Monday, January 18, 2016

My Default Setting and My Neighbor

The last time FedEx posted it was on the default settings, places we go when life makes no sense or things simply aren't right. I am learning that we also have a default setting when it comes to how we view the people we come in contact with on a day to day basis. What do we think when we see a panhandler on the corner, or an obviously homeless person pushing a shopping cart full of all their worldly possession or the neighbor and his wife you can hear fighting all the way across the neighborhood or the hungry children in far away countries or...you fill in yours right here. We are a "presence" ministry, which means we spend a significant amount of time explaining to people that this is just a fancy way of saying, we love people right where we find them in tangible hands and feet of Jesus kinds of ways. As you can imagine, this means we have a very eclectic group of friends. I would be the first to tell you that I really love everybody and don't see people through different lenses at all, but last week something happened at my daughter's school that reminded me that embracing my "neighbor" is a little tougher than I think it is sometimes.

Our 6th grade daughter has always been home schooled through a public virtual option available in our area. This year, we have the option to "send" her to school up to 2 days a week at our very small base sight. On her days leading up to vacation, she was working with a team of 6th and 7th graders to build a city. They had to create a city with government, services and retail, etc. and the only rule was that all people in the city had to be equal. "Diamond", as she is known in our street ministry, came home after this project and she said "Mom our city must be a dictatorship, there are these two girls who took over our project. They did what they wanted and didn't want to hear anyone else's ideas." I asked her if she tried to put in some ideas and she said she did but she felt a little silly about it. I asked why she felt that way and she said all her little ideas were rejected and she just quietly watched until...the kids in the group voted to put the city's prison in the middle of the lake stating that they didn't care if they drown because they were all just bad people anyway. At this my daughter got angry and said that they were NOT going to put the prison anywhere bad or dangerous because they were people too. She then told them "I have friends who are in and have been in prison and they are not bad people, just people." At this, the others in the group looked at her as if she was very weird, but agreed to put the prison somewhere else. She felt like she was really a weirdo and wondered why the kids looked at her so strangely. My daughter was quite shocked to learn that most people know very few people who have been to prison. For the most part those they do are reformed, cleaned up and look like regular people or they are just THAT family member no one talks about. They certainly don't have a circle of friends like ours, former outlaw bikers, former drug dealers, street people, addicts at various places on the roller coaster, all beautiful pictures of God's power to redeem ANYTHING! Most of them will probably never clean up, cut their hair and go on to look like "regular" people. These wonderful people, who love our family so well, who have walked with us through so much, have such powerful testimonies of God's grace are our friends/family and this is how my precious girl sees them. To her, they are amazing people not just a list of felonies and offenses.

So how does this fit with default switches?? Well, I can tell you that it challenged me to look again at how I look at people. When Diamond first told me the story, I simply told her that she did a good job of sticking up for others as she had been taught, but I really struggled to feel that sense of parental pride when your kid actually does what you taught them to do. Please don't misunderstand. One of the passions that FedEx and I share is to be a voice for those who don't really have one so it wasn't her defense of the voiceless that I wrestled with it was the reality that we are not just a regular family. We really ARE weird, so the looks on the girls' faces were completely justified. We really are surrounded by people who are homeless, addicted, felons (sometimes all three in the same package) and this just isn't true of most people. We are also close friends with doctors, award-winning college professors, missionaries of every sort, stay at home moms, pastors and the list goes on and on. This seems to be a more "normal" list, for sure. This caused me to think about how I view ALL of those in my circle. Do I look at the professor or the doctor different than my friend who lives under a bridge? If so, then something in me is still broken. When God looks at them, He sees His image as that is how we were created. He sees their heart, He sees the potential He has for them, He sees their need for Him and His own longing for them to draw ever closer to Himself because He wants that to be our default setting. It took me a few days to process my daughter's story and it has also been a process for her because when I told her I wanted to write about her, she wondered why I wanted her to look silly in front of other people. I told her I was so proud of her for sticking up for people, even imaginary ones, who didn't have a voice to stick up for themselves. This is what I really want her to be as she grows up. 

