Scarred Faith: Grief Lingers But Hope Remains

Throughout this year, I will be sharing one book review each month. I am not a professional book reviewer, but I would like to share my thoughts about some of the books I have read recently that have impacted my life in meaningful ways. This week’s review is of Scarred Faith by Josh Ross. The entire Ross family has been a blessing to many people across the world. Read this book and be blessed by how God worked in Josh’s life and how He can work in your life. The book is available for purchase here: 

http://www.amazon.com/Scarred-Faith-Risk-Taking-Brokenness-Adventurous-ebook/dp/B008J2ACF4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391120018&sr=8-1&keywords=scarred+faith

The question is not if you will face pain and suffering in your life, but when. Josh Ross has written a book detailing how facing one’s personal suffering can help in working with the suffering of others.

Ross lives in Memphis and is faced with the suffering of the city’s residents on a daily basis. As the cover of the book says, this book is a story about how suffering and brokenness ignited an adventurous faith.

It has been my experience that suffering scares us. We fall into the trap of thinking that faithful lives shield us from pain and suffering, yet it is in the pain and suffering that we can see the work of God and presence of Jesus.

This book is about scars; scars that can be redeemed by Jesus.

I first came across Josh Ross and his family when I was following the Caring Bridge page for his sister, Jenny—a student at Abilene Christian University when I attended there. Jenny lost her battle on February 22, 2010. In the weeks and months that followed, I had the honor of hearing Josh speak about his struggle with the pain of losing a sister. In fact, the entire Ross family became a strength and support to hundreds and thousands of people across the world as they shared their faith in the midst of their pain.

Josh shares the story in this book of his mother looking at his father shortly after Jenny died. She asked her husband to remind her what they believe. They had just lost a child. What did their faith mean now? Josh’s father responded simply, but powerfully, “The tomb is still empty.”

Eight months later, my oldest brother, Robert, passed away. I was able to look to the Ross family as examples of what it means to continue having faith in the midst of pain and struggle. I learned what it meant to allow my scars to be redeemed and used by God to benefit others. Josh Ross is not defined by his pain. He is defined by the One who redeems his pain and suffering. A scarred faith is a faith that has been redeemed by Jesus.

If you have ever felt pain or suffering in your life or if you have witnessed pain and suffering in the lives of people around you, please read this book. Learn how God redeems our pain and continues to walk with us.

I am lucky enough to have an autographed copy of Scarred Faith. Josh’s note to me: “Grief lingers, but we hold on to hope.”

How grateful I am for this story of a scarred faith.

I Choose You, But Not You

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the meaning of community. In that post, I suggested that community is a choice. Today, I want to explore that choice a little bit further.

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At FaithWorks, we help people explore options. Many people, especially those who come from generational poverty, often think they have no options.* They believe they must continue to live the way their families have lived for the past two or three generations.

In addition to that, many people come to us dealing with addiction, health, or legal issues. They believe they are severely limited in what they can do because of the consequences of their past actions.

One of the first things we do in class each semester is identify things we like to do and do well and explore how those interests and abilities can translate into jobs. While there are some realities we need to accept (certain felonies disqualify individuals from certain jobs; personally, my height and color-blindness disqualify me from being a pilot), it is amazing to realize how many jobs are available.

As students begin to learn there are a variety of options available, it is almost as if scales are falling off their eyes. They are beginning to see a world of opportunities they never knew existed.

They have learned they have choices.

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We often think we have no options when it comes to who we spend time with. We live in neighborhoods. We go to school. We work. We attend church. We cannot help who else chooses to live, learn, work, and worship in the same places, can we?

What do you look for when you make those decisions?

Often, we take work wherever we can find it. Either we need to work so we put out a lot of applications or we invest years and money in an education that will lead to a job. We choose from the job offers that are made and try to find the place that will allow us to provide financially for our families while growing as an individual.

However, with the other categories, we have more choices than we sometimes realize, or than we wish to admit.

What are our criteria for making these decisions?

Do we choose houses based on square footage, potential resale value, condition of the house, etc.? Or do we choose our neighborhood based on how closely the neighbors resemble ourselves? What would be different if our criteria were based on finding a diverse racial or socio-economic makeup in the neighborhood?

Do we choose neighborhoods to live in based on the school district? Are we looking for districts that have high test scores and an impeccable reputation? Or are we more concerned about the average salary of the families whose children attend the school? What would be different in we decided to choose school districts where we would be in the minority?

