"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me"
Somehow the King James Version of that phrase from the 23rd Psalm resonates louder than any other reading. Especially starting with that first word "Yea".
Normally when we are in a mess, when nothing seems to be happening the way we want, when real danger looms on the horizon, our very first words are not "Yea, for the valley of death spiral I seem to be in." In fact, in the last week there have been several people who have expressed being in this valley with me. Absolutely a brick wall seems to be in front of you at every turn and you become more despondent by the moment.
Unless, of course, you believe the rest of the words of that phrase. In Viet Nam I had these words inscribed on my Zippo lighter (not quite the same exact words if you understand what I mean), but they were an encouragement nonetheless. But now, I get it. There is no valley we can experience where the Lord is not with us, standing virtually in the midst of the battle fending off evil that is trying to shed doubt and discouragement, holding up the shield of faith that we will make it through and become stronger when we do.
There are so many reasons that this valley happens to us, some not by our own design, but there are some that God sends our way to ensure that we are battle tested and ready for that fight and suffering that comes from it, so that we are capable of carrying on his message with real power.
Real power that others can see in the way we handle that valley, in the way we deliver his good news, and in the way we comfort others who struggle through this. The apostles had it, those that died in the Lions Den had it, missionaries who die in the Lord's service had it, the Christians the Muslims beheaded had it and those of us who are fortunate enough to live through these battles have it.
Yea the present circumstances that we face will not defeat us because our God is much greater than any evil coming against us. If you are presently in this valley, look to the one who knows where the mountaintop is that will help us climb out of that valley. All the medication and mind altering substances in this world cannot compare to his glory that shines through us when we become like his stars of faith.
Remember those other words, for thou art with me, for he will never leave us or forsake us, he is our shield and protector in the midst of our strongest trials. Regardless of the outcome, he will be with us, and we will be with Him!
Yea that's what I am talking about!
Many years ago when training for sales with a Fortune 500 company, we were challenged to put our skills learned into practice through a rigorous and often embarrassing exercise called Bull In The Ring.
You were placed in a chair in the middle of the room surrounded by your peers who tossed one objection at you after another for any and all situations they chose to select. It was in this arena that I began to learn I had a skill-set inside of me that could handle adverse situations just like my time in Viet Nam as a Marine. Little did I know at the time that God was preparing me for hearing objections about him and how to handle the fears and objections that those to follow would have.
Yesterday we had two fantastic addiction recovery meetings, the first being me and just 3 men. One was of Hindu faith, one was openly gay, and the third was a Latin-american who followed Jesus. The words spoken during that meeting are private but as a summary they were heartfelt stories of faith or lack of it and the reasons why we had gotten in trouble in the first place. I listened as they spoke, and I heard the pain, and I understood.
Often our judgement goes before our listening (quick to listen, slow to speak/James 1:19), our solutions before their stories, our answers before their questions. The key to understanding others is to understand why they have objections or pain, or sorrow, and to listen with compassion and an open mind, not with answers before they finish.
Our objective should not to be smart or right, but to be the hands and feet of a God who does have answers to every question or objection, and to provide a pathway for conversation that leads to possibilities of developing a faith that works. Loving people who are not the same as us, or who have the same beliefs (Matt 5:43-46), are the meaning of the words of the man who became the proverbial bull in the ring for all of us, not just some of us.
He overcame the objections of the world by who he was, by his words of wisdom and by his actions, all of which were designed to reconcile us to God. He pointed the way, to some they understood the point, others did not, but he in his loving, compassionate way made the point, letting the point sink in, and allowing us to choose.
I just love being in that chair, especially the ones that swivel around to understand others!
The box. The one we all get too comfortable in. The one that we stay in too long instead of coming out and opening our hearts and our lives to others. We may sit in it a season, that's okay, but eventually we have to come out and expand.
But it is never comfortable to change, and if it is, it is not worth it.
We must admit that as an addict of any kind, we have placed ourselves in a very bad box, one that could be marked "Damaged Goods", and most people don't want to have a box like that, so they return it. That's called denial for the doer that created the box, and for the one who may receive it, because the contents of that box are still one of God's creations - it just got damaged in shipping.
