Into the Great Wide Open

Take the next right step…and the next…


It all started with a podcast entitled, “This Episode is Sugar Free.” Now, that title alone only communicates so much. For me, it led to more questions than answers. Are we talking about diabetes? Is this an opportunity to not be false or sugar coated at all? Is it going to be bland and boring? Is it chock full of certain artificial sweeteners which are known to make people run quickly to the nearest restroom should they eat too many as has often been the case with sugar-free gummy bears? (Side Note: If you need a good laugh, go read the customer reviews here.)

As the conversation evolved, it became rather familiar. The conversation was about things in our life that are like sugar – things we like or enjoy or use to cope – things we might be better off giving up altogether. Things like substance abuse, impulse…

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God loves you, but doesn’t like you

My last post was a review of The Shack.  I share how the movie spoke to me as a recovering addict, particularly how it addressed two things I have trouble believing about God, one of which is accepting that God loves me, just as I am, not some future, “better” version of myself.

Most of the feedback I got was positive.   A few wanted to argue the theology of the book or movie.  And one comment broke my heart and revealed what I really mean to say when I say I struggle with accepting God’s love.   He wrote,

“God loves me completely just as I am” does not mean that God likes you.

I responded by thanking him for his encouraging words and added, “God loves you, but doesn’t like you” would make a great bumper sticker.

My sarcasm was meant to shield me from being vulnerable.  It was meant to protect me from saying the truth which would sound like this:

You know, much of my life I have believed that God doesn’t like me.  It’s hard to imagine why He would.

See, it’s easier for me to accept that God loves me because it has been ingrained in me that this is God’s job.  It’s what God does.   I often imagine God loving me with the same enthusiasm with which I wake up on Mondays.   God can be expected to show up on time and put in a good day’s work because, well, He’s God.   God is supposed to love everyone.

But no one ever told me that God likes me.

Think about it with me.  How many times have you heard it said, either directly or implied, that as Christians we are called to love everyone but it doesn’t mean we have to like them?  I have heard countless messages about how I’m called to love my neighbor but it doesn’t mean I have to have them over for dinner, or go to a movie with them, or for that matter even acknowledge their existence.   Just love them in my heart (what does that even mean?).

So should it come as any surprise that I assume this is how God views me?   God loves me, but that doesn’t mean he wants to have dinner with me.  God loves me, but that doesn’t mean he wants to hang out at Starbucks and listen to my fears about the day.  God loves me, but he never laughs at my jokes.

The stranger who told me that God doesn’t like me in response to my movie review unwittingly revealed to me what is at the root of my biggest hangup.   In my heart of hearts I don’t believe that God likes me.

Why do I have a hard time accepting that God likes me?  My addiction makes it hard to believe anyone could like me.   Especially after a relapse or a slip.  In those dark moments I don’t even like myself.  In fact, I hate myself.   It’s hard to imagine that when I am at my lowest that God would want to laugh at my jokes or share a coffee with me.

But God not liking me is a lie, straight from the mouth of the enemy who loves to accuse me and keep me entombed in shame.  

When I read the gospels I am met by a God who seemed to not only love sinners but actually liked being with them!  Jesus appears to prefer hanging out with messes like me, those of us who are poor in spirit, more so than those who have no trouble believing – whether it be because of their good fortune, their perfect church attendance, their superior morality – that God likes them.   Jesus actively sought out those who believed they had good reasons to doubt God loved them, let alone liked them, and befriended them.

Matthew’s gospel tells us the Son of Man came eating and drinking and those who prided themselves as God’s favorite teammates derided him, saying “He’s a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19).   Apparently Jesus liked hanging out with sinners so much that it offended the church folk of his day who, like us today,  loved the sinners but hated the sin.

Perhaps it was in the actual liking of sinners that set Jesus apart from all the others who merely “loved them in their hearts.”   And even knowing it would get him killed, he kept liking them anyways, to the very end.

I think Jesus would pick the addicts first- sober or not – to be on his dodge ball team. I think Jesus would choose to have coffee with a codependent and hang on his or her every word.  I think Jesus would give a prostitute a rose and tell her how beautiful she is before embracing her in a hug.   I think Jesus would love taking a walk with anyone depressed and start skipping rocks over the pond.   I think Jesus would have us all over for dinner and laugh at our jokes and tell some of his own.  I bet he’d be the last to fall asleep.

