Veteran’s Day: Thank You and Forgive Us

Today is Veteran’s Day.

Thank you to all veterans who have served in any of the military branches. I am related to many who have served. I am friends of many more. I sincerely appreciate the hard work, dedication, devotion, and sacrifice that come with serving in the military.

Thank you.

President Wilson said this on the occasion of the first observance of Veteran’s Day, originally called Armistice Day:

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…

Thank you all who have served, are serving, and will serve in the future. This country and its people do appreciate your service.

However, in addition to thanks, we also must say, “Forgive us.”

Forgive us, for we have failed our veterans in worst ways possible.

_________________________

Because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy.

About 12% of the adult homeless population is veterans. That means that on any given night, over 49,000 veterans have no home to sleep in. Mental health issues are prevalent among veterans; especially those who have seen combat. PTSD is probably the most well-known issue, but there is so much more. Add to that, a large number of these mental health issues co-exist with alcoholism and drug addiction. When soldiers go untreated, it becomes difficult to secure a job and find a home.

If we are truly going to be a nation that shows sympathy, we should first start showing sympathy to those we honor for their sacrifice and service.

With peace and justice in the councils of the nations.

We live in a country of peace. We live in a country of justice. If you are lucky enough to be a part of the privileged racial and socio-economic classes.

Look no further than Ferguson, MO. Look no further than the mascot of the NFL franchise in Washington, D.C. Look no further than the defensive reactions of privileged people to both of those statements.

Our veterans fought for freedom. For many in our country today, freedom is a dream that is not yet realized. If we are truly going to be a nation that exhibits peace and justice to the nations, let us first exhibit peace and justice to the members of our own nation.

_________________________

So today we say thank you. Even if we are conscientious objectors or pacifists, we still say thank you to our veterans and their families for the sacrifices they have made.

Yet we also say forgive us. Forgive us for we have turned our backs on our veterans too many times. Forgive us for we have not upheld the freedom for which they fought.

Let us begin today to say thank you by caring for our sick and homeless veterans. Let us begin today to say thank you by advocating for peace and justice for all of our citizens.

After all, that’s what Veteran’s Day is supposed to be about.

 

For additional information, check out the following links:

http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp

http://nchv.org/index.php/news/media/background_and_statistics/

http://www.va.gov/homeless/

My Name Is Paul And I Am An Alcoholic, Step 5

One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. This month is Step 5. 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!

“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Step 5

“If we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking. Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk. Having persevered with the rest of the program, they wondered why they fell. We think the reason is that they never completed their housecleaning…. (T)hey had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 72,73).

Step 4 is difficult for several reasons. Step 5 takes it one step further. After spending the time on reflection, introspection, and writing the fearless moral inventory, the recovering alcoholic now has to tell it all to somebody.

The step says we will admit to God, ourselves, and another human being. In Steps 1, 2, and 3, the alcoholic works on developing a relationship with God—a power that is greater than we are. For many people, admitting to God is a struggle. However, God is not physically visible. That often makes admitting it to Him a little bit easier. Many people believe that God knows our thoughts, so as we write out our inventory we are already admitting these things to God. I do not intend to gloss over the importance of admitting our wrongs to God, but I do intend to acknowledge that the nature of our relationship with God is such that we can often admit our deepest wrongs to Him without the fear that accompanies a face to face relationship.

Also, admitting it to ourselves is what we have been doing through the fourth step. We have been thinking and writing. We have been working with our sponsors. We have been digging deeper than we ever have before. Putting the pen to paper is the act of admitting our wrongs to ourselves. It is difficult. Yet by the time we are on Step 5 we have done most of the admitting to ourselves.

The real difficult part of Step 5 is admitting to another human being. It is one thing to be open and vulnerable enough to write these things down on paper. It is entirely another to be open and vulnerable enough to tell somebody else.

Yet Bill W. and the original group of recovering alcoholics that wrote the Big Book pulled no punches: if you do not admit it to someone else you are likely to drink again.

This was my experience. My journey in sobriety began in January 2004. I started working the steps. I started attending meetings. I started sharing with my sponsor. But there was one thing I was ashamed to admit. Which looking back on it is kind of strange, because I had revealed so much; I don’t know why I thought this one particular thing would be worse than all the rest. So I hid it. I was not completely open and honest. And I relapsed. And did not come out of the relapse to begin working on my sobriety until July 2005.

Complete honesty is absolutely vital to the alcoholic’s recovery process. Without it, there will be no sobriety. If the recovering alcoholic cannot be honest, they cannot be sober. The two go hand in hand. Step 5 solidifies that relationship.

