Wear a Scarf

Wear a Scarf

When I first moved to Chicago, I had to adjust my fashion sense.

Growing up in West Virginia and living in Ohio, we didn’t encounter the death-defying cold of Lake Michigan winds. We had cold, for sure, but we’re talking about a different kind of cold. The kind that gets in your bones, freezes the little hairs in your nose, and basically makes you run back into the house screaming.

Maybe that’s exaggerating.

In any case, I had to learn an important lesson; in this kind of cold, a scarf is essential. It isn’t about fashion; it’s about protection. The wind-whipping chill could actually damage your skin if you left it unprotected.

Solomon talks to “his son” about the value of wisdom in Proverbs 2. What he says is incredibly important and it isn’t unlike the wisdom of wearing a scarf.

“For the Lord gives wisdom, from his mouth come knowledge and understanding…he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.” (Proverbs 2:6-8)

The best thing about wisdom is that it helps keep us out of dangerous, dark situations. God’s wisdom is a light, showing us every obstacle hidden in the dark that could trip us and cause us to fall. It’s a thick wool scarf around our necks, helping block out some of the most destructive influences of shame, self-doubt, insults, and bad choices that can plague our lives if we let them.

Of course, having a scarf isn’t enough. You have to wear it.

For us to make sense of how God’s wisdom protects us, we actually have to bring that wisdom into our ways of walking every day. It takes creativity sometimes to live by God’s wisdom in our daily life – it takes prayer, patience, and a lot of listening to know how to apply the nuggets of wisdom we find in Proverbs.

As you read Proverbs 2, keep this image of a scarf (or sunblock, if you live in Arizona) in mind. How is God protecting you with His wisdom today? How are the teachings you find in Proverbs impacting the way you walk in your daily world?

For me the first image that came to mind was my CELL PHONE! (Convicted)


My Name Is Child of Light

My Name Is Child of Light

There are numerous secular recovery programs that help many people to reform their lives. But only Jesus Christ gives us an entirely new life. That new life is one of total transformation from darkness into “light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). We must make sure we don’t stop short of this goal.

When is a thief no longer a thief? When he stops stealing? Society, the world, and our culture might settle for that response. But Paul provides a higher standard. A thief is no longer a thief when he not only has stopped stealing but also is seeking hard work as a means of sharing with those in need (see 4:28).

Paul offers many similar contrasts in this passage. Most of us can probably find our “former way of life” and our “old self” (4:22) in his writings. However, running down the road to recovery while looking over our shoulder results in a lot of unnecessary bruises. So as we advance down the road of recovery, it’s crucial that we also identify our “new self.”

Recovery is forward-looking. We entered recovery in the first place because we’ve experienced the damaging dangers of the darkness (see 4:17-19). Every single child of the light was, after all, like ourselves, “once darkness” (5:8). We’re discovering that we can “put off [our] old self . . . to be made new . . . created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:22-24). We are in the process of becoming an accurate reflection of God. Our goal is to “live as children of light . . . and find out what pleases the Lord” (5:8, 10).

My Name Is the Enemy of God

My Name Is the Enemy of God

According to Romans 5:1-11, each of us is either God’s child or God’s enemy. Paul’s words offer reassurance to suffering Christians. He wants his readers to know that their misery doesn’t signify that God has rejected them. The apostle reasons that, if Jesus died for us when we were still God’s enemies, he certainly won’t abandon us after we’ve joined his side (see v. 10).

As God’s children we begin to recognize that the path of trials, when traveled with perseverance, improves our character. And God is more interested in our character than in our comfort. Our improved character may be identified as an informed hope and a deepened experience of God’s love (see vv. 3-5). That Christ lives in us becomes apparent when our endurance of suffering differs from that of an unbeliever.

As children of God, we don’t have to react negatively and powerlessly to changing circumstances. Instead, we can respond positively and proactively to Jesus Christ. This new capacity isn’t our creation but God’s. Jesus made this attitude possible at the point where we were most incapacitated, at our worst rather than at our best (see v. 6). Understanding that Jesus came to restore relationships, not to establish another religion, is the key to enjoying reconciliation. As we grow in our relationship to him, God removes anything in us that has separated us from him (see vv. 9-11).

Jesus died for our sins once and for all (see Hebrews 7:27). And he did this while we were helpless, ungodly sinners and enemies of God. Therefore, we can pray confidently, knowing that God’s love for us can’t be diminished by any failure on our part. We can pray for direction and power, knowing that, since we have already “been reconciled,” there’s no doubt that we’ll “be saved through his life” (Romans 5:10).

My Name Is Tabitha

My Name Is Tabitha

One of the “proverbs” of recovery is this: Service keeps us healthy. But in Christ-centered recovery, service does far, far more. Giving of ourselves is central to our ability to enjoy life as Jesus desires and be a blessing to others.

