Look what I found! Let’s throw a party!​


“1 By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. 2 The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” 3 Their grumbling triggered this story. 4 “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? 5When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, 6 and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’7 Count on it – there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue. 8 “Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? 9And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ 10 Count on it – that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.” (Luke 15:1-10,The Message)

Dear Friends,
Jesus told two simple parables that are so small they might simply be overlooked. But these parables, like all his parables, tell us what God is like, and what we should be thankful for. Many of us at times can find it really difficult to find even one thing worthwhile to get excited about. Here Jesus gives us a picture of the greatest thing to throw a party for. Americans love to party. We love our holidays and reasons to spend money. But God doesn’t really have to be a part of that, does He? Parties without any real reason to celebrate are really just debacles. Get together to watch other people act stupid, get wasted, and hopefully get home and get to work the next day.
How much better to throw a party out of gratitude that something lost has been found! I had a friend who I knew for many years who in a very real way was very lost. His name was Isaac, which in the Bible means laughter. He was a homeless veteran, and he was a gambling addict who kept it hidden for many years. Most people never stopped to ask why he was here every week without fail for church, but a few of us pastors knew. We sat down with Isaac and confronted him about how he really needed to seek help for his addiction and use his monthly income toward housing. At one point I said to him, “Isaac, If you pull this off this time, after being here is 1985, I think the city should have you throw out the first pitch in the Cardinals game next season. There should be a ticker tape parade and the mayor himself should shake your hand.” He had been lost for many years, but now he would be found.
We developed a plan to access services and get into housing. And finally, I’m happy to say, Isaac got his own apartment. But sadly the years took their toll on his body, and like so many chronically homeless who get placed, he died within a short time. I share his story because even though most people never knew his name, and he never got that ticker tape parade, I know the angels in heaven knew him well. I know that Jesus knows Isaac. His life was no tragedy. Addiction or not, this sinner who repented was found.
Let’s go to God in prayer.

Lord,
Your Word says in Psalm 32, “Happy is he whose offense is forgive, whose sin is blotted out!” We pray with David, “While I refused to speak, my body wasted away with day long moaning…but when I acknowledged my sin to you, when I no longer concealed my guilt but said, ‘I shall confess my offense to the Lord,’ then you for your part remitted the penalty of my sin.” Lord we know that the torments for the ungodly are many, but unfailing love enfolds those who trust in the Lord. We rejoice in you and are glad, we sing aloud, honest in heart” because of your love in Christ. Amen.

In the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin Jesus reasons with us that it would only be common sense to know the value of what we have, to scour and find our lost assets, and to rejoice with our friends with a party in celebrating what we have. Sadly, in our age of excess, our culture, like the Pharisees who despise sinners, has lost its sense of what is truly valuable, and overlooks so much of what really matters that its celebrations are not out of gratitude to God, but are a reason simply to forget our troubles, and age our bodies more quickly.

In these little stories of being lost and found we find three reasons for thanksgiving:
1. It is good to be alive. The wisest thing I have learned here at NLEC is the simple prayer: “Thank you Lord for waking me up this morning. For setting me in my right mind. For putting a smile on my face. For giving me movement in my limbs. For giving me sight in my eyes.” Life itself is a miracle. Life is a gift. Gratitude for another day alive makes no sense in a world where we do not ask to be born and we are allowed to do whatever we want with our bodies so long as it presents no danger to ourselves or others in the sight of the law.
Life is worth living because God loves sinners. All alone we cannot love ourselves rightly. Without God the greatest “love” we show ourselves is actually self-harm. Why? Because our profoundest aspirations can only imagine life as good for our own self pleasure. Without God there is never pleasure enough. Never real satisfaction.
2. It is good to know that God loves us and is for us.
My story is one of always hearing that God loved me, but of really struggling to believe it. I never left church or publicly turned my back on God. But for many years I harbored an unspoken mistrust toward God. I wanted to believe that I was loved, but I was more certain that I was unlovable. I had to endure a lot of pain and come to the profound realization that I wasn’t just a sinner but that I could not save myself. No amount of information about God could save me. No spiritual experience or lightning bolt from heaven could save me. I had to learn from other addicts just how lost I am. Then I learned how good it is to know that God loves me and is for me. That is my particular story. Ask yourself, am I now grateful for God’s love and favor? And how does that gratitude shape me day by day?
3. God wants us to value and love sinners, because that is what we were, and Jesus died for them.
One of the hallmarks of really loving God is wanting all others to know His love. When I feel that I don’t want to be around sinners, or when I only want sinners to do things my way, that’s when I know that my own heart is not right with God, that my own sin is standing in the way. I remember going out on a street patrol in Chicago with an old friend who had once been, in his words, a hopeless drunk. We were out there in order to see that the homeless of Uptown had blankets and food and water. If they wanted to come in for shelter we were there to drive them there. But my friend got more and more cantankerous as the night wore on.
He kept saying, “These guys just need to repent. What are we doing out here if we’re not saving souls? I used to be a hopeless drunk. I don’t even like the sight of these people.” After he got loud and abusive toward one intoxicated man in a bus stop I finally decided our night was over, and I drove him home. I wanted to lead people to Christ by example, not try to guilt them into the Kingdom. I told my friend, “I don’t like seeing the effects of alcohol on people any more than you do, I know it’s hard. But we can’t offer the love of Jesus by getting angry and yelling at people like that.”
Some people’s sins seem apparent to everyone, because of the stigma attached by society. People assume that drunks and prostitutes are worse sinners than anyone else. Jesus’ parables illustrate that God loves all sinners, whether we recognize them or not. The worst sins are those that are easily rationalized and covered up. When we lose sight of the goodness of God we generally also lose sight of our own sinfulness.

Heavenly Father,
We come to you with praise for this moment, this hour, this day to be alive! We celebrate the love you have for us, demonstrated in the death of Jesus Christ for us sinners. We ask that you stir up in us a love for all sinners and a desire to be your agents of reconciliation. Relieve us, O Lord, from our bondage to selfish things. Forgive us for considering our daily service to others a burden rather than a blessing. We thank you in particular for people to the left and right of us who are your creation. Help us to speak graciously and kindly to them this evening. In Jesus’ Name, we pray. Amen.

