Addictions- part of my story it hurts to share

The deal was for a ‘key’ of crystalline crank, what a lot of the speed freaks were now calling ‘meth’. I had agreed to be at the meet because I was into my dealer for over two thousand dollars. He now owned me and I knew it.

As we sat in his Vette, he was smoking Swisher Sweet cigars which smelled like oily rags to me. I could tell he was nervous but I tried to hold it together, even though I knew the danger I was in. Scanning the parking lot, I thought to myself, “This is it, if you meet with the source, these guys will never let you out of their sight.” Life as I knew it was over. I had sold myself for six months of partying.

I heard the rustle of his leather jacket and saw that Jet, one of his many aliases, was digging out an amber colored vial. Opening it he scooped out a blast of meth with a coke spoon and snorted it. Turning to me he said, “Here ya go, John Boy, see there are benefits of riding shotgun!” He offered me a spoonful and I sucked it down. “Yeah, brother, we are family now. But when these guys show up, lay back and let me do all the talking. If they ask you anything just nod and point to me. It is better that way for you and for me.” I had no problem with this, the last thing I wanted right now was to be noticed.

I reached in my pocket and lit up a cigarette. I could see that my hand was shaking, some from the situation mainly because the crank hit me hard with ‘rushes’ and I really needed a drink to even out. “Why didn’t I bring a bottle?” I thought. Leaning my head back and closing my eyes I tried to understand how I had gotten here. Only a year ago I had been married, it was not a good marriage but I had my son in my life every day! Now after a war-torn divorce, my addictions were out of control. I had seen my son less and less. I was about to become a drug dealer. My life was in the tank, and the problem was I did not seem to care.

Addictions, some of us wear them like a badge. Others try to hide them and still others refuse to even admit they exist. In this sin worn world every one of us struggle with some form of them, if we want to admit it or not.

After much prayer, I have chosen to share my history with addiction in this blog. Not to boast, heaven forbid. But to open a door that maybe some of you who read this do not want open. I do it because I know who is waiting on the other side of that door, Jesus Christ. And He is the only one who can help us when we are ready to admit our struggles and are willing to turn them over to Him.

Addiction, I think is a word that most people associate with people like myself, strung out on drugs. Seeking that next drink. Substance abusers. And, of course that is very true, we are addicts. But I have come to see that addictions run much deeper. The definition that I give it these days is: “Anything that we become obsessed with other than God.” What is it each day that you feel you cannot live without? Maybe it is that cup of coffee. That reality show. That piece of cake. Or maybe, as unlikely as it seems, it is that good work you seek to do and have become obsessed with. Simple things that in themselves are harmless, until they become more important than your or my daily walk with the Savior.

The apostle Paul wrote this powerful verse, “I have the right to do anything,” you say- but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) We have the right of free choice, it is a God given right. But not every choice we will make today will be beneficial. And if we are being mastered by our addictive choices and they are controlling us than we will find ourselves farther from God. It always works that way.

Jesus through the cross offers us a better reality. The amazing thing is that no matter how far that addiction takes us away from Him, “He has now reconciled you in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.” (Colossians 1:22) Can you wrap your mind around this? If we are willing to surrender our struggle with whatever it is over to Him. He has already dealt with the sin involved. You are without reproach and can have the holiness He seeks for you and me. But He cannot do that if you are not willing.

I came to Jesus still deep in my addictions. I was arrogant and unbelieving. But as I began to see in His Word the love He had for me, a sinner and still unrepentant. I came across these words, “But God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Jesus died for us.” (Romans 5:8) That was a reality I could not resist. It did not happen all at once but slowly I saw in the light of that love I had found the truth that was deeper than my addictions and in 2010 I took my last drink.

I wish I could say all my ‘addictions’ have melted away, not true. But the closer I draw to Jesus, the more I see things that are keeping me from the holiness he wants for me. It is amazing what He will show you once you open that door. But be assured you will never have to do it alone, He will be with you every step of the way!

That drug deal went down. My life did change for the worse. I began a separation with my son that has not healed to this day. Eventually I had to leave the state I was in and hide out in another to keep from being swept up in a huge sting that brought down most of the people I was dealing with. Friends put me abroad a plane and paid for the ticket. I look at it as God’s grace. The pain of all of this is still real to me. I choose to share praying one person might read this and find hope for themselves. It is my prayer today you will, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) There is nothing you have done, He cannot forgive. I am living proof. May you be also.

Blessings John

3/18/19

Jimmy’s favorite list

People love to ask, “What is your favorite ________?” You can fill in the blank. Over the years I have been asked about anything from favorite color to favorite exotic animal. A lot of the time I can only scratch my head and shrug. It is not that I do not have favorites. You can ask RuthAnn, I am loaded up with them. I think sometimes she is confounded because I have so many. It is just that on certain matters I have no opinion, especially when it comes to things I am not interested in. In my life BAC (Before Accepting Christ) most of that lack of interest had to do with anything I considered religious.