This whole incident has shown me that my own default is still a work in progress. My natural bent is to wonder if it is right for my daughter to be surrounded by the people who are in our circle. Should she know so many people, with such crazy histories or should we have raised her in a much more sheltered environment? When I was much younger and before some pieces of our journey made us misfits ourselves, I would certainly have found it easier to have chosen the latter. In those days I had the illusion of a quiet, normal, middle class life. My daughter's wonderful reaction to injustice, reminded me that a little of that still lives in me, but her default is different. She really looks at people and sees them as people, no labels attached. She has been this way since she was much smaller. She would walk around in the park where we served food, praying for people with a young college girl who came there every Saturday. These two girls were never afraid to lay hands on or hug any of the people there, no matter how they looked or how long it had been since they bathed or what their reputation said about them. (For those of you who are worried at this point, they always went in pairs or groups, always in open public and always, always under the watchful eyes of some really big bikers.) The adults would give her Bibles to pass out and people would accept them from her when they wouldn't otherwise and she became famous for saying "Read this, it tells you how much God loves you". That is kind of a funny story, but the reality is that the innocent way in which she loves people has led some to Jesus through walls the adults in the group could not have broken down. My daughter has always had a sweet innocence about her that allows her to see God's image in people in spite of their outward appearance or reputation.  Apparently, I am still learning this in some very real ways and her story was a wake up call that not only do I bear God's image, but the heart of my calling is to see it and call it out in those around me, no matter what has marred or buried that image deep within them. In essence, I am continuing to learn what it is to see others through God's eyes.

FedEx teases me sometimes because I have a habit of forming relationships wherever I go. When we go to my usual Loaf n Jug to get a soda, I introduce him to the people there. I know their names and ask them questions that show I know their stories and he just shakes his head because I can't just go into a place without finding someone to love and love to me means getting into people's business so I know how to love them well. There are some who are resistant to this process, but I am pretty persistent in praying that God will break them down over time. I pray for the people I meet and look for any opportunities to share my faith with them, but this is often a slow process. People have so many misconceptions about who God is and believe they are really too messed up for Him to love them. There it is again! The image of God in them is shadowed by pain, abuse, the false and negative messages the world speaks that push against our hearts like a bulldozer. Messages that bring hopelessness and the terrible burden of never quite measuring up.  These messages are the complete opposite of grace, redemption and a God who loves them so completely, He sent His son to buy them back and restore the image of God in them to what it was meant to be.

One of my favorite verses is John 1:14. In the Message it reads "The Word put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood." I have come to understand that my neighborhood is really wherever I am. I love to hear people's stories, but it is also hard work as there is so much in the world that is painful and hard. There is so much that cannot be fixed and all we can really do is offer to carry the burden with them. To continue to call out God's image in them. To remind them how much God loves them and longs for them to have a relationship with Him through Jesus. And to remind ourselves that this Gospel is not just for them, the seemingly lost and broken but for us as well to remind us that even though we are redeemed, we often forget the truth of God's image in us and His love for us and walk as if we are still lost and broken and without hope. An organization that we just love, called the People of the Second Chance, has a slogan (it was one of my window stickers on my truck until the carwash killed it!) "We the free, amplifying hope in the darkest places." This mission is never ending, as we all struggle at times to see truth and to hold onto hope, no matter where we are on our journey of faith. We need to practice reflecting truth and hope! We need to practice seeing ourselves and others through God's filter until this becomes our default setting.

How about you? Where is your neighborhood? Who have you been called to be Jesus-with-with-skin on to? Where have you been called to love that seems harder than it should be? Do you see the outward appearance or the image of God in people around you? How about when you look in the mirror? Know that you are so loved, wherever you are!


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Default Settings


When I wrote my post about the roller coaster of addiction, I had just begun to formulate the idea of a default setting. I am still trying to put into words exactly how the concept of "default settings" fits into the treatment and recovery of those struggling with addiction. The trouble is that like many things, this is not a fix-all, easy answer that will render addiction immediately powerless and guarantee no more relapsing into the addiction-recovery cycle.

What is a "Default Setting"?

Simply put, the default setting of something is the pre-programmed setting at which the original programmer or designer intended an item to operate. This is a technical term, but anyone who has ever worked with computers has had at least some dealing with "default settings". An example of this is when I upgraded my computers from regular CRT monitors to LCD flat panel monitors. The LCD monitors had a much higher resolution than the CRT monitors, but when connected to the computer, they looked no different. I had to go into the controls and change the resolution of the display driver to a new setting in order to get the benefit of the high definition screens. Now, when I go into those computers and click the restore "default settings" button, the computer reverts to the lower resolution because that is the program that was last set as the default. now if I were a computer programmer, I could go into the internal programming and change the default so the new higher setting is now what the system defaults to, but since the default is most often the optimum setting recommended by the manufacturer, the new setting may cause things to not work as they were intended.

