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?