Groundhog Day

Do we live our lives on a treadmill? Tomorrow morning the alarm will go off. You will wake up, shower, shave, get dressed, and get in your car. You will stop at Starbucks, sit in traffic, get to your office or cubicle or workstation. At lunch you will eat something, probably with some friends. After work you will go back to your workstation and work until 5:00 or 6:00. You will then leave work, maybe go to the gym, but probably not. You will go home, you will eat dinner, you will watch a little television, and you will go to bed. And then you will do the very same thing the next day. Life is more like the film Groundhog Day than anyone cares to admit. We’re trapped. We’re locked out of the garden. We’re in a rut, just toiling under the sun. The cycle is endless. The pursuit is meaningless.

Until we honestly evaluate this life under the sun, until we are ready to look at our lives and see that the real meaning lies outside the world’s system, we will be stuck on the treadmill. This place is broken. There’s no sense in looking into it for the fix.

We are exiled from the garden into a wasteland, and we keep thinking we can make this wasteland into the garden. But that doesn’t work, and it never will. What has been lost is too great for us to recover on our own. The gap is too wide for our feeble attempts to bridge.

You can make money the ultimate goal in life. Hundreds of thousands of people have. There’s nothing inherently wrong with more possessions; otherwise God wouldn’t tell us not to steal each others stuff. But like the Eagles said in their hit song, “You can spend all your time making money; you can spend all your love making time.” You can put all your energy in to accumulating stuff. You can buy a house that you rarely spend time in because you’re working fifteen-hour days so you can amass a fortune. But in the end, you’re going to be painted up like a clown, put in a box, and buried in the ground. I don’t mean to be crass. I’m just being honest.

Or how about something more spiritual? Take religion for another instance. Religion practiced apart from faith in Jesus Christ is called self-righteousness in the Bible, and not even those trying to perfect faith, the Pharisees, qualified for God’s kingdom. This is very important to note. Faithless religion is vanity. No matter how many people it practically helps, no matter how good it makes you feel, religious effort not rooted in the Gospel is rooted in self-justifying self-worth. This is basically meaningless.

Granted, a sense of both pride and permanence occurs when you finally own a home. When you leave the apartment and you finally get that house, there’s this feeling that you’ve arrived. There is also something that happens to the soul of someone who works all day to build something. We are hardwired to resonate with this kind of work, because it resembles God’s original mandate to Adam to subdue the Earth and take dominion over it. When you landscape your yard, and get your hands dirty in the dirt and grass so that everything looks great, and you look back at it, saying, “Oh man, this looks beautiful,” you’re tapping into that feeling that you’ve subdued something.

Realize this, however. The peace we seek down in our souls cannot be satisfied by anything but God’s peace. We tend to run out of fantasies. We have a sense of being unfulfilled. Anything we could think up we’ve done. We played it all out. In the end, when we’ve done everything there is to do, we find ourselves right back in the same place we were before we ever started our pursuit. We decide life is boring and predictable. We end up frustrated.

The powerful irony of this frustration is that God is the author of every good thing. Pleasure, partying, gardening, work, money, material things, and even sex, are all God’s ideas. Adam and Eve were created and set in the garden wearing nothing and needing nothing. That’s incredible! I love the way God started the whole thing: one man, one woman, a bunch of acreage, and naked. “Go play, frolic, and have a good time.” We pursue this kind of satisfaction and fulfillment all our lives. In this fallen world we come out of the womb seeking peace. From the second we are born, we seek our own happiness.

This never changes, even as the pursuit does. It may look different the older we get, but the desire is always the same. We seek our own pleasure. It’s the motivating factor behind everything we do. But it is not the need that is wrong; it is the degree to which we pursue things apart from Jesus Christ. We need to realize just how far we are from God’s peace in our lives. The peace which passes all understanding does not come from accumulating stuff. It comes from having Jesus in our hearts. We’re told to seek God and heaven and all things we need will be added unto us. This is the proper focus for our lives.

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Free Will

Any discussion about free will has to include the origin of sin in mankind. As we know, Eve was deceived by the serpent and basically talked in to eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve then convinced Adam to eat the same fruit. Shame and conviction and separateness from God were the immediate results of this disobedience. You see, God told Adam and Eve they may enjoy everything in the Garden of Eden, eat to their hearts content. But God established one commandment. God said do not eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God was not tempting man or teasing him into disobedience. He was giving man “free will” to choose.