So how does this fit into the world of recovery? We have discussed the idea of the "God shaped hole" in past blogs, the concept that when God made us, he programmed a need into our lives, a need to be connected to or part of something altogether greater and outside of ourselves. A need that we have come to refer to as the divine void, that longing albeit undefined, for connection to a divine person or being, which drives us to look for divinity in the world around us. It is our contention that this programmed void is the necessary result of the lost relationship with God as a result of mankind's fall, and that God left the void there to remind us of our created purpose. Accordingly, the only think that can ever satiate this void is genuine connection with the loving creator God who Himself wrote the default program. 

From the very beginning, man has sought for some way to compensate for this void. Over its history, mankind has tried every conceivable method of self medicating in a vain attempt to cover this longing. the result, man has become addicted to everything from work and religion, to alcohol and drugs, all in the pursuit of a sense of connection or numbing the sense of disconnection they experience. It is also our belief that life circumstances can make the divine void more pronounced. Traumatic life experiences, like loss of a loved one, or physical or emotional abuse are just a few examples. These stimuli somehow magnify the sense of disconnectedness and are often key elements in driving he addiction cycle.

Each of thees things that we look to to cover or medicate or fill up the missing part of our life, can be described as alternate settings. They are not the original default setting, they are some other setting that a person is attempting to change the setting to. The trouble is, that in the case of the human computer, in order to alter the programming, one need only to do something often enough for it to become a habit, and in the cases of some mind altering substances, only one use is sufficient to alter the natural programming. IN any case, the result is that a longing, a sense of disconnectedness that was intended by the always good Creator -God to point our default towards seeking relationship with Himself, instead becomes corrupted and  points towards some counterfeit alternative.The new default settings are no longer optimum, and the end result will be more not-as-it-should-be-ness. We will talk next time about correcting the default setting.

Pastor FedEx.

The Roller Coaster

Working with addicts is hard, it is physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Probably the hardest part of working with addicts is riding the roller coaster of the recovery/relapse cycle. Over the years of working on the streets, I have seen it time and again. An addict will come to the point where they recognize the emptiness and futility of their addiction and commit to getting clean. Often, they will even go into a sober living program, or attend recovery meetings. For a time at least, they seem to gain traction, counted sober days turn from days to months. But then, like clockwork, old triggers pop up, old influences begin to creep back in, and the addict slowly is drawn back into their addiction.
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In some cases, these cycles are progressive, they seem to be moving toward larger numbers of sober days or months each time with shorter periods of addiction between. In other cases, it looks like one big downward spiral with the addiction winning more and more frequently and the periods of recovery actually shrinking. Each time another addict gets clean and starts the sobriety countdown once again, my mind immediately begins to weigh the odds of their relapsing and pondering just how long it will take for them to relapse this time. Always hoping that this will be the time that their recovery actually sticks and yet in the back of my mind also knowing that the odds are not in their favor. As I was discussing this cycle with a friend of mine, the question of why came up. Why once you have realized just how destructive this addiction is to your life, would you ever go back there? What is the draw that causes an otherwise logical person to make the unbelievably bad decision of returning to the addiction that is quite literally destroying them? Even more incredibly, many of these relapsers are people who have found faith in Jesus and have tasted of the life reconnected to God that He promised. How is it possible, then, to ever again buy into the lies that there is life to be had in drugs, alcohol, sex, religion, or any other counterfeit source of life.

As I thought about these questions, I began to look at my own life and ask what are the things that cause me to move from trusting God to doubting him and seeking life through my own means? In almost every case, it came down to an issue of trusting God as my source of life, especially when things in my life are not going the way I think they should. I have come to have certain expectations of what life as a Christian should look like, and when those expectations are not met, I find myself going back to the things that I found at least some measure of fulfillment in before I was a believer. Even though I know in my head that these things do not bring real fulfilled life, I still go there, at least in part because I know the result I can get from them, and that gives me the illusion of being in control.

So it is, I believe, with so many of our friends who are struggling with addiction. , They realize that their addiction is only a temporary filling, and in many cases, even find the true source of life in Jesus Christ. In the beginning at least, they experience genuine life connected to God and are able to live without their addictions. But then, the difficulties of life rise up once again and they are left questioning whether or not God really does give them everything they need in life. Finally, when they feel like they have completely lost control of their life, they grasp for the control that they know is available in their addiction, and the cycle begins all over again.

So what do I take away from all of this? I guess, the first thing that I take away from these thoughts is that when I realize that my own grasping for control and life in things other than Jesus is not so much different than what the addict is doing, even if it is more socially acceptable, it is not so hard to believe that someone could return to a counterfeit source of life after all. Second, when I am talking with my addict friends, I spend some time trying to identify the unmet and often unrealistic expectations that have caused them to feel like they had to try to take control of their lives through their addictions. And mostly, I realize that while I don’t look for life in a needle, bottle or pill, I still struggle to trust that God is the true source of life and to completely let go of control of my own life. Maybe in the end, the struggle we see so radically defined in the life of the addict is the cycle of trust and control that we all struggle with and that plays out in each of our lives as we try to reconcile life in a world tainted by not rightness with our own expectations.

