It is a word that terrifies some of us. It is a word that may indicate something is wrong and needs fixing (The Braves), something evil has happened and needs to be eradicated (ISIL), someone has decided to quit on you (fill in your own blanks), things have gotten too complacent (change of scenery), or maybe like me, you just need a change of pace or routine to jump start your week. This is that week for me.
The travel on my job as most know has sent me on some amazing and long trips to Florida and Alabama (lots of great scenery), and during a "new" normal week Orlando - Lakeland - Tampa and maybe Sarasota/Ft. Lauderdale and Pensacola/Daphne, AL are all crammed into a week. It is exhausting sometimes but I am so thankful for the opportunity. However, one can get way too complacent and struggle with the most mundane of tasks when fatigued.
So, we changed it up this week. Now I am back home in ATL for the first Wednesday in more than 6 months, and I feel refreshed. And, I just got to see my granddaughter crawl for the very first time. Much more fun than buying cars. Which made me think about Jesus getting away from the crowds, and how he came back with even more enthusiasm after a short break from the human race. And he got to witness some amazing faith when he came back.
We, as humans get caught up in that race, and we need to change it up every now and then to stay sharp, stay connected and give our faith a jolt. We need to understand that getting in a rut of some sort can cause all kinds of strange thoughts and actions. For the divine Jesus it was an easy change up, but for us we cannot see as clearly as he, and even with the guidance of His Holy Spirit we can dig ourselves a big dark hole by boxing ourselves into too much routine and not enough changes of pace.
In the 1990 book "Psycho-cybernetics", the plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz suggested that changing your routine with such a simple thing as reversing the way you tie your shoes (left first, right second, etc.) can make you see differently. So here's the hidden point of today's blog.......
If your faith is on the rocks, mundane and complacent, dead except for Sunday's, or your routine of worship has created repetition instead of repentance and respect for the Lord, change something about how you approach it all. Talk to a brother or sister, go to a different small group, stand up during one of Dusty's or Don's sermons and shout AMEN, be bold, be aggressive and make a change before it's too late.
Make a change before change is forced upon you! The results may be so much better.
Always hard for me as an Ex-Marine to ever utter the word retreat, but it is a fact of life that we sometimes feel so strongly about going forward on something that we fail to see the consequences of our actions. How about General Custer? Or any of several noted celebrities who couldn't contain the ugly words that they said in public? How about Peter? Or how about me?
A couple days ago I felt so strongly about something that I blazed the typing keys with anger and disbelief at what I felt was an injustice. Nothing wrong with feeling that outrage, but to put it in print for others to see? Maybe a rush to judgement. And maybe they would not understand your underlying intent and instead be offended by some of the things you wrote. Fortunately I had a filter, someone who pointed out the possible damaging effects the intended good the words of outrage would have. So I retreated, but I do not feel defeated.
There are times when the Lord and the missionary Paul took a step back on their journeys or avoided danger by taking a different route. They may have retreated from their intended destination, but they never backed off of their purpose. If Paul had not escaped from that village, or come back from his stoning (but not to the same place), maybe we don't get to read his eloquent words of faith. They knew they may have to lose a battle to win the war.
For me, I need to remember that I can feel so strongly about something that I can become like a bull in a china shop. It's okay if that's about my faith, about telling my story passionately to help others see a light, but not if it is so controversial that it either brings out bad feelings in others or creates doubt of the Lord's intent for us to be peacemakers. My war is not physical anymore, it is spiritual and led by a general with a game plan of grace.
My purpose remains the same, I am glad to say, but how I deliver the message should be up to Him, not me, and I always need to remember that. Thank you for reminding me Mrs. Filter, the retreat calmed my soul, and my words.
So when you see something that makes you want to cut someone's ear off (Peter), or throw a bunch of tables over (Jesus), or take on a bad giant (David), make sure you are directed by God's Holy Spirit to do so and not by the rage of your anger. And remember, that a whole bunch of your friends and family are watching to see an authentic faith, not a reactionary religion.
Don't you just wish sometimes (let's be real here) that God would wave a magic wand and all of our human defects and personal problems would magically disappear? No more lying, no more insecurity, no more trust issues, no more debt, no more relationship conflict. How about it Lord, can we go back to the Garden of Eden and have a do-over?
