Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hitting Bottom (Part 1)

While conducting public speaking engagements on alcohol and other drug issues, I have been asked a wide range of questions. One common question was generally been phrased, “Is it true you cannot help someone until they hit bottom?” An accurate response to the question is tricky. There is both some truth and some myth contained in the phrase, “hit bottom” and what actions may help someone begin a life of recovery.
What it takes for an individual suffering from AOD (alcohol and other drugs) dependency to “hit bottom” is often defined differently for each individual. Hitting bottom implies that an individual has reached the point where the pain and suffering experienced is too great for them to endure any longer and they recognize the need to change. Everyone has a different threshold for their tolerance for pain and suffering.
I have often looked at some of the individuals I have worked with and wondered to myself, “they have got to believe their current painful state is too much to endure” and to my surprise realized I was not even close. For me, the pain and suffering I witnessed might have been enough, but I was not in the middle of suffering from AOD dependency. I came to understand that some individuals had developed such a high tolerance to pain and suffering, that for them to “hit bottom” meant descending to a very deep, dark valley. Just how deep they needed to go down into that valley, looked quite different from individual to individual. Some individuals descend so deeply in their pain and suffering, they mistake their current situation as normal existence and all they will ever have.
One of my colleagues told me a story, about a man he had worked with for several months for alcoholism after a DUI conviction. This man, like many others, simply was unwilling to see the damage his alcohol use had created for him and others and the consequences he could potentially experience in the future from DUI. One day, he came into the office looking very depressed and despondent. He declared he was ready to stop using alcohol. When he was asked why he had so suddenly arrived at this conclusion, he explained an experience from the day before.
Despite his court ordered conditions which stated he was not to use alcohol or drive, he had been doing both for several weeks. He described that he was intoxicated and got into his car. He backed out of his driveway, ran over his dog and killed him. He stated that while he held his dog's lifeless body in his arms, he realized that his careless disregard for his alcohol use and behavior had caused the death of the only creature on this earth who loved him. Everyone else he knew in life, he had driven away. This dog loved him without condition and was always there for him and now he had just killed his best and only friend. For this man, at this moment, he had hit bottom, the consequences and the pain had become too great.
The circumstances in any individual's life, if painful and harmful enough from that person's perspective, may produce the conditions we call “hitting bottom” and start them on the road to recovery. The danger is that most individuals will die, become imprisoned, or suffer serious mental or physical disability before they hit their bottom and some who do get there come to believe they are beyond hope, because they have “burned all their bridges.” Understanding and stopping enabling behavior among family, friends and other professionals can help get more people into recovery. In part two of our series we will talk about the difference between helpfulness and enabling.
This is the first of a three part series on enabling behavior with individuals suffering from AOD related problems.
Lee McDermott, Contributor

Thursday, April 27, 2017

How to Join the Conversation

We appreciate those who took the time to use our Lenten Devotionals provided by the Addiction Ministry Network in the Presbytery of Redstone. We hope these devotionals helped you in your ministry to understand the importance of reaching out to those impacted by alcohol and other drugs. We thank you for joining us on this journey and hope you will remain apart of our ongoing conversation about addiction in our communities.
The Addiction Ministry Network would greatly appreciate your personal involvement in meeting with us at our regular meetings as we join together in a conversation to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading us to help our communities. Our next meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 8, 2017 at Noon at the offices of the Presbytery of Redstone in Greensburg, PA.
We recognize even though you might be interested in these important issues, you might not be capable of attending a meeting. This does not mean you can not join the conversation within our presbytery. We will be using this blog space to communicate our activities, ideas, stories and resources. Your comments, ideas, and thoughts related to our blog posts are welcome and help to keep the conversation going. NOTE: All comments are moderated and only comments appropriate to the topic being discussed will be shared.
We want to encourage your participation in joining the conversation by sharing your own articles, ideas, experiences, stories, and suggestions. As a pastor do you have a personal experience related to providing pastoral care in the midst of an addiction problem? Are you a church member with a personal story of recovery or a story of recovery within your family? Has the church found itself engaged within the issues of their community related to alcohol and other drug abuse and has a story which could guide others? We would like to hear from you. Please send your potential postings to the e-mail address: We reserve the right to edit or decline publication of any material submitted.
A few of us from the group will be sharing our experiences on how others can join the conversation at the “Regional Connection for Partnership and Networking” hosted by the Synod of the Trinity. We will lead a conversation at two of the four regional events. The first will be in the Southwestern Region at the First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown, WV on Thursday, May 11, 2017.
The second event will be the Northwest Region at Crestfield Camp and Conference Center outside of Slippery Rock, PA on Friday, May 12, 2017. Both events begin at 9:30 a.m. and run until 3:30 p.m. To register online and get more information about each regional gathering go to this link, Synod Regional Connection.
You need to register by Monday, May 8, 2017 at 5 p.m. on the Synod's website.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Easter Sunday

