Better Than Life

gift4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,
1 Peter 1:4 (NIV)

God surprises.

That’s it; today’s message. Human imagination simply can not dream big enough to give a picture of what God can do, of how he will choose to provide.

My situation is case in point. What he has brought my life to be is so far beyond what I expected or even hoped for as to be Better Than Life, itself. And isn’t that more exciting?

My life could have turned out exactly as I wanted in many, many ways. But, instead, God has redirected my plans to be something far more interesting, even though at times it was far less enjoyable.

It’s like the difference between watching a movie which I’ve seen a hundred times before – to the point where I know all the lines – and seeing a well-made blockbuster for the very first time. And, really, I think living through that is far more fulfilling that having every plan fall perfectly into place.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grace-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?”
Romans 8:15 MSG

What might be surprising is that the entirety of my life has been like this; I just wasn’t always so accepting of it. Memory suggests that I have been making plans since I could first think out cause and effect, but, when they failed to come true, I fought back with anger and disappointment. This attitude didn’t change any facts, it just made me unhappy. I would then retreat into an imaginary reality, where I was in control. Of course, when I woke up, real life was waiting for me, and the cycle would repeat.

The when everything changed was only at my surrender of all my ideas, specifically with my confession of all my secrets. Not coincidentally, this was the point of my biggest fear. All my life up until that time I had been in dread of what would happen if I told all. Condemnation and extreme punishment surely would come, I reasoned.

But what happened was so far from that, I simply can’t explain it with words. I think that’s probably why worship songs are so important to me. Music can go beyond thoughts and convey feelings. And miraculous is a feeling.

Because your love is better than life,
My lips will glorify you.
Psalm 63:3

For he who finds me finds life
And obtains favor from the Lord
Proverbs 8:35

God surprises. And I have learned from experience to trust his ways. I believe he has what’s best for me planned – even though that will include my passing from this world. None of it is a bad thing. All of it requires a hard-learned trust.

Better Than Life
Hillsong Live

Better than the riches of this world
Better than the sound of my friend’s voices
Better than the biggest dreams of my heart
And that’s just the start

Better than getting what I say I need
Better than living the life that I want to
Better than the love anyone could give
Your love is

You hold me now in Your arms
And never let me go

You, oh Lord, make the sun shine
And the moon light in the night sky
You give me breath and all Your love
I give my heart to You because

I can’t stop falling in love with You
I’ll never stop falling in love with You

Better Than Life

The Full Serenity Prayer

Do you know the whole Serenity Prayer? Many have heard it – its first three lines have been said at every recovery meeting I’ve ever been to – but I didn’t know there was more to it until I was well down my road of transformation.

It’s not from the Bible, or any Scripture. The prayer was written in the 1930s by Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), an American theologian and author (and political commentator!).

The full prayer is a wonderful, complete guide to a life of spiritual discipline and formation. Here’s the prayer as we say it at Celebrate Recovery Twelve-Step meetings:

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference

Living one day at a time
Enjoying one moment at a time
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is
And not as I would have it
Trusting that You will make all things right
If I surrender to Your will
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with You forever in the next
Amen

There have been many books written about the Serenity Prayer. One of the most influential and life-changing that I read early in my recovery is Twenty-Five Words: How The Serenity Prayer Can Save Your Life by Barb Rogers.

As a journaler whose life has been miraculously saved, I constantly refer to sections of the prayer in my writing. I thought it would be a good thing to have the full version available.

Answer Me These Questions Three…

After the delay in purpose-progress during the recent holiday pause, I find myself in a period of repeating temptation to start the new year. How do I best deal with this?

holy-grail
To quickly summarize, temptations come in three types: Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life (1 John 2:16). Jesus himself was tempted in these three ways in Matthew 4:1-11:

:3 …Tell these stones to become bread (flesh)
:6 …Throw yourself down… He will command his angels [to protect you] (life)
:9 …All the world, I will give you (eyes)

Jesus, being who he is, was able to (calmly?) respond with appropriate Scripture, because that’s just who he “is” Hebrews 4:12

The Word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together. It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart.

raiders
Me? I tend to be more like a deer in the headlights, or the naughty Nazi guy in Raiders of the Lost Ark looking eagerly into a big, big meltdown. So while conjuring up verses is one effective way to counter enticements, I instead try to FLEE!

