I Welcome His Welcome

Is it my choice or His? The American Dream of Self-Sufficiency prompts me to take credit, and that might be somewhat true of life after, of the way I have ‘been’ since salvation struck me. But, self-evaluation confirms Biblical Truth: He gave first. He loved first. He sacrificed first. I was simply incapable of making the first move. Maybe that’s what really changes in those Jesus saves: the ability to choose the completely unselfish action.

I would really have to sit down and think about whether, in my past, I ever did anything of no perceived benefit to myself. I know some say that is the only human motivation – we do a thing because we get at the least a good feeling from it. But I look at the cross hanging on my wall, and really doubt that. Nothing could have been pleasant about that; even a masochist like me would not want to feel that pain.

No, I did not ‘seek’ Him – I desperately sought something to save me from myself, but I knew not what. Nor, at that moment, did I care. I had descended to a place of paralyzing despair, all thought and action unfruitful, even quitting had been unproductive. I slumped, weighted and spiralling downward by crushing waves of … just absolute readiness to cease, but complete inability to do anything. I imagine I could have sat there until I perished, but, instead, Jesus leaned down from that cross, lifted me up, and touched my very heart, wiping it clean, and sparking new life – a new desire for life – in me. So, I know that I am not my own. And, no matter how strong the temptations or doubts, I am never free of that awareness.

It’s this new sense of ‘never being free’ of Him that I write about. When it’s phrased like that, it sounds like a bad thing. A thing to dread. Sometimes, reminiscing about my past ‘fun-centered’ existing, I can tend towards resentment – until I remember where living that life left me: literally hanging. The desires I pursued then were unfulfillable. I know that now. But Christ overflows, full of blessing now and nothing but promise (of all good stuff) to come.

Is it just an appreciation for the sacrifice someone else has made for me? Certainly, becoming a parent gave me an understanding of my parents and their sacrifices for us kids. Or the 12 straight hours the heart surgeon gave. Or the full measure of some. But there’s something more about Jesus. To the death, yes. For all of us, incredibly. To accept the punishment for the entirety of evil, amazing!

Periodically, someone posts a “Would/could you do this for that” meme: stay in a derelict and remote cabin with all the necessities but no electricity or internet for a month for $100,000. A posh house but no blogging or football for a year for $1,000,000. These pale in comparison to what Jesus took on. Dying in agony, convicted and despised, suffering divine wrath, to save everyone else? Would I be willing to even try?

Today, I got up to try my little bit. I understand now how my Heavenly Father’s ever-open arms were always waiting for my return. They are a constant welcome relief. I welcome His welcome. And I am changed.

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It’s “Step One” For Good Reason

We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.

Romans 7:18 AMP
For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness – my sinful capacity]. For the willingness [to do good] is present in me, but the doing of good is not.

The first of the Twelve Steps is, bluntly, all about admitting my inability to control myself. The Bible teaches that this is because something is missing. Some special element is not yet in me, and without this very important piece, I am powerless to choose any other way but my selfish way. It’s as if I remain a child; immature, foot-stomping, breath-holding, and stubborn. I want what I want when I want it – whatever “it” happens to be in any given moment.

One of the true indications of maturity is displaying the understanding of delayed gratification: deciding against the single treat now, in favor of the double-treat later. I don’t see a lot of this in the world today; should I be surprised when it is missing in my own life? This is wisdom that should be gained simply by aging, but it escaped me, particularly in regard to a few specific “treats”.

I found a liking for them a long time ago. At first, they just felt good, pleasantly satisfying me either physically or emotionally (or both). But gradually, oh so gradually, these things began to have a hold on me by coming up short, leaving me wanting more of them, sooner. I had to have them, even when it became clear that my best interests were not being served, and that I was literally being harmed. What’s worse, those around me were being negatively affected, too. The “good feeling” slowly faded into a mirage, not reality. My desires were unfulfillable. But by then, I simply could not do anything differently, no matter how much I wanted to.  I “couldn’t help myself” with my addictions and compulsive behaviors. But I was finally ready for Step One. It took me a long time to get there.

I remember reading about the “cycle” of change: how it starts with complete denial that there’s a problem, with a slow “dawning” that something about me, not the world could be improved, followed eventually by the desperate willingness to actually try something different, even though it was terrifying. Then there are many, many failed attempts, no matter how determined the starting motivation would be. Even a near-death experience was not enough. Because something was missing.

 

But, at that point, I became ready for Step Two, the epiphany of meeting something – someone – greater.

To be continued…

 

The Boundary Lines

Psalm 16:6
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
Surely I have a delightful inheritance.
NIV

Your boundary lines mark out pleasant places for me.
Indeed, my inheritance is something beautiful
GW

No, this isn’t a post about immigrants overwhelming our borders. Instead, it’s a very personal revelation. I have learned much about real boundaries in my journey with Christ these past eight years. The verse above has a commonly accepted meaning – about all things being well (GW); but I’ve found – I’ve experienced – a reading more desperate, though none the less hopeful (NIV).

In Step One of the Twelve Steps of ____ Anonymous, I “admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors.” At each meeting, I beg God for the strength to change what I so obviously can not fix on my own. After so many failed attempts, I know I can not be saved (from myself) without divine help.

But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness.
They do not know what makes them stumble.
Proverbs 4:19

This is the heart of recovery. Basically, it is discovering what leads me to self-destructive acts. Two-day hangovers. Driving blind drunk – with the kids in the car. Eating the whole box. Surfing. Smoking. Nothing I am proud of. Everything I’m ashamed of.

The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
Shining ever brighter til the full light of day.
:18

How I need healing and a reliable path to follow! This is what the Twelve Steps are. And one of the lessons taught early on is the setting of boundaries, like a series of electrified fences leading up to the cliff down which my siren song tempts me. My walls don’t keep me in, they keep me out – away from the things with which I harm myself.

Sometimes, it saddens me that these things are meant to be good.

Does it surprise you that all addictions start out as something God created to be pleasant? Being merry. A good meal. Delightful physical sensations. The thrill of a competition. And “isn’t fun the best thing to have?” All positive things, but all experiences the addict will seek to the exclusion of all else.

C.S. Lewis wrote a definition of addiction that has stuck with me. Paraphrased, it is, “taking the pleasures God has made to degrees, in ways, or at times which He never intended.” If you consider then, that the “pleasant places” in the NIV version of Psalm 16:6 are not destinations for me to look forward to, but forbidden zones I must avoid at all costs, you might be able to see how it can be depressing.

Take a look at the word “fallen”. Imagine that the fences which keep me from these things have collapsed to the ground. “The boundaries have fallen” and I have nothing between me and danger. A terrifying situation! I know what I’m capable of.

What is crazy is that I myself am the one constantly seeking to knock down or get around my fences. I rationalize that I’m different now. I debate whether I can safely walk into old areas. I convince myself that I know how to stop. No, not always.

But, “Surely I still have a delightful inheritance.” “Indeed,my inheritance is something beautiful.” To me, one of the most important tenets of Christian faith is God’s response to my constant failings. It’s no license for me to sin freely, no. But it is a promise to me that, despite the stumbles I will have, He continues to hold out that hope for me to hold on to. At meetings, we remind each other of this.