it’s pentecost, ya’ll, and walls are coming down

It’s Pentecost, ya’ll, and walls are coming down.

I’ve read and studied Acts 2 for years but tonight I heard something new when the preacher talked about the miracle of everyone hearing the gospel procaimed in their own tongue.

I was struck by the amazing, barrier-breaking, outlandish and lavish ways God extends God’s self in order that someone somewhere would believe the Good News. The miracle of people speaking in languages they do not know but some do, and the miracle of some hearing their language while someone may be speaking another, is nothing short of Divine Grace saying, “I love you so much that I want nothing getting in the way of you hearing this news.” Speaking in tongues, in this instance, is perhaps less about a specific thing that happens when the Holy Spirit falls and more about a God willing to use whatever means necessary in order that some might be saved.

Pentecost is about tearing down walls.

This has implications in 2018, as it did then. Today there are people who can’t hear the Good News because of walls. They have walls because they have been hurt by the church or shown a distorted, sinful picture of God through the church’s actions or inaction. They have walls because of broken homes or abuse or addiction or fear. They have walls because they can’t imagine anyone truly loving them because no one has ever stayed, or walls because someone important told them at some point that they were unworthy of love.

Walls abound. But where walls abound, grace abounds even more.

That’s what I heard today at Pentecost. The way the gospel is proclaimed today may not break my walls or your walls, but it’s breaking down the walls of someone somewhere. I’m sure in Acts 2 there were many conversations after the fact where people said, “I didn’t hear it like that,” even though they all heard essentially the same thing: God loves you and sent his son Jesus Christ to save the world, including YOU. Where and how people are hearing this message, even if it’s not in the “tongue” you and I might speak, we should rejoice and be glad.

What if in 2018 the Church seized the power of Pentecost – lavish Grace – and ceased to criticize the ways in which someone else is proclaiming the Good News and instead celebrated everywhere we witness walls coming down? I may not say it the way you would say it, and you may not say it the way I would need it, but perhaps we can trust that God is bigger than our language and so long as we are lifting up Jesus, God can sort out the details among those who understand your tongue or mine.

Everywhere that walls are tumbling and people are hearing the name of Jesus is reason to rejoice and be glad.

It’s Pentecost, ya’ll.

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Psalm 4

You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound (vs. 7).

It’s been said by many recovering addicts that our worst day while sober is better than our best day while acting act.    I know this to be true.   It would appear that David, who penned this fourth Psalm, knows it, too.

I remember when I was active in my addiction how scary it felt to think about giving it up.   While in the midst of it, it feels like there is no better high.   No greater joy.   The addiction afforded me an escape from reality which numbed my pain, even if for a moment.   It never judged me, never questioned me, never left me.  It was always there, ready to be feasted upon until full.    My “grain and wine” abounded.

Deep down I knew this to be a lie but it is such a beautiful lie that it kept me spellbound.  It was a lie because never did I find what I was searching for.    It always left me wanting more.   Never satisfied.   It was like I was jumping time and time again into a black hole hoping that this time would be different.  The only thing that was different, however, was me.  I was getting more and more sick.  More and more dark.  More and more alone.

In this psalm, I hear David saying that he rejoices that he discovered the truth – that in God there is more joy to be found than in the never-ending rat race of chasing after my lustful desires.    Or to put it another way, with God, I know more joy even on my worst day while being sober than I ever did while acting out.

If you are reading this today and feel like giving up your compulsion feels like losing yourself, I get it.  If you feel as though you will have nothing to fill that time with or no safety net when life throws its punches at you, I get it.   If you fear that you will give up your addiction only to find there is nothing better to replace it, I get it.

I felt the same way.  But I want you to know that there is FAR more joy to be had walking with God than you will ever find indulging in your “grain and wine,” whatever that might be.

And here is the truly beautiful thing:  You don’t have to wait till you are one year, or six months, or even one week sober before you can begin experiencing this joy!   I promise you that the gifts of recovery – the promises of God – are available to you the very moment you decide to turn your will and your life over to his care.

Below are the promises as listed in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (pg. 83-84).   If you want what we have, if you want the sort of joy David is speaking about, then you are ready to take certain steps.   Please reach out to someone to talk about that today.    And if you’d like, you can always reach me by commenting here or emailing me at recoveringchad@yahoo.com.    Grace and peace – and joy! – to you.

