Isolation is Our Enemy

For those who have spent a little time around the Lighthouse, you’ve learned this phrase as a recovery principle.  For many of us who battle mental health issues or addiction, we have learned that we are at our worst when in isolation.  Our first instinct when struggling is to isolate.  When we do our illness tends to worsen and our darkness becomes darker.  We get in our own heads and for many of us, that’s a scary place to be.  If you have a loved one who is struggling chances are you worry when they isolate.  But the same is also true for you.  You may isolate in your worry.  You may isolate to help control the situation.  Unfortunately it rarely helps.   Early on in our Lighthouse journey I coined this phrase, “Isolation is our enemy!”   It was born out of my own lived experience.

Well, enter Covid-19.  So what do you do when isolation is the essential protocol for staying well.  This week has been very challenging for my psyche as well as my leadership.  I’ve spent years telling the people I love and care about, “DON’T ISOLATE!”  Now I’m telling people to stay home.  A phrase common in the recovery world comes to mind.  “This too shall pass.”  Remember, it’s temporary.  God is still in control.  God is still good.  This too shall pass.

So, what are we to do?  First, be smart!   Stay connected to God and your support team.  There are still a few meetings taking place in small groups.  This is true at the Lighthouse.  Use technology.  Pick up the phone.  At Lighthouse we are doing our best to use technology, especially Facebook to stay connected and to keep in touch with people.  Finally, please, if you are not feeling well, isolate.  This is too critical to ignore.  Remember, as followers of Jesus we are not only concerned about ourselves, but also about the welfare of others.

I strongly encourage my Lighthouse family to be checking on each other.  Check in with your support team.  I learned this morning that a former Lighthouse family member, Steven Andrist, died last night from the disease of addiction many of us battle.  Steven has been living in Minot.  I hate the disease of addiction.  Please keep in touch with one another.  Reach out if you need help.  This too will pass.

I’ve heard people say that the world will not return to what it was before this pandemic.  It might be true.  Thank God for technology.  We are able to stay in touch in ways the world didn’t have in previous crises.  But I worry that we may resort to more and more distance between us and rely more and more on technology for communication and, in turn, move further and further away from healthy and essential human contact.  Let me remind you that when this is all done, isolation will still be our enemy.  My friends, we need each other.  We are at our best together.  A computer cannot replace a teacher with her students.  It’s true I can worship God alone, but it is not the same as doing so with my brothers and sisters.  You can watch me online, but I promise you it is different when we can look each other in the eyes.  We can meet in virtual small groups, but it will not replace sitting side by side with others going through their own life journey.

In the book of Hebrews, the author reminds us of this.  “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise.  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.”  (10:23-25 NLT)

What if today we each think of a way to motivate ourselves and someone else to acts of love and good works.  And let us not neglect figuring out a way to meet together, for many of us know what happens when we do that!  And today, I want to encourage you!  This too will pass.  There is still much to be thankful for.  If you’ve read this, you have the ability to read and the technology available to see it and stay connected.  Be thankful for it!  God is good!

Father God, we pray that you would draw close to each of us in this time.  We want to stay connected to You.  Lord, you have created us for community.  Help us to stay connected to one another as well.  Lord, we know this too shall pass.  We pray it would pass quickly by Your hand of grace.  Keep those infected alive, make them well again, and protect those of us not yet infected.  We love You, Lord.  We trust You!  We rest in Your tender love and care.  In Jesus name.  Amen.

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Interesting Week

For those who don’t know, I have been a bit under the weather (no pun intended).  I spent a lot of this week home in bed or on the couch.  Even I am sick of the news, politics and football.  I kind of did the bare minimum this week.  It was nice to be able to do so, but it was Thanksgiving after all.  I feel like I was half engaged.  Kind of a bummer.  I couldn’t even eat myself into my normal food coma.  Life is tough.

