I remember my first encounter with a smoke filled AA meeting, and I thought no way I'll ever be back. I had quit drinking, drugs and tobacco and I wanted no part of a potential reason ro relapse. The things I heard there included all the language I had quit using and most of the comments were highly offensive. (It reminded me of what I said while I was drinking, only difference was they were saying them sober).
Then there was the night I was taking someone who just quit smoking to a meeting that was held in a church, and although it was a non-smoking situation, some guy in the front who had a lengthy sobriety was puffing on one of those fake smoke cigarettes all during the meeting. Immediately outside after the meeting someone offered her a cigarette and I thought, my God is any of this ever beneficial?
Then there was another night when a guy was celebrating a sobriety anniversary, his 5th. He spoke eloquently, thanked everyone in the group who had helped him in his recovery, and at the end he said, "well I may not be around as much anymore because I have given my life to Jesus and been baptized, so most of my free time will be spent helping out at church". No one stopped him from talking or told him he couldn't talk religion, they just let a guy talk who had something special he wanted to say about how his life had turned around.
It hit me then, this AA thing is freedom. Freedom to talk about your problems, freedom to be yourself (most of us who are addicts try to be somebody else), and freedom for all kinds of folks from all walks of life to just let it fly without fear of correction. Just a place where you could let it go and be natural. People who are on the edge, or on the ledge, people who may be crude, rude and angry, people who use because they don't fit in anywhere but found a place where they were accepted.
Maybe AA is a temporary stop, maybe it is a permanent gym to work out your frustrations in, and to find some help in straightening out your life.
Possibly it is a place where Jesus himself would go, listen to the frustrations of mankind, and find it to be more like his church than his church we have created actually is.
People helping other people find their way back to a God of their understanding, (which used to offend me until I understood why it is said), and people helping other folks step off that ledge they have been tightroping in life. I'm a big fan now because I see the results, see the amazing acts of grace and mercy that happen through these meetings that extend way beyond the walls of the building.
Most importantly I see AA as a step, one great big step in a journey of life to find our creator. I thank God for the founders Bill W. and Dr. Bob who couldn't find what they needed in a church, so they brought the church out to the general public. I know you have some feelings on this and would love to see your comments, so please feel free to send them in.
And please, think of this, sometimes we have to step in directions that are a little uncomfortable to find the comfort of the God we need to understand!
Keep coming back...........
You are welcome to bring that Aretha Franklin song into play as an intro into this blog, please, go ahead and sing it. However if you are a woman you may have to ponder how far respect has come since the days Jesus visited planet earth. You see, in his day, men used to go to the Temple and pray things sich as "Thank God I am not a woman".*
With all that is going in our nation these past few days it seems we have forgotten that God created all of us as equally flawed human beings, but he sent his son to remind us all how to treat one another. No accident that Jesus spent a good bit of his time speaking with those whom the society in his day cast aside, such as women, tax collectors and general sinners. What he gave them was respect, and for those engaging in bad behavior, a way to end it.
He showed us that regardless of gender, race or life classification, he first loved, then advised. The words "there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus" were lived, not just spoken. Why is it we feel the need to undo all of that and think that one of us in better than the other? Again, the words describing Jesus, "he made himself nothing..."
Things for certain people may have seemed like we have "come a long way baby" in 2000 years, but the more things change, the more they seem to remain the same for others. It is only by the grace, humility and actions of people who understand why Jesus really came, not just to save us, but to change the way we think, that we can bring about a real change of attitude in this world.
Certainly not using a certain flag, or changing some ridiculous rules that hold back by gender or race may help, but it is real change in our own hearts that will make the difference. So let's not point that finger at others when it should be pointed right back at us, let's not complain about others (like those Jewish men in the temple) when we are part of the problem. Let's give r-e-s-p-e-c-t without any respect of who we are giving the respect to, as the Lord would have us do.
Sing it Aretha, and may that melody linger in our hearts in the way we act toward others!
* From the book "The Jesus I Never Knew".
The test of observance of Christ's teachings is our consciousness
I love the book selected by Chris and Ken for our teaching series Sundays at ATB. For those not able to come, it is The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. The honesty that flows throughout his writing is incredibly enlightening, as he deals with his own flaws, doubts and the search for the true nature of Jesus. Not one taught or portrayed to him by others, but the one who he finds through his own adventure in learning.
Many of us have done that as well, maybe not to his extent, but we have searched far and wide for truth. The quote above from Tolstoy probably is the one we have arrived at, that compared to God, we are far short of perfection. That's a good thing to realize; however, if we focus on our faults, we can only hope to live a life that falls far short of what Jesus is all about. Yes, we can work on them, but if we wake up every day feeling like we are a disappointment to Him, we have read only a part of what he taught.
As Philip talks about, at the time of the Sermon on the Mount, there were 613 Laws in effect in the Jewish faith, 248 commands and 365 prohibitions with 1,521 emendations. The practicing Jews were so commited that they would not even mention the name of God for fear that they would break the 3rd Commandment. Think about that last fact and how it relates to today's language and how we abuse that as a society.
