The Twelve Steps

In my last article I wrote about the five keys to maturity as Christians, and in that article I mentioned the similarity between the way the church should function and the way groups like Alcoholics Anonymous DO function. The camaraderie and accountability of those groups keep people on the path to sobriety. The life of the Christian should be filled with others who are helping them along on the path to sinlessness as well, but we have become so politically correct and afraid of rejection, we refrain from speaking into the lives of even those closest to us to hold one another accountable.

If you’re like me, there are many things in your life you’d like to change, not the least of which are sins you habitually commit. We all have hurts, habits and hang-ups. So how do we overcome these problems in our lives as believers in Jesus? For those attending AA to achieve sobriety, there are twelve steps:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understoodHim.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

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

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take a personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

These steps have been proven to be effective to help people recover from alcohol addiction, and there are similar steps to groups like Narcotics Anonymous and others.

What if there were twelve steps to Christian living? What would they look like? My friend, Roy Rhodes, came up with these:

1. We came to believe that we were powerless in our sin, and that life was outside of our control.

2. We came to believe that a power greater than us was in control and could restore us.

3. We made a decision to give our will and lives over to the care of Jesus Christ, who offers sanctuary and salvation.

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. We confessed to ourselves, to God and to another human being the nature of our sin.

6. We were entirely ready to surrender our sins to God.

7. We humbly asked God to remove our sins and shortcomings and restore us as bearers of His Image and Spirit.

8. We made a list of all persons that we have harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to examine the self, and when we are wrong, prompty confessing and setting things right.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to remain rooted in God, our strength and deliverance.

12. Having given our lives to God and experienced his healing in our lives, we try to carry the message of the Gospel to others and live these principles out in all aspect of our lives.

Steps 1-3 are similar to much of the language in churches today about how to come to know Jesus and find salvation. Step three is where we find baptism as a way to connect to the cross and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6). Step 12 is the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). But what about the other 8 steps?

Sometimes we wonder why there isn’t more growth in the church (because people aren’t living step 12), and I would suggest it may be because steps 4-11 aren’t being done daily in the lives of Christians to even get to step 12.

We may even do step 7, but often we don’t do the other steps surrounding that one to actually achieve success in quitting a particular sin. Steps like numbers 4, 5, 8, and 9 are uncomfortable and awkward. If we actually had to confess to someone else, they may betray us. If we seek amends with those we’ve hurt, they may reject our efforts. So we don’t try. We give up before we begin.

The five keys to being a mature Christian are these: Attend the meetings, get a mentor/partner/confidant, read the Book, works the steps, and tell others. The twelve steps to key number 4 are something like these above. If you want to see success in your life in Christ, you’ll work these as diligently as an alcoholic trying to overcome addiction, because you and I are addicted to sin, and we need to overcome our addiction too.

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The Five Keys

The other day, I was blessed to attend an AA meeting in a local church building. This was a requirement for a class I’m currently taking on addictions counseling.

While I was there, the people went around the room and talked about what they were grateful for regarding their AA affiliation. Many people expressed gratitude for the group and sobriety, but one story of gratitude stood out to me, and after this person spoke, many repeated the same sentiment.

This person spoke up about their 28 year anniversary of sobriety. In this celebration, credit was given to AA for giving the right path to success in recovery, but there were five things, five keys, that allowed this person to find the ability to be clean and sober. The five keys are as follows:

1. Attend the Meetings

2. Get a sponsor

3. Read the Big Book

4. Work the steps

5. Tell others about the program

It struck me that these keys hold true for anyone wanting a life change, and especially Christians looking to find maturity in Christ – a life of discipleship. What would it look like if we participated in these keys as Christians?

1. Attend the meetings

“Do not give up meeting with the brothers and sisters as some are in the habit of doing. (Hebrews 10:25)” As you seek the goodness of God, have you been faithful in attending services centered on worship and fellowship with others in the body of Christ, the family of God? Without gathering with the family of God, it is easy for Satan to take us back into our addiction to sin and godlessness. With the family, we can hold strong and find encouragement and renewal.

2. Get a sponsor

It has been proven that people do not continue to gather with Christians in a church setting if they do not have any significant relationships with non-family members within that gathering. Do you have friends within the church who are not family members? You can’t wait for someone else to initiate this. You need to befriend others. This relationship is meant to enhance your ability to walk the path to life. A good friend holds you accountable and encourages you to do right. A good friend reaches out to you when you’re sick or absent. A good friend does life with you. It’s kind of like having a sponsor in a 12 step program.