Then came this weekend.  My son who had come for Thanksgiving went home because of the storm.  The storm came on my birthday.  Yes, it was also my birthday this week.  Great birthday present, I watched my Michigan Wolverines get pummeled by that other team whose name we don’t mention.  Am I sounding a little whiny?  Don’t answer that!

Now I’m home on Sunday morning due to the storm instead of with my Lighthouse family.  Quite a week.  Happy Thanksgiving.

So what do I do when I’m home on Sunday morning with no one to listen to me?  I ponder and I write.  You’re the dummy still reading this.  Turn and tell someone, “Hey, I’m a dummy but I’m still reading this!”  Man, that was fun!

So, 38 is not that old.  Really, its not.  But I’m not 38.  58 and one day.  I’ve reached an age where I can feel things changing in me.  Some of you will know what I mean.  I also wonder what happened to the last two decades.  This weekend I was going to share about how I’ve reached an age where I want the rest of my life to be measured by what I can do for God’s kingdom and other people.  Frankly, they go together.   That’s why I’m still so thankful even though its been an interesting week.

So here goes….I’m thankful today!

I am grateful, thankful to be part of the most unique and amazing ministry I have ever seen or heard about.  The Lighthouse, our crazy little family is truly remarkable.  I’m so grateful that God is a God of redemption.  He takes our messes and mistakes and make beautiful things.  He makes lives better than before and better than we could ever have imagined.

I’m grateful for my sobriety and recovery as well as the friends and life it has brought me.  God has done for me what I could never have done on my own.

I’m grateful for the people in my life.  For my wife Beth, my partner in life and ministry.  For my amazing kids, Andrew and Sarah!  James, Jackson and Dexter.  My in-laws who put up with my in-law jokes but are mom and dad to me.  My co-workers!  You bring joy to my life and our work.  You/we are making a difference.

There is so much more, but I won’t bore those of you still reading this.  I’ll just tell you what I know to be true.  That is that even in “interesting weeks” God is still present and He loves you more than you will ever know.  He is patient and understanding and His ways are not like our ways.  But they are good.  And they are life.  They are freedom.  And hope.

May God bless you today, in this moment, and let you know He loves you.

There, you just heard the point of my weekend message.  What is that you ask?  Turn and tell someone, “Hey, I’m still reading this blog post from this amazing old guy!”  Gratitude grounds us.  I can’t help but be in a good spirit when I’m thankful.  God has put in me something that cannot be taken away, no matter the circumstances.  When I am grateful, the joy of the Lord is in me!  In that place, I am okay.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.”  Matthew 6:33 NLT

 

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Another Snow Day…Kind of

I’m home again due to the weather.  This was going to be the storm of all storms.  Almost everything shut down for the day.  Decisions were made yesterday.  Stay off the streets!  No buses, no city services, no school!  So I cancelled all activities at the Lighthouse today only to wake up and see no snow!  What?  What happened?  The wind is howling, but all I see falling is a few flakes.  The snow banks aren’t rising, but disappointment that I cancelled everything is.

It reminded me that sometimes we try and do the right thing, or we have good intentions, but it leads to disappointment and regret.  I find it to be true sometimes when I’m trying to help someone.  My intentions are good, but they don’t want or even need my help.  Sometimes I have to go back and question my own motives.  What makes me think I know what’s best for them?  Am I trying to play God?  Might I even be depriving them of the opportunity for true growth in needing to decide and act on their own?

On a deeper level, even in my own struggles with sin and my fallen state as a human being I have the intention of doing good, getting better or changing; but for some reason I can’t.  Not on my own.  Paul writes about this in Romans 7:19, “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” NLT.  I remember this well in my struggle with addiction.  This may surprise you, but I never intended to make a mess of my life.  I wanted to be a person of integrity.  I wanted to make good decisions and make things right.  Sometime we even have the intention of doing the next right thing, we may even try, but the result is disappointment once again.  That’s when guilt begins to become shame and we find ourselves even in a bigger storm than what we expected.  Know what I mean?