When the question of free will arises, it is important that we define the term very carefully. If we mean that we have the power to choose to do good or evil, to obey God or not obey God, or at least to believe or not believe His Gospel, as many people intend to suggest by the term “free will,” then we are in direct contradiction to the Scriptures. Truly, we are free to do what we want to do, but we are bound in what we want by our sin nature and our desires. We may do as we please. We cannot, however, use our will to shape our nature. Rather, our nature determines how we will use our will. This nature was decided when Eve partook of the forbidden fruit.

The Bible says in many places in Scripture that we are bound by sin. In our flesh, we cannot please God. Let’s turn to Romans 8:5-8. It says, “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh, but they that are after the Spirit [do mind] the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” This is a serious conflict for us as human beings. Even as Christians.

We cannot understand the things of God. Turn to 1 Corinthians 2:14. This scripture tells us, “But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Now let’s turn to John 14:16-17. It says, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever: Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him: but ye know Him; for He dwells with you and shall be in you.” While in our sinful nature, we cannot even seek God. Turn to Romans 3:9-12. It says, “What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one.”

We cannot do any good at all of ourselves. We are utterly captive to our sin nature. In fact, in John 8:31-34, it says, “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered Him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how say thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin.” We are prisoners of the devil and constrained to do his desires. Jesus says in John 8:43-45, “Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.”

A question which is often heard is, “How can I be sure of what God’s will is?” Not many experiences in life are more baffling to the Christian than to be faced with a troubling problem and to be unable to find clear assurance as to what God’s will is concerning the problem. Life is sometimes complicated, and sometimes help is greatly needed. Disturbed days and sleepless nights are often had in the process of trying to discover God’s will. Our own faith is greatly strengthened by hearing of the personal experiences of other Christians who have learned to interpret God’s will in the middle of troubling problems. We don’t want vague theories about the matter of God’s guidance.

God’s guidance is not limited to times of emergency or crisis. Divine guidance is a daily need. It is as important as food. This is true because of our sin nature and our tendency to live by the flesh. Our instincts and our emotions tend to run riot sometimes, leading us down paths we should not be going. This is exactly how we end up in trouble. We follow our own will, disregarding God’s will for us. The question about God’s leading in your life brings up one of the most difficult questions in the Christian walk. Let’s look at a few principles taken from the Scriptures, from some things I’ve read, and from my experiences.

The first step is to seek to get our own heart right in every respect with the Lord, and make sure that we do not want our own way, but are really ready to do God’s will. If we ask the Lord in prayer to show us anything that may be standing in the way of His will, I believe He will do it by the Holy Spirit. Then we need to lay our problem frankly before the Lord, talking to Him as we would to a Christian friend, reverently of course, but telling God our problem. He knows all the factors involved, our limitations, our needs, our abilities, and what the future may hold, not only for us but for our families. We may need to keep praying for several days or weeks in very important matters, waiting patiently on God’s answer.

We have to be on the lookout for guidance that may come through the Word of God, through an inner conviction of the Holy Spirit, through the advice of Christian friends, or perhaps through the advice of our spiritual counselor or pastor. The advice of worldly or unsaved people is not usually of much value in spiritual matters. Here’s the thing: Those of us who are impulsive by nature need to guard against impulsive actions or decisions. It is hard for such people to wait on the Lord. Impulsive people are often self-centered, and tend to lean on their own understanding. They believe they have all the answers.

God tells us plainly in His Word that He is willing and able to guide us. Here are a few Scriptures that I have found helpful. Turn to Psalm 62:5. It says, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.” James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraids not; and it shall be given him.” We sometimes fail to receive blessings intended for us because we forget to trust God. We forget that He is interested in us at all times, and in all things great and small.

How do we make good decisions? What does God really want from us? Does God care about every little choice we make? Of course, the big question behind all of this is “What is God’s will for my life?” Do our decisions really matter to God? God cares about what is going on in our lives. In any decision we have the opportunity to choose who we will worship. Will we worship God or will we worship ourselves? God wishes to be the highest priority in every part of our lives. In some areas of our lives it is clear that there are right decisions and wrong decisions – like the choice of whether or not to cheat on an exam. In other areas, we need to make choices between two good things – like choosing which college to attend. Other times, the choice may have to do with a gray area – something that’s not necessarily right or wrong. These are times where we have to apply wisdom. For example, spending a lot of times talking on the phone or texting friends may be a good thing. But if there never is a time when we’re just quiet and still, it can be harder for us to be aware of God’s presence, or to hear Him express His will for us. Being wise might involve us turning off the phone from time to time to quiet our hearts so we can be more attentive to the presence of God in everyday life.

