Tell Your Story

When I get up in the morning and write, my goal is not to tell others what to do but to tell others something I have to do and let them take it from there. But this morning I am going to tell you something that you shouldn’t do. DON’T watch a roller coaster video before you have coffee or whatever you put in your belly first thing in the morning after you get out of bed.

I did that today and my head still doesn’t feel quite right.

My stomach isn’t quite right either…yuck.

In my life,  I often feel completely qualified in telling others what they are doing wrong, what they are doing right and how they need to improve. You’d think that as skilled as I am at figuring everyone else’s problems that I would have no more problems of my own. But the more I look at others and analyze their flaws and dissect their mistakes, the more problems I seem to have with myself. I become blind to my own failures and abandon the growth that God has for me as I become the self-appointed judge of the rest of the world.

The more I judge, the less help I become. After all, if I were to help others, I would have less to criticize about them.

When I look at my own problems and decide to do something about them rather than hide them underneath everyone else’s faults, it changes me. When I tell others about it, I hope it takes away their fear of looking hard at themselves and helps them to be willing to go places they only dreamed of going before.

I know it works that way for me when I hear of someone that had reached a point of hopelessness and they step out in faith and tell others how God brought them hope. It makes me hungry for more of God and more of what he wants to put in my future.

Today, I want to share something that I think YOU should do.  You won’t hear this much from me but I feel strongly that it is a right thing to say today.

Tell your story.

Recently, I have seen some statements by people saying they have no story to tell. That’s not true at all. Everyone has experienced times when life seemed more than they can bear and the road ahead seemed uncertain and treacherous and the fear overwhelmed their courage.

There is no story that describes all of what God can do in our lives. It is all of our stories together that show all of what God is. Sometimes the answer lies in the tiniest detail that most miss but one person finds the courage and the necessity to tell their story in it.

I’ve listened to a group of men discuss someone’s testimony and have been amazed that every man in the room heard something a little different, that their encouragement and reflection centered on something I hadn’t noticed. They make me think and get more out of that story.

I think that when we go to church, we need to share our stories more. We need to connect to others by opening the door to our life and letting people see our hurts and victories instead of our stoic faces going through the motions of looking all churchy, finished and polished by God and just waiting to enter the heavenly gates.

The truth is that the person next to you in church doesn’t just need good music and a good sermon and a basket passing by to drop the offering in. They need us to share our story. They need reality and the physical evidence of a living God in our lives. They need to see God fixing the broken, lifting the fallen and holding the lost and frightened.

Too often God does those things for us and no one knows. No one gets that encouragement and proof of God’s love. No one realizes the hand of God is really, truly reaching into their lives if they just stop pushing it away.

Psalm 71:15 I will tell everyone about your righteousness. All day long I will proclaim your saving power, though I am not skilled with words. 16 I will praise your mighty deeds, O Sovereign Lord. I will tell everyone that you alone are just. 17 O God, you have taught me from my earliest childhood, and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do.

I’ve used words for a lot of things, to manipulate people, to shout in anger, to show my disdain and to berate. Words hold a lot of power. But if I want to see real power in my words, I have to use the words God gives me, words from the scripture, words from my heart, words of peace, words of love and words that tell my story.

 

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Celebrate (Recovery) the Holidays

After months and months of my Tuesday nights being booked up for my Celebrate Recovery step-study, it is finally drawing to an end. Shortly after Thanksgiving, appropriately, I am completing a long process that can only be described as uplifting, intense and life-changing. Completing this is a big deal for me. I am a renowned quitter. I get bored and tired and I quit things. I never completed my goal of being a professional musician, something that I have always wanted to do but never stuck with it hard enough to succeed. I never finished college. I never finished restoring my old 1967 Mustang. I gave up on so many things that to try to list them all would be a huge waste of time. So I think I will quit on making that list for you.