In Step 5, the alcoholic will find somebody to share his or her inventory with. More often than not, the sponsor is that other person. This is beneficial because of the sponsor/sponsee relationship. Others use a religious leader. For example, Catholics in recovery will often use the confessional as the place they do their fifth step. Again, for those practicing Christianity through the Catholic Church, this is a good and healthy way to combine spirituality with sobriety. I have heard stories of people telling complete strangers (the person sitting next to them on the plane, the hitchhiker they picked up, etc.). I do not find using a stranger to be as beneficial, but many alcoholics have done that with success.

In the sharing of the inventory, honesty must be present and ego must be absent; humility must be present and fear must be absent.

Every recovery program spends a great deal of time on Steps 4 and 5. But what can the church do to help people in recovery through this part of the process?*

First, we must learn to do confession better. The church does not do confession well. Too often, confession is one person standing in front of a group of people and admitting to something. The reactions range from gasps of shock to pious hugs and statements of “there, there.” When confession is done in a closet there is no relationship, no accountability. We must learn what it means to confess to one another. We must be kind and gentle while also spurring one another on to making better choices. We must be honest with one another. We must be open. It must not be a scary thing to approach a Christian brother or sister in order to share a struggle. So much of our struggle with sin comes from the fact that we believe we have to hide it. We must stop hiding.

Second, be available but do not be pushy. If you are in relationship with people who are in recovery, they may come to you and ask you to do a fifth step with them. If they ask, I hope you feel you are in a position where you can say yes. It is an honor to be asked. All you need to do is listen and pray. Pray at the start for safety and honesty, listen to the inventory, and then pray for healing. But in being available, do not ask people to do their fifth step with you. Be available if asked, but do not go around asking those in recovery if they are ready yet. They are working a process. Their sponsor will prod them as needed. They just need welcome and encouragement from you.

Third, have someone you help you bear the burden. This does not mean go and tell somebody everything you just heard. You MUST keep anything told to you in a fifth step private and confidential. It is not your story to tell. However, you will hear some heavy stuff. I have heard stories of sexual abuse, both from victims and victimizers. I have heard stories of physical pain received or inflicted. I have heard stories of murder. These are difficult stories to hear. But I have a sponsor. I have spiritual guides and leaders. I am able to go to them and tell them how I have been affected (without sharing names or specifics). If you are going to listen to someone’s fifth step, have someone you can go to who can help you deal with your own emotions that will come up. You do not need to give the details. You just need to say, “I heard some stuff and I really don’t know what to do with it.” Find a spiritual guide, a Shepherd, a minister, someone that will pray with as you deal with that emotion.

The fourth and fifth steps are a scary part of the journey for the recovering alcoholic. They may need your presence. More than anything, let them know they are loved.

*If you are a mandated reporter (and if you are you would know it), you may not feel comfortable listening to a fifth step. If that is the case, say so up front. Do not feel obligated to listen. Likewise, you may just not feel adequately equipped to listen to someone’s fifth step. It is better in that case to say no and help the person find someone who can. Do not put yourself in a position you do not feel you can handle. If you want to learn more about what it means to listen to someone’s fifth step, talk with those people in your congregation who have long-term sobriety. Or talk with your ministers. It is likely they have done this before.

“Jesus Wants The Rose”

If I remember correctly, I was around 16 when I preached my first full-fledged sermon. That was almost 23 years ago.

I have not been preaching full-time since then (about 5 years was full-time), but as I consider the churches I have worked for and the places I have been asked to speak, I know that I have easily preached over 500 times. Which compared to full-time preachers is not a big deal, but still…that number is fairly significant.

I share that only to say this: I have said a lot of crap that I wish I could take back.

Lest you think I am being too hard on myself, I am certain that if I were to preach another 500 sermons I would say the same thing. I am changing. I am growing. I am developing.

And that is a good thing. (Who said, “If the person you disagree with the most is not yourself many years ago, then you aren’t growing”?)

One of those things I wish I could go back to and un-say has to do with the idea of redemption. I used to use emotional manipulation to twist a certain response out of my audience. I really wanted to harp on how wretched we all were. Sure, I got to the whole “redemption” thing, but my point was to emphasize the negative, get you all twisted about it, and throw you a lifeline that you had to cling to.

And I was wrong.

That is not redemption. That is not Gospel.

That is a preacher trying to pad his baptism numbers.

And this also plays out in a different way in our churches today. At my local church, Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker is teaching a class for parents on how to talk with our children about sexuality. In this week’s class, we talked about the messages our children (especially our daughters) are receiving about sex.

