Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Do you rejoice in His Word?

When I saw this video I was immediately convicted.
It's a video of an Indonesian tribe receiving a New Testament Bible in their language for the first time. It contains some VERY powerful imagery.
While my emotions were undoubtedly stirred up for them, I became convicted at the same time. I quickly began thinking about my own life. I thought of how many times I have let my Bible sit on the shelf. I thought of how many times that I woke up and flippantly read the Word of God as if it were a chore, another thing on my checklist of things to do.
I own around 10 Bibles, and my wife has another 6 or 7. That's around 17 Bibles that are in my home and I think nothing of it. These Indonesians are rejoicing to own just 1 for their whole family. They are already planning on making it a family heirloom, something to be cherished for generations to come.
I'm not saying that we should have a parade and dance downtown because we have the ability to own a Bible, but I am asking why most of us don't rejoice at all. Why isn't it commonplace for us to praise God for allowing us to read, own, and study His Word? Why don't we teach our children that the Bible is something to revere and cherish? Why don't we teach them that it isn't just something to leave on a shelf or table? That it isn't just something that we carry with us on a Sunday morning? This is the Word of God. It's a way that God has chosen to reveal Himself and His character to us. That should be reason enough to make all of us celebrate.

As you watch this video I challenge you to think of your own life. Think about the way you read your Bible. Evaluate what it means to you that God has allowed you to live in a country where you can not only own a Bible, but can read it without fear of persecution or danger. What will you do with this gift He has given you? Will you steward it well? Will you rejoice in His written Word? Or will your Bible just be another book that sits on the shelf?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Going With The Flow of Traffic

There is a certain part of the drive home from my office that I always dread. It's not a particularly bad stretch of road. And there aren’t even many red lights. To be honest, traffic is never really that bad either. The problem is that this is a very open road, with very little traffic, AND A SPEED LIMIT OF 35mph. This makes very little sense to me, and I don't know that I will ever understand it.

We all have these roads. The road that we drive enough to know what the speed limit is, and also drive enough to know that it won’t ever be enforced or obeyed (with the exception of a few old ladies). At any given time, the road I mentioned before has people going 50-60mph with no trouble whatsoever. So, when I get on this road I naturally do the exact same thing. We have even given this behavior a name. It's called, "going with the flow of traffic". In fact, I've thought several times about how the conversation might go if I happened to get pulled over on my way home. I imagine it'd go something like this, "Mr Howard, would you happen to know how fast you were going before I pulled you over?" Then I would reply, "Why no, Mr. Officer. I don't. I was just going with the flow of traffic." And then we would exchange pleasantries and he would send me on my way ticketless.

This sounds absurd, but this is exactly what all of us like to do. We like to justify our bad behavior and habits based on what those around us are doing. We like to excuse our wanting to speed based on the speeding of other people.

There's a saying that I'm sure we all heard from our parents in Jr High, "you are who you hang around". I know for me, this was definitely the case. What is acceptable to the company you keep will inevitably become acceptable to you.

This got me thinking, how many other times in life do I compare my actions to the actions of someone else? How much do I allow what my culture is doing dictate what my moral standards will be? Am I basing my standard of what is acceptable and unacceptable on the actions of man? Or is my standard truly something higher? Are my morals really based on something more?

If you are a follower of Christ, you are called to a higher standard. You're standard of perfection is no longer what this world tells you it is. In fact, perfection isn't even of this world. As a Christian, my standard of perfection is Christ. He is my moral compass. He is what to strive for, not what my culture tries to tell me is perfect. If we base our actions on those around us we have a problem. The problem is that my standard of holiness is no longer a perfect God; it is now a sinful and fallen man. This means that my view of perfection is no longer truly perfect. What is acceptable to me isn’t really acceptable at all.

None of us are perfect. We never have been, and on earth we never will become that way. This is one of the greatest things about being a Christian. We don’t have to be. When we trust in Jesus for our salvation we get what’s called “imputed righteousness”. Put simply, Christ puts His perfection on our account. Christ is the perfection that we could never be on our own.

When all is said and done it’s not about whether I go 35mph on that road or if I go 65mph. The real issue is why I find acceptable what I find acceptable. Do I think God loves me any less if I go over the speed limit? Of course I don’t. But if He isn’t the driving force that helps me make decisions based on HIS standards, then how can I say that I’m really following Him?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Remembering Our Victories

Today is a big day for me. Today marks 4 years that I am drug free. I usually refrain from posting about myself, but I thank you for bearing with me.