In Romans 7 Paul finally asks, “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?  Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Parts of verses 24-25 NLT.  I’ve learned I will make bad decisions, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally.  So will you.  But by the grace of God I know that I am forgiven and loved unconditionally.  And free!  Free to live in confidence and hope.  In Jesus you are too!  If you don’t know Him in this way, stop right now and ask Him to give you forgiveness, unconditional love, confidence and hope.  He will.  I promise.  Thank you, Jesus!

Should we have cancelled stuff today?  You make the best decision you can and you move on.  Frankly, I remember the times this week when I prayed that God would not bring us more snow or precipitation.  We don’t need it right now.  Maybe today is God’s way of slowing us down enough to hear Him answer our prayers.  Hmmmmm.  I’m listening!

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A Snow Day When You Work One Day a Week

It’s Sunday, March 10 in Fargo, ND.  Usually on a Sunday I am at the Lighthouse worshiping God, sharing a message and hanging with my peeps.  Not today.  That’s what nearly 10 inches of snow in several hours does, especially when your church has no parking lot and you are dependent on the city plows to clear your parking.  So, here I am at home on my couch listening to a Chris Tomlin CD and thinking about how I don’t really like snow days considering I only work one day a week.  You’ve heard the joke, pastors just work one day a week.  Ya, me too.  A million times.  I find no humor in it.  So there, I said it.  Get better jokes, people.  They are out there.  I tell one every week for heavens sake.

I feel better now 🙂  So what do I do on a snow day on my one day I work?  I got up early, found out the streets around the church had not been plowed, cancelled church, let people know, and went back to bed.  Truth be told the sleep was nice.  We sprung forward last night.

It’s odd.  I feel a little off without worship.  It runs deep in my soul.  Singing praises to God is necessary nourishment for the soul of a Christ follower.  So is hearing the gospel and finding encouragement in community.  I missed it this morning.  Yes, I can worship God personally, privately in my home.  I can read and pray.  But it’s not the same.  Today I feel that.  I’m reminded of Acts 2:46 where it says, “the believers worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.”  NLT.  They were on to something, those first Christ followers.  They understood the importance of community.  They knew that to be faithful they needed each other.   Our faith is not only a personal thing.  It is a shared, communal faith.  I need you.  You decide if you need me, but if you do remember I only work one day a week so the window of contact is small.  Ha!

I was thinking, I am glad God doesn’t need or take snow days, and I’m glad He works more than one day a week.  Read carefully:

Psalm 139:7-12 New Living Translation (NLT)
7   I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
8   If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
9   If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10   even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11   I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12   but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

No snow days.  Just days of love and grace.  Never ending.  Never failing.  God’s Son forever shining.  No wonder I want to worship Him.  No wonder I want you to know that same love and grace and never ending presence.  In fact I feel it right now.  I pray you do to.

Sun is shining.  Roads are getting cleared.  We will still have our recovery meetings at 5:30 today.  At 6:30 we are going to have a worship time at the Lighthouse.  I’m thinking there are a few people who are feeling the same way I am.  I’ve called it Claustrophobic Worship!  Creative, huh?  I’ve had a few people already ask, what is that?  Oh good grief!  It’s just a creative reference to the fact we have all been shut in and had to cancel worship this morning.  My Lighthouse family over-thinks everything 🙂

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

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Another Year…and Baffling Grace

Happy New Year!  2019.  Is it just me or are the years flying by faster and faster?  I’ve never been big on New Year celebrations.  Often staying up until midnight on New Year’s Eve was the big accomplishment!  When my drinking  started to  become a problem I would strive to hide it.  New Years Eve was a sober night because I was around people.  Now I hang out with my crazy Lighthouse family.  We have a lot of great, sober fun until 12:01…then its home to bed.  I’m getting old.  Is it just me or are the years flying by faster and faster?  Oh, I already asked that.  Hmmmm.  See.  Senility?

