Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hi, I'm John, I'm an alcoholic....sort of

"I came here because I didn't want to die, but now I'm here because I want to live a better life."  A middle-aged man slouched in his chair and tried desperately to avoid eye contact with anyone in the room as he shared with us, his weekly AA group.  After he had finished speaking a woman spoke up and told us plainly, "I tried to kill this body but I guess it just wouldn't give!"  One-by-one each person in the room shared their progress in combating alcoholism, trying to speak over the air conditioner that sounded like an airplane taking off when it clicked on.  

For the past couple of weeks I have been attending AA meetings in order to understand and love those with addictions.  I knew the weekly meetings would humble me but I did not expect to learn so much about my own problems.  AA is wholeheartedly committed to exposing everyone's faults.  The intrusive philosophy of exposure creates a weird vibe for those who are not familiar with it.  Even though I am not an alcoholic, when I first walked into the large room a couple of weeks ago I couldn't help but feel somewhat violated.  Once I darkened the doorway of my first AA meeting it was as if everyone understood I had problems.  I couldn't make an announcement and say, "Listen up everyone, I'm only here to learn from your mistakes but please understand that I am not one of you."  After one hour of only listening I soon learned that I was one of them.

Every person in there talked about starting their day over at any point in time and what power that gave them.  "I know that if I am really struggling to stay away from a six pack, I can start over at any time and begin taking the first step."  The steps in AA are integral to the program and to defeating alcoholism.  They aren't a list of legalistic duties one must attain, but instead guidelines that include being selfless, submitting to God, and admitting responsibility.  It was both humbling and enlightening to sit at the feet of the AA veterans who shared their accumulated wisdom from, in some cases, forty years of sobriety.  The veterans, more than anyone else, knew their battle would continue daily and that they could not win on their own.  If you have not seen the powerful sense of community depicted here then I suggest you start reading this blog over again.

The sin of alcoholism cuts across all sorts of demographic boundaries, as does sin in general.  I see people every week that I would not have thought to be alcoholics (including many school teachers).  I use to think of alcoholics as bearded men who wear ratty overcoats and sing old 70's songs; therein lies the problem.  We so often view sins like alcoholism only in the context of poverty or people who can't control themselves.  Truthfully, we are those poverty-stricken individuals who cannot control themselves.  The people in AA are teaching me to confront my addictions (or sins) and lean into God for grace, mercy, and second chances.  I am learning to wear my sin on my sleeve for the sake of letting others know they are not alone in this struggle.  Thanks be to Jesus for the chance to start over at any point in the day.  As Robbie Seay sings, "When you think it's over, you can start it over."  

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Potential Poverty of Affluence

I walked into my local bank the other day to make a deposit when I caught a conversation taking place across from me.  As I tried to calculate how much my net deposit was going to be, a man who worked as a home builder began encouraging a bank employee to buy one of his homes.  "Those homes y'all are making are beautiful," said the bank employee on the way to his office.  The homebuilder looked up and responded confidently, "We've got one for you...I'm telling you, your kids will grow up smarter, straighter, and better."  The bank employee laughed, and so did I, but the homebuilder had a sense of solemnity about him.  It was as if he had pitched that line to so many potential buyers that he actually began to believe it.

After I left the bank, I couldn't help but laugh aloud at the homebuilder's statement.  "That is not true at all," I said in the privacy of my car, wishing I had voiced my opinion four minutes earlier.  Now, I recognize the guy was probably only half-serious, but a half-truth is still half-false.  In my experience, having grown up in a wealthy, white suburban paradise, money can cause more problems than it can solve.  Given the right, or wrong, mindset and the right, or wrong, amount of money, lives can be destroyed by excessive affluence.  Need I quote Notorious B.I.G. in saying, "Mo' money, mo' problems"?

As I write, my heart is heavy for a friend of mine about whom I just found out is deep into narcotics.  This guy has all the right ingredients for an American dream: his own car, a degree from a prestigious university, and money.  However,  his growing up in a rich neighborhood with parents who gave him everything didn't prove to make him "smarter, straighter, or better."  Sadly, he is not alone in the world of wasted, wealthy lives (see Laguna Beach on MTV).  What is truly confounding, I must admit, is that I have friends who have grown up in a similarly affluent environment and have made much of themselves.  What is the difference?  Is it their parents?  Is it a devoted life to Jesus?  I'm not sure there is a hard and fast rule for how and why a kid turns out the way he/she does.  

