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Hope on the Broken Road
By Jud Wilhite
WORTHY PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2013 Jud Wilhite
All rights reserved.
In the days following my nearly fatal overdose, I realize my serious lack of real options. Exhausted by endless cycles of disappointment, hurt, suffering, and guilt, I come to understand at a very deep level my inability to save myself.
I can die, go crazy, or get help.
So I cry out.
A few weeks after my overdose, I drop to my knees in my bedroom and say the only prayer I can muster: "God, help me. I'm messed up beyond belief. I need you." As my words fade, I listen to the sound of the unbalanced ceiling fan squeaking above me. No voice speaks audibly to me. In my heart, though, two words slowly take shape in my consciousness: Welcome home.
Only when I admitted my powerlessness to God did my life begin to change. The Bible says, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Proverbs 9:10). That fear doesn't mean we walk around in terror. It means that we revere God and respect him. The foundational aspect of wisdom does not begin with a degree, but with faith in the character and nature of the God of the Bible.
A harmful habit is rarely the direct result of a thing we do; a harmful habit tends to arise because of an idol we create and worship.
Acting on the false hope of satisfying our deepest cravings for significance, comfort, security, meaning, approval, and, ultimately, love, we often place our trust in alternative saviors and swear allegiances to artificial gods. We seek to design our own agendas rather than trust in a God who asks that we give away our lives for the sake of others.
When we place our faith in such tiny gods, we sin, which literally means "to miss God's mark," and we inevitably find ourselves on a path to heartache. Think of all the broken relationships and torn lives left in the wake of greed, lust, gossip, and the relentless pursuit of success. Consider, too, all the years of life we human beings waste in self-destructive patterns and self-defeating behaviors.
During my four-year wasteland of addiction, my parents make me go to church. Promising to go to youth group, I walk through the church into nearby alleys and kill time smoking cigarettes. I observe people walking into the church building, but I don't really understand the attraction. When I reconnect with my parents, we play out the same conversation.
"What did you learn about in church, son?"
"Jesus," I say.
"And what about Jesus?"
"That he loves me."
I answer in this way because I believe this is what they wish to hear.
Secretly, deep in my brokenness, it is what I long to believe.
The biblical book of Exodus—that word literally means "the road out"—provides deep insights about moving out of captivity. Exodus chronicles the journey of the Israelite people from slavery to a new life of freedom in ways deeply applicable to our own individual and contemporary journeys.
From slavery, God led the people of Israel into freedom. In the ancient wisdom of the biblical narrative, the book of Exodus foreshadows the movement into the full life promised by Jesus.
The account begins and ends with God's redemption. Exodus explains the great lengths God went in order to accomplish the liberation of his people. He reveals himself to be both with and for his people.
By the power and grace of God, the Exodus account can bring us back to our true selves, destinies, and stories.
Even in the depth of a great desperation, we are not only reminded but also empowered to take the road out. And, like all great Old Testament stories, Exodus points to the reality of Jesus, who came to "heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives" (Luke 4:18 NKJV).
With a self-sacrificing love, Jesus bore the divine punishment and curse of sin, setting us free by God's power and grace.
All roads out of whatever enslaves us eventually lead us to the love of Jesus, our heart's true home.
Life or Death
My own road out of a deadly addiction eventually led me to the church. Only God in his mercy and irony could take a messed-up kid lost in addiction, piece him back together, get him through college and graduate school, and deploy him in the self-proclaimed City of Sin. In Las Vegas, there are no culture wars. Morality disappeared long ago. Today, built on a billion-dollar marketing machine, the city annually yields some of the highest rates in the nation for everything bad: drug use, domestic violence, addictions, and divorce.
And today, twenty-two years into my recovery, I pastor Central Christian Church, a church with campuses in unlikely Las Vegas locations and beyond. When tempted to despair over the long odds of this ministry, I trace the roots of my faith back to a day on the freeway, a few weeks after my nearly fatal overdose at the age of seventeen. Driving my red Fiero down a Texas interstate at seventy miles per hour, I found a supernatural power to throw my drugs out the window. In the days that followed, sweaty and clammy and grumpy, I understood the life-or-death nature of my circumstances and whispered my prayers continually: "I can't do this alone. God, help me. If you don't show up, I'm through."