How do we discover God’s will? First, we must be sure that we’re seeking to obey what God has already revealed in Scriptures. This includes things like obeying our parents, or not stealing, or not worshiping any other gods or things instead of the Lord. The Scriptures are clear instructions from God. It doesn’t really work to ignore God’s revealed will, but yet expect God to answer specific questions like whom should I marry, or what should I do for a living.

As we study God’s word and spend time in prayer, our relationship with God will grow and we will begin to understand God’s character. We will then need to be in the right place to hear God’s instructions for other areas of our lives. In addition to Bible study and prayer, we have to be willing to seek godly direction from a mentor, pastor or other spiritual adviser. If we’re serious about following God’s will, we have to recognize that it’s not about getting what we want, but doing what God asks. We must trust that He is faithful and good, and that His will is what’s best for us.

Will God ask us to do things we don’t want to do? God may ask us to do things that don’t feel natural to us at first. But as we listen and respond to the call of God, we get connected to our deeper desires. After all, the things God calls us to do are things that He created us to do. There is no set formula for knowing God’s will. Instead, think of discovering the will of God in your life like viewing a constellation. When we look into the sky, we need to see clusters of stars in a pattern in order to observe a constellation. Only by looking at the overall view of stars will we see Orion or the Big Dipper. Focusing on one star does not give us the big picture.

In the same way, learning God’s will involves looking at the big picture. When everything comes in to view, we begin to understand the big picture we call the will of God for us. We can count on Biblical guidance to show us the way. God will never ask us to do something contrary to his written Word, but he demands obedience in the clearly revealed things, and obedience to the commission to make disciples. We can also look for God’s will through the opinion and counsel of others. Especially older, wiser church leaders who know us well. Also, God has entrusted us with certain unique personal resources. How will we use them?

As the big picture starts to get clearer, whatever the picture, we are all called to obey. But how do we get started? First, start small. Our small efforts matter. We belong to the God of the mustard seed, who takes the smallest of actions and makes them significant. Have you heard it said that if only you had faith as small as a grain of mustard seed?

I can just hear you saying, “These are great ideas. I’ll have to try them out someday.” We will never find out what God’s will is for us if we put off asking Him. If we are to grow in our vision of God, His world, and our part in it, we need to make it a priority. We need to start today.

The first action we can take is to submit ourselves DAILY to the Lordship of Christ. If we realize that we belong to Him, that we are bought with a price, then we will desire to grow in our ability to see the world as God sees it. Our desire to understand and care for our world and those around us will arise out of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If we do not start now to open ourselves to God as His living sacrifices, we may never hear Him call us into an exciting opportunity to serve Him in a big way.

Romans 12:1 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” This verse means that whereas in times past man brought animals unto the Lord for sacrifice upon an alter, men are now supposed to bring themselves to God. They are now to be wholly the Lord’s as were the sacrifices of old. Romans 12:2 goes on to say, “And be not conformed to this world: But be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” Be not conformed literally means do not follow the example of others. We are to be transformed in our minds. This is a supernatural metamorphosis. This change is accomplished by a renewing of the mind and spirit.

We are instead to live in the acceptable and perfect will of God. What does that mean? Well, we are to present our bodies a living sacrifice to God. We are to make our bodies holy. We are to make ourselves acceptable to God. We are to render our reasonable service unto the Lord. We are to not conform ourselves to the world and its example. Rather, we are to be transformed from the world.

It is important to realize that the devil attacks us in the mind. He wants to stop or slow the renewing of our minds. He knows as long as we are walking in the flesh, we are not renewing our mind. We are not acting in the will of God. We are instead acting in our own will. Our instincts and our sin nature will then dictate our behavior. We will in no way be thinking about what God’s will or His plan might be for us. As we lose our minds and our spirits to Satan, we walk farther and farther away from God. We can’t hear the gentle voice of the Lord instructing us in how we should act. Where we should go. We’re like a ship on a violent sea, tossed to and fro. We are vulnerable to vain philosophies and incorrect doctrine. We make decisions that are totally self-centered. It’s our own will running riot.

If you want to hear the voice of God, you have to be willing to sit and listen. If we want to know God’s plan or will for us, we have to examine his written Word. We need to pray and listen faithfully for a response. We have to come out from among the world and take up our heavenly citizenship. We are a chosen generation. A peculiar people. We remember that our fight is not with others, as in the flesh; rather, we fight against powers and principalities. The battle takes place in our minds. If Satan creates enough confusion and chaos in our lives, we will be distracted from getting to know God’s will. We will remain a slave to our sin nature. What free will? There is none when we’re driven by our sin nature. But if we turn to Jesus, He will surely set us free. Then we can clear our heads and come to the Word and learn God’s will for our lives.