It is not that I didn’t have knowledge of the Christian world. I mean, I was raised in a Christian home and I did attend Christian schools all the way through high school. It was just that by my mid 20’s when my addictions took firm hold of my life, I wanted nothing to do with discussions about my ‘favorite’ Bible verses or Christian songs. Yet I was always running into people, even in the low life bars where I hung around who wanted to do just that.

Jimmy was one of those people. I drank with him many nights sitting at the end of the bar most of the time watching the ‘Showtime Lakers’. Magic Johnson and Kareem playing the game I loved at a level I could only watch in awe. Jimmy had been a fixture in the San Fernando Road bars for years. He was an aficionado on just about everything. When it came to basketball, he remembered when the Lakers moved from Minneapolis to LA and would talk about his favorite players from the last 20 years. Challenging me to argue against his knowledge and when it came to basketball and the Lakers, well I was pretty much up to the challenge.

Other nights he would expound on his favorite foods. Once being a merchant marine, he had eaten foods from around the world. I could not compete with his knowledge, even though I had much cooking experience myself. My favorite foods seemed weak to him, he would say, “Your favorite food is Lasagna? Come on, boyo, half the country says that, don’t you have a better palette then that?” My response would be a shrug and seek a way to change the conversation. Jimmy had a lot of knowledge. History, geography and then there was religion.

What I haven’t told you is that Jimmy was an Anglican Minister and was the pastor of a church in the heart of San Fernando, California. After a rough and tumble life at sea, he had returned to his native state without a clue of his future. As he told the story, one day he was sitting on a bench waiting for a bus when he looked up there was a church and by the power of God he was drawn to that place. Without thinking the next thing, he knew he was sitting in a pew, tears running down his face. Jimmy had an epiphany, he knew he was called to serve God as a minister. So, at almost 50 years old, he entered the seminary and now he was, in his words, ‘a man of God.’

Along with that and because of his struggle and winning his battle with ‘demon rum’, Jimmy believed his other calling was to ‘save’ the sots who frequented the 10 or so bars along this stretch of San Fernando Road. Hence his sitting next to me many a night. As he would sip on a cup of black coffee or a seltzer water, I would slug down one whiskey and coke after another. He never preached or berated. What he would do is be into challenging me about my favorite memory or something and then immediately ask, “Now, how about your favorite Bible verse?” He was pretty sneaky about it and I would have to shake my head and say something like this, “Ahhh, Jimmy, I aint drunk enough for you to pull that one on me. I have said this before, and I will say it again. My favorite Bible verse is, “God loves those who love themselves.” He would smile, “John, boyo, you know better than that, that is not in the Book. But here is one that is,…..” Then he would quote a verse that had something to do with God’s love. God’s love for the sinner. God’s love for the lost. He never minded when I would hurriedly change the subject. Now I know why.

I never asked him but I think and now believe myself that God’s Word is what the Book of Hebrews says it is, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. For the word of God is living and active.” (Hebrews 4:12) I have seen for years now that many of those ‘favorite’ verses that Jimmy added to our conversation have come back to me in ways that have sliced through the man I used to be. Those very verses have been a part of my transformation. And even if I thought, at the time, I was not listening. They were implanted in me, seeds waiting to sprout once Jesus, the Water of Life was poured on to them.

Today before I leave, I want to share just a few of the maybe 100 or more ‘favorites’ Jimmy shared with me in his wonderfully sneaky way. Just a note before I do. Jimmy went to his rest before I left LA. I was no longer drinking in that bar but still heard he had a major heart attack and died. From what I was told more than half the drunks from San Fernando Road were at his funeral and a bunch of them had been attending his church. Jimmy did what I wish to do, share not my mumblings but His saving words. I pray one of these are the word you needed to hear or read today, courtesy of Jimmy’s favorites list:

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)

“He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:8)

“But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
Blessings and Happy Sabbath,
John
3/15/19

Judge and advocate…

The space was 8 paces by 10. Judging by my size 11 feet I assumed that was 8’ x 10’. Counting the ceiling tiles, which I had done several times, the footage seemed correct. The room itself was painted a colorless color, nothing to excite the senses, bathed in the harsh glow of fluorescent lights embedded in the ceiling. There was one door and it was heavy metal painted prison grey with an observation window about the size of my hand. Two basic bunkbeds against the far wall, each with one pillow, one blanket, and one sheet. This was my cell and had been my home for the last 3 weekends, as it would be for one more.

This was the modern county lockup. Gone were the bars reminiscent of movies or even TV shows like Andy Griffith. Now as you walked the single floor cell block you would see 14 cells, seven each side. The doors painted the same color and the hall washed in the same colorless paint. I was in 4L, which I supposed stood for number 4 left. I had plenty of time to think of such things during my 48 hour stays, seeing weekend ‘customers’ were not allowed books or anything except beltless pants and pocketless shirts. This was unlike the ‘timers’ who were serving extended weeks or months in lockup. They could have books and were allowed writing material, not in the cell, but at the central tables located in the community hallway. This is also where all in the block were fed. I could tell that these rules had not always been followed, the wall near the bed had graffiti and some morosely lyrical words written in several locations, at least in 4L.