Tabitha had an impressive résumé: She “was always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). She wasn’t an apostle, a preacher, a professor, or a famous evangelist. But she assisted others in need. Good deeds didn’t deliver her from difficulties or disease. In fact, she became sick and died. Tabitha, like many others who give of themselves out of genuine love and humility, probably never thought of herself as having any great impact on God’s kingdom. But her death revealed just how much she mattered to so many.

Tabitha’s hometown was Joppa, an ancient seaport on the Mediterranean. Peter was at the time nearby in the town of Lydda. The impact of Tabitha’s illness and death is seen in the disciples’ urgent plea that Peter come immediately (see v. 38). When the apostle arrived, he was shown examples of Tabitha’s love: “All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas [Tabitha] had made while she was still with them” (v. 39). What were the results of Tabitha’s service to others? First, she was restored to life by God’s miraculous intervention (see v. 40). Then she became an example for all time to come of God’s life-giving power and grace (see v. 41). Finally, her story led to the salvation of many (see v. 42).

Like Tabitha, we need to make ourselves available continuously in a helping capacity. Our deeds of love bless others in ways we may never know. Indeed, our service makes us shining examples of God’s grace.

This is reality: If you’re not yet serving, you’re not yet recovering.

My Name Is Peter

My Name Is Peter

All of us, without exception, need a sponsor and/or accountability partner—someone who can confront us with truth and love without placing shame and guilt. A sponsor must demonstrate compassion, care, and hope—but not pity.

In John 21 we see an ideal sponsor working to help Peter in his recovery. Peter had publicly denied ever knowing Jesus—the man who was his Lord, his teacher and his best friend. He needed to get back on the road to recovery, to undergo some authentic character changes. To Peter’s credit, note that, even in the pain of his failure, he stayed with his group (see vv. 1–3).

Jesus himself filled the role of the sponsor/accountability partner for his fallen disciple. He sought Peter out, fed him (see vv. 4-14) and showed him compassion before he moved to confrontation. Then Jesus took Peter aside to help him face his pain and shame (see vv. 15-22). Jesus’ words to Peter included a call to evaluate his love for Jesus and to minister to others (see vv. 15-17). How would this disciple take the first step? The Lord gave him a simple instruction: “Follow me!” (21:19)

In recovery, we are called to honestly examine the past and face our pain and shame so that our love for Jesus can continue to grow. We are able to do this by making attendance at our recovery meetings a priority, maintaining an honest view of ourselves, staying connected to a group, getting involved in service, and maintaining spiritual contact with Jesus through prayer and study.

How do we know our love for Jesus is growing? How do we know when we are following him? We know we love the Lord when we think less about ourselves and more about the needs of others.

My Name Is a Man with Leprosy

My Name Is a Man with Leprosy

In Christ, our identity isn’t tied to our past failures. We’re what we’ve become solely by God’s grace. The recipient of grace in this story is described simply as “a man with leprosy” (Mark 1:40), but Christ’s healing touch would transform this individual’s anonymous suffering into a powerful testimony (see Matthew 8:2). Labeling his problem was simple, and obtaining cleansing from Christ was, in his case, immediate (see Mark 1:42). For some, sobriety comes quickly, instantaneously, as soon as they surrender to Jesus. But for others it is a process.

This one-time leper was cured of his disease by the touch of Jesus. But Jesus wasn’t through with him. There were still some steps to take. Our Lord instructed the man to

– keep silent about the miracle
– show himself to the priest
– offer the gift (sacrifice) required by the Mosaic Law
All these steps tie directly to that law. Jesus was careful to do everything according to the law under which he had been born and now lived. The new covenant, which depended on Jesus’ death and resurrection, was still in the future. Under the law, neither the cured man nor Jesus had the authority to publicly declare a leper cleansed. That was work assigned by God to the priests (see Leviticus 14:2-32). Jesus wouldn’t consider breaking the law, and keeping that particular law would make this man a “testimony to them” (Matthew 8:4)—that is, to the priests who would carry out the required rituals.

Jesus wants to transform us, too, into testimonies as we practice the principles that Christ presented (see 5:1-10) during his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. This man’s healing took place as Jesus “came down from the mountainside” after delivering the great sermon that encapsulates the principles of recovery. These principles, combined with God’s power, change our identity. Rather than being an alcoholic, an addict, or an abuse victim, each of us becomes a testimony to God’s grace.

My Name Is Esther

My Name Is Esther

As we travel the road to recovery, fear may slow us down. It’s not that we expected the trip to be easy. But some elements can be intimidating, like listing and then sharing all the ugliness in our life with another human being. Esther experienced the degree to which fear can make us falter.