So, when we read His sermon and consider all these rules and regulations, it becomes easy to see why we tend to focus on our faults. Who of us can even come close to this kind of perfection? If we read all the books, translations, commentaries and the words themselves, we can only come to the same conclusion as Philip did, "Jesus made the law impossible for anyone to keep and then charged us to keep it."
Are you kidding me? How can I possibly consider myself to be a Christian? And then I think, there but by the grace of God go I, and I get the point he was trying to make. I can't make it, live up to His standards, without his forgiveness and way into a relationship with God. He is the way, the truth and the light and on my own understanding I am lost without His guidance.
In actuality, He focused on my faults so that I could focus on Him.
Constantly striving for perfection without understanding how that possible perfection can be reached (not by human effort), can lead to the same fate that Tolstoy met. His failure to live up to those ideals consumed him. It consumes us through our addictions of all sorts, to even being a religious fanatic.
Focusing On Our Faults too much can not only take away our focus on Him, it can lead us into a valley of despair. If you feel this way, read the 23rd Psalm and take heart that big dumb sheep aren't usually thinking about how long their wool is or where the grass is greener....no sir, they are just listening for the Shepherd's voice to follow!
Ever look up at the night sky and marvel at the stars thinking how many can there be? Hundreds, millions, trillions. Not being a scientist I have no idea. But I do know there are a lot and God has made a very complex creation filled with mysteries that we will never figure out.
So too, our lives when looked at as a vast universe of complexities can lead us to one word, fragmentation. If we take the major moments of our lives, placing each on a star how many would there be to look upon? Maybe not trillions, but it could fill up a sky with fragments of time. And if each star could reflect the good and bad of those moments how many would shine brightly and how many would be dim, barely visible?
Think of how quickly we can blow any good situation into fragments by bad decisions? We can be really good most of the time and still bring chaos to serenity quickly by not being wise. When the Bible talks about sin, are any of us capable of perfection and always shining like stars? The answer to me lies in the stories of lives that represent fragments in the Bible, just as Jesus taught talked in fragmented parables.
Boom, there goes Peter flying off the handle, boom, there goes Peter preaching up a storm, boom, there goes Peter in a religious controversy, boom, there goes Peter dying for his faith. Bang, there goes Paul thinking he is perfect, bang, he gets shot down to size and blinded, bang, he's preaching for the very thing he was against, bang, he is picking thorns out of his side.
I say this to help all of us know, me included, that perfection is a big unreachable word for us as humans. Because we are so fragmented and vulnerable to life itself, we can only look up and hope we make many more good choices that light up our stars, an less that dim our story.
Jesus made those choices all good ones, Peter and Paul, not so. Without understanding the aspect of forgiveness we miss the entire point of our faith. He takes all the fragments of what we do and puts them all in place to represent his work of art that we are after we turn it all over to him.
Sort of like us then , "shining like stars in the universe!" We become his brightest lights.
Yesterday marked the closeout of the month for our Toyota and Hyundai stores which are side by side here in Daphne, Al. It is always a stressful time, especially when hitting a forecast number is necessary, going down to the wire before it happens sometimes. Thankfully we hit it again, but unfortunately we did not finish in the customary #1 spot in our region. Disappointment, but a great month all around none the less.
Life is just like that sometimes, we give all we have, and we find ourselves a little short of where we wanted or needed to be. I think of the apostle Peter who was a zealot, a hard charger, thought he had his spiritual life at maximum capacity, but yet always seemed to come up short when it was on the line. That is, until his sermon after Pentecost when he was filled with the truth.
The truth is, when we feel like we have given it all we have, and have fallen short, God still has another gear. So we can't be discouraged just because we don't finish in the top spot at that moment, or if we don't achieve a goal we were striving for, because we live to fight another day.
And, if we use the power of the Holy Spirit that God has given us as believers, there is no telling how far we can go, as long as we are giving it all we have for the right situation.
If you recall the apostles seemed to have minimal power on their own to accomplish anything. It was only after an empowerment of the truth, the Holy Spirit, that they became all they were meant to be. Seems a little strange to compare the situation at a car dealership with a movement of faith, but when it comes down to it, this is where we live, on earth, and every day we all face challenges of this sort.
Someone said the other day that too many people are "living small". The thought process is that if we don't take too many risks, if we don't try to overachieve, we will make it just fine. However, I never read a word about Jesus living small, all I read was about him giving it all he had.
So it must be up to us to decide whether we will use that other gear to achieve something great that God has in store for us. When we are worn out, our eyes water with fatigue, our feet move so slowly we feel like we are walking in mud, or like Jesus, the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and we collapse from sheer exhaustion.......
It is at those moments we see what Isaiah meant, "But those that hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on the wings of eagles", and giving it all we have will lead us into the flight of a lifetime!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.