I was doing time because of a DUI bust that had happened two months earlier on Memorial Day. I had driven my convertible over to the bar early, intending just to have a few then head out to a picnic planned by some friends. But good intentions do not always lead to good deeds and I was still in the bar 8 hours later. Driving out of the parking lot I was almost immediately stopped by a State Trooper. Being in one of my smart guy drunk moods, I refused to take a sobriety test, then refused a breathalyzer and to add insult to injury refused a blood test. This in Utah was an immediate loss of license for one-year, mandatory hefty fine, drunk school and county lockup time to be set by the judge. Drunk smart guys are not always as smart as they think, so I learned.

By the time I stood before the judge, I no longer had the privilege to drive. I had attended two weeks of two-hour drunk school sessions. And now I was ready for the final pay out. This was not my first DUI or even my first in the state of Utah, but I was hoping those earlier ones had been expunged, some had but some hadn’t. With my antics during my arrest and record of repeat drunkenness this judge seemed ready to throw the book at me. As I stood there, she did not look at me but reading what I assumed was my file she said in a gruff voice, “Sir, give me one good reason I should not fine you to the max and let you rot in a county cell.” With that she did look directly at me, it was my turn to bow my head. Then looking up I said, “Your honor, I am guilty of all the charges just read. I admit that I have had prior drunk driving charges. I can only ask for mercy and hope that you will give me the ability to continue to make a living. That is the best I can ask for.”

Maybe some of you have stood before a judge. I unfortunately have stood before many. I have stood defiant or I have begged for mercy. The one thing I know is human judges are fickle. I am not saying they are crooked or corrupt. I just mean they are fallible and not all sentences go by the book.

I started thinking about this DUI case this morning during my devotions containing this verse, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2: 1-2) As I stood before the judge that day my fate was in the hands of a woman who could judge me by law and by whim, I stood there alone. I had no lawyer or advocate. One was offered but I knew my guilt and just wanted to get it over with. Today, my life is very different. But I still know my guilt. It may not be so blatant as back then, but I am a sinner just the same. But now there is a difference.

The difference is that today I know that I do have a lawyer, an advocate, who stands before the Father and says, “I have washed John’s sins in my own blood.” And not just mine but the whole worlds. By grace, undeserved merit, my sins are forgiven. I still need to confess but, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Nothing I do it is all because of Jesus and the cross.

And the really cool thing is that someday soon we will stand before Jesus, who will now not only be our advocate, but he will be the judge too. The one who died to save me will judge me sinless because I believe I am washed in his blood.

The human judge back in 1999 was not as gracious. She fined me to the max but because of a letter by my employer allowed me to serve my time on the weekends. It was during those times I came to know that cell intimately. I have never been in a physical cell since. But I lived in prison just the same for another 10 years until I experienced the judge and advocates grace that truly set me free. Today I remember those experiences and know I am blessed. May you be so blessed also. Confess your sins and throw yourself on the mercy of the one who died to save you and this sinner too!

Blessings John
3/13/19

When is enough, enough…

Monday mornings seem to be the hardest time for me to put thoughts to paper. But this morning is even a little more difficult than normal. During the school year we are up by 4:30 AM at the latest so by the time I sit down to write, we have usually been up for three hours or more. Not so this morning. Because this is the day of my quarterly cancer checkup, RuthAnn took the day off to be with me. It is a loving gesture on her part, and I love her for it, but we did not get up and going as early as usual. Or maybe I should say, I didn’t. She was up and doing her devotions at 4:00 while her sleepy husband did not get up until after six.

So here I am later than normal and even though I slept longer than my usual 6 or 7 hours I still have a foggy brain. All that to say I am struggling to write a coherent blog. Even so I know that I have prayed to share something worth while and know the Holy Spirit has something for that purpose.

The one thing for sure is that I have been being led lately in ways that have made me take pause and wonder if I have been doing all that I can to serve the Lord as he wants me to. As I stated in my blog on Friday, last week was one of those times when God is truly doing all to speak in ways I could understand and relate to. His message was clear and, in some ways, stinging. It comes down to that I am not doing all I can to reach the lost, especially those who could benefit the most from my testimony.

Sure, I have shared it here for nearly two years now. And I believe that this blog has and will reach some who need to hear that our God seeks to save all including those who do not believe in him. I have also spoken in churches sharing the same message. I do not stand before a congregation to preach but to share God’s power to save through my testimony. But is that enough for me? Is what you are doing to share his love with others enough? Is there ever a place or time where we are doing ‘enough’. I think if we look to Jesus the answer to that is simple. Simple yet a bit scary, because of the words Jesus spoke pertaining to how much we should be willing to give if we are true followers of his.

