Happy New Year!

This is a repost from last year - it has been often requested - SO here ya' go!

So, have you broken them yet? You know - those pesky little annual failure reminders we like to call resolutions. We're a few hours in yet, and many resolutions are already forming the foundation of failures and frustration for 2008. I, however, just completed one of my resolutions, and that was to form one sentence using at least four words beginning with the letter f.

Resolution. Such a strong word, isn't it? It can be such an inspirational word. Resolve. Resolute. The word makes us seem so strong doesn't it? I am resolved to do this. I am resolute about that. So strong... A large difference between resolution and resignation, isn't there?

Could it be possible that resignation is the way to go? Could it be possible that New Year's resolutions are just another illustration of insanity? Addicts know the definition of insanity well, don't we? Doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. It has been a way of life for us, and when we come to the end of a year and everyone begins touting their resolutions for the next year, we quietly resolve to ourselves that this is the year that we quit.
This time, I mean it.

Then stress enters the picture as it always does, and we begin to seek medication for the pain and discomfort we feel. Then we look like this:

The deal is this - we think that the answer to our problems is trying harder. We just need more will power, right? It really comes down to this - the battle for control. We try to gain more control over ourselves. Why can't you just stop, right? Just
try harder. You can do it, c'mon, buck up little camper... When that doesn't work, we then figure the problem must be the people around us. Our spouse, our boss, our friends, our church, our pastor, our neighbors, our lawn service, somebody, anybody other than us.

This is when some of us decide to "try God." This usually amounts to a prayer that sounds something like this - "Dear God, please take this craving away. Please help me stop doing this or that. Thanks. Amen." Or even this, "Oh Heavenly Father, please take this extra weight off of me, Thanks. Amen."

Trying God, I have found, really means tailoring God to meet our desires. Anything about Him that gets in our way, we just try and cut that out. It's like we are tailoring God to fit us, but this is not the Gospel. If we are in control, and making God fit us, aren't we still in control? Haven't we proven ineffective enough? We are God in this picture, and then we will say, "I tried God, but that didn't work." What we mean is that we continued our cycle of insanity and named it God for a bit.

The Gospel is not about exerting control, it's about exiting control. It's not about resolutions, it's about resignation. It's about surrender. It's about realizing that we are incapable of controlling ourselves and others around us. Jesus says in John 15:5, "Apart from me, you can do nothing." Nothing. He is the vine, and we are the branches. Branches do not create fruit. The branch is utterly dependent on the power and life force of the vine. The vine works through the branch to produce fruit.

This is tough for many of us, particularly Americans, as we are very fond of the concept of independence. The Gospel is about dependence.

If we will surrender control to Christ, and seek Him and His glory in all that we do things get much better. The reason those traditional addict prayers don't work is that God will not take magically take our cravings away from us. He waits for us to crave Him over our flesh, and then He sweeps in with His empowering grace to guide us.

Instead of making God fit us, the Gospel is about God stretching us and tailoring us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. How could we not want that? Why do we act in opposition to that? If we surrender, and allow God to make us more like Christ, what happens to our addictions, imperfections, and concern for our own image?

It's an ongoing process that takes place over the rest of our lives, if we are followers of Christ. It's called sanctification, and it requires surrender. It's the first of the twelve steps - admitting that our lives are unmanageable and that we are powerless. It's also the first of the Beatitudes. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Dallas Willard translates that, "Blessed are the spiritual zeroes."

Paul understood it well. Read what he wrote to the Romans,

"I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. isn’t this YOUR experience?” Yes, I’m full of myself - after all I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So, if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, IT becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t DO it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it. I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question. The answer, Thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different."

Jesus Christ can and does. His name is I AM. My name, as Giglio points out, is I am NOT.

This year, resolve to surrender.

Happy New Year!

4 Response to "Happy New Year!"

  • Anonymous Says:

    Good post. Thanx, dude. Hey, what do you think of Mark Driscoll?

  • Tal Prince Says:

    Thanx for the encouragement. Nice to know someone is reading!

    I like Mark Driscoll very much, and think very highly of the Acts 29 Network.

    Happy New Year!

