Friday, September 30, 2011

Could Jesus Find a Disciple part 4 Following Christ in the Modern Era (Love Your Neighbor)

Matthew 22: 37-40 states that when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Today we are going to look at what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. This sounds easy, but it is actually one of the hardest thing to do. We are to love our fellow man? Really? I know that there are some people I cannot stand. But at the heart of the distaste we have, the righteous anger we feel and the hate we may harbor is the mantra I have oft heard, "Love the sinner, hate the sin!" Unfortunately, that is not found in the Bible.

However, what is found in the Bible is Romans 13:8-10, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet, and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."

Just like yesterday, the theme today is love. Paul tells us that love fulfills the law. So, what exactly does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? To most it means to follow the "Golden Rule." Treat others the way you want to be treated. I say that is not enough. I would challenge you to do more. We should not treat people the way we would want to be treated, but instead treat others better than we would want to be treated!

Furthermore, a lot of us may not be at a place where we feel that we should be treated with respect or love. Loving ourselves may seem impossible today, as we have not forgiven ourselves for our past choices YET. If we were to treat people the way we want to be treated, most people would leave our company depressed and angry. For those of us that applies to, I have another suggestion. Treat others better than we would want our children to be treated (If you have them, if not pretend).

As a substance abuse counselor, I work with many clients who have trouble loving themselves. That said, they have intense love for their children. They will stay in an abusive relationship, but when I ask what they would do if their daughter was in the same relationship, I get the same answer. "I would hurt the abuser and get my daughter out of that relationship because she deserves better than that." They do not deserve better, but their children do. Even though they are addicted to drugs, they would never want their children to use them. Once again, their children are better than that but they feel that they need or sometimes that they deserve it.

So, I am going to try to sum this up in a way we can all understand. Would you want your son's wife to cheat on him? No, then we do not sleep with someone else's mate! Would you want people to use your daughter as a one night stand? No, then we should avoid one night stands! Would you want someone to rob your children? No, then we should not steal from others! How would you feel if someone killed your  child? Bad, so we do not kill others.

It sounds very easy at face value, but it is not. We tend to look at some people as less than us, or some whose sins are worse than others. Not all sins are equal, but other than blaspheming the Holy Spirit they are all forgivable (Matthew 12:31, Mark 3:29 and Luke 12:10).

We seem to forget what the Bible shows us. Take Paul for example. He was a man who wrote 40% of the New Testament, and we would probably all agree that he is in heaven. Yet, before he had his conversion on the road to Damascus, his mission in life was to stamp out Christianity and have Christians tortured and put to death. He was a party in the death of innocents based on nothing more than their belief in Christ. Even he was well aware that his past sin was great. Paul was a man who was very cognizant of his level of sin.

In 1 Timothy 1:15,16 Paul goes so far as to say, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life."

Here we see that all is forgiven through belief in Christ and as we read above, through love of God and our fellow man. All sin can be overcome. Therefore, it is not on me to judge someone. We all want God's grace, but it is one of those things that can only be kept by giving it away. If I show grace to others, then I am worthy of it. Grace is often defined as either divine influence or unmerited favor. This means that it is given where it is not asked for and/or wanted. We use grace not to feel better than others, but to insure they are on even ground with us. We should never try to elevate our status above that of those around us. We should never look down on others because we have lived more pious lives. That is the danger of legalism.

Legalism generally causes Christians to feel pride, or that they are in competition with other people. Trust me, we are not trying to "out perfect" each other. We would all fall short. None of us are worthy of God's grace, yet it is given to us. Take for example the attitude of some churches when it comes to homosexuality. We used to look at divorce in the church like many churches look at homosexuality today. Even today there are churches that shun peope who drink socially, even if it is only a glass of wine or a couple of beers a week. Is that fair? What does that tell the person who feels looked down on in church from the moment they walk through the door? It is not on us to change others, but the job of the Holy Spirit!

So we should not shun individuals, or we begin to make people feel unwelcome in church. If they do not come to church it makes it more difficult for the Spirit to work on them. We should treat them with love and treat them with civility. Everyone sins just like me! I go to a church where probably 99.9% (I once heard that 100% is statistically impossible) of the members are guilty of gluttony, envy, lust or apathy at one point or another each week. I still love them and talk to them.

What if your child where to tell you that he was gay? Would you hate him and disown him, or would you still love him? Would you want people cussing him, asking him not to come back to their church or talking about him behind his back? Of course not, we would still want him to be treated with respect and to go to church. Based on this we should treat others in the same manner. If I would not want you to gossip about me or a member of my family, I should not gossip about anyone else, period!!

When did love mean that we told people that they were not welcome back to our church, as I have heard that some churches have done with homosexuals. Like I said, the same way that we treat homosexuals in some churches now is how the divorced were treated in churches only 50 years ago. Look around your church and think of how many of your fellow attendees are divorced and would have not been welcome in many churches several decades ago. Do you vilify them, or make them feel unwelcome because they have been divorced. Of course you don't! Everyone should have the right to come to church, because everyone is deserving of God's grace.

When we look at others we should try to see them through the eyes of our creator. AA has a saying that I have always liked. It says that you are working a good program when everyone else sees a bum and you see a prospect. Everyone that you lay your eyes on was created by God, and as the saying goes, "God don't make no junk!" Jesus did not spend his time loving the legalistic pharisees and sadducces, but instead the sinners and those that the pious believer looked down upon and would not even speak to. I don't know about you, but I know I am no better than Christ. In fact, I would do well to try and follow in His footsteps.

