Beloved, My Friend

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. – Helen Keller

Looking someone in the eyes right now does not necessarily tell you the story of what it took for them to arrive in front of you.  Nor does it tell you about their struggles or baggage.  As believers we are called to meet them where they are and love them as they are.  Sometimes, it is their brokenness and their willingness to share their challenges that allows them to shine the light that lets so many others see the way to Him.  Sometimes they are as lost and confused as the next person, but a seed of goodness in their heart opens up underneath the warmth of what was left by the last person they encountered.  She passed along the comfort of the care to the next person that had previously been given to her because she remembered how good it felt.  He was patient and kind because someone was that way towards him yesterday.  One sitting on the up side of down and the other standing on the down side of up.  Both reckoned with the emotion of the basement yet pursuing the sensation of the penthouse.  Neither understanding the blessings of balance that they received and then gave in those short moments.  How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in peace!  2 It is like the finest oils poured on the head, sweet-smelling oils flowing down to cover the beard, Flowing down the beard of Aaron, flowing down the collar of his robe.  3 It is like the gentle rain of Mount Hermon that falls on the hills of Zion.  Yes, from this place, the Eternal spoke the command, from there He gave His blessing—life forever.  (Psalm 133 – VOICE)

The freedom ride on the path that leads to the cross was never intended to be walked alone.  God sends many souls our way to meet us at specific points along our journey.  Some are fleeting spirits that dust us with a blessing and then quickly move on.  Some are there for a longer season while others are stalwart companions up the hills, through the curves, down in the valleys, around the bends, in the creeks, and on the mountaintops.  Through life, friends may come and go, but to have a lifelong, close, personal friendship is truly a great blessing.  A true friendship that stands the test of trials and time is rare.  As we focus on Him and love them deeply and closely, God delivers balance in our lives with these blessings; these lifelong friends.  So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well.  Learn to love appropriately.  You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush.  Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.  Philippians 1:9-10 (MSG)  As Celine Dion says in Because You Loved Me: You were my strength when I was weak.  You were my voice when I couldn’t speak.  You were my eyes when I couldn’t see. You saw the best there was in me.  Lifted me up when I couldn’t reach.  You gave me faith ‘coz you believed.  I’m everything I am because you loved me. 

Most weekends are not complete without a thought-provoking conversation with an intimate friend who has walked many miles, hand-in-hand, with me on my journey.  This weekend was no different.  We exchanged honorable greetings, shared the week’s trials and triumphs, and released our momentary embrace with the utmost love and care.

We met as two wandering souls and have endured as two kindred spirits.  Through all that life has brought us, (hard conversations, encouraging words, thankful praises, as well as sleepless nights full of prayer) we have remained attached at the hips and always there for one another.  We have grown up as we have grown together.

The Bible gives us a great example of the generational impact an intimate friendship can have.  1 Samuel chapters 18-20 tells us a story of two people who had a special fondness for one another.  They were closer than many siblings, confiding and trusting each other.  They were friends who shared hopes and dreams.  They remained close, even when separated, through the good times and the bad.  Through thick and thin, neither one deserted the other.  18 1By the time David had finished speaking to Saul, Saul’s son Jonathan was bound to David in friendship, and Jonathan loved David as he loved himself… 3 And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as he loved himself.  4 He took off the robe he wore and gave it to David, and also his armor, sword, bow, and belt.  20 41And then they kissed one another and wept, friend over friend, David weeping especially hard.  42 Jonathan said, “Go in peace! The two of us have vowed friendship in God’s name, saying, ‘God will be the bond between me and you, and between my children and your children forever!’”  “For all those times you stood by me; for all the truth that you made me see; for all the joy you brought to my life; for all the wrong that you made right; for every dream you made come true; for all the love I found in you; I’ll be forever thankful baby.  You’re the one who held me up; never let me fall.  You’re the one who saw me through, through it all.”  The commentary in chapter 19 of the VOICE translation tells us, “In the friendship between Jonathan and David, Jonathan stands to lose everything he has if David becomes king, yet he betrays family and ambition by befriending him. These two young men make a pact to protect and love each other in life; and if something should happen to Jonathan, David agrees to honor Jonathan’s descendants out of the love he bears for Jonathan. Later that promise results in David elevating one of Jonathan’s sons to the king’s table.”