Not comfortable to open it and see the damage, but most things can be repaired (Anything is possible with God) but it often takes some time. It takes honesty to recognize as human beings that we have all been in that proverbial box at one time for one reason or another, so when we encounter others that are currently in there, we do so with compassion and love. And, we must remember there are all sizes of boxes that contain many different things.
Yesterday morning I got a text from Pastor Darryll at Life Church International that 40 people from our recovery group at LCI were at church. He was excited for the other 500 people who came, but he was really excited about those 40 who had been damaged in shipping. Another indication they are coming out of that box is that they came, and another great sign is that most of the other 500 loved to see them and embraced the opportunity to help with the repairs.
Both sides coming out of a box to share in the mutually healing love of a God who understands every box there is. We just never know quite what is inside of that box until we open it and set it free from the confinement it is packed in.
Just open the box -it may truly change our lives - it's worth it!
Life is always about taking the next step because it always remains in a moving condition. Whatever step we have taken or are standing in at the moment will change quickly. From birth to death we are on the move and forever doing something else to fill in that dash that represents our life.
Business is the same way; what you have done today is only as good as tomorrow's results. We have to keep improving sometimes horizontally after we have grown vertically so that in the future will head vertically again. Here's my translation relevant to ATB: We have increased our number of folks we influence through meetings, etc. by 227% in 2019. Now the challenge is ongoing to train these folks to become leaders so that we can continue to grow and help people change their lives. Our example - Jesus and his apostles.
The best testimonial comes from the ones who have just changed, who have gotten sober for a year because they are current and can relate to the newcomers. I remember coming to the Lord in 1984, then surrendering my life and my alcohol to him and being used by my mentors to teach Bible studies, leading people left and right to him because I was on fire and full of a beautiful dysfunctional story.
Then I was cultivated, loved and trained (even with all my mistakes) to lead a recovery ministry. Three decades later what we started is still in existence both through North Atlanta & Campus Church as well as the new Human services Organization of ATB. You grow, you train, but you always remember the One who is in charge, and that it is He who leads us to take the next important step.
In 2020 we will certainly continue to grow, but the only way it will be an effective growth is to train others to spread the news, and to develop an ongoing legacy that will last for decades to come. Our next step is horizontal improvement to propel us to verticality.
Amazingly, that points up to heaven!
I like New! New adventures, new changes, new car smells (30 years of the car business), new babies (my favorite), just anything new - especially being made new in a decision of faith!
So we embark in the new year of 2020 with a new Sunday series, Jesus & The Addict, and the launch of Across The Bridge Academy, a new way to teach about addiction recovery and leadership for those who wish to serve in that arena. Today (Saturday the 4th) we meet to develop the curriculum for the first class of ATBA, Leadership 101 and to schedule a launch date. We will keep you advised.
This Sunday the 5th, we kick off the Jesus & The Addict series, based on a book written by Dr. Pam Morrison, who herself was never addicted, but writes of the struggle of her church and the AA Group that met there, plus her extensive experience in dealing with addicts, as well as the perspective of one who sees addiction recovery support as a critical role to the church.
More compelling, is her concept of how to teach those in recovery about Jesus and his amazing love for the lost. She reaches into things such as:
The Love of The Father
Thinking In A Brand New Way
Your Identity In Jesus
No More Triggers: "I've Got The Devil's Number"
From Resentment To Contentment
Stomping On Fear
This new series will be taught for 12 weeks at Campus Church in Norcross in our normal classroom, room 211, on Sunday mornings from 10:15-11 AM. We welcome anyone wanting to learn about how the church, families, and addiction recovery groups and ministry's can work closer together to resolve addiction issues.
Come join us in both new venues, both smelling and looking like a brand new baby!
You know the story. Year after year the resolution and plans are made to change things, to lose weight, get out of debt, save money, be nicer to other folks. Then, six months later we look up and nothing has changed. and we wonder why and where the time went?
Then, there are those victorious moments, when something is accomplished we planned, and sometimes much greater than that plan had planned for, and we look back and realized we asked, we prayed, we knocked, and God answered in a mighty way. Not us, it was Him. All we did was show up to execute the plan.