Worship

We have a war going on, and a good portion of the world is in an unbelievable mess of poverty, famine, unrest, and violence. And yet if you turn on the news in the United States you will far more likely hear about the daily activities of pop stars and actors, or how much money an athlete is making and who he’s dating, than anything meaningful. Surely anyone can see that our worship switch is always set to ON, and we’re tuned to some ridiculously finite broadcasts. Grown men paint their bodies and surf an incalculable number of websites to follow a sports team. Significant emotional energy is poured into the physical abilities of children in a game. Go to any concert and you’ll see people lift their hands spontaneously and clap and close their eyes and be spiritually moved by music. People fish or hike to be in tune with nature. We put posters on our walls, stickers on our cars, ink under our skin, and drugs into our system. We do all of these things and others like them, pouring ourselves automatically and quite naturally into what is decaying. We want to worship something. Worship is an innate response. We are wired for it by God himself. But something has gone wrong with the wiring.

Snow Shoveling and Hot Fudge Sundaes

I grew up in Sunbury, PA back in the mid sixties early seventies. Just like most kinds, I often did odd jobs to raise a few dollars. I received an allowance, but I wanted to earn more. It is for this reason that I started a paper route. It went well until someone started stealing my customers’ payments from under their front porch rugs. I never did find out who it was. It cut in to my profits enough that I quit the route.

I often shoveled sidewalks in the winter to earn money. It was a lot of fun. I would get bundled up and head out. I had a lot of repeat customers, and usually benefited from word of mouth. I took an ice chopper with me and did a very thorough job. Typically, I earned five dollars per sidewalk. Sometimes I would shovel up to six sidewalks before I quit. It all depended on how frozen I was.

On one occasion I shoveled sidewalks with my brother. When we got done we headed down to Market Street to J.J. Newberry’s. They had a luncheonette which served ice cream. I ordered a hot fudge sundae and my brother ordered a banana split. Strange, you might say. It was winter, blizzard conditions outside, and we were sitting at the counter at Newberry’s eating ice cream. Mom thought we were crazy, but we didn’t mind the cold at all. Well, that is not until we went back outside in clothes wet from snow and sweating from the activity. The damp cold would go right through us. We would walk home after ice cream and change into dry clothes and drink hot chocolate.

My brother and I had a soft spot for animals growing up. We joined the Junior A.S.P.C.A. We would go around the neighborhood looking for animals in distress. We also cleaned up roadkill and gave the critters a proper burial. Dad made us a small placard painted white with strips of red reflector tape. I hooked a wagon to my bicycle and headed out. We called our service the Animal Rescue Squad. When we found a dead animal, we’d stop and put our placard out. I’d put on a pair of gardening gloves and pick up the critter, placing it in the wagon.

We were in the middle of a rescue operation one day near the veterinary office in our block when we saw an elderly lady wandering around calling for her cat. It had jumped from her arms on her way in to the veterinarian. We immediately jumped into action, helping her look for the cat. We found it after twenty minutes and brought it back to her. She was overjoyed. She opened her purse and got out her wallet, offering us a reward. We turned it down, saying we only wanted to help out of our love for animals. She asked for our mailing address so she could send us a thank you card. Five days later we received an envelope with a card in it. Inside was a check for fifty dollars!

Guess what we did to celebrate? Yep. We went to Newberry’s and had ice cream. Our rescue squad adventures were never meant to be a way to earn money. It just worked out in this instance. We wrote a letter to the Junior A.S.P.C.A. describing our rescue of the lady’s cat, and they published a notice in the monthly newsletter. We were beaming with pride. Our rescue efforts had taken on a new meaning. Not only did we remove dead animals from the streets in our neighborhood, we also helped people look for lost pets. To this day, I have a place in my heart for animals.

God

The work of God in the cross of Christ strikes us as awe-inspiring only after we have first been awed by the glory of God. Therefore, if we are going to talk about the scope of the cross, we need to first talk about who God is. What is he like? How big is he? How deep and wide is his power? The cross provides our access to relate to God, but we must always relate to him in light of who he is, not merely who we think or hope him to be. If this is true, the deeper we go into God’s glory, the deeper we find ourselves in the precious work of Christ on the cross, and vice versa.

We find a great explanation of the glory of God in Romans 11, verses 33-36. This scripture says, “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen”

You and I are stymied in our own creativity. We can only create as sub-creators, and even then our best work is merely sub-creation. If you’re a writer, you can write only as well as you understand language, diction, grammar, and the general art of writing. If you want to paint a picture, you can paint only as well as you have developed your skill, using whatever paints are available to you, in only the colors and combinations that already exist. If you want to build a house, you will be limited by whatever your mortgage approval is, whatever equipment you can afford, and whatever raw material is already out there. We are great at creating, but our creation is always dependent. Not so with God.

