Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What Do You Do With The Old Stuff?

I get this question a lot. Does God not heal the addict completely? Am I doing Him a disservice by bringing up that old stuff all of the time. I got an email today just as I was getting ready to write. Never one to waste effort (translate that..lazy) I decided to kill two birds with one email.

Hey Mike,

In my devotional time today I was thinking about you because I was reading from the Life Recovery Bible.  I struggle with the fact that you categorize yourself as an addict and that you still go to 12 step meetings.  I guess the questions I have are:

Does this negate the idea that God can bring ultimate healing?

Does it not bring all the negative junk back every time you go to a meeting?  

In Christ,




First let me say you have better things to think about during your devotions than me. J But...thanks for thinking.

It’s a good question and I always answer it on two levels. As a Christ-follower and a student of both scripture and theology I say “I am a new creature in Christ Jesus. Old things are passed away and all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)  I am not an addict any more. My heart and my identity have been changed.

That does two things. It frees me from the shame of my past and it also allows me to look at my life honestly, filtered through the mercy of God. King David said, “My sin is ever before me.” Then he said, “Create in me a new heart” (Psalm 51) He did not say take my past away but change my heart towards it. So in my mind, the redeemed addict gets almost more benefit and blessing in remembering his sin and recognizing how much God has done for him than in trying to forget it.

Probably should stop there but.....as a recovered addict let me say, the 12 Steps, and the idea of never forgetting how dreadful your “before” life was, has worked for a lot of people for a very long time. And if it works….. I’ll wear a pink tutu and whistle Dixie 24 hours a day if it keeps me sober. So I go to meetings with my head held high. Thanking God that He changed me and I am no longer who I was. But also remembering that I am just one slip away from being back there again. There is tremendous grace in both sides of that equation.

Now, get back to your devotions.



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New Years Step 1

We are two weeks into the New Year. For most of us the holiday weariness is just passing and we are starting to get our traction again for the winter days ahead. Maybe we are reevaluating our New Year’s resolutions or 2013 goals. I was going to read through the Bible this year but I’m already 30 chapters behind. I was going to lose a little weight and so far I’ve gained 4 pounds. For me, the first two or three weeks of the year are the time when it takes every ounce of discipline I have to even keep looking at the track, much less stay on track.

It occurred to me this morning that goal setting is a lot like living in recovery. We have to be clear about where we are headed. We need some accountability and support. And we must break it down into small chunks or it is just too overwhelming. To use my 12 Step language, I have to take it one day at a time.

If that is true (and it is) then it might be a good idea to rehearse the recovery mantras while I’m trying to make this year productive. The 12 Steps are not the roadmap for the path to recovery from addictions, character defects, or sins; they are also super tools for achieving our goals and accomplishing the mission that we believe God has set before us this year.

So….let’s top and revisit Step 1 today in this first period of the New Year. Step 1 says “We saw that we were powerless over our (you fill in the blank but for today I am going to say WEAKNESS) and our lives were out of control. We saw that we were powerless over our weakness an our lives were out of control. Listen, I am not a goal accomplisher. I don’t have it in me to do great things or even stay steady in the race. I am weak. I am lazy. I am selfish and self-centered. And when it gets right down to it, I would rather enjoy an extra slice of pie today than pay the price to be more healthy in six months. I am powerless and I have a long history to prove it.

Well, that should cheer you up. Okay. Good luck. God bless. Have a great day!.......Wait a minute. That’s not the end of the story. It is all true but it is not all of the truth. I (and I believe you) are pretty helpless when it comes to overcoming our weaknesses and making ourselves better. Oh, we can read the books, join the gyms, make out the plans, and they work for awhile; but in the end, nothing has really changed in us. Praise the Lord for Steps 2 and 3. We’ll look at those steps over the next few weeks. For now, the great news is that I am powerless but I don’t have to be in charge.

Remember what Paul says to us in Philippians 4:13, “I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength.” Is that good news or what? I am powerless. I can’t stick with this diet. I can’t accomplish my goals. I can’t make myself get up and run. AND I DON’T HAVE TO. I just put it in God’s hands. And with His help I can do it all. Man, I feel better already. Hope you do to.

One of my goals for 2013 is to be faithful about writing every Tuesday morning a brief word about recovery. In fact I’m thinking the blog will be “Learning Recovery - Living Redemption.” So stay tuned, lay off that donut, and let’s make it to the next step together.



Friday, January 4, 2013

Timing and Mr. Tumbles

Mr. Tumbles is my little hideaway cabin in the woods of Tennessee. It’s not much to look at and pretty austere on the inside. There are bunkbeds, a propane heater (nice to have), a tiny bathroom (even nicer), a kitchen area with a little gas stove, and a bookcase full of some of my favorite books. Actually the best thing in Mr. Tumbles is not in Mr. Tumbles. It’s the front porch that looks out over a little meadow and the hardwood forest that leads down to the Harpeth River.