When we decide where we will worship do we look first for the truth that is being taught and the opportunity to serve? Or is our first criterion the ethnic makeup? What would be different if we decided to worship at the church closest to where we lived?

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I once struggled with how to encourage members of my congregation to become more involved with congregations that had a different ethnic makeup. This was a difficult endeavor. I was faced with many objections: their worship style is too different; it lasts too long; it is too far of a drive; I feel like they are yelling at me.

There were a number of objections. None of them had to do with the truth of what was preached or the opportunity to serve others. Although some people may have had serious reservations as to the theology at different places, they did not begin with those reservations. They began with the cultural differences.

But the important thing is: they made a choice.

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We choose our communities. We choose who is in our lives and who is not. The only limits to who joins our community are the limits we have placed on ourselves. When we realize that and learn that we can choose to invite different people into our lives then the scales can fall from our eyes. We can start building communities of diversity.

 

*I cannot overstate the importance of reading books like Bridges Out of Poverty to learn more about the long-term effects of poverty and how difficult it can be for people to move out of it.

My Name is Paul and I Am an Alcoholic

One Thursday each month I will share one post on one of the 12 Steps. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle with what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.” Step 1

“The idea that somehow, someday [the alcoholic] will control and enjoy his liquor drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death. We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 41).

When someone starts their journey of recovery from any addiction, the first step on that journey is an admission of powerlessness.

Sounds easy enough, right? Just say, “I can’t do it anymore! I’m not strong enough! I’m not capable enough to do this on my own! I’ve messed up and hurt people and am now ready to admit I have wronged others by my actions!”

Yeah, we all talk like that. All. The. Time. (hashtag: heavy sarcasm)

The admission of powerlessness is an admission that this thing I do has become so important to me that I would rather do the thing than maintain relationships. I would rather do the thing than be successful at work. I would rather keep doing the thing and die than stop doing it and live.

Admitting powerlessness is one of, if not the, most important act an addict will make. Because this admission involves utilizing the courage and strength necessary to finally say, “Help.”

If you attend 12 step meetings you will probably find that a large number of them deal with the first step. In AA lingo, you do not have to do any of the steps perfectly—except for the first one. When new people go to a meeting, the group will often shift the focus from what was planned to an open sharing time about the first step.*

Because addicts understand how difficult it is to admit defeat. How difficult it is to ask for help.

And how very vital admitting defeat and asking for help are in order to survive.

But what about people who are not addicts? Why would it be important to understand the first step?

If you are not an addict but you know one (and trust me: you do), you need to understand how difficult this is for them. Most addicts, regardless of addiction, truly wish to believe that one day they will be able to indulge in their addiction without it being a problem. But they cannot. That delusion has to be smashed.

So let me suggest some things non-addicts can do to support their addict friends.

First, let the addict know that being different is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a necessary thing. What makes the delusion hard to smash is that addicts have people in their lives who can indulge with impunity! As an example, I cannot drink alcohol. If I were to start again, I would not be able to stop. I have many friends who are able to drink and it is not an issue for them. But there are times when observing other people drinking responsibly and stopping (actually stopping!) stirs within me a type of jealousy that wants to say, “That’s not fair!”

When an addict sees other people using their substance in a responsible manner, the delusion rears its ugly head and the addict starts to think, “Maybe this time will be different.”

So it is important for the addict to have people surrounding them reminding them it will not be. Addicts need people in their lives who are willing to say, “Remember what happened before. Remember what you are trying to live like now.” Most of these people will come from the addict’s participation in 12 Step groups, but church communities, friends, and family members can provide a great encouragement by reminding the addict that they are different and that it is okay that they are different.

Second, let the addict know that being different is perfectly normal. I have friends who are vastly different than me. I learn from them. I laugh and cry with them. I spend time with them. Their differences do not prevent me from having relationship with them.

I even have friends who like to drink alcohol. One of the greatest things about my relationship with them is that they do not allow my recovery to dictate how they live, nor do I use my recovery as weapon against the choices they make in their lives.

Do not be afraid to still spend life with a recovering addict. We are dealing with all sorts of grief, pain, and guilt. We are learning what the “new normal” of our lives is going to look like. We are enduring enough different-ness in our lives already. What we need is to have friends who will just be present with us.

Third, spend time together. Community is vitally important. 12 Step groups get this. But sometimes, recovering addicts need to experience community that is not centrally focused on recovery. We need to eat dinner, go to movies, watch sporting events, attend birthday parties, and worship in safe environments with loving, caring people.