He showed up.
In time, God gave me the grace to return to church on my own terms. Surrounded by a handful of redeemed men and women, I experienced recovery in a community of people who walked with me, listened to me, and coached me off the edge. They were not scared away by my problems or doubts. God used the church to save my life. And then, through the church, he led me back into the pain of a broken world—and he can do the same for you, whatever the causes and whatever the symptoms of your brokenness.
I have seen Jesus work in my own life and in the lives of thousands of individuals in our church who now experience freedom. Drugs should have killed me, and they almost did. But God provided the road out, and a community of faith continues to sustain me. Together, we have come to understand the irony of a power springing from powerlessness, and we have found that an overwhelming dependence on God sets us and others free. God's grace moves in power and love, often incognito, for the redemption of people trapped in the bondage of sin and pain.
Together, we fight for freedom in the moment-by-moment reality of gratitude. We share what we have experienced and continue to experience through the Person and work of Jesus, who lived, died, and rose again for our freedom. His sacrifice on the cross provided that path to pardon, and his resurrection opened up to us a road of life. Without shame, we follow God in order to find and fulfill our true purpose—bringing him glory, serving him, delighting in the freedom he grants us, and helping others walk in it as well.
No matter what you have done or where you have been, no matter what is enslaving you, God in his love has made a road out from slavery to sin and self-defeating behaviors, a road to freedom. In the following pages, I'll share core principles that have freed thousands of people. I'll share the stories of several people to inspire your own journey, whatever the starting point of captivity is. Life change does happen. Your future can be different. Tomorrow does not have to repeat the mistakes of yesterday.
For years, across the street from our original church campus in the Las Vegas area, strobe lights would shoot into the night sky from an adult bookstore. Directions to the church were easy: follow the lights to the "Live Nude Adult Bookstore" and turn right to the church. I like that because it's such a stark picture of repentance. We are all only a turn away from freedom.
So what's holding you back? What's weighing you down? You can break free. I know this step can be scary, but I encourage you to see it as an opportunity. This is a chance for you to be free.
Just a Minute
List the top three things holding you back from freedom with God, yourself, and others.CHAPTER 2
If we are honest with ourselves, we know what is holding us back from living a life of freedom. If asked, we could identify the specific destructive patterns, emotions, identities, or histories that weigh us down. And, if we have wrestled long enough with these difficult realities, most of us would also admit to a growing awareness of our powerlessness to do anything about them. That admission is a good thing—if we let our powerlessness move us past defeat and prompt us to look up to God for help.
Whenever Lance contemplates his plan for recovery, the same images always play through his head ...
In his mind's eye, he first sees himself playing golf with his father, as he has twice a week for eighteen years, and then he startles with the phone's ring and bristles with the news of his dad's heart attack ...
Then Lance finds himself with his wife, on the morning of their ninth anniversary, standing in front of the television, watching the slow and surreal implosion of the World Trade Center Towers from the force of two Boeing 767s—one of which he recognizes as a plane he had previously piloted ...
Then his mind shifts to eighteen months later when, spirit deflated, he hands in his wings after an aviation career that spanned thirty-five years.
Lance shakes his head to clear the images. He reminds himself of all the reasons they called him "Captain"—the discipline he inherited from his military father, the perseverance he learned from his polio-stricken mother, and the skill he used to become a much respected pilot. And, at fifty-eight, Lance believes the newly discovered holes in his life can be fixed. He must simply form the right plan.
Despite being faced with the loss of his identity and a hint of his own mortality, Lance feels no overwhelming need for God. One reason is that Lance continues to invest in the concept of control. Plus, he harbors anger with God over his father's death and his mother's wheelchair. So, turn to God? No. Close friends? No, he never really allowed for any. Family? No, they didn't really share feelings like these.
So, Lance logically concludes, why not a drink? It once worked to put him at ease in social situations, and who could argue with the occasional college kegger or the Friday night happy hour in the Officers' Club? He reasons that alcohol will take the razor's edge off of his life, so he can fully develop and then execute his own plan for redemption.
Our habits often start innocently enough. Maybe you love to shop or enjoy eating great food. These are gifts from God. But if you allow these desires to run out of control, driven by a need to feel security or worth or love, you head straight for trouble.