I confess that about Thursday of every week I start thinking about a trip out to Mr. Tumbles. I don’t get to go very often but just knowing that it’s there, and a possibility, gives me a little solace in the middle of a hectic week. Cold weather or warm, there is nothing better than sitting on the front porch of Mr. Tumbles and watching absolutely nothing happen.

I went out last week for a night or two to do some writing and a little planning for the new year. It was cold, really cold. It got dark very early. And it was quiet. (Not the peaceful, get-some-rest kind of quiet but the what-was-that, did-you-hear-an-axe-murderer kind of quiet.) One thing I learned is that it is hard to write when you are shivering inside a sleeping bag with all of your clothes on and a butcher knife in your hand.  Another thing I learned is that the front porch is a lot more fun on a warm summer evening than the middle of freezing winter night. I stayed one night and came home the next morning.

As I begin the new year I am thinking about timing. Not so much mine but God’s timing. I am absolutely convinced that God always has my best interest at heart. (And yours.) His promise to Jeremiah for the children of Israel is valid for us today. “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to bless you and give you hope.”  (Jeremiah 29:11) St. Paul’s encouragement to us in Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose” is as true today as it was when Paul was sitting in a prison cell. God is large and in charge and He loves us with an everlasting love.

But life is about timing. Not every horizon holds out smooth sailing. Not every morning promises clear skies. Remember Peter wrote “And AFTER YOU HAVE SUFFERED A LITTLE WHILE the God of all grace will restore you and make you strong.” (I Peter 5:10) Let me make a prediction for your 2013. There will be a lot of beautiful, sunny, summer evenings sitting on the porch watching nothing. I promise you that God has some amazing and wonderful days for you in this next year. He has promised that His goodness and mercy will follow you every single day. (Psalm 23:6) He says He will meet every single need that arises this year. (Philippians 4:19) He says if we trust Him He will direct our every path. (Proverbs 3:5-6) All of these things are true for you in 2013. I know it.

But, I am also sure there will be few cold nights when the best you can do is crawl in a sleeping bag and hold on until morning. You will be disappointed this year. There will be some heartbreak in 2013. I am pretty sure you will suffer some loss and say some goodbyes. Even those things God promises to use to make you better. (James 1:24) The key is to remember God’s timing. Morning always follows midnight. Spring always comes after winter. There is always a front porch waiting after you’ve gone through some dark, lonely nights. God’s timing is always right. So this year look for His blessings. Don’t get stuck in the trials. And while you are planning, plan a few evenings out on the front porch watching nothing. It will do you good.                    Mike

(I’ve attached a sheet from my friend Joan Collier that prompted these thoughts. Print it out and keep it in your Bible this year)

What can you expect God to do in your life in 2013? Some pretty incredible things. You can expect:

  • God’s mercies to follow you, and pursue you, every every minute of every hour of every day. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. ” (Psalm 23:6)

  • God to meet every single true need that should arise. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

  • God to lead you, counsel you, guide you, and give you wisdom. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

  • God to freely forgive your sins each time you repent. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

  • God to wonderfully correct and discipline you if you should stray into sin. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6)

  • God to continue working powerfully in you as you pursue holiness. “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

  • God to help you overcome patterns of sin that have plagued you for years. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. ” (Romans 6:14)

  • God to use trials in your life to refine and purify your faith. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

  • God to give you every good thing. “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

God has promised to do all these things, and many more. His promises are sure. 2013 is bursting with blessings.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


We have a new word that a few years ago did not exist, regifting. It is the act of taking a gift given you and giving it to someone else as if you chose it especially for them. A number of years ago Doris was in a panic on her way out the door to a wedding shower for our friend Kim and her husband-to-be Eric. She had no gift. Another good friend, Sharon, wife to our friend Pete (you know where I’m going with this) reached in the top of her closet and brought down a still wrapped gift from her own wedding shower a few years earlier. “Give them this,” she said. “Pete and I have never even opened it.”

What a great idea! Until Kim opened the gift and found a card on the INSIDE, “Congratulations Sharon and Pete. You are a wonderful couple.”


Regifting is especially pronounced at Christmas time. We get busy. There is yet another party to go to. The budget is stretched so we grab a present from under the tree, rewrap it, CHECK FOR OLD CARDS, and off we go. My mother has more than once actually given the gift back to the person who gave it to her in the first place. Hey, we’re all trying to live green and recycle. This takes it to a whole new level. Maybe we should just establish a finite number of gifts and keep reshuffling them across the world every year. No, that wouldn’t work because when I got Donald Trump’s Rolex, or Warren Buffet’s Mercedes, I stop the regifting cycle.