Although often unintentional, addicts are often looked at as if they suffer from a modern-day leprosy. As addicts begin the process of admitting they are powerless and need help, they need to know that there are people who will still walk with them and share life with them. Many addicts have lost their closest relationships due to the consequences of their addiction. We are in desperate need for relationship, especially early in the process of recovery.

Recovery is a long, arduous process. And it begins with a cry for help. It begins with an admission of powerlessness.

How can you provide support for people struggling with admission? What are you already doing? Please feel free to share!

 

*I base this statement on my experience with many groups in several states over a number of years. Your specific community may not be the same. I would encourage you to look for Open 12 Step group meetings in your area and attend at least one. You may be amazed at what you learn!

Dreaming for Justice Everywhere, Reflections on MLK Day

Last week, I wrote that community is intentional, reciprocal, and painful. Today is the day set aside to honor a man who understood that and lived that out much better than I have.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his “Letter From the Birmingham Jail,” he penned a line that has become one of his most well-known:  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If we know that one person is being mistreated, we should not rest until that improper, inhumane, immoral, and sinful behavior stop. We should not rest until everyone is treated as a child of God.

Yet the next few sentences following that great statement stick out to me (italics are mine):

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

When we say things like, “It’s not as bad as it used to be,” or, “Just be patient, it will get better eventually,” or, “Don’t rock the boat, it will work out in the end,” we are perpetuating injustice. Inaction allows the oppressors to continue inflicting evil and the victims to continue suffering.

Dr. King goes on to write, “I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.”

Let us strive to learn what it means to be a part of the oppressed race. Let us listen without judgment, defensiveness, or rationalization. Let us strive for the vision that will lead to action to root out the injustices that still exist in our world today.

So what do we do? Get involved. Find out what is going on in your community. Find out who needs helps and offer it. Don’t be afraid to admit that your church, your company, your political party, or members of your ethnic group have perpetrated evil. Instead of running from the facts, act to change the facts. If your church has not been welcoming to others outside a certain ethnic or socio-economic group, start inviting more people. If your company has been finding ways to practice illegal hiring practices, report them. If your neighborhood lacks diversity, find ways to invite people in who come from different backgrounds.

The existence of oppressed people is nothing new. When Jesus began His ministry He said He came to preach to the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. And He was quoting a scripture that was already hundreds of years old! The Law God gave to Moses included instructions for leaving food in the harvest fields so that hungry people could find something to eat.

We need to look around us. We also need to look beyond ourselves. As long as anyone is being mistreated, we must work to bring justice. Let us embrace our “inescapable network of mutuality.”

Let us continue living out the dream; and not just today.

But today is as good a day as any to start.

Victorious Defeat

“Once again hear me; hide me in Your favor; bring victory in defeat and hope in hopelessness” (Psalm 4:1, The Voice).

I love reading Psalms with the FaithWorks of Abilene class every day of every semester. Although we only get to 92 and I read those 92 three times a year, it is a blessing to have different verses, different phrases, stand out every time I read them.

Today is the fourth day of the Spring class, so we read Psalm 4. In The Voice Bible, verse 1 adds a call to God to bring victory out of defeat and hope out of hopelessness.

How great to see God doing those very things again and again.

In order to see victory in defeat and hope in hopelessness, we need to change our definitions.

Defeat is pretty easily defined by our society: if you don’t look good enough, make enough money, have the right skin color, or dress the right way you have lost. If you have struggled with addictions you have lost. If you have been caught in a sin you have lost.

And there are other ways to feel defeat: the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a broken relationship.

We all define defeat as those times when our lives are not following the prescribed pattern we desire.

But that is not how God defines defeat. It is in those dark, painful, lost moments that God draws victory. Because defeat is not losing what the culture of our time holds sacred; defeat is losing all connection with God.

And He fights for us relentlessly.

God pulls His victory out of our defeat because He is not willing to give up as easily as we are. God pulls His victory out of our defeat because He is not limited by our human definitions of success. God pulls His victory out of our defeat because He is not willing to give up on us.

Which is also why He brings hope out of hopelessness: We feel hopeless when we live out of our definitions. We feel hopeless when we live out of our limitations.

God doesn’t do that. He is stronger than that. He is bigger than that. He brings hope when we have nothing left because He doesn’t know better. We tell ourselves all hope is lost. We tell ourselves our situation is unbearable and overwhelming. God says, “You think you’re hopeless? Well, let me show you what I can do.”

Which is good, because I can’t do this thing called life on my own. Please hear me, God: bring me Your victory out of my defeat and Your hope out of my hopelessness.