Celebrate Something Small Today

6.30.14I’ve just filled out the paperwork to start community college!”, she told me ecstatically. On the surface, those don’t look like words to throw a party over. I mean, it’s not like she got into Harvard or Yale. And she’s also 25, starting to get on the older side for college. If anything, she should be chastised for waiting so long.

But here’s why I celebrated with her, and here’s why you should to: she was a statistic, another example of someone who could not and would never be a productive member of society. She was an addict. When I met her, she had been in rehab seven times by the time she was 25. (Even addicts will tell you, seven times is a lot!) She couldn’t stay out of trouble. She couldn’t stay off of drugs. Others had given up on her a long time ago.

But this last rehab was different. She met Jesus and found a power she never had before. She got connected to a loving church where she grew in her faith. Some of our ladies came alongside her as surrogate moms and gave her the affirmation and guidance she’d been searching for. She went through the program successfully. It’s been a year and she’s still clean. She’s got a job, she’s got an apartment, and when she saw me she wanted to tell me she just filled out the paperwork to start community college. She had joy radiating from her face, and I did from mine as well.

She’s no longer a statistic. She’s a person with hope. Hope to reenter society as a normally functioning member. Hope to finally put this painful chapter of her life behind her. Hope to be a whole person again.

Community college may seem small, but to her it’s the world. What’s something small you can celebrate today? Another day still married? Another day of health? Another day to spend with your kids? Another day with food on the table? Take something small and celebrate it today. You’ll be glad you did.

QUESTION: What’s something small you can celebrate today?

And Then She Told Me She Was a Lesbian . . .

5.27.14Recently I got a chance to practice what I preach in the most unusual and uncomfortable fashion. One of the great privileges I have is working with a group of ladies at an in-treatment facility center in Columbus who are dealing with a host of addiction issues. One of the things I try and do is help the ladies dig deeper underneath their addiction to discover what’s really driving it. We’ve talked through traumatic events, bad-guy boyfriends, abortions, abusive homes, you name it.

One of the ladies at the facility for the past few months (we’ll call her “Leslie”) has been a tough nut to crack. She shows no emotion. She doesn’t talk. The most I’ve been able to get out of her is that she doesn’t go to church. She seems to be still deciding whether recovery is for her. Recently I was leading the ladies through the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11. It’s a classic story of grace and forgiveness, perfect for a group of ladies who are dealing with guilt and shame.

During a question and answer time afterwards, Leslie spoke up unsolicited for the first time in two months (believe me I’d tried my hardest to get her to engage). She put the core truths of that story to the test. She said, “Is it true that you can’t be forgiven if you don’t want to change because that’s what my friends told me because I’m a lesbian.” And . . . things . . . got . . . weird.

Maybe it was just me. There’s no reason why it should have gotten weird. We had literally been discussing abortion, self-mutilation and crack cocaine in the previous ten minutes. If there’s an issue out there, these girls have lived through it. But homosexuality, that’s the ‘unforgivable’ sin for evangelicals today. Adultery is frowned upon, alcoholism is scoffed at, but homosexuality is, well, just read the newspapers. Watch the culture war being raged between the church and society over tolerance and acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle.

Leslie’s quiet, but she knew what she was doing. She dropped that bomb on me to see how the preacher would react. If God forgave the adulterous woman, what about her? Did John 8 apply to her, or is homosexuality the ‘unforgivable’ sin? After Leslie threw that grenade into the middle of the room, the entire dynamic of the conversation shifted. They didn’t want to know about dinosaurs anymore (yes, that was a previous question), they wanted to know why the Bible was so out of touch with modern culture and why it condemned a lifestyle that everyone else seems to accept. If Jesus was so ‘loving’ and ‘forgiving’ (as they put it), why would he be so hateful to condemn the homosexual lifestyle? Especially if it’s something that you’re ‘born with’?

My response was . . . what I’m going to write about tomorrow. Stay tuned!!!