Does it ever bother you, as it does me, that those same whack-a-moles of defects we whacked at one time keep popping back up? I loved playing that game at Chuck-E-Cheese, but in real life it is discouraging that they seem to pop up just when we think we are in the clear. Just like Paul's thorn in his side. Like him, we ask God to remove it.
The makeover from destruction to construction is filled with accidents, modifications, and bad weather. As we say in the program, we strive for progress, not perfection. The best analogy for me to bring comfort to this process of change is in John 15........
"I am the true grapevine, and my father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn't produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more."
Cutting, pruning, these words indicate pain, not a magic wand. And pain in letting go of false survival skills, manipulative behavior, and things like lying to make ourselves look better all have to go. And when the gardener prunes what's left, we begin to look like a fruit bearing person rather than one who steals the fruit. The makeover happens only through that process of pain and ultimate gain.
Jesus goes on to comment in that same scripture how the makeover remains a makeover:
"Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me."
Think you can do this alone, isolating and becoming absent? Think again. A makeover requires someone who can make you over. It requires submission to the process without our direction. And it requires frequent gardener visits to keep all the landscape looking beautiful.
You look great! By the way, who is your gardener?
"Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it."
Excerpts from Song of Songs 8:6-7
Barry White, Cupid, The Love Boat, Make Love Not War...........these are the things we have patterned our concept of love after if we have been "out there" and away from our relationship with God. If we look back at what we thought love was, we may begin to break out in uncontrollable laughter as we think, "man what was I thinking?"
Others have been hurt so badly or inflicted that pain themselves that love is filled with fear to them, any thought of feeling it again makes them run. Then there is loving ourselves, another matter entirely for those of us who have experienced low self worth and possibly never experiencing a nurturing environment in our families.
Bottom line, love is tough. Not understanding what it really is creates fear, but True Love Conquers Fear!
When we understand the love Christ had for people, all kinds, all sizes, we understand that what he wants us to do is be in relationship that stems from love, not fear. What he wants us to understand is that he wants all of us to be inclusive of love, so much so that our lives are all about coming from a place of love as we approach our fellow man and woman. As it says, "many waters cannot quench love", but what it doesn't say is how easily our definition of love can be quenched by defeat, broken dreams, broken families.
I have experienced both forms of love now and have come to the conclusion that loving as many people as possible creates a life of love and prevents you from fearing any failure that comes from it. The real success is that our hearts become open to accept love and to freely extend it even when it is a little scary. The flame of love is then never quenched.
And, the flame of God's Spirit is always lit in how we are able love. As that song goes, "light the fire in my soul, make me _____, make me whole". (forgot the words, but not how to love).
We all find ourselves in situations where we are uncomfortable. One that is particularly difficult is when we want to share our faith with others who are on a different wave length. When the AA folks say "just tell your story" that becomes a very non-threatening way to break the ice, but the question is always, when to do so?
I have found that God presents us with opportunities daily, but there are times when it is more important to let a relationship have time to develop before we tell a story or share that faith. It is not necessary to introduce ourselves as "Hello, I am Dave a recovering addict" or "Hey, I am Mary and Jesus is my man". All true, but you may lose lose your audience real quickly.
We need a filter of love and that is provided by God's Holy Spirit. The fruits of that Spirit are always, love, patience, kindness, goodness, not ever a spirit of I did this and you need to do it too. Every human being is different, and if we look at the way Jesus handled a wide variety of folks, he was a master of building a quick relationship.
With the woman at the well, he lowered himself to her level to begin a conversation. With his apostles, he was patient and taught through stories that were never insulting. His filter was always the message of His father that was all inclusive, never exclusive. He demonstrated every fruit of the Spirit.
When you meet someone and you feel like it is a "God thing", take your time, listen more than speaking, hear where they are, and when the Lord prompts you to respond or spread His news, be confident but never condescending. Use your filter, and what will come out will be freshly brewed love, and the other person will see clearly that your interests are their best interests.
After all, telling someone how you overcame darkness and showing them the way to eternal joy is truly the greatest way we can give back the gift of a relationship with our creator. And don't be nervous, God will be present and be your divine filter!
Glenn is an ex-Marine Viet Nam vet who is also a recovering alcoholic, clean and sober for 30 years. He has been involved in start up and ongoing recovery ministry at North Atlanta Church and Campus for the last two decades. He has a passion for outreach and to spread the message that the answer to lasting and fulfilling recovery from addiction is in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He and the ATB team are available to assist in your questions or needs on an individual basis and will do so maintaining complete confidentiality. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.