3. Read the Big Book

Have you read the Bible? Cover to cover? Many people have been in churches for a large portion of their lives, but they are largely ignorant of what the Bible actually says. Some people know enough scripture to make the arguments for traditional doctrine pertaining to their denomination of choice, but they don’t know the larger context of the Bible. The Big Book of AA explains the reasoning behind the 12 steps and encourages people why they should follow this way. The Bible does the same thing for us as we seek to understand why and how to live according to the will of God. In today’s technological age, there should be no excuse for you to be ignorant of the scriptures. If you don’t read well, listen to the Bible. You can find free apps that not only give you the text but will read it to you. If you don’t have a bible app, I recommend YouVersion. You can even get this app for your computer. It’s free and was created by the church in OKC, lifechurch.tv.

4. Work the steps

AA and many other therapy groups have twelve steps they use to find and maintain the ability to overcome an addiction or some other sinful behavior. The Bible gives guidelines for how we can find and maintain the ability to live lives that reflect Jesus – lives of discipleship. If you need it simplified into twelve steps, much of what the original AA twelve steps encourage its adherents to do is applicable to all Christians to find a healthier, more mature life. Celebrate Recovery also has 12 steps that are more Jesus-focused that can help a person overcome any kind of hurt, habit or hang-up (we all have these). This life change is supposed to be part of life in Christ’s Kingdom.

5. Tell others about the program

Has your life been changed because of your relationship with God and His church? If so, just as an AA member tells others about how to find sobriety through the AA program, we should tell others about the message of hope through Jesus. This is actually the first command of discipleship. A disciple makes disciples.

Are you participating in these keys to more maturity in your Christian walk? Do you want to consistently walk the path of righteousness to which we are called throughout the scriptures? When we all participate in these keys, we will grow spiritually, and the church will grow numerically, and the world will be changed, one person at a time, one day at a time.


Even Though…

Do you ever have times when life seems to be crashing down all around you?

The ending of this year has been tough for many people. Death, destruction, divorce, despair, drought. All of these are affecting people’s perspectives on life as we know it. Where is the hope when times are down?

Do you know the Lord?

This is kind of a cliché, but, seriously, do you know Him?

Do you know His might? Have you experienced it in your life? Did you notice when He worked mightily for you as a fulfillment of Romans 8:28 in spite of uncertain future events? Do you hear Him call you to draw near to Him? Do you feel His presence when you’re alone? Do you talk with Him like He’s your Father?

Do you know the Lord?

Many people know ABOUT God. They read (or have read) about Him in the Bible. They may even go to bible class and worship services, but their experience with God is entirely intellectual. This is not what God intended for us. This is not why Jesus came to the earth to make the way to God through his death on the cross and resurrection. Now that you have access directly to the Father through Jesus and by His Spirit living in you, you can have relationship with God Most High as His child.

When you get to know God, you find He is wonderful in every way. He is gentle and ferocious. He is loving, and He avenges those He loves. He is generous, but He is also a disciplinarian. He is the ultimate Father – better than any earthly, flawed, human father could hope to be.

So, times are down. Hope is distant. This year has been tough for you, and the next year doesn’t look too bright either.

Look to the Lord like Habakkuk.

Around 612-606 B.C., Habakkuk had a conversation with God concerning the future of His homeland. He asked God, “Why don’t You do something about all the injustice in the land?” (This is a common question many of us ask today.) God responded by telling Habakkuk about the exile of Judah to Babylon. Habakkuk recoiled at the idea that a heathen nation who didn’t recognize God would be used to discipline God’s chosen. But God comforted Habakkuk with words of just enough explanation to ease Habakkuk’s consternation.

Habakkuk learned of God’s justice but also of His love for His children. He learned of God’s might and constancy. He learned to see God with the faith that leads to righteousness. This would lead Habakkuk to finish His conversation with God in worship.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
Jehovah, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Did you see the scene Habakkuk sets up as he is led into worship? All of life around him is failing. Economy is collapsing, and famine is knocking at the door, but this will not dissuade Habakkuk from his faith in God.

In fact, “Though” is a mighty word here. No matter the situation, whether good times or bad, Habakkuk will take joy in God and look to Him for strength and salvation. He may not be able to see or understand the future, but he knows God is already there and has promised to be with him.

Hebrews 13:5-6 reminds the church that God has said, “I will never leave or forsake you.” This gives us confidence to resist fear.

Fear cripples us. Despair is a form of doubt. But God is near to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18).

So, no matter how bad this year has been, and no matter what may come in the upcoming years, we can still rejoice in the God who has saved and continues to save us through the trials of this life because of our hope in the life to come. Know the Lord. Know His comfort. Rejoice in Him. And share His goodness with others who are struggling.


The Twelve Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a song I can’t get out of my head.

On the internet today is a chain mail article saying the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” is a coded song meant to represent twelve concepts from scripture and the early church. Snopes.com got this one right when they debunked this association. Sure, there are twelve ideas we can identify in Christianity with varying numbers associated, and Christians have God hanging on a tree, but this is not what this song is about.