For years and years Israel was in slavery to the Egyptians. It was terrible. Not only were they forced to do labor for the Egyptians, but the Egyptian Pharaoh persecuted them as well. He passed harsh and unheard of decrees that lead to the persecution of the Israeli people. When things were at their worst, the Israelites were given an absurd quota of bricks they would be forced to make or move from one place to another. If they failed to reach their goal, their children would be murdered in front of them and the bodies would be mixed into the brick mortar.

Needless to say, this was a terrible time.

However, after a series of plagues sent by God, Pharaoh had no choice but to release the Israelites from captivity. After 400 years of slavery they were finally free.

During their travels, and a long series of events that I will refrain from telling you about here, they get lost and begin to wander in the desert. And during this time they begin to grumble and go so far as to say things like, “At least when we were in Egypt we had food and a place to stay. Here we are wandering around the desert starving.”
So what does God do? He provides food. What do the Israelites do? Complain that it’s not the food they want…

At this point, you may be wondering to yourself, “What does this have to do with you being sober?”
The reason I told you that story wasn’t to give you a look at Israel’s history, it’s to get the point across that drugs are my Egypt. That’s what had me enslaved. It wasn’t for 400+ years, but it did steal roughly 8 years of my life. And remembering the “Egypt” I came from is important on days like today. It’s important for me to celebrate the Lord liberating me from this slavery. Otherwise, I could be like the Israelites and begin to complain about “how good things used to be.” Ridiculous.

Before I knock the Israelites too much, they do something that is fantastic in the book of Joshua. I won’t get into it all but just know that the Lord led Joshua into some great missions, all of which the Lord was faithful to bring him through. One of the most fantastic is their crossing of the Jordan River.
After these missions Joshua, as instructed by God, has 12 men get 12 stones from the Jordan River to place at the next campsite. This is important because it was a reminder. These stones serve as a reminder to the Israelites of God’s faithfulness, a reminder of God delivering them from the hands of the wicked.

I preface with all of that to get one point across. Isn’t it important for us to do the same thing? Shouldn’t we set up reminders for ourselves to remember all of the great things God has done for us too? Shouldn’t we have these “stone reminders” to ensure that we don’t forget of His faithfulness in our lives?
When my wife and I got engaged she gave me a glass vase with the words “God is faithful” hand written on the outside. She then handed me a small bag of pebbles and a permanent marker. Her instructions were simple, “When God answers a prayer, or does something miraculous in your life, write it on a pebble and put it in the vase.”

Today I get to drop a pebble in the jar that says, “4 years sober”. This is a day I don’t want to forget…

People often ask me what the secret to getting and staying clean is. I’m afraid there is no shortcut or quick answer to this. There is no cookie cutter formula because everyone’s situation is so extremely different. All I can do is share with you what worked for me, and what I’ve seen the Lord use to work in the lives of others.

Long Term Treatment – Check into a long term, in house treatment facility. There are several good ones that I’ve come across. But be sure that it is away from your town and is LONG TERM. It took years to get to be a junkie, I’m afraid it’s going to take more than 30 days to not be one anymore…
(A great one that I believe in is Teen Challenge)

Accountability – This is the numero uno rule in a recovering addicts life. You must have people in your life that have your best interest in mind. The people who will ask you the tough questions. People who give you real advice and then love you enough to hold you accountable to following it. Find a Celebrate Recovery in your town, be around people who understand your sickness, not people you can deceive. Proverbs 18:1 says, “He who separates himself seeks his own desire”. And for addicts, this means getting high. Isolation=relapse.

Finding a new home – After treatment, this was vital for my sobriety. Thanks to my uncle John taking a chance on me, I was able to have a fresh start in a new town. I got to be the new “me”, not the “me” that everyone used to know. We see in Mark 6 that even Jesus couldn’t do a mighty work in His hometown because their lack of belief in Him. I think this is true for an addict as well. They need a new start, and for most of us this means not going back home.

Replace how you spend your newfound free time - Using drugs is a full time job. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who has ever been strung out. You have to hustle up your money (stealing, lying, etc). Then you have to find a dealer who has the stuff, arrange to meet them somewhere, only then make the actual deal (the whole time looking over your shoulder hoping to not get arrested or robbed). Only then do you actually get to use. Then begins the lying to family and friends about how you’re not high, or you did something else with the money. After this, you are forced to immediately start the process all over again; the process to be repeated day after day after day. Obviously, once you are sober, you have A LOT of free time that you didn’t have before. You know what they say, “idle hands is the devil’s workshop”. Find ways to be positive with this time. Get a hobby, volunteer helping others, JUST STAY BUSY!

