Thursday, December 31, 2009

Directions for the start of new year.

I wouldn't even come close to putting this correctly so we let the Lord speak it.  Hebrews 13.

  • 1.
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  • Keep on loving each other as brothers.
  • 2.
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  • Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
  • 3.
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  • Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
  • 4.
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  • Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
  • 5.
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  • Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
  • 6.
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  • So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"
  • 7.
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  • Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
  • 8.
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  • Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
  • 9.
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  • Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them.
  • 10.
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  • We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.
  • 11.
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  • The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp.
  • 12.
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  • And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
  • 13.
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  • Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.
  • 14.
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  • For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
  • 15.
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  • Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name.
  • 16.
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  • And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
  • 17.
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  • Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
  • 18.
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  • Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.
  • 19.
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  • I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.
  • 20.
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  • May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep,
  • 21.
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  • equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
  • 22.
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  • Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.
  • 23.
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  • I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you.
  • 24.
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  • Greet all your leaders and all God's people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.
  • 25.
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  • Grace be with you all. 
  • (And have a Happy New Year! ~ this last part was added by me.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Now what?

Christmas has come and gone.  Some of us had a great holiday...some of us not so great.  So, now what?

We have one more BIG holiday to survive and so here are some of the things I've learned, but first...let's discuss the holidays.

My family and I went to Utah over the Christmas break and stayed with my wife's sister.  It was great...why do you ask?  Because we had no expectations, no plans, no deadlines, nothing except the warm feeling of togetherness.  As a people group, we tend to put very high expectations on holidays, Friday nights, weekends, "special" occasions... and when these occasions don't deliver (try as hard as we do to make them) we're disappointed.  The first couple disappointments aren't too bad to handle but if you're anything like me...you start storing those disappointments and numbering them and trying harder the next time to meet those expectations.  Soon the whole reason for the holiday is lost in disappointment or worst...resentment. And once they become resentments, they're hard to shake....from this point forward, you may kiss all those dreams of a "TV like" holiday away.

You see, we're human and as a group we tend to put too much credit on other humans.  We expect them to act in a certain way, behave like we want them to, and to fit into our perfect little picture of our life that we hold. But we're imperfect...all of us...the Bible tells us this, we experience it from one another...even the nightly news shows what an imperfect group we are. Yet we still hold on to that expectation of one another.

Here's the truth guys...God is the only perfect being.  Our expectations, hopes, dreams should be aimed only at His presence.  There is nothing here on this planet that will suffice...not now...not ever.  As a believer, our goal of perfection is unattainable by His standards but with His grace and love we are accepted as we are accepted as we are.  We are perfect through His eyes.

So stop projecting the perfection you seek on other people.  They will ALWAYS let you down if you do so.  And remember because none of us is perfect and we all have our own ways there is no way that we'll match up...so if you're holding on to resentments from the past holidays...let them go today.  Ask God to help you...He will.
Now as the new year and new decade begin...do not make resolutions. That's right...NO resolutions  Recommit your life to Christ and let Him work on YOUR imperfections this year.  Follow Him and He'll make the necessary corrections in your life if you're willing.  And with His help you can start the process of forgiving all those past let downs from people and start looking up and ahead.
Leave expectations of perfection to God.  You just enjoy the togetherness of friends, family and work associates this year.  You'll be amazed at how He works and the Peace and Serenity you can find by not looking for it.
Have a great, blessed and prosperous 2010.

Thanks for letting me share.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What does the escape route from sin that God gives us look like?

This is a hard question to answer and even a harder one to put into practice.  God's Word tells us in 1Corinthians 10:13 "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."  But what does that look like?  How do you know how much you can bear?  How can you find the way out?

Okay...being in the recovery community for a few years...I've learned a little about our brain...how it fires...how things trigger it...and how it lives in a dichotomy in our head.  One side of it says, go ahead, the other side says whoa!

One of the things I've learned and practiced in the art of escaping from sin (I'm not always successfull) is a conscience plan.  A plan that is devised by each individual person.  Here's an example...if you are having lust or SA issues...no matter how good the wings are at Hooters...you don't go there.  Pastor Rick Warren puts it this way, "If you an alcoholic, you don't go to a bar even if they have the best pretzels in the world." (Sort of parapharased but you get the point.)  So the first action item I've found is to limit the places I go that might tempt me...this way I don't even have to test my ability to find the way out that 1Cor 10:13 tells us.