In closing, we are not asked to be disciples today the same way that we were called to follow Him 2,000 years ago. We are not called to leave our jobs and family instantly for Christ. We are called to follow Christ where we are and in all that we do. We are called to put the interest of God first and foremost in our lives, and to treat others better than we would want others to treat our children! If we live our life this way we are living as a Christian. If not, then we may have a surprise coming when we pass on to the afterlife. Narrow is the road to salvation!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Could Jesus Find a Disciple part 3 Following Christ in the Modern Era (Loving God)

Matthew 22: 37-40 states that when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Today we are going to look at what it means to love God as we are commanded to. Tomorrow we will look at what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. These are two hard to explain and even harder to complete concepts, if we make them that way. They are actually pretty simple to break down if we use the Bible as a guide (which is what we will do today and tomorrow). Furthermore, they are not as difficult to accomplish as we would believe. Instead, they are only as difficult to accomplish as we make them.  

What does it mean to love God with all that you have and all that you are? Let us first look at what love does not look like. Phillip Yancey in his book What's so Amazing About Grace uses a newlywed to explain our relationship with God, and it is one of the most powerful and easy to understand examples that I know of.

Imagine a groom talking to his new bride the night of their wedding, "Honey, I love you so much. You mean the world to me and are of the upmost importance to me. But, I have a couple of questions for you. Now that we are married, how far can I go with other women? Can I sleep with them? Kiss them? How about flirt with them, or just stare at them as they walk by? What if I spend the week with other women, as long as I am with you on the weekends? You don't mind a few affairs now and then, do you? I know that it might hurt you, but just think of all the opportunities you'll have to forgive me after I betray you!"

Do you think the groom that just spoke has the slightest concept of what love is? Of course not, yet many of us as soon as we get into a relationship with God begin looking for loopholes. We begin to wonder just what we can get away with. We ask ourselves how little we can get by with doing. Or we tell ourselves that since God's grace is so all-encompassing, we can just go on sinning and it is not a big deal. All of that is what love is not.

A true relationship, on the other hand, is completely different. You do not do things not out of fear of getting caught, but because you feel remorse as soon as you do them (or even think about doing them). The question you ask yourself is not, "What will make me the happiest and please me," but is instead, "What can I do that will make God happy and please Him?" When how you live your life is an expression of how much you love someone, that is a strong relationship. When you please them not because you feel that you "have" to, but because you want to is the type of love we are talking about here. The reason I do not cheat on my wife is not because I am afraid that she might find out. The reason that I do not cheat on my wife is because I love her and I cannot imagine hurting or betraying her in any way!

God has gone above and beyond loving us. God has blessed us with grace, and that grace is something that we should be grateful and appreciative of. I can act however I want now that I have been reborn, because how I want to behave is to please Christ. I am unworthy of the forgiveness and grace that I have been offered. I was a filthy vessel, yet the Holy Spirit filled me. I can never say thank you enough!

I can, however, show that I do not appreciate what I have been given. I show my appreciation through expressing my love for GodNot living my life to please God, or finding excuses to do what I know is wrong is how I show I don't appreciate God's grace. If I do not act as if I appreciate God's grace it is a good guess that I am not in relationship with Him. Love on the other hand is expressed by gratitude, and my attitude of gratitude is shown by how I live my life.

My life is lived well when I know that I need God. Only when I can admit my flaws and ask forgiveness for my sins can I receive grace. Grace is a gift, and you cannot obtain a gift that you do not receive. I cannot be forgiven if I feel I have nothing to forgive. I will continue to sin, and denial of that will result in my not receiving grace. That said, intentional sin is not how we follow the way Christ expressed we should live. You do not cheat on your wife to show how much you love her. When you do make mistakes in relationship, you should let the person you are in relationship know. They cannot forgive what is not brought to them.

God always has His arms extended, but sometimes we choose to turn away. We choose to not show our love for God. God's love gives us grace, but our loving God is how we receive grace. The only way that we can receive grace is through repentance of our sins! Loving God with your whole heart, soul and mind is what inspires us to repent of our sins and to live our lives better.

The Bible tells us what love is in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

Love never fails is one of the strongest statements in the Bible. It is also the end result of our following what Jesus told us to do. WE WILL NOT FAIL!!! Today we examined how to show God we love Him, and tomorrow we will discuss how to love your fellow man in the blog entitled: Could Jesus Find a Disciple part 4 Following Christ in the Modern Era

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

X Factor's Chris Rene performs "Young Homie" & A Word of Advice

Just a quick blog about the X-Factor and an audition that I just saw. It was a kid named Chris Rene who stated that he was 70 days clean and that he had just got out of rehab. When he said that he was going to do an original song, I instantly smelled disaster. You never want to do an original song in front of the judges. LA Reid and Simon Cowell both turned and looked at each other with dread in their eyes. Simon turned back with a smug look ready to chasitise Chris when his audition was over. As it started you could see the looks change, and by the time he got to the chorus he had won over the judges completely.

I personally was delighted to have been wrong. Instead of hearing what I expected, I was blown away. It was original, it was fresh and it was relevant. It was a song about him changing his life and seeing how the using and the violence of the streets solves nothing, it only hurts us, keeps us seperated from and shortens the time we have on Earth to spend with the one's that we love. 

In the intro he talks about how he started with THC, moved to alcohol and then to coke and meth and from there it was all over. It is a progression that I have seen often in clients and in myself. By the time you realize that you are an addict and that using sucks it feels like it is too late to quit.