 

The Promises

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.

We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.

We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.

We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.

No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.

That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear.

We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.

Self-seeking will slip away.

Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.

Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.

We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.

We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

Not proud of the last thing I wrote

I took down a post I wrote the other day titled, “How to love someone hurting: a tribute and a testimony.”    I took it down because I’m not quite comfortable with my motives for posting it.

As I shared briefly in that post, a friend whom I had not heard from in quite some time reappeared in my life and shared with me his own story of falling from grace.    His story about how people in his life have since responded to him triggered in me some feelings of abandonment and shame.   It also reminded me of how grateful I was for a friend who stood by me and encouraged me.

My assumed intent for writing what I wrote was to pay homage to my friend who showed me grace, but after hitting “publish” something wasn’t sitting right with me.   I felt convicted that perhaps my real motive was to avenge my hurting friend who felt abandoned, or probably more accurately, avenge myself.

In any event, I don’t want to write from a place of being triggered or impure motives.  And I certainly do not wish to shame anyone for doing something or not doing something the way I think it should be done.    Ironically, such actions or motives are in direct conflict with the sort of love and grace to which I was trying to pay tribute.   It is a defect of my character which subconsciously sought to elevate one friend’s actions in an attempt to disparage the action or inaction of others.

All this to say, I’m a work in progress and I want to be mindful of my motives when I write, speak, act, love.   I won’t get it right all the time, I can promise that.  But if you are reading this I hope you’ll continue to do so and know that I value you, whether your friendship is something close up or from afar.

Much love,

Chad

Psalm 3

“Many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God” (Psalm 3:2).

This line has been working me over the last few days.   This is a psalm of David, in which he is expressing his anguish over the great number of enemies rising against him, including his own son.   The haunting line above is one David has either heard or imagines his enemies saying of him.    As David’s foes see the plight he is in, they are convinced that his God is unable or unwilling to save him.

For David, this cannot be the last word.   David is sensitive to a fault over the perception others have about his God, even if those others are his enemies.   For David, it’s blasphemous to presume that God cannot save him, regardless of the dire circumstances surrounding him.

As I said, this has been working on me for a few days.   My practice has become to read a psalm and meditate on it until I hear God say something to me through it.   Over the last few days I have allowed myself to get tangled up in a conversation about a well-known pastor who has been getting a lot of rebuff from other Christians.   My concern at first was that he was being misunderstood and unfairly criticized.  But that concern turned into shame over how easily we Christians eat our own.  I was troubled by how this online squabble over how well or how little a pastor regarded the Old Testament as he was trying to remove barriers for people who do not know Christ might be perceived by a watching, skeptical world.

I wondered if they are looking at us bickering Christians and thinking, “See, there is no salvation for them in God.”

And then this morning as I was meditating on these words I heard God say to me that the same is true of my addiction.  Of our addictions.  Of our compulsions and hang-ups, our fears and anxieties, our worry and prejudices, our insecurities and impatience.

What I think God is trying to show me, perhaps all of us, is that God is not content to let us wallow in semi-salvation-states but wants each of his children to experience the fullness of life that is available when we turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.    Completely and daily.

When I wake up each day and pray the Third Step prayer (see below) and determine to live it out hour by hour, moment by moment, then I can trust I am a faithful advertisement for the sort of God I claim has claimed me.    I can be confident that a watching, skeptical world – a world where enemies and friends alike know the pit I was in, will see that indeed, there is salvation in God.

But even more than that, I, and you, can and will know this salvation first hand as we turn our will and our lives over to the care of the God who saves.   We can, I believe, discover that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.   I invite you to make the following prayer a part of your morning ritual and daily mission.

God, I offer myself to Thee To build with me & to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy love & Thy way of life. May I do Thy will always. Amen.

 

 

 

Andy Stanley, Addiction, Agnostics, and how we miss the point

I really enjoy listening to a podcast put out by Andy Stanley called Your Move.   His messages have spoken to me during a time where I was really struggling with faith, recovery, and just living life day by day.    While his style and content may not be for everyone, God has certainly used him in my life and in the lives of countless others.   For that I am eternally grateful.

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This week a recent sermon of his has been the subject of much critique and scrutiny.  In the message, which you can view and listen to HERE, Stanley suggests that for some people listening – people who have either lost their faith or are on their way to losing faith – they might have done so unnecessarily if they were jumping ship due to their inability to get their head around some concepts of God found in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament.