“If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. Remember the word that I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well; if they kept My word, they will keep yours as well” (John 15: 19-20) Reading Jesus words what then is enough? According to what he is saying we cannot be of this world and if we are not then the world will hate us. Hate us enough to be persecuted. Hate us enough to kill us as they did Jesus. Isn’t that scary? Isn’t that extreme? Did Jesus really mean what he said? Can’t we just do the comfortable things? Can’t I just write a blog from the comforts of my home or speak to like believers in a friendly church. If I believe Jesus and believe his words, then I need an answer to all of this, so, yes it can be scary. And yes, it is extreme and yes Jesus knew the cross was our only way of salvation and it was extreme for the Creator to die for his creation, can we expect anything less for ourselves. And more so, no writing a blog is not enough. Nor is speaking to like believers going to fulfill God’s call. It will only be when I am willing to surrender all to him and live every day and every minute seeking to share what he has done for me, no matter the consequence that I will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” (Matthew 25:33) These are words I long to hear.

I told you I was not extremely coherent this morning and if these disjointed thoughts have left you more confused than fulfilled, I pray they have at least made you think of where your life is now. How much are you willing to surrender. A quarter, half, maybe three-quarters? Is it enough? That is the question I leave with you all. I know my answer, how about you.

Blessings John
3/11/19

A week of faith…

I started out this morning writing a completely different blog. Spending almost an hour writing, I came to that place where I just knew it was not what the Lord wanted me to share. You know, I really hate when he does that. I mean, here I had this story I so wanted to tell, over 500 words written and nothing else would come. That happens almost every time I do not seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance before writing. In the end I know that if I am writing just to share John’s thoughts, well, there isn’t much I can inspire you with today or any day for that matter. So here are the thoughts He has given me.

Have you ever had one of those weeks where it is almost like a ‘theme week’? You open a book and there it is the very thing you had just studied in the Bible. You decide to listen to a sermon, which I do often when I am driving alone, and there it is again. Well, that has been my week. In fact, it was so intense around Wednesday I wrote my blog about it. Some of you might have read about the faithful fish. The story from back in the day was brought to mind because the whole idea of faith has been in just about everything I have done this week.

I think the most interesting part of this is that the question has been posed from several different sources, “If faith is so important, then why do we as a people and me as an individual not be able to share it and its meaning with the world?” I have to tell you that this has caused some consternation and contemplation in the past couple of days.

I think the thing that set it off happened as I was listening to a sermon where the speaker shared his ideas of how we could and should share what faith means to us with atheists. As I listened, I thought, yeah, this guy has got some good points, but as a former atheist I would have laughed at the points he made. Don’t get me wrong, they had all the bells and whistles of doctrinal believe. Lots of theological and truly Biblical evidence that should convince the most skeptical. But the speaker only grazed over the one thing I think could and did stop even this (myself) confirmed atheist, a life changed by faith. That by believing anyone could be transformed.

This morning RuthAnn was re-reading my Wednesday blog, in all honesty because she was looking for one of my many grammatical errors. Being a teacher, she is my editor, when I let her. But as she read, she said, “You need to write more about this subject.” Meaning faith. But as I thought of that, all the things God has laid before me this week ran through my mind and in the end the only thing, I could come up with was this simple statement: “I once was a drunk and a drug addict and now I am not.” That is my faith statement. Yeah, I can embellish it and tell you how it happened, but the truth is that if I was talking to an atheist today, that would be it. Jesus Christ has changed me from being who I was, and he does it time and time again. One person at a time.

I have talked about how I came to the Bible and yes as I read it, I knew my life was going to be changed. But I am going to tell you, I needed something more to break through the hard-hearted man I was. It came in the testimony of one woman, her name is Cheri Peters. Abused, abandoned to the streets so young. Drugs, prostitution. The depth of degradation ready to commit suicide, yet the love of Jesus Christ reached her even there. When I heard that testimony for the first-time faith became real. If you have not heard her story just google her. It will amaze you how God has used this one woman. It did me and I knew from that point I must share my simple testimony. All the glory to God!

I bet there are some of you out there saying, “Well, I have never been a drunk. I have never used drugs. I have been in the church all my life. What is my faith based on?” My friends, that is a question you need to answer. And you need to answer it today. Every one of us has a “God story” and it is what this dying world needs to hear. Pray today. Seek God with all your heart.

This week God has answered my prayer for how I can draw closer to him. Recognizing again that it was “…by his stripes we are healed.” That my testimony should be on display every day and this blog is not about my stories but how he saved me from my stories. It is a good way to end this week. Knowing I don’t need 1000 words to express my belief, my faith, it is that simple statement: “I was lost and now I am found!”

Blessings and Happy Sabbath,
John
3/8/19

The faithful fish story

We had drove over 30 miles, the last 5 or so on a deeply rutted logging road. Now we were walking. It would be about 2 miles to reach the beaver dam pools of the Rock River. My partner and I had been up here every year at the beginning of fishing season.

As usual the walk was a challenge. Both of us had hip waders on and were carrying our fishing rods. I had just bought a ‘break-down’ Wonder Rod made by Shakespeare and it was easier to carry because it disassembled into four sections. Kerry was not so lucky, he had the standard fly rod and because it only had two sections, he was struggling to make it thru the tag elder brush without getting snagged often. Both of us were also carrying creels that contained our flies and would serve as storage for the number of fish we had faith were going home with us by late this afternoon.