1 Corinthians 6:18 Flee from sexual immorality!
1 Corinthians 10:18 Flee from idolatry!
1 Timothy 6:11 Flee these things! (:10 Love of money is the root of many evils)
2 Timothy 2:22 Flee the evil desires of youth!

Psalm 143:9
Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord!
I have fled to you for refuge!

Early in recovery, I implemented this strategy with some “Thou Shalt Not” commandments:

Don’t Touch!
Don’t Look!
Don’t Think!

But I found that I was still focusing on the temptations, because thinking about not thinking about something is essentially the same as thinking about it. I needed a different approach – something that was more a replacement of the whole subject. Eventually, I composed

All thoughts to praise
On Christ to gaze
With hands just raised
Heart and mind amazed!

As I hope you can see, in this way my thoughts, eyes, and hands were directed towards positive things and away from what I needed to escape, and I got an added bonus of a changed heart and mind.

sing
It doesn’t always work, I confess. So, in an entirely practical way, I have another sometimes successful strategy: just start singing (even to myself). I very often have tunes stuck in an endless loop in my head – I’ve heard this can happen to a lot of people. Letting them play full volume can save me.

Psalm 47:6
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
Sing praises to our king, sing praises.

13:6
I will sing to the Lord,
Because he has dealt bountifully with me.

69:30
I will praise the name of God with song
And magnify him with thanksgiving.

104:33
I will sing to the Lord with my whole being;
I will sing to my God continually!

How about you? How are you able to resist or flee from temptations, so that desire does not give birth to sin (James 1:14)?

I Can Speak ONLY Of Myself

Yesterday, I wrote about the difference in speaking ‘of’ myself and talking ‘to’ myself. I continued considering this point, and, today, I add that I can speak only of myself.

What brought me to this was failing God  – again – and my concern over having caused Him disappointment. What do I do now? How do I get back that feeling of His compassion and approval?

Research (Google ‘when I disappoint God’) turned up a few important thoughts. One was that there are two elements to disappointment, surprise and frustration. God, omniscient, cannot be surprised by anything. And all of His wrath and anger at us was poured out on Christ at the cross, so there can be no frustration. I should say, no frustration with us, only for us and the mess we make with our self-informed choices. (From ReligionNews.com)

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
not counting people’s sins against them.
2 Corinthians 5

“God’s primary emotion towards us… is love, and we receive it knowing we [have]/can do nothing to deserve it.”

“Jesus came for the spiritually weak, for broken people who live imperfect lives, for those who don’t have it all together, for the serial failures and habitual mess-ups.”

This description fits me perfectly, but it made me wonder, “Are there some to whom this doesn’t apply? Honestly, I can not say there are not.

I can speak only for myself, and my need. I cannot speak for anyone else. I can “suppose” that all need Christ (for all have fallen short), but, if there are those who think/believe they don’t – who am I to judge? Would/could I presume to judge “a man after God’s own heart?”

I know I need Christ, and that is enough. I can only “suppose” that all would benefit from knowing him, but I fail them if I place myself as superior to them because of their lack of belief. Regardless, I am still called to live my life as an example of Christ’s transforming power. It is only by that demonstration, merely backed up by the words I speak, that will shine God’s light in this world.

Speaking ‘Of’ Myself, Not Talking ‘To’ Myself

Speaking ‘Of’ Myself, Not Talking ‘To’ Myself

In Twelve-Step small groups, men or women with similar life-struggles gather together to speak plainly about their pasts and their present progress (or frequent lack thereof) in emotional and spiritual maturity. (Y’know, those touchy-feely subjects that aren’t taught in week-day school.) The purpose is to provide a non-judging and supportive environment in which each – before his/her Maker, and before witnesses – can describe learning and practicing this thing called integrity, aka self-honesty – the opposite of the self-delusion each had previously perfected.