When I hear Andy preach in this way I hear someone who is familiar with addicts and recovery.   I hear someone who has perhaps read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and has discovered the power behind the wisdom found in the 12 Steps.   I believe this because what Stanley is doing is nothing more nor less than creating space for the Spirit of God to move and work in the lives of those who have either given up on God or feel God has given up on them.    He is trusting heavily on the truth that no human has the power to change lives but God alone.  Our job is to simply point the way to Jesus and try our best to stay out the way (or do our best to remove as many stumbling blocks as we can).

If you are not familiar with the Big Book of AA I want to introduce you to one page.  This is page 47, found in the chapter titled, “We Agnostics.”   It’s a chapter dedicated to helping to remove barriers for those who have tried God and found God wanting, or who have never believed in God for any number of reasons.    Read these words and see if you don’t see in them perhaps the Spirit’s work…

When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you. At the start, this was all we needed to commence spiritual growth, to effect our first conscious relation with God as we understood Him. Afterward, we found ourselves accepting many things which then seemed entirely out of reach. That was growth, but if we wished to grow we had to begin somewhere. So we used our own conception, however limited it was.

We needed to ask ourselves but one short question. “Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself?” As soon as a man can say that he does believe, or is willing to believe, we emphatically assure him that he is on his way. It has been repeatedly proven among us that upon this simple cornerstone a wonderfully effective spiritual structure can be built.

That was great news to us, for we had assumed we could not make use of spiritual principles unless we accepted many things on faith which seemed difficult to believe. When people presented us with spiritual approaches, how frequently did we all say, “I wish I had what that man has. I’m sure it would work if I could only believe as he believes. But I cannot accept as surely true the many articles of faith which are so plain to him.” So it was comforting to learn that we could commence at a simpler level.

Simple and beautiful, yes?   These words, and the rest of this chapter, have helped thousands upon thousands take their first step (or next step) towards a relationship with God.  In the above excerpt I hear the words of James from Acts 15, whom Stanley quoted in his sermon, where James announced to the council of Jerusalem,

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

We should not make it difficult.    We shouldn’t love our beliefs, and our theological conclusions – conclusions we have perhaps had years to develop and reflect upon – more than the person hurting in front of us who just needs to be given permission to get up and take a first step towards a loving Higher Power.

Sadly, far too many of us who are steeped in religion and church-speak fail the world that needs good news because we insist they believe as we do, how we do, when we do.   We fail to realize how faith is a gift and how often we forget the time it has taken for us to know what we now know.    In our zeal to convert the world we burden our seeking brothers and sisters with unnecessary steps or doctrines or ideas.   We strain the gnat and end up swallowing camels.

Church, we would do well to listen to the wisdom found in Stanley’s communication of the gospel or to that found in places like chapter 4 of the Big Book of AA or to that found in Philippians 1 where Saint Paul chooses to rejoice over wherever and however Jesus’ name is being lifted high.   We would do well to recognize that we live in a post-Christian culture where most have not been raised in church.  Not everyone has an easy time swallowing the concept of a loving God.  Not everyone believes what you and I believe, nor will they ever if we make coming to God a matter of accepting beliefs they are in no position to accept.  At least not yet.

My hope is that more and more pastors would speak with the cultural awareness Andy Stanley does.  Better yet, I hope more and more churches begin to see the wisdom found in recovery material like the Big Book of AA and learn to trust God to meet each of us where we are to move us from point A, to B, to C, and onwards if we would just get out-of-the-way.    After all, its spiritual progress, not perfection, that we seek.

Grace and peace.

5 Common Misconceptions About Recovery

Good stuff about some common misconceptions about Recovery and 12 Step programs.

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How much do people outside of the recovery community really know about what happens within the confines of programs and rehabs and therapy and meetings? Most of us are only exposed to perceptions of recovery which are displayed in media, unless someone in our circle of influence has personally dealt with addiction recovery. That means we’re faced with typified caricatures  in television and film or the latest tabloidization surrounding the Hollywood elite. While many myths abound regarding addiction and recovery, we’re taking this opportunity to dispel a few. If you have thoughts, questions, concerns, or ideas, we’d love to hear from you.