  • Anonymous Says:

    Nowadays it is a given that there is a great deal of longing out there for a new sense of community and an openness to re-visit the historical figure of Jesus. I find this longing in two broad populations; the “scattered many” and the “restless many.” Various people of faith have chosen to live in exile from the institution. Often, these people got to where they are in life almost alone and sometimes they are unaware of themselves as a collective people. And among church members, not all those in the pew are happy, some are for intransigence, some are restless and others are working to change things.

    I’ve dedicated this inaugural letter to my parents. Both Alfred and Zettie later in life became members of a faith group. Both, however, by church standards were not “dedicated” or “faithful.” They simply were not religious. I believe the reason for this is found in what G.K. Chesterton said, “The church is a house with a hundred gates; and no two [persons] enter at exactly the same angle.” What I’ve observed is that the conventional church operates from the myth that everyone enters at exactly the same angle; and then, as if they are blank slates, leadership authorities proceed to normalize new members into a standardized church culture. The tragedy is that so much humanity gets missed and lost in this process.

    In the brief sketch that follows of my parents, I’ll draw a glimpse of the unique angle life brought to them, a slate that could not be erased. Mom and Dad both came from previous marriages that failed and I was their only child. I know they loved me, a blessing not shared by enough children. When dad was about ten years old, he and his sister were placed in a religious orphanage where they were both abused. As time went on they escaped the orphanage, hopped a boxcar out of Nashville and made their way up to Detroit, Michigan. There they located Aunt Carey and Uncle Arthur and this couple became their new parents through the adolescent years. Mom’s first marriage occurred when she was 15, her parents lied about her age so that a marriage license could be acquired. Midway through her pregnancy the husband bolted, not to be heard from for thirty years. You could say that my parents from an early age knew life deeply.

    Both parents experienced the religious terrain of church and they found their place among the perimeter people of the group. Dad loved to work with his hands and build things. He was generous with his time assisting friends, church members and relatives doing renovation projects. Dad loved to pull pranks and enjoyed a good laugh. He was proud of being an accomplished tool and die maker. Mom had an infectious sense of humor that I believe emerged partially from the tragic side of life. She was a delight to see in church when she was there but I knew her days were numbered in this culture that was constrictive. As a family, we knew that some of our most joyful moments were having relatives over to play pinochle. I can still hear the silence of players figuring out their hand dealt them, the bidding and the slap of cards hitting the table and the laughter. At times, the family went down to the “beer garden,” - I’d see adults waltz to the tunes of Patsy Cline and the favorite food served was pizza with beer. As a kid, I loved to dance. My family thought it was the oddest thing for a church to have undercurrent beliefs against dancing, drinking beer and playing cards. Mom, to her embarrassment, would report to me the occasional “damn” or “hell” that would slip out when she spoke up in a churchwomen’s class. There was a transparent honesty about Zettie; she would tell me later in life that she thought she was not a good mother. But I assured her that she did great given the cards she was dealt. Through it all, this courageous couple worked with the wisdom their faith gave and chose to embrace life.

    We are honored to know that Jesus affirmed the lives of marginal people that knew they could not measure up to, or were at odds with, the prescribed worthiness codes of their religious culture. He welcomed at table those lives that “missed the mark” - the misfits that experienced a kind of non-favor in the religious community. His life gave people the courage to embrace their whole story. His teaching and presence invoked in people their capacity to fully enter life’s moment. He gave back to people their worth and affirmed their inherent wisdom. Jesus radicalized the profile of the person of faith when he said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). Poor people were a primary audience of Jesus and what made them a focus was because they were reduced beyond all pretensions to status and influence, and stood simply as blessed children of the Universe; as in the end, we all do.

  • Tal Prince Says:

    Hey, Welcome to the community! Thank you so much for writing, and for the story of your parents.

    I always love a good quote from Chesterton. What a great thinker he was!

    I'm so glad that Jesus reaches into the margins for the broken and tattered folks, and that as Corrie Ten Boom used to always say, "There's no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still." Comforting, isn't it?

    I'm also glad that as Philip Yancey wrote, "Grace means there's nothing you can do to make God love you any more, and there's nothing you can do to make God love you less."

    Once we are adopted through putting our faith in Christ, we move from the margins and into the Kingdom. It's just so sad that others in the Kingdom confuse it for a club, huh?

    Welcome, I'm glad you are here!