After walking for about a half hour we came upon the river. It was not much of a river here and you could walk across it in two or three steps. The rest of our trip would follow it until we reached the plain where the beaver must have been building their dams for a millennium.

Kerry was leading the way and talking as he went. Most of the time he was a good fishing partner and we spent a lot of our time together in silence as we concentrated on our goal, landing the perfect brown or brook trout. But now he was talking away and not really worrying if I was listening or not, it seemed. For my part I was happy I did not have to look interested, as I would have if we were sitting face to face or next to one another in a bar. But suddenly he said something that actually caught my interest. “John, do you have faith in fish?” I was like what is this guy talking about. I think I mumbled, “Ker, I have faith in few things, but fish are not one of them.”

With this he stopped and I not paying attention almost ran into him. “No, man, no. You don’t get it.” I was thinking that is for sure, this guy has smoked one to many doobies. He continued, “Listen, fish are one of the few things in life you can have faith in.” I think at this point he saw the look on my face and said, “Hear me out! Ok, we come up here every year, right?” I just nodded affirmatively. He continued, “We do that because we have faith in fish. I mean, we know if we come up here the fish are going to be here, and we are going to take home a creel full. John, if I did not believe that would I do all this for nothing?”

I wanted to point out that maybe my faith was in the pool where the fish were so plentiful. But I guess in his mind that was the same thing. So instead I said, “Alright, Ker, I guess I have faith in fish or at least the fish here. But not all fish because some of them can be very fickle and not want to hit my fly….” Kerry wasn’t sure if I was kidding or not, but when I shook my head and laughed, he did too. I pushed him forward, “Let’s go catch some of those faithful fish, the mosquitos are pretty faithful too and they are eating me alive!” Kerry turned and headed for the beaver dams about a half mile ahead. I shook my head in humorous disbelief, “Faithful fish, I think now I have heard everything!”, I muttered.

Faith is a mysterious thing, or I used to think so. I can’t really say I had much faith in anything by the time I reached my mid 20’s. I guess as a kid growing up in the Catholic Church I thought of faith as a structure. I would hear my mom say, “Those friends of yours are not of our faith, I don’t think you should hang around with them.” So, I guess, I thought faith was like a disease, if I hung around with those kids, I might catch their ‘faith’. And according to my mother that would mean eternal damnation.

People have always thrown the word around. Back in the 60’s you would hear things like, “Keep the faith, baby!” It always seemed so hollow or empty in some way. Without knowing it I lost faith because I never found the true meaning of it. Can you believe it, I was in my mid 50’s before I found a definition that I thought made sense? It was found in the book of Hebrews, Chapter 11.

Here is how that chapter begins, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) I heard that when I was listening the Bible through for the first time. Walking and listening to an MP3 player, I had to stop. It struck me like a lightening bolt. That was a definition I had never heard. And a verse later this is written, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” (Hebrews 11:3) “Faith is believing that by God’s word all things were made and made of nothing or nothing we understand. Faith is believing God is who he says he is. That day I saw the possibility of that and as Chapter 11 goes on to describe all those of the Old Testament who believed, most without seeing, faith started to make sense for the first time in my life.

The funniest part of my story is that when we got to the pools above the beaver dams, we caught nothing. I teased Kerry all the way home about the ‘unfaithful’ fish. It became our catch phrase every time we got skunked (didn’t catch fish), we would say, “The fish weren’t very faithful today!” I am blessed today to know we have a God who is always faithful. If you are struggling with the idea of faith, try reading the Book of Hebrews, it changed my life. The 11th chapter is called the ‘Faith Chapter’. My faith now is in a God who loves me so much he would die just for me, that is the evidence I needed to believe. And that is our God. This is not just another fish story!

Blessings John,
3/6/19

Self-control..

The woman in line seemed familiar. Of course, there were two people between her and myself and I had only seen her profile, but there was certainly something about her. The checkout line was long, and this didn’t seem to concern those in charge of the store, because no second cashier was being called to alleviate this situation. Normally this would irk me, but today my mind was occupied with the mystery woman in line ahead of me.

These kinds of instances seemed to be happening more frequently these days. I was sure some of it was just getting older, slower on the uptake. But most of it had to do with meeting people while under the influence. And seeing I was in that condition often, during my sober and lucid moments I had a lot of these ‘ghost’ memories. The scary part of this was I would never be sure if I had done something that was insulting or embarrassing while in the presence of the person, so I was always remiss in approaching them. In this case though it was she who approached me.

She had reached the cashier and was checking out. In the meantime, the store had finally saw the dilemma of their single check out line and called another cashier to the front. The two people in front of me must have thought their chance at quicker check out lie with the new cashier, so I was advanced to next in line behind the mystery lady. With all the commotion of moving grocery buggies she turned just as I pulled up behind her. I could see she recognized me also, but there was no humor in the recognition. Ahh oh, what had I done this time.