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, … But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Cor. 15:3-4, 10)
  We gather today in worship to hear the familiar story of Jesus’ resurrection. The story of hope which concludes our Lenten journey. A celebration of the story we hear and tell about receiving God’s grace and eternal life through Jesus’ defeat of death. Jesus’ resurrection brings us to the same affirmation Paul states, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.” (v. 10)

  Paul, tells the Corinthians the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, which was told to him, “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand,” (v. 1) A story which is confirmed by the apostles and by over 500 brothers and sisters, some whom Paul and the Corinthians could have spoken to directly about what they had witnessed. We, as the church, give witness to the resurrection through the message shared with us throughout the ages.

  Numerous individuals living in our neighborhoods have their stories of resurrection to new life happening each day. They have stories to tell, some stories of heartache and overcoming great pain, stories of roadblocks preventing surrender, stories of love recognized and amazing grace experienced, and stories of new life which captures the authentic witness of the Holy Spirit telling a story of resurrection from the dead.

  Some of us in the presbytery have been joining in a conversation about how we can help our churches deal with a serious AOD problem. During Lent, we have shared our stories and witness, to paraphrase Paul, “we handed on to you which was of first importance to us and what we have in turn received.” We invite you to join us “Into the Light.” Our communities are in the grips of addiction and they need to hear stories that treatment works, recovery is possible and that stories of resurrection exist. As Paul confidently tells us, “Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” (v. 11)

Lee McDermott, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: The presbytery’s Addiction Ministry Network and the conversations they are having to restore our communities and renew our congregations and pray for the Spirit’s leading others to join the conversation into the light.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Day 40

Scripture: Ephesians 5:8-9
“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” (Eph. 5:8-9)
  Theologian Robert Alden writes that "There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle."

  A little boy was afraid of the dark. One night his mother told him to go out to the back porch and bring her the broom.

  The little boy turned to his mother and said, “Mama, I don’t want to go out there. It’s dark.”

  The mother smiled reassuringly at her son. “You don’t have to be afraid of the dark,” she explained. “Jesus is out there. He’ll look after you and protect you.”

  The little boy looked at his mother real hard and asked, “Are you sure he’s out there?”

  “Yes, I’m sure. He is everywhere, and he is always ready to help you when you need him,” she said.

  The little boy thought about that for a minute and then went to the back door and cracked it a little. Peering out into the darkness, he called, “Jesus? If you’re out there, would you please hand me the broom?”

  For those who have lived most of their lives in the darkness of addictions, the whole experience of living in the light of recovery is a strange and odd experience. A host of emotions experienced by those in recovery can be overwhelming. Managing these emotions can be challenging without help, they need to experience what is normal, to experience what is “good and right and true” probably for the first time. They need to experience others who are living a normal and average life. The life we live each day might be viewed by us as boring and uninteresting, but our lives can be viewed as terrifying to others who have no experience with normal, common, ordinary experiences of life. If they are ever to live in the light, they must be in a community where light is present to overcome their fear among the darkness.

  Like, the little boy who asked Jesus to retrieve the broom from the back porch, we hope that Jesus will step up and do all the hard work and deal with the darkness in the outside world and within ourselves. Paul reminds the Ephesians that they once were in the darkness, but they are now light and they are called to live accordingly as children of light. The fruit of this light is our willingness to do the “good and right and true,” by sharing the light with others. We may view our light as too dim, but if we do what is “good and right and true,” even one small candle can defeat the darkness. Discover where your light shines the brightest and let it shine in the darkness.