It’s important for me to get to a place where I can believe that God doesn’t just love me, but likes me.  God is, has always been, and will always be, my closest, truest friend.  It’s important because when I stumble and fall, I won’t run to the person who I believe loves me because it’s their job to do so.  I’ll run to the one I believe likes me and whom I believe missed me while I was absent.

I’ll close with a question from Brennan Manning, from his wonderful book Abba’s Child, which is teaching me a lot about how much my Daddy in heaven likes me.  He writes,

How would you respond if I asked you this question: “Do you really believe God likes you, not just loves you because theologically God has to love you?” If you could answer with gut-level honesty, “Oh, yes, my Abba is very fond of me,” you would experience a serene compassion for yourself that approximates the meaning of tenderness.

I want to get to a place where I can answer that way.   By God’s grace, I believe I’m on the right path.  What about you?





#TheShack is Good Fruit: A Review

This weekend I saw the much talked about movie, The Shack. I have read a few reviews of the book and the film and listened to numerous critiques, some offered by people I know and respect. The consensus among them seems to be that Christians ought to enjoy the book or movie as good fiction but not rely on it to teach theology.

As a person with two academic degrees in theology I’m inclined to agree. But as a recovering addict I couldn’t disagree more.

One of the most profound struggles of my life is accepting two fundamental truths:

  1. That God is good and can be trusted with every facet of my life, and
  2. That God loves me deeply and completely, just as I am in the midst of my mess, not as some “better” version of me.

As an addict I struggle mightily with trusting that God is enough to fill the void that would be left without my compulsion. Can God be trusted with my pain, my fears, my loneliness, my secrets? Can I trust God to supply my every need when my addiction is readily available at any time I please? Can I trust that God has something infinitely better in store for me if I surrender my will and my life over to God’s care? If I jump off that cliff, will God catch me?

My unbelief that God is good causes me to question whether God could really love someone like me. Can God really love an addict who has promised so many times to clean up yet ran back to the pig sty again and again? Can God truly love someone who has caused the sort of pain I have caused in my life and the lives of countless others? Why should I believe God’s love is without conditions when most everyone else in my life has reached their limit with me when I was at my worst?

The Shack, and Christian theology, answers: because God’s love and character are unlike any person I have ever known. I forget this with the frequency of a rising sun. It’s why The Shack is a vital part of my ongoing recovery because it reminded me of the things my academic degrees and my disease far too often obscure.

I want to highlight three quotes from the movie which spoke to me at such a personal, profound level, silencing, in my mind, any and all critiques.

At one point in the movie, Mackenzie is led to the place of his greatest pain, the place where his daughter was murdered. He asks, “Why here?” Papa, or God the Father, answers, “Because this is where you got stuck.”

Pain is a universal part of life, a truth the movie strives to convey. A mentor of mine says often that pain left unattended will attend to everything in my life. The Shack did a beautiful job at reminding me that God is not interested in platitudes, or just sucking it up and forgetting about the past, but is invested in my life, desiring to join me where the pain is the greatest so that he can heal my wounds and lead me towards life.

The second quote came when Papa explained why “he” was revealing himself to Mack as a woman. “I didn’t think you could handle a father right now.” This is important because at the beginning of the movie we learn Mack had been abused by his earthly father.

The reason this spoke to me is because God is always meeting me where I am. I don’t always see it for that in the moment, but looking back I can see countless ways in which God has presented herself to me in ways that I can handle or in ways that I need. God has come to me as a friend, a sponsor, a program, a step, a kind word or a good deed, and yes, even this movie.

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words, that he became all things to all people in order that he might win some to the good news of Christ (1 Cor. 9:22). I think Paul had a revelation of what God was like. If God is willing to become all things to all people in order that she might save some than I am more likely to improve my conscious contact with God on a daily basis (Step 11), believing in my bones that at any given moment I may be entertaining angels (Heb. 13:2). Furthermore, when I believe God is at work in all the world, seeking the lost and healing the wounded, I’m more inclined to offer grace and acceptance to those who see things differently from me today or who are being met by God in ways different from my own.

The last quote that spoke to me is the great truth I need to hear most. While Mack and the Holy Spirit are working in a garden filled with weeds and rocks, Spirit describes it as, “Wild, wonderful, and perfectly in process. This mess is you.”

Wild. Wonderful. Perfectly in process. That is me. I’m not perfect. I never will be perfect. But I am in process. And I am loved fully and completely in the midst of that mess and process. I don’t need to be some better version of myself to be accepted by God. This is the great truth that can defeat the great lie my addiction whispers to me daily.

