Pain is a great place to start!

pain2

Step one of the 12 steps of AA states, “We admitted that we were powerless over our problems- that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Every journey has to start somewhere.  Ours starts with pain…

Let’s take a look at a lowly servant who found hope for a brighter future beyond her current situation in the darkest hour of pain.   

Genesis 16:1-15 (ESV)

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.   And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.

The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the Lord said to her,

“Behold, you are pregnant
and shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
because the Lord has listened to your affliction.
12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man,
his hand against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

13 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”[e] 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi;  it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

15 And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.

 

Like Hagar, in our active addiction we too run from the pain and hardships of life and seek comfort and peace in our addictions and compulsive behaviors.  Like Hagar, the challenges we face are real.  The pain is very real.

Hagar learned two valuable lessons that changed the course of her life.  We can learn from those same lessons and begin to find hope and freedom from not only our addictions, but also the pain that lead us there.

Hagar was so mistreated by Sarai that she could no longer stand it.  The near certainty of death for her and her child seemed to Hagar more bearable than one more night in Sarai’s home.  She had come to realize that she was powerless over her problems, and that her life had become unmanageable.

It was in this state of utter desperation that the Lord God heard Hagar’s cry.  The Lord God sent an angel to deliver a life changing message to the desperate woman.  What is just as notable as what the angel said to her that day is what the angel did not say.  We don’t read that the angel spoke harshly to Hagar commanding her to get her life together, or asking what is her problem.  We don’t hear the angel telling Hagar that it’s not that bad, or come on you can do this.  We don’t hear any negativity, criticism, or judgment.  Instead the angel offers hope.

Hagar was told that she was to bear a son and that she shall call his name Ishmael, which means, God hears.  Every time she was to call the name of her child Hagar would be reminded of the miraculous encounter with the angel of the Lord.  She would be reminded of the lowest, most desperate day of her life when from the darkness, God heard.

Questions to consider:

  1. In your darkest hour, at the lowest point in your life, in your addiction were you met with negativity, criticism, and judgment, or with grace, mercy, and hope?
  2. Are you hesitant to call out to God in your darkest hour, perhaps because you have fallen and repented and fallen again?
  3. Are you hesitant to call out to God because you feel like you have fallen so far that you aren’t sure He will forgive you?
  4. Do you wonder if God is even real, if He really knows you, if He cares?

Be encouraged, the same God who heard the cry of the lowly servant girl hears your cry.  The same God who had a future for Hagar has a future for you if you will only step into it.

The second lesson the Lord God had for Hagar was that beyond the pain of her current situation was hope for a brighter future if she was willing to follow God’s plan.  The same is true for us today.  The Lord spoke to another person in the Bible, Jerimiah.  He said to him, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope,” (Jerimiah 29:11)ESV.  God has plans for His children.  Unfortunately just like in our own lives children don’t always follow their parents and miss out on blessings.

God promised to bless Hagar but first she had to obey Him and return to her less than ideal situation.  The same is true of us today.  Believe it or not, God’s best plans often start at the deepest level of despair.  If you have come to the point in your life where you realize you are powerlessness over your problems and that life has become unmanageable, you are in a prime position to begin stepping into the brighter future beyond your current pain that God has planned for you!

Questions to consider:

  1. Have you come to the point in your life where you realize you are powerlessness over your problems and that life has become unmanageable?
  2. Do you believe God has a plan for your life?
  3. Why do you think we don’t always live out God’s plan and end up missing out on the blessings He desires for us?
  4. How are you encouraged by the life of the lowly servant Hagar?
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Misunderstanding Grace

 

Today I’m thankful for grace. As I read the Scriptures it occurs to me that most of my life I have misunderstood grace. Yes I can give you the Sunday school definition of grace, I did go to Bible College. I know grace is God’s unmerited favor. Grace is a free gift that you don’t deserve. Grace is active in forgiveness and salvation. I know that. We all know that. So what have I missed?

Have you ever read the Scriptures and thought, “I must be missing something?” or, “We must be missing something?” Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and others have said some of the most radical things you can imagine. They talk about the radical love of God. They talk about living a life of radical sacrifice. They talk about the power of God moving mightily in and through the lives of His children. Yet we don’t often see this in the church today. I have heard sermons, and perhaps you have too, where pastors try to explain away why God is not moving in power like He did in the early church. What I don’t hear a lot about is how the grace of God is the key to unlocking the resurrection power of Christ through the Holy Spirit in our lives and churches even today.