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Becoming A Trustworthy Laborer

Becoming a Trustworthy Laborer by Rev. Chris Rice

 

“Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord is destroying before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.” (Duet. 8:17-19, NRSV)

 

Dear Friends,

Work is a gift from God. There are many definitions of work, but it is most truthful to say that work is what we do for one another and ourselves that in turn blesses God. This is the right vision for work. Within that definition we can fit the whole picture of employment or wage work, as well as service, or volunteer work, and especially household work, caring for our family.

 

Let’s go to the Lord in prayer, which is our purest work:

Heavenly Father,

We pray for our country in this time of economic turmoil. We pray that you lead and direct our elected leaders and supply them with divine wisdom and understanding.

Together: God of mercy, hear our prayer

We pray for those in our community who have lost their jobs, their health insurance, and their homes. We pray that you strengthen them in this time. We pray that they would be restored and made whole.

Together: God of mercy, hear our prayer

We pray for our neighbors and our community. We pray that injustice will not prevail on our watch, as we hold our government accountable for their actions.

Together: God of mercy, hear our prayer

We pray that the lessons of the past guide us into a path that will heal our land of its economic woes, in a way that uplifts all. Allow your compassion and love to prevail.

Together: God of mercy, hear our prayer

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

 

It may seem counter-intuitive, but in order to talk about work we must first talk about rest, the importance of Sabbath in remembering God. The Lord wanted his people to understand that he provided for them, so He brought them through the wilderness to test them and teach them for future generations. One of the things he did was to provide a heavenly substance for them called, manna, which means, “What is it?” (Exodus 16:25-30) And he gave them specific instructions on how to gather it to eat it.

He sent it for six days out of the week, but not on the Seventh day, the Sabbath day, the day when God rested after creating the world, the day when he told his people to cease from any labor. On the sixth day more was provided than other days, so that they would not have to go gather it on Sabbath. But sure enough, the people got up, just as they did every other day and went out looking for manna.

This story has a lesson for us. When God provides a gift and tells us how to receive it, we better listen. Work is a gift, it is not a guarantee. The problem with the American economy as we know it is that some feel very entitled to the fruit of labor not their own, while others who work very hard don’t have enough to live on. I believe that the only way to ensure that everyone is cared for is to acknowledge that work itself is a gift from God, not of our own hands.

Sabbath is a form of resistance to the belief that what I do is who I am. This is perhaps the greatest sickness within our society, and is a big reason for why people who are without housing are so stigmatized. We teach our children that the work they will someday do is what they are really worth. That is setting them up for failure, not for success. Sabbath causes us to question the very nature of success. Is success only the power to buy and sell? Sabbath teaches us that in silence, in quiet, we are simply a part of this created world. God is our creator.

The early Christians gathered on the first day of the week in honor of Christ’s resurrection. When they gathered, they celebrated the Eucharist or thanksgiving meal that he taught them in remembrance of Him. In their public worship of Christ they were celebrating his finished work on the cross and his resurrection. Our worship is an alternative to work as an expression of our being. It has become trendy these days for some Christians to say that they don’t go to church on Sunday because Jesus can’t be contained in a sanctuary.

They go surfing or hiking and say, church is inside me. But God’s word says, “Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together (Heb. 10:25).” To our frenetic culture worship is a royal waste of time that could be spent learning or working. But our worship is an alternative to this notion. The word liturgy (or order of service) means “the people’s work”. We gather the first day of the week to say, “Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we do in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24)

So now that we know work begins with rest, let’s face the practice of work itself. To be alive is to struggle, and work is certainly struggle. How much struggle? How much toil? We all know that some work their bodies harder at what they do. Others work their minds harder. Some people go home from a difficult day at the office knowing that their hardest work begins at home, caring for children, remodeling the bathroom, mowing the grass, removing garbage, etc.

I recently saw a documentary about the writer Jack Kerouac. He was a writer so dedicated to his craft, that he typed sentences seven or eight hours a day. But he had to work other menial jobs just to eat and stay alive. The suffering involved in his survival fueled his art, and sadly, his depression, and substance abuse.

Our work is meant to satisfy and delight us. Jack had many friends who cared for him, but we must wonder whether he ever found his way out of the loneliness of his isolation. One friend of his who was interviewed for the film said that Jack kept suggesting to him that they commit suicide together. The friend kept putting him off, until one day he finally answered, “Ok, Jack. You first.” Jack didn’t like that. Many of us have friends we hang with who we really can’t help even if we try, because each person must first become willing to take the risk of accepting help, of sharing the deepest self.

Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30, NRSV) That word yoke is a reference to the device they would put on two animals to have double the pulling power for the work. What he is saying is that working for Christ is a co-laboring task.

How does that work? The question arises, “How much of what I do is God’s work, and how much can I feel good about?” Well, you can feel good about everything you do for Jesus! What part do you want to feel bad about? What part do you want to begrudge giving to Him as an offering? So, you see, you are yourself God’s handiwork. You are what He has made you, is making you, and will make you. (Eph. 2:9-10, 20-21) The question is, are you sufficiently grateful?

If we look to ourselves or to our society to determine our worth we will find no answer for the problem of time, mortality, or purpose. Corporations come up with these nifty ideas like “planned obsolescence” that we learn to accept. My laptop was perfectly new when I bought it for close to $1,000. The very year that I bought it, a new line of newer faster laptops were being constructed and shelved so that I could stay up-date with the latest software.

They assure me that it’s not that what I paid for is not good enough, and I shouldn’t think at all about it becoming obsolete soon, it’s just that they’re sure their improvements will be necessary soon. This is true of printers, phones, cars, clothing, and nearly everything else manufactured for daily use. We all find it frustrating that everything is new and old at the same time, but we just accept it and live by it.

I am grateful that who Christ is determines the why of our work. Because of Christ I know my value is not in the things I purchase, but in His love which I experience in relation to brothers and sisters in Christ. I live for Jesus and obey Him because of God’s work in me which “enables me to both will and work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12) I hope you understand that life is not separated into sacred and secular spheres, church being the place for worship and employment being the place for work. Everything we are is in and for Jesus! Our work itself is a way of worshiping Him.

