Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hope for the Drunk, the Drug Addict, and the Deeply Depressed

Hippies sharing a joint via Wikimedia Commons
We all have a story. Our stories define us in many ways.  They describe who we are, where we've been, and where we're going.  Good times and bad times together make up the span of a human life.  

A human being opens his or her eyes and sees a new world.  And it's a world they don't fully understand.  Yet the joy of childhood, at least for some of us, was quite elating.  Many did not even have that.  Why?  Well, because crazy things happen in this life, don't they?  Just when we think we've constructed a semi-good little world around ourselves, something conspires to mess it up. 

Yet suffering seems to be the only thing that makes us wonder, and ask hard questions.  Suffering is the megaphone God uses to rouse a deaf world, as C.S. Lewis wrote.  Maybe that's true.  

We all have a story.  We all have a saga through life.  I'd like share a few pieces of mine with you today.  I've often discussed my spiritual saga, from rise to fall, through the darkness and twilight.  But I don't think I've taken this angle yet.    

It was 2008, and I was a student at the university of Wisconsin ext.  I was living in the dorms, and working on the college newspaper as one of the staff journalists.  I was the gonzo journalist of the crew, employing a blunt new journalism style of writing to what I was doing then.  All my coworkers were potheads of course.  I was clean and sober at this time in my life, but I smoked a lot of cigarettes.

We liked to write edgy editorials, and I recall we wrote a great deal on the election that year, tearing into Obama and McCain, and we ran a full page ad for Ron Paul.  I was kind of floating through life, do you know the feeling?  

I just kind of floated.  I had little thought of what I was doing.  I knew I liked having fun, smoking cigarettes, writing articles, writing stories, sleeping with cute girls, and thinking about politics, philosophy, and spirituality.  I was the typical idealistic college student.  

I'd gotten into some trouble, ended up in jail a few times, I'd gotten charges, and had to get into treatment.  That had finally settled down, and I was doing OK for a while.  I had a close friend named Kyle, and we would go for walks almost every night.  It was the oddest thing, but we loved it.  We would often be up until 5:00 AM or earlier, walking along wooded streets in the forests of Wisconsin.  Woods everywhere.  Almost every night.  

And then I met a girl named Gabbie.  Oh boy she was trouble.  She was one of those girls who said she likes to just be "one of the guys." I've never trusted a girl who has said that ever since.  I think it's synonymous with "I'd like to size up your guy friends for an upgrade."  Hard to say for certain.  In any case, the whole thing ended in disaster and her and Kyle got together.  I refused to let it go, after all, who would?  

About a month later I picked up my drug of choice, a substance called dextro-methor-phan.  It's the primary ingredient in cough medicine.  When injested in large amounts, given the proper brands, or through purification, it would trigger a powerful high.  The high would last from 4-6 hours.  DXM as we called it, was in the realm of a drug group called "dissociative hypnotics."  The drug would keep the user awake, jittery, yet also relaxed, and it would trigger mild hallucinations, mainly light effects.  The interesting thing about the dextromethorphan drug is that the area of the brain it targets is the same part of the brain that lights up during religious worship.  The enemy knew exactly where to target me with addiction.  He knew I was destined to be a minister.  Crazy, just crazy.

This began a curious descent in my life.  There were several strands in the situation that all folded together to form the descent.  First, there was the love affair with DXM.  Second, there were my dreams, of which I recorded in great detail.  I was prone to have premonitions of future events, and highly symbolic dreamscapes would unfold.  And I would use those dreamscapes as inspiration for my books.  Third, there were my writings at the time, during which I wrote thousands of pages.  Many of those works were published, in online journals, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Voices, the university newspaper, magazines, and even an indie journal in the U.K.  I was messed up, but I was also a pretty good writer.  Fourth was my spiritual journey.  My spiritual journey took a very circuitous route. That happens when your looking based on preference, and intentionally evading a certain worldview that starts with a "C" and ends in "anity."

It's so hard to understand at this point in my life, but I'll share with you the situation: I was an artist in the area of self destruction.  I was slowly destroying myself, and taking pleasure in the process.  I was painting a tapestry of the entire affair with my writings, my dreams.  In the end I wasn't just addicted to DXM, or alcohol, I was addicted to the desperate fast lane, the strangely appealing lifestyle of the meandering vagabond.  I had become obsessed with the thought of joining the 27 club.  I believed I would die in 2012, in November, or December, right around there.  I had read that the world would end in 2012 somewhere.  