Lee McDermott, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: Individuals and churches afraid to enter into the darkness and those seeking the light doing the "good and right and true."

Click Here PDF - Day 40 Devotion

Friday, April 14, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Good Friday

Scripture: Isaiah 43:15-21
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isa. 43:18-19)
  Methodist preacher Charles W. Allen was once asked, "What is the number one problem you have had to deal with over the years of your ministry?" Without hesitating, Allen answered, "The number one problem I have had to deal with is the mistaken notion so many people have that God is mad at them." As long, as people see themselves as being victims of an angry God, neither God nor his church will ever be a thing for them.

  Isaiah reveals, however, that God's first inclination is love. God is always coming up with new ways to redeem us and to set us right, just as God is going about the work of setting his creation right. God doesn't do old things; God does new things.

  In verses 16-17, God offers his people a reminder of when a similar sort of thing happened. They are reminded of the deliverance of God's people out of slavery in Egypt. God is giving them a snapshot of their ancestors. "Hey, this is what I did for my people in the past!" The Lord made "a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters" for his people to escape their Egyptian oppressors and then "extinguished" their pursuers "like a wick." The same God who did that thing will be the God who will do a new thing by leading the people again out of slavery and exile back to the land God promised them.

  In each new generation, God is doing something new, because in each generation they find new ways to hold themselves in bondage. Deliverance from slavery was a thing, but so was the fact that the people had exchanged slavery in Egypt for the slavery of their own self-serving desires. In many ways, the wilderness was the hardscrabble road that represented God's judgment on his people. Today, people are held in bondage by money, possessions, alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.

  Getting God's people out of Babylon will be another wilderness experience, but it will be a very different kind of thing. "I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert," says God (v. 19). To give up whatever may hold us in bondage, often involves a wilderness journey where God can “do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it.” (v. 19)

  It's good for us to look back and remember what God has done for us in the past, even when that past is marked and marred by our disobedience to God. We've all walked our version of the wilderness road, focusing on "things" that run counter to God's way for us. But, we also need to recognize that God doesn't want us to dwell on that past, but, rather, seek out the new thing God is up to in our lives. God's faithfulness remains consistent, even when our faithfulness wavers.

Lee McDermott, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: Our ability to see God’s grace alive and well around us.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Maundy Thursday

Scripture Reading: John 17:1-26
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” (John 17:20)
  While very ill, John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, called to his wife and said, "Read me that Scripture where I first cast my anchor." After he listened to the beautiful prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, he seemed to forget his weakness. He began to pray, interceding earnestly for his fellowmen. He prayed for the ungodly who so far had rejected the gospel. He pleaded in behalf of people who had been recently converted. And he requested protection for the Lord's servants, many of whom were facing persecution. As Knox prayed, his spirit went Home to be with the Lord. The man of whom Queen Mary had said, "I fear his prayers more than I do the armies of my enemies," ministered through prayer until the moment of his death.

  Chapter 17 of the Gospel of John reveals to us an interesting scene. Jesus is facing the cross and one might expect he would be praying for his own situation which he does for the first five verses. Jesus then changes his focus from him to his followers, then and into the future, essentially you and me. We are being prayed for by the Son of the Living God. No wonder, John Knox stated this scripture was “where I first cast my anchor.”

  Sidlow Baxter once said, “...Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons - but they are helpless against our prayers."

  We may struggle to understand what we can do to help those affected by AOD abuse and dependency. We may now be ill equipped to counsel, share the gospel, talk, show compassion or other approaches requiring personal contact, we can always pray. As disciples of Christ throughout the centuries have learned our prayers can be powerful and can bring change by God’s Spirit.

  Our ministry to those struggling with AOD problems and their families should start with prayer. Prayers of intercession in worship, in our daily prayers, in our prayers in public settings and our prayers said in secret. We won’t only see other lives changed, but we will be changed. When God first sends us out to explore a new ministry and a new people, we are first called to “cast our anchor” in prayer, because Jesus is praying for us.

Lee McDermott, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: God might hear and answer the desperate prayers of those in the depths of their addiction.

