where’s my strength?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

What gives you strength?  Is it financial security, power, fame, friendships, family, faith?  In my conflicted life, it was alcohol.  For 17 years I relied on the demons of alcohol and related addictions to give me a sense of security and self-worth.  I was strong and fearless facing the challenges of life which most of my family and friends confronted stone-cold sober.  I never understood them.  Why didn’t they need the same crutches which I used?

As I approach 38 years of sobriety, I still ask myself, “What makes me strong?”

The lyrics from the SIDEWALK PROPHETS answers that question.  “Be strong in the Lord.”  My strength lies in practicing simple, spiritual principles in my lifestyle guided by faith in the promises presented by the fellowship of other recovering alcoholics.

We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.  We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.  No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.  That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.  We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.  Self-seeking will slip away.  Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.  Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.  We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.  We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”  Alcoholics Anonymous BIG BOOK

Therein is the nugget of truth which frees alcoholics like me.  The realization of the promises hinge on putting my faith, finding my strength in the One whom I name Lord of my life.  Total surrender.  The gift of sobriety, something which eluded me several years even as a non-drinker, was not a matter of exerting personal will power,  reading self-help books, following a rigorous jogging routine, listening to preachers and evangelists.  No, sobriety happened slowly after a difficult period of ‘not drinking’ and working with others.

The passage from the Big Book goes on to ask if these are extravagant promises.  We answer, “We think not,” because we have seen them materialize when we have been willing to work for them.  “Work, work, work.”

Another favorite of AAers is a verse from the book of James in Christian scriptures which tells us that “faith without works is dead.”  Answers to my questions began to appear when God put those words in perspective.  Yes, the good works are necessary.  But, the foundation must be faith.  I must be strong in the Lord of my understanding.  That strength will carry me through times of travail, times of doubt and questioning, times when other sufferers disappoint me.  The works keep me busy and out of trouble; the faith gives me reason to continue.  How about you? 🙏

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St. Bonaventure

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

All of us are driven by a philosophy concerning life.  It could be derived from any number of prolific authors, leaders, and statesmen.  Quite often our personal life philosophy is a result of theological teachings.  The beliefs which I inherited from my forefathers went unchallenged in my younger years because the community in which I lived all abided by the principles of those beliefs.  Christianity ruled.

And that would have been just fine if I had not ventured into the world beyond my community and experienced different cultures, different creeds, and different lifestyles.  Tribalism was not at the forefront of conversations as it is today, but in retrospect, it was alive and well.  Unwittingly, we all were suspicious of those who spoke, looked, thought, and worshipped differently.

Even more devastating to the growth of a young man finding his way in a life apart from the community of his upbringing was the concept of his forefathers’ God.  There were numerous new ideas and experiences outside that sheltered life of boyhood and teenaged years.  Most of them felt exhilarating and exciting, needed to be embraced and explored.

But, in the recesses of my mind, one dinosaur of theology always tempered the thrills of newly found freedoms.

“If it feels good, it is probably a sin.”

Thankfully, the alcoholism which controlled my life for so many years also brought me to a reckoning with the man I had become. 1) admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable 2) came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity 3) made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to a God of our understanding.

The key words in step 3 which changed my life dramatically were ‘God of my understanding.”  I finally realized that God had given to me at birth a sense of reason and inner understanding with which I was designed to understand  this ‘God-thing’.  Nobody else could do this for me.  It was a personal spiritual journey which became a lifetime endeavor.  And finally I was able to embrace a life of wonderful experiences without the sin factor hanging over my head.  Today, in my world, the word sin is a negative connotation used by others to control and intimidate when, in my reality, it simply means a temporary state of separation from the God of my understanding.