Surround yourself with positive people – As an addict we like hanging around people that make us feel better about ourselves. We hang around people who are extra scummy so that we don’t feel quite as bad about ourselves all the while thinking, “at least I’m not as bad as that guy”. Ironically, we inevitably end up being just as bad as they are in the end. Instead, hang around positive people. Try to be like them. Do what they do. They will also be able to hold you accountable.

You must have a new mind – If you are going to have a new decision making process this is a must. Sound crazy? Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Simply put, this is saying that when we present ourselves to God our minds can be changed; we can have a new way of thinking.

You must be a new person – If you are going to have this new mind, you must be a whole new person. Sound crazy? 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.” This tells us that when we come to Christ we are a new person; we aren’t the person we once were…

Be involved in your local church – Serve, serve, and serve. Don’t just show up and take all you can get, that’s what the old person would do. Volunteer to set up, volunteer to tear down, don't just be a "pew warmer". Be a blessing to the local Body, not a burden. This will also add to your accountability.

Be involved in discipleship – Not only should you have the people mentoring you and holding you accountable that I mentioned before, but you should find someone that you can teach as well. It is SOOOOO great for me to have the men in my life that not only teach me the Word, but the ones that expect me to teach it to them as well. It’s amazing what having someone that counts on you will do for your determination. Also adding to your accountability (see a pattern here?)

This is in no way an answer to addiction, but it is what the Lord has used to help me. And what I’ve seen work for others.

Days like today are the days I like to remember all that the Lord has delivered me from, the Egypts that He has brought me through.

What are your victories? Are you remembering and celebrating those?

Friday, September 16, 2011

What kind of friend are you?

We all have those friends, and I use the term loosely. When you see their name on the caller ID you immediately roll your eyes and think, "What now?" You know before you even pick up the phone that there is going to be nothing positive coming from the other end. You know that as soon as you hit that little green button that they are going to ask you for a "small favor," to simply complain about how someone did them wrong, or tell you all about how the world is against them. With every Facebook status update or tweet, it seems as if they want the world to feel their pain, wanting everyone to know how bad they've got it. It's enough to make you want to ignore every phone call, to hide them on your news feed, and to unfollow them on Twitter. These are the family members who, on every holiday visit, seem to only add to the stress of everyone else. The family member who everyone secretly hopes will visit with his or her in-laws this year instead of coming home. They are emotionally draining. They seem to take the life out of everyone they are around.

I'm in no way saying that you shouldn't ask for help if you need it. For that matter, we all need a good venting session after we've had one of "those days". After all, isn't that what real friends are for? Aren't they the ones who are there for us when we sincerely need someone? But, are you there for them when they need you to listen to their problems? That's what friendship is all about; a mutual give and take. Not one side doing all the giving while the other side does all the taking.

After reading this paragraph I'm sure we all have a list of "friends" and family members that would easily fit this mold. They never seem to offer much by way of service, love, or encouragement to other people. It's all about what the world can do for them. Sadly, this is the opposite of how we are called to be; yet it is exactly how our society has programmed us to act. We live in a culture that is all about doing what's best for you and not concerning yourself with the needs of others. We live in a culture where our "friends" aren't the people that we can help, and certainly not the people who NEED our help. It's a culture where we are only friends with the people who can do something for us. These relationships are finished as soon as the person can no longer offer us the service that they once did.

I recently read Josh McDowell's "More Than A Carpenter" where he describes his experience with a group of Christians when he was in college. He had been watching how they acted around campus as well as how they interacted with each other. After doing so he speaks of their love for one another as a "genuine love". This genuine love is something I always appreciated about Christians, even before I was one myself. The Christians I knew that really lived it out - NOT the ones who were Christian in title only - always seemed to be looking to help others. They somehow seemed to put the well being of others above their own.

McDowell elaborates on the genuine love of the Christians he saw on campus by saying that the people in this group not only loved each other, but also the people outside of the group. He says, "And I don't mean they just talked about love; they got involved in people's lives, helping them with their needs and problems. It was foreign to me, yet I was strangely addicted to it." What a testimony! These Christians loved those around them so well that it attracted a non-believer to them.

