Why I Love Hanging Around Addicts

You’d never think that a “good church kid” from a staunch Southern Baptist background would willingly hang out with a bunch of addicts, but I do and I love it! More than that, it’s one of the favorite ministry things I get to do each month. Mt Vernon church works together with Recovery House (a local in-residence treatment facility) to help ladies battle drug and alcohol (and more and more prescription drug) addictions that are ruining their lives.

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Every Sunday a dozen of the ladies from phase one march into church two by two. For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve been in church in years, if not decades. Once a month I get to go out to Recovery House and spend two hours with these ladies, getting to know them and answering any spiritual questions they might have. Yesterday was my day to go to Recovery House, and I walked away (as always) reminding myself that it was for afternoons like this that I got into ministry.

Like most months, the current group of clients for Recovery House is a motley crue of broken and damaged lives: we had an exotic dancer, a preacher’s kid, and a mousy-faced, harmless-looking lady who was actually a murderer (she sat right next to me!). I learned about their stories, their hurts, their broken homes growing up (four of them grew up with parents who were addicts), their children, their divorces, their abuse. Being insulated for so long in the antiseptically clean environment of a Baptist church (not saying that hurt like this doesn’t go on in the church, just that we weren’t supposed to talk about it), it’s shocking to realize just how much brokenness exists in the world.

Here’s what I love about hanging out with a bunch of (recovering) addicts: the gospel shines so brilliantly against the backdrop of their broken lives. They are all hungry for religion, for someone or something greater. So I get to tell them about the Jesus of the New Testament, and there’s none of the arm-chair theologians, stiff-necked traditionalism that can sometimes obscure the beauty of Jesus. They are broken and hurting. Jesus is grace and truth. And they embrace him like the woman at the well or the blind man receiving his sight.

It’s fresh. It’s refreshing. It’s free from any church politics. It’s a group of sinners encountering and embracing Jesus. That will never get old!

5 Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith

Several years ago Andy Stanley preached a sermon series that has always stuck with me for its simplicity and practicality. Titled “Five Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith,” Stanley taught from his years of experience as a pastor, noting that when people told their story of faith and how God had grown their faith over the years, the things they shared all fell into one of five categories. Looking back over my own journey and talking with hundreds of others about their own, I see these same five things popping up all over the place. Here are the five things God uses to grow our faith:

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Practical Teaching – When you sit under someone who explains the Bible in practical ways, your faith grows. It could be a Bible study leader, a Christian professor, or a pastor. But a good and gifted teacher can help the Word come alive practically in your life.

Private Disciplines – When you begin to practice the private disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, fasting, tithing, etc., your faith will begin to grow. As you trust God and develop strong habits, your faith strengthens.

Personal Ministry – When you begin to serve others, whether it’s working at a homeless shelter, leading a small group or working on the host team, you’ll see your faith grow as God meets you at your point of service.

Pivotal Circumstances – There are moments, forks in the road, valleys of decision. Moments when you have to choose whether to trust God or go your own way. When you choose to trust God in those pivotal circumstances, your faith in God will skyrocket.

Providential Relationships – There are relationships that come into your life that, looking back, you would say were providential. That guy at work, that lady down the street, that grandmother who showed you what it meant to follow Christ. God regularly uses providential relationships to help grow our faith.

QUESTION: How has God used these five things to help grow your faith?

How to Deal When Life’s Not Fair

How do you deal when life’s not fair? When decisions outside of your control are negatively influencing your life? That was the question asked of me recently by a friend. Since it’s an issue that many people face, I wanted to share my thoughts (and conversation) with you. If you’re in a similar situation, hopefully it will help you as well.

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Her question: People always ask the question why do bad things happen to good people. What I’m struggling with is the other side of that why does it seem like good things are happening to bad people? Not even necessarily bad people but people who continuously make poor choices or selfish choices, yet they always seem to come out on top. 

Right now the main thing is I’m dealing with a situation with my husband and his son and ex-wife and her family and I feel like I have no say in the matter yet it’s affecting my life. And I’m trying to let things go and have compassion but I feel like it’s the same thing over and over and it’s taking its toll on me and I’m being bitter and resentful and angry. Those are not characteristics I want in my life. Every time I feel like I’ve let go of the situation something else comes up. I pray daily about it, but as much as I hate to say this at times I feel like my prayers are hitting the ceiling and nothing changes.I feel like as much as we try and do what’s right we are either taken advantage of or mistreated.

 

My response: So sorry to hear that! I completely understand the question (and frustration) of why bad things happen to good people, and just as importantly, why good things happen to bad people. From your perspective, it doesn’t seem fair. And you’re right, it’s not fair.

One of the consequences of The Fall (Genesis 3) in the Garden of Eden and sin entering the world is that sin screwed everything up. Sin is like a bomb that went off in the world, and we all suffer the collateral damage. When a bomb goes off, someone standing 10 feet away can walk away unharmed but someone 100 feet away could be killed by shrapnel. It’s not fair. Sin is like a bomb that went off. From a ‘fairness’ perspective, life stopped being fair in the Garden of Eden. It hasn’t been fair since.