I found myself weeping throughout The Shack because God used it to remind me that God is with me in my pain, that God will always meet me wherever I am in ways I need and can handle, and that God loves me furiously as her wild, wonderful and perfectly in process child.

The two things I struggle most to believe  – that God is good and that God loves me completely just as I am – found faith and hope in The Shack.   I need to spend more time with Papa in the shacks of my past, and I’m convinced that God used this movie to help this recovering addict to move along in my process.   I call that a gift. I call it good fruit.

The all important morning watch

Next to receiving Christ as Savior, and claiming the filling of the Holy Spirit, we know of no act attended with larger good to ourselves or others than the formation of an undiscourageable resolution to keep the morning watch and spend the first half hour of the day alone with God.
~ John Mott

I read these words during my devotion time this morning and was struck by their truthfulness.   I can testify that the greatest blessing or hindrance to my spiritual well being rests on how and with whom I spend the first moments of each day.

I can also testify that this truth is the easiest for the enemy of our soul to minimize, distort and steal.   If you are like me you have probably had that internal dialogue that says things like this:

I just don’t have time.

I’m not a morning person.

I will make up for the time I missed today, tomorrow.

I don’t feel like it.  I’ll do it when I feel like it.

I don’t know how to spend time alone with God.  It feels forced or fake.

All of these are excuses manufactured not from the Spirit of God but by the enemy who knows that if he can distract us from the first part of the day, he can have the whole day.

One of the things I have to guard against is the lie that I can bank up grace and spiritual fortitude.  I have thought at various times in my Christian walk that since I spent an hour with Jesus yesterday morning, and since I’m too busy this morning, I can coast.

But trying to stockpile grace when it’s convenient for me to do so, and expecting it to sustain me for the days ahead while I’m too busy works as well as collecting multiple days worth of manna worked for the Hebrew people seeking the Promised Land (see Exodus 16).

Why?  I am convinced it is because the One who created me and you knows better than we that with each setting and rising of the sun we must acknowledge our desperate need to abide in Christ today.   Apart from me, Jesus said, we can do nothing (John 15:5).   When I think that yesterday’s grace is sufficient for me today I presume upon the gracious gift of God, using it in vain (2 Cor. 6:1).

When I wake up and tend to a thousand other perceived needs besides spending time alone with God I am saying I have the power to manipulate yesterday’s manna to be good for today.  I am taking control of a gift that was never mine to begin with.

The quote above from John Mott reminded me of a few key things.    First, keeping a morning watch is an act of will, not emotion.   There must be an “undiscourageable resolution” to make the first part of our day the Lord’s part.   There will be plenty of times where we will not feel like it.  There will be plenty of times where other things, even good things, lobby for our time.    But if it is true that apart from Christ I can do nothing, than even these good things must wait until I have spent sufficient time alone with God today.

Second, this undiscourageable resolution is formed, not innate.   It will go against our nature to lay aside a morning watch with God.   It doesn’t come naturally to any of us.   Hopefully you can receive this as good news!  You aren’t a terrible person because you don’t feel like spending time with God this morning.   What is true, however, is that you are human and acting and feeling precisely the way God’s word says you will.   The will to spend time alone with God is something that must be formed in each and every one of us.   No human since sin entered the world has desired this naturally but every great man and woman of God who experiences the fullness and richness of God’s grace each day have been formed into such people over time.   You can be, too.

Finally, it’s of the greatest good to ourselves and others.  Our Father in Heaven who created the days, who proclaims that His mercies are new every morning, knows His children can’t experience the abundant life nor have the capacity to love others well if we don’t first rest in Him.   The greatest gift I can give to those I love, who may be demanding of my time and resources, is to rise early enough to spend time with my Creator and soak in His mercy.

During my time at Pure Life Ministries the first task I was given was to spend the first 20 minutes of each morning with God.  Ten minutes reading scripture and 10 minutes in prayer.   Over time that was increased bit by bit.    A year later those 20 minutes blossomed into 90 minutes of the most precious time of my day.   It is without question the habit formed which is most essential to my well being and my ability to love others well.  When I neglect this, I, and those I love, suffer.  Leaders at Pure Life tell me that the number one cause of relapse is when people minimize this morning time with God and begin to think yesterday’s grace will carry over today.   Setting a time aside to be with God each morning is as essential to our recovery as breathing is essential to life.

I want to encourage you today to determine to begin being formed in new ways.   Resolve to set a morning watch and then taste and see how God honors this with not only a greater capacity to love and be loved, but also changes your desires.    Please feel free to share with me how God shows up in your life over the upcoming weeks and months!

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

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?


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.