On our journey, we have been through a great many things.  Our experience is an ambition of giving that causes each to receive in abundance.   Through it all, we have learned that shared pain is half the pain and shared joy is twice the joy.  We encourage each other as friends to have:

  1. A spirit of courage
  2. A heart of perseverance
  3. A timeless bond and
  4. An unfailing love

She is my David.  I want her to know that she has a faithful Jonathan beside her,  to remember that her Lord is with her, and to believe that her Savior lives in her.  She is in a battle of epic proportion.  As she faces this behemoth Goliath and the wrath of Saul, my prayer for her is that she always remembers to pray and never forgets who she is or whose she is.  May she feel the favor God has offered and have faith to know He will continue to see her through.  May she continue to fight the good fight in the face of evil, doing good despite the chips being down.  His people are with her.  His prayer warriors are around her.  She is not alone.  She is loved.  She is my friend.  You gave me wings and made me fly.  You touched my hand, I could touch the sky.  I lost my faith, you gave it back to me.  You said no star was out of reach.  You stood by me and I stood tall.  I had your love.  I had it all.  I’m grateful for each day you gave me.  Maybe I don’t know that much, but I know this much is true: I was blessed because I was loved by you. 

And so I ask you: Who is your David?  Are you a faithful Jonathan?  Who is walking along side you?  When facing your Goliath, who do you turn to?  Are you on this path alone?  Where are you looking for those God-honoring relationships?  What are your best and most beautiful things?  Can you feel them with your heart?  Be the love!  8 People who won’t settle down, wandering hither and yon, are like restless birds, flitting to and fro.  9 Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.  10 Don’t leave your friends or your parents’ friends and run home to your family when things get rough; better a nearby friend than a distant family. Proverbs 27:8-10 (MSG)


Matthew chapter 14 tells us the story of Peter walking on water.  In verses 29-30, the scripture tells us, “29 Jesus said, ‘Come!’  So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed how strong the wind was, he became afraid and started to sink.  He shouted, ‘Lord, save me!’” (GW)  In the beginning, Peter had great courage as verse 29 says, Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus.” (MSG)  When first called, Peter was strong.  Without hesitation, he left his place of security to do what he was called to do.  But the conditions he found himself in (the rough seas and high winds) made him doubt that he could do the very thing he was already doing.  He then lost his nerve and began to sink.

Peter’s experience is very similar to many of ours.  We begin exploring our calling with great intentions and strong convictions.  We then let fear (False Evidence Appearing Real) get a grip on us and cause us to do less than we are capable of or called to do.  We allow anxiety and uncertainty to destroy the promise God has given.  One could question how different things would have been if Peter had beaten back the flame of fear with the fan of faith.  There is no need to ask what if because Peter was not much different from us.

This weekend, I had the privilege of attending a professional baseball game and watching a team that has made the playoffs.  I was extremely fortunate to have received the scarce and in-demand tickets as a gift.  I did not pay attention to the section or seat numbers on the tickets when I received them.  My offspring and I enthusiastically entered the stadium, glanced at the seat numbers, and realized they were in an area we had not ever paid attention to.  We found our way around to the other side and settled into our seats in the sold out stadium.  I then went and stood in long lines for food and beverages.  I wasn’t able to return to my seat until the bottom of the second inning.  Agitated and sulking, I was resolved not to move again.

For those around me, the excitement of the post season prospects created a vim and vigor as well as a corresponding static electricity in the air.  The positive energy was accompanied by the enhanced acoustics of the crowd’s continuous roar.  I realized that part of my anxiety was because I was with a larger, louder crowd, in a more confined space.  I was not in a VIP section, on the lower level behind home plate or along the third base line.  I was up high, under the scoreboard, facing the sun, directly in front of a bar filled with game-goers with libation-induced lowered inhibitions.  I realized I was with the general population.

Christ died on the cross so that the general population, not just the high priests, could have access to the Father.  His ransom for our salvation extended God’s grace to everyone and ended the need for sacrificial offerings.  His redemptive death was the great access equalizer and Holier than Thou eliminator.  Those who had more or could do more did not have a place closer to the Father.  Everyone’s access point to God is now the same, through the Son.  All people now have the same requirement – to take up your cross daily and follow Him, starting strong and finishing hard.