As 2008, 2009, and 2010 passed Kyle my old buddy and I were both addicted to the sauce, using it as often as we could.  Around that time I attempted suicide several times.  I went to many rehabs, detoxes, and counselors.  I kept asking them one question:  How can I want to want to be better?  

I'm not making this up, I asked that question to every counselor and social worker I met.  I asked it again and again, and no one had an answer.

Today it reminds me of what Jesus said to the man at the well,"Do you want to get well?" (John 5:1-5).

I know the answer to the question I was asking for all those years.  "How can I want to want to get better?"  The answer is: You can't.  You need to get on your knees and beg God for the willingness to want to be better.  But a secular social worker or counselor isn't going to say that.  Their approach is almost always based on the individual pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.  They instruct the client by having them set goals, and achieve them.  Seems logical enough right?  Maybe so.  In fact that may work for some, but I think for the truly lost, the issue is not as simple as not having the tools.  It's not wanting to use them.  

Yet, why?  The lifestyle of addiction causes so much destruction.  I worked at a Salvation Army homeless shelter for over a year.  I've seen people waste away, step by step, month by month, in and out, in and out.  It's shocking.  And you try to help, but there is nothing you can do.  At the very heart of the human soul is this leaning toward destruction.  It has baffled nurses, AODA counselors, and homeless shelter staff since the birth of such professions.  

I could ask the same question of myself: Why was I like that?  Why was I destroying myself?  Why didn't I care?  

I thought I needed a girl.  I thought I needed the perfect high, maybe.  And eventually when those fixes failed, I stopped wanting anything and just did what I knew.

I was obsessed with the book of Job for many of those years.  I read it in jail more than once.  A book on suffering.  Interesting isn't it?  Oscar Wilde himself, a hedonist felt most closely associated with the book of Job.  Why does pleasure lead to so much suffering?  

The most amazing fact of this story is this: I was right.  I did die in 2012.  I did join Club 27.  I died.  And I was reborn.  

total eclipse CC 1.0 via Wikipedia

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Judgment Seat of Christ: Heaven, Hell, and standing before the servant King

Source via Flickr "An Eternal Lullaby" by SSG Robert Stewart US Army CC 2.0
Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone. 10 God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.
11 So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. 12 For he said to God,
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.
    I will praise you among your assembled people.”

13 He also said,
“I will put my trust in him,”
    that is, “I and the children God has given me.”

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
-Hebrews 2:9b-15 NLT

There is a moment in every life when one must provide an answer.  I think we all know it deep down.  We all know that our actions matter.  We can feel it.  We all know that we live in a moral universe.  There is something within every single human being that demands that justice be done.  This moment is feared, minimized, and shunned by some.  For Christians it is the single most important moment we will face.  It is the single moment in history that every Christian is living for, preparing for, restraining themselves for.  It is the judgment seat of Jesus Christ. 

Death is the end for most.  They mourn it and the source of mourning is the ultimate death of all people.  It's an infinite abyss of despair that is never exhausted.  But we Christians understand the world differently.  We believe that death is not the end for the human race.  We believe in something greater.  We believe in a life eternal.  As Christians we are fully aware that this life is not the end all.  We know there is more. 

While we're on Earth our actions matter.  Every thought and every action are important.  This is in vast contradiction to the world, who generally believe that life is nothing, we are here for nothing, and just do whatever feels good.  And as unsustainable that lifestyle is, they continue to do it.  But we do not.  We must not.  We're all living for a moment in the future.

What is this moment?  It's the moment we die.  We die, and yet we live.  We are brought into the direct presence of our savior, the resurrected and glorified Jesus Christ.  

We know this life is but a tiny fraction of our true existence.  This life is only a shadow of what we will once become.  We can't fully comprehend this reality, but it is surely true.  We will become more than we are now, transformed into a new existence.  

The truth is we will be perfected.  Our distance from God will be removed.  We will be transformed.  Our position will be changed from children to honored leaders.  Our character will be transformed from sinners declared perfect in Christ, to glorified perfected sons of God united with Jesus Christ. 


We will all stand before the judgment seat of God Romans 14:10b ESV


The primary purpose of the cross of Jesus Christ is the victory over death.  And the primary purpose of the judgment seat of Christ is the dividing of the faithful from the wicked. 


Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15 ESV


Jesus Christ provides a victory we can hardly fathom, we are so indoctrinated by this broken Earth.  We believe death is normal.  But it's not normal and we know it when it happens to us.  When a family member dies we know deep down that this is wrong and they shouldn't be gone.  Death is a disease and Jesus Christ is the cure.  


Are we so knowledgeable?  Are we so wise?  Can we really know the deepest things of God?  Can we really comprehend?  No we can't.  Our ego runs wild.  But we must all admit that we cannot see the fullness of the pictures of life.  The meaning of life to find eternal life in Jesus Christ is a profound mystery.  I can barely understand even the basics of this mystery.  Yet I do know that the meaning of life is that we be reconciled to God the creator of existence.  It makes sense when you break it down to this view point: Every person is fleeing, in the darkness, lost and confused in a wilderness we do not understand.


We are living for a day in the future.  The Bible calls it the day of the Lord.  Which means how we live today and everyday matters.  Yet it's so easy to lose sight of that.  It's a battle.  But we must be the conqueror.  


Matthew 12:36 (ESV) "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak."


Are you prepared to give an account of your life before God?  Are you really ready?  Will you be found faithful on the last day?


When we've trusted in Jesus Christ, we can feel secure in our journey to the judgment seat of Christ.  When we walk daily with God praying and sharing his truth, then we need never fear the judgment seat of Christ.  On that day, we will find love, mercy, friendship, praise, glory, and honor.  We will be warmly welcomed by dad, with a big hug, into the kingdom he has created for the perfection of reality. 

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f] you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46

The Last Judgment by John Martin (1854) part of the Public Domain
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Friday, November 20, 2015

Even to your Old Age & Gray Hairs: I am He

Source via Deviant Art CC 3.0
Manuscript from a devotional I gave at the Christian Park Nursing home in Escanaba, to the residents. Given as part of my work with the Salvation Army in Upper Michigan. (November 2015)

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. –Isaiah 46:4

God made all of us.  He is the architect of life.  He has set us forth in this world.  And at the end of our days, God comes to reclaim us.  
Many of us here could ask the question, “What is there left to do? Who are we to turn to in our loneliness?”

We are left with only one name to turn to, the only name, Jesus Christ:  He is real, He is the son of God, and he is good.  He is present here.  He is here right now.  He loves us.  He loves me, a young man.  He loves you, his beloved sheep and children. 

Our Christian faith is not simply a tradition or a story.  Do you believe?  Do you believe that Jesus Christ has saved you?  I believe.  I believe he has saved me, from me.  

Many times in my life I have had many friends, family close by, people who cared for me.  And just as many times I’ve had no one.  And it seemed like no one cared anymore.  I’ve felt terribly alone, in depression, in sorrow, just wasting away within.  Who am I to call to?  Who am I to look to?

In Matthew 11:29 Jesus said “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
There is only one who is with us on the good days and bad, who stays with us all the days of our lives until our very last:  his name is Jesus Christ.  He is the son of God, sent by God, to make an offering to us, an offer of eternal life. 

We might’ve received it in the past.  But have we kept up with it?  Have we lived the Christian life?  Or have we fallen away?  Did we choose sin over God?  Did we stop practicing our faith?  Or have we been faithful to this very day?  

As we approach the end of our lives, what can we ask?  I must ask: Am I really in Jesus Christ?  Or has he slipped away from me?  Has he been crowded out by the clamors of the world out there?  Is the volume on the television too high?  Is the radio too loudly blaring?  

Let me tell you the gospel: Jesus Christ, a man, yet also claiming to be the son of God, to be one with God, walked the Earth just over 2,000 years ago.  God became a man.  The Bible calls him Immanuel, which means “God with us.” God with us.  Your God, the God who made you and your race, the human race, came to live within the flesh of a human body.  He lived a life of perfection.  He healed those with injuries.  He spoke the truth without fear.  He shared love and cared for the children.  He never sinned, not even once.  He came for the stated purpose of being offered up as a sacrifice for you and me.  He was slaughtered on the cross to return us to communion with God.  If only we would believe in him, and follow him.  Because it’s true. Jesus Christ died on the cross 2000 years ago, and he was resurrected bodily, and seen by many witnesses to be alive.