Chris also spoke of the guilt and shame that broke him. That is a familiar story in addiction circles. Often the drugs, alcohol, food, money (insert your what here) is simply a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is often us trying to numb and escape from the shame, guilt, trauma, depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-loathing, etc that we are experiencing. Once we realize that it helps temporarily we begin to use more and more until eventually we are always numb.

Once this stage is reached, it is nearly impossible to make the change alone. We need to seek help from people who have fought this demon and can relate to us. If I want to learn to fight, I learn it from people who have experience fighting and know how to win. That is found in recovery groups all over the world, a brotherhood of people in recovery willing to share their strength, faith and hope with us.

You can tell that LA Reid has obviously worked with people who have been in addiction. When he says that if he calls he better not talk to sister or mother or girlfriend, but it had better always be Chris who answers that phone and talks to him to let him know that he is okay you know what LA Reid has experienced before. You know that he has had one addict or another having someone who loves them lie for them. Funny how we make the people who love us lie for us over and over again. We drag them down to our own spiritually sick level. We basically attempt to destroy their spirituality as well as our own in our addiction.

All that said, I wish Chris the very best. This will be a long road and one that is impossible to accomplish without a brotherhood of people in recovery that have his back. He will need to stand strong and create some very firm boundaries with people. You know that if he wins $5 million, all of his old playmates (druggin' and thuggin' buddies) are gonna come hunting him down. His "homies" will be right back in his face, trying to romance him with thoughts of the good old days and how they were always there for him.

I hope that his sober support system and his love for his little boy are enough to bring him through the rough times, and that he always remembers where he once was. Playmates and playgrounds are dangerous. If he hangs out with his old "buddies" the question is not IF he will relapse, but WHEN he will relapse.

My advice to Chris Rene would be to continue doing three things. First and foremost are one form of 12 step recovery meeting; whether it is NA, AA, Living Free or Celebrate Recovery keep attending those meetings 2-3 times a week. The second thing is having a sponsor and accountability partners that will be there for and with him to watch his back, give him sage advice and positive support on a daily basis. Third is that he continue to work the 12 steps on a daily basis for the rest of his life. When he says that there is always a chance, and always a choice he is absolutely right. But in the end, it is up to you to make the right choice. Narrow is the road to recovery, and broad is the road to relapse. That is why the daily working of the 12 steps is so important.

The 12th step is the most important step in the road to overcoming the guilt and shame that he says broke him. It allows us to turn all of the negative choices that we and the people in our lives made around and find a positive purpose for them occurring. By his owning his addiction and talking about it on a platform as big as the X Factor stage shows that he is unafraid to work his 12th Step. I only pray that he set him self up for success and have the ability to continue rocking that 12th step, and never forget the first 11.

 So, h
ere are the lyrics to Young Homie followed by the audition. This is my shout out to a song about recovery from one new to the fold! God bless you Chris, stay strong and stay sober!!

I open up my mind with these spoken words,
Let this music heal like an overture,
She’s the only one,
And so I roll with her,
That’s how it’s supposed to be,
Living life with loved ones close to me,
Shh, this is the remedy,
And I got the recipe, I don’t need no Hennessy,
Yeah, it’s been two months now,
Haven’t had a drink and I’m starting to see clear now,
I’m putting all my fears down,
I can hear the cheers now,
Seeing peace signs when I look around,

Hey, young homie what you trippin' on
Looking at life, like how did I get it wrong,
But life’s too short, gotta live it long,
To my brothers and sisters when will we get along,
Hey, big homie what you trippin' on,
What you really trippin' on,
Life’s too short, gotta live it long,
To my brothers and sisters when will we get along

Give peace to the war in the streets,
Give peace to the evil that creeps, yeah,
It takes education, to change your reputation,
From good to bad, you're even better now you’re elevating,
They be singing, family singing, everybody’s chilling,
Not gonna stop this, living on the feeling,
Man this is the real thing, tell me can you feel me,
So wait until they drop this, dancing on the ceiling,

Hey, young homie what you trippin' on
Looking at life, like how did I get it wrong,
What you really trippin' on l
ife’s too short, gotta live it long,
To my brothers and sisters when will we get along,
They never thought I'd make it this far
Look now here we are,
See I never thought I'd take it this far.



Could Jesus Find a Disciple part 2 The description

"So, what exactly is the job that you are talking about?" you ask as you follow the man outside. This is supposing that you follow the man outside. Part 1 of this series actually looked at why you would probably not go outside to even find out. 

"It is to shepard my flock, and by my flock I mean all people of the Earth. I will give you the power to heal and cast out demons. You will be a teacher, and your job will be to lead by example. I want you to be virtuous, and to speak to all that you come in contact with about ways for them to live their lives better and become followers of me. If you listen to me, you will be able to do all of these things," the man replies.

You actually find yourself beginning to lean in with interest as He speaks. The thought that he might be a little egocentric if not narcissictic crosses your mind. That aside,he is a very powerful orator and you gravitate to the sound of his voice as he speaks. You are not sure that this guy could make changes that would allow you to be the speaker he is. And healing and casting out demons sounds pretty farfetched. You are really having some problems believing what this guy is saying.

He continues, "As for job perks, you will not get paid in money. You will not be given a vehicle. You will not even have an office that you will work in. No vacation time, no insurance and no expense card. You will get to travel........a lot. You will travel by foot. You will get fed............ if people are nice enough to feed you. You will sleep....... under the stars, unless someone puts you up for the night. What you will receive is the knowledge that you have helped others. You will also be granted everlasting life guaranteed!"

