Archive for March, 2013

Have a Difficult Time the Days Before Easter?

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

I have a difficult time with the days before Easter.

For most of my life I think I minimized the suffering and death of Jesus. I figured it wasn’t quite as horrible for Him since He was God. I somehow thought that provided some sort of protection, as though He suffered but not really.

Now I believe it’s just the reverse. I believe He experienced every bit of the physical pain and humiliation as a human being, and that it was exponentially WORSE because He was God. I can’t begin to explain how that works, but I believe the horrors Jesus experienced were beyond anything we can imagine. He existed from the beginning in community with Father and Spirit, and He had that ripped away on the cross.

Then I remember He volunteered on my behalf. That understanding gives a whole new depth to the question SHOULD I LAUGH OR CRY?

I used to think about Jesus in theological terms. He was a collection of ideas, and the right ideas were terribly important. I still believe correct theology matters, but I think about Jesus as a person, a friend, instead of a collection of ideas. I think He wants me to know Him and talk to Him more than He wants me to learn about Him.

So what should I feel when a friend makes an indescribable sacrifice for me? Should I be sad about His death or grateful for the gift?

I get that it’s not an either/or. I can celebrate the resurrection while I grieve the horrible suffering of a friend. At least, that’s the theory.

In the days before Easter, if I take it seriously, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog HERE
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article ! Dixon
Copyright 2008-2013 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

Should I Laugh Or Cry?

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

One of my most profound childhood memories happened the night before my Grandpa’s funeral when I was twelve years old.

A large collection of family and friends gathered in Grandma’s small apartment. There were enormous quantities of food and an endless supply of adult beverages. Elmer was a colorful character who lived a big, full, over-the-top life. As the evening progressed, Grandpa’s twelve brothers took center stage and told story after hilarious story. I remember the walls shaking as laughter rattled the windows.

I also remember feeling confused. At one point I asked my mom why everyone seemed so happy. “Grandpa just died. Shouldn’t we be sad?”

“Of course everybody’s sad,” she said. “But what do you remember most about your Grandpa?”

I thought a minute. “His laugh.” He had this deep, full voice, and I think he loved to laugh more than anything.

“Don’t you think that’s how he’d want us to spend time remembering him? Can you imagine him wanting us to sit around quietly?”

I shook my head. I couldn’t ever remember him sitting around quietly. That’s not what he would have wanted.

I recalled that evening as I listened to a man explain something he’d learned traveling around the world.

“In many countries people can be fully present in their sadness and their joy at the same time. In America we seem to believe it’s an either/or deal. We can be sad or we can be happy, but not both.”

That’s exactly the dilemma I faced at Grandpa’s funeral. The stories reminded me of a special relationship with a special man and that made me smile with joy. But Elmer was gone, and that made me cry with sadness.

I thought I had to choose and I didn’t know the right answer. I think I carried around some guilt about that for a while.

I wonder if that false choice sometimes gets in the way of understanding Jesus. I don’t have an answer, but I suspect He embraced joy and sorrow, gain and loss, happiness and sadness as spectrums rather than distinct choices.

I just wanted to toss it out there. Have you ever gotten trapped, as I did at my Grandpa’s funeral, by the notion that apparently opposed feelings can’t coexist?

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog HERE
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article ! Dixon
Copyright 2008-2013 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

Ebenezer: So Far So Good

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

One of the last stops on last summer’s IJM Freedom Tour was Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse in Washington, DC.

Ebenezer’s is a very cool place, a symbol of hope in many different ways. It’s operated by National Community Church on the site of a former crack house.

The name “Ebenezer” comes from I Samuel 7:12. The prophet Samuel set a stone marker and named it Ebenezer (stone of help) with the proclamation, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

The little cardboard coffee sleeves have a cool acronym, which until last week I misinterpreted. It’s their translation of Samuel’s proclamation—SFSG—which I misread as “So Far So Good.”

That’s how biblical hope works. We look back and see that God has always kept His promises. “Thus far the Lord has helped us” or “So Far So Good.” Based on that history, we look forward with hope, a confident expectation that God will continue to help us and keep His promises.

Last week I looked closer and realized I added a letter. At Ebenezer’s, SFSG stands for “So Far So God.”

Even better.

SFSG. Have a great week.

 

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog HERE
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article ! Dixon
Copyright 2008-2013 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 Forget?

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

John 20: 18: “Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.”

I can’t imagine the sense of brokenheartedness and hopelessness Mary and the other disciples felt as the soldiers beat Jesus, crowned him with thorns, and nailed him to the cross.

Although Jesus said he would be raised up on the third day, his followers forgot about that promise

Mary Magdalene felt sad and scared in John 20:2. She ran to Simon Peter and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

However in verse 16, she heard one word, “Mary,” and “turned around and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).”

In one electrifying utterance of the word, “Mary,” Mary Magdalene recognized the voice of Jesus Christ. Her feelings of sadness and fear vanished.