 

It is this vision for all of life that causes us to hold our government to account for the oppression of prisoners, widows, orphans, immigrants, and the destitute poor. We want God to bless the work of our hands and prosper all of us, especially those fighting the greatest personal battles. Our advocacy and protest is a way of educating the world to the way things should be, and announcing that the Kingdom of Heaven is one of peace and justice.

This vision for life means that employees deserve a just wage for their labor. When prices rise on goods and services but wages remain low, jobs become shorter term, and the cost of education goes up. How is this not unjust? In our democratic society voters have become accustomed to remaining uninformed and uninvolved. Some actually measure the lack of participation as satisfaction!

But if we were to add to the measurement of the “satisfied” the number of those suffering from a stress related illness, those with an undiagnosed severe mental illness, incarcerated persons and those on probation or parole—if we were to include the hidden ones hovelled in abandoned buildings and tents while working full time, maybe we would arrive at the truth about our democratic “satisfaction”. The “cure for what ails us” is the disease itself!

The record of human civilization is not one of forward progress, but of cyclical deceit. Many are convinced that the post-human world is already upon us. In our modern effort to make a safer, stronger, more peaceful world of justice for all we’re actually destroying the planet at a rate outside our control. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6)  Our worship of Jesus in everything we do demonstrates a new way of being human.

We serve a higher purpose than to simply survive in this world. We’re not just biding our time until death takes us. With our every breath we can glorify God! Every task over time can seem mundane, and we can easily bore with it. Repetition leads to understanding, understanding to application, application to tedium, and tedium leads us to distraction and taking our eyes off our purpose! The devil waits around for us to take our eyes of Christ, and then he hits us with the temptation to despair.

Just like the bridesmaids waiting for the groom’s return in Jesus’ story, we can all fall asleep. (Matt. 25:1-13) But did we remember our oil? You can expect to get tired and bored doing any task. But are you prepared? Again and again Jesus reminded his disciples to watch and pray and wait. He poured out his Holy Spirit on them and empowered them for service. And we, together with the apostles and prophets, are His making.

Our relationship with God is one of trust because of Jesus’ perfected work. To be trustworthy laborers we have to be yoked together with Jesus. He will not give up on us, as difficult as we are, if we remain in Him. We will learn anew regularly that our need is God’s opportunity. Our challenges and battles will glorify Him if we do not lose heart. The devil wants us to give up. But as we surrender what we want to Jesus, he will always be victorious.

 

Yours in Christ,

 

Rev. Chris Rice

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The Revolution is Here: Tear Down Your Idols

The Revolution Is Here: Tear Down Your Idols

by Rev. Chris Rice

As we attempt to discern the times we’re living in, the book of Judges in the Bible offers us a story about a man “whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies” (Heb. 11:34, NRSV). Gideon was called by God on the day he was trying to hide out in a winepress to thresh his wheat, to keep it from being stolen from the Midianites. Israel at this time was an oppressed people. They were disunited. Any of the food they grew was taken from them by the sword. Their worship of the Lord was melded together with a worship of neighboring idols, and their sense of self was confused and forgotten. Like his people, Gideon was just trying to survive. When the people cried out to the Lord to deliver them, he didn’t get the memo that he was their man. So when he got the visit from an angel, “We can almost hear him say, “Who me? You got the wrong guy.”

 

Gideon has some lessons for us today. Just a few weeks ago shots rang out in a neighborhood not far from here. A young man of color only 18 years old named Michael Brown lay slain in the street for four hours, his blood soaking the ground around him. His father wore a cardboard sign that day, quickly scrawled so the world would hear: “Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son.” In the days that followed hundreds of people have marched in vigil every day and night, crying out for justice. The scenes of a militarized police force shooting tear gas and smoke, and of counter threats by some and Molotov cocktails and broken bottles thrown back have left us all feeling angry, tired, and sad.

 

The question we must begin to ask ourselves is, “Where do we go from here?” In the weeks to come, as the media turns to some other concern and the Grand Jury in St Louis County decides whether or not to bring charges against the white man responsible, how do we make sense of this senseless violence? It’s not as though we face an army of invaders who steal all our wheat to starve us. What does “winning the battle” against racism, brutality, and income inequality look like in our own time? What does God have to say to us? Gideon was the right person in God’s eyes, and what God did for this unlikely hero has many lessons for us. Let’s go to God in prayer now.

 

“Heavenly Father, we are angry by the injustice in our community. Our own public servant, tasked to serve and protect our people, has instead killed one of our youth. This has happened time and time again. As a nation we don’t seem to know what to say about it. But we cry out to you God for mercy. We pray for an end to the militarism in our society. We pray for deliverance from the fetishism of weapons. Our people of color are more often homeless, more often suffer violence at the hands of authority, and live in systemic poverty. This is not your will. Lord, lead us out of this darkness into your light. Open your Word up to us and grant us wisdom so that we might speak the truth in love and rise unshackled as new people to your glory. Destroy every stronghold, every argument, and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. We seek to obey Christ and take every thought captive to him. (2 Cor. 10:3-6) Teach us to wage battle your way! In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.”

 

Gideon was a man like us. He was a product of a society that couldn’t make up its mind about God. But as he haltingly gave himself to his calling, he became what the angel of the Lord called him. Judges 6:12 says, the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” God knew who Gideon was even before Gideon knew. Do you know who you are at this time? Do you hear God calling you? What is the name he has given you? Are you a mighty warrior? Don’t answer too quickly. Instead listen to Gideon’s honest reply.

Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, “Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.(vs. 13). Since before 1776 America has never had a shortage of words about God. But we have to be honest along with Gideon and ask whether God is truly with us. Where are all his wonderful deeds now that we read about in the Bible? Where is God when all this has happened to us? Has God abandoned us?