FedEx

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This post was originally published on 04/27/2015 at Revealministry.org as part of a series about shining light in dark places.

Neat little packages.

During my time at college, my favorite subject was creative writing, and in particular, the genre of the short story. You introduce and develop your characters a little, present a singular issue, then present a resolution all in the space of a few pages. Much like a television show, the resolution needs to wrap up the problem in a tidy little package that leaves no loose threads, no unresolved issues, and of course nothing to be continued.

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Like many other people, I like my stories to have a happy or at least positive and complete ending. I want to be able to say like they do in the fairy tales, “and they lived happily ever after”, or at least part of me wants this.  When we do get to see the end of the story, its almost always because something tragic ended it all too soon. This was the case with Bree who after celebrating eight weeks clean decided that her life was too difficult and went back to heroin one last time. Her ever after began with an overdose that left her frozen lifeless body in the doorway of a nearby shop. Or the story of Chief, who would go for weeks at a time without a drop of alcohol, then go on a drinking binge that would only end when he passed out in the worst possible places. One time he passed out face down on a sidewalk and before anyone found him, he had severe frostbite on his face, arms and hands. On his last night, however, he passed out in a park frequented by a gang of teens who beat him into a coma from which he would never recover. These are the “ever-afters” that I see, single decisions that end some of the most incredible stories with little or no chance of happiness.

We have come to recognize that the kind of work that we do does not lend itself to stories that fit into such neat and tidy packages. As we ride the roller coaster of dependency and addiction with people, we are only able to see the present, always aware that the next plunge into the darkness of counterfeit life is always lurking just ahead. And so we learn to live in and celebrate the here and now, the present victories, the right now of life, rather than look at what the end of the story may hold.  We celebrate every new clean date, even if it is only a few days, with true joy and zeal. We relish and support every decision to change, no matter how small, and even when we suspect that the change will only be temporary. But mostly, we learn to trust in the goodness of God, the only one who can know how each and every story ends. We trust that when we love and serve those He brings to us, in His name, that their lives will be changed by the encounter with His love. We trust that God loves them even more than we ever could, and desires for them to be connected to the source of true life, the only way for anyone to have a truly happy ending.

Pastor FedEx

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This post was originally published on 05/12/2015 at Revealministry.org as part of a series about shining light in dark places. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The-Not-As-It-Should-Be World Revisited

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.  For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. Romans 8:18-23 (NLT)


      A little over a year ago I published a blog article titled Heartbreak, Groaning, and The Not-As-It-Should-Be World. In this post, I talked about "suffering with Christ" as walking along with people as they experience the not-rightness of our fallen world. I opened the post by pointing out that "In fact, the first few chapters of the book of Romans spell out how all the world has become affected by this not-right-ness, to the point where no person can claim to be as they should be, and the result is death. Death in both body and spirit, spiritual deadness resulting from being disconnected from the source of all life, God, and ultimately, subject to decay and physical death as a visible demonstration of the effects of this not-right-ness.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Chain Reaction - May Synchroblog


        I know its happened to you. Well, unless you never drive a car or you live in a place where there is no traffic at all. You are in a line of cars traveling the same direction and one of the cars way ahead of you, perhaps a half a mile or more ahead suddenly slows or stops and then all the cars behind them suddenly slow way down or stop. All along the line of cars, brake lights flash, tires squeal, and tempers flare up. This exact thing happened to me just the other day as I was sitting in traffic, a car somewhere about 15-20 cars ahead stopped for some unseen reason, and all the cars between us did the same, then me and my rather large truck also came rather suddenly to a stop.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Does Eternity Start Now?

  








  "Eternity is now"

 
    We hear the words from our Christian friends, we see them on motivational posters, we may even hear them preached from a pulpit, but do we really understand what the implication of this very simple yet profound thought is? Jesus spent a lot of time talking about life, particularly in the Gospel of John, where life is a major theme of the book. The word for life zoe is very often paired with another word, ai┼Źnios, a word that is translated eternal or everlasting or without end. and so we have Jesus over and over again promising to those who believe in Him, a life that is without end or eternal. But at what point does this new life start. Does it start with the point of initial faith, or do we have to wait until the disposition of our physical bodies before we can experience this life unending that Jesus is referring to?