Call upon Me, and I will deliver you

This stretch of days in my devotional book seems to be addressing the need to surrender to God in order to defeat the power of sin in our lives.   Each day is just awesome. I commend this devotional book to you if you don’t already have it.   I’m sharing yesterday’s reading if not for you, than for my own edification.  Typing it out and saving it here helps me.   Blessings.

June 28

Call upon Me…I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me. (Psalm 50:15)

Christian man, by grace – that is to say, by the Holy Spirit of God – you have believed, and live.  You are a limb of Christ, who is your life.  But you are a sinner still; always, actually and potentially.  For whatever the presence of the Spirit in you has done, it has not so altered you that, if He should go, you would not instantly revert to unholiness.  Do you, if I may put it so, use your regenerate self in an unregenerate way, meeting temptation and the tendency to sin by yourself alone, with only high resolves, and moral scorn of wrong, and discipline on body or mind?

God forbid we should call these things evil.  They are good.  But they are aspects, not the essence, of the secret.  It is the Lord Himself dwelling in you who is your victory; and that victory is to be realized by a conscious and decisive appeal to Him. “Though Him you shall do valiantly; for He it is that shall tread down your enemies.” (Ps. 60:12).

And is this not proved true in your experience? When, in your regenerate state, you use the true regenerate way, is there not a better record to be given? When, realizing that the true principle is indeed a Person, you resolve and struggle less, and appeal and confide more – is not sin’s reign broken, and is not your foot, even yours, because you are in conscious union with the Conqueror, placed effectually on “all power of the Enemy”?

~ H.C.G Moule, The Epistle to the Romans

Surrendering our power

From my devotional book, Living the Christ Life, this was too good not to share.   This is what Step One is all about: Admitting we are powerless over our compulsion and that our lives have become unmanageable.

The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. (Luke 18:27)”

Your Christian life is every day to be a proof that God works impossibilities; your life is to be a series of impossibilities made possible and actual by God’s almighty power. Have you learned to deal so closely with an almighty God that you know omnipotence is working in you?

The cause of the weakness of your Christian life is that you want to work it out partly, and to let God “help” you. And that cannot be. You must come to be utterly helpless, to let God work, and God will work gloriously!

I could go through Scripture and prove to you how Moses, when he led Israel out of Egypt, how Joshua, when he brought them into the land of Canaan, how all God’s servants in the Old Testament counted upon the omnipotence of God doing impossibilities. And this God lives *today*, and this God is the God of every child of His!

Yet some of us want God to give us a little help while we do our best, instead of coming to understand what God wants and to say, ” I can do nothing; God must and will do all.” Have you said, “In worship, in work, in sanctification, in obedience to God, I can do nothing of myself, and so my place is to worship the omnipotent God, and to believe that He will work in me every moment?” May God teach us this!

~ Andrew Murray, “Absolute Surrender”

Jesus didn’t fix everything

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One of the things I struggle with is the belief that I can fix everything and everyone.  It’s my duty, so this belief suggests, to manage the lives of others.  It’s my job, this belief suggests, to step in and fix problems when they come to my attention and impart spiritual wisdom at every turn.  If I were to take a vacation, or even a day off, this belief has me convinced that the world would implode and everything I’ve worked for would dissolve.

The struggle is a real one.  In recovery we call what I have “codependency.”  I’ll say more about that in a moment, but for now I want to highlight a story about Jesus which brings relief to my struggle and, I hope, other codependents like me.

In Acts 1, Jesus is about to ascend back to his Father in heaven. His earthly tour of duty is over.  He has accomplished that for which he was sent.   His disciples have been told what they needed to be told and have witnessed what they needed to witness.

And then this question happens:

“Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” (1:6, NLT).

Notice the subject to which this question points.   Our kingdom.  Us.  Me.  Mine.  It’s a totally selfish question and given all they have been taught and all they have seen you would think this sort of question would be dead to them, right?

Before we look at Jesus’ response to such a question I want to share how the codependent in me would respond.  Here is how Acts 1:7 would read if I were Jesus…

You have got to be kidding me! I’ve been with you three years and now, just before I leave this planet, you drop this on me?   Oh my Self.  I can’t leave now! Father, sorry, I can’t come home now.  I need to fix these guys!

But what the real Jesus, who isn’t me, says is this:

It’s not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…

Translation: I’m not getting sucked into the insanity of your question but have complete and total trust in the Holy Spirit to do a work in you that you presently lack and are unable at this moment to comprehend.