God creates anything he wants and as much of it as he wants, and he does it all out of nothing! He doesn’t need raw material. He makes raw material. God is not limited like you and I are. We are always limited by what’s available, and always dependent on outside considerations and constraints. Now we’re getting nearer to the impulse that caused Paul to sing, “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”

God’s creativity is so rich, so expansive, and so far above us that he simply says, “I want this,” and there it is. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the things of God that are beyond us. You and I are caged in by what we can afford, what we can gather, and what’s already been created. Maybe you’ve heard of scientists creating life in a laboratory, but that will never happen. No scientist has ever been able or will ever be able to stare into an empty petri dish and wish the nothing it holds into something. Whatever it is scientists do, they do with raw materials already in existence.

Roll this around in your brain a while: God knows everything and God is everything. He knows everything at the macro level. He knows the temperatures at which certain stars burn. He knows the orbital lines of planets. He knows every mountain in every mountain range on this planet and others. He knows the depths of every ocean. But he also knows everything at the micro level. He knows every molecule and every atom. He knows their positions, their locations, their functions. He sees and governs every instance of mitosis. Not only does God know everything that is happening at every level, he also has a never-ending breadth of knowledge. He is aware of every event that has ever occurred and will ever occur. He knows it all without the need of post-it notes or strings wrapped around his fingers.

God is holding all things together, seeing all things and knowing all things, all purely from the reality of his wanting it to be so. This is, at the very least, what it means to be God. Nobody gets to counsel God. Nobody gets to give God advice. No one gets to straighten God’s path. No one. And we have nothing to give him that he doesn’t already own outright. This speaks of God’s grace, because it shows that he doesn’t need us; rather he wants us. When we who call ourselves Christians realize how utterly self-sufficient God is all within himself, the gift of Christ to us and for us becomes all the more astonishing. And we will want it this way. Because God who is ultimately focused on his own glory will be about the business of restoring us, who are all broken images of him. His glory demands it. So we should be thankful for a self-sufficient God whose self-regard is glorious.

Pride Cuts Us Off From God

Some people have difficulty becoming humble enough to admit they need something beyond themselves — a personal savior. That’s one reason I have come to believe that pride ranks high in the hierarchy of sins. Pride leads us to believe we are spiritually self-sufficient, and keeps us from drawing close to God. For years I acted at though I was the god of my universe. My morality compass was broken. I did what I wanted to do, and if confronted about my behavior I became defensive. I was self-righteous and felt I didn’t need God. At times I didn’t know if I even believed in God.

God grabbed my attention in spite of my unbelief. His influence was not apparent to me at first. I just blamed things on bad luck. I lost jobs and wives and apartments and cars. I continued to live the lifestyle of a party animal. I was hopelessly addicted to alcohol and was using opiates on a regular basis. Of course, it did not dawn on me that drinking and taking drugs was the root of my problems. I did not see my behavior as being indicative of an underlying spiritual malady. Although I went up to the alter at age thirteen and confessed Jesus as the Son of God and my Savior, I did not accept this fact down in my soul. I think I was looking for a simple solution to my misery. Besides, I wanted people to think I had changed.

I fell into deep depression and started losing my grip on normalcy. I could not stop drinking. I don’t think I wanted to stop quite frankly. I remember admitting to myself that I was an alcoholic, but I wasn’t sure I felt like doing anything about it. I had come to the point where I couldn’t live with alcohol and I couldn’t live without it. I have always been interested in writing, and believed I could compose things better when drunk or high. Guess I thought I was the next Ernest Hemingway. But without fail, most of my writings made no sense the next morning. I never finished any of my writing, leaving my hard drive littered with fragmented projects.

I quit drinking in 2008, but unfortunately I began abusing Ativan and opiates. For some reason, I thought I was sober. I figured pills were different. It didn’t take long until I was once again living in a fog. My life became unmanageable all over again. I started living a lie. I was teaching Bible study at the county jail, speaking on deliverance, but was popping pills. This continued for several years, getting worse with the passing of every month. I was not able to control how many pills I took, nor could I resist the temptation to take medication belonging to other people. Ultimately, my family confronted me in an intervention. I spent twenty-one days in a drug and alcohol treatment center.