So what’s the big deal about the twelve days of Christmas?

The song itself came out in the 1700s, and there have been many variations of its verses. Some think it was a song meant to be a game of memory where recitation got you prizes and a lapse in memory could have you paying a kiss to your neighbor or some other predetermined consequence. But the gifts mentioned in the song don’t really have anything to do with the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The story goes like this:

Jesus was born on Christmas Day (whatever day of the year it was, it was Christmas). He was born in a stable, wrapped in swaddling cloths (like a newborn Passover lamb), and placed in a feed trough. The manger scenes we see today have Mary and Joseph and Jesus (with a halo) and an angel (with wings) and the shepherds from the fields outside Bethlehem. But this is where the quasi-historically accurate depiction ends.

Most manger scenes I’ve seen come with a set of wise men visiting the newborn King in the manger, but that’s not what the Bible records.

Matthew 2:11

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

Did you notice where they went to visit the Messiah? A house!!

The twelve days of Christmas begin at Christmas Day with the birth of Jesus and end on January 6 with the visit of the wise men. It is said that the star appeared when Jesus was born, and it took the Magi 12 days to arrive in Bethlehem.

The night before the 6th is considered the “Twelfth Night”, which was made famous by Shakespeare. On that night, some cultures hold a great feast complete with a king cake iced with yellow, purple and green icing to represent the gifts of the wise men. This cake is more commonly used in Madrid Gras in the US.

Some cultures begin with one present on Christmas Day and give one present each day until the 6th of January, celebrating the whole Christmas season encompassed in the stories within Matthew and Luke.

In our culture, we usually focus more on the days leading up to Christmas than the days after Christmas. By the day after Christmas, we’re exhausted.

BUT…

For those of you who feel guilty every year because you don’t take down your Christmas decorations until after New Year’s Day, leave them up until January 6 and remember the coming of the wise men. If you have a Nativity Scene, maybe leave the wise men out and add them on January 6th for a week or so.

There are many ways we can have fun with all the stories and traditions surrounding Christmas. But what is most important is that we don’t forget to celebrate the Joy that comes because God became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Merry Christmas, and may your True Love (Jehovah) bring you hope through Jesus this season.


Aztec, Silence is Golden

tigers hurt

The oldest book in the Bible is the story of Job.

In this story, Job is terrorized by Satan and his forces who destroy Job’s property, kill his children, and take away his health.  Throughout this process, Job refuses to curse God.

As Job begins to grieve, he puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes, a sign of mourning, and his three closest friends come to visit Job in his time of sorrow.

They sat with Job and said nothing.

For seven days they sat with him in mourning, grieving for their friend who had lost so much.  There were no words of comfort.  There were no quirky phrases that do more harm than good.  There was only silence and companionship.

Aztec is hurting.  Our children are grieving.  Three families especially are beside themselves with loss and grief and uncertainty.

I have spoken with families relaying that their children are not wanting to talk.  Parents want to help, but they’re unsure of how to do so.  They recognize the health that comes through emoting and discussion, but so many young people can’t talk right now.  They’re hurting on a tremendously deep level.  And they’re scared.

Sometimes people need others to be patient and simply sit with them in silence.

In the movie, “The Horse Whisperer”, it was imperative that Robert Redford’s character spend copious amounts of time with the horse simply being near in order to gain the trust of the horse.  After a long while, the horse would know the goodness of the man, and then relationship could be fostered.

This scenario is similar.  Kids need to know that it’s OK that they’re hurting.  They need to know that they won’t lose anyone else at this time.  They need to know you’re there beside them in times of quiet and in times of the flood of emotion that is sure to come. They need you to just be there.

Sit with them.  If they don’t kick you out of their room, sit on their bed with them and hold them in silence.  Just love them where they are.  Pray for them as you hold them.

As they begin to talk, ask questions.  Statements right now aren’t the best help.  They need to be able to talk things through and explore this new world on this side of the tragedy.  They need to discover their own way and find their loved ones supportive and caring in this new way.

For many of the young people in Aztec High last Thursday, life will never be the same.  Trust and security have been shattered.  The small-town atmosphere has been violated now that the thing that “would never happen here” has occurred.

We all need love.  We all need prayers.  We all need people who care for us enough to simply sit next to us and not say a word, like Job’s three friends. May we be that for our young people in the weeks and months to come.

If you need a safe place to talk, pray, heal, or just need someone to sit with you, I’m here for you.  Call us at the Aztec church of Christ at 334-6626 for support.  We have been praying and will continue to pray for you.


#AztecStrong

My heart is breaking.