On the morning of the game, I spent time with God, praying and listening to Him.  I left the house feeling strong and full of faith.  Like Peter, I leaped out there to do what I was called to do.  Likewise, I got distracted by an unfamiliar environment and became anxious because it felt different.  For two innings I was unable to be His positive energy or enjoy the privilege He bestowed upon me.  He was patient with me during that time.  But suddenly, in the sweet voice that is only His, Jesus said, “Hello!  I sent you here to be my light, yet in this moment you are a dim bulb.  Ditch the funk and let’s get back to My business.  I want you to be that curious, outgoing, fun-loving child I designed you to be.  Move about the people, smiling at them and talking to them, bringing them My joy.  Games are play time and social events that allow you to be My ambassador.  I got you free tickets.  Now make them worth your while.”

I bowed my head in thanksgiving and then got up to refill my child’s empty drink cup.  While in line, I had the chance to hold an infant for a father who was struggling to tie shoes and place orders for his other three boys who were all under 5 years of age.  As the crowd roared because the home team scored, I sang into the infant’s ear: “I hope you never lose your sense of wonder; you get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger.  May you never take one single breath for granted; GOD forbid love ever leaves you empty handed.  I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.  Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens.  Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance….I hope you dance.  I Hope You Dance – Gladys Knight

After returning to my seat, reflecting on Peter’s experience, and Jesus’ message to me, I realized this:

  1. Heaven has no VIP section
  2. Access to Him is not limited to affluence
  3. On earth as it is in heaven, He loves all of His children the same
  4. General population is where faith is built, the gospel is preached, and souls are saved
  5. There is no space for exclusion in His kingdom
  6. His followers are not fans cheering from the stands. They are fearlessly on the field every day.

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance; never settle for the path of least resistance.  Livin’ might mean takin’ chances but they’re worth takin’.  Lovin’ might be a mistake but it’s worth makin’.  Don’t let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter.  When you come close to sellin’ out, reconsider.  Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance….I hope you dance.

Remain strong.  Answer your calling without hesitation.  Circumstances may change but the love of The Lord remains the same.  What fear is causing you to sink today?  Are you walking faithfully towards Jesus?  What earthly things are causing exclusivity in your life?  Does the general population of His lost children make you nervous?  Recapture the fearless faith of your first calling.  Reach higher, go farther, and dig deeper to plant seeds, fertilize ground, and collect the harvest that he has placed you here for.  Your passion and resilience are powerful and compelling to those who are seeking the love of our Lord.

30 But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink (MSG).  Be audacious and daring, especially among the masses.  Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along.  Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone.  I hope you dance….I hope you dance.

Do Life Big

“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” – Oscar Wilde

To the many women in my life who have prayed for me this year: Thank you!  I have needed it, it has helped, and I am back.  The summer was rough but it is now behind us.  Fall is upon us and it is time to live in this moment.  Each day in the month of September has been better than the last.  When I awakened this morning, the first thought on my mind was the need to release the relentless thoughts of the challenges of the most difficult 42 days of the year.  There have been 215 other absolutely fabulous days in the same year.  I will not allow this difficult minority to haunt the fantastic majority any longer.  I made it through and am here now to press on towards greater things.

Our God has given us a spirit of courage and a charge to do life big.  There is much to accomplish in the vineyard and little time to get it done.  The growing season is behind us and the harvest is upon us.  Now is the time to dream big and dare to fail; throw caution to the wind and live out our purpose; leave isolation behind us and live out loud; abandon doubt and love boldly; press on and be optimistic.  Solitude is sinful when there are so many souls searching.  The glass menagerie, the ornamental exhibit of 42 captives, has shattered.  The pieces of pain have been laid at the foot of the cross, in an acknowledgment of what they are and an acceptance that we are not in it alone.   In His time, He will take what is left, multiply them, then divide them so they can be used for His glory.

