Hope For Life

This article appears in the New Beginnings newsletter, an Independent Prison Outreach Ministry, Summer 2017 Edition.

I have a good friend, ____, who some years ago served ____ years of a ____-year sentence for (a deadly serious crime). I’ve heard his testimony several times. He credits his time inside and the healing work of Jesus Christ for making him the man he has become: liberated from prison, college graduate, married, a father and grandfather, a man of God, full of faith and hope, giving back and paying forward in many ways (including visiting those inside), sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ; that all may be saved and set free. He was saved by Christ right in his cell and was immediately released (spiritually).

Released spiritually.

I have not been confined against my will, except for a few hours for a DUI in 1996 and a week-long stay at a behavioral health center following a suicide attempt, so I can’t relate literally to my friend’s experiences. But, like him, I am a lifer spiritually. The ironic thing is, today I’m “held” by my will, not against it.

You see, Christ found me on that same day I attempted to escape life, July 25, 2008. Before that day, I was in a prison of my own making, with bars of guilt and secrets, surrounded by a wall of shame, convicted in my heart and head of the things I know I did.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
1 John 1:8 NIV

One thing my friend and I both have learned is that freedom and restoration are possible. These things are not at all circumstantial. You can be free no matter where you are. And all it takes is accepting a gift, receiving a new life. That gift is the one man who voluntarily accepted every sentence, punishment, and penalty, once and for all. He is Son of Man, Son of God.

Why would anyone, let alone a Son of God, do such a thing for the likes of us? One reason is that God is perfect, completely just and completely merciful. The only way He could fulfill his own verdict on sin and still hold each one of His creations dear is to pour out His wrath on Jesus.

But there’s another reason. He offers us this gift of being born again because he has an important task – a sacred mission – for every one of us, and He fully understands how we have been detoured and side-tracked and even kept ignorant of our purpose.

Now, my friend and I have something very much in common. We’ve been sentenced to life; a life of hope. Now that we know even a little about God and Christ, we will never be free from Him and the hope that he gives. And this is a very, very great feeling.

Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
Even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.
Zechariah 9:12 NIV

What do I hope for? Something, anything, everything better, even though I may not receive it until I finally meet my Maker face to face.

How does it work? I describe it being given a new attitude, a tiny piece of awareness that caused a complete reversal in the way I looked at myself and this world. This is miraculous because my outlook hadn’t been something I seemed to have much control over – especially about myself. Deep down, I did not love, or even like myself, and that made me miserable and angry.

If I had to choose a single word to explain what changed in me, it is acceptance. Acceptance of several things:

  • acceptance that there is a God with a plan for everything, and incredible, unbelievable love for me, even at my worst, because He created me
  • acceptance of reality – of my current place in this world, my circumstances (and that my own decisions had led to the mess I was in)
  • acceptance that there are many, many things I have no control over – specifically other people, and that actually, the only thing I can control is myself – my own thinking and reactions
  • acceptance  (and this is huge)  that God has something for me to do with this life

I can see that this is God’s story, and that mine is just one small chapter. This does not mean that my part in the story is small; it’s unique and vital in some way to the biggest picture. I may never know exactly how.

There is someone who is a great example of this faith, Nick Vujicic. You may have heard of him. You can google him. He was born with no arms and no legs. Think about that. He can’t do even the simplest of tasks by himself. But he can control what he thinks and how he would react to his circumstances. Today, he is very much alive and living, a successful (meaning $$$$$$) motivational speaker, a husband and father, and famous. And he is a Christ-follower with hope for life.

My Past Must Stay Passed

My Past Must Stay Passed

This is a post about a key part of being made new; living (present tense) in recovery today. My past must stay passed. I’ve posted about this before (patient-for-the-present/), but it’s worth repeating. Much of my falling down is caused by my falling back, re-living the same old hurts and habits. I literally repeat the same old bad behavior, expecting a different result.

Because I am doing something new! Now you will grow like a new plant. Surely you know this is true… (Isaiah 43:19a ERV)

Think of a plant, overgrown in a little pot. It’s roots are cramped. It stagnates, or worse. It stays small and it looks dreary. But move it to a bigger pot and it blossoms and increases. The moment I entered recovery was like being put into that bigger pot, with fresh new soil and room to grow and stretch.

Clearly, I remain the same person, my past doesn’t change, but now everything is new and full of potential. Bigger and better, I flower into the beauty the potter (lol I like the redefinition!) intended. And anything becomes possible, even what had seemed impossible before:

I will even make a road in the desert, and rivers will flow through that dry land. (v :19b)

But I remember that God is the difference, as the verse shows. (‘You’ will grow, ‘I’ will make.)  It’s not me on my own. Humbly, I acknowledge that He is the change in my life.

