Monday, April 30, 2012

Stinking Thinking Part 1: Would You Stick Your Hand in a Nest of Rattlesnakes?

There are several reasons that people relapse. Most of the reasons that people relapse are due to either "Stinking Thinking" or complacency. I would like to look at several of the different types of stinking thinking that occur, and what they seem like to me. I have found that when you give examples that can be visualized, it tends to make more sense. Due to how some of us learn, we need to have examples that are a little extreme to make us understand the situation better.

Let me clear this up; drugs kill people all of the time. In 2009 the National Center for Health Statistics reported that over 60,000 people died in the United States from drugs or alcohol. That is not to mention the number of people who died from collateral damage, such as cirrhosis, suicide, homicide, etc. Comparatively, rattlesnakes killed  no more than 5-7 people per year. You would be about 1,000 times more likely to get killed by drugs and/or alcohol yet we still use them. If you are wondering what snakes have to do with this, stick around.

Basically, you should be more worried about the drug use. Yet we put ourselves in dangerous positions for relapsing. We will go visit our old friends or family that are still actively using, finding any excuse that we can to be around them. We will invent reasons to have people over to our house even when we know that they are either in active addiction or we are pretty sure that they are no longer using. My favorite excuses follow (Blanks are filled in with whoever the person is, either friend or family):
  1. _______ told me that they stopped using last week, so I want to go to their house and hang out to help them stay sober.
  2. Well it is my ________, what do you expect me to do? Tell them that they can no longer be part of my life?
  3. _______ promised me that they would not use around me if I come over.
  4. _______ told me that if they come over to see me, they will leave it in their car.
  5. I can be around it and not use.
The truth is, these are all very bad scenarios to put yourself in. The reasons vary, and I will address each of them in turn. For starters, why would you want to go to the house of someone that just quit using? Why would you want to have them over to your house? Those are recipes for disaster. You could offer to meet them at an NA, AA, Celebrate Recovery or Living Free meeting if they want to be around you. If they are truly trying to be sober/clean, they will meet you there. If they aren't serious, you will know that when they are not showing up for meetings.

As for people who you have had in your life for a while; length of knowing them is not reason to be around them. I don't care if they are your mother or father. If they are using, it is a recipe for disaster! Many people have used with their parents, brothers/sisters and best friends. We may have known people for our entire lives, but that does not matter when it comes to staying sober. It reminds me of a message I heard on an answering machine once. "Hi, this is ________. I am not home right now because I am busy making changes. If I don't return your call, it's because you are one of the changes I am making."

We may have to make changes that hurt. We may have to be uncomfortable for a while. That is okay, what we are comfortable doing is what got us to where we are today. For a lot of us, that is not a good place. What I am comfortable doing hospitalized me, killed me, got me put in prison and took away my friends that had futures. You have to ask yourself this question: "Is being around ______ worth losing my freedom and possibly my life over?"

What about those great friends and glorious family members that let us know that they will not use around us? They care about us so much that they would rather be around us high and stay in our lives and risk our sobriety than just not be around us at all and know that we are sober and trying to do better. What good friends...........

After I quit doing drugs I moved to Springfield. I ended up working at Ruby Tuesdays in the Battlefield Mall for 6 years to put myself through college. A couple of times a year I would see one of my friends, we will call him B, that I used to deal drugs with. Every time I saw him our interaction was the same. He would stand at the front of the restaurant and I would see him. I would walk up to the door and he would disappear by the time I got to the front of the restaurant into the mall. I never got a chance to speak to him, because he was gone. The year after I quit working at Ruby Tuesdays I was in the mall doing some Christmas shopping. I was tapped on the shoulder and it was B. Conversation went as follows:

"David, I heard you had got clean. How have you been doing?"
"So now you want to talk to me! Why have you avoided me? I have seen you probably a dozen times, and every time that I would come up to talk to you, you were gone. What's up with that?"
"Sorry, I just wanted you to know that I was still alive. I had heard that you had gotten clean and I did not want you tempted to get high again from being around me high or by asking me for some."
"So why are you talking to me know? I guess that means you are doing good?"
"I actually got clean a year ago, David, but I am not doing well. I got caught, and I have to turn myself in next month to do 10 years."