 

The angel’s reply to Gideon is not an apologetic for God’s existence or his favor. Instead he seems to say that the answer lies within Gideon’s call itself. He has the might. He is commissioned. “Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” (vs. 14) Gideon was a man fully acquainted with his own weaknesses. And when we think about men like Abraham, Moses, Saul, and Isaiah, we know that God has favor for those people who know their limitations. He can use that. “Gideon responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”  The Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.”  Then he said to him, “If now I have found favor with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Do not depart from here until I come to you, and bring out my present, and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay until you return.” (vs. 16-8)”

 

This was only the first sign Gideon asks of the Lord, so that he could be assured of God’s favor. We see in Gideon’s story that every time Gideon inquires of the Lord, he is met with a patience response. God had no problem being questioned. So long as Gideon did what the Lord said. The strongest man or woman is someone who realizes their limitations and goes to God to fill up what is lacking in their character. God is our source of strength. But in order to receive from the Lord we have to be willing to tear down our idols.

 

Before Gideon could deliver Israel he had to obey God and destroy the family idol. This was no small task. According to Judges 6:25-32, Gideon was told to take his father’s bull and pull down the idol to Baal and then cut down the sacred pole next to it. This sacred site belonged to his father. He needed ten men to do it. He was afraid to do it during the day, so he did it at night. And when the towns people saw what was done they all came to Joash, Gideon’s father and demanded that he surrender his son to be killed. Instead Joash reasons with them and asks why the baal can’t take care of himself. This sounded reasonable to the people, so they leave Gideon alone.

 

Gideon on this day became known as Jerub-baal which meant “let baal contend with him”. The people no doubt figured that this man’s fight with baal would clearly end in failure. He was marked for death. But the Bible uses the name with pride and honor, because this man of ruined reputation proved that baal was the weak god that couldn’t defend its own honor. Gideon’s act of obedience, destroying the idols of his family and people caused the people to question themselves and their allegiance.

 

Once we acknowledge the call of God on our lives and accept that we are who He says we are, we are called to dismantle the idols that our people serve. Now the problem with that here in our country is that no one wants to acknowledge that they serve any idols. The only authority recognized is the authority of the individual. Reality is what he or she makes of it. This is actually the effect of the ultimate slavery, which is the tyranny of the self. Acknowledging no other authorities outside of oneself is a delusion. The first idol is in fact the self. “No one can tell me what to do.” We were created social creatures. To accept your limits in this world, that maybe you aren’t omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, is the only way to find peace. There are boundaries to my authority everywhere.

But there are other idols besides self-worship here in America. Guns are a huge idol. The way many read the Second Amendment in this country is that possession of a firearm is a duty. Ownership is the responsibility. That’s an idol. That sort of entitlement is dangerous. Can you imagine Jesus saying to his disciples, “Arm one another as I have armed you. Buy each other a new firearm every year as a token of my affection.” No. I can’t. Another idol is the god of the consumer price index. Most people don’t even pretend to know how it works. We just know that spending money is one of the most patriotic things we can do in this country.

 

Quietly, unsuspectingly, the wealthy in this country have grown richer than ever before, and the poor are left unprotected legally, unable to keep up with the cost of living, and without real health coverage to stay alive. This is the effect of our nation’s worship of wealth. Jesus used the Aramaic word mammon to describe it in Matthew 6:24 and in Luke 16:9, 11, 13. Mammon cannot be served alongside God. It must be thrown down. Jesus demonstrated a way of life for his disciples that involved work, worship, and love for one another. There was no time for a life of leisure and entertainment. There was no time for falling asleep. He taught them to stay awake and live expectantly for his return.

 

So what are the idols in your life that God is calling you to throw down? What are the societal idols you are called to dismantle? I’ve listed a few, but I want you to take some time and really think about this. There’s no way you can destroy idols alone. Gideon was called of God and he had help. Even his father, who owned the idol, helped him. The important thing is to challenge assumptions.

 

Many people have this idol called nicotine. They’ve been smoking since they were children and they keep thinking, “I’ll just get down to one a day and then I won’t need it anymore.” And it never happens. Surely God is strong enough for you to win the battle against nicotine craving one day at a time, right? So do it in his power!

 

One of my idols that I don’t like to talk about is food. I love to snack right before bedtime. Somehow I think that I’ll work off all these extra calories the next morning at the “Y”. But I’m not losing any weight, and the compulsion has stayed the same. I justify it to myself by thinking, “Well there are worse addictions.” But that doesn’t change the fact that I know God is dealing with me about it. I’m called to stop munching before bedtime.

 

God cares about our whole person, body and spirit. We are meant to live completely for His glory. The problem for God’s people in the book of Judges is that they wanted to acknowledge God and the baal at the same time. They didn’t want to be oppressed by the surrounding peoples of Midian and Philistia, but they wanted to link the local culture and worship to their own. The problem with treating religion like a smorgasbord, adding a little of this or that to your plate, was that God acknowledged no other gods. The people didn’t understand that their desire to pick and choose was itself a rebellion from God and an idolatry.

The work that God wants to do here in our country does not involve simply acknowledging that injustices occur. Anyone can do that. God wants to remake us completely as people. He wants us to be people of justice, people of love, and people of peace! We don’t need reform, we need a complete dismantling of the idol-system and a love revolution! In order to be people like Jerubbaal, we have to be known for our struggle. A family relative from out of state called recently to see if we were ok because of the unrest on the TV. She said to me on the phone, “I just know you’re dad is one of those kinds of people who would be in the thick of that.” I assured her that we were ok, but to keep praying. But if “ok” means not struggling to tear down idols, then no we’re not ok. Yes we are contending with the baals of this age.

 

God called Gideon to wage a particular war in his time. Judges 7:12 says, “The Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the east lay along the valley as thick as locusts; and their camels were without number, countless as the sand on the seashore.” Judges 6:34: “But the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him.” The Abiezrites were the name of the people Gideon belonged to, members of the tribe of Manasseh. The tribes of Asher, Zebulan and Naphtali also sent troops. Ephraim was called out later and they too fought.