One of the things I like about the Celebrate Recovery 12-Step program is in its first word, ‘Celebrate!’ Present tense, it means now! This moment! It reminds me that I’m on a day-by-day, moment-by-moment journey of progress, not perfection. It reminds me to consider all the growing I have done: into a for-real worship musician, a program leader and teacher, a testimony sharer, and a volunteer experiencing the benefits of giving and service instead of taking, hoarding, and selfishness. I am living and not just existing!

Today I’m focusing on the new, the now, and what’s on the way, both in this life and the next. I can remember and accept my past and that it can’t be changed. But my past doesn’t define who I am now, and I understand that I do not have to keep going back to it, as if there is an answer in it.

Verse :18 puts it more directly:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.

A great song that expresses this letting go of what’s behind is Let It Fade by Jeremy Camp.
Download it here for only 69 cents!

Have you been walking on a surface that’s uncertain?
Have you helped yourself to everything that’s empty? yeah!
You can’t live this way too long.
There’s more than this, more than this.

Have you been standing on your own feet too long?
Have you been looking for a place where you belong?
You can rest, you will find rest.
You can rest, you will find rest.

Let this old life crumble, let it fade.
Let this new life offered be your saving grace.
Let this old life crumble, let it fade, let it fade.

Have you been holding on to what this world has offered?
Have you been giving in to all these masquerades?
It will be gone, forever gone.
It will be gone, it will be gone

Let this old life crumble, let it fade.
Let this new life offered be your saving grace.
Let this old life crumble, let it fade, let it fade.
Let it fade.

Are you carrying the weight too much?, are you running from the call?
Let it fade, Oh yeah.
You can rest, you will find rest.
You can rest you will find rest.

Let this old life crumble, let it fade.
Have you been standing on your own feet too long?
Have you been looking for a place where you belong?

Real-Life Role-Play “Game” (RPG)

This is just a quick plug for something new and fun that I’ve found and am trying out. I’m a big fan of “fantasy role-playing” games (RPG). These are computer/video games set during the times of “swords and sorcerers.” My playing habits used to be “bad,” in that I would escape to this alternate reality for hours and hours at a time. I’ve actually had to work on sobriety from this form of time-wasting. (Sadness)

Great news! There are Apps out there that “gamify” real-life. This week, I’m trying out Habitica, which helps with establishing or breaking habits. So far, I love it! I can definitely see where it can be BOTH a helpful tool in self-improvement and a way to positively give me that RPG experience!

If you’re a Gamer, you might want to check it out!

Run Like Jonah

Run Like Jonah

go to ninevah
Jonah, however, set out in the opposite direction in order to get away from the Lord.
Jonah 1:3 GNT

“What am I doing here?! I don’t belong here! I am certainly not comfortable in this place! I don’t know what to say or how to say it!”

This was my self-talk last night. My friend and I were leading Celebrate Recovery Worcester (pronounced Wusstah), an inner-city program. The setting can’t be more different than the suburban CRs I attend. But there I was (and wondering why!)

worcester old
Worcester MA

We had a couple of first-timers walk in during the meeting. I had no idea on how to relate to them. Thankfully, my friend could and did, and (to keep a long story short) we just might see them again. But had it been up to me, I fear my awkwardness would have led to nothing. Awkwardness, and fear. Yes, fear.

 

Even as we sat and talked, I was thinking about Jonah and how he ran the other way – trying to get as far away as possible – when God called him to go to the big city, Ninevah. I am not a city person, and I identify with Jonah’s reluctance because of this. But there I was, led by God’s purpose, and I needed to know (to relearn?) how I could do this.

 

jonah-map
Tarshish was in Spain

First, God places us each where we are for a reason. In hindsight, I can see His perfect timing and how each phase of my journey has prepared me for the next, even when, at the time, it seemed all wrong.

 

Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him,
and to which God has called him.
1 Corinthians 7:17 ESV

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit…
John 15:16

Sometimes God prefers that I’m uncomfortable. As Rick Thomas puts it, “God is calling you to do what you cannot do with the ability that you do not have… because His desire is for you to rely on Him… There will be times when God will accomplish things outside of your abilities.” (rickthomas.net) His power and glory will be on display, not anything of mine.

Second, Proverbs 3:5-6 says to trust in the Lord and lean not on my own understanding of things. Easier said than done! I often have to reassure myself that I am in full agreement with what God is doing with and through me, even when it is scary. I believe He “has put dreams in our hearts and writes a destiny for our lives. And if we trust Him enough to take Him at His word, we will find ourselves on a journey toward fulfillment of that dream.” (myfaithradio.com) (Of course, my problem is that I tend to try and envision what that fulfillment will look like. I get way ahead of Him!)