So, your situation, although unfortunate, isn’t surprising. As you’ve obviously figured out by now, life sucks sometimes. But how can you get through this without bitterness and resentment taking root? That’s the real question.

Getting in the Bible is important because it connects us to God and ensures that we don’t have to carry our weights on our own. Here’s a great Psalm that speaks directly to where you are. Read Psalm 73. In fact, I would read it again and again, every time those feelings of bitterness come up. In Psalm 73, the writer is expressing the same frustrations that you expressed: why do the wicked prosper? why do the righteous suffer? why do people make poor choices but still seem to get everything they want? That’s right where you are.

The key verses are 16-17: 16 When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Psalm 73:16-17

When the writer of this Psalm spent time in God’s presence, he got the perspective he needed. He realized that even though it seemed like the wicked weren’t suffering for their choices, God knows all things, and everyone will answer for their actions, either in this life or the next.

The toughest thing for you is the lack of control. You have no say in decisions that affect your life. When you spend time with God (and especially when you read Psalm 73), it will remind you that God is in control. He is on his throne. Even though it may not seem like it, he knows the actions of your husband’s ex-wife and she will be held ultimately responsible for them.

While that may not change the outcome of her actions, it should help keep you from becoming bitter and resentful. God is in control. He’s got this thing. Another great passage is Romans 12:17-21:

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21

When the subject of your husband’s ex comes up, by being kind and good (instead of mean and spiteful), you’re actually leaving room for God’s wrath (v. 19). If you try and take matters into your own hands, it leaves no room for God to work. So, go with the old saying, “Kill them with kindness.” Show her grace and kindness that she does not deserve. That allows God to repay her for the hurt she has caused you.

One of the other things that’s very important (if you’re not already) is to be involved in a good Christian community. You need to be involved in a good church and in a good small group, so that other strong Christians can help you “bear your burdens” and so that you don’t have to carry the weight yourself.

I know this is a lengthy reply but I hope it helps!

7 Things I Love About the YouVersion Bible App

9.23.14Several years ago Lifechurch.tv released a free Bible app that has revolutionized how people interact with Scripture. It’s the most downloaded Bible app out there, and there are some incredible features that can strengthen your own walk with Jesus. Here are some of my favorites:

 

1. You can listen to Scripture. On several of the translations available, including the NIV (which is my translation of choice), there’s a megaphone icon at the bottom. If you’re on your daily commute to work, you can listen to Scripture while driving. Listening (as opposed to reading) is a different way to intake Scripture. It’s great!

2. The Bible is always with you. Since I’ve got the YouVersion Bible app on my phone, and my phone is always with me, the Bible is always with me. As much as I still read and use the printed Bible, you’ve got to admit that a phone is a lot easier to fit into your pocket!

3. You can take online notes with YouVersion Live. There’s a “live” button within the app where you can search for churches near you that use the app to communicate sermon notes. Mt Vernon has been using it the past few months and people are loving it. There are several interactive features you can use within the “Live” option to get an audience to participate more than ever!

4. You can follow others. Like most social media sites, you can follow other people on YouVersion. When people read a Scripture or make a note, you get a notification. If you’re separated physically from close friends, you can still share in a spiritual journey together through YouVersion.

5. They have reading plans. A lot of folks want to be in Scripture more but don’t know where to start. YouVersion has a multitude of Bible reading plans that can help you get into the Word on a more consistent basis.

6. You can highlight and take notes. I used to highlight my Bible and take notes in it, which was a great way for me to remember things God taught me through Scripture. The hardest part of replacing a Bible was losing all the handwritten notes. With the YouVersion Bible app, you can take online notes that will stay with you forever!

7. It’s free! Lifechurch.tv could have made a ton of money off of this app, but they made the decision early on to make it free to the world. It actually costs them each year to maintain it and improve it. It’s their way of blessing the world and helping people get into the Word. It’s free (and always will be). Take advantage of it and download it today!

My Greatest Teacher in Life

I’ve had a lot of teachers in my life. I remember Mrs. Godbier in 3rd grade, Mrs. Mastroiani in 11th grade, and Dr. Jackson in seminary. They all taught me valuable lessons in life. But if I were honest, I have one constant teacher that helps me learn more than anything I could ever dream of in the classroom. My greatest teacher is failure.

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I hope and pray that my current church members never meet up with church members of my previous churches. It might shatter the illusion for my current church members that I actually know what I’m doing. Looking back on life, I’ve made so many mistakes: professionally, relationally, and personally. I could write a book on how not to run a youth ministry. I’ve burned bridges, dropped the ball, let things fall through the cracks. I’ve failed people, overestimated my own ability, grown too independent of God and paid the price. I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes in life.

