They will come

Just as I am though tossed about

With many a conflict, many a doubt

Fightings and fears within, without

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Charlotte Elliott, 1789-1871 

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Billy Graham, 1918 – 2018

All I need is to hear the opening lines of “Just As I Am” sung by a Billy Graham Crusade Choir — or by any choir, for that matter — actually, all I need is to imagine a choir singing those opening lines — “Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me” — and I dissolve into tears. In my heart, I want to stand up and go forward — wherever forward is, doesn’t matter — I want to go up. I’m being pulled, and I want to follow the pull. I want to get up and go, no matter that I’ve gone before, maybe many times over. I first got up and went forward when I was eight-years-old. I wasn’t even at a crusade, I was in our church after seeing a Billy Graham film. Billy Graham films almost always ended at a crusade with Billy speaking and the choir singing and people streaming forward at the invitation. That remains to be my clearest picture of Billy Graham — standing alone on a platform, arms folded, Bible tucked under one arm, and face down, praying, while the choir sings and people come. They come, and they come, and they keep on coming.

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God to the rescue

My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. James 5:19-20

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

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There is a beautiful humility that becomes a person who has admitted the helplessness and unmanageability of their own life, and has turned their will and their life over to God. They are obviously not God, but God is in the room. It’s over. The fight is over. It’s God to the rescue.

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Are you sure you want to get rid of that?

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

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I love the way these steps get you ready for something before you actually do anything about it. In Step 2 we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity before we trusted that power with our lives (Step 3). Here we are asking if we are ready to have God get rid of all the bad stuff in our lives before He actually does it. Well of course you want to get rid of the bad stuff, but not so fast. We’ve made adjustments to all this bad stuff. We have justifications and rationalizations for them all. These are our coping mechanisms. We depend on these things. Let’s at least get ready to lose them. Get ready to lose that whoopee blanket before He rips it out of our hands. In the movie, Mr. Mom, Jack gives his kid a moment with his blanket before he has to hand it over. That’s what this step is about — that moment.

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Fish or cut bait?

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

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Something tells me it’s time to either get serious about this 12-step thing or drop it. I feel like I’ve been dancing around this for at least a week, maybe more. I don’t think anybody’s rubber is meeting their road, at least mine isn’t. So far this spiritual walk-through of the twelve steps hasn’t cost me anything. Nothing’s changed; and isn’t this supposed to be all about change? Isn’t it about changing the things we are powerless against? 

I’m waiting for some real AA people to just knock us over the head here pretty soon and say, “What are you doing? Is this just a game? Are we being cute here?”

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Recovering sinners

Step 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Hi, my name is John, and thanks to the overwhelming lovingkindness of God, I am a sinner saved by grace. Whatever goodness that is in my life has come from the hand of God. There’s still plenty of sin in me because it is rooted deep into this body of death I carry around, but you might rightfully call me a recovering sinner.

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A Call to Failure

I had a call to a mission,

          Signed in my heart and sealed,

And I felt my success was certain,

          And the end seemed already revealed;

The sea was without a murmur,

          Unwrinkled its even flow,

And I heard the master commanding,

          And I was constrained to go.

 

But, out from the peaceful haven,

          There woke a terrible storm,

And the waves around were in chaos,

          And the land appeared without form

And I stretched my hands to the Father

          And cried in a chilling fear-

“Didst not Thou pledge Thy presence!

          And naught but failure is here!”

 

Then in the midst of the thunder

          There rose a still, small voice,

Clear through the roar of the waters,

          Deep through their deafening noise:

“Have I no calls to failure!

          Have I no blessing for loss!

Must not the way to thy mission

          Lie through the path of thy cross!”

 

It came as a revelation-

          It was worth the price of the gale

To know that the souls that conquer

          Must at first be the souls that fail-

To know that where strength is baffled

          I have reached the common ground

Where the highest meet with the lowly

          Where the heart of man is found

 

O door of the heart’s communion

          My Father gave me the key

When he called me out to the ocean,

          And summoned the storm to me;

For the wings of the storm that smote me

          Were the wings of humanity’s breast

As it moved on the face of the waters

          And sighed for an ark of rest

 

Years have gone by since that sadness

          And many an hour has come

When the storm in the ships of others

          Has signaled me out from home;

Yet I never can see that signal

          But I feel how much I owe

To the day that, when called to failure,

          My steps were constrained to go.

              —George Matheson 

History is unrepeatable, historians say, but it can be re-lived many times in one’s memory. I like to savor my successes; my failures I’d rather forget. I’m gradually wondering, however, “How much I owe to the day that, when called to failure, my steps were constrained to go.”

Blunders, mistakes and missed opportunities could then be a means of grace and great blessing if I accept them as part of my call. “Souls that conquer must at first be the souls that fail.” I wish there was another way.

Through humiliation “strength is baffled,” I am disabused of my illusions of grandeur and brought very low. I do not like this. There, I am learning “to meet with the lowly.”[1] with my losses enabling me “to find the heart of man,” i.e., to get “in touch” with others’ feelings. I can surely empathize with those who have fallen; I can quickly accept and love them as no other can.

But must I let go of regret. “As long as I remain [constrained] by things that I wish had not happened—mistakes I wish I had not made—part of my heart remains isolated, unable to bear fruit in the new life ahead of me.”[2] Brooding over past disasters has and will continue to intimidate me, turning me away from love; feelings of inadequacy will always isolate me, making me afraid to venture out again.

So I guess I can say that accepting my failures is simple proof that I am inadequate indeed. In the core of my being, God’s strength is made perfect in this weakness with grace to turn outward to others and to do so with greater compassion, sensitivity, wisdom and understanding. Thus it logically suggests that my mistakes are redeemed and put to God’s intended purpose.

Failure is not ruinous; I am called to failure and owe much to each day that I fail. The lessons that we learn there, “are worth the price of the gale.”

[1] I think Matheson is thinking here of Romans 12:16 and Paul’s admonition to “associate with the lowly.”

[2] Henri Nouwen 

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Who are you going to call?

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Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

This is when this starts to get pretty gnarly.

“Admitted … to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs?” Is that what it says? Does it have to be a human being? Why not a dog, or a cat, or record me admitting this to my phone? God and myself, I can handle, but I’m going to have some difficulty bringing the results of my moral inventory to anyone outside of that.

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Looking in the mirror and remembering what you see

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Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. James 1:23-24

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

James, one of the twelve disciples and later an apostle to the new church, would have loved Alcoholics Anonymous. He would have been in favor of the practicality of the program and the honesty it fosters. Looking at the verses above f you can see the self-examination, the realistic assessment of oneself and the act of making right what you have done wrong, including confessing your sins to one another. James would have been right at home in an AA meeting.

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