You no longer know what this guy is even talking about. "Everlasting life," you say, "why would I want everlasting life, this life sucks sometimes. I want to do my time on Earth and then die. I don't want to live forever, I just want to live to see my kids have grandkids and my grandkids get into college. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake. At the rate we are going, this country will not even be here in 50 years, let alone eternity."

"I speak not of this world, but of eternal life in heaven. You may be cursed in this world, but you are fortunate to have the prospect of more to come. The finest day you have ever had on Earth will be as a nightmare in comparison to what you will experience in heaven. I tell you today that you should consider yourself blessed." 

With that, Jesus breaks into the beatitudes, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."(Matthew 5:3-10)

"What do you mean, blessed are the persecuted," you ask? "I don't want to be persecuted!"

"But you do want to be persecuted, it is part of the price you get to pay for following me," he says. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12)

"If this were an interview, it would now be done," you tell the man. "I do not want to waste any more of your time. I am both content and safe here. I may not be "saving the world" but I am appreciated. If I wanted to be persecuted and hated, I would have stayed with my first wife! Sounds like it is a lot more appealing to not follow you than to pay the price for following. I think that you need some help, and not the kind that I am qualified to give."

With that, you turn and walk back inside your comfy little office building shaking your head. You may never know that you could have made a choice that would have forever changed the course of not just your history, but the history of the world.

My point is this, JESUS WOULD BE HARD PRESSED TO FIND A DISCIPLE IN THIS DAY AND AGE using the same method he once did. He may find disciples in undeveloped countries, but in most developed countries we have priorities that would supercede our ability to just quit our jobs and live as transients for the rest of our lives. We would not be willing to take that leap of faith. The good news is that we are not called to quit everything we are doing to follow Christ today. In fact, it is much easier to follow Christ today and to disciple than it was 2,000 years ago.

What we have to do is quite simple. We have to have a relationship with God. We show that we have a true relationship with God when we do two things. In Matthew 22 Jesus directed us to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind first and foremost. Secondly we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. That is what He said was most imporant for us to do! What does that mean? Tune in for the next blog, Could Jesus Find a Disciple part 3 Following Christ in the Modern Era to find out!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Could Jesus Find a Disciple part 1 The offer

Matthew 4:18-21 -  "As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him."

Now picture yourself at work. Imagine that you are the billing specialist for your family's business. It has been in the family for several generations You get to work with your dad, several uncles and your brother. You are at your desk, typing away on your computer one day. There are some forms that you have to get done if you want to get paid for the work that has been done in front of you. As you are typing, some guy who you have never seen walks up to your desk and peers down at you. He has long, curlyl hair and a full beard. He looks to be of middle Eastern descent, if you were to guess. He looks quite dirty and sweaty, as if he has been walking for several hours in the heat.

As you look up at him, he calmly speaks to you with a voice that you can tell is used to being listened to, "Get up from your computer, leave your source of livelihood and follow me. You are used to billing others. I will have you helping others."

He then turns around and begins to walk away in a manner that makes you realize that he expects you to follow. If you are most, if not all of us, you would simply sit there at your desk. You will not walk out of your job without some guarantee that you will get paid at least as well if not better than you already are. Plus, you do not know this man's company, or if he is even employed. He sure didn't look employed, he looked transient. Come to think of it, you may have wondered if he is even sane. Now the questions begin to swirl around in your head.

Is he crazy? Where did he come from? Why did he talk to me? How did he know me? Why me and not someone with a college education? What does he mean "help others"?  What business is he with? How much does it pay? What are the benefits offered, the job perks?

He could just have walked in and spoke to the first person that he saw. After all, you don't know him.  You are pretty good at your job, but it is a small family owned business. You are by no means anyone special. You only have a 10th grade education, because you didn't need any more than that to work for your dad. You have not even put out any applications or resumes with anyone.

It does not take you too long to form your action, which is none. I am going to stay right here behind this desk like I have for the past 10 years. I have a mortage, car payment and utilities to pay and I am comfortable where I am. I even have a paid vacation coming up. I have health and dental insurance and a job that I am already trained for and good at. I am happy, working in the family business. Why would I ever leave?

He turns back around and looks at you one last time, "Let's go" he says. You just look at him and laugh. "I am going no where today, brother. I am happy where I am. I have great benefits, I work with people who appreciate me and our customers love us. You have not even told me what I will make if I go to work for you."

He chuckles, "Follow me and you will see." With that, he is gone out the door, leaving you to stare after him. You look around at your uncle, who is also in the office. He shrugs his shoulders, "That was crazy," he says as he turns back to his computer.

For most of us, that is where the story would end. You now have a story to tell your friends and family the next time that you see them. You would never know what is offered, because you would never go out the door and ask. Or would you? Would you at least go out the door and see what the job description is? Would you find out the salary and the benefits of the job?  Did his assured manner pique your interest?

If so, part 2 of this blog will look at the job description and what following that man actually pays.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Does Anybody Even Know That You Are a Christian??

I ask this question in all seriousness, DOES ANYBODY EVEN KNOW THAT YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN? I do not mean the people that see you at church. I am sure that when they see you at church, they "know" that you are a Christian. Why, because you attend twice a week, you sit in the front row, you raise your hand in worhip or you stand at the door and say God bless you to everyone that walks in. That is an issue, to me. There are a lot of people out there that do not like Christians because they do not see people who represent Christ. They think that because you go go church that makes you one. You may even think that yourself. I would tell you both that appearances can be deceiving.