I’m writing in the early afternoon of New Year’s Day.  Usually I would be watching a college bowl game.  That’s usually how I spend this day.  But today I’ve taken a little time with God.  I’m very grateful to Him.  I’m grateful for so much:  Faith, sobriety, recovery, Beth, family, friends.  I’m grateful for a life with purpose and a ministry that gives me one crazy adventure after another and a front row seat to see God change lives.  I’m also grateful for ice cream, but that’s a problem I may need to address in this new year, 2019.  Maybe.

Mostly I’m grateful that God never, never gives up on us.  On you.  Never.  God’s grace is amazing, transforming, baffling and yet recognizable.  I see it all the time.  In moments when there is struggle inside me or a desire to return to the old ways of coping and dealing with life.  In moments when someone I love is hurting and I can’t do anything but pray.  Recognizable, even when the broken, the brokenhearted, the downtrodden, the drunk and the user come on their knees and ask, “am I beyond help and love?”  Maybe that’s when I recognize God’s baffling, but incredible, shocking and radical grace the most.  Why?  Because I was there once, and I’m not today.  Thank you, Jesus!

God’s grace!  Baffling?  Indeed!  Amazing?  Yes!  Certain and available to you?  Absolutely!  That’s what I want you to know.  God’s grace is available to you today and in this new year.  His mercies are new every day and He loves you more than you will ever know or understand.  Baffling, huh?

Happy New Year.  I pray that you will be confused, shocked, and blown away this year by God’s unconditional love and grace.  And maybe even experience some moments of rest in His presence and goodness, like I am today.  God is good.  Hmmm.  I think its time for some ice cream.  Yes, it’s going to be a good year!

See you at the Lighthouse.

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Conversion and the spiritual life

This week I’ve been working on a Sunday message focusing on the conversion of Paul in Acts 9.  I’m taking time out to be a little reflective with you.  I’ve been thinking about the church formula many grew up with: (1) before Christ my life was a mess, (2) I met Jesus, and (3) now life is great!  If that is your story, God bless ya.  One thing I have learned from my recovery friends is that even after we deal with our coping mechanisms, life is still in session.  Now we have to feel and deal with emotions.  No wonder so many of us go back to what used to work, even if it doesn’t work any more.

I spend my vocational life these days with people whose spiritual life doesn’t fit into our church formulas.  Oh, if it was that simple.  Life in God’s grace is not always predictable.  The bondage of sin does not cease to exist after one accepts Jesus.  Through the glass of the visitation booth in the jail I meet very repentant hearts.  When released there is that tug to go back to what is familiar.  When I sought recovery I lived that tension.  I had known Jesus my whole life and yet Jesus didn’t take away the desires or temptations.  Honestly, I still feel that tension every time my heart judges or my words cut into others. Someone tell me you know what I mean.  Sin is always “crouching at the door.”  (see Genesis 4:7).

“The sinful  nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants.  And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires.  These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.”  Galatians 5:17 NLT.  Funny, we don’t often quote this verse.  Somehow it  doesn’t seem to fit on an inspirational plaque.  It helps me remember that often the call and conversion to faith might be as messy as life itself.  Two steps forward, and sometimes one, or two, or even more steps back.

I don’t have anything brilliant to share.  Just an observation.  Oh…and this.  Thank you God for your unconditional grace and patience with me.  With my friends.  And to my church friends; let’s stop trying to fit everyone else into our church box.  God’s grace, forgiveness and love has captured my heart and changed me.  Sometimes a lot.  Sometimes a little.  And often I go backwards.  But not God.  He is always there to pick me… and you up.  To dust us off and say “My grace is sufficient.”  In others words, its enough for today.  It is God’s grace and love, often demonstrated by Jesus’ followers, that changes a life.  It continues to change mine.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

 

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Easter Saturday

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” Isaiah 1:18 NLT.

Sometimes is hard, but I try and look at the bright side of things. I look our my window this morning, the last day of March, the day before Easter and I see a fresh blanket of snow. Its not the springtime that I hope for on Easter weekend. But it is what it is. God has not yet put me in charge of the weather. But I am in charge of how I look at things. So today, the day between Good Friday and Easter, I choose to see a message of grace and forgiveness in the somewhat disappointing weather of this Saturday morning.