St. Bonaventure, an Italian medieval Franciscan, scholastic theologian and philosopher was born in 1221 Giovani di Fidanza and died in 1274.  He entered the Franciscan order in 1243 and studied at the University of Paris.  Marked by an attempt to completely integrate faith and reason, he thought of “Christ as the one true master who offers humans knowledge that begins in faith, is developed through rational understanding, and is perfected by mystical union with God.” St. Bonaventure

“Bonaventure pays little attention to fire and brimstone, sin, merit, justification, or atonement. His vision is positive, mystic, cosmic, intimately relational, and largely concerned with cleaning the lens of our perception and our intention so we can see and enjoy fully!” cac.org

I think I would have enjoyed life as a Franciscan living and studying with Giovani di Fidanza.  Hmmmm, maybe I did and simply have not yet realized that previous life.  🙏

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blessed are the sick

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:1-12

What’s that you say?  Blessed are the sick is not one of the Beatitudes.  Are you sure?  Hmmm, maybe I’m just feeling especially needy today and wanting another blessing.  My body has been plagued with this year’s influenza “du jour” for the past ten days and I am, well for lack of better words, sick of it.  The bug has visited every part of my body and is now considering follow-up visits.  I won’t have it.  Enough is enough.

A friend, not known for encouragement nor social tact, commented that this is God’s way of using me in another person’s spiritual walk.  Really?  Obviously, God and I need to have a talk.  I can visit the sick, I can write encouragement, I can hold another’s hand in solace, I can cook a dinner, I can run errands, I can mail a cute ‘get well’ card.  But, I don’t see the benefit of puking for God.

“Son, you have so much to learn from me.”

“Lord?”

“Who else talks to you in your hour of need?”

Nowhere in Matthew 5: 1-12 does it say, “Blessed are the hale and hearty, the fit and healthy.”  Each of the Beatitudes bestows a blessing on the weak and needy because it is there in that weakness, need, and abject powerlessness, that our Father can meet us and use us to further his work in our kingdoms.  When I become absolutely incapable of controlling my body and my affairs is the time when Jesus can nominate another of his followers to step in and become a dispenser for his tender mercies.

That is one the most difficult parts of recovery.  We have learned to love with patience and compassion, but allowing ourselves to be loved with patience and compassion is a challenge.  Allowing our weakness and sickness to be a tool in another’s faith walk is not part of the ego’s game plan.

The great mystics speak of the need to give up the gaze upon the heavens for guidance and direction, but rather to descend into the masses of suffering and despair to discover the essence of a Savior.  Religion often tells us to look up.  Jesus teaches us to redirect our attentions downward where humanity suffers because that’s where He exists.

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Jonah’s Whale

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Jonah, historically, was a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel in about the 8th century BCE.  His name is given to the Book of Jonah representing the  Judaic teaching of teshuva, the ability to repent and be forgiven by God.

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.  He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’  You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.  A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”  Jesus left them and went away.  Matthew 16: 1-4

There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Briefly, the Biblical story of Jonah tells about a man of faith who was instructed by his God to journey to the city of Nineveh to warn the residents to repent of their sins or face divine wrath.  Jonah instead flees in the opposite direction and gains passage on a ship to Tarshish.  The voyage encounters tumultuous seas threatening ship and crew with destruction.  Jonah, realizing he is the cause of this raging storm at sea, orders the crew to throw him overboard.  He is swallowed by a whale, survives inside the whale’s belly for three days, is then vomited ashore.  Jonah completes God’s mission, the people of Nineveh repent, the disobedient man of faith is forgiven.

I enjoy reading this story about Jonah.  It is a rich example of the Judaic society of that time drawing upon the writings of the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans expressing a faith system in greater powers than themselves.  It is a fascinating mythology.  But, in contrast to the neighboring cultures, the Hebrews developed a monotheism worshipping one God to whom they attributed power greater than any of the other gods of the time.