Do we, like Mary, get caught up in the emotions of our circumstances or the appearance of them and forget the precious promises of our Lord? Do we forget we have a personal relationship with the living Lord?

The Lord is no longer nailed to the cross or buried in a tomb. God has raised him from the dead. He is alive.

Dear God, please help me avoid an emotional upheaval. Amen.

Application: What will you do this week to celebrate your personal relationship with the risen Lord?

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog HERE
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !
Copyright 2010-2013, 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.
If you would like to have her speak for your organization or church, please contact her through
her website: http://YvonneOrtega.com

Can there be Blessings in Burdens?

Monday, March 25th, 2013

“Cast your burden upon the Lord–and He shall sustain you!” Psalm 45:22

There are some mistaken notions…  concerning the way in which God would help us. People think that whenever they have a little trouble, a bit of hard path to go over, a load to carry, a sorrow to endure–that all they have to do is to call upon God, and He will at once take away their sorrow, or free them from the trouble. But this is not the way that God helps us! His purpose of love concerning us is–not to make all things easy for us–but to make something of us!

When we ask God to save us from our trouble, to take the struggles out of our life, to make the paths mossy, to lift off every heavy load–He will not do it! It would be most unloving in Him to accommodate us. We must carry the burden ourselves! All God promises is, to sustain us–as we carry it! He wants us to learn life’s lessons, and to do this–we must be left to work out the problems for ourselves.

There are rich blessings which can be gotten only in sorrow. It would be short-sighted love indeed–which would heed our cries, and spare us from sorrow–and thus deprive us of the wonderful blessings which can be gotten only in sorrow! God is too good to us to answer our prayers–which would save us from pain, cost, and sacrifice today–at the price of holier, better, truer life in the end. He would not rob us of the blessing that is in the burden–which we can get only by carrying it!

~ J. R. Miller, “Miller’s Year Book–a Year’s Daily Readings”

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“How was I supposed to see that?”

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

I’m not very good at poetry. I seldom understand the imagery and symbolism until someone explains. Then I nod appreciatively while I think, “How was I supposed to see that?”

I think my literal brain explains why I struggle with books like Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs. So often I see what’s on the surface and just don’t get the intended meaning behind the words.

Frankly, I think people tend to use the poetry/wisdom books at times to serve personal agendas. It takes a lot of study to be sure we’re not imposing our own meaning.

Recently a speaker referred sort of tangentially to Ecclesiastes 11:4. He made a connection that didn’t click for me so I looked at the bible app on my phone.

Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
NIV

What does that verse say to you?

To me it referred to distraction, not keeping your eyes on the task at hand. If you’re staring at the sky you’re not getting your work done. In the context of the talk I was listening to, it made no sense at all. So I decided to check some different versions.

Don’t sit there watching the wind. Do your own work.
Don’t stare at the clouds. Get on with your life.
The Message

Okay, that validated my first impression. Normally I would’ve stopped there, but I decided to check one more.

Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant.
If they watch every cloud, they never harvest.
NLT

Oops. That’s a different meaning. Now I had to keep going.

If you wait until the wind and the weather are just right, you will never plant anything and never harvest anything. Good News Translation

If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done. Living Bible

So now I’ve got two basically conflicting meanings. This is becoming more study than I intended, but I can’t stop now. I check out a couple of study bibles.

People must not procrastinate. They must not cower before the unknown or inconvenient. The tasks of life must be done now and not be delayed for ideal conditions. Asbury Bible Commentary

Okay, now I’m pretty sure I understand. My initial reaction was wrong.

It’s one verse. It would have been easy to skip past it, to settle for my first-impression meaning. I do that too often.

When we read God’s word, does it matter enough to study and be sure we get it right?

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog HERE
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article ! Dixon
Copyright 2008-2013 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

What About Lent? Is it a Self-help Program?

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

I’ve never really made internal sense of Lent.

I get the symbolism, abstaining or fasting from something meaningful to h onor Jesus’ forty-day wilderness temptation. I’ve tried the abstaining thing a few times, but honestly I’ve never noticed much change. I’ve talked to friends who observe Lent. It appears to mean a great deal to them, but I’ve never gotten a handle on the central point.

Obviously I was checking off an item on the list without investing the effort to make it mean something in my relationship with Jesus. There’s little point to that. It doesn’t fake out God and it frustrates me.

I basically dismissed Lent as one of those traditions that just doesn’t apply to me and my modern world. I know that’s code for “I don’t want to do the work to figure it out,” but that’s where I left it.

Last week I read an essay by Susan Isaacs called Lent Is Not A Self-Help Program. The article posed a powerful premise.

Lent is not a self-help program. It’s a crash course in getting real with God.

I’m interested in “getting real with God” so I looked at the questions she posed.

What is that one sin you have a hard time giving up?