Celebrate Recovery is the old twelve-step program with a twist. It is intensely Christ and scripture based. It focuses on the relationship between people and Christ and their relationships with other people. It doesn’t just focus on addictions, even though there are many there battling every form of addiction. It includes all hurts, hang-ups and habits. I can tell you the man battling depression can easily relate to what drives a man to drink to excess. The same things that drive a man to chase women drive a man to blur reality with narcotics. Gambling life away has the same roots as a man wrought with anxiety and fear.

I didn’t really know this for a fact before spending so many nights with guys that seemed to have little in common with me and hear that we all make the same mental mistakes before we make our own special kind of physical mistakes. Only about half of the guys that started the group with us survived to the end. Quitting things isn’t a character flaw that only I possess. It is a common theme among us. I’ve missed a few meetings but for the most part have been there. I have had to sacrifice doing things with family and friends for quite a while.

I’m not always prepared to go and bare my soul on Tuesday night. Sometimes I want to stretch out on the recliner and kick back.  Sometimes I need a little nudge to get going but it is always worth the effort.

So I will be returning to the big meetings of Celebrate Recovery. I will be a much different man than I was when I first came into that chapel and sat there wondering why I had bothered to show up for this. I never wanted to be a part of Celebrate Recovery in the first place. I guess it grew on me. More likely, I grew into it. There is nothing like being with people that had the same messed up thinking issues you have and having them share what keeps them thinking the right way. That’s where it all starts. My thinking goes down the tubes before my actions start shooting me down.

Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Yeah, that verse prevents a lot of heartache but it is hard for someone that has been slammed with the words Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome or Major Depressive Disorder to do on their own. I can’t maintain a healthy thought life on my own. I don’t believe anyone can…not even someone who the doctor’s would proclaim “mentally healthy”.

Hebrews 10:25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Meeting at our Sunday church is important for me. It is a time of worship and teaching. I can say that I would not write at all if it weren’t for the great teaching I get from my pastor. But meeting has to be more than that. I have to meet with other people where we can experience that level of intimacy that makes us truly know each other, knowing the good and bad, the victory and the struggle, the pain and the joy. I have to know them and share my soul with them. Isolation and insulation is the road-map back into desperation and destruction.

Romans 12:9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

I can’t really love others by texting or email or even sitting down and writing a letter. Those things can supplement loving others, but I have to meet them in person and intentionally love them. If I sacrifice time I would normally spend doing the important stuff that takes me away from doing this, or even if I sacrifice computer games and TV, I will have the opportunity to actually help someone. I break down the walls that keep me isolated and receive love in return. Love changes me whether I am dishing it out or taking it in. Love’s changes are for the better. Who doesn’t want to be better?

Let me know if you have more questions about Celebrate Recovery and what it is all about. Take the next step to stepping up out of whatever is dragging you down today.

Victory

When I think of victory, the thought comes to mind of a football team racking up a huge number of touchdowns over a defense that  is powerless to stop them or a baseball team hitting ball after ball over the wall, or maybe even a fighter standing over a fallen opponent talking trash to the world about how great he is.

I think of victory as an army beating another into submission after a long tiresome war.

In the course of my life, I’ve had some victories that resonate with me, victories on a sports field or in a gym, even victories where I threw punches and fought another guy over some meaningless triviality.

But, even if I could sit here and recount every victory in my life, I feel the defeats would outweigh them.  While I have been fairly accustomed to winning on occasion in sports, I am far more accustomed to losing when it comes to life.

I’ve been beaten often by the foe of addiction or procrastination or laziness, greed, lust, hate, anger, oh, the list of those that have defeated me is long and depressing.

Perhaps, I have not been as much unable to win as I have been perverting the definition of a win.

Colossians 2:13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.

I’ve always had it in my head that victory came when Jesus emerged from the tomb.  That’s easy, the victor steps alive from a place of death clothed in white.  That’s definitely a winning move.