Jesus says in John 13:35, "By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

The question is this: Which group are you a part of? Are you a part of the group that people try their hardest to avoid because of your negativity? Or the group that people want more time with? When people leave your company do they think "I could hang out with that guy all day?" Or do they think, "Thank God that's over?" Are you the type of person that sucks the life out of a room? Or are you truly a life-giving spirit?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Stepping Out In Faith

My wife and I don’t have children yet. However, once a week we have the privilege of meeting with 4 other couples, 2 of which have 16-month-old little girls, Emma and Anna. So each Tuesday night we get to enjoy the fun of having these little girls around us, without any of the stress. We get to experience all of the after dinner fun without any of the trauma of bath and bedtime. It’s a great situation for us.
A few weeks ago it was our turn to host dinner. We had our meal and bible study while the girls played patiently…as patient as you could expect 2 toddlers to be. As we were finishing up, Emma and Anna were naturally getting a little restless and were ready to break loose. Chris, Emma’s father, and I were sitting in the living room talking when Emma runs in the room and begins to climb on our ottoman. She slowly tiptoes from my side of the ottoman to the edge of the side where her father was sitting. Just as quick as she makes eye contact with Chris, she holds her arms to the sky and began to free fall in his direction. He quickly lunges forward and catches her, saving her from a nice little fall on our wooden floor. She begins to squeal, laughing like this was the most fun that a little girl could ever possibly have. I was shocked at first, but it quickly became apparent to me that it wasn’t even a thought in her little mind that he might not be there to catch her.
Then it hit me. God wants us to have that same kind of faith in Him. Just like Emma’s earthly father was there to catch her, our Heavenly father will be there to catch us. But He can only do so if we are willing to step out in faith.
We are all scared of uncertainty. For many of us, there is nothing more intimidating than the unknown. There are many times when God asks us to step out of our comfort zone, into a scary situation. He never asks us to do this alone; He is always going to be there to catch us.
This is often easier said than done. It’s easy to talk about changing jobs, but when it comes time to have that awkward conversation with our boss where we put in our 2-week notice, it gets a whole lot tougher. It’s easy to talk about going back to school, but when it’s time to start registering for classes, doing homework, and studying for tests, you can begin to doubt your decision. It’s easy to think about asking your girlfriend to marry you, but when it’s time to go ring shopping, it’s natural to start second-guessing yourself. These are the times when God is telling us to jump. And He would never lead us to something only to leave us alone to fall on our faces.
To Emma, stepping off of that ottoman is to walk out into uncertainty and step into the unknown. But she does know one thing; her father will be there to catch her. We need to show this same faith in our own lives. For us, it obviously isn’t going to be walking off of a table for our dad to catch us, but it might be starting a new job, having kids, or buying our first home. Taking these steps can be scary, but with our Father being there to catch us, what do we have to be afraid of?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Just Do Something

            We’ve all been in that awkward situation. The situation where we are faced with a friend who has just had received tragic news in one form or another. We listen to their tragic story, and then the dilemma arises…. What do we say? How do we react? What can we possibly do to make things better for them?
            I was recently faced with this very same dilemma. A good friend shared with me that he had gotten fired from his job. This friend is a man who has a wife and 2 small children to provide for.  This is a man who I respect and love greatly, a man who I would do anything to help in anyway I can.
            So what is the first thing that comes to my mind? The same thing that comes to most Southern Christian minds’ when faced with a situation like this. I think about telling him, “This must be God’s will for your life. If He closes one door, He will always open another.” I think these thoughts among many other Christian clichés. Thankfully, I hold back from interrupting his heartfelt concerns with my words of “brilliance.” My lack of knowing what to say gave him the greatest gift of all - the gift of being heard.
            As I drove away that afternoon I was reflecting on what I should have said, or how the conversation could have gone differently. Too often, we try to tell people going through hard times with what we think we are supposed to say. We rely on, “I’ll be praying for you,” when if we were honest with ourselves we would have to admit that we are likely to not even do that.
            I found myself texting him that evening after his family had been on my heart that day. As I texted the words “let me know if there is anything I can do for you,” I was struck with a realization. Why should he have to ask me to do something for him? Why not just do something? In the midst of his family’s crisis, and what I can only imagine is one of the most humbling experiences for a husband, why should I force him to be humbled even further by asking me for help? Why can’t I just give him my help? After all, isn’t this what I would want him to do for me?
            That evening my wife and I took his family a small treat after dinner. This was no strain on our budget or our time, nor was it a lifesaver for the family in need. But it did show them that there are people who love them and hopefully, even if only for a short time, brought some joy to their home.
These situations might be different for you. You may financially be in a position where you can pay your friend’s rent for a month until they get back on their feet. You may be able to let them borrow a car, or sleep on your couch. Or you may not be in a position to help them financially at all. And that’s ok. Most of the time all people need is a listening ear, a friend who they know is there for them during their storm. All they need is your shoulder to cry on. They need you to give them a loving embrace, and let them know that you care.
We are all faced with these situations. My challenge is this - don’t let flippantly chosen words fight the battle for you. Let your actions prevail. The next time you are faced with a friend going through a crisis, don’t tell them to let you know if there’s anything you can do - just do something.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Discipleship's Winning Numbers

