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Category Archives: Recovery

It is good to hear a terrible (to you) sermon now and then

One Sunday recently when I was in Central America I attended an English (Gringo) service hosted by the Spanish (Tico) congregation my brother and his wife and other gringo missionaries in the area are part of.

These Gringos (mainly my brother’s family and another family) are involved with setting up a Christian Private school, and have roles in running an addiction treatment ministry, and helping out in a ministry that takes young girls out of the sex trade and teaches them English so they can get jobs in the regular tourist trade and support their families that way instead. It is all great ministry and all three are growing. The lady who was in charge of the Addiction treatment facility has been there 10 years, and clearly has deep connections, relationship and respect from the Ticos. She showed me the Saturday market, and it took us quite some time to walk from one end to the other with all the hello’s and greetings and meetings we had on the way. That respect seems to be the fruit of a combination of her personality and a factor of having put in a long time in the community. All three missions, and even the Gringo congregation, had stories about the difficulty of getting government permits in writing. The more I heard and saw, the more I think it has to do with an innocent, well-meaning arrogance Gringos bring with them, that the Ticos see and smell but that is inodible (I made that word up spellchecker) to the carriers of it. I have developed this radar that is always asking “What am I communicating that I am blind to” and that radar leads me to that awareness.

Back to the worship service. When you are not at home you expect to experience something different. I did. I was not prepared to be so disturbed by a sermon though.

The ‘pattern’ of worship there is to start with a set of worship songs that move from enthusiastic, to pensive, to a ‘pentecostal’ mood and then finishing with a rousing chorus repeated multiple times. After that came announcements, offering, and then the message to close the service.

It began with the obvious challenge of musicians leading us in worship using their second language. I was deeply appreciative of the musicians (the great drummer was only 12 and had been drumming since he was 4) being willing to risk this as hosts. When you are worshiping in a second language, and you get to the part of worship where you usually lose yourself in adoration and pentecostal praise, reverting to your mother tongue is understandable. Meaning it’s ok with me as a Gringo, even if I can’t understand. And yes, the irony of reverting to one’s first language in a “Pentecost” moment is rich and wonderful for a Reformed guy to observe.
The musicians finished and left.
At that point the congregated are all older but-able-to-travel-and-be-active Americans, and my brother’s young family, and the lady from the addiction treatment center and her young son and teen daughter.
Then some announcements.
Then the pastor asks someone to come forward to tell of some mission work they do. It’s a near 60 yr old builder guy from Tennessee or some place like that, who tells of his conversion 6 years before, and how he a year later felt God telling him to go to poor countries and build houses to North American specs (double pane windows) and ready for plumbing and electric if the people want to put them in later (but no one does) to give them away. He tells of how it has grown, and how they’ve done 12 houses now, and if you want support or be part of a team etc etc etc. And I was wondering how helpful that kind of thing really is, but when he asked for questions I stayed quiet. I’m a guest. I don’t want to make trouble for my brother and his wife’s reputation. I had already asked some pointed questions at the open house for the new home some of the same people had built that was to be a group home for the girls who had been rescued from their pimps. Questions like “What do you do to be careful to respect their cultural patterns, like their more lax approach to time, (which I admire and envy) and not turn them into little American Northern Europeans? And in fact could that be one of the resistance factors in getting government permits?” Like that. It’s what I do. But I began to realize these people were not used to thinking that way, and didn’t really understand what was behind the question… they are convinced they are doing a good thing (and they are) and don’t understand why not everyone rushes in to support it.
So I stayed still in church.
Then the scripture was read.
Hebrews 11:6, which we were told was a context where the writer was talking about faith: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
The word “earnestly” or “diligently” became the focal point of a sermon that substantially was a contrasting of lazy and diligent, with a long string of “definition of lazy” jokes being the counterpoint to the diligence. “When the remote is 10 feet away and you decide you like the rerun after all… that’s laziness and not diligence” that kind of thing.
The theme statement or big idea seemed to be “Work hard, don’t be lazy, and you will please God enough that things will work out for you” with the caveat that a prosperity gospel was not what was being preached. There was no caveat about works righteousness.
Very soon I began realizing that my experience of the faith journey, and my understanding of the passage, was completely different than his. My experience was that a certain kind of ‘trying hard’ that he was describing, for me almost always led to problems, and that a recognition that my effort was not the key but my relaxing into God’s will for the moment led to all kinds of great results my efforts had little to do with. I saw and heard the passage saying “Faith in God leads to God being pleased, coming to God in belief leads to pleasing God, earnestly seeking relationship with God leads to rewards that are freaky and wonderful and amazing and unimaginable beforehand.
So there I was, believing the complete opposite of what he was preaching. And I was seeing how a message like this was perpetuating the inodible problems and barriers. And I was frustrated.
Now, that all would have been workable, if this was not a “call for response” insecure preacher. But, alas, he kept asking “are you with me? Let me hear an Amen!” and at my toughest point he directly asked “Do you agree with me? I need to hear if you agree with me!” and I made myself look over at my brother’s family and think about what damage I might do to their work there if I told out loud what I was thinking and feeling, and I kept quiet.
Later, when I had time at the poolside to reflect, I came to realize how important it is to hear a bad sermon now and then, how it can sharpen your awareness of God’s ways.