The commentary in The Voice translation in 2 Corinthians 13 tells us, “Weakness looks like failure in the eyes of the world, but…weakness is an avenue to share in Jesus’ death and, therefore, in His life as well.  The challenge is to remain faithful even in the difficult times, even when there is no one left to provide support.  It is in these times that God’s power and comfort are most evident.  This call to embrace weakness and suffering is difficult.  It is normal to run from pain.  But the examples of Jesus in the Gospels, of Paul in his letters, and of David in the psalms are of finding God’s strength in times of weakness.”  “Keep, keep On…. Never Say Die… When in the midst of sorrow, you can’ t see up when looking down.  A brighter day tomorrow will bring.  You hear the voice of reason telling you this can’t ever be done.  No matter how hard reality seems, just hold on to your dreams.  Don’t give up and don’t give in although it seems you never win.  You will always pass the test as long as you keep your head to the sky.  You can win as long as you keep your head to the sky.  You can win as long as you keep your head to the sky.  Be optimistic!”  Sounds of Blackness – Optimistic

If anyone understood the harshness of this world, the Son of Man did.  He left His place in heaven and laid it all on the line just so we can live in eternity with Him.  His suffering was great and he paid the ultimate price for us.  Through it all, God was with Him.  Through His obedience, He fulfilled the scriptures so we would never be separated from Him again.

Mark 15:15-37 in part tells us, “15 When Pilate saw that he could not persuade the crowd to change its mind, he…had Jesus publicly whipped, which was the normal prelude to crucifixion.  Then he had Jesus led away to be crucified…17 They put a purple robe on Him and made a crown of thorns that they forced onto His head, 18 and they began to cry out in mock salute.  19 For a long while they beat Him on the head with a reed, spat upon Him, and knelt down as if to honor Him.  20 When they had finished mocking Him, they stripped off His purple robe and put His own clothes back on Him.  Then they took Him away to be executed…24 And so they crucified Him, divided up His clothes, and cast lots (an ancient equivalent of rolling dice) to see who would keep the clothes they had stripped from Him.  25 His crucifixion began about nine o’clock in the morning…29 Those passing by on their way into or out of Jerusalem insulted and ridiculed Him…33 At noon, the day suddenly darkened for three hours across the entire land.  34 Sometime around three o’clock Jesus called out in a loud voice.  Jesus: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?  Jesus was speaking, as in the psalms, ‘My God, My God, why have You turned Your back on Me?’…37 Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and He took His last breath.  38 At that moment, the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

The commentary from the VOICE translation of Mark 15 explains, “The tearing of the temple veil is a picture of what Jesus’ death has accomplished.  The temple sanctuary is divided into two sections: the holy place and the most holy place.  The most holy place is a chamber so sanctified that only the high priest can enter—and then only once a year.  There God’s presence is manifest on earth.  A long curtain divides the two areas, and at the moment of Jesus’ death it is torn in two.  The veil that serves as a means to protect everyone but the high priest from the power of God’s presence is no longer needed because Jesus, on account of His sacrificial death, gives everyone access to God.  Only God Himself can rip the curtain in two ‘from top to bottom,’ opening the way for people to come into His presence.”

Our God is with us from beginning to end, through all of our triumphs and trials.  What made the victory of conquering the mountain so sweet is that we traversed the valley first.  The climb was steep, intense, and arduous.  But we did it because we remained faithful and persevered with the support of others who believe in His vision.

Jesus came to earth and lived out His mission, which included many trials, challenges and difficulties.  His example was to go all out and to be all in without regard for how hard it might be.  The challenges of the summer taught me many lessons and I now know that they were each a blessing in disguise.  Through my weakness, I gained strength; because of adversity, I received wisdom; in my moments of despair, seedlings of hope blossomed.  “If things around you crumble, no you don’t have to stumble and fall.  Keep pushing on and don’t you look back.  I know that storms and strife cloud up your outlook on life.  Just think ahead and you’ll be inspired to reach higher and higher.  You’ll always do your best if you learn to never say never.  You may be down but you’re not out.  Don’t give up and don’t give in although it seems you never win.  You will always pass the test as long as you keep your head to the sky.  You can win as long as you keep your head to the sky (you can win child).  You can win as long as you keep your head to the sky.  Be optimistic!Optimistic

11-13 And that’s about it, friends.  Be cheerful.  Keep things in good repair.  Keep your spirits up.  Think in harmony.  Be agreeable.  Do all that, and the God of love and peace will be with you for sure.  Greet one another with a holy embrace.  2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Now that you know there is nothing standing between you and Him, what’s stopping you?  What is your calling in life?  Whatever it is, pursue it earnestly.  Leave nothing on the table and no room for regrets.  He is with you and your sisters are praying for you.  What power against you can prevail?  Now go get ‘em!  Whatever He is calling you to do, do it big.