We then went to Ruby Tuesdays and got something to eat. Over lunch he updated me on all of the people we used to run with who were either still alive and using, in prison or dead. I was the only one who dealt that he knew had gotten out from the group we used to hang out with. Can you guess what the lesson to this story is? He was my friend, and because he was my friend he refused to talk to me. He knew that by talking to me he could jeopardize the new life I was creating.

The logic behind what he did is simple. I used drugs/alcohol with him. He knows that it is something that I have an affinity to. Because of that, I may be tempted if he were to be around. If not today, then maybe 6 months down the road when I have a bad day. Maybe I get fired, or some one that I care about dies. I see him, I ask him for drugs and I use. It is that simple. I will actually elaborate on it more in the second post about Stinking Thinking.

What does all of this combined mean, and why did I talk about rattlesnakes earlier? Because I want to ask you a question: "Would you stick your hand in a box of live rattlesnakes?" Of course not, that would be insane! Yet when we go to places that may have drugs and/or hang out with people who might be actively using it is the same thing as sticking your hand into a nest of rattlesnakes because "they might not bite me."

That is insane, and only stinking thinking would allow us to make such a bad decision. You would never stick your hand into a box of rattlesnakes because you might get bit. There is a possibility of it, just like there is a possibility of relapse if you are around drugs and alcohol. That relapse could be the one that kills you. Why would you risk your life on a possibilitythat you might not relapse? The truth is, being around negative playmates and playgrounds leads to one statement. "I now no longer ask if you will relapse, but when will you relapse?"

Your addiction is in the back of your head. It is lifting weights, running on the treadmill and reading books. It is getting stronger and smarter, trying to get from the back of your mind into the front again. If you want to keep it out of the front of your brain, you remove temptations and reminders! There is no reason to hang out with users. To quote McGruff the Crime Dog, "Users are losers and losers are users."

The best way to remain sober is to stay around sober people/places and avoid people who use and places that drugs and/or alcohol may be found at. We are not about losing, we are about winning!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tactics by Gregory Koukl Chapter 5 Step Three: Using Columbo to Lead the Way

You are beginning to use the Columbo tactic in a different way in this chapter. In the past chapters you have not had to have knowledge, but instead have asked for the knowledge of the person you are talking to. You have also not been on the offensive, but have played the conversation defensively by insuring they were responsible for the burden of proof and your views might not even have been known yet. That all changes today!

Today you begin to ask a different type of question, a "leading question." You want to have the other person begin to talk in the direction that you want them to go. This can be done by asking questions. These questions will get the person you are in discussion with to take steps forward towards your way of thinking. You are not forcing your opinions, but are attempting to persuade them.

As you begin to let others know that you are Ambassadors for Christ you will get asked "the question." One where a simple yes will cause you to appear conceited, prejudice and fundamental in the worst sense of the word. That question is, "So you are saying that people who don't believe what you believe are going to Hell?"

That question is not meant to do anything other than discredit you. It is asked to paint you as the worst type of person who is right and every one else is wrong. There is a way to answer this question, but it takes having knowledge. Unless you know why Jesus matters, you will fail. Simply knowing that they need to believe isn't enough. Here is how Greg used his knowledge in a conversation with Guy X:
"Let me ask you a question,"he said. "Do you think that people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished?"
"I guess I do," Guy X replied.
"Good. So do I." Greg said, to agree with Guy X. "Now, a second question: Have you ever committed any moral crimes?"
"Yes, I guess I have."
"So have I," Greg said. "That puts us in a pretty tight spot, doesn't it? We both believe people who do bad things should be punished, and we both believe that we're guilty on that score. Do you know what I call that? I call that bad news. This is were Jesus comes in. WE both know we are guilty. That's the problem. So God offers a solution: a pardon, free of charge. That clemency is on His terms, not ours. Jesus is God's means of pardon. He personally paid the penalty in our place. He took the wrap for our crimes. No one else did that. Only Jesus. Now we have a choice to make. Either we take the pardon and go free, or we turn it down and pay for our crimes ourselves."

In this conversation Greg used the Columbo tactic coupled with his knowledge of what Christ did on the cross and why it was significant for all people. Using the same two things, knowledge and the Columbo tactic will allow you to answer a lot of hard questions, once you learn how to effectively use them.