When I am afraid, I will trust in You.
Psalm 56:3
(One of the first verses I found and memorized in my recovery.)

Third. Free will. Sort of. I always have the choice. Or do I? Did Jonah? I am tempted to distract myself; tempted to run like Jonah. “The flesh dies hard and unfortunately for many, they’ve opted to let their dream die before they’d ever allow their flesh to be confronted.” (myfaithradio.com) I remind myself that I choose God and His way. This helps me to really feel 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love.”

Fourth. Love. Love for others. A desire to see all get the chance that I did, to know the Creator.

But how will people call on Him in whom they have not believed?
And how will they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?
And how will they hear without a messenger?
Romans 10:14 AMP

082Finally, what to say? This is an easy one. First, the more I share my testimony – God’s Story in my life – the easier it gets, and the better it’s delivered (I hope). But I remember

…the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say at the moment you need them…
Luke 12:12 VOICE

So, it’s almost like I don’t have to do anything except show up.

This post is important to me because I know the feeling of wanting unpleasantness “out of sight, out of mind.” I have no ill will toward the least of these. I think it’s more about “ignorance being bliss.” I can pretend to not be aware; to be filled with the direction of my own life and not want(?) to worry about anybody else’s.

I have a couple of great songs to go with this blog! Two of my very favorites.

“These Are The Words I Would Say”  is from the Sidewalk Prophets (a great band name!)
You can download it from my Amazon affiliate link here.

“I Refuse” is from Josh Wilson, and is one of the first songs I heard in my journey.
You can download it here.

1:30AM: When you wake up and… you’re awake

1:30AM: When you wake up and… you’re awake

lampHaving faith is like waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep. I know this from experience. I often find myself in the “wee hours,” wide-eyed, and no matter how I try, I simply can not drift away.

adventureAnd so, sooner or later, out comes the coffee and the journal, and I begin scribbling another blogging adventure. There’s usually some main idea that’s stirred me, maybe based on something that has happened recently (in this case, waking up and not going back to sleep, and wondering how (or if) that relates to my spiritual and tangible life).

…you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.
For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
Romans 13:11 ESV

281This verse states the obvious. Of course, every second I live brings me closer to that time when “He returns or calls me home” (In Christ Alone). But what actually gave me the idea that “believing is like being awake” is that, once I wake up (like this morning), I know I can not fall back asleep, which is just like knowing that, having become a believer, I can never “unbelieve” again. This can be a good or not-so-good feeling, like the memory of something seen that can never be “unseen.” It can be pleasant or gruesome.

Part of me does not want to forget. Part of me knows I should not ever forget.

Therefore let us not sleep as others do.
But let us be alert and sober.
1 Thessalonians 5:6 MEV

IMG_3338It’s both the knowledge of God’s grace for me (now) and the promise (or threat?) of what is to come (in the future) that’s behind this need to stay awake. I know because I’ve read God’s Word; I believe because I’ve had personal experience that proves His Word.

The only debate, I suppose, is whether this belief (God’s forgiveness of sin) is a constant completely conscious choice (based on my knowledge), or whether it is fully a divine gift, an uninstallable “system-upgrade” to fix some behavioral bugs.

IMG_3346Patient endurance (something we choose) is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will.
Hebrews 10:36 NLT

Those who have been born from God (something we’re given) don’t live sinful lives.
What God has said lives in them. So they can’t live sinful lives.
1 John 3:9 GW

The only thing which causes me to lean toward the former is the fact that I eventually, consistently slip and fall (and want to, in the heat of that moment). I really do worry about it all being up to me. You might say the thought is what “keeps me up at night.”

IMG_3352For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once and for all.
Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins.
There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgement…
Hebrews 10:10,26-27 NLT

On the other hand, this certainty I feel (about never again being ignorant) is a comfort. I was given something, a gift that cannot be returned or put aside or ever misplaced.

IMG_3303The two combine for a very practical effect. I wake up. I get up and begin the new day. (Don’t worry, I take a nap around noon and repeat the whole process – 2 days for the price of one!) Likewise, I fall. I get up again and keep moving forward. Once was for all. I have received the knowledge of the truth.

Til on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid-
Here in the death of Christ I live.

(In Christ Alone)

For songs to go with this post, I simply must include In Christ Alone (the Getty version).
Please download the digital track here.

But here’s a great hymn in a contemporary style that fits the theme of waking and rising, Arise, My Soul, Arise (the Indelible Grace Unplugged version).
Please download it here.