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!

Advertisements

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

According to the Word of God

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.

IMG_1870

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.

Why half-hearted recovery fails every time

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

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.

Hope Dealers

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.

10687858_1560115604216218_5024461951226719010_o

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:

hopeI 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.

What next?

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:  recoveryatdayton@gmail.com

The Walking Dead and Step Ten

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. 

12Steps.org has this to say about Step 10:

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).