My devotions this morning had me in John 15. In verse 3 Jesus says something (again) that changes my world.
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you (John 15:3).
What an amazing thing it is to learn that just a word from Jesus can obliterate a lifetime of self-seeking, sin, brokenness, waste, shame and guilt. Just a word can take these filthy rags that I have made of my life and turn it into something beautifully pure, fit for a bride to wear on her wedding day.
The words of God are pure (Proverbs 30:5; Psalm 12:6). They slice through the heaviness of our world and the baggage we carry and set us free.
IF we will abide in them.
Keep reading in John 15 and we find the secret of lasting freedom: Abiding in his words.
If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch that withers (15:6)
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done (15:7)
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love (15:10)
You are my friends, if you do what I command you.
The words of God are full of if/than statements such as these. If you will do this, than this will occur.
Just a word from Jesus can make you clean. And yet, how often do we run to the “words” of this world to find our nourishment? How often do we turn to the compulsion of our choice, or the praise of our friends, the words of our family, the advice from the media, or any number of other words in order to get through the day?
If we would but only abide in the pure words of God, the only words which have the power to make us free, we would know life and life abundantly (John 10:10).
What words are you abiding by today? Whose words are you abiding in? When we realize that the bible is not full of old words written by dead men but the very words of Life which promise to heal, it will no longer be a chore to read, but a gift we can’t live without.
Just a word and you will be clean. Read them, and be clean.
Every Thursday night I get to be part of an extraordinary event. Each week over 100 people gather to share their struggles and their victories over addictions, compulsive behaviors, relationship issues, grief, pain, loss and more. Recovery at Dayton, part of the Recovery at Cokesbury Network, is changing lives in our church and in our community in amazing ways.
There are a myriad of ways in which this ministry is touching the lives of those who have long been overlooked or forgotten or ignored but one of the major ways is that it offers a fresh start to every person. At Recovery at Dayton everybody matters. I get to tell people every week that while they may have been dealing or been dealt all sorts of things in the past, here in this place we deal two things: Hope and Freedom. And we got it in spades.
Why? Because we believe strongly that Jesus is in this place and he is the champion of hope and freedom. His mission is to set people free from their captivity and to bring rest and peace to the weary. He has an abundant supply of mercy and hands it out generously. And even if you don’t believe in him he believes in you, enough to die for you, and if you will keep showing up he will show up in unexpected ways and move in on your life and everything will change.
This past week I got to hand out 15 white chips of hope. These chips don’t require any time of sobriety. They are given to those who desire to receive the hope and freedom being freely offered and desire to begin a new life starting today. One of those 15 who came forward was so grateful to be dealt some hope that he took a picture of his chip and posted it to Facebook:
I want to offer you the same chip today. While I can’t give it to you personally, I want you to know that Jesus is present and has been calling you. That you are reading this blog is evidence of that. He has something he wants to say to you and it’s this:
I love you. I gave my life for you when no one else would look at you. If you will start doing life with me you will know freedom like you have never known before. Just take the first step.
It’s our failures and mistakes and our brokenness which qualify us for this chip, and for Jesus’ love. Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God (Matt. 5:3). If you are tired of being sick and tired then you are in the perfect position for Jesus to change your position. Take that first step and receive your chip of hope.
Find a group that can support you in your walk. Find a local AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or SA/SAA (Sexaholics/Sex Addicts Anonymous) group in your area.
Check out our Recovery at Cokesbury link for additional resources as well as information on how you can join one of our meetings if you live near one of our campuses. You can also view online all the recovery teachings given each Thursday night.
For those struggling with pornography/sex addiction you can also join one of our online support groups at X3 Groups. I lead one of them on Monday mornings, but we have awesome group leaders leading numerous groups all week long. We also have support groups for spouses!
You can’t walk this walk alone, and the good news is you don’t have to. Take your white chip of hope today and take your first step towards freedom with others.
Please email me if you need some help in finding a place to connect. I’d love to help: email@example.com
I’m in the middle of a teaching series on Sunday called “Reveal” which takes us through the Gospel of John. The aim is to reveal who Jesus is and why he is significant. I don’t normally blog about my sermons but am doing so here for two reasons. One, I think there is something beneficial for everyone, whether you are in recovery or not (yet). And two, I leaned heavily on a chapter in one of my favorite books, We Would See Jesus, by Roy Hession. Perhaps in reading this you will be led to buy his book and read it once or a thousands times. I would.
So the following are highlights from the sermon and the book. You can view the sermon below. I pray it blesses you.
