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Archive for New Year

Jan
03

The #1 Enemy of Change

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Welcome to 2021. For most of us, it couldn’t get here fast enough. This past year was tough of many. Individuals, family units, businesses and churches all faced struggles they had never before experienced. The sunrise of the New Year brings cautious optimism as we contemplate what we want and need in the upcoming weeks. Some of us will have aspirations and make resolutions, half of which will be abandoned by the end of January. Others will formalize goals, complete with action plans and deadlines for achievement. But without maintaining the rigors of daily, incremental steps toward those goals, these too will be unaccomplished.

We are generally comfortable with the idea that we are not perfect, and the largest room in the house is the room for improvement. Herein lies the challenge. I have always identified with the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 7:15-16, where he said, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” Sound familiar?

The number one enemy of change, in my opinion, is ambivalence. Ambivalence sees both the reason to change and the reason not to change simultaneously. It is wanting and not wanting something at the same time, or wanting both of two incompatible things. People who are stuck in ambivalence live in the language of “yes, but.” It’s a bit like having a committee inside your head with members who argue back and forth about the proper steps forward. In short, ambivalent people “want to want to change.” I think you’ll agree, ambivalence is a pretty rotten place to be stuck.

The good news is that ambivalence is a normal process on the pathway to change. If you’re ambivalent about a change you need to make in the coming year, well, welcome to the human race. Miller and Rollnick, in their book Motivational Interviewing, offer seven steps out of the muck of ambivalence, the first of which is DESIRE. It is the language of wanting. Next is ABILITY, where one assesses their own ability of achieve the change that is desired. Next comes SPECIFIC REASONS, where a person lists all of the positive outcomes that could be possible in the change is implemented. The fourth step is NEED, where the process shifts from “I want” to “I need.” This transition affixes a sense of urgency.

Step five is COMMITMENT, which begins to signal the possibility of action toward the change. This step is most easily identified by promise making and the solicitation of accountability. Next to last is ACTIVATION, which bridges the commitment to the final step toward action. Activation uses words like “willing” or “ready.” The final step is ACTION, where the person begins to take the necessary steps toward making the change. Action could be something as simple as purchasing a FitBit all the way to checking oneself into a treatment center.

In summary, the likelihood of change is small unless the above steps are taken in order. For the apostle Paul, he recognized as much in his struggle. He carries his struggle in Romans 7 to an important question. Romans 7:24 states, “Oh, what a miserable man I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” Notice he didn’t write, “What will free me.” His question is “who,” and the answer is the person of Jesus Christ (7:25). He realized that he did not have the ability to accomplish the needed and necessary changes in his life without the help of a power that is greater than himself. That is the power he needed, and that is the power I need myself.

Categories : Change, New Year
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Jan
11

Dealing with Frogs

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I grew up attending church, so the major themes and familiar stories of the Bible are part of my spiritual DNA. One of those stories is unpacked in the Old Testament book of Exodus, which tells of God’s call upon a wanted man named Moses who was tasked with the responsibility of confronting the Egyptian Pharaoh with the command, “Let my people go!”

Pharaoh, of course, was not inclined to give up his labor force, and told Moses that he wasn’t impressed with his “trick” of turning his staff into a serpent. As the story goes, God unleashed a series of ten plagues on Pharaoh and the land of Egypt, each of which addressed a particular object of Egyptian worship.

Having set that stage, I wanted to share a particular insight that I’ve recently contemplated. In plague number one, the water of the Nile is turned to blood. Pharaoh remained hard hearted. In Exodus chapter 8 we see the second plague, which was frogs coming from the Nile to invade every space of their homes.

Pharaoh called for Moses and asked for relief. This makes complete sense for at least three reasons. One, the word plague means, in part, “any widespread affliction or calamity.” Obviously these plagues created a tremendous amount of chaos and discomfort. Two, assuming these frogs were of the African frog variety, there was a great deal of danger. Our American bullfrogs are basically harmless. You may not want one for a pet, but neither would you consider them a threat. African frogs are carnivorous, have teeth, and will bite when threatened. That adds a bit of interest, right? Finally, we’re no different from Pharaoh in our desire for immediate relief anytime we’re even remotely uncomfortable. I keep Tums and Advil in the console of my truck for this very reason.

But when we read the story, we see that Pharaoh did something very interesting. Having been summoned to the palace, Moses asked Pharaoh, “When do you want the frogs to go? You set the time!” And to the disbelief of the reader, Pharaoh replies, “Do it tomorrow.” Tomorrow? Seriously?

I realize that scholars who have written big, fat commentaries on Exodus have plausible rationales for what is taking place here. But using the hermeneutic of the common reader, his response makes no sense whatsoever. We all have experienced suffering, and we’re pretty quick to dial up the prayers for its immediate relief. So why does Pharaoh say tomorrow?

Now that I think about it, why do we say tomorrow? We all have our “frogs.” You know what I mean. We have our habits, addictions, attitudes, and behaviors that are problematic. Like the Egyptians, we have frogs in our bedrooms, frogs in our kitchens, frogs in our living rooms, our garages, in the yard, at our employment–they can be anywhere.

We know those frogs are a problem. And if we’re honest, we know those frogs adversely and negatively affect others. After all, none of us live in a vacuum. To make matters worse, deep down we really want to change. We want to stop. We want to quit. We want to be free and clear of the frogs.

So why don’t we deal with the frogs? Because there’s always tomorrow. Tomorrow gives us the opportunity to hang on to the frogs just one more day. Or one more time. But with delayed action comes increasing stubbornness. Or to use Exodus’ word, hard heartedness.

2 Corinthians 6:2 says, “Now is the time of God’s favor. Today is the day of salvation!” Whatever frogs are in your life, now is the time to begin to deal with them. God’s grace is available today. Right now. Its your move.

Categories : New Year
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