On occasion you may need to use questions to make conversations that you are in more favorable for you. When it is a controversial issue, begin by saying, "You know, this is actually a very personal question that you're asking. I don't mind answering, but before I do, I want to know if it's safe to offer my views. So let me ask you a question: Do you consider yourself a tolerant or intolerant person on issues like this? Is it safe to give my opinion, or are you going to judge me for my point of view? Do you respect diverse points of view, or do you condemn others for convictions that differ from your own?"

This covers you from being seen as the intolerant one. If they judge you, then by their own admission they are intolerant. Someone who calls you intolerant generally does so because you do not believe as they do. Them disagreeing with you based on their own beliefs makes them intolerant towards you. If this happens to you, there is a simple solution. You can ask them to explain to you why when you think you're right it is intolerance, but when they think they are right it just means that they are right.

In this method, you are using questions to expose flaws/weaknesses and to expose difficulties and problems you see in their views. Unless you know the shortcomings in their arguments, you will not see them. This is why knowledge is the number one requirement for ambassadors of Christ. That said, remember that you are not trying to knock one out of the park every time you have a conversation. Sometimes, simply asking "What do you mean by that?" and "How did you come to that conclusion?" is enough. Just getting off the bench and into the game is often a great start.

There is one flaw that can occur when you begin this step. You run the chance when you go on the offensive as coming across as offensive. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 10:16, "Be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves." This means that you must have the ability to look at someone's view and point out the weaknesses without begin smug or pushy. This can be a difficult task, especially at first.

In order to achieve the inoffensive offensive, you can use the following 3 questions:
  1. Have you considered?
  2. Can you clear this up for me?
  3. Can you help me understand this?
These questions allow you to show respect for the person that you disagree with. You already showed effort with the first two questions. Then you asked for further clarification with, "Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about what you told me?" Finally, you can use a statement such as "It's my understanding that...."
and then explain your position and ask them to share a response. That let's them know that you have a belief, but it is open to discussion.

So know not only can you gather information, but you can also lead people in the direction you want them to go in, all by asking questions. You do need to be informed about the direction you want them to go in, or when they get there you will not be able to find the errors in their way of thinking. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT!! See you next week when you will learn how to begin perfecting the Columbo techniques.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Finding a Better Life Exists in Recovery

My wife and I filmed two more people for the documentary yesterday. Both of the stories will be a major part of Spiritual Spackle. If I were to form a team to go into the church and youth groups and speak to the kids there, these would be two of the three people I have interviewed so far that I would approach to go with me. They both had an amazing story. The best part was the happiness that I saw when they spoke of where they were to where they are now. That happiness they both have is due to Jesus.

One of them grew up without God in his life. He saw his mother and father both abusing substances. He began using alcohol, marijuana and pills at 14. He was using a lot and began selling drugs so that he could continue to use. He said that the only time that he got along with his mother is when they were smoking marijuana together. His mother was often abused, and he began parenting his mother and his baby brother while still in high school. He spoke of comforting his mother, telling her that everything would be alright. He turned to drugs and fighting himself in high school. After all, it was what he knew and what he had seen his entire life.

His baby brother was taken into custody by Children's Division. He got arrested for assault. His dad went to prison. His mother continued to date drug dealers and get beat up. He began to get tired of it. He had a couple of friends that started going to church that talked to him. He knew that it wasn't for him, but he decided to give it a shot.

The day he went one of his friends got baptized, and he decided to join him. He quit drugs and alcohol on that day. Cigarettes and cussing soon followed. He moved in with the youth pastor of the church that he went to. He completed school and he is now attending leadership college at James River Assembly of God. He has been drug and cigarette free for several years now. Better news, he said that his mother checked herself into rehab several months ago and was baptized two weeks ago.

The next story was one of not meeting God until it was almost too late. He started using drugs at a young age. Smoked first cigarette at 6, because he saw his mom doing it and he thought it looked cool. Began alcohol and weed at 12. He was in an accident where the car he was in hit a school bus head on at 85 miles an hour. His back was broken, and he was told that he would not walk again. He walked again, but was addicted to pain pills.

He did those for a while, and his use intensified. He began using benzodiazepines; combined with the pain pills, alcohol and marijuana. He was in and out of jail. He was dealing to afford his habit. He went to rehab several times, but would begin using as soon as he completed them. He had become an adrenaline junkie, and enjoyed stunting bikes. One day after eating a bunch of pills and drinking he wrecked his motorcycle and ripped his ankle off. It was hanging by the achilles tendon. He was told they would have to amputate. He refused to allow it. He kept his foot, but his continued lack of regard for himself and others separated him from his family.