But Paul proclaims victory when my failures, my faults, my condemnation, my sins were nailed to the cross, hung out for all to see, shown as the disgusting mess they were.  Christ’s foes, in an effort to shut him up had seemingly won, but the apostle says that this act exposed not only Christ hanging between heaven and earth interceding on our behalf but also the sin living in the hearts of men willing to kill the truth.

Christ hanging on the cross exposed the truth and at that moment we were set free, I was set free.  I went from doing all for naught to all for the eternal.

Every stone I set on this truth that Christ established on the cross is victorious because it will outlast anything this earth has to throw at it.  The simplest kindness done in the name of Christ is victory, whether regarded as a gift or as leaves blowing in the wind is set to stay, forever.

I’ve got to tell you, when I stop listening for the roar of the crowd, waiting for the pats on the back, my name in print proclaiming my efforts and all the other things I expect that are associated with victory and look at winning as the truth of Christ on the cross and what it means to me, I can see that I am more than a conqueror.

There is no need for anyone but God to affirm what I do in his name.  To be honest, I need to stop looking at the numbers of people who read this blog.  I don’t have a lot of followers.  I don’t believe I ever will.  Who really wants to sit down a read about a loser like me anyway?

No, I don’t need followers.  Christ does.  I think my victory is just to lay a few solid stones out there for the weary to rest upon and if they feel a desire to follow, let them follow the one I follow and maybe they, too, will experience some wins along the road to where God leads.

Danger

A few years ago we took a vacation to the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana.  It wasn’t just a sight-seeing vacation, it was more of an adventure.  One morning we arrived at a parking lot in Montana and met a young lady with a trailer full of horses.  Going to the land of real cowboys, it is a good idea to go for a horseback ride so we did.  We each got our horses and were introduced and then we rode out of the parking lot into the woods.  
As soon as we hit the forest the trail began to escalate to higher elevations.  We rode switchback after switchback until finally we crested the mountain top and headed down the other side.  We could here the rushing of water through the canyon as we neared the creek below.  The views at every angle were spectacular and our guide pointed out things along the way.  She pointed out lots of bear signs.  No, I don’t mean signs like you see on the side of the road placed there by the highway department.  I mean signs that bears had been right where we were recently.  
After a couple hours, at just the point where I was sure I was going to be permanently damaged from being perched atop my horse, the guide told us that we were taking a break.  I was kind of hoping we were almost back to the parking lot but my internal compass told me that we were not even in the same zip code anymore.  The area we chose to take a break in had no restroom or snack shop, it was just a nice meadow with some logs to sit on.  At this point, sitting on a log was out of the question so I stood around until we mounted back up and got started on the second half of the journey.  
The guide didn’t mount up, though.  Her mule decided that he wanted to go back without a rider and so he left.  I didn’t want to make the ride back on a horse, I was in agony and was sure I had some sort of permanent damage but I sure didn’t want to try to hike all the way back so I didn’t offer the guide my horse.  She didn’t want it anyway because I surely would have had a heart attack hiking an hour straight up a mountain.  
She wandered down the trail and managed to catch her mule after about fifteen minutes and we now were all riding.  For some reason the trip back looked steeper and the drop-offs appeared to be more sheer and higher.  The trail seemed to go on and on and there was the feeling that my sore old backside and me might not survive the ride back.  But after a while the parking lot was in sight and there were only a few more switchbacks on the narrow trail to navigate.  
It was only a horseback ride but there was definitely an element of risk.  It wasn’t foolish risk but there was no guarantee that all would go well.  A horse could have fallen or an animal could have attacked.  There could have been injury and we would have been far from help.  That element of risk is what made it fun.  
Acts 27:10 “Men,” he said, “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well.” 
The apostle Paul had chosen to embark on an adventure to stand trial before Caesar.  Yes, he had chosen to go on a great adventure to the ruler of Rome in hopes of bringing the Gospel of Christ to him.    Throughout the journey, Paul encountered risk over and over again.  He was stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, bitten by a viper and constantly in peril of some sort.  But he didn’t shy away from the goal set before him.  When I read Paul’s letters and see the words he wrote about these adventures, I can see that he wouldn’t give these experiences up for the world.  
When Paul warned of the shipwreck to come, he didn’t begin to plead with God that he would be taken out of this oncoming danger.  He trusted God and he was going along for the ride.  Paul lived a life of excitement and danger but he always believed God.
Acts 27:21 No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. 22 But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. 23 For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, 24 and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’25 So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. 26 But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” 
I believe God when I am sitting in my comfortable house watching TV.  I believe God when my job is going good.  I believe God when my health is OK.  I believe God when the bill collectors aren’t beating down my door.  I believe God when my family is on the right path and things are going good.  It sounds like I believe God a lot but that isn’t really much at all.  I have trouble placing my faith squarely on the shoulders of God when the ship is about to capsize.  I have difficulty believing him when life doesn’t make so much sense.  I struggle when I can’t understand my sadness and my emotions are making a fool of me.  
Acts 27:25 So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said.
This not only applies to shipwrecks of actual ships, it applies to all sorts of shipwrecks.  
1 Timothy 1:19 Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.  
We must cling to our faith and believe God, even in a shipwreck.