We’ve all been watching the evening news and have seen the portion of the show when the lottery numbers are drawn. For most of us, this is a boring time where we often think, “Ok, ok. Let’s get on with it.” Most of us may even wish that this wasn’t part of the broadcast at all. But how different would your attitude be if you bought a ticket that morning? If you were anxiously holding that lottery ticket in your hand? How different is your perspective then? As the numbers are drawn, you are on the edge of your seat with anticipation. You can’t wait one more second for that next number to be called, hoping that it matches the one you picked earlier in the day. You are hanging on to every word that is spoken by the announcer as if they are speaking to you directly, calling out the first number, then the second, then the third…
It’s amazing how having some level of involvement can have such a profound impact on how we view different situations like this.  The same application can be used when we are discipling someone, or for that matter teaching them the Bible in any context. If they don’t know that the passage you’re teaching speaks directly to them, they are going to have the same attitude as the person who didn’t buy the lottery ticket. They aren’t going to care what’s being said, because it has no connection to them whatsoever.
However, if we can show them that what we are teaching them from the Bible can be directly applied to their life, they will hang on our every word just like they would for the lottery numbers as a ticket holder. If they can hear the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 and hear that their Heavenly Father is waiting with arms wide open to forgive them like the earthy father in the story, they suddenly become a character in the story. It begins to come to life for them. If they read in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation - the old has passed away and the new has come,’ they would know that they too can be a new creation if they come to ChristThey can put away their old life, and have a new life in Christ. It is no longer a letter written by some guy named Paul 2000 years ago. It is a letter to them. A letter from God.
This is a challenge for most of us, because now not only do we have to know the Bible so we can teach it to others. We also have to know the people we’re teaching on a personal level. We have to know all about their life so we can show them how to apply Scripture to where they are and what they’re going through. There is no shortcut for this. It takes time and an emotional investment from both parties. It takes me giving the time and showing a genuine concern for the young men I disciple, while investing in their lives personally. This is the only way to be effective in making disciples, and is exactly what Jesus did with His 12 men. They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
The people who are holding lottery tickets are anticipating the announcement of every number. It matters to them because they are their numbers. That ticket belongs to them. The same applies to the Word of God. That verse is theirs. It is God’s promise spoken directly to them.
 There are no sure bets in this life, but there is one thing that is certain. If you can teach someone the Bible and how to apply what they read on their own, it will transform their life in such a way that they will want to do the same for someone else.  