 

As Gideon had told the Lord earlier, he was the least of his tribe. Israel was a divided people that hadn’t been serving the Lord. There were twelve tribes and only a handful are mentioned as fighting here. Again and again in the book of Judges it says, “each one did what seemed right in his own eyes.” Even so Gideon is gathering together who he can and getting ready for war. But the Lord says, “The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, “My own hand has delivered me.’ Now therefore proclaim this in the hearing of the troops, “Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.’ “Thus Gideon sifted them out; twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained.” (Judges 7:2-3)

 

What can we learn from this? How does this even make sense? Why would God put his Spirit on Gideon to win a mighty battle and then send the men home? God cannot share his glory with any man or woman. The Lord understands that we make idols of the work of our hands. We form personality cults of people. When we’re losing we want to blame God, but when we win a battle we want to take all the credit and receive all the glory.

 

For this reason, it is important to remember that with spiritual battles God often times rallies us to attention, not to use physical force but to hear that the battle belongs to Him and not to us. It is important to show up in solidarity, but also to accept when we’re not called to be there in person. We can do so much more for God on our knees than in person when that’s what he calls us to do. Henri Nouwen said, “No minister can save anyone. We can only offer ourselves as guides to fearful people. Yet, paradoxically, it is precisely in this guidance that the first signs of hope become visible.” Every day I learn in new ways the truth of that statement.

 

Though Gideon was called by God to be a mighty warrior, God made it clear that the battle belonged to the Lord. When the time came to do battle, the Lord won the victory with just a veritable handful of people. No one could brag that they owned the victory. We see how he did it in Judges 7:19-22:

“So Gideon and the hundred who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands.  So the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars, holding in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow; and they cried, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”  Every man stood in his place all around the camp, and all the men in camp ran; they cried out and fled.  When they blew the three hundred trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow and against all the army; and the army fled…”

 

After this the people Israel went after their enemies and collected spoils of war and the heads of kings. In reading about it I wish we could say that the battle set Israel on the path of return to the Lord, knowledge of who He is, and continued peace. But sadly, this is not what we find in Judges 8. Gideon starts to “settle scores” with his own people who wouldn’t provide for his men. He goes from visionary coward to bloodthirsty victor himself. And when the people try to make him their own king, he asks them only for some of the gold as spoils of war. (Judges 8:23-24)

 

From this gold he fashions an ephod. Now we know from the Exodus that an ephod was a vestment worn by a priest that contained the Urim and the Thumim, which were used for discerning the will of the Lord. Gideon made his own ephod and placed it in his hometown. We’re told that with it “Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.” (8:27) How, we might ask, could Gideon make up his own religion this way after he so clearly was used of God?

 

It is so very easy for us from this vantage point in history to judge Gideon and think of ourselves as smarter. Israel during the time of the Judges, seems to have so melded together worship of the Lord and worship of baal that it would not have seemed strange to them to ascribe divinity to an ephod.

 

We humans were created for wonder. We marvel at what we see and experience. That’s a good thing. But we are also very prone to confuse what we have and what we can make with ultimate concerns. The One True God who created us, the God of Israel, warns us in his Word that He alone deserves our worship. Gideon’s waywardness is to some extent the story of every sinner called to serve. The Apostle John’s final admonition at the back of the New Testament is, “Little Children keep yourselves from idols.”

 

God is faithful. He will teach us true humility one day at a time as we are willing. We must remember that with every great work he gives us to do, whether we even understand it to be great at the time or not, we are simply meant to live to His glory and not our own.

 

 

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From Strangers to Neighbors

From Strangers to Neighbors

By Rev. Chris Rice

Dear Friends,

God has given us this day as a gift, and we dare not waste our time by not asking Him to lead us in doing His will. The Word of God tells us to “contribute to the needs of the saints” and “practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13), and the Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia or literally “love for stranger”. The same word is used in Hebrews 13:2 which says, “Do not neglect hospitality, for in doing this some have entertained angels unawares.” I want to take some time to look deeply into who we are at NLEC, our mission, values, and expression, and then look at what it means to show hospitality and move from being strangers, to being neighbors in our community. But first, let’s pray:

“Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer, pg. 826)

The mission of New Life Evangelistic Center (NLEC) is to provide Christian hospitality and respect for life through the services of food, clothing, shelter, education, and job training programs, as well as physical, mental and spiritual health care, to the poor and homeless in Saint Louis and beyond.

Because of the love of Jesus Christ displayed on the cross, and His Spirit alive in us our values are empathy, advocacy, empowerment, dignity, responsibility, faith, hope, and love.

This is our particular expression: Hospitality flows out of our worship. We gather for morning Bible Studies every weekday. We practice a fast on Wednesdays until dinner and gather for prayer and the communion. We hold worship on Friday afternoons at 3:30pm. Our church is independent and interdenominational. Members are free to attend their home church on Sunday mornings.

Our members live in community together, working and living together on site. The ministry provides full room and board in return for voluntary service. We offer a variety of program time commitments from 30 days up to 2 years and longer. Some former members become paid staff or continue to volunteer full time even while living in their own apartments.

This expression seems really strange to many people. Even though we invest a lot of time and energy in helping the public understand what we do, through our use of the internet, TV, radio, and phone calls, it’s just so different that we get accused of being many things that we just aren’t. People can’t conceive of a church actually sheltering homeless people in its building, or marching to advocate for the homeless, because they’ve never heard of churches in this area doing that. This is not just a local problem, however.

Dr. Cornel West says that American religious life is in a crisis. “American religious life—despite its weekly rituals and everyday practices—is shot through with existential emptiness. This emptiness—or lack of spiritual depth—results from the excessive preoccupation with isolated personal interests and atomistic individual concerns… Like so much of American culture, exorbitant personalistic and individualistic preoccupations in American religion yield momentary stimulation rather than spiritual sustenance, sentimental self-flagellation rather than sacrificial self-denial.” (THE CORNEL WEST READER, The Crisis in Contemporary American Religion, pg. 357-8.)

Our context as a Christian community lies within a very selfish cultural ethos. We must struggle to lay down our egos in a world that does not understand the value of a gift or the true nature of hospitality. This selfishness directly effects our impact on the world.