We lost three young people yesterday in senseless violence. Two of them were unsuspecting innocents that never stood a chance. The other one was filled with distorted, evil thoughts that provoked him to evil behavior.

This was violence caused because of a heart issue.

This was tragic.

Our whole community is reeling in the wake of this ridiculous scenario. Yet, we will not give up on life. We will move on.

Tragedies like these and natural disasters and other such devastating circumstances do something paradoxically wonderful to a community. It feel wrong to say it out loud, but while the killings were horrible (and I cannot imagine the grief of the families involved today and in the coming days) they did something wonderful within our community.

It is a shame it takes a tragedy to remind the people in a community to band together in unity. But time and time again across this nation, we see just such a pattern of events play out. Right now, in California, communities are banding together in support of the victims of the fires. The whole nation came together in support of the flooding victims in Texas. When 9-11 happened, the nation rallied together in unity.

I’ve been in communities hit hard by natural disasters and violent acts of terror, and in both situations, I have seen good come out of tragedy and evil.

Yesterday, the community of Aztec began to rally together in support for the families of those whose children lost their lives, and they continue to reach out and show support today, and they will continue to do so in the future.

But not long from now, we will forget what this feels like. This unity. We will forget to stay unified and go back to the routineness of our lives. It’s a sad statement, but it is true. I’ve seen it over and over again.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We can keep reaching out and spending time with our neighbors. In fact, that’s what we should have been doing all along. We have been called by Jesus to love our neighbors. We have been called to carry one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (which is to love). We have been called to shine the light of Christ though His Spirit at work in us.

We, Christians, have been called to perpetuate this sense of unity and camaraderie in our communities.

Yesterday, I sat in a room full of pastors from various churches and experienced unity and humility as we sought to work together to help the community through the grieving process by hosting a vigil. There was no power struggle. There were no attitudes of superiority. There was humility and unity, and it felt great.

I’m proud of the way our community has come together in the midst of this horrible event. I’m proud of the way our churches have shown love. Let us not go back to the way things were. Let us not allow the deaths of these young people to be wasted by selfishness and division. Let us all remember that we are one community, and we need each other.


Aztec church of Christ

In 2012, my family and I were looking for where God was calling us to next. We searched all across the nation to find a church where I could preach, and we could live as a part of a family of Christ. In October, we came to interview at the Aztec Church of Christ. I’ll be honest. Google maps was discouraging me from being excited to move to a church with 17 families (that was the number of parking spots on the asphalt).

What I didn’t think of is all the gravel available for parking.

When we showed up, we were shown love and acceptance, and even our children felt this was the right move for us.

We had another interview across the country the following weekend, but after visiting that church, we were certain that Aztec was the place for us. On December 1, my son and I pulled in to Aztec to begin working here (my wife and our daughter would join us in a couple weeks). This weekend marks five years of living and working in the Aztec area, and preaching for the Aztec church.

Since that time, we have loved living in this area. It has not always been easy, but we can’t imagine living anywhere else.

The church is full of great people who genuinely love one another. We may not always agree, but even in our disagreements, we seek resolution and reconciliation because of our driving desire to love. This is what the greatest commands are all about. Love.

So why am I telling you all this? First of all, it’s because I’m excited for this milestone of five years. But I also want to talk about what I notice about the Aztec Church of Christ.

  • I’m not blowing smoke about the love of this congregation. Long suffering was how the preacher selection committee described the church when we came to interview, and this description has proven absolutely true.
  • I’m not the easiest person to work with due to my driving personality and constant desire to change. Yet, the leadership of this church has continually striven to work with me, and I have grown tremendously over these past five years.
  • You, my church family in Aztec, have become my friends. I don’t just feel like a hireling, for the church doesn’t treat me as such. This is important to every preacher, for they do not see themselves as separate from the congregation, but it is common for them to be constantly treated as outsiders or the hired help. My family and I are members of the Aztec Church of Christ, and I happen to also do the preaching.
  • This church has grown in many ways over these past five years. I’m not just talking about all the new members; the people in the church have shown and expressed growth as we journeyed together these past few years.
  • The fickle nature of the oilfield has brought new people and taken several families away, but the church continues to be a welcoming place of encouragement and acceptance to all who come, and she celebrates with those who have found new opportunities elsewhere, though we miss them.
  • The Aztec Church of Christ is a place where questions can be asked without fear, and topics can be discussed in genuine camaraderie. This is important as we all seek growth in our understandings and understanding in our ignorance. This is what fuels true growth as disciples. Where questions are not welcome, control governs.

There are many more things I’ve noticed about the Aztec Church of Christ, but these bring me joy and remind me why I’m glad to work in Northwest New Mexico. I hope and pray that we will have many more years of working in the Kingdom together. Thanks for these great five years!


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