Today in church we skipped the sermon and continued to worship and pray. A man came to services that had been getting food from our food bank. He had the odor of alcohol on his breath today and wanted us to pray for him. Our congregation surrounded him and laid hands on him. We prayed for release of the bondage of alcohol. Then our pastor asked church members to come up front and stand in the gap for loved ones struggling with addiction. The congregation also prayed for me. I felt the presence of God. It was very moving. I am grateful that I was able to put my pride aside and recognize the need for spiritual healing. For the need of a personal savior. I have said before that my higher power is Jesus Christ. He delivers the captive from bondage. He heals the sick. He is my Lord and Master.

I Think You Should Walk

I got a new AA sponsor last night. He was reluctant to work with me at first because the last two years of my life involved using opiates and anti-anxiety medication. He said, “I just don’t have experience regarding the abuse of medication. I’m just an alcoholic.’ He did agree, however, that I should make my home in AA rather than NA. I am fifty-five years old, and booze is a big part of my story. He said the demographics of NA include a much younger crowd. I noticed the same thing while in rehab. In fact, one of the techs suggested I attend AA meetings rather than NA meetings.

I spoke with my sponsor last night. He gave me a handful of suggestions. One in particular was that I walk to meetings. He knows I have trouble with depression, and he said exercise releases endorphins which help you feel better. Also, I am about forty pounds overweight. I know I did not have a choice regarding this whole walking thing. It was as if I was being challenged as to what lengths I am willing to go to be sober. So I walked to the noon meeting today. It felt really strange leaving a perfectly good car behind and heading out on foot. It only took fifteen minutes to get to the meeting, so it was no big deal. It was cold out, but I remembered the time I walked an hour and a half in the cold winter months to buy a bag of pot. The least I can do is walk to an AA meeting.

Really, this is about being willing to take direction. I have been very self-centered and unwilling to listen over the years. I have a decent IQ and did very well in college. I took a lot of psychology and counseling courses. So I decided I knew better. I had it all figured out. But I once said to myself in the mirror, “If you’re so smart, how come you are drowning in alcohol?” It’s very true that controlling our alcohol consumption is not a matter of will power. We lack the ability to choose. It’s like the drink chooses for us. No human power can relieve us our our alcoholism. But there is one who has all power. That one is God. So being able to admit powerlessness and to decide we don’t know how to quit drinking on our own is more than half the battle. It sets us on the right path to recovery. It allows us to begin working on our character defects. I like the saying, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”

So I am walking to AA meetings until further notice. Frankly, it feels right. I guess maybe I am finally willing to take direction and do what it takes. I am well on the road to recovery. (I’ll admit, I can’t wait for warmer weather!)

Higher Power

Step Two of the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous states we come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. Step Three says we turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him. There is no mention of a specific concept of God.

The Oxford Group, which existed before the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous, was based solidly upon Christian principles. Jesus was at the center of the program. This was also true for the earliest groups of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Twelve Steps are rooted in basic Christian principles. The message has been watered down over the years. Today, sharing about a Christian God is frowned upon. In fact, naming Jesus Christ as your higher power will likely draw strong comments. I think it is no coincidence that fewer than twenty percent of those who start attending AA meetings today remain sober one year later. The rate of success was as high as fifty percent in the early years.

Although it is often difficult to share Jesus in AA, I am convinced that he is the one true God. He is the highest of higher powers. The 53rd Chapter of the Book of Isaiah tells us that Christ was bruised for our iniquities. It states that by his stripes we are healed. The Gospels indicate that Jesus became a sacrifice for our sins. Christ wants us to have life, and to have it more abundantly. He sets the captives free. This is good news indeed for the alcoholic and the addict. In the grips of active addiction, we are certainly not happy, joyous and free. We are living in the flesh while in the grips of active addiction. We find ourselves doing things we do not want to do, and we find it difficult to do the things we want to do. The Apostle Paul discusses this in detail in the Book of Romans.

For me, the answer is Jesus Christ. I long to share the message of Christ in AA meetings, but I cannot. Instead, I make sure to share him with alcoholics on a one-on-one basis. I give my testimony and explain how I have been set free. I also tell people that I am capable of falling out of grace and taking my will back. When I do so, I take definite steps toward relapse. That is why I start my day on my knees asking Jesus to walk with me and to reveal his will for me throughout the day. I ask that he deliver me from the bondage of self. That he keep me away from a drink or a drug for the next twenty-four hours. I pray that God’s will, not mine, be done. When I get ready for bed at night, I once again get on my knees. I thank Jesus for delivering me from the bondage of addiction. For keeping me sober throughout the day. I take a look at my behavior during the past twenty-four hours, and I ask forgiveness for my shortcomings and my offenses.