Shopping is fine—until you have fifty thousand dollars (and counting) on your credit cards. Food is wonderful—until the doctor recommends a diet, yet your soul is so starved that you find yourself eating more and more.
Most of the idols we crave are good things we allow to control us. Sleep, food, sex, pleasure, and work are all God-designed realities for our good, but taken to extremes,these good things can yield laziness, obesity, lust, excess, and imbalance. Although we may not immediately recognize the dysfunction driving our behavior, we take the first steps on the road to freedom by naming destructive behaviors, acknowledging our slavery to them, and recognizing that we can't find healing alone. In other words, we need to honestly face the problem.
Sometimes God allows you to be placed in a position where there is nowhere left to turn but to him. In the middle of a struggle, it's tough to admit that you can't handle it by yourself and that you need help moving forward. Yet one of the greatest and most liberating moments in life occurs when you stop, reach out to God, and say the words, "I can't do this on my own." Then you are in a position to receive God's care and give him the glory for his work. An early church leader named Augustine put it like this: "God gives where he finds empty hands."
When you need help, recognize your need. Then ask God for help in getting that need met in a healthy way. Don't pretend you're in a position to help yourself. Perhaps God has allowed you to be in that position so you will turn to him and acknowledge your need.
In the grip of a consuming addiction, Lance invests the next few years in deceit—attempting to fill the void in his life with a secret supply of alcohol. He hides bottles in every room of his house, the back of toilets, the trunk of his car, his golf bag, even in a gas grill. Lance retreats into isolation, passionately fueling the void, abandoning any pretense of a social life or meaningful relationships. In the darkness of his depression, Lance seldom sees the light of day. And, free from the random drug testing, he continues to up the ante on his wager that alcohol will help the pain and fill the void.
In response to his wife's plea to get help, Lance calmly tells her he will after his first arrest—and, on that same day, he finds himself sitting in a less-than-five-star room at the El Segundo jail for a DUI. In the middle of the night, he awakes from a nightmare and reminds himself to pick up a fifth of Scotch from the liquor store upon his release.
The next day Lance suffers seizures in a hotel lobby and, if not for the persistence of a security officer, believes his dead body would have been found later in his room. Lance spends the next two weeks—including four days with ankles and wrists strapped to a bed—convulsing in an ICU unit, in and out of consciousness, suffering from a combination of withdrawal, pneumonia, liver abnormalities, severe depression, and water on the brain.
Finally, Lance has hit bottom. He knows it is "change or die" time. He sees that his carefully controlled world is in total shambles. For the first time ever, he admits he is powerless and cries out to God for help.
The Character of God
There are a lot of images of God out there in our culture. There's God as Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty: superb posture, great narrative voice, really stylish dresser. There's God as an animated Victorian-era cartoon in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: scary voice, no-nonsense attitude, hinged jaw, big crown, and robe. There's God as Ralph Richardson in Time Bandits: conservative business suit, a well-groomed grandfather running out of energy.
Your view of God affects virtually everything in your life. In the book of Exodus, the character of God unfolds as the story develops. In the opening chapters, Israel cries out and God responds with compassion. He pays attention to the pain of his people. Exodus tells us that "God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them" (Exodus 2:24–25, emphasis mine).
In response to the suffering of his people, God talks about his future work of redemption in terms of a love relationship.
He hears you. Realize that the God of the universe actually hears your cry for help! He is not deaf to your need. Your prayers reach him, and he listens.
He remembers you. God remembers why he created you, he remembers his relationship with you, and he remembers that by redeeming you, he is bringing glory to himself.
He looks on you. God is watching you but not from a distance. He is watching you up close and personally. He is intimately involved in the details of your life.
He is concerned about you. The word translated concern is used in a variety of ways, referring to simple perception and, at the other extreme, to a more intimate and relational knowledge. The point here is that God has a longstanding relationship with his people. From the depths of his being, God's mercy and his intention to save flow like a mighty river. God is not idle; he is the Sustainer of life and the Author of history. He is concerned about you, and he will save.
Excerpted from Hope on the Broken Road by Jud Wilhite. Copyright © 2013 Jud Wilhite. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
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