If Life Is A River… It Flows Under The Same Bridge – Once

If Life Is A River… It Flows Under The Same Bridge – Once

Every day’s the same. Every day is different. All true.

20 thousand days I’ve experienced now. This morning, as I sat on the edge of my bed, I considered that number. It’s rather large. One would think I would’ve got it all down with so much practice, but this is my first try. I’ve been here many times, but it’s brand new to me. I’ve seen everything, but my eyes have just been opened.

bridge 4What is it that makes each awakening so similar yet so unfamiliar? Each day is an unmet opportunity and a second chance to live again, just one of many steps on a single, long journey. I think maybe it’s that I’m able now to look up and around more at the scenery I’m passing and the people traveling with me, instead of down at my feet, wishing for better boots and learning how not to stumble. Learning how to live … “righteously,” but that’s not quite the right word. Righteous is old and has been overused.

So I looked up some synonyms and found three that fit my feelings.

Blamelessly

“Innocent of wrongdoing.” For sure. I’m serious! My faith – I pray – helps me to strive to become more like the child I was – by grace and (a lot of) effort. The 12 steps have taught me something about forgiveness and amends. I know I still make mistakes, but my voyage is one of progress, not perfection.

Well

bridge 3I can’t describe this one in my own words, so here are some apt phrases from its definition: “in a good or satisfactory way;” “in a way that is appropriate to the facts or circumstances;” “with praise or approval;” “in a thorough manner;” “intimately, closely;” “sensibly, advisably.” (Note that I didn’t include the one about being comfortable or well-off.) The one thing I’d change here is to make all those “or’s” be “and’s.”

Justified

Again, not my words: “having, done for, or marked by a good or legitimate reason;” “declared or made righteous in the sight of God.” I really like that last one, except that I would add “by God,” “by God’s grace.” This (He) is really what never changes.bridge 1

Even when you are old I will be the same, and when you are grey-haired I will take care of you; I will still be responsible for what I made; yes, I will take you and keep you safe.
(Isaiah 46:4 The Bible in Basic English)

bridge 2So, yes, every day is the same, but different. And what I encounter for the first time is each section of the course, the unique path I’m on, and my attitude about how closely I’m determined to follow it. If life is a river, it’s the landscape that changes, from the mountains and hills of rocky youth, to gently sloping plains of early productive maturity, to the “olderness” at the approaching river’s mouth and, at long last, its entrance into the sea.

As usual, I know a praise and worship song that fits, but it’s lyrics aren’t available online so, I’ll include them below. It’s still available on YouTube here.
You can download it for just $0.99here

Let All I Do Be Praise

Every day’s the same
Heaven and earth so far away
Father, don’t take this as complaint
But I need You here

So won’t you come sweep me off my feet
Tether my heart to presence deep
Father, my spirit seems so weak
So I need You here

Cause I wanna live in Your presence
I wanna dance all my days
My soul will sing of Your goodness
My heart will shout for grace
I live my life as a story
That You be seen in my ways
And in the light of Your glory
Let All I Do Be Praise

I wanna live with You
I wanna serve You
I wanna sing to You
Only to You

I worship You, Lord

I wanna sing
I wanna dance
I wanna live
I wanna laugh
I wanna give praise to You, God

Setting Myself Free

Last night, I finally watched “The Shack” movie. I’d read the book about eight years ago, early in my journey of spiritual formation (and “recovery”). I think that at the time it contributed quite a bit to my understanding of our triune God.

Since I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t read or seen it, I’ll summarize it simply: one man is deeply hurt by another; both are sinners; sin is sin. Actually, it’s a little like the Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel stories. Death is involved, both physical and spiritual.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

I find it slightly interesting that there are some verses I’ve tended to stay away from when Sharing God’s Story. They are the “famous” ones I learned as a child. “For the wages of sin…” “For God so loved the world…” Maybe my assumption is that everyone knows and opines about them, which must obviously be false. The world wouldn’t be this broken, if it were true?

Anyway, I certainly found parts of my own life in the story. (By the way, I felt the movie kept fairly close to the book.) There are two sins represented. This first is, of course, that of the killer. To “get” the other sin takes a whole lot of self-examination, and both knowledge and experience of The Word of God. It is the sin of playing God, of sitting in The Judgement Seat.

“Sin is its own punishment.” (God, “Papa” in The Shack’)

I wrote, in Hope For Life, about how I, in my sin, locked myself away in a prison of my own making. In this is the gist of the quote. The bars of my cell were (are) shame, guilt, self-pity, self-loathing, my addictive and compulsive “need” for certain behaviors, and my literal love-hate relationship with myself. The door to the cell is a perverted, physial love of self, and my judging of everyone else contrasted with my fear of my own imminent, guaranteed verdict, of ongoing self-condemnation. Closed, the gate is my view that everything is sexual, that everything is a cause for forced and fake celebration (drinking only to get drunk), that I forever desperately search for another life in role-playing video games where I am a creator god, and a new and different character as many times as I like.

My “release” was the very best and worst day of my life; the day I tried to impose sentence; the day The Director called, “Cut! Bring on the stunt double!” The day (if there ever was just one) when Jesus loved me the most.

The lesson was that somebody did love me unconditionally, despite everything I had ever done. And this is the divine pardon, all I ever needed and wanted.

This is God’s story, His movie, His book. But in a way, in how He loves me, I’m the star, highly paid, the highest paid by the gift of spiritual rebirth. I’ve been reborn, an innocent child again, with new eyes that see good and the potential for it in the world, and, most importantly, in myself.

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.