Click Here PDF - Day 38 Devotion

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Day 37

Today’s Scripture: Romans 5:1-21
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Rom. 5:1-2)
  Peace is an elusive concept. In cultural terms, it may be the absence of war. But humans know on a very gut, instinctual level that there is a different kind of peace. We’re not sure how to find it or even what it might feel like when we get there, but we search for it in many ways. Some think they will find it if they make enough money, if they buy a bigger car, if they get a different job, a different spouse. It might be hiding in the bottom of a bottle or in the next pill. The search grows, consuming the searcher’s time, money, talents, until there is nothing left. But the search cannot stop. Like an infection, the searching moves from one member of the family to the next, leaving discontent and fear in its wake. Searching wears us down, shuts us down, and takes us down. Like a shiny object, it distracts us and disrupts our plans, our hopes and our dreams.

  Active addiction is a never-ending search, not only for the addict but also for those who love and care for her. While the addict is searching for his next high, his release from pain, the family is searching for the next treatment option, the way they can “cure” their loved one or, at the very least, keep him safe. Unsuspecting but caring individuals have been bilked out of millions of dollars trying to find the magic cure for what ails them, ranging from home remedies to expensive, intensive therapies at exotic locations to torture disguised as therapy.

  Thank God that His grace has the power to interrupt this cycle of searching! God’s grace is the antibiotic for our fear, the chain-breaker, and the peace-bringer. “My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”  (Isaiah 54:10). But how do we, as people of God, participate in the movement of the Holy Spirit to bring hope and peace to searchers? Pandita Ramabai, a social reformer and educator from India, said, “People must not only hear about the kingdom of God but they must see it in actual operation, on a small scale perhaps and in imperfect form, but a real demonstration nevertheless.” Your steps, however small and imperfect they may be, will set you on the path to peace. Resolve today to take a step.

Susan Perry, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: Our ability to see God’s grace alive and well around us.

Informational Resources
The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) is the world's largest resource for current information and materials about AOD.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Day 36

Scripture: Romans 8:18-21
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;” (Rom. 8:18-19)
  Most churches during their history experience a crisis, some suffering and hardship comes with finding our way in the world, which shapes our future together. When faced with sufferings and hardship, we could just give into the crisis and determine there is no point in moving forward. Or we could decide that God is about to reveal something valuable to us. God desires our willingness to discern how this might be defining our common ministry and where it might lead. As we look around us at the crisis our communities are facing in dealing with AOD problems, we could just throw up our hands and give into the destruction of our communities or we can discern where God is calling us to serve, “the glory about to be revealed to us.” (v. 18)

  As people who are present to each other, and present to the goodness of God, we count ourselves as children of God and joint heirs of God’s promises, along with Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul points out that we suffer along with Christ “so that we may also be glorified with him” (v. 17). Our pains are never completely pointless if they bring us closer to the one who suffered on the cross for the salvation of the world.

  This is not to say that God desires our suffering, or that God somehow enjoys watching us get beaten and crushed. Instead, Jesus invites us to join him in working to free the world from its bondage to decay, and to do whatever we can to overcome those forces that can separate, alienate, discourage or destroy us. We may suffer as we do God’s work of justice and reconciliation in this world, but suffering is not going to be the final word.

  In our calling, we are never forced to work alone. The Spirit of God “helps us in our weakness,” assists us in our praying and intercedes for us. The Holy Spirit leads us and guides us, comforts us and abides with us. In fact, it is nothing less than the Spirit of God that constantly reminds us that we are children of God, “and if children,” says Paul, “then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (v. 17).

Lee McDermott, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: Churches seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit and discerning God's call to their future ministry to those struggling with AOD dependency.

Click Here PDF - Day 36 Devotion

Local Resources — Cambria County
Cambria County Drug & Alcohol Program
   Central Park Complex, 110 Franklin Street Suite 200, Johnstown, PA 15901
Phone: (814) 536-5388     Weekday Hours: Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fax: (814) 536-6867         (814) 535-8531 Weekends/Evenings

Monday, April 10, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Day 35

Scripture: Isaiah 50:1-4
“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” (Isa. 50:4)
  A couple years ago, I was sitting in my truck with a former Sunday school student. She had wanted to talk to me privately. As she began talking she rolled up her sleeve to show me a needle mark in her arm.

  “How do I stop using?” she asked.