Cling to the Facts

Often, it seems that God is a distant memory.  I feel like I am trudging from day to day having faith in what feels like a glimmer of light coming from somewhere in my past.  
I arise in the morning with the little bit of strength I can muster and hope it is going to be enough to bolster my courage to face the day.  
I know that this feeling that I am on my own is a lie.  Feelings are terrible gauges of truth.  They depend on circumstances and they can be fooled by lies and deceit.  I don’t have enough strength, even on my best day, to make me arise in the morning.  There is something inside me that I have no control over that makes me pull in that next breath and causes my heart to vigorously take that next beat.  I can claim it is me but it doesn’t make it so.  
Life comes from God.  No matter what I think or feel, how vehemently I declare that it isn’t God, how desperately I cling to the hope that I can continue to live without him, the truth is that he is my life.  
I used to fight with God over each and every day.  Even if I claimed he wasn’t there, I struggled and battled through each and every day and when I went to bed at night, sleep descended on me and covered me with a blanket of depression and hopelessness.  
I can’t help but feel that Moses knew a little bit about this kind of life.  He leaned on his own strength and fell and went into exile hiding from justice.  The days must have been long and hard and he had gone from living the life of a prince to tending flocks in a foreign land.  At one time Moses thought he was destined to be a rescuer but now he thought of himself as just another shepherd in a land filled with shepherds.  
I like to think that I woke up in the middle of my mess and I took action and made things better.  In reality, God woke me up.  He stirred what had been inside me all along and brought it back to life.  He shined light on the lies that I chose to believe and I saw truth.  Truth was a big scary thing.  I was overwhelmed and had a million excuses why I would surely fail again.
Exodus 3:12 God answered, “I will be with you. And this is your sign that I am the one who has sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God at this very mountain.” 
When Moses questioned why anyone would ever listen to him, God replied that he would be with him.  The strength I feel when I swing my legs over the side of the bed in the morning and slowly rise to my feet, is a fraction of the strength I have.  God is with me.  The struggle of the day is real but its power over me is small.  God is with me.
What I hear may cause me to have fear, but that fear cannot consume me or run my life.  God is with me.
What I see may disgust me or tear at my heart but I know the evil around me has to give way.  God is with me.
There is nothing that can overcome me because God is with me.  
On days that I feel God is merely a glimmer of a mighty one that once touched my past, I must cling to the facts.  The fact is that no matter what I feel, loneliness, weariness, fear, anger, depression…it does not change who is with me.  God is with me, now and always.