Walking With A Limp

Everyone loves a rags to riches story. Hollywood is full of stories of people who started from meek beginnings and are now success stories. The most remarkable of which that come to mind are the superhero stories that are just as popular now as ever. Take a story like Batman. Bruce Wayne was a child who witnessed his parents being murdered when he was only a child. Many have used tragic events like this to hold them back, but not Wayne. He, from that point on, swore to avenge their death by battling crime for the rest of his life. So, as an adult Batman devoted his time, energy, and effort to overcome the crime that could have easily ruined his life.
I use that as an example obviously out of humor. But don’t we all have an example like this from our own life? Don’t we all have that “thing” from our past that has propelled us to where we are today? Whether good or bad, we all have a few defining moments that set the trajectory for the rest of our lives.
My story is not any different. I spent the better part of 8 or so years on a path that lead me straight to drug addiction. I could spend this whole post blaming this or that for why I became an addict but the truth is this, I chose the path I was on. At one point or another I made the decisions that put me where I was. And, if you’re honest with yourself the bad choices you’ve made can’t be blamed on your dad walking out on you, that event from your childhood that you still are hurting over, or that bad relationship that you wish never happened. They may not have helped you in your journey, but you must accept the blame for your own bad decisions.
I digress, the point isn’t that you have or haven’t made bad decisions in life. The point of this post is asking, what are you going to do with them now that you’re on the other side? What do I do now that I’ve overcome my drug addiction? Do I sit and think, “Man that was close?” Or do I do all that I can to help others who are going through the same thing? Being an ex-addict, I’m able to reach a people group that I would have never been able to reach. My struggle can become their success. We aren’t given our testimonies to sit on and be ashamed of. We are given them to share with others. No one can truly appreciate the “riches” you’ve attained unless they know about the “rags” you had to get out of first.
The theme of overcoming struggles while suffering well is one of the main themes in the Bible. I’m not sure that I could say it any better than The Word For You Today from June 12th.
God has people like Jacob who, spiritually speaking, walk with a limp. After years of wrestling with stubborn issues, they’ve been radically changed by God’s power; now they’re able to minister to those they couldn’t have reached before. God also has people like Paul, who said: “A thorn was given me in the flesh…to keep me from being conceited” (2Cor 12:7 ESV). When Paul asked God to remove this thorn, God said: “[No,] My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9 ESV). No doubt, that’s the last thing Paul wanted to hear.
Understand this: God loves to use people who walk with a limp, or who are locked into thorny situations they can’t escape. Why? Because when they’re blessed they don’t become arrogant like some who think they deserve it. They’re a little warmer, and a little more willing to reach out and embrace others. Today God is looking for people with enough compassion to ask, “How are you?” then stop long enough to listen to the answer! When people have been hurt they need extra love and attention. They need to be held a little closer and prayed over a little longer. After all, that’s what God did for you; now it’s your turn to do it for somebody else. And yes, you’ll have to be patient and overcome their reluctance to trust you. Because they feel betrayed and “used” they struggle with doubts and resentments. but don’t give up on them: “Love never fails” (1Cor 13:8 NKJV). If you keep loving them, God will use you to bring them healing and hope.
The challenge is this: Do you want to use your limp to help others? Or do you want people to think you’ve walked perfectly your whole life? (Here’s a tip -they don’t think that anyway). Do you want to use the wisdom you gained from that old abusive relationship to help a girl going through the same thing? Or are you so selfish that you’d rather them think that you’ve had a love life that is without blemish? Do you share the mistakes you made in high school with your children? Or does your pride cause them to repeat the same bad decisions?
Let your struggles become the success of someone else. Use your limp to carry someone who can’t stand up on their own. Don’t hide your story. Instead, share it with anyone who will listen.

TC and Me

Teen Challenge is a very interesting program to say the least. The dynamics of what goes on inside one of these centers go far beyond anything I could describe here in one post.
What is Teen Challenge?
It’s a Christian organization whose focus is to help guys with “life controlling issues” get their lives back on track, and to be introduced to Jesus. The length of TC varies from center to center, and often depends on the person’s progress. Most cases they will be anywhere from 10-16 months. This may seem like a long time compared to your typical 30-90 day recovery programs, and it is. For good reason. One month just isn’t enough to become a new person (which is the only way to truly become “clean”). The whole focus of Teen Challenge isn’t 12 steps, or typical counselling that you would often see used in recovery. It’s focus is put the Word in these men, and they other stuff has a way of working itself out on its own.
I completed the Teen Challenge in Cape Girardeau, MO in January of 2009. It was a true challenge for me (pun intended). One of the ways that it works is that you have little to no distractions to keep you from your relationship with God, and to get yourself better. “Distractions” include cell phones, internet, computers, secular music, books, etc. Now, for someone like myself who is VERY technologically driven, this was one of the hardest pills for me to swallow (pun not intended this time). But, with only a few other guys, and the Word that was being broken down for me everyday, I grew in my relationship with Jesus by leaps and bounds as the months went by.
Thanks to Teen Challenge introducing me to the Lord I can say that I have been sober, and serving Him, for 3 years last September.
The staff and Teen Challenge don’t receive much money for their work there, or for that matter, much gratitude at times. Much like a teacher, the thanks and gratitude they receive comes way down the road in seeing their pupils succeed. This is very hard for a culture whose whole focus is instant gratification. I will never be able to express the deep gratitude and thanks I have for each of the men and women who served at the Teen Challenges that I have been a part of, you all have given me something that I may never be able to repay.
So, it is always a VERY humbling and surreal experience when the Memphis Teen Challenge calls and asks if I would be able to lead a chapel there. To think that a few years ago it was me who was in those chairs, listening to someone who wanted to see me make it. Now, I have the opportunity to share with these men things that the Lord has shown me through the great teaching I receive both in my own reading, and through Fellowship Memphis and DownLine. I still can’t believe that this is real sometimes. (or for that matter that they would care about anything I have to say).
As I spoke on putting God first in our lives this morning, I tried to share with them not only the dangers of things that can get in the way of our relationship with our Father, but also practical advice that I have from personal experience. As I told them, “my reason for coming is just as much to tell you what to expect, and how you can be successful outside of these walls as much as it is to share the Word with you.” I believe these two are closely related. However, it takes someone who’s been there to tell you dangers that I’ve not only seen, but the struggles that I’ve seen others go through as well. These are often warnings I never got while I was in the program, and I didn’t want them to go back “into the real world” without hearing.
Once a month I share a lesson, my story, and life applications with these guys. I often feel that I am blessed by speaking to them way more than they are blessed by listening to me. Over the last 3 years I have spoken in front of many groups, at many different places, but there is an energy in a Teen Challenge chapel that is unlike anything I’ve experienced. I really feel that God shows up for these guys everyday. He shows a special love to this group of “unlovables”. As I often do, I brought these guys a treat. You’d be amazed how far $20 worth of doughnuts can go. Not physically, these guys put a hurtin’ on ‘em. But the fact that someone is willing to not only give his time, but his pocket as well to a bunch of undeserving and broken men. They are “broken” and see the contriteness of their own hearts better than anyone. They just need to be introduced to the One who can restore their lives. The healing God that put my life together, the One that can heal us all…
To contact Teen Challenge Memphis- (901) 272-2308
To contact Teen Challenge of greater Cleveland- (440) 259-3333
(Originally posted 7/20/2010)