One of the guidelines for participation is to “keep your sharing focused on your own thoughts and feelings.” We meet to provide support to each other, not to ‘fix’ each other (like by giving advice).

In my meeting, it has been noted that a common deviation from this direction is the use of the Second Person Perspective, or saying “you/your” when what is meant is “me or I or my.” For example,

“Y’know, when you just can’t help yourself, and you relapse.” (<-yes, a period not a question mark. This is accusatory, not supportive.)
vs
“I felt helpless and couldn’t keep myself from falling. Have you ever felt like that?”

I find this interesting (and worthy of a Sharing God’s Story blog post) because it has a direct relation to how I am currently communicating internally. Do I “speak of myself” or “talk to myself”? Am I sharing my testimony or presuming to know exactly what another human has done and his/her motives for doing so?

I find this important because it indicates whether I’ve ‘got out of myself’ and am in danger of the old habit of judging or self-condemnation, or observing my own obviously self-destructive behavior as if it were someone else’s (and, therefore, out of my control). For example:

“So, you drank again after you said ‘never again’. Big surprise. Loser!”

I believe that maintaining a First Person Perspective (and Present Tense) is a key part of my recovery journey, perhaps, primarily, because it reminds me of 2 Corinthians 5:17

Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten and everything is new.
(CEV)

If I am talking ‘to’ myself, saying “you”, then I’m interacting with that old me, the one who thought he was only a victim and therefore deserved to (fill in the blank). I may then also be dragging down others, guilty by association.

Instead, when “I” remain “me”, then any use of the “you” pronoun will refer to God (and not my fellow attendees). This helps me to stay in a personal relationship with my Lord and Savior, loving him with all my heart and soul and mind and strength. This reinforces the purpose of the sharing:

I acknowledged my sin to you,
And I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
And you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
(Psalm 32:5 ESV)

Note:
“I confess and you forgive.”
Not
“You confess and he forgives.”

 

In a sense, if I am looking to others for supportive understanding, rather than seeming to presume them guilty (or becoming judgemental of them), I am better able to love them as myself.

Heavenly Father, You are holy, separate, different, special, sacred. Lord, I choose You and Your way for my life. I confess I cannot do this perfectly, but I seek daily to become more like the man You made me to be. I know You forgive me these faults, as I humbly admit them to You, to myself, and to my neighbor, that I may be a source of Your forgiveness, understanding, mercy, encouragement, strength. God bless us all. In Jesus’ life-saving, life-changing name. Amen.

The Unofficial New Year’s Day

Holidays are a problem for me, and none more so than the multiple-week year-ending festivities. And none more so than this past year’s 2016-2017 turnover.

You see, all my life I have been stuck in the mode of looking forward to the next batch of “time off for good behavior”. It is definitely what has caused me so much trouble throughout my life. I waited anxiously for “beer o’clock” and the end of the work day. I lived for the party weekend. I wanted to be on permanent holiday. But this past year, the first of my blogging life, it finally dawned on me what good, hard, blissful work was.

Why on earth and heaven would I want time-off from that? By mid-December, 2016, I was firmly established in a productive routine. Blogging, sharing testimony and worship, one-on-one encouragement, putting time in each week on projects around the house, completing daily chores. And then massive disruption hit with college break (my daughter was home) and the consumerism that Christmas has become. I didn’t handle it well.

(If you doubt, just look at my posting frequency from mid-December through today.)

And so, here I am on January 18, trying to get back into my blessed day-to-day, day-by-day. I’ve been thinking about this first post of the year. January 1 is a holiday. It might be the official New Year’s Day, but which day is the one where we really “get back to work”?

So, let me approach this as a re-committing; a re-dedicating day, simply because I have to re-start somewhere.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life.
It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’…
And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us – an unbelievable inheritance!
Romans 8:15-17 MSG

I hope you’ll join me! This year is full of great promise, as I pick up from where I left off in Sharing God’s Story.

The Lord gives me strength and makes me sing [is my strength and my song];
He has saved me [is my salvation].
He is my God and I will praise him,
He is the God of my ancestors [fathers]
and I will honor [exalt] him.
Genesis 15:2 EXB