The second action item I've found is to re-direct.  If the thought of tempation is coming into your head...find something immediately to do to get it out.  Here are a few examples: 1) Pray - talk to God...tell Him what's going on in your head...ask for His help...ask for the Door out of your head.  If you will listen, He will tell you.  This is where I get a little stuck...I pray and do all those things except sometimes I forget to listen.  I think that just by telling God what my temptation is, He'll rid me of it...wrong.  God is looking to build our character...He wants our reliance on Him.  If we just tell Him without listening for the "out"  it's still stuck in our brain...rattling around...getting bigger and bigger until it gets to the point of sin and acting out.  We have to, if we're really serious about looking for the way out, talk and listen to God immediately.

Ok, so if you're listening and the temptation is still growing...then what?  Call a friend.  Ask them to talk you down.  Redirect.  Talk about the game...go have lunch...ask them to go on a walk with you.  (sometimes this is what God wants you to do but we don't realize it) Connections.  Yep, they help.

No one answers the phone...things are getting tough...now what? Run!!! If you're, for instance, someone who suffers from SA or lust issues and you're on your computer...pop-ups...spam emails...too much time on your hands...etc. cause you to be tempted ...shut it down!  Get away...go for a walk.  If you're married go find your spouse, if you're not go to the gym...or the best of all is go be of service to someone else. Get out of your head.  One of my best tools  I have is service.  Going to do something for someone else without expecting anything in return.  God likes this one almost as much as He like you talking to Him. "Love your neighbors as you love yourself"

If you suffer from other areas that you're seeking recovery on...CALL YOUR SPONSOR!

Anyway, from what I've learned...1Corinthians is true...but I have a choice.  The longer I wait to find that way out...the harder it is to find.  Action is the theme here.  Don't take it lightly...your life depends on it!  Your relationships depend on it! Your sanity depends on it.  God always provides a way out...do not overlook it.  Every test we fail...we have to do again...God will make sure we learn the lesson one way or the other.  Talk to Him "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD"

Anyway...I hope this helps anyone going through some tough times and struggling with temptation.  One final word is this: God does not tempt...but allows temptation so that we may seek Him in our struggles.

Thanks for letting me share.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How do I find serenity or peace in these troubled times?

It's almost Christmas!  The birth of our Saviour! Even though December 25th isn't really the birthday of Jesus, we still celebrate it then...but that's a whole other rant.

These times around the "Holiday Season" starting really from October 31st. tend to get a lot of people pretty tense. I know they used to bother me and instead of sitting down in a nice comfy room while it's raining or cold outside, I would be filled with angst.  Angst and worry over these things: What am I going to get everybody for Christmas?...How much will I spend?...Will the family get together thing be better this year?...Will I pass the sobriety test on the road while driving home?...(Now that I've gotten into recovery, I drive through purposly...just for fun).  All of these things stole my peace, my serenity, my ability to calmly and enjoyably live through this special time of year.

The rushing, the dodging, the buying, the lines, the people, the traffic, the ugh!!! I could go on forever.  Then you could add our current economic situation and the devastation that some families have gone through and the daily news about shootings, robberys and the such.  The world is an ugly place right now, isn't it?

But here's the thing.  We have a choice.  I know that somebody out there in blogland is reading this and will disagree with me, but it's true....we have a choice.  On my FB/Twit accounts I posted that, "Today is a great day no matter what my circumstances are because today was made by God."  Circumstances suck sometimes. It's the truth.  Unable to make ends meet, bill collectors, foreclosures, repos, unemployement, divorce, loss are all circumstances that we as humans will have to endure while on this planet.  That sucks too. But it is for a better outcome.

Believe me, it's hard to see that better outcome when all or even some of those circumstances hit us...but there is and as believers of Jesus Christ we're promised that. Jeremiah 29:11 States it very clearly "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." We have to hold on to this promise even though we can't see past our current stress or problems.  It may even seem unbearable and all we want to do is hide under the covers and bury our heads in our pillows, but we know by this verse that this will pass. It's a promise!  Believe it!

So, you may say,  okay I'll hold on to that promise for the future, Joe, but how do I get through this, now, this thing right in front of my face? 

Here's what I try to do...and believe you me...I'm no expert at it, but I do it anyway.  I look up.  Too simple?  I'm sorry, but that's all it takes.  When I'm going through troubles and circumstances that are beyond my control, my tendency is to look down.  My head hangs low...my shoulders droop...my footsteps become sluggish and my legs get tired from trying to kick myself in the butt and doing the woulda, coulda, shouldas.  But I look up...and I mean this ethereal and physical...I can see better. 

When I look up I see the people I love and the friends I have.  When I look up I see the wonderful creation that God has made.  When I look up I hear the birds.  When I look up I see God and He is awesome.  I no longer have to focus on my circumstances at that moment, but I can see God's grace in my life.  I can see the beauty, the calm during the calamity.