For example, I have seen Joaquin Phoenix portray Johnny Cash and Jamie Foxx play the part of Ray Charles. I saw James Cagney play George M. Cohan and Val Kilmer acts as if he were Doc Holiday. All 4 of these men did superb jobs, but that was merely acting! At the end of the day, Jamie Foxx is still Jamie Foxx. At the end of the day, who are you really? Do you act as if you are a part of this world or are you simply living in it! Do you merely observe at church or do you listen and apply what you learn to your life?

I know that I attend church, but does that make me a Christian? I have been to a lot of weddings in the past. Does that mean I was getting married? Is everyone there getting married? Obviously being at a wedding does not mean that you are doing more than just observing. I have been to 5 baseball games in the past year, but none of them made me a better baseball player. In fact, I couldn't hit a 95 mile per hour fastball if my life depended on it.

So based on that, it obviously takes more than just attendance to make someone a Christian or a bride or a professional baseball player. All that attendance means is that I am present! If sitting in your church made you a Christian, then based on the amount of time I have spent in garages and shops I should be a car by now! Instead, all of that time in garages and shops made me a methamphetamine manufacturer and drug dealer in my past.

There are lots of butts planted in the pews and chairs in churches that are present in body only. The minds of those in attendance are not focused on the message. Even those who are focused on the message will stop thinking about the sermon the minute they get to their car and the first person cuts them off in traffic or they do not get their food right away when they go out to eat. My complaint is this - THERE ARE MANY CHRISTIANS OUT THERE YOU WOULD NEVER KNOW ARE CHRISTIANS IF YOU DID NOT SEE THEM IN CHURCH!!

That is why I need you to be honest with yourself. If it was not for your church attendance and bumper stickers/T-Shirts proclaiming your faith would anyone know that you were a Christian? Does the music you listen to or the movies you watch proclaim your faith. Does the way you treat your wife/husband and kids portray how Christ loved and treated people? How about the language that comes out of our mouths when we are angry, or the looks we give to people we do not like?

I am in a relationship with Christ, and people should know it. There should not be a doubt in anyones mind that I am in a relationship with Christ. Take for example my marriage. I wear a wedding ring and am often seen with my wife. That gives an appearance. Now what if I ogle every female who walks by and am constantly hitting on women daily. Does it look like I am really in a true relationship with my wife? You can tell that I am in a good relationship with my wife not only by how I treat her, but how I act when she is not around.

In the same way, how you act when not in church tells a lot about where you are in your relationship with God. You can be married and beat your wife and cheat on her constantly while consistently running her down to everyone around you and making her out to be the bad person. All too often, I see people who use God as a scapegoat and his lack of "answering" their prayers as a reason to not believe. I would have you ask yourself a question first.......were you ever in a true relationship with God?

What is a true relationship? It is wanting to make the other person happy and giving to them, not just trying to make yourself happy and constantly taking. Sadly, all many of us do is take, but we do not want to give of ourselves. The Lord's Prayer should be changed to, "Our father, who art in heaven  gimme gimme gimme!!" That simply cannot be right.

What do you give up for Christ, other than one or two hours a week? He said that the world would hate us, just as they hated Him! So why do you strive so hard to fit in that people cannot tell the difference between you and everybody else that lives in this world. We should be leaders, not followers; teachers, not students. If church is the locker room where we get the pep talk, outside of church is game time! We need to redefine our relationship with Christ so that others know that it is real. We need to live our lives differently so that Christ knows it is real!! Don't talk about it, be about it!!

 Here is a poem by P4CM poet Karness Turner that addresses this issue.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why I Got my Masters Degree in Social Work