Living In The Margin

First of all let me say that I tell this story not to pat myself on the back, but instead out of conviction for all of the moments like this that I let pass me by.

Yesterday as I was pulling into a restaurant to pick up a quick dinner, I noticed a man sitting in a motorized wheelchair in the middle of one of the turning lanes. I drove around him and pulled into an open parking spot. As I looked back at the man I could see the distress on his face as car after car after car swerved to get around him.
I vividly remember the first thought I went through my mind, “Damn it. Now I’m gonna have to help this guy.”
I then spent the next minute or so trying to talk myself out of going over and offering assistance to the man in need. I told myself, “You’ve already ordered your food. If you end up helping him it will be cold by the time you get home. Besides, I’m sure he’ll be fine. Someone else will be able to help him better than you can anyway.”
I literally had my hand on the door of the restaurant while I was processing my next move. Begrudgingly, I started the walk over to the man. I had made it all of about 10 steps before I became my own worst enemy once again. I was literally standing in the middle of the parking lot thinking to myself, “If you go any further, he’ll see you. Then you’ll be forced to help him. This is it, point of no return.”
I couldn’t shake Matthew 25 from my mind “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Well, that was it, now I had to help him. I asked what the problem was and he told me that his battery was going dead and he needed to be pushed (approximately 500 yards) to the Exxon across the street so he could charge his battery. Great, only one problem. The “street” he needed pushed across is more of an 8-lane bypass, known as Poplar.
His cart had just enough juice to move (very slowly) if he pushed the joystick forward as I pushed him. So, we started the journey. He began to tell me that he had recently been hit by a car while in his wheelchair trying to cross the street no more than a week ago. I would soon realize how and why he was hit when he proceeded to tell me that we “don’t need to walk all the way to the crosswalk, we’ll be fine crossing here”.
After some convincing on my part, we decided to go the safe route and go ahead and utilize the safety of the crosswalk.
We had made it just over half way across Poplar when his chair’s battery died. All the way died, leaving us stuck in the middle of the road. I just looked up at the sky, thinking that the Lord must have a good sense of humor.
I could still push him, but instead of just “nudging him in the right direction”, I was now trying to push about 350 pounds of man and cart. Needless to say, we weren’t moving very quickly.
At that same moment I see Matthew Love, a friend, running towards us. He offers the assistance needed to get the man across the Exxon parking lot to the plug where he charges his chair.
The man is overwhelmed with gratitude. He keeps saying, “I don’t know what I woulda done without you boys helpin’ me. I don’t. God bless you boys. God bless ya.”

