Friday, July 08, 2011

Soul-Destroying Lies and My Real Identity

Nobody can deny the powerful imagery that is all throughout Hosea. It makes my heart soar at times and makes my gut wrench at times. Hosea 12 is one of those chapters that definitely does both. I have been reading the Bible in The Message for the past two years (sometimes checking the translation with the NIV and ESV) and I love some of the interpretations he gives. Peterson actually thinks this section should start back in the last verse of chapter 11 where he puts the title “Soul Destroying Lies” From 11:12 to 12:11 we read that gut wrenching description of someone who is literally hell bent and then in 12:12 God puts the question to his people in light of the description he has just given. He says, “are you going to repeat the life of your ancestor Jacob? He ran off guilty to Aram, Then sold his soul to get ahead, and made it big through treachery and deceit.” I was reminded yesterday how most of us find our identity in what we do. We think our job or "making it big" defines who we are and when we believe that, we will not stop at any amount of treachery and deceit to gain and improve our value. God, knowing that, tells them where their real identity is found. In The Message, Hosea 12:13 says “Your real identity is formed through God-sent prophets, who led you out of Egypt and served as faithful pastors.” The ESV says, “By a prophet the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded.” So, I fused those two translations together to get this “The Lord forms your real identity through a God-sent prophet who led you out of Egypt and served and guarded you as your faithful pastor.” That is overflowing with Christology. Jesus is the real and true prophet who is the Lord who leads his children out of Egypt. He doesnt grumble about them but guards them and serves them as the faithful pastor.

Prayer for today:
God, even though I am hell bent to repeat the life of my ancestor Jacob let me see and embrace that my real identity is formed by you, the one who brought me out of slavery to sin and who serves me and guards me as my faithful pastor.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Feelings Check At Recovery Group Meetings

Why do we have times of feelings checks at our group meetings? Last week in our Wednesday night Route1520 meeting we talked for a while about why we have times of "check in." I think it is a really good question because sometimes the value of group feelings checks can be lost just like many other very valuable things can lose their value. After that discussion and a couple of conversations today, here are a few of the benefits I see to having a time of check in during a recovery meeting.

• Feelings check shows me that everyone is human and everyone struggles. Sometimes I get to thinking I'm the only one who is struggling or some people have it together and I don’t so I better act like I have it together while I'm in this room. That is not true. These rooms are places where we are to connect at human weakness then talk about the strength and hope that Christ provides. If we never connect at the point of human weakness, we start to get to a place where we miss the fact that the strength comes only from Christ and not from ourselves.

• Feelings check gives me times to hear about and thank God when a brother is doing well. This is the flip side to the first point. Week after week I might hear how a brother is struggling but when he comes in and is doing well he can share with us hope for us to have strength from the same place he is finding strength.

• Feelings check makes "hiding in recovery" harder. We addicts can hide almost anywhere and that includes recovery. If all I do at meeting after meeting is talk about what I know about the program I can come off as someone who doesn’t have any struggles and can come to meeting after meeting without letting anyone know that I'm struggling. We have all known hiding in shadows but the truth is that we can hide even while talking at length and sharing great knowledge of the 12 steps and recovery in general.

• Feelings check helps me get in touch with and describe my feelings because I am hearing other people describe their feelings. Let's honestly face this. We have trouble describing our feelings. If Tal is asking me how I feel about something he normally has to tell me several times "That is what you are thinking. I want to know what you are feeling." I will take whatever help I can get to put my feelings to words. There is something about talking about my feelings in front of three other brothers that is different from talking about my feelings with just one other person. As I continue to grow in recovery I will be able to get in touch with my feelings and describe my feelings better. As I talk about my feelings with others who are newer in recovery they can better know how to describe the feelings they are feeling. A quick sidebar (you can tell I have been watching the Casey Anthony trial) - Check out The Feeling Wheel

• Feelings check helps me know better how to pray for my brothers. Honestly, we don’t talk to each other enough about how we can be praying for each other. Until we get better at that, I see a focused time of feelings check as something that is needed to begin to see James 5:16 realized in our recovery groups. We all want to see healing and healing will not come without confession.

• Feelings check gets all of the garbage out on the table so we can then focus on the solution. A lot times I sat through meetings just thinking about the crap I was going through rather than really listening to the strength and hope others were sharing. This is one of the reasons we do feelings check at the beginning of our group meetings. Once we move into the discussion time I am actually feeling a little more freedom than I felt when I walked into the room and that freedom can allow me to focus on the light of Christ rather than the darkness of my day.