It was said of the early church in Acts 19:20, “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” The Apostle Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God.” In Romans 15:13 Paul said he ministered to the Gentiles, “By the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.” In 1 Corinthians 2:4 Paul said that his ministry was a demonstration of the Spirits power. In 1 Corinthians 4:20 Paul proclaimed that the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

If that doesn’t totally blow your mind Jesus walked on water, healed the sick, and raised the dead. Then He casually says in John 14:12, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Today I’m thankful for grace. First of all in my personal life I have failed beyond measure. I have done things I never believed I would do. I have gone down roads I never believed I would have gone down. No one is in more need of God’s forgiveness than me. Forgiveness is one aspect of God’s grace.

The Bible also says in Philippians 2:14, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” It is the power of God in us through the indwelling Holy Spirit that gives us power to do God’s will. It is the free gift of God’s grace that empowers us to live the lives God desires for us to live.

Today I’m thankful for grace. I now see grace as much greater than just forgiveness. It is the power of God to live in righteousness and it doesn’t stop there. According to Scripture the abundant life God desires for us goes far beyond just avoiding sin. The abundant life God desires for us is a life of radical power. It is the power of God to build the kingdom of God, for the glory of God.

Today I’m thankful for grace. I’m thankful that by the work of Christ on the cross and His glorious resurrection, I am forgiven. I’m thankful that by the grace of God I can live day by day in His power over sin. I’m thankful that when I mess up I can repent, turn from sin, ask God’s forgiveness, get back up, and walk again in God’s grace. I’m thankful for grace that empowers me to go beyond just avoiding sin but live to push back the kingdom of darkness and build the kingdom of light in my marriage, with my family, and in my service. I’m thankful for the power to live free from addiction. I’m thankful for the power to love the unlovable and serve where the Lord has placed me. Today I’m thankful for Grace.

What are you thankful for? Leave a reply below.

Words Heal

 

The Bible says in Proverbs 15:4, “Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

Woven into the fabric of my being are the countless words spoken to me by the people who have meant the most to me over the years. Among those people are Pastor Dean Christianson, former Pastor of Washington Church, and my first real mentor.  Pastor and counselor, Ed Bontraiger, is another man who spoke so much truth into my life.  Pastor Jim Wellsand is another whose words have impacted me.  Anyone who knows Pastor Jim is certainly familiar with his many, “Jimisms.”  Perhaps no one’s words have had a greater influence on my life than that of my mom and dad.

About a month ago my co-worker sneezed and several of us who were nearby said, “God bless you.” She sneezed again, and again we said, “God bless you.”  She sneezed again, at which point I said, “God bless you; now knock it off!”  She laughed as I explained that this was something my mom would always say.  This morning my co-worker told me that when she was out with her friend the other day her friend sneezed.  She told her friend, “God bless you; now knock it off.”  She then explained to her friend that where that silly phrase came from.

When I was a child my dad would take us on family outings, mostly to friends or relatives homes. When we would pull into our drive way back at home my father would often say, “Home again, home again, jiggidy jig.”

When you think of all of the wisdom passed down from your parents you might not think of such silly examples as these. When you think about all of the words spoken to you that make up who you are today you might not think about seemingly meaningless or arbitrary statements as theses, but I do.  I am so blessed to have grown up in a home where laughter and fun were celebrated and God and family were important.  It was in my parents’ home where I first heard those three most powerful words, “I love you.”  They told us kids that all the time.

Now whenever someone keeps sneezing I say, “God bless you; now knock it off!” Often when I pull in the driveway of my home I say, “Home again, home again, jiggidy jig.”  When I do I am reminded of the loving home where I was raised and I realize that those words are synonymous with these, “I love you.”

Every day you and I have the opportunity to be a Pastor Dean, Pastor Ed, or Pastor Jim to someone. We have the opportunity to use our words to build into someone’s life.  If you are a parent, no matter how old your child is today, you have the opportunity, from this day forward, to pour into them words of life.  Words that say, “I love you.”

I’d love to hear your story. What are some things your parents used to say?  What is the wisdom they passed on to you?  Leave a message in the comments below.

Addiction What do you Worship?

addiction stencil print on the grunge white brick wall

Scripture Passage for the day

Today we will take a second look at Romans 1:18-25.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

Thought for the day

We worship God when we praise, proclaim, and display His glory.  To praise God’s glory is to tell God how much we love Him, how grateful we are to Him, and what He means to us.  To proclaim God’s glory is to tell others how God has blessed us, how wonderful He is, and how much he means to us.  To display God’s glory is to use the gifts and talents God has given us.  For example, when a gifted painter paints, or a gifted singer sings, or a gifted teacher teaches they are spotlighting the Creator by displaying His glory through their gifts.  We also worship God when we live a life of obedience to His will and when we live a life of service to Him.  In Romans 1:25 Paul spoke of those who, “Worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”  In other words, people were serving things that were created   rather than serving the God that created them.