On the walk back to my car I couldn’t shake one thought…How many times a day to I drive past these people? People in need. People I can help. Far too many times I pass on these opportunities.
Did it honestly take anything from me to help this man? In reality it took 10 minutes of my day to give him the help that he so desperately needed.
What if we didn’t always assume that someone else would help? What if each of us did something like this each day as opportunities arose? What if we left “margin” in our schedules so times like these could happen? Jesus did. Some of His most teachable moments were not only the appointments, but what happened on His way to and from them.
Your moment probably won’t involve helping a homeless man in a motorized cart. But, it may be you helping someone who is at the gas station getting $3 worth of gas get $13 instead. It may be you offering a ride to that guy who is walking down the street in the pouring rain. It may simply be you taking the time to say an encouraging word to, or God forbid, actually leave a decent tip for the waitress at Applebee’s who is clearly having a terrible day.
This isn’t a Christian/non-Christian issue; it’s an issue of humanity. What if we could each play our role in helping someone else see that there still is good in the world?
This is a challenge each of you reading this. Don’t be the people who swerve around the man in the broken down cart. Don’t be the people who watch a single mother have to pick and choose which groceries she will take home. Don’t be the people who watch someone hope that their 1 gallon of gas gets them home. Be the people who live in the margin. Be the people who take action. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

There's A Certain Point Where I Tackle You

I heard a quote recently that convicted me in regards to the way I look at evangelism.
This quote wasn’t from a well-known pastor like John Piper, some local lay leader in the church, or even a child in our youth group. On the contrary, it is from a VERY devout and vocal atheist named Penn Jillette, you may know him as one half of the comic-illusionist act Penn and Teller.
After someone politely shared their faith with him he had this to say, “…I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is way more important than that…”
Mr Jillette could obviously care less if we, as Christians, share our faith at all. But, we should care. Why? Because it is commanded of us. It’s our job to share the Gospel with the world. We have knowledge of the impending doom to come, the truck that’s on its way.
I would venture to say that I have as many friends that aren’t believers as those who are, and I love them both equally. I try to be a positive example of Christian living rather than being the “older brother” who judges and condemns them for their disbelief. There are many who I pray for, by name, daily. But, if I were honest with myself would I be able to say that I do an adequate job of verbally sharing the Gospel with them?
At what point do we start caring more about our “non-believing” friend’s spiritual well-being than what may or may not be an awkward conversation?
At what point are we willing to “tackle” them?

Why I'm One of Those Bloggers Now

I’ve toyed around with the idea of starting a blog for some time. Every time I’ve gotten the nerve up, I seem to talk myself out of it.
I use social media for a comedic outlet of sorts. To be honest, I almost take a satiric look at it in general. It’s a funny concept to me. At some point I thought to myself, how many of these 800 FB “friends” actually care what I’m doing? For that matter, how many of these people do I even want to know the details of my life? Furthermore, how many of those “friends” are anything more than “that person I met that one time”? For instance, I am Facebook friends with a girl that I’ve not seen or talked to since the 2nd grade (1992ish). Thanks to Facebook, I can tell you not only where she lives now and what she does for a living, but also what kind of dog she has and his name…creepy concept.
Then I realized that the only people who would truly care about my day to day living are the people who are already in my life and already know what’s going on with me in the first place. They don’t need a status update to tell them that I’m “super excited about the new episode of The Office tonight.” So, at some point I decided to just start posting the most random thoughts I could think of to my Twitter and Facebook in an attempt to make people laugh.
However, I’ve recently began to think of what a platform we all have to share our thoughts today. At any given moment, most of us have anywhere between 300-1500 people at our disposal on Facebook and Twitter who are reading every random thought we decide to share with them. This is where my conviction set in. If one day the Lord says, “Jeff, I gave you an audience of 950 people willing to read your every thought, everyday. What did you share with them?” I don’t want to have to say, “Well, Lord, I made a bunch posts about funny stuff my dog does and plenty of lame attempts at humor directed towards pop culture…”
So here we are.
Last fall, I shared a few posts with some close friends and family that I had written to simply share my heart in an attempt to encourage them. One of those friends was a man named Neil, who happens to work for WYMT, a local news station in eastern Kentucky. When he asked me to write for the news station’s blog based on 2 quick posts, I was shocked and honored to say the least. He said, “You have a very serious side yet you are a cut-up. Take for instance your “Tackle You” blog. You drove home a very serious point in a somewhat humorous style. Then the “TC and Me” was very serious. The Lord has given you a gift, one in which I believe you can use to reach people through the written word.”
Talk about an encouraging/convicting dagger to the chest. I’ve been running from the idea of blogging for a long time, and I’m afraid that I have decided to finally surrender. Unlike my Twitter and Facebook, I plan for my blog to be much more of a look at what I’m learning, what I see in my world, and what they resonate in my heart. I can’t promise that everything I post will be entertaining, or for that matter worth the time it takes you to read it. But, I can promise that it will be from the heart, intended to be thought provoking if nothing else.
To get started, I will be reposting the 2 posts that Neil mentioned above.
Here goes nothin’…