I expected that one. Is Lent about narrowing it down to the one sin to which I cling?

Somehow, I don’t think that’s it. I know I hang on to some sins, and I need to work on that. But God and I have gone round and round those issues before. Still got work to do, but those aren’t part of my personal crash course on getting real with God.

What if the thing you can’t give up isn’t a sin? What if it’s a deep wound in your soul that is so enormous you cannot let anyone near it, least of all God.

Ouch. That wasn’t academic. That one hit a tender spot, a place I try to protect and cover. I don’t want it exposed, not really. I’m afraid of what might happen if I opened it up.

My best friends don’t know. I won’t tell you. I sort-of-talk to God about it, but not really.

So there it is, the place I need to get real with God. Now, the problem.

There’s a difference between need to and willing to.

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog HERE
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article ! Dixon
Copyright 2008-2013 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

A New Spirit and a New Heart: Is Your Heart Alive?

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Ezekiel 11:19: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”

Bright yellow daffodils sway in my front yard and throughout the area. The dogwood trees have sprouted and form an arch of pink and white blooms on the Colonial Parkway. Everything looks new and beautiful. The area has come to life after a cold dreary winter.

We can also come to life. We can look new and beautiful because God works in us through Jesus Christ.

In that work, God gives us “an undivided heart.” When we have an undivided heart, we put God first in our lives. We are not torn between the way of the world and the way of the Lord. The decision to choose godly behavior over ungodly becomes easier, because we love God and want to serve him.

That new spirit is the Holy Spirit. When we invite Jesus Christ into our lives, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We can quench the Holy Spirit through complacency, compromise, or condemnation of self or others. On the other hand, our thoughts, words, and actions can fan the flame of the new spirit through daily prayer and Bible study, fellowship with other Christians, and confession of our sins directly to God, our heavenly Father.

God also says he will remove our “heart of stone.” The heart of stone lacks compassion and kindness for self and others. The heart of stone holds a grudge and leaks the poison of bitterness, rage, and unforgiveness. A person with a heart of stone may show up for church on Sunday but that is the extent of the person’s acknowledgement of God and others.

After God removes our heart of stone, he gives us “a heart of flesh.” That heart is alive with love for God and both love and compassion for others. A heart of flesh beats daily for God and his children and prays for those who don’t live for God.

Dear God, please give me an undivided heart. Amen.

Application: What will you do this week to show you have a heart of flesh?

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog HERE
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article !
Copyright 2010-2013, 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.
If you would like to have her speak for your organization or church, please contact her through
her website: http://YvonneOrtega.com

God’s Questions

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Yesterday I talked about visiting a church last Sunday and some lessons from a sermon titled The Still, Small Voice of God.

In the story from 1 Kings 19:10-19, there’s an interaction between God and Elijah that begins when God asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

It’s sort of an odd question. God obviously knows exactly why Elijah is hiding.

Then there’s this episode when God says, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

Then God does something I wouldn’t have expected. He repeats the question. “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Why? Why ask at all? Why ask twice?

Do you listen for God’s still, small voice? Do you ever offer answers when you know God already knows?

God’s not interested in information, but He does want interaction. His questions to Elijah—and to us—express His desire for conversation.

Jesus asked lots of questions to which He knew the answers. He used those questions to open dialogue and spur discussion. It wasn’t about the answers.

We don’t ask family members how their day went because we want a detailed rundown of events. We ask because we care, because we want to hear the feelings, successes, and struggles. We ask because we want to listen.

That’s why God asks. He wants the interaction, the relationship. He knows that’s what we need; it’s how He created us.

Are my prayers more than a list of requests? Do I listen? Do I share?

You?

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog HERE
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article ! Dixon
Copyright 2008-2013 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

Sometimes God Speaks in a Still Small Voice – Are You Listening?

Friday, March 15th, 2013

I’ve said one of the enjoyable things about the bike tours is visiting new churches. I like dropping into the middle of a sermon series. I’m forced to listen carefully for a theme or key idea I can take away.

Last Sunday our friends Matt and Amy Switzer invited us to speak to two groups at their church. In worship the series was Relationships and the topic was The Still, Small Voice of God.

The pastor talked about 1 Kings 19:10-19. Basically, Elijah is running for his life and hiding in a cave. God comes to him and asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

After Elijah explains his plight, God says (verses 11-12), “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

There’s a lot to this story. Here’s what I’d like to share.

God spoke in a still, small voice. We want big, momentous, proclamations, but God wasn’t in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire.

Will I stop talking long enough to hear what God is saying when He speaks in a quiet whisper?

God spoke. I spend a lot of time wondering what God wants of me in this or that particular situation. More and more I think this is a smokescreen.

There are plenty of times when I absolutely know what God wants. Love my neighbor; feed the poor; help those who are lost and hurting.

When I hear God’s voice, will I respond?

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog HERE
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article ! Dixon
Copyright 2008-2013 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