One of those messages is that if there is a mistake, a slip-up, a sin, then you are now damaged goods. You are broken. You are shamed.

Maybe we throw redemption in there somewhere. But likely, any message of redemption comes with a preface that says, “Since you are so messed up, perhaps you will get lucky enough to find someone who might still love you.”

And that is not redemption. It is nothing more than ugly. And wrong. And sinful.

Redemption needs to be reclaimed in our churches. The message of redemption that is beautiful and wonderful and Gospel!

When Jesus called His disciples, He looked at them and said, “Follow me.”

When Jesus met with the woman at the well, He mentioned her five husbands but did not make her feel guilty for her life. Instead, she became inspired to run into her town to tell everyone about this Messiah.

When Jesus was brought face to face with a woman caught in the act of adultery, He waited until everyone was gone before He simply said, “Go and leave your life of sin.”

When Saul had his Damascus road experience, Jesus said, “It is me you are persecuting. Go and wait.” And wait he did. And the scales fell from his eyes.

The message of redemption does not necessitate that we talk about how messed up we were. Yes, we were dead in our transgressions and sin. Yes, we struggle with the flesh. But life in the Spirit has set us free from the law of sin and death. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

Remember the vision Peter had before Cornelius invited him to his house? Peter saw all the unclean animals and even though he was told to eat, he protested. “I cannot touch what is unclean.”

But they weren’t unclean anymore! They had been redeemed! Their identity was changed!

I saw the following video clip recently. It offers an incredible message. I encourage you to watch and think about how we talk about sin and redemption. If sin gets more press, we are doing something wrong. We must proclaim redemption. Jesus wants the rose.

 

 

You may be hurting. You may have regret. You may have been told you are no good. If so, you are right where Jesus wants you. Because He wants you. Right now. Where you are.

And that is the message of redemption.

Christmas Songs 2013, Part II: Peace

Paul:

Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.

Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.

Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus’ keeping we are safe, and they.

Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and he is on the throne.

Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.

It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease,
and Jesus call us to heaven’s perfect peace.;

 

We seek peace.  We seek quiet.  Why did so many of us in Texas get so excited when everything was shut down last Friday and Saturday due to the ice storm?  Because we were all forced to have peace.  Granted, our peace probably still involved a lot of noise and technology, but our schedules were cleared.  For many of us, our daily tasks were put on hold.

We were in desperate need of peace.

Rheannon:

What child is this?  A baby, a peasant.  Nobody special.  But he is special.  He is the King of Kings.  He will save us.  His life if pretty much mapped out.  No time for peaceful naps.  Even when he wants to go rest, the people follow him.  And then again, that is peaceful.  He knows the people will listen to him and hopefully do what he says and make the world a better place.  That would be peaceful.  Peace is an odd emotion.  It can come from anything.  Depression, love, anger, etc.  The person who wrote the song was depressed and out of that came a beautiful song.  He may be critical that Jesus is the Messiah, but then he writes the song and has eternal peace.

Paul:

“What Child is This?” was written by William Chatterton Dix in the 60’s.  The 1860’s.  When he was almost 30 years old, he became sick.  He almost died.  He was confined to his bed for several months and even, as Rheannon mentioned,

entered into a period of pretty severe depression.  Yet out of that depression he wrote this hymn.

Which leads me to think that the question this song asks is somewhat cynical.  What child is this?  This is the Messiah?  This is the King?  This is the one that is going to bring peace to my life?  The baby lying in a manger in a stable?  The baby held by its mother, herself only a teenager?  This child?

Let me tell you something:  I need more than a baby lying in a manger.  I need something more than a carpenter and a teenage girl.  Do you know what is going on in my life?  Do you know what I am facing?  Do you know how much help I need?  And you want me to look at this child?

This questioning followed Jesus throughout His life, as well.  When He spoke in Nazareth, remember the crowd saying, “Who is this guy?  Don’t we know his parents?  How can he talk to us as if he is someone important?”  When Philip goes to get Nathaniel to tell him about Jesus, Nathaniel’s response is, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Peace?  In this dark world of sin?

What child is this?

Rheannon:

So a story that makes me think of peace would be the Hunger Games Trilogy.  The main character plays in the Hunger Games and they must settle the uprising.  Soon after, she needs to help the rebellion.  But after all that, she has a chance to just live.  At first she can’t do anything because she is mourning the death of someone close to her.  Then, an old friend comes and she must bandage an old relationship.  But after all that, she is able to settle down and live a real life.  She grows up being at peace.  She has a family and her children play peacefully.  And even it is just a book, think about her life.  Ups and downs (mostly downs) and yet life is going to be good for her.  Peace can be found at the most unlikely of places.