• Feelings check show new people that it is ok to share your feelings with others and that others in the group really want to hear how their brothers are feeling. When I was new to recovery groups I was scared to share my feelings with others because I thought no one would want to hear about my problems. When a new comer can hear others share their feelings and see that no one freaks out and see that the rest of the group is really concerned with how each member is doing he can be free to share his feelings with us and know we will care about his feelings too. Beyond that, he will really care about hearing your solution because he has some more reason to believe that you really care about him.

While there are many more benefits to having a time of feelings check in group meetings most of those benefits can be experienced checking in with a sponsor one on one and are probably best experienced checking in with a sponsor one on one.

Now, there are a few reasons people give for NOT doing feelings checks at meetings that are actually very good concerns. The top reasons I have heard are that it turns meetings into places to just emotionally dump and it keeps groups focused on the problem rather than focused on the solution.
1. If I come to a meeting and all I hear about is how all of these guys acted out over the week I am going to leave that meeting more triggered, down, and depressed than when I entered and by the way thanks for the new ideas on how to act out because you spent the majority of your time describing exactly how you can access porn without your wife knowing and you said the exact same thing the last time I was in a check in group with you.
2. This isn't your therapy group (namely because there is no therapist there) so don't treat it as such.
3. This isn't the place for you or me to get free therapy from quasi therapist wannabees. Quit looking for that.
4. This is not a place for me to get an audience to hear me go on and on week after week about the resentments I hold so deeply. I need to share that stuff with my sponsor (if I dont have a sponsor I need to get a sponsor immediately) so he can help me apply the steps to it and hopefully get to a point where I canadmit my part in the resentment, admit where I am wrong, and let go of that resentment.
5. I do not come to these groups to just get stuff off my chest or just hear other people get stuff off their chest. I come here to hear about strength and hope that is born out of experience and share the strength and hope I have experienced. Thank God for the things I have heard Jim C say at the meetings he leads. Talk about experience, strength, and hope!
Obviously, I too think that many (DEFINITELY INCLUDING MYSELF) have abused feelings check times and have turned them into very negative things that can ruin meeting times.

So, at our Wednesday night Route1520 meetings we have come up with a few practical ways to counter those negatives.
First, we use a timer when people are checking in. People get 3 to 5 minutes to check in. This makes my time of sharing tight and helps me stay off rabbit trails, which I love to go down. Second, groups are limited to four people. Checking in with three other brothers is just a little more intimate making me pay more attention when others are speaking and letting me feel like others are paying more attention when I am speaking. Also, when there are only three other people in the group I feel less of that "great I have an audience" feeling. With the timer and 4 person limit, the overall check in time is around twenty minutes per meeting, giving us seventy minutes to focus on the solution. Third, we do check in at the beginning of the meeting so that we can move on from that to spending the rest of our meeting focused on the solution. Doing check in first, keeping it tight, and making sure it is not the majority of the meeting helps us experience the benefits of checking in and somewhat protect them from turning into the negative times of pity parties they can many times turn into.

I would love for us to add to this practical list! What have you experienced in your groups? Do you have times of feelings checks? How do they go?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter 2011 at Tapestry of Hope

Here is a little glimpse into what happened at Tapestry this past Sunday. I have been wanting to do this for some time now so I guess Easter Sunday is a great day to start it.

It really seemed that the place was buzzing with excitement this Sunday. Tal had found a video that we thought would be a great way to kick off our worship gathering but it is one of those videos where we wanted everyone to be watching from the beginning. So, I gave a quick welcome to get everyone’s attention and then we played this video.

G.O.S.P.E.L. from Humble Beast Records on Vimeo.

The check cleared and that is why we gather here to worship every Sunday evening. If Jesus can beat death there is no problem we can bring him that is too big for him.

We then all stood for a responsive reading of Psalm 118. I read the Psalm aloud and we all read together the parts in bold.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Let Israel say,
"His steadfast love endures forever."
Let the house of Aaron say,
"His steadfast love endures forever."
Let those who fear the Lord say,
"His steadfast love endures forever."
Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
The Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

SONG – Come and Listen

SONG – I Will Sing of My Redeemer

Matthew 28:1-10 (The Message)

SONG – You Are My King

VIDEO – What is the Bible Basically About?

SERMON – Love of a Different Kind

SONG – In Christ Alone

As we moved toward communion, we confessed our sins together using “The Great Confession.”

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.

Casey then read the words of institution from the Book of Common Prayer and then asked us question 45 from the Heidelberg Catechism, encouraging us to read these words aloud together if we believed them.