We’ve all sinned.  In one way or another we’ve done terrible things.  Which is why we need a savior, we need Jesus Christ.  Do you know what Christ did on the cross?  He took my place.  I should’ve been nailed to that cross.  You, me, in our sins, deserved the cross.  But instead Jesus Christ, God himself, took our place.  Then he died.  And 72 hours later, in the power of the Spirit, he reclaimed his life.  And in so doing he declared victory over death.

Everyone of us need the savior, to take our place, and to give us new life.  Are you born again? 

Jesus said in John 5:24 (ESV) “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

One thing is certain, all of us will die.  The question is: Will we be clothed in Christ when we do?  

Psalm 90:10 says,”The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” 

I would like to invite you to join me in a prayer, in this prayer we will turn our lives over to Jesus Christ.  We will accept him as the Son of God.  We will accept that he died to remove our sins.  We will accept that he rose to life to grant us eternal life.  

Maybe you’ve already done this, but I encourage you to stretch out with your entire being, and express this prayer anew.  Renew your commitment to Christ.  If you’ve never done this before, prepare your heart and mind, and be welcomed into the family of God.

Pray this prayer: Dear and loving Heavenly Father, we cast ourselves before you.  We stretch out in belief.  We stretch out, and cry out to Jesus Christ, Jesus save us!  We repent, we turn from our old ways, we turn all our reliance on you alone God! We cast ourselves upon the work of Christ.  We believe in Jesus, Lord, we believe he lived a real life, that he literally walked the Earth and healed the sick and spoke the truth, Jesus is our way, our truth, and our life.  We receive his sacrifice as the atonement for our sins.  We receive the gift of eternal life, we receive the holy spirit, we are born again.  Thank you Heavenly Father.  We repent of our old ways, we are yours now.  Help us to pursue the new life before us.  In Jesus name, Amen.

The Voyage of Life: Old Age by Thomas Cole, Source
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Monday, November 16, 2015

How to be an Introvert Evangelist

Source via Flickr by
In the church culture of today it seems like the extrovert mentality gets a lot of plugs.  Introverts have a lot to contribute too.  What does it mean to be an introvert?  An introvert is a person who recharges best when alone.  An extrovert is someone who is energized by crowds and people.  

I'm an introvert myself, and I can say from experience that introverts are often treated like something is defective about them.  They're told they need to socialize more and they're shamed for their private attitudes about life.  But the truth is, introverts can be introverts and it's OK to do so.  Christians can be introverts.  

Some Christians have debated what personality type Jesus was while he walked the Earth.  Was he an extrovert or an introvert?  Some insist he was an extrovert, while others point out his visits to places of isolation to show him as an introvert.  It's probably fairly reasonable to conclude that Jesus Christ was the perfect balance of both, firmly down the middle.  

The single most important part of being a Christian, a part of the church, is to carry the message.  The most important directive for Christians is to go to all nations and make disciples.  Is this command out of the reach of introverts?  Of course not.  So here are five ways an introvert can engage the world with the gospel:

1. Listening - One of the most powerful methods of evangelism is listening.  All I do is ask them about God or their religious views.  Then I listen.  I encourage them to share more.  I encourage thought and reflection.  It's a great to just get people thinking.  I share about Jesus.  I share my views.  But I just listen.  Most people need someone to listen. 

2. Prayer - Prayer changes the world and that's a fact.  Believe it.  We are in need of prayer warriors who really believe.  It's a perfect mission for introverts.

3. Literature - Tracts are important and useful. Yes, many really are saved and guided to Christ through tracts.  Even more than tracts though, are Bibles.  I spend a lot of time distributing Bibles.  I like to distribute versions like NIV, ESV, and NLT because they are easy to read.  Remember to purchase some large print bibles because the elderly will struggle with small print bibles. 

4. Social Media - I love social media.  I love sharing my views on social media.  It's perfect for introverts and even better for writers.  Engage on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.  Spread your wings on the internet super highway.  Pictures, scriptures, videos and much more.  Ain't technology great?

5. Blogging - Fascinating phenomenon, the blogging world.  Bloggers are like the philosophers who stood in the markets of the ancient world sharing their views.  We can share Jesus in the blogging world.  People love reading blogs.  There are tons of Christian blogs out there, but more are always needed, especially to reach certain people groups that often go unreached.  Are you called to blog for Jesus?

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