Which one of the above responses is closer to where you live day to day?  Do you feel this need or compulsion to fix everyone and everything around you, convinced that if you don’t interject your energy, thoughts, opinions, and life into the world around you that things will implode?  Or do you have peace and serenity, trusting fully in the power of God to do that which only God can do: change people, places and things.

Jesus was the least codependent human to ever live.  He proved this by ascending back to heaven.   A codependent like myself would never leave, and thus never make enough room for the Holy Spirit to fill the broken spaces that need mending.

Step One for codependents is this:

We admitted we were powerless over others- that our lives had become unmanageable.

Powerless over others.  It’s a powerful admission.   When I am most at peace with myself and others it’s when I remember and work this step.  When I am most reliant on God and growing in faith it is when I remember and work this step.

Accepting our powerlessness is a powerful way to live.  Melody Beattie, in her wonderful book Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps, says this about this step:

I love this Step.  But I hate that I can’t control. I hate being vulnerable and helpless.  I don’t like feeling uncomfortable or being in emotional pain.  I get sick of having to detach and surrender.  But the love affair with this Step comes in when I admit the truth. I am powerless over much in life, and when I try to have power where I have none, I get crazy.  I can’t control others, no matter how much I want to, no matter how much better I think I know what’s right for them.

I can’t control what others do, think, or feel, whether or how they choose to interact with me, whether or when they choose to grow and change, and whether or when they choose to recover from their addictions.

The truth is, when I try to manage everything and everyone around me I set myself up as God and become my own worst enemy.  The change I want to see happen – which may even be for the good! – will not happen because the agent of change is myself rather that the one true God, the Holy Spirit.   Jesus shows us the way out of our insanity by showing us his total reliance on the Spirit to do the hard work of heart change.

If Jesus trusted that, can’t you and I?

Have you been trying to exert power and influence where you have none? Have you been trying to control someone or something, trying harder and harder with decreasing results?   How much time do you spend online trying to convince somebody they are wrong?  How much time do you spend fixing the messes of others?  How much time do you spend obsessing over the poor choices of your spouse, children, friends or church members?  How much energy do you put into thinking about what others are thinking and doing?

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Perhaps it’s time to return to Step One. Admit you are powerless over others and surrender them and your desires for them over to God.   This will no doubt be a recurring step in your life and mine, one we can always return to when things go sideways.  For today though, let the Holy Spirit do what the Holy Spirit does best: change hearts and lives.

According to the Word of God

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This morning in group, one of the men shared that he is thankful that God will never leave nor forsake him, according to the word of God.  

According to the word of God.

I was impressed with the way he stated this and told him so.  What impressed me is that his assurance that God was with him was not based on how he felt but rooted in the trustworthiness of God’s word.   God said he would never leave him and this young man believed it, regardless of his feelings.

No doubt this is why he is 20 weeks sober and continuing to flourish.

In my personal experience in both my own recovery and being a coach for others I have learned that the extent to which we flourish in our recovery – and life! – is the extent to which we have utter reliance on God’s words over any other words.  Those who continue to preach the gospel to themselves, who consistently chew on and digest scripture, who replace the voices of this world with the voice of the Holy Spirit are those who get and remain sober and are less likely to allow the troubles of this life to knock them off the wagon.

It’s imperative for us to daily remind ourselves that we are in a war and there is an enemy that wants to destroy us.  His name is Satan, which literally means “The Accuser.”   The bible says that he is a liar and is the father of lies (John 8:44).  Ever thing that is untrue finds its genesis in Satan, The Accuser.  He lives to accuse those who belong to Christ (Rev. 12:10).  He lives to sow lies into us meant to harden our hearts towards the truth of God, inspire bitterness in our hearts towards others and make us feel unworthy of the abundant life Jesus promised.

And he’s crafty. He has been doing this from the beginning and knows our weak points.  He knows how to whip us into a frenzy of anger or lust or pride or self-indulgence.  He knows how to inspire in us the justifications to seek our own way and defend our rights and put ourselves before anyone else.  He knows how to cause us to doubt the faithfulness of God or the kindness of others.

Your best defense against this liar is a good offense.   My counselor, when he talks about the way Satan works his lies into my head, will get very animated and jump up and scream,

Damn him!