Hot, Hot, Hot!

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.  Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top.  Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.  Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage.  Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.  Philippians 2:1-2 (MSG)

When a space orbiter has completed its mission, it must re-orient itself before landing back home on earth.  Prior to landing, it has spent weeks in outer space, exploring and encountering the foreign and unfamiliar.  In order to re-enter safely, its speed, pitch, and altitude must be carefully controlled.  In most cases, it has also been travelling nose first in the upside down position.  The spacecraft must first be turned around to the tail first position.  Then it has to slow down as it begins its descent into the earth’s upper atmosphere.  The reaction control system then engages and pitches the craft 40 degrees so that the tail faces the atmosphere, thus placing it back into the nose first position.  The same system then rotates the craft right side up.

Because the shuttle is lined up over Asia as it hits the upper atmosphere and is travelling at 17,000 mph, its outer shell heats up to about 3000 degrees Fahrenheit.  As it descends, it banks hard and serpentines to reduce its speed.  As it gets closer to its landing spot, its pitch changes to minus 20 (almost seven times steeper that the descent of a commercial airliner) and control of the craft switches from computer to manual.  The commander then lines it up with the runway, pulls up the nose to slow the rate of descent and lowers the landing gear.  The shuttle touches down, the parachute and the speed brake on the vertical tail deploys.  It comes to a rest, is powered down and remains unapproached and untouched for about 20 minutes to allow the noxious gases to dissipate.  The door then opens, the commander and crew disembark, and the craft is serviced.

Re-entry (or reconnection with earth) is fuel intensive and requires a lot of insulation to prevent the spacecraft from overheating and breaking up.  A successful mission requires a well-built shuttle, a faithful flight crew, and a stalwart mission control team.  Since the conditions of space travel are always challenging, a critical failure in any of the three areas could cause catastrophic results.  For instance, undetected damage to the heat tiles at lift-off, failure to close cargo bay doors, or improper data analysis by flight control personnel could have disastrous consequences.  And so goes the support needed for our connection to or reconnection with our Lord and Savior.

The six-week 151,000 mile journey I took this Summer was akin to space travel.  The extreme time zone dislocation of minus two hours to plus thirteen hours, a trial, engaging in a multitude of diverse activities, the cultural and language differences and barriers, countless hours in a pressurized cabin, flying at high altitudes, dealing with the issues in front of me as well as monitoring those at home, a death in the family, an ill loved one, and notification of additional litigation caused me to hit the upper atmosphere at mach 30 as a flaming inferno.  However, others’ relentless prayers for me, the steadiness of the church who received me, and the guidance of the family and friends who loved me provided me with the necessary instructions and support that re-oriented my position, slowed me down, set my pitch, and controlled my descent before handing the controls back over to me.  An entire crew of people, including my small group and other supportive believers, remained in constant contact with me as I aligned with the runway, lowered my landing gear, touched down, and deployed my chute.  Now that the noxious chemicals have dissipated, I have stepped back out onto solid ground, and have received adequate rest, my prayer is this: Lord, Almighty and all-knowing God.  You are the reason for my being and the purpose of my existence.  May I always remember that!  Loving your people and imitating your ways are the greatest part of my mission.  Please forgive me for not always giving my all towards that focus, especially in my moments of stress; a time of my greatest need and the time that You use Your people to bring blessings in abundance.  Thank You for Your willingness to always pursue me and other lost or disoriented souls.  Your relentless love and Your army of servants have paved the path of faith, with which I have now reconnected, that leads to the foot of the cross; the place where You gave it all so that I may be free and with You for an eternity.  Please light a fire under my feet so that I may serve as soothing foam and create a soft landing spot for any other hot re-entry who is dangerously close to ignition or who may already be ablaze.  May I always be willing to share my talents for Your glory.  Thank You for the incredible lessons, the protection of Your will and grace, the enormous support of Your people, the intact landing, the rest, and for the fire in the belly to serve You whole-heartedly again.  It is in Your son’s name I pray – Amen.