I had my mind made up, and I had finally figured out what I wanted to do for grad school. I was a double major in psychology and sociology who had taken a few classes in criminology. I wanted to work with at-risk adolescents and young adults, especially those who were substance abusers or had been physically abused. To do this, I was sure that I needed to get into a good clinical psychology program. At least, that was how I felt until I talked to one of my psychology professors. I told her what I wanted to do after I graduated and my professor steered me towards the social work program. She told me that she thought it might be a better fit for me because of what my career aspirations were. When I had a chance, I went and talked to an advisor in the social work department. I left knowing that social work would open up more doors for me to do the work I feel I was shaped to do.
I have not lived the picture perfect life. I have spent two years, starting at the age of eleven, living with a physically abusive grandpa. I got a three year sentence for breaking and entering, and turned twenty-one in the Booneville Correctional Center. From there I graduated to manufacturing, selling, and being addicted to methamphetamines. I do not say this to brag, it is just the story of my life. Some people deer hunt and fish, I was addicted to drugs.
I admit to this because it made me who I am today. I have been through a twenty-eight day rehabilitation center, the Sigma House, one time. I am now seven years clean, and it has been thirteen years since I got out of prison. When I was a teenager I was not allowed in my own mother’s house unless she was there. Now I have a key and an open invitation from her to come by any time I want. I now have healthy relationships; the kind I never knew existed. I have overcome a lot in my life, and I feel that I made it through the things that I did so that I could help others through their hard times. To show them that they can have major problems in their lives and overcome them, because they are talking to someone who has.
I was molded by my life choices, the good ones and the bad ones, to be a social worker. As a kid in the legal system, I played the games my lawyer told me to play. I did the things the judge and my probation officer wanted me to do. Most delinquents are not seriously interested in changing their lives, but are also only playing games. I can accept that, because at one time I was that person who will one day be standing in front of me. I know the things that eventually helped me, and I know that it was not an overnight success story. I know not to get discouraged when I fail, because it is my experience that most addicts will not make it their first or second time, and many will not make it at all. After being involved in Narcotics Anonymous for the last seven years, I have seen many failures. But I have also seen success stories. An addict will only quit when he or she is ready. I want to plant the seed in people that will someday hopefully bloom into full recovery from substance abuse.
Unfortunately, we don’t try hard enough to help those who need help. I feel that alcohol and substance abuse rehabilitation, as well as intensive counseling, should be readily available to all probation/parole cases, as well as to all people institutionalized. I never really had the chance to work on my problems in prison. While I was incarcerated, prison did not seem like it had any rehabilitative agenda, but instead was only involved with punishment. I do not feel that this is conducive to helping offenders become contributing members of society. If anything, it leaves them no where to turn but back to what they have always done. More needs to be done, and one of the solutions may be drug courts.
I wrote my senior thesis in Sociology on the drug court system. After writing the thesis I became a firm believer in the drug court system that is offered by some courts as an alternative to incarceration. I feel that they have a greater positive impact on the lives of those who go through the program than prison would have had on them. If we can only get people who are better trained and non-judgmental to work with those who are going through drug courts. I think is a great idea in its infancy that needs a little tweaking here and there to make it the rehabilitative powerhouse it could eventually be. That is one of the reasons that graduate school appeals to me, because I will be able to try to make the system work better.
I realize that graduate school will not be easy. I expect it to be somewhat difficult, but it is what I feel I was meant to do. I thought college would be difficult after nearly destroying both my body and my brain cells for years, but I have worked full-time and still maintained a 3.78 GPA after putting five years into college and attaining two Bachelor degrees. I even found time to talk to classes about my past life and experiences. I have talked to both criminology and sociology classes every semester since my second semester here about my personal experiences with physical abuse, substance abuse and my road to recovery. Finally, I am also involved in several honors and service work fraternities, including being the VP of Mentoring and one of the founding members of the MSU Chapter of the Sigma Alpha Lambda National Leadership and Honors Organization. I have had quite a few things on my plate, and still succeeded.
That is what I feel I bring to the Social Work program. When I was in Sigma House going through rehabilitation, one of the night technicians named Jay and I had a major conversation. I told him that I just did not feel ready to stop doing drugs, and he told me that maybe I wasn’t. He got my Alcoholics Anonymous book and wrote his name and number down. He went on to repeat the mantra that I have found to be true from those around me. “There are only three things that addiction leads to prison, institutions and death.” Jay said that he hoped I would decide to stop doing drugs before it landed me in prison or in a casket. He told me to call him when I was finally ready to get clean. When I finally cleaned up two years later, he was there for me, and we are good friends to this day. I want to give back to others what was freely given to me, namely a listening ear, empathy, acceptance and some good advice.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The difference between sobriety and recovery

I went on a cruise two weeks ago. While I was in the Honduras I went parasailing, and there were two women that went with me that reminded me of how different sobriety and recovery are. The two friends were talking about parasailing, and one of them said that she was scared to death. When asked why she was scared by the guy driving the boat, she told him that she could not swim. "Thats okay," he said, "you will be 800 feet in the air. You have to be in the water to drown." This did not reassure her at all. 

Her friend was the first one to go, and she went screaming and came back laughing. She started off scared, but in the end loved it. She told us how much she had enjoyed the ride, how peaceful it was and that the view was breathtakingly beautiful. Then her friend went. As she was whisked off the back of the boat, she was screaming bloody murder, "I changed my mind!" When she came back, she was in tears and angrily talked about how horrible it was and that she hated it. When asked how she liked the view, she admitted that she did not even open her eyes. 

This was the exact same experience through the lens of two different people, who felt differently about what they did. It is a lot like working through addiction and being either in the sobriety phase or the recovery stage. It is the same experience through two different lenses. Not to say that sobriety is not necessary for recovery to occur, but you have only touched the tip of the iceberg when you are sober. Read on, and we will get into that more as you go.

At one point I had been sober for several years, but I never stepped into recovery. Like the example above, sobriety is not easy. It is generally the hardest thing to do. Sobriety is the work, recovery is the enjoyment. You can have sobriety without recovery, but you cannot have recovery without sobriety. It is vital to have sobriety in order to move onto recovery. But like the first chapter of a great book, without the other chapters the first one is incomplete and disappointing.