He had a grandmother was supporting him, and she finally told him that he was cut off. She would pay for his motel that he was living at for two more weeks, and then he was on the streets. He relates that by now he was shooting heroin and cocaine. He was 6 foot tall and weighed 120 pounds. "I would not survive on the streets of Dallas." The last day his uncle and aunt drove down from Missouri and made him an offer. Go to Teen Challenge and we will pay for it.

He went that day, and since that day has not used. He completed Teen Challenge over half a year ago. He is coming up on two years clean after never having more than a month since he was 12. He is now living in Springfield, Missouri working full-time. He has also helped several of his family members begin to build their relationships with God.

What did these two have in common. Neither of them grew up with God in their lives. They both had major struggles, found no hope and turned to drugs. They both had God sized holes in them and tried to cover those holes up with substance abuse, women, violence and dealing drugs. What they found was jail, addiction, depression and even more hopelessness. They tried secular programs and methods to stop their addictions and they always went back to using. They were taught the word of God, told that Christ died for him and that they no longer needed to live their lives as they were living them.

They have quit using. Not stopped, quit! More than that, they have grown in their lives. They have become responsible; attending college and working full-time. They have used their lives as an example, and by living them well have drawn family members into a relationship with Christ because their family wants the changes in their lives that they have seen happen in both of theirs. They are also taking not only the message of recovery but the promise of hope to youth and those struggling with life controlling issues but sharing their testimonies.

Once again, with God all things are possible. These are just two more stories to add to the mix of how truly amazing God's grace is. I love to see not just the sobriety of those who have been changed by Christ, but how their lives have changed. They have been transformed from the ground up into more positive people, living for others instead of themselves. Because of that they share their stories with others and change not only their families, but the people they come into contact with also.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tactics by Gregory Koukl Chapter 4 - Columbo Step 2: The Burden of Proof

Christians should be able to give reasons for what we believe to be true. For some reason, others feel that Christians have the corner on that market and forget a truth. They need to be able to back up their beliefs, too. In Chapter 4 Greg look at the second step Columbo used, which he calls "reversing the burden of proof." Whoever makes the claim has the responsibility to prove their view. They don't have to prove me wrong, instead they have to prove their point of view to be right.

To illustrate what he is talking about, Greg looks at a caller who disagreed with his "a big bang needs a big banger" line. The caller felt that if you have "a base of nothing and you could say that there was nothing but an infinite, continuous moment, until one tiny, little insignificant thing happened: a point happened in the nothingness. This requires no intelligence, so no intelligent God had to intervene. All we need is a tiny imperfection in the perfect nothingness that expanded and became increasingly complex, and soon you have galaxies and planets."

From here Greg threw down the gauntlet, telling the caller that "It's not my job to disprove your something from nothing fairy tale. It's your job to prove it. You haven't done that, you haven't even tried." Generally when people throw out "stories" to disprove your beliefs, they expect the discussion to end there. That should never be the case. If they have a theory, they need to give an argument.

The first Columbo question that we looked at was, "What do you mean by that?" That question let's you know what a person thinks. The question you will learn today is, "Now, how did you come to that conclusion?" This question allows you to know why a person thinks as they do. They are made to give reasons for their beliefs, and many are not prepared to do this. They may even say, "I don't know why I believe it, I just do." Which allows you to ask, "Why would you believe something when you have no reasons to believe it's true?"

You need to remember that you do not have to counter everything that someone says. What you need to do is steer the burden of proof back onto the shoulders of the person you are having the discussion with. You do not have to defeat their statements, they have to defend them. Further remember that "an alternate explanation is not a refutation." That means just because someone may be able to spin a story to support their view, that is not the same as them explaining why what they believe is true.