She returned her attention back to emptying her groceries on to the slowly moving conveyor and the cashier continued to ring up her goods. I tried to be occupied with the magazines lining the racks near the check out but every now and again stole a glance toward the woman. She finally spoke, “I can see you remember me, but I bet you do not even know my name.” I gave her my best innocent look, then tried looking behind me as if to say, “Are you talking to me?” She wasn’t going for it, “Yeah, John, I am talking to you. Do you remember my name?” This was not going well.

I stuttered a bit and then said, “Ahh, …well, it is right on the tip of my tongue but…” She humphed, and said, “I thought so. Even after we talked for at least two hours and I gave you my phone number. Is ok. I knew you were one of those kinds of guys. I am just glad I ran into you to confirm it.” With that she turned to the cashier who was pricing her last items. Paying her the cash and receiving her change she gave me one last nasty glance and headed out. I tried to think of something to say that would put me in a better light, something I could shout to defend myself, but nothing came. As I started loading my groceries on the belt, I could see the cashier had heard every word of our brief conversation and now she was also giving me the ‘you dirty dog’ look. Just another beautiful day in the neighborhood.

For those of you who have never over indulged or in the less politically correct terms, ‘gotten drunk out of your skull’, you might never have experienced something like I have just described. For me this incident was one of many. My problem with alcohol was that I could never drink one or two, I always drank for oblivion and I most always succeeded. Whole nights and sometimes whole series of days were lost in the fog that extreme drinking induces.

I am sure that there are people out there that can explain the physical phenomenon, but I want more to address the spiritual. One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. For those of you who are not familiar with these fruits here is the most popular list of them, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) Do you see that one right on the end, that is what I am looking at today. In actuality substance abuse, including alcohol, kills every one of these fruits. I could give you an instance when I lacked each one under its influence. But it is when I gave away my self-control to alcohol that all other things happened.

The amazing Book of Proverbs has several things to say about self-control and alcohol abuse here are just a few:

“Like a city that is broken into and without walls Is a man who has no control over his spirit.” (Proverbs 25:28).

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1)

Both of these show the nature of those who have lost control to any substance. And I know that under the influence I have done things I still cannot recall and even worse things I recall that I can never take back.

So, I guess my point today is that those who say, “I can have just a few and it does not harm anyone.” My question would be, “Why do you need to have a few in the first place?” I am not here to judge just to testify that in the last almost 9 years I have had times where I have lost control but never given my control over to a substance. And even with age, I can look each person in the face and know what I have done or not done. And that is a good feeling.

I never remembered that woman’s name or even where we had the so-called conversation. I wish I could say it was the only time I had this kind of experience, but it was not. I like living where the only control I release is to the Holy Spirit, all the while seeking His fruit. I now know self-control is mine through Him!

Blessings John,
3/4/19

Judged by appearances

“Oww!” I said, followed by a stream of swear words. I threw the ratchet on the ground and brought my now bleeding knuckles to my mouth. Crawling out from under the old car, I sat up and shook my head in total surrender.

The last month had been one defeat after another. We had moved from Salt Lake City to St George, Utah. Before we left the city, my truck had been impounded and because of illegal licensing I could not reclaim it, my wife’s car had died and we had spent most of our savings to buy a 20’ ancient motorhome in which we planned to live, only to find it needed extensive work. Over two week I had done enough repairs to it to make the over 300-mile trip and had also purchase one of the ugliest cars I had ever seen for hundred bucks. In this mean looking caravan we had headed south.

Arriving in St George, we soon found out that several of the RV parks didn’t want our vehicles to grace their beautiful parks. Most places were filled with ‘snowbirds’ rich, retired northerners that spent their winters in the desert warmth that St. George provided. Their rigs were expensive and made our old, tired motorhome look like an ‘Okie’ rig straight out of ‘Grapes of Wrath’. In desperation we had settled into the only park that took in anyone who had enough cash to pay two months in advance and would sign a one-year commitment. Paying for the cheapest space we could, our rig now was set up in #4 alongside other beat up and desperate folks, whose living accommodations looked a lot like ours.

Trying to adjust to our new lifestyle, we found so many things that we needed to accept. Seeing our motorhome did not have a shower, we would need to use the park’s facilities. The problem was that they were old and never cleaned. Fill with mold and mildew and with no heat, winter showers were an experience. Other things were more frightening like hearing gun fire at night and drunken arguments that seemed to be right at the door of our rig, left me feeling our very safety was at risk. Then came insult to injury.

The ugly car, that is what I called it the whole time of ownership, needed to be safety inspected. In Utah before a car is licensed it needs to be inspected. When I took ugly car in, I was told for it to pass the front brake calipers would need to be replaced. Hence, John on the ground, busting his knuckles and knowing life had finally defeated him.