I often wonder what this day was like for Jesus’ disciples and followers. The day in between Good Friday and Easter had to be cold, lonely, depressing, full of fear. Not for me. All I have to deal with is a little snow. And today the snow reminds me of a cross and empty tomb, and the grace and forgiveness that I know in Jesus. My sins which seem to weigh me down and color my life are as white as snow because of what Jesus has done for me. And for you.

I am so excited to share an Easter message tomorrow with my Lighthouse family. I hope you can join us at 9:00 or 10:45. It will be a special day. Invite a friend. Tomorrow I plan to share a message on the heart of what Easter is about. I can’t wait.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

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Sowing Seeds

My mind is fixed on a question facing my Lighthouse family.  It’s a tough question.  For some months now we have been shuttling men and women  from Centre to Celebrate Recovery (CR) and Sunday morning worship.  Centre is a transitional housing unit between jail or prison and our community.  It is incarceration with a growing freedom to get life back on track.  On Thursday evenings we could have as many as 30-40 people.  On Sundays 20-30.  In many ways our new friends have brought change to the Lighthouse family.

Some of our new friends see Lighthouse as an opportunity to grow spiritually and to find a “life community” of support, acceptance and fellowship.  For others, it’s a night or morning out of Centre.  Some participate fully.  Many are in and out, up and down; and frankly a little distracting to others.  There are those who hang on the fringe.  They stay just outside of the sanctuary.  It’s all foreign to them.  A little awkward.  Uncomfortable.

I meet some who have never been to church before.  For many they have, but long ago.  Sometimes their last experiences in church were not so good.  Often, I suspect, the “light” is unfamiliar and a little blinding when you have been traveling in “darkness” for a while.  I can tell they aren’t used to being welcomed.  No judgement is weird to those who have stood before judges and jailers.  I’ve wondered how Jesus would engage and interact at the Lighthouse on Thursday night or Sunday morning?  Would He sit in the sanctuary or be on a couch in the entryway?  Would he sit to respectfully  hear the end of my message or get up with others when they sneak out early for a smoke?

It’s a tough thing.  Part of getting life back on track is learning things like respect, manners and proper behavior in a community of others.  Part of ministering in the trenches and on the front lines of the mission field is to learn to be uncomfortable and to take the time to come alongside others and teach them.  I always tell people, if you’re not comfortable with “messy,” Lighthouse may not be the place for you.

I’ve begun to think about Jesus’ parable of the sower in different ways.  You remember.  “A farmer went out to plant some seed.”  (Mark 4:3 and following).  Some fell on a path, some on shallow soil and rocks, some amongst thorns and finally some on good soil.  Sowing seed itself, I have come to understand, can be messy.  Jesus says, “keep sowing!  Just keep sowing!!!  I will take care of the rest.”

It takes a special people and a special community to sow in the darkness and the messes of life.  I think the Lighthouse, this faith community experiment I started and I love is such a place.

If you are from Centre and are reading this, thank you for stretching and challenging us.  Be patient with us. There are few roadmaps for this territory.  We are moving forward by faith.

If the Lighthouse is your family, thank you for stretching and striving to love people like Jesus did.  It gives me a sense of awe and wonder for His amazing grace.  “God, how did You ever put up with me in my darkness and in my messes of life?”

So the sower?  (I love that sentence!)  So the sower, he just keeps sowing seed.  God makes it grow.  That’s His business.  The hope and the promise?  If you keep sowing, some will grow and “produce a crop thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted.”  Wow.  “Then Jesus said, ‘Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.'”  (Mark 4:9 NLT).

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

 

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Earthly Politics and the King

So it comes to an end.  In a few short hours, if we are lucky, this year’s election will be over.  None too soon for me.  Not that I don’t get a kick out of it.  I’ve seen House of Cards.  This would have been even more entertaining if it wasn’t real life.