What I can say, from my experience and with confidence, is that "the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil" (1 Tim. 6:10).  As it has been pointed out for me, Paul rails against the LOVE of money, not simply money.  There is nothing  inherently evil about money, but there is something inherently evil in all of us: discontentment.  Being discontent with how much money we have, or the car we drive, or the ipod we own leads us into "temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction" (v. 9).  I have observed discontentment breed depression because nothing is ever enough and we soon realize how unsatisfying "money" and "things" can be.  So what's the solution?  Sell off everything we own?  I don't think so.

Paul encourages us to "learn contentment" (Phil. 4:11) in everything so that we might find joy.  This journey to joy must begin by being discontent with the world around us, thus causing us to seek what is beyond ourselves.  Jesus teaches us to be discontent with this "present, evil age" so that we might find contentment in Him!  Thus, we can preach the good news of a Kingdom that is not poisoned by the poverty of affluence (or poverty in general) but is rich in the poverty of a crucified King.  Our liberation from the chains of physical and emotional poverty comes from embracing our own spiritual poverty so that "by [Jesus'] poverty [we] might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9).  

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Worth waiting for (til kingdom come)

I can recall with great clarity listening to sermons about the second coming of Christ in high school, frequently shifting my position in an uncomfortable church pew.  Equally as uncomfortable was the thought of how many generations have waited for the return of Jesus, our liberating King, but did not live to see His second arrival.  I use to think to myself, "What if this is all a sham and He never comes, then where will we be?"

Musicians and poets create some of the most beautifully eager compositions about "kingdom come."  Everyone from Johnny Cash to U2 to Coldplay has put into song and lyric the hope and expectation of something better to come.  In our everyday speech we live for better days when we say, "Maybe tomorrow will be better" or "tomorrow's a new day."  Phony news magazines make a killing off of bored stay-at-home moms who desire to know about "the end of the world," as predicted by Nostradamus.  What is our anxious fascination with how it will all end?

I'm in a unique position because I, myself, am waiting to be married.  I have this eager, yet sometimes pensive, emotion inside of me that wants the time to fly by!  I am eager because I want to know her more deeply.  I am pensive because she will know me more deeply (all of me).  However,  I am in love so I can hardly wait until I see my love again, even prior to the wedding.  This fascination I have over Jesus certainly drives my expectation for the consummation, but I believe there is more to this eagerness.  

Garth Brooks has an old song, yes I listen to country, called, "If tomorrow never comes."  It's your typical sad, country song but its sentiment is valuable.  When Jesus was here, very few people were really hip to His program.  Mostly everyone took Him for granted and then suddenly He was being executed.  His conquering of death gives us hope for new life even after we or someone we love has died.  I am reminded of what it means to consider the cost of Christ's sacrificial life and death, followed by new life.  I do look forward to the return of Jesus because I am in love.  I also look forward to "kingdom come" because this planet groans and knows what it is missing while the King is away.  I am eager for the fullness of time when, as Johnny Cash put it, "The father hen will call his chickens home."  

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Advent Conspiracy

This isn't so much a posting of my thoughts or ideas as it is telling you what I am excited about!  Ecclesia Clear Lake, along with many other churches around the country, is joining the advent conspiracy this Christmas season.  AC ( is not an organization or even a particular group of people; it's a movement of change.  AC aims to worship more, spend less, give more and love all this Christmas season through various avenues.  For instance, instead of losing two-month's wages on buying Christmas gifts for my family, I am going to make gifts instead.  The money that I would use for those gifts is going towards Living Water, a campaign that seeks to put wells in places that don't have clean water and then give them living water: Jesus.  

See the video in the upper right-hand corner to get an idea of where ECL's money will be going.  It's places like Chacocente, Nicaragua that will be affected by our sacrifice.  The video shows a place where people literally live in a giant trash heap.  At Chacocente it's not uncommon for a child to step on a needle or for disease to decimate an entire family.  This is worlds away from you and me.  AC will also sponsor wells in Africa and other places in need.  

I encourage you to think about doing something in this similar vein during the Christmas season.  Last year, AC was able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars by participating with other churches.  This isn't a call to arms,  just a shout out to let you know what makes my heart beat and my eyes tear up.  Please watch the whole video when you have time (7-8 minutes) because it will touch you.  Blessings.