How does Christ's resurrection benefit us?
First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, so that He could make us share in the righteousness which He had obtained for us by His death.
Second, by His power we too are raised up to a new life.
Third, Christ's resurrection is to us a sure pledge of our glorious resurrection.

During the benediction Tal again reminded us of the love of God for us that he chose us and he is coming back for us to complete the wedding and prayed that the peace of God be with us as we leave.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Don't Just Give Up. Throw In the Towel!

There are times in my life when I just want to give up. Maybe the struggle is too much. Maybe I have lost too many times. Maybe I am experiencing the consequences of a fallen world and my sinful actions. Whatever the case, I just want to give up.

I think Micah, one of Israel’s prophets, knew that feeling very well. Micah was overwhelmed with sorrow, sunk in a swamp of despair because everyone he knew was out for blood. They were like animals preying on each other. He couldn’t trust anybody and the world around him was falling to pieces because the consequences of the sins of his nation were finally landing.

He wasn’t going to give up though! I hear that all of the time. “Don’t give up! Don’t give up! When times are hard don’t give up!” What does that mean though? What does it mean to not give up?

We normally think the opposite of giving up is fighting but the truth is that not giving up and fighting in my own strength are two totally different responses. For Micah, giving up meant trusting that God could do for him what he could not do for himself. We face an enemy that is cunning, baffling, and powerful. Without help it is too much for us.

This reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Rocky IV. Apollo was up against an opponent that was too much for him but he didn’t want to admit defeat. He didn’t want to throw in the towel and he died in battle. He didn’t realize that there was one who could defeat his enemy and he needed to throw in the towel, step aside, and watch the enemy get defeated.

I cannot beat the enemy of my addiction. I must throw in the towel, but only to move out of the way and let God fight. As some people say, “we surrender to win.” This is one of the many paradoxes of recovery.

If I fight in my own strength I am actually giving up on believing that God is greater than me and I am giving up on the assurance that he can and will fight for me. In fact God has already fought for me, the victory has already been won, and amazingly we get credited for that victory if we belong to Christ!

Micah waited for God because he knew that God was listening and he knew that God was making things right (restoring sanity), something he knew he couldn’t do in his own power. This is the essence of the second step.

Prayer for today:
Lord, today may I not give up on you and fight my battles in my own strength but may I throw in the towel and let you work in and through me to fulfill your good purpose.

Donald Miller A Million Miles In A Thousand Years

This is one of those few books I bought as soon as it came out. I was really excited about the release of this book somewhat in the way I have been excited about the release of many albums. My excitement was fueled by the fact that Miller was coming to Birmingham, AL on a book tour shortly after the book was released. I, like many, fell in love with Miller's writing style in Blue Like Jazz. My church, Tapestry of Hope, had a men's Bible study group that read Blue Like Jazz and discussed it chapter by chapter in Jackson's Bar and Bistro. One assistant manager, Jessica, asked, what is this, a Bible study? Do you know you are in a bar? We thought that was awesome that she said that! But, she started asking questions about Blue Like Jazz and we got her a copy of the audio book and she came up to us a few weeks later telling us about her favorite chapter in the book! In fact, almost every server in the place had a copy of Blue Like Jazz because if they asked us what we were reading we asked them if they wanted a copy and almost all of them wanted one and came back to us telling us how much they liked it. So, here is DM again, offering some great insights into life, based off a movie that is being made about Blue Like Jazz. This book has some great points and it is in great Donald Miller style. Get it, read it, and most importantly, pray over it and discuss it with friends...maybe in a bar over a half price beer (which all low gravity beers are at Jackson's on Tuesday nights). Here is a promo trailer about DM's new book...

What story are you telling? from Rhetorik Creative on Vimeo.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Hope In the Middle of Disaster and Doom

Monday, January 3, 2011

I read Isaiah 3:1-5:30. The verses I am taking as my verses for the day are 4:5-6.

5 Then God will bring back the ancient pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night and mark Mount Zion and everyone in it with his glorious presence, his immense, protective presence,
6 shade from the burning sun and shelter from the driving rain.