 

How to Have Your Heart Broken in Ministry

2.26.14My heart is broken the fourth Monday of every month at 1 pm. It’s like clockwork. If you want to have your heart broken in ministry, here’s a guaranteed way: work with people suffering from addictions. Mt Vernon Church is privileged to have a partnership with Recovery House, an in treatment facility assisting ladies dealing with drug and alcohol issues. During the first 90 days, the ladies come to Mt Vernon every week for Sunday services. We get to know them. We learn their backstories, their tragic choices, and their courage in attempting to face their consequences.

On the fourth Monday of each month, I meet the ladies at Recovery House and we have two hours of “girl talk.” We get to know each other, share our stories, and they can ask any spiritual question they like (some of the questions are way out of left field). I get to know the ladies and learn about their upbringing, their families, their kids.

And then they break my heart. This past Monday, I went out and learned that we lost three ladies this month. Two of them relapsed, and one decided not to continue in the program. They’re out in their old haunts, promising to try harder, but we all know how that’s going to turn out. They’ve resigned themselves to months (and sometimes years) of struggling with the addictions that brought them to Recovery House in the first place. Many of you know the pain of watching someone you care about walk away and ruin their lives with reckless choices.

If you want easy ministry, stay inside the four walls of the church. Only talk to nice looking middle class families. If you want your heart broken, roll up your sleeves and begin caring for those dealing with major addictions. I rejoice with their successes and weep with their failures. Somehow I think Jesus would do the same.

Calling a Spade Anything But a Spade

8.19.13On July 3, the Egyptian military ousted democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi and installed themselves as the functioning government. In recent weeks the military has begun opening fire on supporters of ousted president Morsi, killing hundreds of them. By all classical definitions, what happened in Egypt was a military coup.

Yet interestingly enough, the White House has called what has happened in Egypt everything but a coup. Their refusal to call a spade a spade is simple: by law, if they refer to what happened in Egypt as a ‘coup,’ then they would have to cut off $1.5 billion in aid to them, something they’re unwilling to do at this point. The result is a strenuous case of linguistic gymnastics as the White House press secretary dances around pointed questions about Egypt, refusing to use the word ‘coup.’ If there weren’t millions of lives at stake, the whole exercise would be laughable. The White House refuses to admit something that is so plainly obvious to the outside world.

Here’s the spiritual application: what sin (spade) in your life are you refusing to call out as what it really is: sin? What area in your life have you been struggling with for years? What habit or addiction would be plainly obvious to everyone else as a problem, yet it’s something you refuse to admit you need help with? What spade are you calling anything but a spade?

  • Maybe it’s an addiction to internet pornography that you still convince yourself you can still handle on your own.
  • Maybe it’s your penchant for buying things you don’t really need with credit cards you shouldn’t have, and your debt is now sky high.
  • Perhaps it’s that hobby that you still call a hobby, but it’s turned into an obsession, negatively impacting the relationships around you.
  • Maybe it’s that alcohol that you promise you can quit anytime, but deep down you know you can’t.
  • Perhaps you’ve gotten consumed by your work, finding your identity in that rather than in your family.

Whatever it is you struggle with, be honest with yourself. Call a spade a spade. If you struggle with something, get help.

11 Reasons Why Marriages Fail

6.3.13It’s marriage week here at MTVPastor. A few days ago my gorgeous wife Robin and I celebrated our 11 year anniversary. In honor of that, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on marriage in three different posts. Today I’ll share 11 reasons why marriages fail. Wednesday I’ll write on 11 ways to strengthen your marriage. Friday I’ll finish up with 11 reasons why marriage is worth it.

We see marriages around us fail for a multitude of reasons. Underlying the causes of divorce are some common themes. Here are eleven of them:

1. Lack of communication. Constant and meaningful conversation is the lifeblood of a marriage. You would think that all marriages have meaningful conversation, but they don’t. Couples don’t carve out time. They’re too tired. The husbands don’t want to talk. Television replaces conversation, and separation begins.

2. Busyness. We can be too busy for our own good. A career is good, but not if it comes at the expense of your marriage. Hobbies are good, but not if it comes at the expense of your marriage. Friends are good, but not if they come at the expense of your marriage. Even kids can drain away precious energy from your marriage. The couples that can’t cut back see their marriages float away in a sea of busyness.