Question for the day

Given the definition of worship in the thought for the day, who or what did we worship in our active addiction?

Suppressing the truth in addiction

Scripture Passage for the day

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:18-25, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

Thought for the day

There are several things God’s Word teaches us that are intended for us to better understand God’s perfect plan for our lives.  For example:

We are told in the 10 commandments to have no other God but the living God.  God is our supply.  He desires to be our source for true and lasting love, joy, and peace.

Paul said in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  God wants to supply our needs.  He wants to fill up what is lacking in us.

Colossians 1:16 says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”  All things were created by God and for God.  This means that we were created by God for His purpose and pleasure.

The Bible says in Jeremiah 2:13, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”  What the Lord is saying through the profit Jeremiah is that God’s people had forsaken Him, although He is the one who supplies all of our needs and they had turn to other things to find fulfillment.  God says trying to find true and lasting fulfillment from those things is like trying to find refreshment for your thirst from drinking from a broken cup that holds no water.

Question for the day

In verse 18 of Romans chapter 1 Paul speaks of those who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  In our desire to feed our addictions what truths have we suppressed, or tried to ignore?

Turn your answer into a prayer.

When it Rains it Pours! You won’t believe this horror story actually happened to us!

Crazy

 

 

One day last month I came home from work to find my wife standing in the living room wearing one of those looks on her face that indicated something serious had happened.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I have something to show you,” she began, “And I’m not sure but I think it is kind of a big deal.”

She led me to the bed room where the dresser had been pulled away from the wall to reveal mold down by the floor board. She was right.  It was a big deal.  We wouldn’t know for several weeks how big of deal it was.

My first order of business was to find out where the water was coming from that caused the mold. After cutting into the wall I quickly discovered that the faucet on the bathtub, just on the other side of the bedroom wall, was leaking behind the wall.  This would explain why it smelled a little musty in the bathroom for the past several days.  I hadn’t given this much thought, and my wife thought that the towels were the cause of the odor.

Having discovered the problem I shut off the water and went to the hardware store to purchase a new faucet. They were out of the particular faucet I needed so I had to wait until the following day so I could pick one up at a different hardware store.  After installing the new faucet I went under the house to inspect the floor from underneath and discovered that the bathtub drain trap, sometimes called a P Trap, was also leaking.  After another trip to the hardware store and a few minutes in the crawlspace the leak was fixed.

Now it was time to attack the mold. Having opened up the wall in the bedroom to get to the plumbing behind the tub had revealed much more mold than we had previously anticipated.  The smell was horrible!  The odor in the bedroom was so bad my wife and I slept out in the living room for several days.

I cut out the drywall in the bedroom and bathroom that was obviously moldy and had sprayed mold killer on every surface I could find. To go the extra mile I had even purchased a, “Mold Bomb,” and gone under the house to bomb the area underneath the tub through the hole in the floor.  Surly this was the end of this nightmare story.

Surly, it was not. After several days the musty smell continued.  I then had to take much more drastic measures.  On one side of this bathroom is our bedroom.  On the other side of the bathroom is the kitchen.  In fact the bath tub is directly behind one of our kitchen cabinets.  In order to get to the back wall I had to partially take apart our kitchen cabinet.  I then squeezed my not so fit body into the cabinet to take out the back wall of the cabinet and cut out the drywall in order to inspect for mold under the tub on the kitchen side.  I removed a large portion of drywall that was infected with mold.  At this point it really appeared as though the mold was gone.

It was not. The smell continued.  I broke into the wall on the bedroom side once more.  This time  I cut out a piece of the vinyl flooring and discovered it was covered in mold.  It was at this time I realized the entire tub and shower surround would have to be taken out, the mold completely eradicated, and a new shower put in its place.

At this point we called in the professionals. I don’t mind giving a plug to AdvantaClean, in Michigan City Indiana because they were AMAZING!

The story is not over. As it stands we are in the middle of mold remediation.  After that I will install a new tub and shower surround.  Perhaps then things can go back to normal.  Our allergies have been a mess, our sleep has been disrupted, and our bathroom is unusable.  On top of it all we noticed a gas leak in the kitchen over the weekend and are having a heating and air company come out today to try and find the leak!

What does all of this have to do with addiction and recovery? In the Bible James famously wrote, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing,” (James 1:2-4 ESV).

We are not to count it all joy when we have trials because the trials are great fun. We are to count it all joy because it is a humble reminder that God is faithful.  We count it all joy because the test strengthens our resolve.  We see that we can bend under the pressure of life without breaking.  Here we learn perseverance.  God got us through the trials before and He will see us through this one as well.  This kind of perseverance leads to spiritual maturity.