Sitting on the ground, leaned back against the front bumper, I heard a voice say, “Hey son, that car seems to be kicking your behind (not the word used at the time).” I lowered my head and thought, “Just what I needed an ‘armchair mechanic’ to give me advice.” When I looked up, the man was not standing but had gone over to the other side of the vehicle and was looking at the brake assembly. Peering around the car, he said, “I have been pulling these off cars for years.” And without a second thought was grabbing tools and within minutes did what I could not do in hours, the old caliper was out. He winked at me and said, “Just a matter of knowing what you are doing!” He continued to work and soon the job was done. When I offered to pay him, he just shrugged and said. “My young friend, I have seen you and your wife struggle since you moved in. I been living here a long time. I have seen a lot of folks down on their luck. I just wanted you to know you are not alone.” With that he held out his hand, “My name is Joseph P. Ritcher, and I live over in #19 you and your wife come say hi some time that is all the thanks I need.”

I have written many times about the kindness of strangers and how it can change a person’s life. There were several times in my life when I was down. Some of those times people chose to kick me. Some of them were so called Christians. We judge so much by appearances. At the time I am writing about today, it had taken 3 years of living to get from total bankruptcy, living in a tent in Salt Lake City to buying that motorhome. It was all we could afford, and it was old and when we drove it anywhere, we were judged by its appearance. On top of that the ‘ugly car’ I write about was a rusty, mustard yellow Datsun hatchback, with peeling faux wood on the sides. It was ugly for sure, but it was the most dependable car I owned in those lean years. Still we were always judged by its appearance. Because we lived in this old rig and drove that ugly car, we must be undesirable. Have you ever been in this place?

I was that day when Joe P., as I would come to call him, came to the rescue. I felt I was a failure and had brought my wife to a place where our very lives may be in danger. I was ready to give up. But that one good deed, by one good man, changed it all.

God’s Word says this, “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother;” (Deuteronomy 15:7) There may be an opportunity today for you to reach out a hand to someone in need. Please, do not judge that person by appearance. Remember how God judges each of us, as he reminded the prophet Samuel “…The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) May we all look at each other through God’s eyes today.

Blessings and Happy Sabbath,
John
3/1/19

Choices

I was in my 3rd day. I could not remember if I had slept in that time or even where I had been or what I had done. I was now sitting on the couch of the house I shared with a woman. We were not involved except as friends and shared renters. I had no idea where she might be, I had not seen her in a couple of days, I thought. This was not unusual, she often spent days on end at her latest boyfriend’s house. But as foggy as my memory was right now, she could have been here partying with me yesterday and I would not remember. So much alcohol and drugs.

Right now, on the mirror laying on the coffee table there was what looked like the remnant of an 8-ball of speed. Along side that sat a three-quarter empty fifth of Black Velvet whiskey. I felt so tired. And right now, I had a choice, stop and try to get this stuff out of my system or do that next line of speed and down that last gulp of booze.

I lay my head back and contemplated. For the first time in my adult life, I was not working as an Ironworker. Being laid off from the Satsop nuke plant, in Elma Washington, I had decided it was time for a career change and put my chef talents to the test. I was now working at a 5-star restaurant in Olympia. Since making this decision and having a 4-evening work schedule, I had found I had so much more time to party. Three-day blasts like this were becoming common place and restaurant work may be easier but the pay was lousy, and my drug debt, alimony and child support were mounting by the day. All this to say, I needed to get off the party train and get serious. But that was easier said then done.
Bottom line was that I had had this conversation with myself many times before, but I had made the same choice every time, party now and pay later. I was about to make that choice again when I heard a knock at the front door. Immediately panic swept me. Paranoiac scenarios blazed through my drug-soaked brain. Cops, enemies, ex-wife or angry drug dealer. Before I could reckon with any the door opened and in came Shelly, the bartender at the restaurant. We had been more than friends but our on again off again relationship had been messed with by my habits and sketchy behavior.

Upon seeing me I could see the disapproval and disgust spread across her face and like an avenging angel she moved from the door to where I sat with 3 strides. I thought for a minute she was going to overturn the coffee table and I made a move to protect the drugs. Instead she stopped short and shook her head, “I’ve tried calling here several times in the last few hours. I should have known you would be at it again.” Now she just stared and as she did belligerence welled up in me, “So what did you want? Are you my keeper now? Why was it so important that I quit partying to answer the phone? You know I unplug it on the weekends!” I was shaking now, mainly from the speed coursing through me but also with the unholy rage of a druggie. Glaring at her, I watched as her countenance fell and she said in an almost sympathetic voice, “Your Ex has also been calling here and just about every bar you hang out at and finally she called the restaurant.” Stopping for a moment she then almost whispered, “Your son has had an accident and needed several stitches.” She just thought you should know and maybe would want to see him.” With that my whole façade collapsed and the guilt began to crush me.

Guilt! I have experienced so much of it in my life. Most of it comes from the poor choices I made as an addict and their devastating results. None will ever top the choices or lack of them that I made about and with my son. But there were so many more. And as the layers of guilt buried me I at first blamed God. Then I became so hardened that I stopped believing there was a God at all. If there was why would he allow me to be so lost. Why couldn’t he just take these addictions away, ‘cure’ me. So, I ran from the very thing that God was seeking to do, save me.