A thousand times I’ve failed, still your mercy remains.  Should I stumble again, still I’m caught in your grace…Your will above all else, my purpose remains.  The art of losing myself in bringing you praise…In my heart, in my soul, I give you control.  Consume me from the inside out.  Let justice and praise become my embrace to love you from the inside out.  Everlasting, your light will shine when all else fades.  Never ending, your glory goes beyond all fame.  And the cry of my heart is to bring you praise. From the inside out Lord, my soul cries out.  Hillsong United – Inside Out

Whether we are seeking something more than we have known in the world, we left on a prodigal adventure, or simply allowed busyness to pull us away from the habits that support our Christian walk, re-entry is a process that requires belief in God’s greatness, commitment to service, and intense support.  God’s Church is that shuttle, ministry leaders are the flight crew, and the other dedicated servants are the mission control team.  When they are strong and work together, the mission of making disciples of every nation are met or exceeded.  Additionally, those who have temporarily left earth’s grounding are able to re-enter alive and land back on a solid foundation.  When all hands are on deck, people experience the miracles that happen when God’s flight-control crew and ground-team workers move harmoniously together.  Souls are saved by people crossing the line of faith or saved souls reconnect with the roots that keep them grounded in the faith.

My reflection on my re-entry this summer has me here:

  1. A commander is simply one many people in God’s army
  2. No commander ever has it all under control
  3. Our journeys may take us far and cause us to feel disconnected
  4. Re-entry is the necessary path to reconnection with solid ground
  5. It takes many people and multiple talents to bring people in
  6. Re-entry is rough because hyper-speed causes high heat
  7. Love and support cool the temperatures and reduce the effects of friction
  8. I must do my part to help others re-orient and reconnect
  9. His word is the solid ground and His grace is the soft landing spot
  10. Space is not the final frontier.  Heaven is.

When I’m lost you pursue me; lift my head to see your glory.  Lord of all, so beautiful; Here in you I find shelter – captivated by the splendor of your face, my secret place.  I’m wide awake, drawing close, stirred by grace.  And all my heart is yours.  All fear removed, I breathe you in.  I lean into Your love, oh your love.  Your love so deep is washing over me.  Your face is all I seek.  You are my everything.  Jesus Christ, You are my one desire.  Lord hear my only cry to know you all my life.  Hillsong United – Sinking Deep

Getting Right with God

This message is a re-print in honor of the one-year anniversary (September 19) of the kick-off of the Celebrate Recovery ministry at my church.  The ministry is made up of regular folks like you and me who are on a journey toward wholeness. 

Celebrate Recovery is a bible-based 12-step program designed to celebrate God’s healing power in our lives through eight recovery principles found in the beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12.  The scripture states: 3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and his rule.  4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.  Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.  “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less.  That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.  “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.  He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.  “You’re blessed when you care.  At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.  “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right.  Then you can see God in the outside world.  “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.  That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.  The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. (MSG)

I was one of the 151 people who attended my church’s launch of Celebrate Recovery – a clear admission that I have unaddressed hurts, unresolved hang-ups, and habits that no longer serve me well.  I came with an open mind and heart to see what God was leading me to do.  I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people and realized that the need for the ministry is great.  Although I spent a lot of time in my own thoughts, I quickly realized that I am not alone in this broken world and that hope is alive.  1 Peter 4:12-13 was the scripture that first came to mind – “12-13 Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job.  Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced.  This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.”  (MSG)

I was so excited to see a few familiar faces but must admit that I thought to myself, “Wow!  I have to make it a point to diversify the services I attend because there are a lot of people here I don’t recognize.”  The Holy Spirit sternly told me not to judge others in the room as I was in the same space with them for a reason.  He told me, “The label or stigma of the specific addiction, habit, hurt or hang-up is not important.  The fact that their owners want to resolve them is!”  He then led me to meet and greet both the familiar faces as well as the friends to be.