In the past when trials came our way we would turn to our addictions, compulsive behaviors, and or sin habits in an effort to sooth the pain. Now in the power of Christ in us (Phil. 4:13, Phil. 2:13) we persevere through the trials with joy knowing God is strengthening us so nothing  that comes our way will defeat, overcome, or derail us.  This past month has been physically, emotionally, and financially tough.  But one thing I do as the Apostle Paul wrote, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Press on!

Guilt, Shame, and Addiction

 

 

 

 

 

In his spiritual fervor the Apostle Peter spoke these words and I believe he meant them with all of his heart, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus had just told his disciples, ““You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”  This must have sounded like pure nonsense.  Peter who had faithfully followed Jesus for three years, Peter who boldly confessed, “Lord, to whom shall we go, You have the words of eternal life,” Peter who loved and passionately served Jesus would surly never betray Him.  Yet Jesus told him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Once again Peter restated his pledge to the Lord saying, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” Then the unthinkable happened.  You can blame a lapse in judgment or you can blame the circumstances but for whatever reason, it happened.  Peter denied Christ.

Here was a man who was absolutely dedicated to his values and had professed his love and commitment to them yet when it mattered the most he failed. Sound familiar?  You and I claim we value our families, work, and ourselves yet sometimes when it matters the most we fail.  Then we are often left with that horrible feeling of guilt and shame.

So much could be said here about guilt and shame, how they can lead us to, and keep us in our addiction. What I want to focus on is the truth of God’s amazing mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

You and I have done things worthy of hell itself.

John taught us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn. 1:8). The Apostle Paul said, “For the wages of sin is death.”  Isaiah wrote, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6). These verses are not just for those of us who have struggled with addiction.  It is not just for those of us who have committed major sin.  Isaiah said, “WE HAVE ALL…”  The Hebrew word translated, “All,” in this verse is used in the Bible to describe, “All the earth.”  All means all of us.

On the other hand God’s perfect grace, mercy, and forgiveness is also available to us ALL!

 

Isaiah prophesied about the ministry of the Messiah saying in Isaiah 53:5-6, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  Jesus didn’t just take the sins of those who tell white lies.  He didn’t just bear the sins of those who occasionally get angry.  He didn’t just die of the cross for those who messed up one time and then totally turned their lives around forever.  Christ died for ALL!  He took the punishment for ALL our sin.  Big or small, one time sins and repeat offenders, He paid it all!

Have you ever wondered why Jesus had to raise from the dead? The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 6:4, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Jesus rose from the grave to prove victory over sin and death.  He rose from the grave as a symbol to us.  For just as Christ rose from the dead we too can walk in new life.  Jesus rose to a new life.  Now it is our turn.

You are forgiven! The Psalmist wrote, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” The author of Hebrews wrote, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,     and I will remember their sins no more.” You are forgiven.  You!  Forgiveness extends to the darkest sin.  Forgiveness is from the least to the greatest sin.  If you have confessed and turned from your sin, if you have turned to the living God in repentance, your sin is forgiven.

You might remember your sin and continue to beat yourself up for your past mistakes. Others might remember your sin and judge you by you past mistakes.  But God, rich in mercy, and abounding in love, has forgiven your sin today.

You are Holy! The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 6 starting in verse nine, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  God sees you as holy because He made you holy.  Yes, you have done some terrible, sinful things.  But you were washed, made clean.  You were sanctified, set apart in God’s eyes, made holy.  You were justified, legally declared not guilty.  No matter the sin you were guilty of, God washed you in the blood of Jesus.  You are clean.  You are holy!

You might not see yourself as holy. Satan, his demons, and other people might not see you as holy and may condemn you as a sinner and unholy but, in truth you are holy!

You are NEW! 2 Cor. 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  I love this verse!  No matter who you are, no matter where you have been, no matter how far you have run from the Lord or the degree of your sin, in Christ you are NEW!

You might not feel new, others might not see you as new, but you are NEW!

Let’s begin today walking in the truth of who we are Forgiven, Holy, and New!  Guilt and shame can hold you down and keep you in bondage.  When you are negative, critical, and judgmental toward yourself, or when others act that way toward you because of what you have done you will have a tendency to live in guilt and shame.  There is nothing wrong and everything right with learning from your past mistakes.  However, if you have confessed your sin to God, asked His forgiveness, and have turned from the sin and turned to the living God then you are forgiven.  You are holy.  You are new.  Let us make a practice of living in this newness of life in Christ, free from the bondage of guilt and shame.