It reminds me that I’m fighting someone very real who is playing for keeps.  My best defense is a good offense.  I need to be in the word. I need to replace the lies with the truth so that my mind can be renewed (Rom. 12:1-2).

I’ve written extensively on this blog about how to do that.   Three very practical ways you can begin today are these:

1.  Get into the word and begin by reading Psalm 119.  It will, if you open yourself to it, nurture in you a love for God’s words.   If you commit to the reading I outline HERE, you will find in a few months a hunger for God’s truth that you’ve never known before.

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2. Pray for people instead of think about them, including yourself.  The Mercy Prayer (click the link) is a prayer that changed my life and my thoughts towards God, myself and others.  Commit to this prayer for the next 3 months and I promise you that your inner world will do a 180.

3. Finally, ask yourself this question often:  Is this feeling, emotion or response I’m about to give one that is produced by the Spirit of God or by some other spirit?  My counselor reminds me that it will always be one or the other.  Recalling this again and again helps me to take every thought captive for Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).  If it’s not from God, renounce it and replace it with truth from God’s word.

According to God’s word, you are a beloved child of God (1 John 3:2).  You were worth dying for even while an enemy of God’s, thus proving God’s love for you (Rom. 5:10)!    Nothing, NOTHING, can separate you from God’s love, neither death nor life, not even angels or demons – including The Accuser – nor the present or future nor any other kind of power (Rom. 8:38-39).   Let that soak in.   Let those be the words that shape you.

Let it be so, according to the Word of God.

Hi, my name is…

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Last night at Recovery at Dayton something amazing happened.  Our host for the evening introduced himself the way we do, saying, “Hi, my name is ________, a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with….”    Jeremy was hosting for his first time so he forgot that he introduced himself not once but twice.  We had fun with it, responding back with the obligatory, “Hi Jeremy!” both times.

That wasn’t the amazing thing though.   At the end of the message, Jeremy got back up to lead the closing Serenity Prayer, but before he did he said,

HI, my name is…Beloved.

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In that moment you knew Jesus was everywhere in that room.   The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

Beloved went on to say that if anyone here tonight doesn’t yet know that as their name, then keep coming back.  Because that is the truth that will change everything in your life.  To know how much you are God’s Beloved.

I’m reading a book on ministry right now and just finished a section where the author, Stephen Seamands, said that what I do as a pastor will one day all be gone.  I can’t be a pastor or even a husband or father or blogger or worker or any of these things for ever.  But the one thing that will never change is that I will never cease being God’s beloved son.   I am His forever.  To know that I am Beloved is the greatest and most lasting truth about me that I need to know.   It’s the only thing that matters.

Things go sideways for me when I forget that astounding truth.

Paul said it this way:

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38).

I’m so very thankful as I write this that I am God’s son, and God is well pleased to be my Father.  He is this not because of what I do for Him, or what I fail to do for Him, but simply because He is Love. It’s who He is.

Hi, my name is Beloved.

My prayer is that you will know that as your name, too.

Why half-hearted recovery fails every time

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This is from my devotional reading yesterday.  It captures why half-hearted attempts at getting sober never work.  You need put all your chips in.   I hope this blesses you as it did me…

“Blessed are those who seek Him with the whole heart.” Psalm 119:2

Many are stopped from seeking the higher Christian life by a reluctance to give up the world completely and be fully conformed to the will of Christ. Maybe they find the yoke of Christ too heavy, even when they bear it in a half-and-half sort of way. By the arithmetic of unbelief, they figure that if half-hearted service is a burden, then full service would be twice as heavy and would break them down completely!

They don’t see that the Master gives grace and strength to those who are fully given to Him. They overlook the lessons of the past, that the Lord is the strength of those who lean completely on Him, enabling them to pass through floods on dry land and through fire untouched. But those who stop halfway are left with enemies all around – unconquered, unexpelled, ready to rise up and attack.

Imagine a farmer’s fields overrun with weeds, but instead of waging a war of extermination and destroying the weeds down to the roots, he only did a half-and-half job by cutting down a few of them. The rest would go to seed and produce even more weeds the next year. And suppose he justified his actions by saying, “It takes me so much time and work to keep these weeds under control from year to year that it is not worth the trouble!”

Such a farmer would be the laughingstock of the whole countryside, and yet his reasoning would be teh same as that of a half-hearted disciple who shrinks from full consecration because he thinks it would be so much harder than the half-and-half life he lives now.