Another story that is peaceful would be Harry Potter. The main character(harry potter) at first doesn’t know he is a wizard. He is abused by his aunt, uncle, and cousin. He then learns that he is a wizard. He goes to the magical world and knows just about nothing. He makes friends and has a semi-normal wizard life. But the thing is, he must battle the powerful You-Know-Who.  When He-who-must-not-be-named rises to his healthiest state, harry must defeat him, or be must be defeated. But after all that, he can settle down and have a family. And he does. He grows into a man, marries, and has a family. He can forget the battles, he can forget that the scar on his head used to cause him pain. Peace. Even from a bad background, he prospers. He has a new peaceful life.

Paul:

When we are seeking peace, we are filled with questions.  Characters like Katniss and Harry Potter seek answers.  Fans of TV shows like Lost seek answers.  In our lives we look for answers.  We struggle because we have no peace and we want to know where it is going to come from.  We are left, filled with questions.

But the questions get answered.

What child is this?  This, this is Christ the King!  Peace, Perfect Peace asks all those questions, but they are answered.  Ultimately, it is enough; He is enough!  Jesus is the answer to our search for peace.

Often, we need to remember that the answer Jesus offers is simply His presence.  There are problems we face in life that no words can solve.  There is pain we suffer that no words can relieve.

But the presence of Jesus brings peace into our lives.

Rheannon:

But all books aside, life is still peaceful. We grow up and die, but in that lifetime, we find peace. Even if we do things that are not good, inside we can find peace. Inside we can forgive ourselves for any mistakes we have made. Forgiveness and peace are like best friends. They are tied together by not-so-invisible strings. Holding a grudge makes our insides bubble with hatred every time we see that person. Well I’m here to tell you that that hate is not a good feeling. I felt that hate toward a girl in my class last year. She was the coolest person in my class. Me on the other hand… I was the victim to much teasing and insults. But then I moved to a different school district. I wouldn’t go to the same middle school as she would. So I started the school year with a grudge against her. But man, that feeling was the worst! So I had to let that go. And when I did, I felt as light as air! That forgiveness made me feel eternal peace. So I’m asking you to let go of all your grudges. And I mean that for real. Don’t just tell me, my dad, or even yourself that you let go, do it for real. Because I want you to feel that peace that fills you to the brim. And the person that you are forgiving, tell them. They will feel that peace as much as you do. Mend that relationship, please.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyyRLv0mFa4

Christmas Songs 2013, Part I: Hope

This is the first of three lessons my daughter, Rheannon, and I will be teaching at Freedom Fellowship this month.  The song that accompanies this lesson is Born in Bethlehem by Third Day.  A YouTube video of the song is included at the end of the post.

Rheannon:

So the only thing I can think about is a Suite Life of Zach and Cody episode when there is a blizzard and all the hotel rooms are full.  But there is a young couple expecting a child.  The only place to stay is the lobby.  So that is where they stayed.  Hopeful.  Hopeful that all would be okay.  Hopeful that their child would be born.

Hope is a strong feeling.  This song (Born in Bethlehem) by Third Day is a song full of hope.  Hope that the Lord will come.  Hope that the Lord will save.

Paul:

There is a verse in Romans where Paul says, “You see, at just the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.”  At just the right time.  Have you thought about the power of that phrase?  Not too soon.  Not too late.  Just the right time.

To illustrate how important the right time is, let me tell me you a story.  When Shawna was pregnant with Rheannon, I was being treated for an undiagnosed condition that resulted in extreme pain in both legs.  My doctor’s best guess was an undetected neuropathy.  His course of treatment was a medication that did not correct the problem, but zapped me out so much that I felt nothing.  I pleaded with Shawna to not go into labor late at night, because I did not think I would be able to stay awake all night.  So guess what time she went in to labor?

And when Rheannon was born, there was a complication and she needed to be in the NICU for five days.  I remember my parents coming right away—an eight hour trip.  I remember all the visits, phone calls, and prayers offered for her.  I remember the gifts that were given to us.  Gifts “just because.”  Ultimately, she was healthy and there were no long-lasting concerns.  As I look back at that now, I know that she came at just the right time.  In just the right place.  With just the right medical team.  With just the right support.

How often have we had to wait?  Sometimes, it seems endless.  Sometimes, we are able to look back at the course of our lives and see the way events unfolded in just the right way.  But when we are in the midst of waiting…

The world was waiting.  Mary and Joseph were waiting.

“Hallelujah, the King is here.”