Jesus as the Door
In the beginning there were no walls. There was perfect fellowship between God and humans, and perfect fellowship between man and woman. We didn’t have walls between us until sin entered the fabric of the universe. You can read about this in Genesis 3. Almost immediately, after Adam and Eve reached beyond what God instructed, a wall went up. Shame and guilt surrounded the relationships both here on earth and between us and heaven. This is what sin does. While it promises life and freedom it delivers only death and shame. With each transgression it’s as if we are adding another rock to the layer until we wake up one morning and find our fellowship with God and others strained.
Even those of us who have walked with God for many years experience this wall from time to time if we are not vigilant. It’s so easy to allow jealousy or bitterness or some resentment to erect a wall almost without our awareness. Creep happens, where the things of this world entice us bit by bit and we unintentionally give ground, allowing sin to tantalize us just for a moment and before we realize it a habit has developed. This habit soon becomes an addiction and we wake up one morning with a great wall between us and God and our fellows. Who among us have not had periods of famine where it seems as though the pages of scripture have dried up and our prayer life has grown stale and worship has become routine?
And what do we try to do when we find a wall? We try to fix it by doing more. We pull up our boot straps and determine to scale the wall. We try, try, try harder. We white-knuckle ourselves until we are blue in the face and we fail again, frustrated that the wall now seems higher rather than more manageable. If only there were some other way through this wall!
Read John 10:1-10. Here we discover the great truth that God has not left us to eternal separation and frustration but has provided not only the one who can show us the way through the wall, but is the way himself! Jesus not only points us to the door, but he is the Door! If only we will come to him and acknowledge that we are in no position to scale the wall on our own, we will find the abundant life he promises (John 10:10).
As we consider Jesus as the Door, we discover four characteristics of this door. Each of these by themselves are significant and praise-worthy. Taken together, they will revolutionize anyone’s world, and set them free.
1. It’s an OPEN Door.
When Jesus hung on the cross and announced it is finished, the wall (veil) separating the most holy place within the Temple from the rest of the world split in two. Jesus forever demolished the wall that stood between us and God requiring that we work our way towards salvation through the Law. So open is this door that the biblical authors declare we may now go boldly before the throne of grace to receive mercy (Hebrews 4:16).
What qualifies us for this door? It is our sin that makes us qualified to come enter through it. It is our coldness, our unbelief, our hard hearts, our addictions, our jealousies, and a myriad other ways in which we sin which qualify us for this Door, provided we will simply acknowledge this. We cannot conquer or suppress or scale these things on our own, but are invited to judge these things as sin and bring them to the open Door.
2. It’s open at STREET LEVEL
Not only is the door open to everyone, it’s open to us right where we are. We do not need to dress ourselves up in order to make ourselves look more presentable before we come to Jesus the Door. This is Good News! The door to God is open to the sinner as a sinner, and the failing saint as a failing saint.
I know in my own life I may have thought of the door as open at street level for others but never myself. Whenever I was failing in some area of my life I placed the door just a bit higher up, just out of reach. I would convince myself that I need to get a few days sober before I approach God, or in some way make myself a better Christian before I can be accepted. No! Our failures do not disqualify us for the door but rather make our need for him all the more urgent, and his grace all the more abundant. Run to him the moment you fail him and discover that he is everything he promises to be and more.
3. It’s a LOW Door.
In order to pass through we are going to have to bow our heads in repentance (turning away from our old ways and accepting Jesus’ ways). Scripture speaks again and again of “stiff-necked” people whom God cannot use or transform because they are stubborn, self-willed, and full of pride.
If you have come to the door again and again and have left unchanged and unfulfilled, it might be because you came to the door with your own agenda and your own ideas of how this new life is going to look. Remember, our best thinking has gotten us here, to this point of need. All it has done is erect a great big wall. If we are going to pass through this door into life we are going to have to be broken, lower our heads to the dust and trust that the things God requires of us are for our own good and will lead us to wholeness. Everything must change. And that change begins with me as I bow my head and enter.
4. It’s a NARROW Door.
When we arrive at the door we stand there utterly alone, with no room on the left or right of us for anyone else. We cannot wait for nor depend upon our family and friends, our church or pastor, to get us through the door. One day we will all stand before God and give a personal account of our lives and no finger pointing will do (Rom. 14:12).
Nor can we wait for someone else to get right before we do. This drives the co-dependents among us, myself included, crazy. We can’t be the door for others, or wait for them to get through the door before we start taking care of ourselves. If we are going to realize Jesus as the Door and all the blessings that come with it, we will have to trust that He is also the Door for them, but only as they come alone and decide on their own to walk the path Jesus has made.