Isaiah 4 is so short but oh man what a powerful punch. Chapter 3 describes (in some places pretty graphically – I think Eugene watered it down a little from what the Hebrew says) the outward expressions of the dark hearts of the Israelites. I think the outward expressions are like what we call "fruit sins" in Route1520. Fruit sins are the disasters you can see but they always have root sins that produce them. Some root sins I have seen in my life are dishonesty, lust, pride, envy, and fear. Ultimately they all go back to unbelief. The problem is that so often we just want the fruit sins to be gone and we dont want to take the time it takes to attack to root sins. Truth is that if we are ever going to see those fruit sins dry up, we must let the gospel message attack the root sins in our hearts. In Isaiah 4:1, the description of the fruit sins comes to its low point, what a lot of people call rock bottom. But to our surprise it is here, just when it looks like all light of hope has been totally burned out, “…that’s when God’s Branch will sprout green and lush.” Right between disaster, which the Israelites brought on themselves as a result of their darkened hearts, and doom, which God uses to discipline his children, there is HOPE. What does he promise as a gift of hope? NOTHING but HIS PRESENCE. I wonder how many times I see his presence alone (4:2-6)as the only hope in the middle of the disaster of my life (3:1-4:1) and the doom of my consequences (5:1-30). Not nearly often enough. Today Lord, show me how YOUR PRESENCE is all I need, your immense, protective presence that is shade from the burning sun (reminds me of Jonah and the shade tree) and shelter from the driving rain.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I got that passage nailed!

Have you ever heard a preacher or seminary student say something like that? Slap him next time he does. He deserves it. We never have passages nailed. This passage I am studying is kicking my butt...and I love it! I am working on my sermon manuscript for Sunday, Ephesians 1:15-23. Basically the point of the text is that Paul is praying for the Ephesians to have true understanding of the hope we are called to, the glorious inheritance of the saints, and the power of Christ working toward us. WOW! I mean, could you have any more power packed statements? I don’t think so. So I am sitting here meditating on how to talk about the hope we have and there is just so much that can be said about it but the problem with everything that can be said about it is that none of it fully grasps the concept. So I say I will come back to hope. I will just move on to the next one. Oh great! The glorious inheritance we have as saints! Ok. I will go back to working on hope for now. And as I look forward to the power of Christ I think that one will be easier because that is the one that is expanded upon in the text. The other two are just stated and then Paul moves on. But the expansion of the idea of Christ’s power working toward us only makes me more aware of how huge that concept is! It is like th power of the resurrection, ascension, every name bowing at Christ, everything being under his feet, and Christ being the head of his church which by the way is his literal body on earth. Wow! Well, if this doesn’t bowl me over as a preacher and show me how small I am in the midst of God’s big ocean of knowledge I don’t know what will. This is an awesome text filled with so much. I am so glad I am spending time digging into it.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Holding My Fears or Being Held By My Father?

One thing we have been emphasizing at Tapestry and on Tal Prince Live lately is that the enemy has a three fold plan (to steal, kill, and destroy) and he never sleeps. As I was reading today, I came across the story of David and Goliath. Like many of the biblical stories I have known since I was a little kid, there are some important details that I never really thought about.

Today the thought that jumped out at me was how for forty days Goliath came out every morning and evening and took his stand (1 Samuel 17:16) And I love Peterson’s translation of 1 Samuel 17:11. “When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine’s challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope.” When Satan taunts you do you feel terrified? Do you loose all hope? That is how many of us have felt in our addiction. What do you fear? Have Satan’s taunts made you think you can never give up this addiction to God? Have you worked step four and inventoried your fears to see what they really are? Charlie, an alcoholic with a lot of days of sobriety, said your fears basically fit into three categories. You are afraid of loosing what you have, you are afraid of not getting what you want, or you have done something wrong and you are afraid of what’s going to happen when you get caught. When I see my fears fitting into those categories I also see it fitting into one big category. I am not God and I am afraid God can't do as good of a job at being God as I think I can. Idolatry. Misplaced worship. Unbelief.

Here is the hope we have. First, remember that “although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God's commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil, God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.” Now, remember that our Lord was tempted in the desert for 40 days. That's the exact number of days Goliath taunted Israel. Satan went after him with attack after attack…………and Jesus was victorious! If we are in Christ we don’t fight this battle without hope!

Are you trying to defeat Goliath on your own so that God will be proud of you? Remember, if you are his adopted child he has given you all of the holiness of Christ. That is better than any holiness you can muster up on your own, which is actually no holiness at all. When God sees you, He sees Jesus. You cannot be any more loved by God or pleasing to God than that. Max Lucado said, “God loves you just the way you are but he doesn’t want to leave you that way. He wants to make you just like Jesus.” God will fight for you if you are willing to give up the fears to him, give up the fight to him, and rest in his arms. Are you holding your fears or being held by your Father?