Her people, exiled Jews then scattered across the Persian Empire, faced extermination because of the vicious plot of Haman (see Esther 3). Esther, in her role as queen, was their only hope. Mordecai had become his cousin’s guardian after the young Esther’s parents had died. He now sent a message and documents to Esther detailing the vile scheme and asking her to go to the king and beg for mercy. This was risky business. Esther’s predecessor had angered the king and lost her position. To appear before him without a summons could result in execution (see Esther 4:11). Esther understandably balked at what she had to do. She was afraid.

Mordecai responded to her hesitation by pointing out that her refusal would mean her own death, as well as the deaths of her father’s family, and that her position may well have been given to her in light of the crisis her people now faced (see v. 14).

Esther, to her credit, responded to the reasoning of a man she trusted, fasted to gain spiritual strength and insight, sought the support of others in her preparations, made a commitment, accepted the potential price (death) she might have to pay (see vv. 15–16), and developed a plan (see Esther 5-7).

God graciously protected Esther. When she entered the king’s chamber, he granted her an audience and listened to her petition. Carefully and methodically Esther moved through her meticulously developed plan.

The product of her faith and hard work was her own survival and that of her people. When fear causes us to falter in our recovery, we must seek help. We must go to our accountability partner, sponsor, recovery leader, pastor, or Christian counselor. We don’t have to face our fears alone if we take the risk. Our recovery and the well-being of our families require action. However hard the next step might be, turning back now will have tragic consequences both for us and for those we love.

My Name Is Delilah

My Name Is Delilah

Delilah was devoted to a life of deception. Her greatest “accomplishment” was the destruction of a man who loved her—a man named Samson. Samson was an easy target for her trickery, since women were this strong man’s greatest weakness. Delilah’s con was paid for by the Philistine rulers in the staggering amount of “eleven hundred shekels of silver” (about 28 pounds) each (see Judges 16:5).

Isn’t it amazing the degree to which living a lie makes us susceptible to the lies of others? Three times Samson misled this wily woman, and each time she complained, “You have made a fool of me” (vv. 10, 13, 15).

In reality, Delilah needed no help in the area of foolishness. She prostituted herself to land a fortune in silver, a ruse that included lying to a man who was in love with her. After her successful betrayal of Samson, Delilah disappears from the biblical account. Her inheritance: the knowledge that the man who loved her was maimed, humiliated, and enslaved by her deception and greed. By the time Samson awakened to his blindness to the truth, his eyes had been physically gouged out (see v. 21).

How often do deception and addiction go hand in hand? Like Delilah, the addict will weave a web of deception in order to continue feeding his insatiable habit. And, sadly, it’s often easiest to go on deceiving those who love us, over and over again. The end product is a life wasted—our own—and all too frequently other lives are devastated—those we love, or at least those who love us.

The only escape from a life of dishonesty is an encounter with the truth—his name is Jesus. He’s the one who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If we’ve wasted our lives in self-deception and in the manipulation and betrayal of those who love us, there’s still a way back to God. He can break the pattern of deception. Recovery forces us to face the truth in order to end the insanity that has taken over our life. David voiced a simple prayer that we may wish to make our own: “Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God” (Psalm 31:5).

My Name Is Samson

My Name Is Samson

Samson’s story presents the irony of a powerful and yet absolutely powerless man. God gave Samson incredible physical strength. But neither physical strength nor strength of will can overcome our sinful addictions. Samson’s particular addiction was sexual, and his obsession led him to squander his God-given strength. Addictions are often attempts to meet personal needs through physical pleasures. Each human being comes into this world equipped with a nearly insatiable, lifelong need for love. Only God is big enough to satisfy that demand. In fact, we’re created to love, and to be loved, by God. Sex can seem to be a powerful substitute for love. That shouldn’t be surprising, since sexual love is designed by God to be enjoyed by a husband and wife with such intensity that their intimacy reflects the love Jesus has for his church (see Ephesians 5:28-32).

What was Samson’s overriding failure? He failed to enjoy and share God’s love and the love of others. In addition, he didn’t care enough about his own people to use his strength to set them free. This strongest of men settled for the substitute and sacrificed his God-given asset.

Samson never fulfilled his purpose in life, even though he frequently demonstrated evidence of his amazing power. Regularly in his story we’re told that “the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him” (e.g., see Judges 14:19). If we’ve worked through the first seven principles on the road to recovery, we’ve both experienced and displayed God’s power. However, if we fail to continuously practice Principle Eight, we’re in danger. Recovery includes sharing our experience of change with others. Real recovery will make the needs of others more important to us than our own: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

Samson, like the rest of the judges God empowered, was born to deliver others from bondage. Instead, Samson squandered his gifts on personal gratification. Sobriety doesn’t equal recovery. It’s the beginning point of a process that will help us to fulfill God’s purposes in our lives. Those purposes include using our pain as a platform for proclaiming God’s power to heal broken lives and set captives free.