Along the way I was forced into listening to God’s Word. If you have read this blog, you know the story. Walking 45 minutes a day, I listened. Not as a believer but as a hardened God hater. And as I did this, I heard story after story of God saving and of man messing up and of God saving again, once man confessed and surrendered to his saving power. I couldn’t believe that ‘being saved’ could be that easy and it wasn’t until I heard the gospel story of Jesus on the cross that I realized my salvation was not easy at all. But God made the choice anyway. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that anyone who believes in him may not perish but have ever lasting life.” (John 3:16) God made the hard choice and all he asked in return was for me to believe. He would not force me. I too had to make a choice. And you know what? When I finally did, he did remove my addictions. He did remove my guilt, not easily, but layer by layer. Free will God’s gift to us. In it I was saved.

That day so many years ago, I swore I would never do another line of drugs. I would cut way back on my drinking. Even though my son’s injury was minor, my guilt was heavy, at least for about a week. Then I succumb to the addictions again and the layer of guilt was applied. Each time I would swear never to do it again and each time another layer. I am guilt free today. Not because of anything I do but God promises, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us of all our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) Layers of guilt have been laid at the foot of the cross. I have surrendered daily to him who saves me. It is the best choice I have ever made.

Blessings John,
2/27/19

Armor of God

4:30 in the morning and the traffic on the 405 heading up the Sepulveda Pass was already at a standstill. Maybe I should take the side streets up through the canyon? Looking off to my right I could see Sepulveda Boulevard was bumper to bumper also. No escape from this traffic, I was not going to be on the job in Marina Del Rae at 5:00 like I was supposed to. And everybody thinks living in Los Angeles is life in the fast lane. Not if you are driving.

I had to decide before the last valley exit if I wanted to start my day on another jobsite and head to the Marina later. I could call my foreman and tell him to handle the safety meeting with the General Contractor and I would meet with them mid-morning and hash out the scheduling issues they wanted to talk to me about. My mind must have wandered, and I was roused by the blare of a horn. Startled, I looked up and I could see that the traffic had moved ahead, and I was holding up the cars behind me. Before I could react, the car immediately behind cut out into the far lane and tried to pass me. I could see it was a fancy sports car and the driver looked like a blond woman. Her impatience was not going to pay off, because as she cut out a car in that lane rear ended her causing her to back into my lane. By some wonder I was able to stop without hitting her car, but I was now closed in and without backing up I was going nowhere.

As I lay my head down on the steering wheel, I heard pounding on my window, looking up there was the blond from the sports car, and I could tell she was not a happy camper. Sighing I rolled my window down. Before it was open more than a few inches, vulgarities and swear words were being hurled my way. The gist of it was that all of this was my fault. The guy from the car that had hit her was going at it too. But he was ranting at her. After a few minutes of verbal abuse, I decided enough was enough and I screamed, “Shut up!” There were a few choice swear words in my declaration also. It seemed to startle both the woman and the man. She then began to cry, and the man threw up his hands. About this time, I saw the cops had arrived. Another start to another beautiful day living the good life in California.

How do you handle the rough spots in your life? You know, you get up in the morning and have your day pretty much planned out. Then all hell breaks loose. Your kid wakes up with the flu. Your car has a flat tire. You make it to work only to find out that your job has been down-sized. Any number of things can happen in a day that can derail all of our best intentions. And for most of us the answer to these situations come in the form of stress or anger or even worse, we turn to some substance to calm the waters. The problem is that none of these work.

When I talk about this, I am speaking from experience. Even though I was an addict for years, I tried to live an organized life. I had many responsibilities I in my work life, as a superintendent or general foreman for several companies I worked for over the years. Days would begin as the one I have described above. The day would be planned then the sky would fall in. It did not have to be as major as being involved in an accident, it could be that I had an argument with my wife before I left for work. A cloud would hang over that day and 9 times out of 10 it would lead to my self-medicating with booze or drugs or both. I have found that my problem then was I did not start my day out right. I did not have God’s Word or prayer in my life. I went out into this sin filled planet without the armor of God in place.

Folks, I am going to tell you that now I never begin my day until I absorb these verses: Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which, you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— (Ephesians 6: 10-18)

Before I accepted Jesus in my life, I did not understand that we are in a spiritual war everyday and Satan will throw those fiery darts at us. Without the armor we have only worldly defenses. For me that was alcohol and drugs. For others it may be allowing stress to steal all their joy. The truth is without Jesus we have no defense. When I put on the armor, I am really asking Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life to live in me today. I cannot start my day without that. How about you?

Man, I tell you, that morning on the 405 turned into a nightmare of a day. The contractor on the Marina job wanted my head for not showing up on time. Other projects had troubles. By 2:00 in the afternoon, I was sitting in my truck in a park in Santa Monica drinking. I had been frustrated, angry and defeated. I still have days where Satan attacks, but I now have the indwelling Jesus, I put on his armor every morning. I know am not alone and that has made all the difference.

Blessings
John
2/25/19