Recovery is crucial if you want to stay sober for the rest of your life. Sobriety is not all that it is cracked up to be. I know that we feel that it should be enjoyable, but not drinking (or drugging or overeating or sleeping around or giving into rage or fixing everybody but yourself) is really just the beginning. It is a step in the right direction, but just that. A step! There is no magic that occurs, in my humblest of opinions. It does not guarantee a happy life to you. In fact, it can be just the opposite.
What we think should be the apex of our life can actually be the nadir. I thought that things would be all better after I got clean. I found it was really the reverse. Before when I felt low self-esteem, depression, anger, hurt or self-loathing, I could use and would feel all better. It would assuage my pain. Without the drugs, I now had to feel the pain with no buffer. There was no escape. What could I do?
I could have done a lot of things, but this is what I did. I began to revel in my character defects. I began smoking more cigarettes, having more sex, getting into more verbal and physical fights.  I began to find ways to look down on others. If they were not working their program “my way” I would belittle them at meetings. And thanks to principles before personalities that worked out well. So did my “13th step” that I so often employed. I was now using others instead of my drug to make me feel better.
I did my 90 in 90 (more like 150 in 90) and I thought that I was doing good. If only attending meant better. You got to do more than show up. Like the pastor says, "Sitting in church no more makes you a Christian than my standing in my garage makes me a car." The same is true about meetings, just being there and not working what you learn outside of the meetings is worthless. But that was not me! I even worked the steps with a sponsor and told him what I knew he wanted to hear. I thought that I was in control as I counted the years. I eventually began drinking, but I could excuse that because it was not a drug. I was great at lying to myself and those around me. I portrayed happy and content, confident and strong. It was all a lie.
I could never find true happiness. I was miserable! I saw myself as an addict and a convict every time that I looked into the mirror. When I became an alcoholic, it should not have been a surprise to me. I tried to, as the Bible put it in Matthew 9, put new wine in an old wine skin. I tried to put on a new mind set but kept the old behaviors. That is a recipe for disaster. The new mind set was completely wasted as it spilled out onto the ground.
Eventually I reached the realization that I was back where I had started. I had taken a new route with a different vehicle, and I had arrived at the same destination as before. The worst part was that this time I could find nothing to blame it on. I had money, people I considered friends, a career I liked not a job I hated, a beautiful son, coworkers who cared, a boss that let me know I was appreciated, even the respect of people who never would have talked to me when I was an addict. All of that was simply not enough. I was still miserable. I began to realize that the fault was all mine. That was the beginning of my reaching the lowest point of my life. Then the jump to recovery happened, and I became happy almost overnight.
Recovery came to me for several reasons, but the most important reason is this. When I was an Agnostic and I woke up in the morning, I knew that this was AS GOOD AS IT GETS. I had nothing to look forward to. My life still consisted of terribly disappointing days followed by drunken nights. If I did not drink, I would get into my depression and isolate and feel miserable. If I did drink, I would get out of my depression while being around people and not feel miserable until the next morning. BUT…….I was always miserable in the end.

After I got saved, my entire outlook changed. I finally realized that I was forgiven. I could never forgive me before because I felt unforgivable. That is the smallest part of it though. The biggest thing for me follows. I did not believe in life after death. I believed that we returned to dust, and that would be the end. I would one day die, and this sinful, hateful world would be all that I would know. When I got saved I realized that even if this life where to be completely miserable for the next 30 years, after I died if I kept my faith and walked the narrow path that I would live an eternity in bliss. That was overwhelming, and it was enough to cheer me up........finally, I could smile and it was not fake!

This is when I finally realized what recovery is. Sobriety was simply me not drinking or drugging. I could still suck at every other aspect of life, still revel in all of my character defects, still be my own worst enemy and judge and hate myself, still make one wrong choice after another while justifying them and still care about me and only me juxtaposed with thinking only about others happiness and not my own. That is what I could do sober.

Recovery on the other hand was me changing everything about myself. I mean the floor to the ceiling, the windows to the walls. I began to make changes in recovery that I never would have made in sobriety. I began treating others with respect even if I felt they did not deserve it. I vowed to never have premarital sex again. I quit smoking, as it was just another addiction that was bad for me. I stopped fighting and started being genuinely nice, even when I would have normally resorted to angry methods of coping. I even quit cussing, as it was not really a nice way to conduct myself. These changes actually made me happy. I began to walk around positive, which made me positive. I acted positive, so I felt positive. I became an optimist instead of a pessimist.

I made these changes not to impress anyone, but because they were the right thing to do. That is what recovery is, not just doing the next right thing but insuring that I do not do the wrong thing. I act the same way behind closed doors as I do when I am in front of people, the same way to my wife I do to my pastor. I do not simply treat people as I want to be treated, but better than I want to be treated. In recovery we should treat people the way that we would want them to treat our sons and daughters. We should not engage in behaviors that we would not want our sons and daughters to behave in. That is recovery, total change of our lives.

The sad thing is that as I look around the rooms, I see a lot of people that are sober but very few that are in recovery. I feel that way when I look around churches, too. I will get into this in my next blog, because getting baptised is a lot like getting sober. It is simply the first step in the right direction. There is a long way to go, still. It is simply not enough. I see many who look down on addicts and alcoholics in recovery that could learn a lot from them. Recovery is something that we should all want, as we are all recovering from something. I’m not judging, I’m just telling the truth.

Whether you are in addiction or recovery, a Christian or an athiest, I want to leave you with one thing. Even if you do not believe the Bible is true, there is still good stuff in there that everyone could learn from. Here is one of those good passages. In Matthew 7 of the Big Book I live my life by, it says that they will know you by the fruit you produce. So, what does the fruit you produce say about you? Think about the two women parasailing. You can either open your eyes and enjoy the ride of sobriety, or you can wish that you were anywhere but sober and do it because you have to. One way will keep you sober  and make you happy. The other way will only lead eventually to failure. The choice is yours!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Weight loss, addiction and our Faith