Many of the explanations by people like Richard Dawkins that pop up in Darwinian circles are "just so stories" after the Rudyard Kipling's book entitled "Just So Stories." It had chapters called "How the Leopard Got His Spots" and "How the Came Got His Hump." Don't allow people to pass of stories as fact. Instead, ask yourself three questions.
  1. Is it possible - some stories will seem completely impossible given closer scrutiny
  2. Is it plausible - given the evidence, it is reasonable to think this is the most likely option
  3. Is it probable -considering the other options, is this the best one
The question, "How did you come to this conclusion?" allows you to ask yourself these three questions and insures that the burden of proof is on the person making the statement. You are able to see if the argument was valid or if it was just an opinion they had. If it is an opinion, then that leads you to more questions. "Very interesting opinion you have there. How did you come to it? Can you give me a couple of reasons I should take it that conclusion seriously?" When someone gives their opinions, they must further support their opinion.

Next you have the "professor's ploy." This is a common move used by people to escape the burden of proof. It happens when someone makes an attempt to poke holes in someone else's beliefs. When this is done, ask them why they feel as they do. "What do you mean by that?" and "So what is your opinion, then?" Make them explain how the evidence convinced them to believe how they do. They may try to return the burden to you, "Why don't you try to prove me wrong." In reply, you can say, "I haven't even said anything about my view. I might even believe as you do. It is irrelevant what I believe. You ideas are relevant and I am just wanting clarification and good reasons for the view that you have." Remember to show others grace and respect.

The minute that you feel outmatched you can switch to fact-finding mode instead of persuasion mode. Just say something like this:

       "It appears that you know a lot more about this than me, and you have some interesting ideas that I have not heard before. I wonder, to help me understand you ideas better could you please take a minute to explain them to me as well as why you believe it to be true so that I can have a better understanding of it/"

You have now bought yourself extra time and have also let the other person know that you care about their point of view. You can then end the conversation for the time being with, "Very interesting. Let me think about what you've said and we can talk more about it later." You are off the hook. You have already pleaded ignorance of the subject. You have not resisted, but instead let them have make their case.

Now you can research what they have stated and create a response. You got off of the hot seat and allowed yourself valuable time to gain more knowledge. Once you understand their point of view, it is easier to respond. We have now learned how to get others to tell us what they believe and why they believe it as well as creating a buffer when we are overpowered by a subject we do not know enough about. Join me next week when we look at how to use leading questions in our discussions with others.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Abortion, Feticide and Assisted Suicide

What am I doing? There are some things that you are not to talk about: politics, religion and abortion. It is a topic that causes too many fights! That may be true, but it appears everything starts fights these days. I already discuss religion. I figured I might as well throw abortion in, too.

I am still trying to figure out how I feel on the subject of abortion. I used to say that I had no right to an opinion since I could not get pregnant. Then I became a father. As a father I began to feel that abortion was wrong. How could some one rob me of the joy involved in raising my son, or steal from the world the joy of meeting and interacting with him? I was confused........

That was how I felt while I was an Agnostic and not a father. Since then I have had a Pauline Conversion, but you can read about that in several other of my blogs or hear/see it in my testimony. I also have a son that means the world to me and his mother. Those things have combined to change my stance. I am now pro-life and I talk about it. My conversion has probably intensified my feelings on abortion. But let us not even get into my religious reasons. My son has also made me more pro-life, but that is a matter of the heart. Let us not get  into the emotional reasons. Instead, how about the legal reason abortion would appear to be wrong.

Why is it illegal for a woman to perform an abortion on herself in most states? It should be perfectly legal for a women to induce her own abortion, since it is just a fetus and that is not considered to be a life. It is seen as, I guess I really don't know what it is seen as. It might have a heart beat, be able to feel pain and be able to move. That sounds like life to me, but what do I know? I am only a man!

Yet if a fetus is not a life, how can you charge someone else with killing it? There can be no manslaughter or homicide charge since it is just a fetus. Assault charges should apply for the attack on the woman, but murder or manslaughter charges for loss of fetus? You must be kidding! That is like me punching someone and rupturing their spleen then getting charged with murder for their spleen being destroyed.

If manslaughter or murder is a charge that can be levied against one who kills a fetus while in the mother's belly, that tells me the fetus is a life. If the fetus is a life, then a doctor should not be allowed to kill it. In most states doctor assisted suicide is illegal. It is illegal for a doctor to help you kill yourself, even if you are of sound mind and request it. How much more illegal should it be for anyone to kill a fetus, when it has no opportunity to weigh in on the subject.