As I was mingling at the pre-service gathering, I noticed a gentleman standing in the atrium, alone and seemingly unattended.  He appeared to be deep into his own thoughts and perhaps unaware of the positive energy building around him.  He was holding a drink cup in one hand and was continuously wiping his eyes with the other.  I walked up to him, exchanged introductions and asked him which service he attends?  He told me that he was a first-timer.  As he continued to wipe the tears from his eyes, he said he was struggling to cope with his wife’s death.  He said he works with another church member who encouraged him to come to Celebrate Recovery.  I hugged him, told him I was happy he came and offered to introduce him to a few folks.  He declined the offer.  I hugged him again and told him I was so glad he took the time to come.  I then used a lot of energy to hold back the tears of pain transferred from him to me.  I thought “My God! His pain is incredibly deep.”  I prayed, “Please Lord, help him through this tough time.  Please help him to endure these difficulties.  If he has not dedicated his life to you, please move him do so to give him the hope of seeing his wife in heaven.”  2 Corinthians 1:3-5 reminds us “All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah!  Father of all mercy!  God of all healing counsel!  He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.  We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.”  (MSG)

I went into the auditorium, enjoyed the musical worship, and the explanation of what Celebrate Recovery is.  The leaders explained the 12 steps, the 8 principles and the rules of confidentiality.  There is a part of the service where people are invited to make a change in their lives.  For those who are interested, they can come to the stage and get a chip to celebrate anywhere from the first day of change to multiple years of recovery.  It was then that I noticed the miracle of the God of Hope beginning – I was allowed to witness the gentleman from the lobby get a chip to begin making Godly changes in his life.  Isaiah 56:1-3 tells us, “Guard my common good: Do what’s right and do it in the right way, for salvation is just around the corner, my setting-things-right is about to go into action.  How blessed are you who enter into these things, you men and women who embrace them, Who keep Sabbath and don’t defile it, who watch your step and don’t do anything evil!  Make sure no outsider who now follows God ever has occasion to say, ‘God put me in second-class. I don’t really belong.’ And make sure no physically mutilated person is ever made to think, ‘I’m damaged goods.  I don’t really belong.” (MSG)

I left the auditorium and went to the issue-specific breakout sessions with the following on my mind:

  • Rid myself of arrogance
  • Totally submit my life to His ways and teachings
  • Get real, get honest, get on my knees, and get in his word
  • Make peace where peace can be made
  • Be willing to be used for His will

The breakout sessions involved introductions, issue identification and opportunities for individual uninterrupted expression in a safe and confidential environment.  The expressions required introspection and an acknowledgment from the speaker that “you are only as sick as your secrets, but the Lord heals as he reveals.”  The experience left me with this:

  1. You cannot enter a space and leave it unaffected. The only question is whether your impact was positive or negative.
  2. Compassion is the understanding that things run deeper than the observer can see
  3. Anonymity and confidentiality do not create caves for secrets
  4. There is certainly an inner joy and peace that comes from being right with God.

It has been almost a year since the Celebrate Recovery kick-off.  There are still people checking it out.  If you are interested, the meetings are held at the church on Friday nights from 7-9.  If Celebrate Recovery is not for you, please pray for the many who will benefit from it.  Each day, as I interact with others professionally and socially, I remember my experience at the kick-off that people who go to Celebrate Recovery or similar meetings run in many of the same circles I do.  There is no room for judgment by age, occupation, class, issue or anything else, because we all live in the same broken world.  Some are simply courageous enough to seek help and receive hope.  As Casting Crowns says in their song The Voice of Truth:

Oh what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes to climb out of this boat I’m in, onto the crashing waves; to step out of my comfort zone to the realm of the unknown where Jesus is.  And He’s holding out his hand, but the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me; reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed.  The waves they keep on telling me time and time again, ‘Boy, you’ll never win! You’ll never win!”  But the voice of truth tells me a different story and the voice of truth says “Do not be afraid!”  And the voice of truth says “This is for My glory.”  Out of all the voices calling out to me.  I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-5 tells us, “Every time we think of you, we thank God for you.  Day and night you’re in our prayers as we call to mind your work of faith, your labor of love, and your patience of hope in following our Master, Jesus Christ, before God our Father.  It is clear to us friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special.  When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn’t just words.  Something happened in you.  The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions. (MSG)

Across The Line

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  Heraclitus

The past few weeks have been rough.  My readjustment back into “normality” has been a difficult transition.  I have been praying, asking God to speed up the conveyor belt on this part of my walk so I can get back to being me.  Throughout the week, I have gone to the gym, drank lots of tea, sat in the garden, and so many other things to get back to “that place”.  I kept asking God to come down to where I stand so I can feel His presence the same way I used to.  Although He revealed himself and assured me that He is always by my side, things feel different.