Our powerlessness is acutely apparent when we are in the “belly of the beast”.  Those times when I know what is right and sustaining, but choose instead to follow what is convenient and comfortable are days in the belly of the beast.  The times when I know what the Lord of my life commands, but follow instead what pleases my ego are even more days in the belly of the beast.  I relate to Jonah when what I choose to do is in opposition to what God desires for me.  The seven deadly sins (character defects) of greed, anger, envy, sloth, lust, gluttony, and pride will in a heartbeat put me in the belly of the beast.

It’s a place I can’t fix, control, explain, or understand.  Sooner or later, life is going to lead us there, you and I.  Graciously, that’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing.  It’s transformation that leads recovering addicts out of the beast of addiction.  Like Jonah, that whale vomits us back up onto the shores of sanity and submission.  I am rebellious by nature, slow to learn lessons, and have spent many days and nights suffering in the belly of my personal giant beasts.

Thankfully, the Hebrews taught me about teshuva.  The story of Jonah affirms the teaching of their wisdom.  Repentance and forgiveness, repentance and forgiveness – the cycle continues into eternity.

Heaven and Hell

Is my life directed by the promise of heaven and the threat of hell?  How about yours?  I spent many of my younger years in hell.  Been there, done that and today I’m not afraid of hell because I know that the state of mind which I call hell can not be imposed on me by an entity which is vengeful and wrathful, a God which sits in judgement breathing fire and damnation.  Only I can impose hell on me.  It would have to be my choice to return to the hell I knew in addiction and, today, I won’t go there.  The God of my understanding is with me and in me.  We, together as one, control our destiny, so why would We impose hell on both of us?  Doesn’t make sense.

Look, I am not going to engage theological arguments with those who believe a literal heaven and hell.  If that trips your trigger, go for it.  It tripped my trigger also for many years and I was the meanest, most miserable man on earth because I knew my eternity was going to be spent in hell.  Why was that?  Because I could in no way conform to the type of person who made it to the Pearly Gates to claim his room in the heavenly mansions according to the edicts of religion and preachers.  I was doomed.  Church could not save me, preachers could not change me, and good religious folks gave up on me.

I am the prodigal son who took his God-given inheritance, ran to the far country, drank and caroused, lied, deceived, stole, and partied himself into a moral bankruptcy that no human power could forgive or change.  Finally, when totally and absolutely defeated, I looked back to the home I had left, fell to my knees and begged a new start.  My Father was standing there on the return road and ran to meet me, threw arms around me, hugged and kissed, and cried, “Welcome back, my son.  I have never stopped loving you.” LUKE 15:11-32

Yeah, that was 39 years ago and I remember it like yesterday.  Still get weepy-eyed.  No sir, there’s no way I’m going back to hell.  I’m the woman at the well drawing water when Jesus stopped to ask for a cup of water.  She, being a Samaritan woman, did not associate with Jews and was offended by his request.  He, being a Jew, should not have defiled himself by speaking to a Samaritan.  But, Jesus knew her past history of immoral behavior and offered her a drink from the living waters of eternal life which he offered to all who would believe.  Just as the Samaritan woman, I accepted the offer. JOHN 4:4-21

I am Peter who swore his loyalty and love to Jesus only to betray him three times in the courtyard of the high priest because the faithful disciple was afraid for his personal safety.  Loving his disciple Peter as much as ever, Jesus suffered humiliation, flogging, torture and crucifixion even though Peter betrayed and abandoned him in the greatest time of our Lord’s human need.  That is who my Father is, the one who met me, a drunk who betrayed Him and all who chose to love me, on the road back to sanity and sobriety. LUKE 22:54-62

I am Thomas, the disciple who refused to believe his Master had defeated death and was still alive in Spirit.  “Not until I see the nail holes in his hands and wound in His side, will I believe.”  A strident atheist, a confirmed non-believer, a vocal blasphemer and doubter is who I was when I spied my Father waiting for me on the road back home.  My Father wept with joy at my return with tears of compassion and forgiveness even as I had been the wayward denier assailing his person and spirit at every opportunity. JOHN 20:25

