Category Archives: Recovery

Eucharistic living—YOU are broken bread and poured out wine

The centerpiece of many Christian traditions is Communion/Eucharist—the bread and the wine, ancient symbols of Christ’s redemptive suffering for the healing and quickening of the world. What we sometimes overlook in our various approaches to the Eucharist; however, is the fact that Jesus is not the only bread and cup—you are too.

In his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers draws a direct connection between the Eucharist and Christ’s followers, stating that we have been called to follow Jesus’ lead in pouring out our lives for the world.

Broken bread and poured out wine—that’s what we have been called to be in the service of others. Just as the Apostle Paul viewed himself as a drink offering “poured out” on his followers’ faith (Philippians 2:17), so we are to live sacrificial lives that enrich the lives of others.

There is a mandatory rhythm attached to Eucharistic living, however. We cannot pour out indefinitely without being replenished ourselves. If we try to live lives of overextended, unsustainable service we court burnout and disaster. Rather, we must embrace a Eucharistic rhythm wherein we are broken and poured out, but then get replenished and reassembled by the grace of God.

If you have been withholding your service to humanity, it’s time to engage again. But if you’ve been engaged for too long without allowing your soul to heal, it’s time to get restored. No one can give forever or run without stopping—we give then receive; we run then we rest. Eucharistic rhythms ensure that we can do this with great health throughout our entire lifetime.

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Alexis’ story

Alexis GraceOn May 14, 1996, after 30 hours of labor and an emergency c-section, Alexis Grace was born and promptly stole our hearts. She was gorgeous, with Jessica’s curly hair and brilliant, blue eyes. We never dreamed of how deeply and instantaneously parental love would flow. We also never dreamed we would have to face all  of the shock and horror of those initial days, months, and years with her.

Upon her birth, sweet Alexis entered a world of suffering. Brain damage, a seizure disorder, and multiple health deficiencies caused her life on this side of heaven to be a horrific mixture of doctor appointments, surgeries, potent medicine applications, and 24-hour health care. She spent her first seven weeks in the neo-natal intensive care unit, and then had to undergo the insertion of a tracheotomy. Sick with pneumonia nearly every month of her life, and undergoing seven different surgeries, Alexis faced more pain and trauma in her three years of life than most of us will ever face in ours.

She was an angel who touched the lives of everyone that contacted her, and after she died, eight nurses, a family doctor, and two of the leading pediatric specialists in the Pacific Northwest attended her funeral.

Our hearts splintered into a thousand pieces and we didn’t know if we would ever recover. We’ve cried, we’ve cursed, and we’ve wanted to die. But we’ve also lived again. There’s a little phrase that occurs in the book of Genesis after the sin and fall of mankind that says, “…Adam lived.” This Hebrew word for “lived” means “to live again.”

Adam lived and died in the Garden of Eden and then he began to live again.

That’s been true for Jessica and me as well. We feel like we’ve lived, died, and, finally, have begun to live again. And that’s our prayer for you in your painful situation, that God would take what appears hopeless and unnecessary and transform it into something brilliant and beautiful. He certainly did that in the time we had with Alexis Grace, and despite the grief of your personal heartaches and losses, He can do it for you as well!

(To hear more about Alexis’ story and our journey to reconnect to life after profound loss, check out my book, Praying Through SorrowsFree copies are also available in our Grace Church services).

How to have a spiritual retreat

spiritual retreatJesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray.” (Luke 5:16)

If Jesus did it shouldn’t we?

If the Lord Himself “often” withdrew for prolonged seasons of connecting with God through prayer then shouldn’t those of us who follow Him make time for spiritual retreats too?

If you’ve ever done it—if you’ve ever carved out an afternoon or a day (or longer) for the sole purpose of focused worship, Bible meditation, and prayer—then you know how healing, centering, and inspiring those times can be.

Focused times of spiritual engagement can restore our perspective, clarify our purpose, and reconnect us with the presence of God.

I want you to experience this. At Grace Church this year, we are going to set a goal to have every member of our congregation experience a personal spiritual retreat.

Here are a few practical pointers to get you started:

  1. Start small and build from there. Don’t start with a week-long silent retreat at a monastery—start with an afternoon at the beach or in the desert, and branch out from there.
  2. Choose a setting that you find peaceful, beautiful, and calming.
  3. Don’t fast. Hunger pangs will distract you from what you’re there to do. Fast on a different day.
  4. Start with worship. As you walk along the beach or a mountain path, sing along with some worship songs on your iPod. Worship restores perspective, heals emotions, and invites a closer sense of the Lord’s presence.
  5. Pray the Scriptures. Pick a few psalms and use them as a road map for a time of focused prayer. Slow, thoughtful prayers through a handful of psalms can easily fill an hour of time.
  6. Pray about everything that’s weighing on you. Make sure everything on your various prayer lists gets off loaded onto God.
  7. Get ready to listen. As you pray, prepare to journal the thoughts, impressions, and insights that come your way.
  8. Don’t read spiritual books—stick with the Bible. Skip the latest spiritual bestseller and instead read multiple Bible passages or an entire book of the Bible, recording your major observations or anything that you sense could be a “word” for you from the Lord.
  9. Don’t be disappointed if nothing dramatic happens. Sometimes a spiritual retreat is a simple discipline without a lot of immediate fruit. However…
  10. Don’t be surprised if God changes your life. Your time away with God could quite possible become a holy moment like when Moses saw a fiery bush, turned aside to see, and was forever and completely changed. (Exodus 3:1-6)

Read your life backward

Boys Playing with SwordsI was made to do this.”