Thank God for Jesus! The wall between us and God or us and others cannot be scaled on our own by our own power. But thanks be to God for Jesus, who is himself the Door, always open, right where we are, ready to transform us one by one. All that is required of us is that we come to him. Just come. Don’t wait. He’s ready and willing and more than capable of doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
I came to The Walking Dead late in the game but became a fan almost immediately. Beyond the zombie lore there is a story consisting of compelling characters struggling against good and evil in both the new world around them and the one within them. Rick, the main character, is the leader of a group of survivors who for five seasons have been battling it out against both the walking dead (zombies) and the living who are in some ways even more deadly, all while trying to maintain some sense of decency and connection to the values by which they were once governed.
By the time we get to the current season five, the group is battle hardened. They have been tested at every turn and have grown wise to the ways of this new world. In episode 12 of this season they arrive at a camp called Alexandria which from all appearances looks like an oasis, nearly untouched by the death around it. Walls protect a town of citizens who have running water and electricity and a budding form of government. The people of Alexandria have jobs and they throw house parties and they discuss what sort of food they should bake for their new neighbors. It’s a very different world than the one Rick and his gang have known for the past few years. It’s one they longed to find for themselves, but now that they are in it, the question posed to us viewers is how well can they adapt and live normal lives after being part of so much death?
At the end of episode 12, Carol, Rick and Daryl look out from the porch of their new home and bring voice to their growing concern about this seeming paradise: What if we grow weak here? What if we drop our guard? It’s at this point that my recovery antenna began beeping and I was willing Rick to quote the scripture passage that corresponds with Step Ten:
Therefore, let anyone who thinks that they stand take heed lest they fall (1 Cor. 10:12).
He didn’t. Instead, he assured the others that they would not grow soft, that they had been through too much to go back. If by this Rick means that they will rely on what they have learned thus far and practice the tools which have kept them alive, I couldn’t agree more. But if he means what far too many of us in recovery often think, that they will never grow soft merely because they have been through so much already, then they, like every addict in recovery, are setting themselves up for a great fall.
Step 10 says that we “continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” Combined with it’s scriptural component, quoted above, it is the step we must never skip nor cease stepping. It encourages us to stay vigilant, to always keep watch, and to never forget that sin, like the walking dead, is always crouching at the door with a burning desire to consume us, and we must learn to master it (Gen. 4:7).
Every person who has ever been sober for a good length of time and then relapsed will no doubt testify that the days and weeks leading up to their relapse were less than vigilant. The routine that had gotten them sober was somehow disrupted. The fellowship between they and God was somehow strained. Devotion time and prayer time waned. If you have ever relapsed think back on the days leading up to it. Had you grown comfortable in your sobriety? Maybe you started letting things in which before you had cut off?
When we grow comfortable in our new found paradise called Sobriety we open ourselves to the walking dead who haven’t stopped being hungry.
Step 10 begins laying the foundation for the rest of my life. It is a pledge to continually monitor my life with honesty and humility. It requires me to be vigilant against my addictive behavior and against the triggers for my addictive behavior. It requires me to be humble before my God who can keep me from my addictive behavior if I have the right attitude. It requires me to deal with my defects promptly when they arise and not to let them linger in my life.
How can we practice Step 10 in our lives? Here are a few suggestions:
Practice what got you here. Continue the daily disciplines that you did when you were first getting sober. If you have stopped these at some point pick them up again. If you feel it’s time to alter them in any way, talk it over with a sponsor or mentor first.
Begin every day with prayer. Turn your will and your life over to the care of God for today. It doesn’t matter that you did this yesterday. Jesus said we need to take up our cross daily. We need to daily put to death our willful selves and surrender each morning to the life God wants to work in us. We can’t do even one day alone.
End each day by examining where you were dishonest, what secrets you may be keeping, what wrongs you have committed. Who were you unkind to or where did you puff yourself up or look at others as less significant than yourself? Ask God to bring to light anything that you need to bring under the blood of Jesus and go to bed with a pure heart and clear conscious.
Clean house. When you first got sober you no doubt cleaned yourself and your environment of your drug of choice. If porn and sex is your thing, you probably limited your cable TV (or better yet, cut it out completely), monitored your music, kept clear of certain hot spots, installed filters and accountability software on all your devices, unsubscribed to any magazines or books which have suggestive material in them, etc. Beware of creep. Creep is when these things which you once were convinced needed to go begin to creep back into your life. It’s human nature to think we are doing great so now we can slack off and watch a show or two which before we would never consider. Remember, sin is crouching at the door! The Walking Dead are still hungry.
These are just a few suggestions based on personal experience. Please add your own suggestions in the comments.