And the next step is this: I thank Him for what He has already done in my life and thank Him for what He is going to teach me and the idea of the better man I will become because of this.

When I see the unhappy faces in this world, I am deeply saddened...they don't know they have a choice.  We have a choice.  To seek Him or to ignore Him.  Today I choose to seek Him, because He is waaaay bigger than my circumstances.  What's your choice?  Let me know and leave a comment for others that may read this to help them find peace during this season.

Thanks for letting me share.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How do I get over the fear/anger/guilt/shame of my past?

Whew that's a lot of words.  Many people have asked me this in one form or the other.  I can't forgive him/her.  I can't get past the anger, now what?  I understand it...I lived it...this is what I did.

First of all, let me start by saying that although the process is simple...it's not easy.  I spent many years both in my addiction of alcohol and even in sobriety trying to fight this.  I had gotten so good at living in the past that the future seemed so far away almost unattainable, unreachable.  I had hurts, hang-ups and habits that were pretty embedded in my head and the mere thought of the future would send me screaming.

The tool that worked for me best was Celebrate Recovery.  Here's a a video for one CR...click here to go ahead and watch it!...then come back and read.  It took me step by step, question by question, answer by answer, day by day to help me uncover what was wrong with me.  I didn't need anyone to tell me something was wrong, I knew it.  My life was unmanageable...kind of like it is today, but now I get to blame my kids..:).  Anyway...I'm stubborn...I don't (or didn't) believe people...I needed to find out things for myself...besides...that's what a man is supposed to do, right?
Be strong, don't show weakness, take care of your own house, blah, blah, blah to ad nauseum.

So as I was saying, Celebrate Recovery helped me in these ways:

I went through the step study...I worked through the books...I asked God to help me...and guess what?  I'm still as messed up but now I understand why. And the best part is that I'm messed up still but I don't make the stupid decisions I once did.  Now understand...messed up is a pretty good place to be...there's room to improve...and that's what God wants from me...improvement.  I'm sure He would like me to perfect, but come on...He made me..He knows.

So back to the discussion, rant or whatever you wanna call this blog thing.  The first three steps were pretty easy for me.  After being in jail for 3 Dui's it was pretty obvious that (Principle 1) Realize that I'm not God.  I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life unmanageable.  (Principle 2) Earnestly believe that God exists...this part was easy, but the God I knew then is not the God I know now.... that I matter to Him and that He has the power to help me recover. And Principle 3...Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ's care and control.

I said to myself, "Self...that was pretty easy"  Then the work started.  Part of the program is to identify all the hurts that I've caused other people and the hurts that other people have caused to me.  To take a Moral (holy cow...what does that entail?) Inventory.  But I did...and it was stuff that I had been living with for years.  Shame, Guilt, Ugliness, Hurts...and I put it all on paper.  Okay...that was a little tougher...then the next principle tells me I have to tell God, myself and another human being that I trust about this stuff.  I was okay with myself and God...I figured we both knew it anyway but another person?  James 5:16 tells us to: "Confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."  So I did...

Now here's where the magic happens...When I did these steps I started to feel the weight of the world lifting off me.  I could actually start seeing today for it is and the past for what it was.  Then I was anxious to finish the principles.  I actually wanted to go offer my amends to the people I hurt and for the things I had done wrong.  But then a speed bump appeared.  Part of the 9th step in AA and the principles of CR is that I have to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me.

But I wanted to hold on to those resentments.  Some of them I had been living with for so long, they were part of my identity...I didn't want to let those people of the hook for what they had done!  But I had to. Here's another funny thing about all those resentments.  When I got the opportunity to offer my forgiveness in person...most of them didn't even remember the situation!  I had been holding on to these feelings for years and they didn't even remember them...how rude! (Whole new resentments...but I fixed those too).

And then I started helping people do the same thing I did.  To help them get unstuck from their past and start living in today.  We miss so much of today when we're living in the past or shooting too far in the future that it's actually sad.  Slow down...smell the roses...if you got 'em.  Stop and open the door for someone.  Put a quarter in an expired parking meter.  Do something nice for someone today.  Just worry about today...Here's the thing.  It worked for me...I no longer hold onto resentements, and when I've harmed somebody...I make my amends as quickly as possible.  Life is good...today.  Now this may sound pretty simplistic...and like I said before, the process is.  But the work is hard....hard but fruitful.  I know I've done it.

And remember....forgiveness is not letting that person off the hook...you don't have to trust them the same way...but what you are doing by letting go of the resentments and anger and the need to get even...is letting God have the final word. Remember, I'm not God...boy am I glad for that.

Thanks for letting me share.

Joe