  I had no idea what to say. Nothing in my seminary training had prepared me to counsel someone addicted to heroin. And so, I asked some questions and listened to the story of her life and why heroin seemed like an easy answer to some deeply rooted problems. I tried to refer her to professionals. But I knew she wouldn’t go.

  She had come to me thinking that I had the tongue of a teacher. That I might have the wisdom of God with me in the Bible on the backseat. Magic words that I could pull out for such tough times.

  But all I had were a bunch of jumbled words and a silent prayer that the Holy Spirit would help her to make something of them. That the Spirit would allow her to somehow feel sustained by my words.

  As Presbyterians, we are all about the Word of God and the words we write and speak about God in our sermons and books. But so often it is the embodied word that offers comfort to those who are suffering. It’s the hug or the eye contact or the act of listening. It’s showing that we do care.

  My friend ministers to homeless people every week and has had more experience with addiction and poverty issues. She says that sometimes the only thing we can do is show up and love people in the name of Jesus Christ. Rather than use our tongues and words, our ministry tools are our ears as we listen compassionately. So, that even if we don’t have the tongue of a teacher, we can reflect the heart of Jesus Christ. He didn’t shy away from the troubled people in his world. Instead he showed up, listened to them, touched them and healed them. He shared the love and forgiveness of God with them and encouraged his disciples to do the same.

Sue Washburn, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: Help to lead us to the right people and the right place where we can assist others to begin recovery.

Click Here PDF - Day 35 Devotion

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Palm Sunday

Scripture: Psalm 31:11-24
“I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many — terror all around! — as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, "You are my God." (Ps. 31:11-14)
  Over the years, I have spoken to many individuals both those with alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems and those with other problems who could have easily applied these words of the Psalmist to their current situation. Amid all their problems and the consequences, they came to understand that they are scorned by their communities and a horror to their neighbors. They understand why people flee from them and why their acquaintances, family, and friends find them a subject of dread.

  If they had ever read the Psalm they probably would agree with the psalmist “I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many – terror all around!” (Ps. 31:12–13) Many individuals in the depths of their AOD dependency do begin to understand the gravity of their situation, but many have come to believe they have simply gone too far. They are like the psalmist cannot come to that point, where they affirm “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” (v. 12)

  Addiction is deadly, the percentage of those who recover is low and many end up permanently disabled, dead, imprisoned or insane. As disheartening as the statistics are regarding addiction, this does not need to be the norm, treatment works, recovery is possible. Getting people to accept treatment and enter recovery will always be difficult, if they believe, they have gone too far for mercy or hope to apply to them. Many things prevent recovery from occurring, but scorn, dread and whispering by others takes a toll on possible treatment of many people. If, we only flee from them and treat them with scorn and dread, we are not just bringing despair to some faceless stranger, but too frequently to the chances for recovery for people who are our neighbors, friends and family.

Lee McDermott, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: Individuals who only feel the scorn and dread of those around them who seem to only flee away.

Click Here PDF - Palm Sunday Devotion

Informational Resources
Large List of Web Links related to Alcohol and other Drugs provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Day 34

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
“As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you." See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:1-2)
  “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” Paul is eager to redirect the Corinthians attention to view the gospel of God’s grace witnessed around them with an urgency for fear that they will “accept the grace of God in vain” (v. 1). The fervent urgency of his comments begs the question: Why have the Corinthian Christians failed to see salvation and grace in their midst?

  As an addictions counselor, I began to understand that God had given me a remarkable opportunity to witness God at work in the world in ways I never imagined. At first I believed my responsibility was simply to help these individuals recover from their addiction. What I received was unexpected and lead me to a deeper understanding of my faith and practice. I had witnessed the amazing grace of God in these recovering people and I had obtained a wonderful gift.

  Paul summons us and the Corinthians to see and hear the cries of our own neighbors as they struggle with a host of problems. When we fail to acknowledge these cries for grace and salvation we are missing out on receiving a wonderful gift both for the church and us. Our inattention to their suffering leads us to the possibility “to accept the grace of God in vain.” (v. 1) Paul is calling us to not delay, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (v. 2) this is the day we are called to act. Paul reminds the Corinthians that in day’s past he took the time to listen to them and helped them to gain salvation. Now it is our turn to do the same for our neighbor.