Dr. West writes: “Moralistic acts are often conflated with moral actions. Yet the former proceed from sheer sentimental concern—for example, pity—whereas the latter flow from an understanding of the larger context in which the action takes place and of the impact of the action on the problem. In short, moralistic acts rest upon a narrow, parochial and intellectualism that sees only pitiful individuals, whereas moral action is based on a broad, robust prophetism that highlights systemic social analysis of the circumstances under which tragic persons struggle. . .” It is completely acceptable to show pity to the poor, unless of course we hold the system that creates poverty morally accountable.

In living by our mission, we must understand why poverty is so bad, and why our faith does not allow us to leave the homeless without shelter, without food, clothing, medical care, and advocacy. Gustavo Gutierrez says that poverty according to the Scriptures is by its very definition a degrading human situation. It means to beg, weak, frail, bent over, humble. Poverty is a climate of indignation. “In the Bible poverty is a scandalous condition inimical to human dignity and therefore contrary to the will of God. This rejection of poverty is seen very clearly in the vocabulary used… The climate in which poverty is described is one of indignation. And it is with the same indignation that the cause of poverty is indicated: the injustice of oppressors.”

Michael Harrington pointed out in his book, The Other America: Poverty in the United States, that poverty is more hidden in America, by its landscape, by the freedoms we all enjoy, and by the collective expectation that none of us really has to be poor for very long because the system works (Scribner, NY, 1962, 1969, 1981, See Chapter 1). When we hear that poverty is destitution, that it’s slavery, and that it betrays our humanity, many may speak up and say, “Oh, no, it’s not really as bad as all that.” When you live without for so long you become tempted to live within your norms, no matter how deplorable they may be. Kind of like a man who works hard every day and then comes home and never cleans his house. The dishes pile up, the laundry piles up, the trash piles up, he stops inviting friends over, and he just gives up cleaning. Being poor and hiding it makes it really hard to change the situation, but this denial of reality betrays our humanity.

Gutierrez wrote that poverty “contradicts the meaning of the mosaic religion, which was the elimination of servitude and indebtedness”. It stands “against the mandate of Genesis” that we are made in the image of our creator and that we are given the work of transforming nature to His glory. Finally, we cannot forget that we humans are the sacrament of God. “We meet God in our encounter with other persons; what is done for others is done for the Lord. In a word, the existence of poverty represents a sundering both of solidarity among persons and also of communion with God. Poverty is an expression of a sin, that is, of a negation of love. It is therefore incompatible with the coining of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of love and justice.” (Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, Orbis Books, 1973.)

How then, within Christ’s Kingdom of Love, do we respond to poverty? Gutierrez says, “Only by rejecting poverty and by making itself poor in order to protest against it can the Church preach something that is uniquely its own: “spiritual poverty,” that is, the openness of humankind and history to the future promised by God. Only in this way will the Church be able to fulfill authentically— and with any possibility of being listened to—its prophetic function of denouncing every human injustice. And only in this way will it be able to preach the word which liberates, the word of genuine fellowship.”

People who live and journey with us for a time often wonder why we’re always struggling to pay bills. Why don’t we have more money? Why such precarity? Why not keep some of the money and spend more on a nicer place and bigger salaries? The answer is clear in the Scriptures. Wealth, when it is not for God, becomes a trap. It becomes about power, security, and recognition. When you seek those things you become part of the same system that enslaves humans into poverty. (See Luke 12:21)

Our most honest answer to Jesus when he tells us to welcome strangers and to love our neighbors should be, “Lord, help us! We can’t do this on our own. We believe, but help our unbelief!” We are a testament to the grace of God, to the miraculous in the midst of the mundane. God uses sinful people, saved by His Grace, to accomplish his purpose in this world.

The task before us, making strangers into neighbors, seems impossible. How do we make apathetic people care? How do we make rich people look the poor in the face instead of ignoring them and passing them by, or worse calling the cops on them to get them removed out of sight out of mind? How do we keep the poor from harming themselves or others in their despair? Jesus said that the answer is not in retaliation or despair.

“You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. ‘But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

 

“You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father

is perfect..” (Matt. 5:38-48, NRSV)

My initial reaction is “If I give to all who ask of me, what’s left of me?” Verse forty-two is often not taken seriously by people outside or inside the church. The fear is that turning the other cheek and giving to all who ask will leave us as emasculated pushovers. We should understand however, that the words assume that with God as our Father, our livelihood, including our safety and possessions, are secured. This allows us to turn the other cheek and give to all who ask of us. It also guards us against giving into the enemy or giving away so much that we bring dishonor to ourselves and him. It does not, however, protect our reputation in this world.

I believe that Downtown Saint Louis needs a movement of awakened Christians to lead us from the hostility and division, the name-calling and misunderstanding between strangers living in proximity, into an understanding that we are indeed neighbors regardless of property ownership and income levels. I believe that this fits the calling of our churches and that together we can accomplish. This requires, however, that we invite one another to more gatherings. That we speak to one another and of one another not in terms of our problems, but as equals. This will take great courage.

Henri JM Nouwen wrote in his book, The Wounded Healer that the necessary precondition in showing hospitality is concentration. We have to discover our center. It’s not possible, for instance, to hang out in the bar on Washington Avenue until 3:00am and then get up at 8:00am and come to a neighborhood meeting to make a better world. He wrote, “Those who want to pay attention without intention have to be at home in their own house-that is, they have to discover the center of their lives in their own hearts. Concentration, which leads to meditation and contemplation, is therefore the necessary precondition for true hospitality. When our souls are restless, when we are driven by thousands of different and often conflicting stimuli, when we are always “over there” between people, ideas, and the worries of this world, how can we possibly create the room and space where others can enter freely without feeling themselves unlawful intruders?”

It is only in the love of Christ that we find the freedom to welcome strangers. Nouwen again, “This experience tells us that we can only love because we are born out of love, that we can only give because our life is a gift, and that we can only make others free because we are set free by the One whose heart is greater than our own. And when we have finally found the anchor place for our lives within our own center we can be free to let others enter into the space created for them, and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song, and speak their own language without fear. Then our presence is no longer threatening and demanding, but inviting and liberating.”

