Chapter 1…The Distant Country from AHA by Kyle Idleman

Wow, what a way to start the new year!  When the TV is full of ads about losing weight, smoking cessation products, exercise equipment and people who are into making an effort to bring resolutions into reality, we start St. John Studies with a book like AHA.

Pastor Idleman comments on the obsession that our culture seems to have about change, especially “self-change.”  I guess he is right that self-help literature is a 11 billion dollar business and we currently have 45,000 self-help books in print.

On the Rachel Ray show this morning, she said [as if she is an expert] that the number one resolution is starting an exercise program to lose weight and the number two resolution is getting organized.  Reading the first pages of AHA sounds exciting.  I know I need to exercise more, read more, learn Spanish and the list goes on and on.  In short, I need to make changes, just like you probably need to.  When are we ever in a perfected state?????   Never.

Then Idleman drops the bomb:  AHA is not a self help book.  Rats, I was hoping for guidance about how to get my resolutions going.  Not here he says. In fact on page 13, the author says “This journey begins with a rejection of your self’s offer to help.” What does he mean?  What does sudden recognition or Awakening, Honest movement and lasting change or Action mean?  To me, it means that we can’t institute real change ourselves… God has to do it.

I am not going to confess my sins on a blog but I have had an ongoing problem for many, many years and I have been at a loss to change it.  I have tried so many things, so many times, all in the effort to change myself.  Oh I hate to write this but within the last six months or so, I have had some success with change.  Why?  I have quit trying to change me.

Recently, I was so blessed to be in the presence of a man I greatly admire who has gone through miraculous changes in his life.  He has told about the man he was.  It seems unbelievable when I compare the man he is now to the man of his past that he describes.  Yet he speaks of his past as the truth and his friends and family members vouch for him that he was the man he said he was.  He has changed… but how? I remember his comments one day in a group setting when he said he got tired of trying to change himself and he just prayed to God “You know who I am; you made me.  You know every flaw that I have.  I know You don’t want me to be the way that I am because my behavior makes me distant from You.  You made me God; You change me.” He said at that moment he felt his life begin to turn.

Maybe this is what Idleman means when he says “At just the right time, a person’s life collides with God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, and everything changes.” [page 14].  Maybe that is what has happened to me this past six months.  I quit trying to change myself.

Idleman speaks of the “distant country” and uses one of the most famous Bible stories known to man, the prodigal son story in Luke.  Indeed the prodigal son went to a distant country which is Idleman’s way of saying that we can stray away from God our Father.  Why do we do this?  The list is so long for many of us:  at times in my life I was disappointed in church so I quit going for 10 years!  We suffer a tragedy in life and question why it had to happen.  We have friends who lure us into doing things that conflict with who we really are but boy these things are fun!  We worship the dollar, or a car or a home etc.  You get the picture–we no longer worship God.  We worship something else instead.  Ask my wife about two of my major distractions over the years.  I was obsessed with going to school and obsessed with work.  God was not number one in my life.  I was in a distant country.

Our author states for many people God seems so unreasonable; life is one big list of rules that are no fun.  How many times have you heard a person who does not know God say that “God is no fun.  If I begin to believe in Him, I have to quit _____, _______, and _______ and these things bring me so much happiness!”  Really?

Idleman further says that some feel God is unpleasable.  God’s standards are so high.  How can I ever meet them?  How can I ever feel like I am worthy?  I will never be “good” enough.

Some feel God is unmerciful, that when we slip up, we need to be ready to be punished severely.  God is a vindictive God and we are going to slip up and we are going to feel pain.   Why would I want to believe in something like that?

Finally, Idleman states that some feel God is uncaring.  There is no real relationship.  God is not real at all and especially a God that really cares about you and me.  If God does not care about me [and I know that He doesn’t] then why should I care about Him?

Here is where the author is leading us.  God does care.  God loves us.  You know what pastors say: God loves you so much that He gave his Son that you can be saved [the paraphrase of John 3:16]. Not only does God care but God does not have an unreasonable list of rules.  If you work to do what God expects, you will not be hampered by rules; you will experience a lightness of heart that is based on some freedom from sin.  You know those expressions about a “clear conscience” and being able to sleep at night.  That stuff is real. Yet we are not perfect and Idleman points that out.  We all have that “sin nature” that stems from the fall that Adam and Eve experienced in the garden and that will always lead us to fall short.  God knows that.  He knows that standards are too high.  Like my friend said, God made us and He knows our flaws. When we fall, he is not into harsh punishment.  He wants us to admit our failure, pick ourselves up and keep moving forward.  I do not believe God is happy with a Christian who admits defeat, wallows in it and stops growing.  Every failure is an opportunity to learn. God wants the best for us.  He wants us to live a good life here on earth.  He has good plans for us.  We get in the way of the good things He has in store for us but trying to fix things ourselves.

At the end of Chapter One, we are introduced to Justin who is at the end of his rope, a heroin addict.  He tried to change over and over, ridding himself of this desperate need for a mind alteration.  The drug had taken over his life and he did not know what to do until he did what God was wanting him to do all along–ask for help. Why is it so hard to admit that we can’t do it alone?  Why is it so hard to admit that we depend of God?  Why is it so hard to admit weakness?  I don’t know the answer but I know that this last step to change is the one that many folks just don’t seem to be able to take and they keep spiraling downward in life.  Their own self-change efforts are just too feeble to make real change happen. Justin turns to Pastor Idleman and says “I have no other place to turn and nowhere else to go.  There is nothing I can do to help myself.  Will you ask God to help me?”  This is where the AHA journey begins.  The admission that we are broken and we cannot fix ourselves.  The humble admission that we need God to fix us.

Like the earthly father in the prodigal son story, I just imagine that God is saying at that moment that “this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”   A mighty fine excuse to kill the fatted calf.

Please weigh in with your comments on my comments or your comments on Pastor Idleman’s Chapter One……

Question from Chapter 1… Why does Idleman say that AHA can’t be fully explained?  AHA can be experienced but it can’t be fully explained.  In fact, he says that AHA has to be experienced to be understood.  Can you can explain that?

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