There is one gift that we get over and over at this time of the year that is very appropriate though, the Gift of the Christ Child. Every year the nativity scenes come out, the Baby Jesus ornaments get hung, and we sing Away in a Manger. We receive again the gift we got last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.


This gift, however, is one that was designed in the heart of God to be regifted. Somehow in His wisdom God knew that it would take us about a year to get cynical, distracted, or afraid (especially this year). Somehow, at the beginning of time God knew that we would need an annual reminder of His endless devotion to us. And so He gave the gift that keeps on giving. (another shameless Christmas cliché that comes attached to the jelly of the month card.)


In this case though, the regifting of the Christ Child not only keeps on giving, its the whole point of the thing. When I am sure that life is meaningless, that there is no hope, and that all of my efforts are futile, I carefully unwrap this precious bundle and remember that this Baby changed the world. I remember that this Baby changed me. I remember that every good and perfect gift was and is compressed into this tiny, wriggling little infant and God really is with us. I open this gift again and again and know that My Savior is not some ethereal, mystical being but He lived and breathed, and walked among us. And I can go on for another year.


We don’t put our nativity set in the front yard or on the mantle to memorialize some event that happened 2000 year ago. We celebrate the Baby in the Manger to accept one more time the gift of joy, and hope, and peace on earth. So…in the middle of your hustle and bustle this last week before Christmas don’t forget to do some regifting. Give the Baby away again. Remind one another that Christ not only did come, He is here, now, with us, in us. And those socks I gave you last year….keep them.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mary Did You Know?

As an evangelical protestant I am never sure what to do with the Virgin Mary, even at this time of the year when her story is so much at the center of our story. Oh, I have a great appreciation for her. I have even added praying the Rosary to my personal spiritual practice of disciplines, so at least several times a week I recite, “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

Still, as I set up the manger scenes and read the Christmas story to my grandkids I don’t know exactly how to describe her. My wonderful Catholic friends call her easily mater Theou, the Mother of God. I believe that is true in some sense and yet my desire to keep Jesus fully God, there before time began, makes it hard for me to wrap my little head around that name, Mother of God. Then a few weeks ago I came across another designation for this blessed woman, theotokos, the God bearer. The God bearer, the one who carried God to us. Now that’s a name I can grasp.

I sat down early this morning and wrote a blog that began with those two paragraphs. I went on to talk about our responsibility to be theotokos, God bearers; to those people we come in contact with. It was a fine little blog. And then I turned on the news and began following with horror the all too familiar unfolding of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Somehow my little blogging seem so irrelevant so I took it down and deleted it. Except for the first two paragraphs.

I have been singing this Christmas season that Mark Lowry song that has become a classic, Mary Did You Know? Remember those words?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would someday walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.

There were other things I wonder if she knew. Did she know that He would suffer the way He did? Did she know about the beating? Did she ever imagine the cross? Mary, did you know that you would outlive your precious little baby and watch them carry His lifeless body from the top of a hill to a hole in the ground? Did you know the price you would pay to be theotokos?

This morning as I sat in front of the TV and wept and prayed for those broken families in Newtown, for those frightened, helpless children, for those unimaginably wounded mothers, I began to think of Mary, the God bearer, theotokos. She may not have known then but she knows now. She knows the pain of being a mother that lost her child. And perhaps, in some sense, just as her Son carried the pain of the whole world, she carried the pain of a thousand generations of wounded mothers. Perhaps she was not only theotokos then and there but she remains the God bearer now for those families that face a Christmas season that we cannot fathom.

Two things seem to bring some comfort in those moments when the loss is so devastating that we cannot breath. One is some meaning or purpose. “My son gave his life in the military protecting our freedom.” “My daughter died on a mission field doing what she loved.” It doesn’t ease the sadness but somehow I think it helps with the pain to know there was some reason, some rhyme to this madness. Try as I might, I can find no meaning, no purpose to bring any kind of solace to the senseless act today. There is nothing that I or anyone can say that will help us to understand this morning in Connecticut.

But the other thing that helps in some small measure I believe is to know that I am not alone in my grief; that someone, somewhere, has been through this before and knows what I am going through. I know the Scripture says that Jesus was “tempted in every way like we are.” And that “He was acquainted with all our grief.” But it doesn’t feel like Jesus knew about this kind of loss. I am pretty sure that even God doesn’t understand this pain. Enter Mary, theotokos. Is it possible that God in His Wisdom said, “I’ll start the whole story with a young mother that knows the pain of all mothers, everywhere. She will be the God bearer?” Is it possible that on a Christmas Eve 2000 years ago God foresaw the blinding tragedy in a small school in New England and said, “They will need someone to carry God to them. They will need theotokos?”