Frozen

An older post I really like:

A week or so we walked into a Popeye’s Fried Chicken establishment in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I had been out fishing in the cold and wind all day and I was starving (at least my mind told me I was starving, I could have probably lasted several days and maybe even weeks on the extra weight I am currently lugging around with me everywhere I go) and when I perused the colorful menu with giant pictures of perfectly fried chicken, my eyes fell on the chicken tender basket.  It looked amazing and the bright and bold lettering around the fantastic looking photo of tenders proclaimed that it was, in fact, amazing.  My mouth was watering as the young man with the quiet voice said something about me being next in line and I placed my order.  I knew this was going to be great.  
“Our tenderth are fro-then,” said the young fellow in a voice so quiet I was sure I misheard.  
“What?  I couldn’t hear you.” 
“Our tenderth are fro-then.”
I started to ask him if his tongue was frozen too but decided to hold my extremely unfrozen tongue instead.  It was almost 5:00 pm and the tenders were frozen, at least that is how I interpreted what the quiet guy at the cash register had told me.  It turns out there were several other things they didn’t have either.  This baffles me.  Why does a chicken place come into the busy time of the evening without having chicken ready to sell?  
We eventually figured out the items they did have and made do with them sitting there in the dining room.  We laughed as the people began to throng through the door only to be told that their tenderth were fro-then.  It wasn’t like they ran out.  They just didn’t have them ready to serve to people.  It was the weekend.  People were hungry and walking in the door of Popeye’s and leaving without getting what they came for.  I was so hungry when I walked in the door, I didn’t look at how much anything was going to cost.  I just ordered according to which picture was going to fill my gut to excess.  I settled for something far less appealing.  Thank goodness they weren’t out of red beans and rice!
People often look at sharing the Gospel as slamming bible verses into someone’s face and proclaiming the infallibility of God’s Word so that there is a big “Wham!” effect and they are forced to change from being unbelievers into believers in a magical moment that changes them forever.  That happens.  I know people that are used that way and it works for them.  For me, it is different.  It is being ready to minister to someone’s needs and expect nothing in return.  First of all, this alleviates selfishness from the equation.  Selfishness is the freezer where I store God’s gifts.  If I keep everything God has done for me in the dark, cold freezer, those that come my way ready to receive from God, desperately needing something from God, can’t get it from me.  I have to woefully admit to them that the good stuff is frozen.  
I expect their needs to be met with a chicken wing and some diet Coke when they are dying to have something more.  
1 Peter 3:15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.  
I can’t live this scripture and keep God in a cold, dark place.  I have to keep cooking and trust God to use what I prepare.  You are reading this today because I got up out of bed and started cooking, thawing things out and making them usable instead of cold and hard and inedible.  Having gifts from God is no good at all.  Sharing gifts from God changes me and those around me.  Some morning I get up and start writing and think, “There is no possible way that I can live what I am writing!  Maybe I should just work on myself and keep it to myself.”  Those are usually the days someone, somewhere tells me that what I shared changed them somehow.  If I had not dug it out of the freezer and cooked it up, seasoned with the Words of out God and Savior, what would they have had to eat to take its place?  
Hebrews 2:14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. 
Jesus came to earth and shared in being what we are.  He didn’t keep anything for himself.  He gave all he had to give in the short time he lived on earth as a flesh and blood creature called man.  Today, I know I will hold some things back, store them up for myself and fail in some way.  But each time I set my mind to thaw out and share with others, I am more like my example.  He is not keeping score of my failures but he sees my successes.  Let me turn no one away today because my tender heart is frozen.