  Paul urges the church to open their hearts. Paul reminds the church that the gospel calls them to establish new patterns of responsibility and behavior toward the community around them. These new patterns should be reflected in their actions of gratitude, in the same way that God's gracious acts had been shown within their lives. Like the Corinthians, churches today struggle to know how to live faithfully and with gratitude. Sometimes that struggle produces strain in the very relationships that are meant to help church members live authentically and graciously. For Paul, failing to love one another is a sign of accepting the grace of God "in vain." Now is the day of salvation. Now is the time to exhibit faithfulness, not simply through words, but through action. Now is the time to live as witnesses of God's new creation.

  As a counselor, I relied upon the movement of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Holy Spirit calls me to patiently wait for the “acceptable time” when a AOD dependent individual was ready to surrender. When I thought, all might be lost, God surprised me. At the acceptable time the Holy Spirit led me to right moment, that God was preparing.

Lee McDermott, Contributor

Remember in Prayer:  Ask God to give you the patience to watch and wait for the "acceptable time" to do what is appropriate.

Click Here PDF - Day 34 Devotion

Friday, April 7, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Day 33

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:13-22 
“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13)
  We all have trials and tribulations in life. Some of them are short, some are long, and some are ongoing. In fact, many of life’s challenges are created by our own doing, meaning we fall into temptation and create our own “demons” and barriers to overcome. Sometimes when we go through difficult times in life pushing through the moment can feel surmountable. It can also make us feel very alone—like we are the only one who faces this “problem.”

  However, we must remember even in our darkest moments that God is with us, and that we never walk alone. In fact, we often are not alone in our current circumstance. “No temptation is overtaken you that is not common to man.” What this means is, that there are others in life that are through similar circumstance as you. You are not alone. We are not alone. God tells us that we can find great love and comfort through the support of others when we open up our hearts to God and to others.

  In fact, there are many times in life where God tests us and through that test we develop a specific knowledge or skill set that can help others in the future. We must remember that it is okay to confide in our peers and speak about problems and concerns in life, because it not only helps us as individuals to process things it can also help others too.

  “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” We learn through scripture that we will have challenges throughout our lives; however, we can find comfort in the fact that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. We all have those moments where we are amid a trial and think, God I’m really getting close to that breaking point here. However, these are also the moments that test our faith and build our faith too. These are the moments where we must remember that God is with us, and so are others in Christ who can help support us too. No matter how great the circumstance, God provides a way that we can endure it.

  As we continue into this Lenten Journey, let us remember that God is great, God is good, and God provides. Let us also remember to give our hearts to the Lord and to each other. To act as brothers and sisters in Christ to help others going through similar circumstance and to find peace in knowing that God makes sure that no matter what life brings use we will be able to endure.

Elizabeth Comer, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: Individual who feel surrounded by only temptations and trials and find it difficult to see God's goodness.

Click Here PDF - Day 33 Devotion

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Day 32

Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-6
“The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’" (Ezek. 37:1-3)
  The February 14th featured article in the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat was entitled “Cambria coroner again ‘sounding the alarm’ as OD deaths accelerate.” The article began: “Last year was the worst year for fatal drug-related overdoses in Cambria County history – and 2017 has started out even worse. In 2016, the county saw 94 fatal drug-related overdoses with several cases still pending, County Coroner Jeffrey Lees said. So far in 2017, Lees’ office has investigated 22 overdose deaths – on a pace for more than 200.”

  “People that are abusing or addicted to these opioids need to seek help,” Lees said. “The end result could be a ride in the back of my (coroner’s) vehicle.”

  The statistics are staggering. Then we see needles strewn on the street and deals happening in front of our eyes. A single mother dies leaving behind two beautiful daughters. Gunshots ring out in broad daylight. Hopes are dashed again as someone we thought could stay clean shows up high, thinking we won’t even notice. But we do. We see all this around us and more. We dwell in the valley of the shadow of death.

  God lifted Ezekiel up and set him down in the valley of the shadow of death. Ezekiel saw bones lying in a field, bones that were once part of living, breathing human beings, who, in death, had been abandoned to the elements. Now all that was left was dry bone.