And yet, for every mistake, I learned something. Mostly what not to do, but I learned something. The difference between successful people and failures in life isn’t that the successful people don’t make mistakes. Failure is unavoidable. The difference is that the successful people learn from their mistakes. Learning from your mistakes takes gut-wrenching honestly, painful humility, and a willingness to adapt and change. None of these are easy.

But if you’re willing to honestly reflect, willing to admit your mistakes, and willing to grow from them, you have access to the best lessons in the world. They’re painful lessons. They’re costly lessons. But failure can be the best teacher available to us all.

The question is, are we willing to learn?

QUESTION: What life lessons have you learned from failure?

“Why Did Someone Give Me Away?”

Try answering that question for your seven-year-old adopted son. By all other accounts it was a normal conversation and a normal trip to school. Zeke had just met one of his reading goals at school and I was building him up, really trying to encourage him in his reading. And then Zeke asked the question that is always bubbling below the surface for an adopted child, “Why did someone give me away?” To him it was a normal question. So I appeared normal and answered in the same tone of voice I’d answered his previous twenty questions about reading and frogs and ninja turtles. On the inside though, I was crumbling. My heart broke for the simple reason that my son will always have to wrestle with that question, “Why did someone give me away?”

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Robin and I made the decision early on that our adopted children would know the truth from the beginning that they used to live in another mom’s belly. There’s no way to keep adoption secret for life, and if a child is a teenager or older when they find out, we’ve seen it have traumatic effects. But this is the downside, having to answer questions like this, not taking it personally, hurting for Zeke as he wrestles with his identity in this.

Here’s how I answered him this time (I’ll have many more opportunities to talk with him about it in future conversations). I told him that his birth mom didn’t give him away, she wanted to make sure that he had the best home possible. She wanted him to have a home with a mommy and a daddy, so he became a part of our family. She did what she did because she loved him and wanted the best for him. And his mommy and I thank God every day that we get to be his parents.

And then it was time for school. Watching the sprouting seven-year-old get out of the car and walk into school like he owned the place, all I could think of was a chunky, square-headed baby named Zeke the first time I met him, trying not to get emotional in the process. In the end I’ll take these occasional uncomfortable conversations. They’re a small price to pay for the honor of raising him as my son.

 

The Best Thing About Mondays

I posted this blog at 7:00 am, but there’s a good chance you won’t read it before 10:00. It’s Monday. That day. The day of dread. You dragged into work this morning exhausted (or hungover) from another weekend. Now it’s five more days of work before you can enjoy yourself again.

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Most folks would avoid Mondays if at all possible. You’re physically and mentally tired, and your heart’s just not in your work. You back into Mondays. You lounge longer than you need to around the coffee maker. You spend the first hour and a half catching up on the weekend with others. Once you finally sit at your desk, you spend another hour looking at every (legitimate) website you can because you’re just not ready to work yet. By the time you look up, it’s getting close to lunch, too little time to get a project started. Better wait until the afternoon (or at least until the post-lunch coma is over). Before you know it, Monday is gone, lost in a sea of inaction and unproductively. Maybe Tuesday will be better.

Here’s the best thing about Mondays: it’s an opportunity to jump ahead in your work. When the default mode for many seems to be to slack off as much as possible and work only when necessary, Monday becomes the third day of the weekend, which crams five days of legitimate work into three (Fridays are gone too since you spend all day planning out your weekend or just fantasizing about not being at work). Stress levels get higher, the quality of work sometimes suffers, no one wins.

Here’s a crazy thought: put in a full day’s work today. Your body would like another day off. Decide to not give it one. Put your mind to work. Refuse to embrace the laziness that’s calling your name. Work hard today. You’ll find yourself way ahead for the week, leaving you nothing but good options for the next few days. Your work matters. The way you work matters to God. Jump ahead in your work today.

Why I’m Preaching in Saints Gear This Sunday

We dress casual at Mt Vernon, but we’ve never dressed this casual before. We’re asking everyone who comes this Sunday (Sept. 7) to dress in their favorite team’s gear. We’ll see a lot of Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama and Auburn fans decked out from head to toe. I’m more of an NFL guy, so I’ll be representing my New Orleans “Who Dat” Saints. Why?

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Because this Sunday we’re kicking off a new sermon series called “Fanatics,” where we’re leveraging our love of sports as a picture of what true devotion looks like. Middle aged men who sit stone-walled in the pews of a church and refuse to sing in worship because it’s beneath them will dance up and down when their favorite team scores and will cry like a girl when their favorite team loses. They know what passion looks like, just not in the church.

I can talk about anything I want to on Sundays in September, but there’s only one thing that people are talking about Monday through Saturday: football. The SEC is king. The NFL has followers nationwide. Since we’re all talking about one thing during the week, we’ll leverage that same thing on Sundays to see what we can learn about being devoted fanatics of God.

Look forward to seeing you there! If you’re not in town, you can Livestream our services at: www.mtvchurch.tv.

You can always catch up on my sermons on my Vimeo page: www.vimeo.com/joshdaffern.

Who Dat!