And, as we perused why the others failed, we did pray about some, we did ask and we did knock, but that door was not opened. The problem was we kept trying to bang that door down when another that God had shown to us was open, but we ignored it. We were too locked in on losing weight and God was trying to show us how to eat right, we were too concerned with our own success that we couldn't see what He wanted. Makes us understand our own humanity.
Some things did a whole lot better in 2019 that I could have ever imagined, but some went backwards, some at the cost of other plans succeeding. Looking back, I see where God showed me another opportunity in some situations, and I ignored it. We live and learn, but will we actually change our thought process, and even if we did, we must realize we will never be perfect, we must only resolve to make a new plan and pay attention to the life plan of He who knows how it needs to be done.
Solomon said, "Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given to him - for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work - this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart." Ecclesiastes 5:18-20
We can make all the plans we want, but unless they fall under his "lot" they don't mean much. In other words in all of our plans, we have to understand He has a gift to give us - we just have to accept it, and know how to use it after we unwrap it.
That is our "lot", that causes us to reflect on the whole lot he has given us instead of the lot that got away.
There it was this morning, the news we had lost another one to overdose. Her name was Autumn Miller, she was 31 years old, and she had passed through one of our partner programs about a year ago.
You would have never known by looking at her that she was a drug addict, she looked like someone with a plan, a dream, and a future, someone you would bet on to have a productive life. But as we know, addiction is cunning & baffling, it has no boundaries, makes absolutely no sense as to why we keep trying to destroy ourselves, and takes bad turns when we least expect it to, even when things seem to be going right.
At the end of our meetings we say "keep coming back- it works if we work it" and that phrase is the key. We can never stop working on our recovery just like an athlete cannot stop training if they want to succeed. In some form or fashion we must continue to work on destroying the big, bad wolf that chases us.
This week I did "Eat The Wolf" at some of our meetings. It was a spin on the story of The Three Little Pigs, with a conclusion that the smart little pig, the one with that brick house - he devised a plan to trap the wolf in a boiling pot, then when the wolf slid down that chimney trying to eat those little pigs, he fell into that pot and the smart pig slammed the lid shut on it. Then they cooked that wolf up and ate him for dinner.
We who are unable to fight that wolf off by ourselves need to turn our lives over to the chef who knows how to serve that wolf up for dinner. Read it in the story in Matthew 7 of The Wise & Foolish Builder - we put into practice what we read and hear about Him, stand on that rock that He is, and we can withstand any storm, any wolf.
On December 4, Autumn posted this on her Facebook page, and as I write this my eyes are tearing up. It was a re-post from someone else's post: "My relationship with God is my number one focus. I know that if I take care of that, God will take care of everything else."
I don't know what happened, but the Wolf got her. It truly is cunning & baffling. But I do know that all of us in this addiction recovery battle hurt for those who have been lost, and we will never stop ministering to those who want to be saved from the clutches of that big, bad Wolf.
RIP Autumn Miller!
Eleven years ago three young guys were looking for a way to improve the image of their Car Meet group (tricked up cars and Hot Rods), so they picked a way to go on a ride and donate toys to kids in need at the same time, thus Cruise For Kids was born. One of those young men was my now deceased son Paul who was 22 at the time, and a fledgling mechanic.
Over the years it reached a peak of 60 vehicles in procession to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, a sometimes circuitous route but a much worthy cause to help children in need. Since his passing, it has gotten much smaller, but last Sunday, for the first time ever, I joined about 15 riders on that trip, along with my son-in-law (also one of the founders), my youngest daughter, and a couple of grandchildren on an often teary eyed trip in his remembrance.
It's funny how grief works; it seems to never stop. It does get better, happens less often, but it is always with us when we lose someone we love deeply. I often think of how God felt watching his son die, and even though we understand so little about the complete nature of God, he must have felt pain, he must have felt some anger about having to save mankind again, and again and again, and now offering the ultimate sacrifice. Somehow that comforts me.
For our family, as it may be for yours who have felt this loss, the holidays are not the same anymore. But in little things like finding ways to honor those we have lost, their presence remains in our spirit and propels us to celebrate the time we enjoyed their physical presence.
As my grandson Logan eloquently spoke at a Christmas service at Campus Church, without Christ in Christmas all you have is a mas (mess). Though the holidays are without Paul, it is in honoring him with the CFK, as it is in honoring the birth of Christ, that we feel just a little bit closer to our roots. Honoring the life, not the death.