  God asked Ezekiel if these bones could live. The logical answer would be, “Of course not. It’s utterly, physically, ridiculously impossible.” But Ezekiel remembered to whom he was speaking – God, Creator of the heavens and the earth. “O, Lord GOD, you know,” he replied. Not only could those bones live, they did live.

  If God can bring life out of absolute death, then there is nothing outside of the Lord’s control, not even addiction and its deadly toll.

  Let us pray for all who see nothing but death and despair, that they may know the life-giving power of God.

Alice Tondora, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: Those working to make a difference in the lives of the drug dependent individuals and feel as if they are in a valley full of bones.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Day 31

Scripture: Genesis 12:1-2
“Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Gen. 12:1-2)
  Beginning the journey of recovery takes faith and trust in God. When we ask someone to give up their drugs of choice and begin a journey of recovery, we are asking them take a difficult journey. We are asking them to give up what they have known for quite some time in their life, something they have grown accustom, even if it is destroying their life. We are asking them to begin a journey to a new and different place. In their minds this new place is often viewed as a very frightening destination. Abram discovered himself called out to go in a different direction and found it within himself the capacity to trust God, eventually this experience transformed Abram into Abraham.

  When God called Abram in Genesis 12, that call utterly turned Abram’s world upside down and totally reshaped his life and his family members’ lives. “Go from your country” (v. 1). Abram had just uprooted from Ur; now he’s to uproot again from Haran. God has something in mind about Canaan, and he wants Abram to continue the family journey to get there.

  Recovery from any illness, cancer, heart disease, diabetes or addiction creates a great deal of confusion, fear, struggle, and pain. In the early stages, we may find the road set before us seems too dangerous and difficult to travel. We find we are too frightened to begin the journey. We may feel overwhelmed by the decisions that need to be made, in order, to travel into this unknown territory. Those who have decided to begin the journey are filled with fear and need the support of others to discover the courage to open themselves to the opportunities that treatment and recovery brings.

  “Go from where you live and whom you know to a place I won’t reveal yet.” That’s a crazy calling. God says that if Abram does that, he’ll bless him. Barrenness will turn into family. Family will turn into nation. By taking the risk and completing the journey, not only will Abram be blessed, but he will become a blessing to others. Abram’s calling in Genesis 12 can turn into a useful mission statement for us today: Trust God. Follow God. Be blessed by God. Bless others.

  A difficult journey requires a lot of trust in God to take those many steps of obedience along an indeterminate journey. But the Lord said, “Go,” and Abraham “went” (vv. 1, 4a), at the age of 75 (v. 4b), leaving much of what was near and dear to him. The people starting their recoveries are called to this and the church receives the same call. When we trust the journey set before us and follow God, we will be blessed.

Lee McDermott, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: To face our fears as we begin new journeys as recovering individuals, recovering families and churches called to welcome them.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Day 30

Scripture: Romans 5:3-11
“and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:5, 8)
  Over the years, I have extended many invitations to recovering people to join me during Sunday morning worship, frequently I am told, “I’ll go back to church after I get my act together.” In response, I’ve told them “God is ready for you now, I would hope the church could be the place where you can get your act together.” Sadly, many recovering people did not see it the way I did, they had come to believe that the church was unwilling to accept them until their act was together, that the church only accepted perfect people, not flawed.

  This approach to the church makes about as much sense as the person who only hires a housekeeper after they have cleaned the house. We don’t need something after we have already did it. Of course, the chances I will ever get my house clean is about as possible as I will ever get my act together completely as a person. I know I need God each day, if I have any chance to keep my act together. The church should be the place where we learn how it is God will help us become a better human being. Jesus does not call us to go and find disciples who are already disciples, no he says, “Go and Make Disciples.” Paul tells us that God proves he loves us first, while we still don’t have our act together.

  I did unfortunately learn on my own why many recovering people believed they needed to become perfect first. I had worked for many years to get churches to open their hearts and doors to accept those recovering from addiction, but repeatedly I was told by pastors and others these people were not welcome within their church. I don’t get angry often, but these comments did make me angry. What I saw within these recovering people were individuals eager and hungry to learn and practice the things God had to offer, but others too often told them it was beyond their reach.