Rheannon:

Another story of hope is the story of Moses.  His sister hoped that he would come.  Miriam was devoted to her brother.  She watched him float down the river.  She waited years and years to see him.  I am a sister myself, and I love my brothers a lot.  She was still hopeful that she would see him even though years passed.  She was a person full of hope.  To be honest, I feel like I could not wait that long.  Then God hoped (knew) that Moses would lead the Israelites.  And Moses hoped that he could lead them.  Finally the Israelites hoped to not get caught and make it to the Promised Land.

Paul:

The Israelites were a people who knew about hope.  They hoped for Yahweh to hear their cries.  They hoped for deliverance out of slavery.

But I think that maybe they gave up on hope along the way.  And who can blame them?  400 years of slavery?  Trapped in against a sea with an army bearing down on them?  Wandering through the desert with no food to eat?  The reason I think they may have given up on hope is the way they longed to return to Egypt whenever something came up against them.  “Remember how we had it in Egypt?  Better to live there in bondage than die out here in the desert!”

They were ready to give up.  They had lost their hope.

But the Israelites throughout their history, through the ups and downs, through the judges, monarchs, prophets, and exile, through the faithfulness and the rebellion, held on to at least a sliver of hope that a Messiah, a King, a Deliverer was coming.

Rheannon:

So over Thanksgiving, someone had broken in. Though they took very little, I was still upset. I had hoped that we would get our stuff back, and that they wouldn’t come back. But I also hoped that the person who did it was okay. I hoped that the person wasn’t in a bad situation. I wanted to be able to forgive him/her. I hoped I could. So even in bad situations, hope is always there. It is an emotion that is ever-present.

Paul:

There is, sometimes, a negative side to hope that we do not always talk about.  Sometimes, hope is there because we are in the midst of some great struggle.  The Psalms of lament illustrate this.  They are Psalms that usually end with great praise:  God is good, God loves, God is faithful.  But before those Psalms get to the praise, we hear the hurt, we hear the doubt:  Why have you abandoned me?  Why are you not listening to me?  So there is hope; but the hope is growing out of a place of pain.

The Christmas story is one of great hope.  The King is here, given for all men!  Today the holy Son of God is born in Bethlehem!  Hallelujah!

But when Jesus was born, what was going on?  The nation of Israel was reduced to no more than a province.  With a King, Herod, who hardly matched up to the likes of David.  In an atmosphere of all Jewish people needing to heed to the beck and call of the Romans.  There was a reason Jesus used the illustration of “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two,” because a Roman soldier could force a Jew to carry his things for a mile.  What kind of hope did Israel really have?

And then we look at Joseph and Mary.  Their lives have already been turned upside down.  The scandal of a young girl, pregnant before her wedding.  The potential shame for Joseph—his bride to be, pregnant with a child that was not his.  The situation of the night—no place to stay, except a stable in someone’s back yard.

Remember in the Magnificat, the song Mary sings when she finds out she is pregnant?  “My soul magnifies the Lord!”  How far from her mind was that sentiment when the first contraction hit and all Mary could see was Joseph and some barn animals?

Yet the Christmas story is a story of hope.  No matter the circumstances, no matter the situation, there is hope.  Regardless of what is going on, we have hope.

I hope for a day when everyone has a home.  I hope for a day when people do not suffer with the chains of addiction.  I hope for a day when spouses are true to their vows.  I hope for a day when children do not have to attend funerals of their friends.  I hope for a day when houses are not broken into, and when people do not feel so desperate that they think stealing is their only option.

I hope for that day.

But even before that day comes, the Christmas story reminds me that I can continue to hope.  Because the Holy Son of God was born in Bethlehem.

Rheannon:

In Luke 2:21-40, we read about Simeon and Anna.  Simeon had hope.  He had hoped that he would see the King.  But like my dad said, hope can also blossom from despair, sadness, and anger.  Sometimes, if I’m angry, I hope that the offender gets “what they deserve.”  If I am sad, I ohpe to feel better.  I hope for things on a daily basis.  I hope that school would start later, that I wouldn’t fight with one person or another.  I hope that my grades will be better.  I that one day I can date.  (I hope that I don’t get grounded for the things I say!)  I hope that my anger and sadness will go away.  I am overwhelmed by all my hope.  Hope can be a good feeling, but I must not allow myself to hope for bad things to happen.  We all need to work on hoping for the right things; to focus on the good.

Paul:

The time leading up to Christmas is a time to remind us of the hope we have.  Whatever position we are in right now, we have hope.  Hope that “the holy Son of God is born in Bethlehem.”