Though Paul is not here on earth with us, the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1), comforts me and asks me to comfort others. That's what the CFK is about now, and to me, Christmas is now about the last few words of that scripture in verse 3:
"...who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."
This year remember the joy of life of those we have lost, comfort others with the gift of compassion, and live your life to the fullest with every moment you have - it is our gift from a God who understands us.
It was so much fun coming up with a new name for our recovery ministry when we upgraded back in 2009. I remember praying often that God would shed his light of wisdom on me, and then one day it came, Across The Bridge. It flowed like the river that would run under it, and it made sense that it had many meanings.
Certainly we can say it is a bridge from darkness to light, addiction to sobriety, death to life, lost to found, and many other analogies, but what the bridge is has only one meaning to us - Jesus - he is that bridge from nowhere to somewhere, from unsaved to saved, from the God of our understanding to the one we understand, and he is most definitely the crossing from all the things mentioned above.
But he is also that bridge that has connected ATB to the recovery community this past year in such an impactful way. Simply, we serve on his behalf with the excellence he gave us - he is not the Golden Gate Bridge, he is the Golden "Gated" Bridge! Everything he did is all about everything we are trying to do. Serve, accept, love and give with the absolute best we have to give.
People keep asking me to write a Strategic Plan, and if we weren't so busy growing, I would and maybe one day we will, but so far, that plan has been only to pass through his Golden Gated Bridge and take as many people as we can with us, and that seems to be very strategic to me.
We may be a Human Services Organization but in everything we do, we serve humans with His services. Come to one of our meetings at Campus Church or Life Church International or better yet join us on Friday night at our Community Worship service and experience that acceptance and love, and feel the power that fuels our growth.
Lots of folks are saying I am the glue that holds it all together, but I have news for them, my glue don't stick - but His does - and that powerful bridge in the middle of our name is held up by way more than glue!
This Monday night we begin Thanksgiving week with a Celebration at our ATB Building, the first in our new facility, which gives us the opportunity to feed probably about 200-225 people. It is a distinct honor and pleasure to feed those folks, involve three different cooks and many volunteers to serve. It is a true blessing.
Yet, at this time of year when the holidays are celebrated, many are heart broken and relapse due to the inability to deal with overwhelming feelings of grief, shame, and disappointment in themselves. Feelings are triggers to that relapse and are heightened by memories of past times of love and acceptance that are just not there anymore. Though we cannot replace those memories, our goal is to provide an atmosphere where those qualities exist to lift them up out of any sort of pit of despair or loss, and bring them hope of a better future.
What we ask of you who read this is to continue to offer your donations, prayers, and support of ATB, and especially pray for those mentioned above, so that we can operate as an agent of change in a broken and lost world. As we celebrate people, we also celebrate what you have helped us to do in 2019 to become a relevant force in our community for good. Take a look at what we have done together:
Created 15 meetings a week of all different types - ATB 12 Step at Campus Church, Real Talk Recovery at Life Church International, Friday Night Community Worship at ATB led by Good Landing Recovery, Certified Addiction Counselor Training, CA, CMA and SAA Meetings, 6 meetings at Sober Living facilities, Community Meetings and a Women's Group at ATB.
Have served 19,443 people in 505 meetings through November 23rd. Last week we set a new record of having 646 people in our meetings.
Clothed hundreds of people through our Men's and Women's clothing Closets. We continue to receive and distribute for free, clothing donated by our partners and friends.
Placed several hundred people in sober living facilities or rehab. With our six partnering facilities we have a wide range of recovery options to help find the right place to begin recovery.
The list could go on and on but for today, I just want to thank everyone for your support and offer my own personal wishes for you to have a most blessed Thanksgiving holiday season!
To God be the glory, Glenn
Glenn is an ex-Marine Viet Nam vet who is also a recovering alcoholic, clean and sober for 30 years. He has been involved in start up and ongoing recovery ministry at North Atlanta Church and Campus for the last two decades. He has a passion for outreach and to spread the message that the answer to lasting and fulfilling recovery from addiction is in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He and the ATB team are available to assist in your questions or needs on an individual basis and will do so maintaining complete confidentiality. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.