  The general sense of Scripture is that we have all erred and messed up. "All we like sheep have gone astray and turned to our own way" (Isaiah 53:6). So, we need a pardon and we know it. This wonderful, life giving message is not just for us within the church, but for all, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (v. 6) As the church, we are called together as the family and body of Christ, so we as a community can help one another, get our act together, recognizing that God first took the initiative, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (v. 8)

Lee McDermott, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: Our ability to see God’s grace alive and well around us.

Click Here PDF - Day 30 Devotion

Monday, April 3, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Day 29

Scripture: John 9:1-7
“As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.” (John 9:1-3)
  I heard stories in A.A. of individuals that stated they were grateful God made them an alcoholic, because it helped them to have a life better than they could have had otherwise. Of course, these statements were made by people who were in recovery. As they reflected upon their lives they were grateful in how their addiction ultimately lead them to a life of recovery. Their recovery, in turn, lead them to a transformed life filled with the joy they were now experiencing. I don’t believe God ever planned someone to intentionally become dependent upon AOD, but I have personally come to understand that God can use the place wherever it is we are now, as the starting point for a wonderful journey to discover God’s love, mercy and grace.

  Our life stories vary greatly from person to person and in each circumstance, God uses our stories to reveal God’s presence. We all have stories of faith, we might think that others would find our stories lackluster and uninspiring, but we don’t give ourselves enough credit. We might not appreciate the place where our journey begins, but we can only start at the place we currently are.

  While attending seminary, I had a field education position working in evangelism in a north side Chicago church. At the time, I thought I was misplaced in this specific ministry position. My evangelism partner was a woman in the church who was about my age and was originally from western Pennsylvania, like me. We were assigned to visit individuals who had visited the church and trained how to share our faith stories and guide these individuals in making a personal decision for Christ. We both had grown up in similar churches and we both believed our faith stories were rather dull and boring, probably not capable of changing any hearts or minds. We were both wrong. Our dull and boring stories connected to the lives of many we visited. I discovered during those days the Holy Spirit was fully capable of taking whatever we had to offer and use it to give glory to God. God’s spirit can take whatever the circumstance of our lives may be and provide us with a story of faith “so that God’s works might be revealed.” (v. 3)

  We may believe that we have nothing to offer our communities on a variety of social problems. The blind man trusted Jesus and begin at the point where he found himself and God’s works were revealed in him, as they can be revealed in us. If we take the time to discern how the Holy Spirit is already at work within our communities, we will discover we can become God’s partner in giving glory to God in all things.

Lee McDermott, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: Our ability to see God’s works revealed in our midst.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Fifth Sunday in Lent

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
“To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:22-23)
  In 1939 the story is told about the Nazis’ moving into the Netherlands. Dutch theologian, Henry Kramer was asked by a group of Christian lay people, "Our Jewish neighbors are disappearing from their homes. What must we do?"

  Kramer answered, "I cannot tell you what to do. I can tell you who you are. If you know who you are, you will know what to do." Later, these people became part of the Dutch Resistance Movement.

  During our moment under the sun, we are called upon to remember who our God is and that we are God's people. How we respond during the defining moments of our lives will determine and define our conduct and personal relationships. Walter Brueggeman once stated, "What God does first and best and most is to trust his people with their moment in history. He trusts them to do what must be done for the sake of his whole community."

  As we look around our communities, hear and read the reports of heroin overdose deaths and the social disruption due to other alcohol and other drug usage, we are being called to remember who we are. We could look around and declare, like the writer of Ecclesiastes, “I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.” (Eccl. 1:14) Or we could declare the same as Paul, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:23)

  If we had a choice to pick which social problems to solve, we might select something easier than AOD problems, but in our moment under the sun, this is the problem that God is trusting us to do what must be done. How do you feel about God entrusting you with your "moment in history?" What does this mean to you?

  We are called to “do it all for the sake of the gospel,” and like Paul, we are to search and find whatever means works to achieve our mission, so we “might by all means save some”. God is trusting us with our moment in history.

Lee McDermott, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: To know who we are as God’s people, which leads us to doing what is right.

Click Here PDF - Fifth Sunday in Lent Devotion

Informational Resources
National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week® - January 22–28, 2018