I am Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee who directed the first man to cast stones at Jesus’ follower, Stephen, outside the city’s gates.  I persecuted and ridiculed those who believed in Jesus and I tried to destroy their faith in something which I had previously known but cast away in my addiction.  Then, when my life detoured to my personal Damascus, the scales of darkness were removed from my eyes and, like Saul, I was unblinded to the truth of my Father as he came running to me singing “Paul, Paul, believe in me”. ACTS 9: 1-19

I am Paul, the redeemed and forgiven Saul of Tarsus, who, after the conversion on the Damascus road, dedicated his life to telling all about the Lord of his life, Jesus.  This is my story, my truth.  I can share it, but I can’t give it to you.  You must discover your truth for yourself.  Come and discover.  The yoke is easy and it is light.  No load is too heavy, no burden too great, no sin too unforgiveable.  Give it up.  Our Father will joyfully meet you on the road and carry you home.

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Beggar in the presence of a king

If your life is perfect, if you have no problems, if your faith is strong as an ox, then this post is probably not for you.  On the other hand, if you are like me, a man who questions everything, doubts everything as the disciple Thomas did, reels between ecstasy and bewilderment when considering the things of faith, then we can appreciate the title of Matthew West’s song, BROKEN THINGS.

“If it’s true you use broken things – then here I am Lord, I’m all yours.”

People don’t like broken things – they throw away cracked dishes, broken vacuum cleaners, flickering lamps, worn clothing.  I remember my grandfather who took his shoes to a cobbler to be re-soled rather than buy new shoes.  Thinking he could not afford new shoes, I bought him a pair for Christmas.  Graciously he thanked me but continued wearing those old shoes.  That new pair was still in its box when Grandpa died.

Rather than repairing broken relationships, husbands and wives will find good divorce lawyers.  Fathers and sons remain estranged for many years after a disagreement, not remembering what the argument was about, but too stubborn to reconcile.  For many of us, broken relationships are not worth repairing.

I was the last to admit that I was broken.  My life had spiraled head first into a vast darkness which applauded my efforts to be strong, to be better than others, to stand out from the crowd, to chart my own destiny no matter what the cost.  I swam in that sea of darkness believing it was my strength of character and independence that kept me afloat.  I did it entirely on my own personal will power.  I drove myself to be a self-made man, independent of anyone – especially God.

Some of us are sicker than others.  Thankfully, God knows this; he has a special room in His heart for the sickest of the sick.  Patiently, steadfastly, lovingly He guided me to a place where I could take an honest assessment of me – on my knees.  We talked, we cried, we screamed out in pain and then we entered the wide gate into the Kingdom of grace.

I am still a broken vessel today.  I like it that way because my Lord can use broken things to fix the brokenness which He sees in his human family.  Patch me, glue me, bind me together.  Like that pair of Grandpa’s worn-out shoes, I can always be re-souled.  “I am just a beggar in the presence of a King.”

“Grace is a Kingdom with gates open wide.”

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COURTESY OF lum3n.com

 

My Story

If I told you my story, I would tell you about the enemy, alcoholism.  For you, I would remember again the self-loathing, the despair, the brokenness, the heartache, the shattered relationships…..if you wanted to hear my story.  I would be thrilled to tell you my story because it ends with victory over the enemy, an unearned, undeserved victory won for me by a Savior’s grace that was greater than all my sins.

I would tell you about a Father’s love that never gave up on me.  As with the prodigal son returning from the far land, my Father saw me from afar wanting to come home, met me on the road, threw his arms around me with caresses and kisses saying “Welcome home, my son.”

If I told you my story, you would hear about mercy and forgiveness.  From the filth and mire of a life spent in the depths of addiction, I would tell you about the day, when on bended knee, I tearfully begged for a renewal, a way out of my desperation.  And my plea was answered by a merciful and forgiving Father who erased the pain and self-loathing, wrapped His arms around me with love unceasing.

“This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”

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