Moses was No Moses 

Last week, as I was leading worship at Celebrate Recovery, I led that group in a song I hadn’t tried before.  I practiced and practiced but still, when the time came to lead, I led the group the wrong direction a time or two.  
I finished strong though.  In music, you start strong and finish strong and people tend to forget the missteps in between…usually.  I’d have been awfully upset with the fact that I didn’t lead just exactly the right way in the past but one of my friends in the group just says that God is helping me deal with my imperfections.  I would rather he do it in one-on-one time and not for everyone else to see but I don’t think it would be as effective.
I know that I’m not much of a leader.  Yet God has given me opportunities to lead and when I dodge them, I know that I did the wrong thing.  The part of me that really wants to lead is the part of me that gets out of control and wants a lot of credit and recognition for it.  I’m no Moses.
That’s no excuse.  In fact, Moses was no Moses either.  He has a handful, even two handfuls of good excuses not to lead.  He was a murderer, he had been rejected by his own people when he tried to lead, he was a fugitive, he wasn’t qualified, he was unsure of himself, he wasn’t smart enough, he was afraid, he stuttered and he just didn’t want to do it.  
Exodus 4:1 But Moses protested again, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’?”

2 Then the Lord asked him, “What is that in your hand?”

“A shepherd’s staff,” Moses replied.

3 “Throw it down on the ground,” the Lord told him. So Moses threw down the staff, and it turned into a snake! Moses jumped back.
Yeah, I would jump back too if I threw something down on the ground and it turned into a snake.  I don’t really care for snakes.  
Exodus 4:4 Then the Lord told him, “Reach out and grab its tail.” So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it turned back into a shepherd’s staff in his hand.

5“Perform this sign,” the Lord told him. “Then they will believe that the lord, the God of their ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—really has appeared to you.”
Now, when it comes time for me to lead, I don’t have a shepherd’s staff.  Even if I did, it probably wouldn’t do a thing when I tossed it on the ground.  But I have a miracle to show others.  
I have a life that was broken and destroyed.  There wasn’t much left.  But when I threw it down in front of God, he transformed it.  I did nothing but let go of it and he changed it.  When I stop and look at what God has done in my life, with my life, I have the urge to jump back.  I can see that it took some awesome power that I don’t have to make that kind of change.  I can also see that I am still changing.
I’m on a journey to a better place.  It would be a shame to deny my calling to lead and not bring others along with me.  Everyone should be able to look forward to a better tomorrow.  
Moses was no Moses.  He was what God transformed him into.  God empowered a weak and unwilling man into a mighty legend in the history of a nation, a godly leader in a hostile world and a humble servant of the Living God.  
I’m not called to be Moses.  God has his own plan for what my name will mean when I no longer walk this earth.  Today, I just need to rely on God to do what he will with who I am and what I will be.

The Temptation of Temper

I wrote this a while back and it still is a good lesson for me.  I hope it is for you as well.

This may not sound too encouraging at first but please read on!  When God speaks to us and inspires us into action, it doesn’t take long to hear another voice that is trying to get us back on the couch watching the world go by while we disengage.

I’ve been sick for a few days.  I’ve had sinus and allergy stuff going on accompanied by a good old five (or six, I’m losing count) day migraine.  I kind of had to suck it up and make myself go to Celebrate Recovery Thursday night.  I felt awful.  Somehow I managed to get through it and was rewarded with some really great things.  It was totally worth the drive and the pain.

But things promptly went wrong afterward and I was even more sick on Friday.  By the time Sunday rolled around I was longing to just lay around and groan but I got up and went to church and was blessed immensely by the things that happened there.

Soon after, though, I was miserable again and wishing that I could lop my head off and put it somewhere else until it got better and then put it back on again.

In the midst of this roller coaster ride of blessing and struggle, I lost my temper.  For a while I was a horrible mean person concerned only with myself.  I can’t keep doing this.  It is wrong and it hurts other people.  That is not what I am put here on this earth for.  I can’t make excuses or blame my upbringing or my genes or the devil.  I have to own it.  Sure, there are a lot of things that can tee the ball up for me but I am the one that makes the decision to take a big swing and hit it out of the park.

But at the same time, that is not who I am, not unless I choose to live there.