I don’t know what is in store for Rick and his group in Alexandria but I do know that unless they, and we, remain vigilant and keep walking the walls to ensure there hasn’t been a breach, we are setting ourselves up for relapse. So to the question, what if we grow soft and let our guard down? May we be resolved to answer like Rick: We aren’t going to let that happen.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
I love this song by Jonathan David and Melissa Helser along with Bethel Music. I’ve played it over and over and like it more each time.
Today I’m grateful that Jesus came to liberate all of us who are in captivity to brokenness. “If you abide in my word,” Jesus said, “you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
I’ve discovered in my own life that when I am drifting off course or even shipwrecked completely, it’s always because I’ve stopped abiding. I’ve ceased to run to the one who is my freedom and rest in his embrace.
If you recognize in yourself a dis-ease, a dissatisfaction with life, a compulsion to do something that always leaves you feeling empty inside, a hunger for something more, then you need not look any further than Jesus who is always accessible and always willing and abundantly capable of setting you free. Don’t hide from him a single moment longer. Acknowledge your need for him and begin now to abide in his word. Every day. Every moment.
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. ~ Jesus
Genesis 3 contains everything we need to know about what goes wrong in all of us. It contains the anatomy – the inner workings – of temptation, from the beginning seed planted by the enemy to the tragic fall which follows. It’s a fall that need not happen to us because we know how the enemy attacks. And yet, we fall for it time and time again.
Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthian church that we should not allow Satan to get an advantage over us, for we are not ignorant of his designs (2 Cor. 2:11). That we are not ignorant of how Satan works may have been true in the first century, but is it today? Do you know how the enemy sets out to destroy you? Do you even know that you have an enemy? Peter, another one of Jesus’ first followers, warns that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). If you don’t know this, nor understand how he works, you are easy pickings.
So, looking closely at Genesis 3, learn this “anatomy of temptation” well so that you can be better prepared to defeat the lion, and even see him coming a mile away.
The Enemy Subverts
Bring into question whether God really said something or not.
“Did God really say…?” (3.1)
Twist the command into something absurd.
“You must not eat from any tree?” (3:1)
Notice how he twisted God’s original command, that they may eat of every tree but one (2:16-17), into one that seems absurdly restrictive.
Implants doubt in the mind that God has my best interests at heart.
God must be holding out on me. He is not a good Father.
The Unprepared Response
A misquote of the original command, even adding something (we may not touch it) that is not there (3:3).
Because we are ignorant of what the bible actually does say, the lies the enemy tells us ring true.
How easily we fall into the trap of adding more rules to the perfectly good ones God has already given, thus adding to our delusion that God is not a good Father and is holding out on us.
Water down the punishment.
This is more evident in the original Hebrew, but God’s initial command came with the warning that if they disobey, they will surely die. Eve misquotes the command itself and then diminishes the punishment, essentially saying, “If we do this, God said we might die.”
The Enemy Pounces
Seeing an opening, Satan presses in on the angle of non-punishment. “You will not surely die!” (3:4). You will be fine!
He then appeals to our sense of entitlement, desire and independence.
You deserve to be happy. Everyone else has it. You have the right to be your own boss.
Satan convinces us this will make us like God. It will give us life. It’s what we have been missing all this time.
After seeing that the thing wanted is appetizing (isn’t all sin?) Eve reaches outside of God’s design and grabs something she shouldn’t.
Result is estrangement from God rather than unity.
Result is shame and guilt rather than a deeper intimacy with God and with each other.
Result is blaming everyone else, never taking responsibility for the choices made.
Result is a sure death, both physical (one day) and spiritual (immediate).
Consider how this plays out in your life. If you are addicted to something – sex, porn, food, fame, career, money, whatever – then every point above has been compromised as your reaching for something outside of God’s parameters has become habitual. We addicts have, over time, whittled away at what God has really said about how we should live our lives (if we ever knew it to begin with), convincing ourselves that God is holding out on us and that we must seek happiness on our terms. Even more, we have watered down the punishment God promised would come to us if we do this. The enemy has pounced on this and each time we do it without getting caught we think ourselves more and more invincible.
And yet, if we are honest, in the cool breeze of the evening (3:8) when God comes looking for us, we are found hiding. The intimacy and connection we crave is broken, not only with God but with all our relationships. Our reaching for life on our terms has not delivered anything the enemy promised. We are dying, both physically and spiritually, with each successive bite.
Want to be free of this insane cycle of destruction wrought through this anatomy of temptation? Go and read Matthew 4:1-11 and see how Jesus handles the same cycle. Jesus knows and respects the words of God and their authority. Jesus knows where the true source of Life is found and never questions the goodness of his Father (even while he is going to a cross!). Jesus knows the designs of his enemy well, and comes through temptation victorious.
You and I can do the same. The enemy is prowling. Are you prepared to face him?
Learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' ~ Jesus