 

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George Holecz and God

There are stories nestled within stories here. I mainly feel compelled to tell the story of a man named George Holecz who I came to know briefly and somewhat indirectly.
George’s story unfolds within a context of a group of men who were a big part of my journey and that group of men — self-described and nicknamed as “Zealous for the Word” existed in a context of a church in Nanaimo BC.
I can see no way of sharing George’s story without telling about the context, since God used the context to create the story.
If you can visualize a story as an egg, Christ Community Church (CCC) in Nanaimo is the shell, the men’s group is the egg white, and George’s story is the yolk in the center.
I like to use yolk, because it can easily sound like joke (especially coming off the tongues of folks with Dutch accents). And there is a good measure of God’s joke here — God’s playful sense of humour. George mirrored some of that playful sense in his character. The outer context loop or shell is a story that shows me that in the Kingdom of God “what goes around comes around” or “you never know where an obedient, faith-driven action will lead.” George’s journey came into that shell and if you know a bit about how God sometimes works these loop stories, it makes sense there and brings glory to God even more because of the context. One central narrative line is how George went from recipient in the story, to participant and contributor, but the most striking one to me is how he has gone from being perpetually homeless-by-choice to going to his eternal-chosen-home. I hope I’ve not given it all away in this brief description and that you will still enjoy a tale of how God can work to bring people home.

Either of these links should take to you to the story: or else just click on the underlined text here:

http://wp.me/P4R5s-6o

https://pastorpete.wordpress.com/lifelessons/homeless-by-choice-george-holecz-and-his-journey-home/

 

Confession and Birth

My job, put into simplistic common descriptors, is to be a midhusband to confession.
I had no idea going into this what a privileged role that would be. Beforehand, I worried about what I might hear from gang-member addict dealers, from PTSD suffering military personnel, from spoiled irresponsible cocaine dependent rich kids, from addicted anesthesiologists and from hulking bulking policemen and sports figures, from ordinary seeming mothers of young children and supposedly doting successful husbands. I worried I’d be loaded up with ‘crap’ that they’d offloaded onto me.
It doesn’t work that way at all! With one or two exceptions God lets me ‘forget’ or certainly not carry the burden of someone else’s erroneous behaviour. That does not mean that my naive ears don’t feel they’re losing their virginity though. They do. It is painful. I am repeatedly deeply troubled by the height, the breadth and the depth of self-and-other destroying behaviour the human creature is capable of creating and enduring and persisting in.
My job is to assist patients in writing their 4th step and then to ‘hear’ their 5th.
The process has such wisdom to it. Its wisdom affects me, has me feeling privileged, feeling part of something ageless and not bound to earth. The longer I am in it the stronger is my grief of over how the ‘church’ handles the same issues. There is a better way.
Step 4 consists of taking a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of oneself. Its best chance of working well is if the inventory maker has accepted they — believing they are the makers of their own destiny — are not running their life well at all and had allowed a substance or activity to take over their lives, creating unbelievable chaos and destruction. They then need to turn to some power outside of and greater than themselves for help and turn their destiny and life over into that power’s control.
Then they look at their life, and get a GPS fix on where they are and where they have been and what exactly life has been like. They write it all down: their believing they know best, their not being in touch with their true feelings or corking them and presenting something more pleasant so people will like them more (or so they believe), their unrealistic expectations that cause them to let themselves down and be let down by others, the fears they hold (most often fear of rejection or abandonment), the things they feel guilty for, the grudges they hold and carefully nurse by restating their case to anyone — grudges that bottle up anger inside them. And then the way they always end up feeling sorry for themselves. ALWAYS, no matter what they try differently, they end up hating themselves and those around them and in the despair of misguided understanding of life they turn to a chemical or gambling or sex or work or exercise for relief. It doesn’t come.
So they come to us chaplains when they do their 5th step and share all that. They know they are sharing it with God as they understand God as well. It takes 2 hours on average. And in the process many are completely astonished to find they’ve lost heaviness. They come in hunched, anxious, jittery, eye-averting, burdened, fearful and sometimes still playing sleight of word distraction games. Protecting their disease, not even seeing they are doing it. They leave lighter and enlighted to have found that confession is good, that holding is unhealthy.
And that result is the tremendous privilege of it! It is akin to the being born again that Nicodemous could not understand. The inner child who’s emotional and psychological growth was halted when it learned it’s feelings did not seem to fit being expressed in their world, FINALLY makes contact, and begins to stir the person toward Life abundant, Life as God intended.
The process works for Atheist, Agnostic and Hindu alike. It works for Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim and Buddhist. And it works for both excommunicated and righteous Christians. A salvation process is born in a place we don’t expect it. A spiritual journey is undertaken. God is connected with a sinner, and freedom is found. The sinner is taught to be open to let God be known to them. The barren place becomes fertile again, the place of shame transforms to a place of Glory.
It is truly a wonder to be a midhusband in Confession and ReBirth

 

To be three years sober and God-guided

I write this reflection as a tribute to a God who gave me privilege and the blessing of getting on the rollercoaser thrill ride with someone on a journey out of active addiction and into a new life led by a power outside himself. Monday night (the 19th) I got to attend the 12 step meeting where he was awarded his “three year cake” and a medalion and a necklace, and many words of admiration.

It will be too long for a post, so I made it a page, which you can read by following this link: Swallow your pride and reach out for help, and you end up proud of how God lets you reach out to help others.