I’ve watched the news these last months more than I would like to admit.  I’m a political junky.  I tell myself to turn away.  Don’t watch!  It doesn’t work.  It’s like driving by a car wreck and telling yourself not to look.  I can’t help it.

I do not take public positions on political issues or candidates, though I will at times speak on what are moral issues.  My voice on who to vote for isn’t helpful and rarely furthers the gospel, to which I have devoted my life to sharing.  Frankly, God gave you reason, common sense, and the ability to think for yourself.  He has placed in your hands His word.  Let your faith and prayer guide you.  I trust you can make your own judgement.

What we forget as followers of Jesus is no matter who is elected president, we have a King who is in charge!  We should care deeply about our country and who is leading it.  Whoever wins, we should pray for him or her.   Paul himself wrote, “all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” Romans 13:1 NLT.  But even if this election ushers in the end times (which I suspect it will not), we can be assured of who is ultimately in charge.  God is God.  He’s got this.  He’s got our back.  And if it is His judgement that the direction of our country should not be what I want or you want…well, I suspect He knows best.  I know He has listened to and heard my prayers.  But the last I’ve checked my cel phone and email, He still has not asked for my advice.  What He does ask is that I strive today to love Him and love others.  To do so is to engage in the earthly politics, no matter how unseemly.  And, though I’m in this world, to remember that the one we worship is the King.  The King of kings (and presidents) and the Lord of lords.

All this said, let’s pray for our country and world tonight.  Things are unsettled. Then, let’s get up tomorrow morning and work to make it a little bit of a better place.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

 

 

 

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Transparency

If you attend the Lighthouse you know that we are amazingly transparent about the fact that we all have struggles in life.  So you will hear phrases like, “we are all in recovery for something.”  “Everyone makes mistakes.” “Your identity is not your past or the sum of your mistakes!”

I have been pondering this reality of transparency lately as I go through my interactions with people.  I spend a lot of time with people.  Usually it is in the midst of their struggles.  At Lighthouse we specialize in this!  I have come to realize that people are often open with me in ways that surprise me.  Why?  I could speculate.  I’m a pretty good listener.  I generally like people.  That helps.  But I have concluded that the primary reason is my own transparency.

Now that is a very interesting thing because most pastors are not honest about their issues.  We are taught not to be.  If people knew that we are human and struggle like they do, would they respect us?  Listen to us?

The church today struggles with this notion that to be a follower of Jesus and go to church we have to have life all put together.  Every aspect of our lives are transformed, so we suggest, which means we no longer struggle.  Recently in an interview I called our churches “cocoons of righteousness.”  One might say self-righteousness, because it’s a lie.

Authenticity, empathy, compassion…they all follow transparency.  I tell pastors that if you want to understand what we are doing and learn how to reach those who are struggling with life, come and see.  The Lighthouse is a special but messy, very messy place.  People are welcomed to share their stuff when appropriate and offered hope that life can and will be better.  Jesus does offer a transformed life.  He relishes redeeming our struggles.  In recovery language that many will understand, it is sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly.  Usually slowly.

Yet that is where God is at His best.  The message of the incarnation and the cross is that instead of simply removing our issues and struggles, God has joined with us in them.  He walks us through them, and in that journey brings new life.  So, if you are a pastor, I challenge you to stretch a little.  Maybe share a little of your own stuff and how God is working in it.  Be a little more transparent.  And if you are a church goer, don’t buy into the lie.  Sin and pain still crouches at the door.  Admit it, and you will see God use your struggles in redeeming ways as He also  begins to bring you healing through your confession.

I will never forget the young lady I met at the Lighthouse one evening at Narcotics anonymous.  I asked her story.  She shared a little.  I said I understand and share a bit of my own struggles with my addiction to alcohol.  “Wait,” she said.  “You mean you are one of us?”  “Yes,” I said.  I’m one of you.”  Aren’t we all?

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