And so I rewrote my blog. And I wept and prayed for 20 young mothers (and fathers and brothers and sisters) that I have never met and never will meet. I prayed that God would send someone to them to comfort them, to carry God to them and them to Him. I prayed for theotokos. And I will be honest, I prayed to the Mother of God.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, mother of God, PRAY FOR US sinners both now and in the hour of our death.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Maintaining Your SPIRITUAL Diet

It is a universal complaint, at least in our opulent, obese, western culture. “I was doing pretty well on my diet and then the holidays hit.” Or, “I lost 12 pounds this year and gained them all back between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.”

A similar, though reverse-image difficulty is often found in our spiritual walk during this time of the year. The packed schedules, the change of pace, the frantic focus on the family gift list, takes us away from our hard fought devotional time and our disciplines fall by the wayside. “I was having my quiet time every day until the kids got out of school.” “I was in pretty good shape on my Bible reading until the late night Christmas parties started.” We lose our traction so easily and especially when the schedule is thrown into a tizzy.

So here are a few ideas to maintain the spiritual side of things during the holidays:

  •     Eat a lot of smaller meals. It works with food, it will work here too. Maybe you can’t find that 45 minute block of time you had before to read, pray, and journal. The kids are home from school. There is another concert to attend. The gift list is only half done.  Take advantage of the few minutes here and there you get to pray quick prayers, read short devotionals, quote a familiar verse to yourself. Jesus Calling is a fantastic and very SHORT devotional book that takes only a couple of minutes to read each day.
  •     Lay off the junk food. In the summer when I’m running and active I might be able to justify a cupcake here and there (or 3 or 4) but during the winter I have to work a little harder at avoiding the sweets. In the same way, when my spiritual schedule is good I can watch an extra episode of NCIS or play a few games of Solitaire on the computer. During this season I work a little harder at using what time I have to get in touch with the Father. My quiet time moments are too precious to waste.
  •  Get plenty of exercise. Most of the time our dieting is really only as effective as our exercise regimen anyway. The same is true here. If I’m struggling to keep my prayer life current and my Bible reading up to date I have found that getting out of myself and helping others makes all the difference. This is the season for that anyway so look for new and fresh ways to be Jesus to others. You may find that the spiritual diet takes care of itself when you do that.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. Last thing, when my diet goes to pot and I look in the mirror and get all depressed about the shape I’m in, I usually go to the fridge and get a bowl of ice cream to console myself. Beating myself up only spirals me downward. I just start over again and try to do better tomorrow. (Or in January.) Same here. God’s grace and His love for me is not based the number of chapters I read or the amount of time I spend in prayer. Letting myself have it over my failures only makes me feel more distant from Him. So….I accept His forgiveness, I acknowledge His love, and I do better tomorrow. I am hungry to be closer to Him.

And speaking of hungry, there are some Christmas sugar cookies with my name on them……

(Don’t miss a note. Read all Mike’s blogs and subscribe his RSS feed at www.branchesblog.com.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


      I woke up early this morning to a burning project. You know how every once in a while something pops into your beady, little brain while you are sleeping and you wake up thinking, “This is the most important thing in the world. I’ve got to get it done today.” Well, here I go. I’ve got a project and I’ve motivated to finish it. I am writing out my 30 year plan.

I was reading last night before I went off to sleep about planning, goal setting, and dreaming big. Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz says you should live your life as if you were writing a movie script.  Maybe that played into it but at 4:45AM my eyes popped open and something in me said, “You’ve got a 90th birthday coming up. You’ve better start planning.” Hence, my 30 year plan.

Now I’m just starting so I don’t want to share any details just yet but I will let you know, there will be a big shebang and you are all invited. I plan to run 5 miles that day and if it’s not too hot (in mid-July. Put it on your calendar.) play a little tennis. I also want Doris to get her hair done and put on something kind of cute. (Sorry, TMI) The point of the whole thing is, I’m making some plans. And it will be here before I know it.
The truth is that real emotional, spiritual, and mental health involves staying in the moment, living one day at a time, and treating each day as if it were your last. But it’s not. Or at least I don’t know that it is. What I do know is that there is a lot of Kingdom work to be done. There are hurting people that I know that still need to hear that Jesus loves them. I have kids, and grand kids, and by that time, maybe great grand kids, that I have some influence over and responsibility to. “For the gifts and calling of God is irrevocable." (Romans 11:29) There just isn’t a place for me to pull down the sign, hang up my cleats and say, “I’m done.”

Now that can be a little discouraging. Don’t get me wrong, sitting on the beach in the Bahamas or lounging by the pool in Bimini sounds good to me. But is also incredibly exciting. God will not be finished with me until the very day He takes me home. He has things for me to do and the energy and resources to do them. So….
I’m making out my 30 year plan today. And if the next 30 is as adventuresome as the last, I can’t wait to see it.  “Now therefore, give me this mountain… Joshua 14:12”  (Caleb at age 85.)