Overcoming Excuses to Make a Change

One of the joys of starting a New Year is the opportunity it affords to initiate a long overdue and much needed change. It is a season ripe for a breakthrough – that will free us from the inertia of the past while propelling us to possess a preferred future – that will break us free from the old while enabling us to lay hold of the new. That is the essence of what we call turning over a new leaf.

When it comes to finally doing what we have hoped and longed to do, many of us can sound like the lame man laying at the Pool of Bethesda. He had a paralytic condition that hindered him from being able to respond in time to the stirring-of-the-water seasons that periodically came along for his healing. As a result, year after year rolled by with their missed opportunities, and his excuse for his inability to change became his testimony – “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” (John 5:5 NIV).

Excuses abound when desired change is not forthcoming. We easily can become fixated on the things that seem to be holding us back. Not unlike the man stuck at the edge of the pool, just feet away from his breakthrough, most are quick to cling to excuses rather than seriously consider what it will take to overcome them and make the change. Or more precisely, WHO it will take to overcome them and make the change.

Overcoming Stereotyping and Prejudice

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them.” Luke 10:33 NLT

You can certainly pick up the prejudicial tension in Jesus’ telling of this well known story we have come to refer to as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Prejudice, a preconceived, irrational and judgmental attitude or action toward an individual or group was obviously as serious problem in Jesus’ day as it is in ours.

Jews and Samaritans did not get along because they were ethnically, culturally and religiously different from one another. Their prejudices, just like ours, were rooted in stereotypes that had been inherited or learned and sadly gave them a distorted perception of reality. It is likely, if the Jewish guy who was beaten, robbed and left laying half dead alongside the road had been conscious, he would not have wanted to have anything to do with the Samaritan who stopped to help him.

So what could possibly have motivated the Samaritan to set aside his own prejudice in order to get involved in such a messy and potentially racially charged situation? Why did he choose to cross the road while two religious Jews refused and “passed by on the other side”?

Jesus told this parable in order to redefine the meaning of the words love and neighbor, as used in the context of the second great commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We learn that love is proactive and a neighbor is anyone with whom we come in contact – even those who are not like us, against whom we may hold prejudicial attitudes and may in fact be our enemies.

In the verse quoted above from this parable Jesus explains why the Samaritan was able to set aside his negative preconceptions and turn aside from his journey to cross the road.

4 Ways to Overcome Temptation

I heard a great sermon in church last Sunday. The topic was almost as hot as the near record setting temperatures outside. It was on temptation. The message was a real eye opener for me and deeply convicting. But it wasn’t anything the preacher said. It happened that I was an audience of one listening to what the congregation was saying to me as I stood behind the pulpit. Through feedback from six interactive questions I gained some incredible insight into the insidious power of temptation and most effective ways to combat it. When Paul said that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” he wasn’t just talking through his hat. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Nine out of ten people in the room told me that they are presently battling temptations in their lives. And eight out of ten admitted that it is a reoccurring temptation that they have not been able to resist. Seeing those polling results brought home the stark realization that at any given time, most godly people are locked in a spiritual battle against an enemy of their souls.

It really should not be a surprise when we consider that from the very beginning of time a colossal war been waged between the forces of good and evil, righteousness and sin, God and the devil. From Genesis chapter three onward the devil has been scheming up ways to tempt us to eat forbidden fruit and rob us of an intimate relationship with our creator.

But his insidious strategies are not limited only to the lure and captivity of sin. He also is a relentless “accuser of the brethren” who works with might and main to keep those who confess their sin imprisoned in guilt and shame. (Revelation 12:10)

Over half of our congregation this past Sunday said they were still battling guilt and shame for a sin they had confessed and been forgiven. That is a disquieting yet not surprising fact as well. All of us at one time or other has those same struggles and we are not alone. (For more on this see “Dealing with the Stain of Sin”)

Adversity – don’t be surprised!

“For a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” 1 Corinthians 16:9 (ESV)

Adversity is a fact of life, even in the best of times. I love this verse penned by the Apostle Paul when he was in Ephesus, because it encourages us to keep things in perspective. Just when things seem perfect the phone rings, it starts to rain, something breaks, someone is disgruntled or you have a health scare. Open doors of blessing are often accompanied by adversity. But in spite of the opposition Paul ran into there in Ephesus, he was unshaken in his resolve, made the most of his opportunity, actually stayed there two years and planted arguably the greatest church in all of his journeys.

The Apostle Peter who had the amazing opportunity of living with and observing Jesus’ handling of adversity wrote “since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had and be ready to suffer.” (1 Peter 4:1) Dealing successfully with adversity, especially when it seems to come at the most inopportune times, requires having an attitude or mindset that is always prepared to overcome it. Jesus himself said “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

That kind of overcoming attitude is absolutely essential if we are going to navigate the winds and waves of life. And no where have I learned that more graphically than as a neophyte sailor. Less than a month ago I was in the Caribbean on a sailboat. My cousin and I rented a thirty-two foot boat for eight days and set off for the bucket list adventure that even Jack Sparrow would envy. Our dream was to spend sun-kissed days sailing and snorkeling while exploring the history rich British Virgin Islands. Columbus discovered them on his second voyage in 1493 and they are where all the infamous pirates roamed and raided ships for centuries in the Sir Francis Drake Channel.

It did not take me long to realize however, that even though I was on vacation I had better not lay aside my overcoming attitude because being in paradise does not necessarily guarantee paradise being in you. Navigating a sailboat in unfamiliar waters, six foot rollers and steady 15-20 knot winds has a way of bringing that reality home very quickly, especially for an inland water sailor. In spite of wide open seas there are still pirates of adversity lurking there to despoil even the most virtuous sailor of his dream vacation.

One stark realization was that spring break makes March the busiest month of the year for sailing in the BVI. There were sailboats, catamarans and huge yachts of all sizes and shapes everywhere and that made for stiff competition in claiming a mooring ball to anchor at night, no matter which island cove you choose as your destination. Unfortunately it made everyday a race to the next island anchorage, because if your boat had not tied up to the rope floating from a mooring ball by 11 am you were out of luck.

The first day, with a late start from the marina we arrived at Norman Island, where Robert Lewis Stevenson, cast his novel Treasure Island, at five o’clock. God had mercy on us and heard our prayers and we found one mooring ball unclaimed, it was literally a miracle. The next day we did a short sail to another side of the island and claimed a ball by 10 am in a beautiful setting right near a reef for snorkeling. Praise God.

The third day was a different story. We had mapped out a long sail, half-way up the channel to a picturesque spot on Cooper Island. Leaving at day break we hoped to arrive by eleven, sailing conditions were favorable and we reached the Island as planned. But by then the weather had taken a turn for the worse with dark cloudy skies, pouring rain and 20 knot winds blowing off shore. We immediately began the hunt among all the anchored boats for a mooring ball. We were waved off the first two mooring balls we found by someone on shore shouting that they were reserved.

After a somewhat frantic search we finally found one ball unoccupied. As I approached it my one man crew was on the bow with a six foot aluminum pole ready to hook the rope. Somehow the pole got wrenched from his hand and started floating away. With no pole we could not secure a ball. He made his way back to the stern where I was and we decided he would have to take the dinghy to chase it down. In the rain, wind and panic of the moment the dinghy rope got caught in the prop of the dinghy outboard. Before long the dinghy was floating away with him in it, the pole was floating away with our chance for a mooring and my hope was floating away as I sought to keep the sailboat from running aground or hitting another boat.

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