If abortion is legal, then it should be legal for me to kill my own child when he is 6 weeks old. "I had sex and gave birth to him, and there is just no way that I could care for him. I am in college and this baby is inconvenient." I go to the doctor, who gives him a cocktail that ends his life and my life instantly becomes better. (Last statement not true, see below) Ultimately, what is the difference between 6 weeks in the womb and 6 weeks after birth?

I argue that they are both living, feeling, heart beat having individuals. If that is true, abortion sounds like the killing of something that is alive. Not to mention the impact abortion can have on women. I work with many women in the substance abuse field that have nightmares about abortions. Many more are carrying around depression, anger, self-loathing and guilt because of a past abortion. Abortion does not sound like the healthiest thing to do for the one who is pregnant or the fetus. What is the answer?

Imagine that I do not want to go to prison. I know that committing crimes will result in criminal charges which could result in my going to prison. Since prison is the end result I am wanting to avoid, I do not commit crimes. Now the problem is taken care of. No crimes, no prison.

Now we use that same line of reasoning with babies. I do not want a baby. I know that having sex can result in my having a baby if I were to get pregnant. Since pregnancy is the outcome I am avoiding, I do not have sex. Now the problem is taken care of. No sex, no babies.

Bottom line, if you are not responsible enough to raise a baby, you should not have sex. If having a baby is an inconvenience or financial burden you cannot deal with currently, be abstinent. Use some self-control and don't have sex. Problem solved.

In closing I just want to say thanks to my mother, who is pro-life. I would also like to thank the mothers of all who read this blog, as they chose to give birth to you instead of aborting you! Thanks Moms!!

P.S. - Some might argue about rape or incest being the primary reason for abortions, therefore abortions should be legal. The last statistics that I saw from Planned Parenthood's research affiliate the Guttmacher Institute said that rape and incest account for only 1-1.5% of abortions.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday, Easter and worship music

Today is Good Friday. I worked, then I went on a 20 mile bike ride. During the bicycle ride, which was on the Greenways in Springfield, I enjoyed nature. I looked at God's creation, and it was good. I saw squirrels, rabbits, birds, trees, flowers and a lot of people. How anyone could possibly look at all that I saw today and think it all came from nothing. That there was a time that space, time and matter didn't exist and it all came into being from a "singularity" or that it just all existed just so and now we have life springing from non-living matter without the guidance of a master's hand is beyond me......and totally irrelevant to this blog.

Instead, I want to look at what I did when I got home on Good Friday. I came home and have spent the last 3 hours in front of the computer signing worship songs. I love to worship, and I have listened to my favorites tonight: Brandon Heath, Casting Crowns, Mercy Me, Third Day, Sanctus Real, Tenth Avenue North, Matt Maher, John Waller, David Crowder, Jeremy Camp, Newsboys, Chris and Conrad, Kutless, Chris Tomlin, Finding Favour and Jonny Diaz. Hillsong and Sidewalk Prophets. I am sure that I left some out, and as for the women and rap worship that I listen to.........I just can't hit the notes or rap well enough to sing on a night of worship.

I just want to share a couple of songs with you that really stood out to me. It is not on me to judge anyone, but there are a lot of people that have forgotten what it means to be a Christian. They have forgotten what Good Friday and Easter are about. Christ died for us, and yet we are afraid to look different to the world. We may go to church, we may tithe, we may raise our hands in worship. That does not make a Christian. Are you cussing, fornicating, drinking to inebriation, drugging, lying, stealing, gossiping, etc. I ask you to listen to this Matthew West song and ask if it describes you. Are you going through the motions:

So, are you just going through the motions? If so, you don't have to anymore. You're past sins no longer matter. God is a God of love, and He loves you regardless of what you have done. He loves you anyway:
Jesus loved us so much, that He did not want us to be bound to death. He wanted us to have the opportunity to be forgiven:
How could He possibly remove the debt of sin that we all owe? He paid the ultimate price for us. Jesus paid it all:
But that is not enough. It was not enough for Jesus to simply die for us. Many have died for others. What He did was come back from the dead. For us, He is risen:
Jesus died and came back three days later. Today we remember His death. On Sunday we celebrate His resurrection. Because of His sacrifice and resurrection, we are changed once we accept Christ. He gave us amazing grace and our chains are gone:
So in closing, we are created new because of the Grace that was shown to us not only when Christ died, but when He was resurrected. Because of that I am a new person, I'm not who I was:
What I really want you to focus on as we approach Easter Sunday is that we were born into sin. God loved us so much that He sent Christ to die, so that we could have eternal life. The problem is that most of us take the Grace we were given for granted. We continue to live our lives as the world does. Christ said that they would hate us as they hated Him. We are not on Earth to fit in, but to shine like a lamp on a hill. You are no longer who you once were, so live like it! If you truly believe that Christ died for you, show it. Your attitude of gratitude should set you apart from the world. Your life should do one thing, like a beacon in a world of darkness it should shine:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tactics by Gregory Koukl Chapter 3 - Getting in the Driver's Seat: The Columbo Tactic