3. Selfishness. At the core, marriage is about serving your spouse, about submitting yourself and your needs to the needs of your spouse. If the couples can’t grasp this, submit their ego and embrace the concept of mutual submission, then fault line cracks will appear at the base of your marriage.

4. Can’t overcome your family of origin. Many spouses were raised in broken, abusive, or dysfunctional homes. They walk into marriage knowing only destructive marriage habits from the example of their parents. If they can’t overcome and move past their family of origin, their parents’ destructive marriage will become their own destructive marriage.

5. Unwilling to grow in your marriage. Marriage is all about change. You change. Your spouse changes. If you’re unwilling to grow and change with your spouse, you don’t have much of a shot. The trick of marriage isn’t finding a perfect spouse who will never change, but to find a way to continuously fall in love with your ever-changing spouse.

6. Lack of investment in your marriage. Husbands, your marriage isn’t complete when you say “I do.” Without constant and intentional investment, your marriage will struggle. Just like a farmer’s work isn’t done when he plants the seed, neither is your work done when you walk the aisle. Marriage takes hard work, lots of it.

7. Addictions overwhelm a spouse. Sometimes a latent addiction can rear up and consume a spouse. An eating disorder, a pornography addiction, alcoholism, if left unchecked, will wreck a marriage. It takes two people to make a marriage work, but only one person to wreck it.

8. Bitterness and unforgiveness overwhelm you. Your spouse will hurt you more than any other person on the planet. They will continually remind you that they are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. Because you’re the person closest to them, you will deal with the brunt of their imperfections. If you choose to hold on to past hurts and slights, bitterness will poison your soul and consume you.

9. You give up too easily. Make no illusions: marriage is tough. It’s not for the faint of heart. Every couple will come to points where divorce seems like the easy option. The marriage that works is the marriage that chooses to fight when things get tough, not quit.

10. Sin entices and destroys the marriage. Sin is always looking for a way to destroy the beauty of your marriage. It may use the approach of greed, selfishness, an affair, or any other number of enticements. If you’re not constantly on your guard, sin will destroy your marriage.

11. The love grows cold. Love is like a campfire that must be constantly tended to and stoked. If left alone, the fire will eventually burn itself out and grow cold. When the love grows cold, there doesn’t seem to be much left to save. Don’t let your fire grow cold.

QUESTION: What other reasons cause marriage to fail?

image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

The Faces of Addiction

1.30.13Over the past few months, I’ve had the humbling privilege of going out to the Recovery House, a faith-based treatment facility for women dealing with alcohol and drug addictions. Some of the ladies are there voluntarily, some of them are there by order of the court. In sitting and talking with them, I’ve learned their heart-breaking stories of mistakes and tragic circumstances that have led them to the point of brokenness.

You’d be surprised at the wide range of ages represented. I’ve met women as young as 21 and as old as their late 40s. Some are childless, some have grandchildren. Some look like life has been rough on them for decades. Some look like upstanding soccer moms, and would blend in with any group of suburban ladies.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the stories I’ve heard, the faces of addiction:

  • a young lady grew up in a healthy home with two loving parents. She partied off an on throughout high school and college, but got addicted to pain pills and alcohol after college. She had a series of abusive boyfriends and lost everything (including a profitable business) as her life spiraled out of control.
  • a mom of three young kids that would look like she would fit in any PTA meeting or soccer field. Trying to keep up with kids, career and a family was too much stress for her. She turned to prescription pills for comfort, which led to alcohol.
  • a young lady who never knew her dad, lost her grandfather at a critical stage, and decided to take her anger out on the world. Pick a drug, she took it. By 21 she had spent time behind bars for armed robbery and various other things.
  • a mom of three teenagers who was born and raised in church. In fact, her father is still in the ministry. Alcohol got its grip on her and she slowly but surely spiraled out of control.
  • a smart (but quiet) young lady who has her Masters in Psychology. She was kicked out of the program for sneaking alcohol into the facilities.
  • a beautiful young lady who simply had too much fun living it up in high school and college. If there was a party, she was there. That led to addictions, which led to stealing to fund her addiction. She came to the program to stay out of prison.

They are all precious ladies, trying to put the pieces of their lives back together. I’m thankful for places like Recovery House, and I’m convicted to do more to help those in need.