That voice will tell my I am a failure.  It will discard all the progress I have made and tell me to just give up and be me.  I am what I am and I will never be more.  All of this just leads to guilt from trying to be something I can never be.

Well, I can tell you that the voice is a liar.  That is all the power it has.  It lies about what choices I should make.  It lies about what I can be.  It lies about what I should settle for.  It lies about the power of God.

Never let a mistake bring you back down to where you once were.  The liar will tell you that a mistake nullifies all the good you have done, all the progress down the road to recovery you have grasped, all the love you share and receive.  Do not listen!

Even when I first started out taking the steps toward becoming what God designed me to be and gave up on designing myself and trying to get God to go along with the changes I wanted made, I was making huge mistakes and had real reason to be discouraged, or so I thought.  But those huge mistakes were just a few steps back.

I have an app on my phone that tells how many steps I take in a day.  Even on a lazy day I take a few thousand.  I think that represents the choices I make in a day pretty well.  Before my recovery began, I was taking all of those steps in the wrong direction.  Now, I pay careful attention to the decisions I am making and I realize when I am doing the wrong thing.  I used to pretend the wrong thing was the right thing and things were just a mess.

So some days I think I am taking a lot of steps in the wrong direction.  But at the end of the day I have taken more in the right direction and I am still a better man for it.  The liar will tell me that those wrong steps have sunk my hopes and left me wrecked and beyond repair.  He’s a creep and I have the power to shut his mouth.  It doesn’t take a magic wand or a spell, it simply takes a step toward the truth.

Matthew 4:8 Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” 10 “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”

Jesus, the Word himself, didn’t bother with his own words.  He answered Satan with, ‘For the Scriptures say…’.  That’s because God’s Word is truth.  If I can face temptation with the truth I will overcome.  Sadly, I sometimes don’t get that right the first time I hear the voice in my head telling me to do the wrong thing and that voice will try to make a small thing big and convince me to do something bigger the next time.  I have to stop the cycle.

Losing my temper is a bad thing.  It is one of my struggles and I guess it isn’t going to just go away.  But I still have to find a way to give it over to God, no excuses, no lies.  I can see clearly that I must allow the truth to consume me even more and as it does, the liar will become harder to hear.

Matthew 4:11 Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.

The Proper Use of Cotton

Three years ago, about this time in November, I took a fishing trip to Branson, Missouri, home of Lake Taneycomo and, my favorite, trout!

After a good night of sleep, we got up and headed to the lake. Conditions were perfect. There was no generation in the dam (the dam between Tablerock Lake and Lake Taneycomo is used to create electricity) which meant that the water levels were low and the current was slow. It was cold, around twenty degrees, but the wind was still and I couldn’t wait to get out there and start raking in the fish.

There were only two other guys crazy enough to wade out in the water that morning. That was perfect except the one guy that was within earshot of my favorite fishing hole was talking. He was not only talking but he was talking loud. I could understand every word he said. If you have ever watched the show ‘Gold Rush’ and have heard the old man, Jack, talk then you know what this guy sounded like. He never stopped talking in that nasally, annoying voice. He bounced from one subject to another and often interrupted his sentences with, “Aw, missed another one.”

I found myself starting to get annoyed. “You wouldn’t miss so many if you would shut up and pay attention to what you are doing!”, I muttered to myself.

I wasn’t missing many. I didn’t get a lot of bites.

“Blueberry moonshine! You ever heard of that? I think it sounds great. I had a student once that played the trumpet. He could really use a duck call and make it sing. I think you are warmer in a duck boat than in a blind.”

Now and then his buddy would say, “Yep” or “Nope” or “Uh-huh” but I could barely hear him.

“God please make him stop”, I whispered.

Then the wind started blowing.

“It’s gittin’ mighty cold out here. I’m done.”

And in just a few minutes the annoying voice was gone. So were the perfect conditions but I’d rather have a breeze blowing than have to listen to that bag of wind for another second.

