011

What makes some things—even hard things—so satisfying?

I just know you jumped up this morning wondering about my first hand cycle ride after a two-month layoff. I promised pictures.

And you’re wondering how it went, right?

Well, it was awkward and unfamiliar. It was a bit scary, hoping I wouldn’t cause further damage to a freshly-healed wound. It was slow and difficult; sixty-year-old muscles don’t spring back into action as quickly as they used to.

In short, it was a wonderful, exhilarating experience.

This slow forty-minute ride was the first step in a long process of training and preparing for Rich’s Ride. It’s hard to describe how much I anticipated this seemingly ordinary event.

Why?

I believe that hand cycling in general, and Rich’s Ride in particular, allows me to live and serve in my personal Sweet Spot.

The “sweet spot” is that marvelous intersection of needs, gifts, and passions.

Needs

We’re surrounded by unmet needs. Hunger, poverty, homelessness, abuse, teen pregnancy, unemployment … the list is literally endless. No individual can possibly address every need even within their personal sphere of influence. It’s pointless to try.

That doesn’t mean we don’t care, but we’ve all known someone who joins every cause, serves on every committee, and always raises a hand to volunteer. We also know what inevitably happens—burnout, resentment, and disillusionment.

Gifts

Scripture clearly teaches that each of us is uniquely gifted by the Spirit. It makes sense that we’ll be more effective if we find places to serve in which the needs match our gifts.

It’s basic stewardship. I seek to use what God’s given me as wisely as possible.

Passion

Some issues stir our hearts; I believe that comes from God. This stirring is more than momentary emotion. It’s a deeply-felt passion that leads us to voluntarily accept unexplainable sacrifices without really perceiving them as sacrifices. It’s the sort of passion that causes people to go above and beyond.

That’s the kind of passion I feel about Rich’s Ride. When I tell people my plans, I get a variety of reactions. But I think it’s fair to imagine that most folks don’t truly understand what inspires me to undertake such a project.

And that’s okay. The ride is MY sweet spot. It’s where I can use my gifts and passions to meet some of the needs I perceive.

Here’s the thing about serving in that sweet spot: it’s a place of joy. It may not be easy or fun, but it’s satisfying and peaceful because you’re using what God gave you to serve.

I believe God calls us to serve sacrificially. Too often we equate sacrifice with misery or self-denial or even pain. But the people I know who serve in their sweet spots seem to sacrifice with a sense of peace and contentment.

I think that’s a pretty good image of how Jesus lived.

It’s what I’m seeking.

Where are you in the diagram? What activities get you in your personal sweet spot?

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

Small Problems Or Big God?

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Do you think you limit your mental picture of God?

This week is a big deal for me. Tomorrow I get to resume training by riding my hand cycle for the first time in more than two months. Yes—there WILL be pictures!

I’m excited, but honestly I’m also scared. I’ve made a huge commitment to Rich’s Ride. After so much inactivity, what if I can’t do it?

Chasing Lions

I’m reading a challenging book titled In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day by Mark Batterson. As he describes the improbable act of chasing a lion into a dark pit, Batterson claims that we pray for smaller problems because we have a small perception of God and what He can accomplish?

I’ve trained for Rich’s Ride since last summer. While the project presented numerous logistical and organizational issues, I was confident that actually riding the 1500 miles wouldn’t be an enormous challenge.

Now, I have to begin training from ground zero with less than ninety days until the ride begins. My comfort zone’s gone.

Mostly I seek the easy way. My original plan for the ride—200 miles per week for eight weeks—would have been relatively comfortable given my original training plans. Didn’t need God for that—I had it under control.

Now I’ll have to work my tail off, and still those first weeks will be really hard. I’m taking a true step of faith, believing despite the evidence.

I’m afraid. What if I fail? What if I disappoint everyone who’s counting on me? What if my big dream flops?

Suddenly I need a bigger picture of God.

I usually pray for Him to change my situation, to make the problem smaller so I can deal with it.

Maybe He wants me to trust Him, to believe He’s big enough to handle whatever comes along. Maybe He wants me to ask Him for the courage to face my circumstances.

Am I willing to stop wishing for smaller problems and start worshiping—and trusting—a bigger God?

I guess it’s time to find out.

Do you find yourself praying mostly for smaller problems?

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