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Why Resolutions Fail

Erik Cooper —  January 12, 2011 — 1 Comment

Let’s face it, most of our New Year’s resolutions have the staying power of a Pauly Shore movie.  Some of us have already quit. The rest of us are seriously thinking about it. Stats say only 8% will survive.

The noble promises of painting something new and beautiful on the blank canvas of a New Year make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but they’re rarely matched by a true inward transformation. So they shrivel and die on the guilt-ridden pile of unsustainability (usually around January 30).  Maybe next year.


If we made socially honest New Year’s resolutions, the list would probably look something like this:

In 2011 I resolve to…

  1. Buy Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace book and put it on my coffee table
  2. Attach the LA Fitness membership card to my keychain (and show it for free chick-fil-a sandwiches on Wednesdays!)
  3. Fan more socially conscious Facebook pages (social networking has made it so easy to seem like I care)
  4. Retweet more spiritually sounding Twitter follows (Rick Warren is a solid retweet. So is Mark Batterson.)
  5. Write “stop drinking so much” on the pages of my personal journal
  6. Fill out all the columns on my online budget form (and maybe next year I’ll even find the resolve to implement it)
  7. Write more endearing, vulnerable blog posts about helping my wife more with the laundry

Let’s face it, we love the outward overture. The declaration. The noble desire. The appearance of change.

Rarely are we willing to pay the cost that leads to true transformation.

In Matthew 3, John the Baptist had a few strong words for some people who thought noble overtures trumped transformational reality:

“Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin!” -Mat. 3:7-8 MSG

It’s your life that must change, not your skin.

Yet we continue to sprinkle little droplets of resolutions on the surface, expecting them to clean up messes that are hidden deep down inside. It just doesn’t work.

Beyond simple behavior change resolutions, what needs to be transformed at the core of your life in 2011?  That’s the only kind of change that has any kind of staying power.  And here’s the bonus: If you’re willing, Jesus is just waiting to do the work in you.

“[Jesus] will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out.” – Matthew 3:11 MSG

And that’s a change that will last past next Tuesday.

Ashamed

Erik Cooper —  May 26, 2010 — 3 Comments

Shame comes in all shapes and sizes:

A big zit on your nose.

A past full of brokenness and abuse.

A rip in the seam of your pants.

A failed marriage.

Silly or serious, we’ve all felt it. The exposure of a vulnerability or apparent shortcoming that drives us to run away. To cover up. To hide. And unfortunately, The Church (my church, even me personally) can foster environments of shame, even when we’re not intentionally trying to.

It makes sense. The Church, a place of grace, hope, and unconditional love, is also an environment full of expectations. Standards of behavior naturally emerge in any culture, but engaging in Church culture comes with a built-in assumption of moral superiority. We profess faith in God and innately feel our lives should reflect that (even if we don’t).

And while some shame is understandably innate, some is undeniably overt. We’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t admit there are many in the Church who willingly use shame as a means to control. To maintain power over people. To protect their personal preferences. To manipulate others towards their desired outcomes.

Innate or overt, when we fall short (which we always do), shame moves in. Becomes a constant companion. And shame is a horrific house guest.

God deals in conviction, not shame. Shame is based in condemnation, in pointing out deficiencies with the intent of rejecting, judging, or looking down on another. And Jesus didn’t come into the word to do that:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17 NLT)

Yet in so many church environments shame is still a primary motivator, filling our sanctuaries with guilty people. Hiding people. Manipulated people. Self-righteous people. Frightened people. Fake people. Or in more and more cases, empty seats.

So how do we know when God is convicting or when shame is condemning? Here’s some thoughts:

Shame is an ego-protection mechanism that focuses on how we appear to others.
Conviction is an inward re-alignment with who God is and has called us to be.

Shame conforms us to man-made expectations.
Conviction leads us to repentance.

Shame causes us to create false perceptions of reality.
Conviction leads us to openly face who we really are.

Shame manipulates and imprisons.
Conviction heals and frees.

Shame misuses aspects of truth to manage and control.
Conviction reconnects us to absolute truth.

Shame formulates outward behavioral modification.
Conviction births true inward transformation.

Shame pushes us towards self-protection.
Conviction pushes us towards Christ.

Shame asks us to do the work.
Conviction drives us towards the One who already did it all.

Which one is driving you? What is being fostered in your environments? What do you think?