Today was the first chance I had in several weeks to worship at my home church .  I had the incredible opportunity to watch a few people in my congregation get baptized.  I was also able to hear the testimony of my good friend and sister before her rebirth.  She explained that she was overjoyed to make a public declaration that she is a follower of Christ because He was so willing to meet her where she was as she stood at the intersection of Rock Bottom Place and Pits of Hell Court.  She told a story of addiction and destruction that led her to the rehabilitation that saved her life and a relationship with Christ that saved her soul.  The emotion and gratitude that exuded from her placed me on the horizon; that space where heaven meets earth.  Knowing that she had crossed the line of faith brought joy to my heart and tears to my eyes.  Psalm 116 teaches us, 1-6 I love God because he listened to me, listened as I begged for mercy.  He listened so intently as I laid out my case before him.  Death stared me in the face, hell was hard on my heels.  Up against it, I didn’t know which way to turn; then I called out to God for help: “Please, God!” I cried out.  “Save my life!” God is gracious—it is he who makes things right, our most compassionate God.  God takes the side of the helpless; when I was at the end of my rope, he saved me.  7-8 I said to myself, “Relax and rest.  God has showered you with blessings.  Soul, you’ve been rescued from death; Eye, you’ve been rescued from tears; And you, Foot, were kept from stumbling.” (MSG)  And then the band sang, I see heaven invading this place.  I see angels praising your holy name…I see Glory falling in this place.  I see hope restored; the healing of all disease.  I sing praises, I sing praises.  I give you honor, worthy Jesus.  We give you praise and all of the honor.  You are our God, the one we live for.  We give you praise and all of the Glory God.  – I See Heaven, Bryan and Katie Torwalt

As she talked about getting sober and coming to the ministry called Celebrate Recovery, I realized that those who suffer from addiction are a special breed of God’s people who serve a critical role in His kingdom.  Once they are delivered from the arms of their captor, they re-emerge with an authenticity and level of openness that inspires and enlightens those around them.  They humble themselves and willing replay the reels of their journey through darkness, in high-definition, for the expressed purpose of showing others these things:

  1. No matter where you are, just call and He will come
  2. No one owns the corner market on sin
  3. You are only as sick as your secrets
  4. We all have hurts, habits, and hang-ups, and
  5. Christ is for everyone who wants Him

As I struggle to find my way, I know He is grooming me and preparing me for what is next.  This sense of disorientation is making me lean into Him with an unprecedented level of reliance.  I will continue to look inward to figure out what changed and will cling to my sisters for support.  What I know so far is that the space I occupy is not the same as it was when I crossed over the line of faith.  As well, I am not the same person.  God has worked many miracles in my life and has led me to a different place.  However, no matter how much I grow and change, my mission and my God’s love remain the same.

I am exceedingly happy and grateful to have enjoyed such a meaningful worship experience and to be reunited with those who know and love me.  Today’s event was uplifting, inspiring, and a celebration of enormous proportion.  My sister’s baptism was a wonderful reminder of two things:

  1. Jeremiah 29:11-14, 11  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.  (NIV) and
  2. Peace be still.  You are near.  There’s nowhere we can go that You won’t shine redemption’s light; our guilt withdrawn.  As You rise, we come alive.  The grave has lost; the old is gone…  Hope is found.  You are here.  Our hearts forever sealed by this love that came for us.  Now we are Yours.  And You’re making all things new.  You are making all things new.  You are making all things new and we are free.  All Things New, Elevation Worship

My prayer is that we give my sister all the love and support she needs on this journey; that she remains humble and stays in His word; and that she continues to share her story, as only she can, to touch the lives of others and lead them to the cross.  “Your successes and happiness are forgiven you only if you generously consent to share them.”  Albert Camus