When was the last time you said that? When did you feel that way as a kid?

When you read your life backwards what blueprint emerges from your youth or childhood? What passions and aptitudes made you feel the most alive? Were you happiest when you were writing, painting, talking, thinking, or studying astronomy? Did you come alive when you were giving advice, performing in front of your peers, or babysitting younger children?

Those childhood attributes were quite possibly predicting your adult distinctives.

William Wordsworth wrote, “The child is the father of the man.” In other words, our childhood interests—the things that made us feel like us—were forecasters of our adult abilities.

Just as Moses, Paul, and Billy Graham each possessed a youthful zeal that predicted their future callings, so your adolescent passions have predicted yours.

As we wage war against the common life this summer, let’s spend a few minutes remembering those times when we felt “made to do” whatever it was that we were doing. Perhaps God has a message for us in that memory.

As Lucado stated, “The oak indwells the acorn. Read your life backward and check your supplies. Re-relish your moments of success and satisfaction. For in the merger of the two, you find your uniqueness.”[1]

Grace Church summer reading program, The Cure for the Common Life, Chapter Three: “Read your life backward.”

[1] Max Lucado, The Cure for the Common Life, Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2005, 29.

Island of Misfit Toys

island of misfit toysSo did you watch “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” this past Christmas? (Do they still show the claymation version each year?)

If so, did you feel a certain kinship with Rudolph as he set out to embrace the uniqueness of his bright red nose? And did you feel some deep-seated empathy for the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys, the train with the clumsy square wheels, or the Jack-in-the-box whose  name was Charlie?

You should have because you and I could be right there with them, lamenting our own levels of brokenness.

We’ve all been damaged during the journey of our lives, and we’re all still in process. We are works of art that are still becoming who we were created to be, and it can be very helpful in our processing to remember that our brokenness stems from three potential sources: sin, wounding, or Satan (and sometimes a vicious combination of all three).

  • We’ve been hurt by our sin when we’ve lived in ways that conflicted with God’s plan for us.
  • We’ve been hurt by others who did the same thing, and caught us in the crossfire.
  • And we’ve been hurt by spiritual warfare that landed on our vulnerabilities and threatened to destroy our faith.

But do you know what’s amazing? In The Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus prescribed the antidote for all three. He urged us to pray on a daily basis for:

  • Forgiveness…the cleansing and erasure of our sins.
  • The strength and will to forgive…so that the damage caused to us by others will lessen and fall away.
  • Rescue from spiritual temptation and attack…so we can live spiritually victorious lives.

I think that’s pretty awesome! I think it’s amazing that in one simple, concise prayer, Jesus gave us the keys to severing the three deepest roots of our human brokenness (and built a bridge to Misfit Island).

A Workable Marriage-Counseling Template

newlywedsPer some requests, I’ve decided to post the marriage-counseling template that I shared in last Sunday’s message at Grace. As I stated in that message, when a couple asks for my help in strengthening their relationship, I urge them to gently but honestly ponder and discuss the following questions:

  1. Based on an understanding of Scripture and the desire of our heart, what would our marriage look like if it were a “10”?
  2. How does our marriage compare to that “10”? Be careful to answer this question gently, without inflicting any unnecessary wounds with your words.
  3. Where have we wounded each other?
  4. Where have we stopped “husband-ing” each other? The word “husband” used to be a verb that referenced the cultivation or tilling of land. Implied in the name husband, then, is the idea of cultivating and tending to the relationship.
  5. Where do we need to ask for and extend forgiveness?
  6. What action steps would most quickly move us toward that “10” standard? Each partner can usually list two or three simple things that, if done, would jump-start the healing and recovery process.
  7. What tools do we need to receive to begin those steps? It’s great to have an action plan, but if we don’t have the necessary tools to complete the steps, the problem will compound and we will struggle with additional feelings of failure or inadequacy.
  8. Are we full of the Holy Spirit? And if we’re not, do we now how to get full?
  9. How do we work this process while speaking nothing but “gentle”? Remember, harshness is a death sentence to a marriage relationship, but gentleness is its lifeblood. 

Cured of backsliding

Is it possible?rock climber

Is it actually a legitimate possibility to live free from the issues, angst, and strongholds that cloud our consciences, hurt our loved ones, and dull our spiritual sensitivities?

God thinks yes.

In Jeremiah 3:22 the prophet recorded God’s hope-filled promise, “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding” (Jeremiah 3:22).

What an awesome phrase! “Cured of backsliding.” How is that possible? How do we become cured of the sins that have plagued and defeated us for a lifetime? According to Jeremiah, the cure is in the returning.

“Return…I will cure you.”

Every time we return–moving toward a place of increasing surrender and reliance on God–the cure works a little deeper into our spirit, liberating us from sin’s addictive pull. This doesn’t mean that we’ll never struggle or stumble–it means that if we are habitual returners our backsliding will never have the final word.

Jude, Jesus’ natural half-brother, said it this way. He said that God is “able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 1:24).

Let’s be lifelong returners until we are characterized by the cure.