I veered away from turning to Christ. The result was relapse. I started lying to myself and to others. I took my will back. Once again, I was the god of my own universe. My emotions were raw. My anxiety was through the roof. I experienced increased back and neck pain, and was negative about my life. The more miserable I became, the further I slipped back into active addiction. When I couldn’t get enough opiates on my own, I started stealing pills from family members. It got so bad that I lost track of how many pills I was taking. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I was trapped in active addiction with no sense of hope.

It took an intervention by my family in order to get my attention. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a family that cares. One that takes a stand and confronts you. I am most certainly blessed in this regard. It’s clear to me that God works through the actions of those around us. I will be forever grateful to God that he saw something in me worth saving. I am a cat who has used up eight of his nine lives. It reminds me of a video game where your life force is down so low that just one more brush with the bad guy will knock you out of the competition. You run around looking for “health” icons, trying to stay alive for one more minute. It’s a lot like running on empty in active addiction. I’m so lucky to still be breathing. It’s as though I have been saved for something special.

I realize now that God’s will for me is to be clean and sober, and to reach out to others caught in addiction. He wants me to be a conduit through which his power can move. Although I cannot “preach” during AA meetings, I can get together one-on-one with addicts and alcoholics and share Jesus Christ with them. I look at it this way: They’ve literally tried everything else, what have they got to lose? I just pray that God keeps me clean and sober today, and that he helps me keep my head above water. Thank you Jesus.

Moving Forward

There are few things as difficult as being asked to move out of your mother’s house following a relapse. I faced that hardship today. I moved in with mom and dad in 2008 following a period of drinking and getting high. I was about to be homeless. I had resigned from a position as a paralegal in Philadelphia, and was working as a house painter and carpenter’s helper in Bethlehem, PA. I met someone who smoked marijuana on a daily basis, and gave in to his suggestion that I needed to “relax a little.” He handed me a pot pipe. From that day on, I smoked weed every day. Morning, noon and night. Didn’t take much at all to get me to pick up where I left off years ago when I quit drugs and alcohol and started attending AA meetings.

My weed smoking habit grew to more than a quarter ounce a day. I stayed away from alcohol for nearly five years, but was constantly getting high. I found I could not function without marijuana. I was unable to fall asleep, and was plagued by panic attacks. On one occasion, I fell victim to severe anxiety while shopping for groceries. I had to leave a cart full of groceries and run out of the store. I could not predict when these attacks would happen, and was at a loss to explain them. But marijuana seemed to stop the anxiety. It was also beneficial for my back pain and muscle spasms. I joked that pot was my natural muscle relaxer. What I didn’t realize was that I was self-medicating. That I had an undiagnosed underlying mental illness. I was tormented, and yet had no idea what was bothering me.

I continued to “try” sobriety a number of times over the years. I truly believe I was troubled in my spirit by my behavior and my lack of conscious contact with God. I often would make the comment to myself that I had a problem with drugs and alcohol. Although I had this fleeting thought, I lacked the power and the commitment to do anything about it. I am sure I felt somewhat hopeless. If only I could have reached out to God at that time. Something kept me powerless. These periods of temporary sobriety would last a few months to a few years, only to slip through my fingers.

This continued on and off for quite some time. I eventually stopped getting drunk and high, but I began abusing opiates and anti-anxiety pills. This happened despite my attending church and claiming to be delivered from addiction by Jesus Christ. I started teaching weekly Bible lessons at a local county prison, testifying that I was in recovery. I gave lessons on fear and love and living in the Spirit. At times, I was aware that I was living as a hypocrite. I kept praying to God to keep me out of trouble. I tried bargaining with the Lord. “God, just let me get through this day and I promise I will never abuse pills again.” I wanted to quit on my own terms. Striking a bargain with God is one thing that never works.

So I am at a point where I am moving forward. I finally feel a sense of hope regarding my future. My relationship with God has been strengthened by my becoming humble and honest. It’s obvious to me that I cannot resist the temptation to use drugs when left to my own devices. I am powerless. I am prone to live in the flesh, feeding my sin nature. The Big Book tells us that no human power could relieve us of our alcoholism. It goes on to say, “But there is one who has all power. That one is God. May you find him now.” It feels so good to be able to return to the spiritual path I walked years ago, before giving in to my self will run riot. It is time I stop living in fear, trying to escape from life by anesthetizing myself, and running from responsibility. No matter what has happened to me in the past that might have lead to abusing drugs and alcohol, I realize I am responsible for my own recovery. I cannot try managing my cravings on my own. It doesn’t work.