The second thing needed in hospitality is community. Many people don’t understand that giving aid is not actually a virtue unless the recipient is free to accept or decline the gift. Our task is not simply to volunteer and to give, but to receive and create spaces of welcome. Nouwen said, “The paradox indeed is that hospitality asks for the creation of an empty space, where the guests can find their own souls. Why is this a healing ministry? It is healing because it takes away the false illusion that wholeness can be given by one to another. It is healing because it does not take away the loneliness and the pain of others, but invites them to recognize their loneliness on a level where it can be shared. Many people in this life suffer because they are anxiously searching for the man or woman, the event or encounter, which will take their loneliness away. But when they enter a house with real hospitality they soon see that their own wounds must be understood, not as sources of despair and bitterness, but as signs that they have to travel on in obedience to the calling sounds of those wounds.” (The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society, pgs. 95-106)

What we’re looking at here is so much more alive than keeping our nonprofits active, our streets safe, and clients located in the right facilities. The power of the gospel is freedom for the prisoners, sight for the blind, resurrection of the dead into a new heavens and earth! But our problem is that our churches are not places of welcome for the disinherited. We must pray for reformation, for revival, to become true followers of Jesus Christ!

Vincent Harding wrote in his Foreword to Howard Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited, “Today, at the close of Thurman’s century, those people who live most obviously with their backs against the wall—for instance, the homeless, the working and jobless poor, the substance abused and abusers, the alienated, misguided, and essentially abandoned young people—are rarely within hearing or seeing range of the company of Jesus’ proclaimed followers. The keepers of the faith of the master often find it very difficult, and very dangerous, to follow him into the hard places inhabited by the disinherited of America. And those wall-bruised people find no space for their presence in the places where the official followers are comfortably at worship, unless they happen to find themselves among such exceptions as the young, downwardly mobile worker…” (pgs. 23-24, Jesus and the Disinherited, Beacon Press, 1976, 1996)

No matter who we are, it can become easy to settle into our daily expectations, and to see others only in terms of how they may help us achieve our goals. There is really no reason for recognition, neighborliness, reconciliation, and justice if we lose sight of God’s will. When we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. day every year with parades and speeches and community service days, but we exclude one another from our prayers and from our shared spaces, we have lost sight of our goal.

Harding said, “There’s a lesson for us: If we lock up Martin Luther King, and make him unavailable for where we are now so we can keep ourselves comfortably distant from the realities he was trying to grapple with, we waste King. All of us are being called beyond those comfortable places where it’s easy to be Christian. That’s the key for the 21st century – to answer the voice within us, as it was within Martin, which says ‘do something for somebody.’ We can learn to play on locked pianos and to dream of worlds that do not yet exist.” (“King for the 21st Century Calls Us to walk with Jesus”, http://www.goshen.edu/news/2005/01/21/vincent-harding-king-for-the-21st-century-calls-us-to-walk-with-jesus-2/)

In North Carolina faith communities create spaces of welcome to immigrant communities in a “Stranger to Neighbor” program. Would it be possible to adapt that program for use here in our own neighborhoods? Who would participate? We can’t dream for something different by licking our wounds and begging to be understood. We have to rise up, realize who we are in Christ, and do the unexpected knowing that may not be popular, but it is important. (See http://faithaction.org/programs/strangertoneighbor-congregations/)

Let’s go to the Lord in prayer:

Heavenly Father, you provide us with every good and perfect gift, and you have taught us that we are blessed when we empty ourselves so that you might fill us. We come to you trusting that you have a future in mind for us that exalts the humble and humbles the exalted. We want to love you with our whole hearts, minds, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Teach us to trust you, and to accept all that you would accomplish in us. For the sake of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

 

Yours in Christ,

 

Rev. Chris Rice

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Update on Board of Public Service hearing

http://www.newlifeevangelisticcenter.org/board-of-public-service-hearing-update/

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Helpful outline of Karl Barth’s work

I found these .pdfs today of an outline of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. It has great quotes, summaries, and commentaries.
http://www.foundationrt.org/outlines/Barth_Dogmatics_Volume_I.pdf

http://www.foundationrt.org/outlines/Barth_Dogmatics_Volume_II.pdf

http://www.foundationrt.org/outlines/Barth_Dogmatics_Volume_III.pdf

http://www.foundationrt.org/outlines/Barth_Dogmatics_Volume_IV.pdf

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Helpless, helpless,helpless

It’s so good to be in the house of the Lord. Jesus, the work you have done in me is beautiful and Im so grateful. I have been blessed to have been raised by dedicated ministers, as a child and as an adult. I say that now, but I didn’t always feel that way. My dream at one time was just to run as far away as I could from ministry.

I’m thinking of a lyric by Neil Young, “Helpless”.

“There is a town in north Ontario,
With dream comfort memory to spare,
And in my mind
I still need a place to go,
All my changes were there.”

Jesus People USA in Uptown Chicago is still that place for me to go, all my changes were there.
I can honestly say that from the time I was a child all I really wanted was to belong in Christian community. It seemed like the unattainable dream. I wanted to be in that perfect family where there was no shame, only acceptance; no fear, only protection. I wanted that because it seemed for a short time like we had it in my family. And then life happened and things just seemed to go from bad to worse. And then it was like I just wanted something true, you know? In myself and in the church. But the devil had his hook in me and I didn’t really know what I wanted for years.
I gave up on myself and just kind of existed and everything spiraled out of control. And it was like that for such a long time. Too long. I’m so glad those days are gone. I don’t want them ever back again.
That process of longing and becoming, for a long time I longed and seemed to want the right things, but I wanted my addiction more. And so I grew more and more into two identities. And I stayed there.

As a pastor now I find it so painful when someone I’m trying to help can’t bring themselves to tell the whole truth. It’s not painful because they’re lying to me, but rather because it brings back all my own memories of doing the same thing. It’s painful to be around that sick darkness. I know how easily that could be me again.