Are you ready? Have you have finally gotten to the point in your relationship with God that you want to share it with others? Do these quotes represent you?
  • "I am ready and willing to defend my faith to others."
  • "I know that I have THE Truth and THE Way. Not a truth, but THE TRUTH!"
  • "I will not be ashamed, I will not be intimidated and I will not get angry but will instead share my faith proudly with others and communicate with others the Truth!"
You are ready, and the opportunity presents itself. Someone says "I don't believe in God. There is simply no proof" or "Who are you to say that Christianity is better than other religions? Jesus just taught about love, just like every other religion! Who are you to tell everybody how they should live and what they should believe?" and you completely shut down. Your mind either goes blank or 10 different ways to defend your faith run through your head at once and you can't grab any of them. Just like that, your window of opportunity has passed and you are left shaking your head. Why did the conversation pass you by?

I am sure there are several reasons. The first may be that you have a window of about 10 seconds to engage the question before it vanishes. You miss the window, and poof it's gone! Secondly, you may not speak because you are afraid that you might lose a friend or appear too extreme. Lastly, you are looking at the opportunity in the wrong way. You feel the need to defend your faith and that can be intimidating, playing defense. The great news is that you do not have to defend your faith. That is the simplicity of the Columbo Tactic in this chapter.

In the show Columbo, the detective that the show was named after had a method of operating that was very different. He would walk in looking unprepared, sloppy and unassuming. He would look at the scene, take it all in and then ask a question. He never posed the question in a threatening way, but instead as a way to get clarification. He sometimes would even ask permission, "Do you mind if I ask you a question?" Then he would listen to the reply, which would generally lead to his asking another question.

Mr. Koukl says that you can, "go on the offensive in an inoffensive way by using carefully selected questions to productively advance the conversation."  Asking questions serves several purposes. It displays interest in the person speaking, allowing them to feel cared about. It also educates you on the other person's beliefs. Finally, questions allow you to stay on the offensive, sitting in the driver's seat of a conversation. If you have not stated your own beliefs, you have nothing to defend. The pressure for you is nonexistent and you can enjoy a relaxed conversation while steering it in the direction you want it to go in.

The best question is, "What do you mean by that?" or a variation thereof. It is an open-ended question that engages the person in an interactive way. It helps them clarify their point of view. It will make them spell out their objections instead of allowing them to use popular slogans, repeating what they have heard others say or staying vague in their beliefs. It may even surprise you how many people answer the question "What do you mean by that?" with a blank stare because they do not even know why they believe as they do.

Think of the first statement I used earlier, "I don't believe in God. There is simply no proof." The first question could be clarification of what they mean by God. Do they mean they don't believe in some white bearded old man sitting in space on a giant throne? Good, me neither! Do they mean that they don't believe in a personal God but instead in a force like nature, or are they purely atheistic? That may be pertinent information to know.

Now that you have clarified what they mean by God, you can advance the conversation while staying in the drivers seat by asking another question. The follow-up question could be to find out what type of proof they need. Will they accept historical, scientific or philosophical proof? Can the proof be beyond a reasonable doubt or must it be absolute? You see, the entire time you are having them state what they believe and you have not yet said anything about your own belief.

The second statment, "Who are you to say that Christianity is better than other religions? Jesus just taught about love, just like every other religion! Who are you to tell everybody how they should live and what they should believe?" could give us pause also. So we could start by asking about the other religions that they have studied. So in your studies, you have found that all religions are alike? followed by Why are the similarities more important than the differences? Isn't telling people to love each other telling them how they should live and what they should believe? Can you see how these questions set them up for conversation without them getting angry? Instead, the cause the conversation to continue and you have not had to argue your case at all!