I began to cast and fish hard in my favorite spot free from distraction. Every man should figure out that place. For me it is fishing in all sorts of weather and conditions. I found myself with my favorite fly rod in hand standing in the water with ice on the guides free from the annoying voice that had been driving me just a little bit crazy.

Then there was another voice.

Proverbs 17:27 A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered. 28 Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.

I had stood out there judging the old man as he spewed forth every thought that had entered his head. I had decided that I didn’t like him. I was glad to see him go.

God reminded me as I stood out in that freezing cold that I have a history of talking too much and saying too little. I had been the annoying voice killing the serenity of those around me. Sometimes, when I am rambling on about stupid things, I realize what I am doing and find myself looking for a way to shut up and not give the impression that I had just forgotten what else to say.

Being a good person involves one very simple thing. I have to remember that sometimes I need to take the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth. Sometimes it is better to listen than to tell. OK, most of the time it is better to listen. I need to remember to hear what others say and not drift away in planning how I am going to improve the rhetoric with my opinion.

Otherwise, my friends won’t want to see me coming and will be muttering prayers under their breath for God to make me go away. That’s not what I want anymore. I’ve been that guy and it isn’t fun at all.

Thanks, God for taking the time to talk to me and teaching me to hear you. You make my life better.

The Failure

I’ve been going to church ever since I can remember. Well, I guess I have been going since before I can remember. But some of my earliest memories are of church. A building in St. Louis named Berea Temple is the place with some fractured recollections that may or may not be entirely accurate. As I got a little older I recall the basement of my aunt’s house where the beginnings of the church I attended for years and years sprouted.

I remember cheap seats and funeral home fans waving in the summer heat as I sat and wondered what was going on around me. I got a little older and the church moved into an actual church building with real pews. I remember slithering under the pews pretending I was a soldier sneaking under the barbed-wire into an enemy camp.

After decades of church, I knew just about everything that was in the Bible. But I have to admit, I didn’t bother with most of it. A lot of it just seemed like stories to show what God once did. I didn’t really think it had much to do with what God was doing. But as I grow older, I realize I am much dumber than I ever thought.

Sometimes, I get a little bit aggravated that God has chosen to make me wait till I am gray-headed, stiff-jointed and energy-deprived to reveal to me the plan I knew he had for my life hasn’t expired and I’m not off the hook because I messed it all up in my younger years.

Exodus 2:12 After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand.

I guess I’m not the Lone Ranger when it comes to screwing up God’s plan. Moses knew there was some sort of special call, a purpose beyond what mortal man could assign to him, but when he tried to carry it out he failed. This leader failed to lead.

So he ran and hid. I’ve spent a lot of time hiding out after failing to answer the call and stumbling and falling on my face in shame. I’ve hid right out in the open, hiding behind anger, confidence, strong words and imposing my will on others. I hid for what is probably most of the years of my life at this point. I’ve figured that I’m washed up. I missed my shot. Being anything more than just a cranky old geezer is pretty much out of the question. I’ve been wrong.

One day God got Moses’ attention.

Exodus 2:2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. 3 “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”

God came along to rally Moses and get him to set out to do the exact same thing that Moses had failed at when he was much younger and seemed much more capable. Except this time God made it clear that it was God that was going to handing out the punishment and flexing his muscles. Moses was just the guy God chose to use. He wasn’t wanting someone that was strong and charismatic. He was looking for a frail, weak failure that would demonstrate that God could use anyone to accomplish great things. He did it to show Pharaoh. He did it to show Israel. He did it to show the generations to come. He did it to show me.

In the midst of my failures, my wrongs, my shortcomings, my weakness, my stubbornness, my anger, my fear, all my inabilities, he CAN use me. He WILL use me. He isn’t done because I feel done. He isn’t done till he is done. My feelings and sore shoulders and headaches can’t stop him. My gray hair can’t stop him. He’s doing amazing things and I have to go see what they are. I have to be a part of them.