One of the easiest things to lie about is money. How much income is coming in, how much is being spent. It’s also easy to lie about time. What was I really doing when I should have been…and why isn’t that done yet? It’s easy to lie about lust and sex. Celibacy, chastity, monogamy; these are hidden virtues. And it’s so much easier with technology to hide the sexual side all together and say it’s no one’s business.

Money, time, and sex all get right to the heart of our deepest longings. They’re all reasons why families split up or just become hopelessly entangled in this sick mess of codependence, hatred and destruction.
At Jesus People USA I was given the freedom to be myself and learn healthy relational boundaries. I was taught about the importance of honesty. From the ages of 21 to 35 I worked alongside godly people and ungodly ones. Some were trying to be honest. Others were just playing church. And I spent most of my time playing church too. But for the last five years I sobered up and stayed sober one day at a time and grew to love worship and being together, loving and being loved.

I learned very painful lessons about repentance and reconciliation. Not everybody knew all my stuff. Just a faithful few who are still there. I didn’t really find God in the Church at first. I came to faith through an agnostic sponsor who led me through the twelves steps. Got dropped by that sponsor then got another agnostic sponsor. Got dropped by that one, then I got the one I still have.

It’s weird to say that because now I’m a Christian minister. But that’s what it took for me. My addiction was so intertangled with what I said I believed that my “christian” concept of “god” meant that god loved me the most when I was beating up on myself, isolating, acting out, hiding it, and then coming back in tears and saying I was sorry. As the band Uncle Tupelo said it in the early nineties: “whiskey bottle over Jesus, not forever, but just for now”.

Though alcohol wasn’t my chosen poison, I definitely related. I really wished again and again that there was some way I could just control and enjoy my way of life and still be accepted, married, loved, esteemed. But I’m here to tell you, there’s no way to “be yourself” and be an addict at the same time.

I know that the concept of what addiction is seems to be under scrutiny in America. Psychologists and other professionals question whether spiritual group recovery really works anymore. When I interview new program members at New Life Evangelistic Center and I talk frankly to them about problems with alcohol, drugs, prescription pain meds, it’s rare that I get someone who wants to even admit addiction. “I used marijuana and crack 9 mos. ago but I’m not addicted.” So I’ll ask, “so these things never led to homelessness?” “No, it was getting kicked out of the house. It was the job loss.” And often times that true. But I think more often my questions are posed just to make them think.

Living is this messy proposition, full of comfort and pain, edging toward self awareness, but most people don’t really want to know all that much about themselves.
I recently used these words in a sermon, “you can’t love unintentionally or unmindfully.” And I’ve been wrestling with whether that is true. Did I mean that I think really hard and deliberately about my every conversation, every action? No. I just meant that knowing and loving God and then living by His love is a mindful action. I deliberately pray, “Lord Jesus, I can’t face this day alone, please use me, please deliver me.”
There’s no “cruise control” in living by the Spirit of God. For me cruise control is the addicted life.
I know I can’t possibly think that everyone understands the powerlessness of addiction. I know that many people do destructive things to themselves and others and then just stop because they were never really addicts.
But I think everyone understands that we all need to belong somewhere and to someone and not just at the periphery. We all need roots. We need people we can rely on, not just for money or a roof over our heads, but because none of us can truly be alone in this world. Even broken interaction is still interaction.
I love my friend Mike from Canada’s story. He came to NLEC after having “made due” hiding out in a Missouri state park for years. I repeat his story to new people coming into the program to get them to think. He was referred to our shelter after being hospitalized due to dehydration and heat exhaustion. He’s a resourceful guy who proved that he could champion all the elements and live alone in the woods without anyone’s help.
And that’s a lot of people’s real desire. They don’t want to depend on charity. They don’t want “help”. They don’t want to feel ‘helpless’. They don’t want to be a burden on anybody. I’m that kind of person. Even though I pastor at NLEC and I’m an advocate for the civil rights of homeless people, I can really relate to not wanting to ask for help.
But as I see it, Mike’s story illustrates that there is no way we as humans can hide from each other without ultimately dying. Sadly I usually see people coming for help like Mike who tried valiantly but teach me that the loner life is not to be emulated.
“Indendence” is that elusive freedom that means we never have to account for our actions to anyone else. But I remember that the only true revolution in the western hemisphere took place in Haiti, not here in the USA. We declared independence and then kept England as our largest source of trade. When Haiti revolted, they’ve been punished ever since. That’s real independence. It doesn’t mean provision, it means fear, shame, being victimized by every other liar and thief I take up with.
I know, I know, that’s a grim picture of independence. I use it deliberately in order to say 1) we can’t revolt from our humanity and 2) that humanity without healthy community means death without meaning.
At the memorial service last night for Ida Dawn Mortimer, we remembered that she said that she knew Jesus was true because she had met him. Looking back at my life, I know I met Jesus at a very young age. I never doubted that he was there. I had very strong beliefs and was proud of them. But I really didn’t trust Jesus. I didn’t trust that this messy proposition we call life really led to loving and being loved. I thought that love meant keeping secrets, isolating, and finding my own way.
Now I know that loving Christ means utter helplessness, not the naughty, icky kind where I skulk around begging my loved ones to forgive me for hurting them again. I mean the kind of helplessness where, like Neil Young’s song, I’m overwhelmed by the memory of a place. For me it’s that place of meeting Jesus. He’s been there through all my changes. The time it took doesn’t matter anymore.
I know I said that JPUSA is that place for me to go to remember all my changes, but truthfully, my local 12 step meeting is where I go. Staying sober by God’s grace is what I got to do. I’ll be sitting there at the next available meeting. Remembering all that God has done and is doing in my life. I’m so grateful.
My meetings have taught me how to connect with God and take the actions of love when I least feel like it. They’ve taught me to reach out with a phone call instead of blowing up in anger and then later skulking back with an apology.
If you think I do that perfectly you don’t know me. The people I love most in life are still people who have to put up with my stormy emotions. I’m still learning to trust Jesus with my anger one day at a time. But it was here at JPUSA that I learned I can live with embarrassment. I don’t have to run away when I do something stupid. My family in Christ will still accept me.
I’m so grateful.

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