~ William Boardman, “The Higher Christian Life” (from the “Living the Christ Life” devotional)

Getting the power behind the power of the Gospel

The Cross at Pure Life Ministries

When I was in the pit of my addiction and everything around me was unraveling, a trusted friend and mentor asked me over dinner,

Chad, do you believe in the power of the Gospel?

I responded by saying I do. After all, shouldn’t pastors and seminary students, of which I was both at the time, believe that?  But today, four years later, I realize I didn’t know what I was really saying. I didn’t understand the power behind the question nor what would be required of me to access such power.

I am still very much a work in progress, but here I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned about that power and how it’s made available in your life and mine.   My prayer is that it will help you, as it’s helped me, to live free from whatever is holding you hostage or restore the joy of your salvation.

If when you hear the phrase “the power of the Gospel” you think of Easter, you are thinking about it the way I did four years ago.  If you think first and foremost about resurrection, new life, freedom from addictions and failed relationships, healing, redemption, an eternal home in heaven, or anything of the sort, you are believing in only a partial gospel.

It’s easy to do.  Who wouldn’t want all of those things? And when you are in the pit, you certainly want out.  The problem with it though is that this partial – yet hopeful – gospel obscures the real power behind the gospel.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church which was plagued with living a defeated Christian existence (sexual sin, relationship issues, church division, etc), he reminds them where the true power of the gospel rests:

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Did you hear that?  Or better yet, did you hear what Paul doesn’t say?  None of the things I thought was the power of the gospel back in the day.  Paul says the power of the gospel is not in resurrection, but in crucifixion.  It’s not an empty tomb, but a blood-stained cross.  Not Easter, but Good Friday.

A partial gospel – one that emphasizes Easter over the Cross – can be used by the enemy to rob you of ever knowing the power of the full Gospel, thus keeping you in perpetual disappointment and defeat as you seek a resurrected life without crucifying the present one.

This was the predominant truth I was missing in my life.  I did not know or understand (it was foolishness to me) the power behind the blood of Jesus Christ and the reason why the Cross must take center stage in my life – even more than an empty tomb.   For when the cross gets diluted in my thinking and in my life, the tomb of my life gets repopulated and polluted.

Paul stresses this just a bit further on in his letter when he writes that he desired to know nothing among the Corinthian church “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).   It was the cross that dominated Paul’s thinking, not Easter.

Because Paul put Good Friday first, he lived an Easter life.   The paradox of putting the cross at the center of our lives is that it leads to a reality only God can produce in us: resurrection.

Tragically, far too many of us want the new life without dying to the old one.  We love the promise of resurrection and cringe at the prospect of crucifixion.  Can’t we just be bandaged up a bit and go on with our lives as we have come to know them minus these “bad behaviors”?

Not if you want to experience the power of the Gospel.   For the power of the Gospel knows nothing of making men and women better people and only of making men and women new.    God’s program of redemption, then, requires we go the same way of Jesus, which knows resurrection only as hoped-for promise of a life crucified to God.   It requires that everything we know dies.

Death to our dreams and hopes for how our lives should be. Death to our past, our present, and our future.  Death to our desires and preferences.  Death to our plans for how we intend to recover ourselves or others.  Death to our rights.  Death to our pride and place and prestige.  Death to our intentions for where we want to live, what we want to do, what we desire to be, and how we can carve out a “life” for ourselves.

Every time I experience a rift in my spirit, or sense a shift in my relationship with God or others, or feel as though the future is scary or the present suffocating, I can usually identify something of my crucified self that is rearing it’s defeated, yet greedy, head.   There is something within my flesh that I must hand-deliver to the Cross of Jesus Christ and crucify once more so that I might be able to experience the life of the Spirit in which I, and I imagine you, desire to walk.

The paradox in all of this, and perhaps the reason why Paul called this fixation on the Cross “foolishness to the perishing,” is that every time I do this I find God a more-than-ready and trustworthy steward of my crucified self and where my sin abounds, His grace abounds even more.   When I live to know nothing except Jesus Christ crucified I receive a life that is not my own, but Christ in me, who is new and alive and full of Easter promise and power.

If you have been missing out on the fullness of the power of the Gospel my advice to you would be to prayerfully ask God to give you a heart willing to take everything to the cross.   Pray this every day until it becomes a reality in you.   Then, and only then, after you have been to the cross, will you experience the gracious gift of Easter and the power of the Gospel which makes men and women new.