I started Weight Watcher’s June 8th at 239.8 pounds. Two weeks ago before I left for a 7 day cruise I weighed 213 pounds. Last week after I got back I weighed 222.2 pounds. Today I weigh 224.4 pounds. I expected to gain 10 pounds on the cruise. I was going to let myself eat whatever I wanted. What I did not expect was to have lost control over my eating and not be able to rein it in on my return. So, today I will start a 7 day juice fast that will allow me to regain control over my eating.
I figure this will help me lose the original weight that I gained back and reset my eating habits. Then next week I can slowly reintroduce fruits and vegetables then grains and dairy and finally fish and chicken back into my diet. I went from eating really healthy to taking short cuts and eating things that were full of preservatives and artificial junk in them. It started with the microwaveable lunches that were easy, but unhealthy. Then it was the cruise, but just for one week. A week back and I am still struggling to get back to where I was.
This is a lot like our faith or our addictions. I have found that if I let just a little bit of the world in, I end up with a lot. If I compromise my ideals or morals for one thing, then I open myself up for many things. Two sayings come to mind, one is “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything” and the other is from AA, “One is too many and a thousand is never enough.” These both describe what I did with my eating. I compromised on what I felt was a little thing, and due to that my eating got out of control. I am working on getting back to where I was before I began if I do not get it under control.
What I did was I started Weight Watcher’s as a lifestyle change. It was not a diet, but a new way of eating for life, but then I picked up my old lifestyle again. This happens often with our faith. We begin changing the way that we live our lives, and the next thing you know you are right back where you started because of something small that you thought would not hurt. As an addict, I have often made that mistake in my life. I got off of drugs and let in alcohol, reasoning that I was not an alcoholic. Found out what NA has been saying for years was true, that “alcohol is a drug, period.” Then I stopped drinking, and comfort food became my thing. I quickly gained 50 unhealthy pounds.
As Christians or addicts, what are you allowing in your life that may be setting you up for major issues in the future? What unhealthy things are you allowing to control how you live your lives. What are you doing that is setting you up for future problems? Maybe seeing that NC-17 movie, or the R-rated movie that has strong sexual content. How about the music that you listen to? What are the themes and messages that you are subjecting your brain to? How about the company you keep? Do your morals and your actions change when you are with your friends? If so, you probably need to switch groups!
This is probably as important to you readers as it is to me. We allow so many things to control us, and there should be only one thing that serves as our master. Matthew 6:24 tells us that we cannot serve two masters. The Bible even lets us know that when we allow worldly things to have power over us, we set ourselves up for failure.  James 4:4 calls us adulterous people and says, “don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
So let this not be a warning, but a reminder of what you already know. Choose Christ, choose life. Our secular life and our spiritual life are not two separate things. We should always exalt Christ with all that we do, whether at church, work, a restaurant, in traffic or on a date night. We are in this world, but we do not have to live as if we are of this world!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bible Readings: Joshua Chapter 1 - 5

Today I read Joshua Chapters 1-5. It discussed the tribes of Israel coming into the promised land after the death of Moses. They are now being led by Joshua. I really liked the first chapter, as it is God talking to them and telling them what they need to do. He tells them that He has given them the laws that they must follow. In Joshua 1:8, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” We are to keep His laws always, and we should be careful to do what He has asked us to. This is a great example of how often we should think about God, when the Bible says to “meditate on it day and night.” There should not be a time when Christ is not in my thoughts. When Christ is out of my mind, He is also the last thing that I am thinking of. If I put God and his commandments first in all that I do, it will help me in all aspects of my life. I will be a great husband, a great father, a great worker and a better human being.

In Joshua 1:9 it states, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” This is the first time in my reading for this section entitled Bible Readings (which are me picking up the Bible and doing a random reading) that I have came across what I know I will come across many times, which is to put your trust and faith in God and He will always be there with you. He will not always answer prayers, and everything may not always make sense to us but that is how it should be. My God is all knowing and has the ability to see all time at once. He lives beyond time. Due to that He can see the ripples, where they go and what they affect and I cannot. Due to this, it will not always make sense to me what happens. I just know that my focus needs to remain on God, and to try my best to keep my chin up and keep my faith!

In Joshua 2 we are introduced to Rahab, the prostitute. As a recovering addict and criminal, I can relate to the moniker she has been given and how it has stigmatized her. Many of us know that stigma, whether it is from addiction, divorce, mental health, etc. We need to realize that when God sees us, He sees one of His creations. He does not judge us by our past, but by our present.  Rahab was not judged harshly by God, but was instead used by Him for a higher purpose. We too, no matter who we are or what we have done, can also be used for a higher purpose. Paul once killed Christians, then became one of the biggest Christian advocates there ever was. Many would have discounted the prostitute, but not truly "holy" men. Men who love God know that it is not wise to judge others, because we are only human and see the outside appearance. God can see the heart. In Hebrews 13:2 it states,  "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” This is something to definitely be aware of in our practices with others. How we treat others can come back and bite us in the end (no pun intended).

Then we have the crossing of the River Jordan, which is at flood stage yet miraculously dries up to allow the Israelites to cross. I had forgotten that the Jordan was crossed, much like waters were parted in the Red Sea when the Israelites left Egypt. God told them several things. To keep focused on the Ark of the Covenant, which was indicator of the presence of God. We now have the Holy Spirit, which resides in us much like the Ark of the Covenant resided among the Israelites. We should keep our focus on the Holy Spirit today! They were told to consecrate themselves first, in order to be prepared for the amazing thing God was to do for them. They were told to keep focused on the Ark and cross the Jordan and after they got across they were to put up a memorial to remember the event.

We are aked to do the same as the Israelites, but it is easier now. The Holy Spirit guides us on a daily basis. We know what we should and should not do. We must focus on where the Holy Spirit is leading us. Next, we are to consecrate ourselves, through prayer, reading, fasting, and communion. Next we are to go where God asks us to go, with no questions and no doubts. We should fully follow where the Spirit leads us. Finally, we must build our faith upon our victories and other’s victories. That is why she share testimonies in our lives, to testify and remember what God has done for and in us. This should be shared with Christians and non-Christians alike. This is done to bolster the faith of the Christian. It is also done to let everyone know that the Lord is ALL POWERFUL!!!!!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I will be gone September 4th-11th out of country

I will not have computer access so no blogs for 8 days. Feel free to read and tetras the ones I have already written. Share the ones you like with your friends, like me on Facebook, become a follower of the blog, and leave comments and feedback on the blogs. I will hopefully have some exciting news to share when I get back!!