Thanks to my higher power, Jesus Christ, my impulse to use drugs or get drunk is suppressed. Recognizing that I need a power greater than myself is at the root of my being able to change and to resist impulsive behavior. I have been given yet another chance to live. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to move forward.

The Perfect High

There once was a boy named Gimmesome Roy. He was nothing like me and you.
‘Cause laying back and getting high was all he cared to do.
As a kid, he sat in the cellar, sniffing airplane glue.
And then he smoked bananas — which then was the thing to do.
He tried aspirin in Coca-Cola, breathed helium on the sly,
And his life was just one endless search to find that perfect high.
But the great things he wrote while he was stoned looked like shit in the morning light.
And speed just made him rap all day, reds just laid him back,
He tried PCP and THC, but they didn’t quite do the trick,
And poppers nearly blew his heart and mushrooms made him sick.
Acid made him see the light, but he couldn’t remember it long.
And hashish was just a little to weak, and smack was way too strong,
And quaaludes made him stumble, and booze just made him cry,
Till he heard of a cat named Baba Fats who knew of the perfect high.

Now Baba Fats was a hermit crab who lived up in Nepal,
High on a craggy mountaintop, up a sheer and icy wall.
“But hell,” says Roy, “I’m a healthy boy, and I’ll crawl or climb or fly,
But I’ll find that guru who’ll give me the clue as to what’s the perfect high.”
So out and off goes Gimmesome Roy to the land that knows no time,
Up a trail no man could conquer, to a cliff no man could climb.
For fourteen years he tries that cliff, then back down again he slides,
Then sits and cries and climbs again, pursuing the perfect high.
He’s grinding his teeth, he’s coughing up blood, he’s aching and shaking and weak,
As starving and sore and bleeding and tore, he reaches the mountain peak.
And his eyes blink red like a snow-blind wolf, and he snarls the snarl of a rat,
As there in perfect repose and wearing no clothes sits the godlike Baba Fats.

“What’s happening, Fats?” says Roy with joy, “I’ve come to state my biz.
I hear you’re hip to the perfect trip, please tell me what it is.
For you can see,” says Roy to he, “that I’m about to die,
So for my last ride, Fats, how can I achieve the perfect high?”
“Well dog, my cat!” says Baba Fats, “here’s one more burnt-out sole,
Who’s looking for some alchemist to turn his trip to gold.
But you won’t find it in no dealer’s stash, or on no druggist’s shelf.
Son, if you would seek the perfect high, find it in yourself.”

“Why you bastard!” screamed Gimmesome Roy, “I’ve climbed through rain and sleet,
I’ve lost three fingers off my hand and four toes off my feet!
I’ve braved the lair of the polar bear and tasted the maggot’s kiss.
Now, you tell me the high is in myself. What kind of shit is this?
My ears ‘fore they froze off,’ says Roy “had heard all kinds of crap,
But I didn’t climb for fourteen years to listen to that sophomore rap.
And I didn’t crawl up here to hear that the high is on the natch,
So you tell me where the real stuff is or I’ll kill your guru ass!”

“Ok, Ok,” says Baba Fats, “you’re forcing it out of me.
There is a land beyond the sun that’s known as Zaboli.
A wretched land of stone and sand where snakes and buzzards scream,
And in this devil’s garden blooms the mystic Tzu-Tzu tree.
And every ten years it blooms on flower as white as the Key West sky,
And he who eats of the Tzu-Tzu flower will know the perfect high.
For the rush comes on like a tidal wave and it hits like the blazing sun.
And the high, it lasts a lifetime and the down don’t ever come.
But the Zaboli land is ruled by a giant who stands twelve cubits high.
With eyes of red in his hundred heads, he waits for the passers-by.
And you must slay the red-eyed giant, and swim the River of Slime,
Where the mucous beasts, they wait to feast on those who journey by.
And if you survive the giant and the beasts and swim the slimy sea,
There’s a blood-drinking witch who sharpens her teeth as she guards that Tzu-Tzu tree.”
“To hell with your witches and giants,” laughs Roy. “To hell with the beasts of the sea.
As long as the Tzu-Tzu flower blooms some hope still blooms for me.”
And with tears of joy in his snow-blind eye Roy hands the guru a five,
Then back down the icy mountain he crawls, pursuing that perfect high.

“Well that is that,” says Baba Fats, sitting back down on his stone,
Facing another thousand years of talking to God alone.
“It seems, Lord,” says Fats, “it’s always the same, old men or bright-eyed youth,
It’s always easier to sell them some shit than it is to give them the truth.”