1) No one will understand me.
We have a tendency to believe, for some reason, that we are unique. Clearly it is an impossibility that anyone has experienced what I have experienced it the way I have experienced it. No other person has been through the same circumstances…

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I deserve a piece of shit car

I heard a word from God tonight which began with a story about being called stupid by a teacher.  The preacher recalled how these words, overheard accidentally, shaped much of his young life and played out like a self-fulfilling prophecy throughout his school and college years.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.  When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. (Matthew 7:28-8:1)

The teacher of the preacher was a person who had authority.   The words of someone in authority impact our souls in ways people lacking authority do not.   They have long-term effects which ricochet throughout our lives ways we might expect, but often in ways we least expect.    Hopefully the words spoken are life-giving but far too often the words we hear from people we deem authoritative are words that hurt.

Sometimes that authority is ourselves.    Having failed so often, relapsed once more, hurt someone we love again, or any number of ways we addicts can be ruled by insanity and unmanageably, the voice in our own head is the one that carries the most authority and it’s message damns us again and again.

About 2 years ago my girlfriend was driving me around from car dealer to car dealer trying to help me buy a car.   I needed a new car because after my divorce and losing my job and then being evicted from my apartment and having my car repossessed I was in need of some transportation in order to get to my new job at Amazon.

The problem was I had little money and less credit and even less prospects and after the fifth or sixth, “I’m sorry, we can’t finance you,” I was done.  My girlfriend, not ready to give up, saw another car we should look at, one that I thought looked well beyond my meager means.  I told her to stop, looked her in the eyes and said with utter sincerity,

Look, none of this is going to work because I deserve a piece of shit car.

The authority running my life at that time (me), could only see the wreckage of my past, the long list of mistakes and misfires, the broken promises and shattered dreams, the lost relationships and trust and conclude that nothing good could or should come my way.  I deserved a piece of shit car.

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I wonder if you have ever felt like you don’t deserve anything good because of the mistakes you have made or because of some authority in your life – yourself or someone else – telling you that.    Let me tell you what the preacher said tonight about Jesus…

After Jesus’ inaugural sermon on the mount (Matt 5-7), announcing the reign of God and the shape and vision of this kingdom he was instituting, we are told that all were astonished at his teaching because he had authority unlike any other of his day.   This was not just some prophet or teacher of the law.  This was God in flesh and he had a word for his creation.

What does God in flesh do with his authority after preaching the most famous sermon in history and having a following which would have easily crowned him as king?   He does the unthinkable.   He comes down from the mountain and does the following four unthinkable things:

  • Heals a leper, an outcast of outcasts.   A leper was viewed as a person cursed by God and forever untouchable.   He not only heals him but in a touching moment of empathy he directs him to make himself known to the priest so that he can be fully restored to his community.
  • Heals the servant of a centurion, one of the Roman lords whom the Jews, the very people following Jesus down the mountain, hated most.
  • Heals a widow, another outcast in a society in which those in authority would say a widow is such because they have lost God’s favor.
  •  Heals the demon possessed, yet another class of people who were outcasts and screw ups.

Jesus comes down from a mountain and rather than wield his authority in a way that serves himself and sets him apart from others he goes on a whirlwind tour of serving the most down-trodden of society and setting them on pedestals at the risk of his own reputation.

Jesus seeks and finds every person who thought they deserved a piece of shit car and hands them the keys to a Porsche.

The preacher’s words tonight reminded me of that day at the car dealer with my girlfriend 2 years ago and the ways Jesus has been showing up to touch my leper-like life in countless ways if for no other reason than to remind me that I am his son and he loves me with a furious, unconditional love.

My desire to avoid prideful gain prevents me today from thinking too much about what I deserve, but I am grateful today that I no longer believe I deserve the worst life has to offer because of my past mistakes.    My past is past.   Yes, I have much yet to amend, but I do that best when I turn my will and my life over to the only Authority that matters and rest in his unfailing love.

If you are struggling today and hearing that voice from within or without that says you are not good enough and deserve the pit you now find yourself in, my prayer for you is that you’ll see Jesus coming down the mountain with one purpose in mind:  To find you, to touch you, to commune with you, to announce that he loves you, and to tell you that today is a new day and you deserve good things.

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
11 the Lord delights in those who fear him,
    who put their hope in his unfailing love (Psalm 147)