That is why you must never be afraid to ask questions. Questions will force the people you are conversing with to think very carefully about what they mean. That will give you time to think and the ability to see openings when they present themselves. Remember, you are not having the conversation to win them to Christ. You are just looking for a rock to put in their shoe. You want to make them think. Argument does not bring people to Christ, encountering the Holy Spirit does. You are just creating a God-sized hole in their way of thinking for the Holy Spirit to fill-in later.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Great News for "Religious" Parents (Religious People in General)

I am a substance abuse counselor (RASAC II) by vocation and a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) by degree. Due to both of those being a part of my employment, I have to go to training so that I can keep my credentials. This is about the training that I attended last Friday. It had information on a couple of studies that I had not seen. I then looked up several other studies. I want to share this information with you.

These are several different studies I have come across. The first study is done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. It was a two year study that they conducted they found a significant difference between children and adults who attended church and those who did not ( Let us look at the adults first.

Adults who did not consider religious beliefs important were 3 times likelier to binge drinks, 4 times likelier to use illicit drugs other than marijuana and 6 times likelier to use marijuana. Adults who never attend religious services were found to be 7 times likelier to drink, 5 times likelier to use an illicit drug other than marijuana and 8 times likelier to use marijuana. So what about the children?

Teens who did not consider religious beliefs important were 3 times likelier to binge drink, 4 times likelier to use marijuana and 7 times likelier to use illicit drugs. Teens who never attend religious services were 3 times likelier to use marijuana and binge drink and 4 times likelier to use illicit drugs than teens who attended at least one religious service weekly.

In a study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 10.1% of individuals who attended fewer than 25 religious services in the past year had used illicit substances in the past month while only 2.9% of individuals who had attended 25 or more services in the past year had. A study of youth done by Indiana University showed that non-religious students were twice as likely to use drugs, alcohol and engage in binge drinking when compared to students that were religious (

The researchers studied data gathered through Monitoring the Future, the University of North Carolina's four year nationally representative survey of high school seniors. Among specific findings were that especially religious youths were less likely to smoke, drink and use drugs and more likely to start later and use less if they started at all, he said. They went to bars less often, received fewer traffic tickets, wore seat belts more, took fewer risks and fought less frequently. Shoplifting, other thefts, trespassing and arson also were rarer. "Religious 12th-graders argued with parents less, skipped school less, exercised more, participated more in student government and faced fewer detentions, suspensions and expulsions," Smith said (

In another study conducted by Byron R. Johnson, Director and Distinguished Senior Fellow, Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, University of Pennsylvania, and Adjunct Fellow, Center for Civic Innovation, Manhattan Institute of 1,087 youth ages 11 to 17 (, he arrives at a number of important findings:
  • Religious low-income urban teenagers are much less likely to take illicit drugs than otherwise comparable teenagers living in the same high-poverty neighborhoods.
  • Highly religious youth living in poor urban neighborhoods are less likely to use illicit drugs than non-religious youth living in middle-class suburban neighborhoods.
  • The degree to which being religious reduces a youth’s probability of using illicit drugs increases the older a teenager becomes.
  • Youth who have good family relations, do well in school, have non-drug-using friends, and possess anti-drug attitudes are even less likely to use illicit drugs when they are also religious.
  • The effect of religious commitment in cutting illicit drug use among poor urban teenagers is statistically significant for all categories of illicit drugs including hard drugs.
In closing, I want to say that I too have found this to be true. I was an addict in and out of jail and prison when I was Agnostic. I have not so much as gotten a traffic ticket since I was saved. I was hopeless, and without hope I began using and eventually became mired in addiction. This blog looks at research that shows that the non-religious use drugs and alcohol at much higher rates than the religious (if you look up these same studies you will find that they also commit crimes and commit suicide at higher rates, also). I have been told by many atheists and agnostics that my son would be better off raised without religion, and that I was stupid for feeling otherwise. "God is just a worthless fairy tale that you are better off not buying into," several have told me. For some reason, that just did not sound right to me. Guess what? It wasn't.

I now have statistically significant research that supports me sharing my faith and raising my son to have a relationship with a Higher Power. Raising my son in the church will give him a better chance to live drug-free/sober, not commit suicide and stay out of prison than if  he does not attend. For me as a father, that is huge. Besides, my son is deserves that chance!!